In this post, I am going to be citing the various English renderings of Philippians 2:6, which is part of what many scholars believe to be a hymn, poem and/or creedal statement (commonly referred to as the Carmen Christi [“Hymn to Christ”]), which affirms the Lord Jesus’ divine prehuman existence and essential co-equality with the Father, as well as his glorious Incarnation, death and exaltation over all creation. Here is what this passage says:
“Be of that mind in yourselves that was also in the Anointed One Jesus, Who, subsisting in God’s form, did not deem being on equal terms with God a thing to be grasped, But instead emptied himself, taking a slave’s form, coming to be in a likeness of human beings; and, being found, as a human being in shape, He reduced himself, becoming obedient all the way to death, and a death by a cross. For which reason God also exalted him on high and graced him with the name that is above every name, So that at the name of Jesus every knee–of beings heavenly and earthly and subterranean–should bend, And every tongue gladly confess that Jesus the Anointed One is Lord, for the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:5-11 (David Bentley Hart, A Translation: The New Testament [Yale University Press, 2017], pp. 392-393)
Suffice it to say, this has been a very hotly debated text whose precise meaning has been, and continues to be disputed among both liberal and conservative biblical scholarship. One point of contention is whether the hymn/poem/creed is stating that Christ was God’s equal who did not exploit his equality to his own advantage, but rather chose to humble himself. Or is this actually teaching that Christ wasn’t equal with God, and didn’t try to be?
NOT EQUAL TO GOD (THE FATHER)
ACV: who, existing in the form of God, did not consider being equal to God something to seize and hold.
ASV: who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped,
BLB: Who, existing in the form of God, did not consider to be equal with God something to be grasped,
DLNT: Who, while being in the form of God, did not regard the being equal with God a thing-to-be-grasped,
ESV: who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
Goodspeed: Though he possessed the nature of God, he did not grasp at equality with God,
LEB: who, existing in the form of God, did not consider being equal with God something to be grasped,
MEV: who, being in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.
MOUNCE: who, although he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,
NABRE: Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
- 2:6 Either a reference to Christ’s preexistence and those aspects of divinity that he was willing to give up in order to serve in human form, or to what the man Jesus refused to grasp at to attain divinity. Many see an allusion to the Genesis story: unlike Adam, Jesus, though…in the form of God(Gn 1:26-27), did not reach out for equality with God, in contrast with the first Adam in Gn 3:5-6. (Underline emphasis ours)
NASB: who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,
NET: who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped,
NSB: He existed in the form (shape and nature) of God but did not try to be equal with God. He did not even consider it!
Noyes: who, being in the form of God, did not regard it as a thing to be grasped at to be on an equality with God,
REV: He was in the form of God; yet he laid no claim to equality with God, http://download.sabda.org/mobile/pdf/REB.pdf
RSV: who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
Rotherham: Who, in form of God, subsisting, not, a thing to be seized, accounted the being equal with God,
TLV: Who, though existing in the form of God, did not consider being equal to God a thing to be grasped.
Whiston: Who being in the form of [a] God, did not take upon him to be equal to a God:
WEB: who, existing in the form of God, didn’t consider equality with God a thing to be grasped,
What makes some of these translations rather baffling is that the phrase, “a thing to be grasped,” can also be understood to mean that, though Jesus was equal to God, he did not grasp on to that equality but voluntarily set it aside for the purpose of becoming a man in order to die on the cross. Hence, the ambiguity of the wording leaves the door open for either interpretation.
EQUAL TO GOD (THE FATHER)
AKJV: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
AMP: who, although He existed in the form and unchanging essence of God [as One with Him, possessing the fullness of all the divine attributes—the entire nature of deity], did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped or asserted [as if He did not already possess it, or was afraid of losing it];
AMPC: Who, although being essentially one with God and in the form of God [possessing the fullness of the attributes which make God God], did not think this equality with God was a thing to be eagerly grasped or retained,
Anderson: who, being in the form of God, did not think it an act of robbery to be equal with God;
AUV: He existed in the form of God [i.e., He shared God’s very nature], but did not consider [remaining] equal with God something [to continue] to hold onto.
BRG: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
Byington: who, when he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as a prize,
CKJV_Strongs: Who, being in the form of God, knew it wasn’t robbery to be equal with God:
CSB: who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited.
CEB: Though he was in the form of God, he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.
CEV: Christ was truly God. But he did not try to remain equal with God.
CJB: Though he was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God something to be possessed by force.
CLV: Who, being inherently in the form of God, deems it not pillaging to be equal with God,
DARBY: who, subsisting in the form of God, did not esteem it an object of rapine to be on an equality with God;
DRA: Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
ECB: who, being in the form of Elohim, deemed it not usurpation to be equal with Elohim:
EHV: Though he was by nature God, he did not consider equality with God as a prize to be displayed,
ERV: He was like God in every way, but he did not think that his being equal with God was something to use for his own benefit.
Etheridge: who, when he was in the form of Aloha, considered this not to be robbery, (this, namely,) that he was the co-equal of Aloha:
EXB: Christ himself was like God in everything [L Who, being in the form of God]. But he did not think that being equal with God was something to be ·used for his own benefit [or grasped; seized; held on to].
Godbey: who, being in the form of God, thought it not usurpation to be equal with God,
GNV: Who being in the form of God, thought it no robbery to be equal with God:
GW: Although he was in the form of God and equal with God, he did not take advantage of this equality.
GNT He always had the nature of God, but he did not think that by force he should try to remain equal with God.
Haweis: who being in the form of God counted it no usurpation to claim equality with God:
ICB: Christ himself was like God in everything. He was equal with God. But he did not think that being equal with God was something to be held on to.
ISV: In God’s own form existed he, and shared with God equality, deemed nothing needed grasping.
Jerusalem Bible: His state was divine, yet he did not cling to his equality with God http://mullumbimbycatholic.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Jerusalem_Bible_Readers_Edition.pdf
JMNT: Who, starting and continuing as inherently existing (or: beginning under; subsisting) within God’s form (or: in an outward mold which is God), He does not consider the [situation] to be equals in and by God a plunder (or: a pillaging; a robbery; a snatching; or: a thing or situation seized and held), (or: Who, [although] constantly humbly and supportively ruling in union with an external shape and an outward appearance from God, did not give consideration to a seizure: the [situation] to continuously exist being the same things with God, even on the same levels in God, or equal [things; aspects] to God,)
JUB who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God,
TLB: who, though he was God, did not demand and cling to his rights as God,
Murdock: who, as he was in the likeness of God, deemed it no trespass to be the coequal of God;
MSG: He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all.
NOG: Although he was in the form of God and equal with God, he did not take advantage of this equality.
NCV: Christ himself was like God in everything. But he did not think that being equal with God was something to be used for his own benefit.
NIRV: In his very nature he was God. Jesus was equal with God. But Jesus didn’t take advantage of that fact.
NIV: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
NKJV: who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God,
NLV: Jesus has always been as God is. But He did not hold to His rights as God.
NLT: Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.
NMB: who, being in the form of God, counted it not a prize to be equal to God,
NRSV: who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
NTE: Who, though in God’s form, did not regard his equality with God as something he ought to exploit.
OJB: Who, though existing in the demut of the mode of being of Elohim [His etzem or essential nature, Yn 1:1-2; 17:5], nevertheless Moshiach did not regard being equal with G-d as a thing to be seized [BERESHIS 3:5],
PHILLIPS: For he, who had always been God by nature, did not cling to his prerogatives as God’s equal, but stripped himself of all privilege by consenting to be a slave by nature and being born as mortal man.
Twentieth Century Version: Though the divine nature was his from the beginning, yet he did not look upon equality with God as above all things to be clung to,
TPT: He existed in the form of God, yet he gave no thought to seizing equality with God as his supreme prize.
VOICE: Though He was in the form of God, He chose not to cling to equality with God;
WE: He was in every way like God. Yet he did not think that being equal to God was something he must hold on to.
WNT: Although from the beginning He had the nature of God He did not reckon His equality with God a treasure to be tightly grasped.
WYC: which when he was in the form of God, deemed not raven, that himself were even to God; [which when he was in the form of God, deemed not raven, himself to be even to God;]
YLT: who, being in the form of God, thought [it] not robbery to be equal to God,
Here is a translation that is undecided regarding whether the text is saying Christ is God’s equal or not:
New English Bible: For the divine nature was his from the first; yet he did not think to snatch at equality with God, [Or: yet he did not prize his equality with God.] http://www.katapi.org.uk/katapiNSBunix/NEB/NEBTextByBC.php?B=311&C=2
The above versions can be found in the following online sites:
And here is a translation that leaves the issue undecided:
“For the divine nature was his from the first; yet he did not think to snatch at equality with God, [Or: yet he did not prize his equality with God.]” New English Bible (NEB) http://www.katapi.org.uk/katapiNSBunix/NEB/NEBTextByBC.php?B=311&C=2
With the foregoing in perspective I do want to make one point clear. Even if one were to go with the view that Philippians 2:6 teaches that Christ was not equal to God, and didn’t try to be, this still wouldn’t mean that Paul was claiming that Jesus is an inferior creature in comparison to the Father. By starting off this section with the affirmation that Christ was continually subsisting/existing in the very form of God, the blessed Apostle and/or the composer(s) of this hymn/poem/creed were basically saying that Jesus is in fact true Deity, since the phrase morphe theou (“form of God”) is simply another way of stating that Christ possesses the very nature that makes God what he is. As such, neither Paul nor the hymn/poem/creed could be saying that Jesus was/is inferior to the Father in essence, power, glory and honor. Rather, the inequality would be one of rank and authority, e.g., Jesus would be functionally subordinate to the Father, and would therefore not be equal to God in respect to authority and rank.
This is precisely the view of noted evangelical NT scholar Daniel Wallace who writes:
5 If I may, I would like to add a personal observation. Much of the feminist viewpoint in the evangelical church today is based on a simplistic view of the Trinity, rampant among evangelicals (largely because, I suspect, in the church’s reaction to the rise of the cults of the last century, part of its theological convictions were suppressed). Evangelicals strongly affirm the ontological equality of Son with Father. Yet it is difficult to find doctrinal statements—either in churches or in seminaries—in which the Son is said to be functionally subordinate to the Father. Yet John 14:28; Phil 2:6-11; 1 Cor 11:3; 15:28 all plainly teach the eternal subordination of the Son (John 14 and 1 Cor 11 speak of his present subordination; Phil 2 speaks of his subordination in eternity past; and 1 Cor 15 speaks of his subordination in eternity future). Since these same books strongly affirm the ontological equality of Son with Father, the subordination in view must be functional. (Wallace, What is the Head Covering in 1 Cor 11:2-16 and Does it Apply to Us Today?; bold and underline emphasis ours)
Here is what Dr. Wallace wrote regarding the participle hyparchon in his book on Greek grammar:
“There are two interpretive problems in Phil 2:6-7 relevant to the treatment of this participle. First, of course, is the grammatical problem of whether this is concessive or causal. Second is the lexical problem of whether harpagmon in v. 6 means robbery or a thing to be grasped. The grammatical and lexical inform one another and cannot be treated separately. Thus, if hyparchon is causal, harpagmon means robbery (‘who, because he existed in God’s form, did not consider equality with God as robbery’); if hyparchon is concessive, then harpagmon means a thing to be grasped (‘who, although he existed in God’s form, did not consider equality with God as a thing to be grasped’). As attractive as the first alternative is theologically, it is not satisfactory. Ultimately, this verse cannot be interpreted in isolation, but must be seen in light of the positive statement in v. 7 – ‘but he emptied himself’ (the participle hyparchon equally depends on both hegesato and ekenosen). Only the concessive idea for the participle and a thing to be grasped translation for harpagmon fit well with v. 7.” (Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Study of the New Testament with Scripture, Subject, and Greek Word Indexes [Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI 1996], pp. 634-635)
And note what he states in his somewhat lengthy footnote, which further explains his position:
“Perhaps the largest issue of this text is the meaning of harpagmon. Is it something to be grasped for or something to be retained? If the former, the idea would be that although Christ existed in God’s form, he did not attempt to become equal with God. If the latter, the meaning would be that although Christ existed in God’s form, he did not feel compelled to maintain his equality with God. Both views naturally fit with a concessive participle, though the relation of to einai isa theo to the morphe theou hangs in the balance.
“Appeal has been made to the article with the infinitive, as though it were anaphoric (so N. T. Wright, ‘harpagmos and the Meaning of Philippians 2:5-11,’ JTS, NS 37  344). If so, then the ‘form of God’ means the same thing as ‘equality with God’ and harpagmon is something to be retained. But, as we have argued elsewhere (see the chapters on the accusative and infinitive), the article more probably is used to indicate the object in an object-complement construction. The connection with the ‘form of God’ is thus left open in light of the predominate usage of harpagmon as something to be grasped for. I am inclined to see a difference between morphe theou and to einai isa theo. This does not deny an affirmation of the deity of Christ in this text, just that such a notion is found in to einai isa theo. morphe theou carries that weight by itself (inter alia, there is the contextual argument: If one denies that Christ was truly God, one must also deny that he was truly a servant [note morphen doulou in v. 7]). What, then, is the meaning of the infinitive phrase? It seems to suggest hierarchy, not ontology.
“Putting the interpretation of all the elements together yields the following. Although Christ was truly God (morphe theou), two things resulted: (1) he did not attempt to ‘outrank’ the Father, as it were (cf. John 14:28 for a similar thought: ‘The Father is greater than I am’); (2) instead, he submitted himself to the Father’s will, even to the point of death on a cross. It was thus not Christ’s deity that compelled his incarnation and passion, but his obedience.” (Ibid., fn. 56, p. 635; bold and underline emphasis ours)
Dr. Wallace thus understands equality here, not in the sense of the heavenly glory Jesus had with the Father, or to his nature or essence, e.g., the Son has never been nor will he ever be equal with God in nature, but rather to the Son’s authority and rank in relation to the Father. Wallace’s exegesis implies that Christ didn’t simply give up his honor and status that he had in heaven as the Son of God and Heir of creation, but also refused to become something that he wasn’t, namely, trying to become equal with God the Father in rank and authority.
Wallace’s position is that Jesus is fully God in nature and therefore equal with the Father in essence, majesty, glory and honor. Yet because Christ is God’s Son he is in some sense subject to the Father in authority and position. Our Lord’s subordination is functional and hierarchical, not ontological.
With that said, I now conclude with the following exposition, since it does an excellent job of capturing the meaning of this hymn/poem/creed:
2:6This verse begins a section of exalted prose that continues through verse 11. Many commentators, however, took this section as an early Christian hymn, but Fee’s rebuttal of this view is convincing. [Note: See Gordon D. Fee, ” Philippians 2:5-11: Hymn or Exalted Pauline Prose?” Bulletin for Biblical Research2 (1992):29-46; and idem, Paul”s Letter . . ., pp40-43. See Carson and Moo, pp499-503 , for discussion of the controversy.].
The parallels in thought and action between these verses, which describe Jesus’ humility, and John 13:3-17, which records Jesus washing His disciples’ feet, are striking.
The Son of God’s preincarnate state is quite clearly in view here (cf. 2 Cor. 8:9). He existed in the form of God. The word translated “form” (NASB) or “nature” (NIV, Gr. morphe) refers to outward appearance that accurately reveals the inward nature. It does not mean outward appearance that changes as a result of time and circumstances (Gr. schema, v. 7).
“To say that he was existing in the essential metaphysical form of God is tantamount to saying that he possessed the nature of God.” [Note: Kent, p123.]
The verb translated “existed” (NASB) or “being” (NIV) is in the present tense in the Greek text and points to the Lord’s CONTINUING EXISTENCE with the full nature of God. His full deity is not something Jesus Christ gave up or laid aside when He became a man at the Incarnation.”[Note: See Dennis W. Jowers, “The Meaning of Morphe in Philippians 2:6-7,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 49:4 (December 2006):739-66.]
“This, then, is what it means for Christ to be ‘in the “form” of God’; it means ‘to be equal with God,’ not in the sense that the two phrases are identical, but that both point to the same reality. Together, therefore, they are among the strongest expressions of Christ’s deity in the NT. This means further that ‘equality with God’ is not that which he desired which was not his, but precisely that which was always his.” [Note: Fee, Paul”s Letter . . ., pp207-8.]
The Lord Jesus’ equality with God did change in some sense, however. The manner in which He existed as God changed when He became a man. He willingly adopted a manner of existence that was different from His Father’s, namely, that of the God-man.
“Our doctrine of Christ’s humiliation will be better understood if we put it midway between two pairs of erroneous views, making it the third of five. The list would be as follows: (1) Gess: The Logos gave up all divine attributes; (2) Thomasius: The Logos gave up relative attributes only [i.e., omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence]; (3) True View: The Logos gave up the independent exercise of divine attributes; (4) Old Orthodoxy: Christ gave up the use of divine attributes; (5) Anselm: Christ acted as if he did not possess divine attributes.” [Note: A. H. Strong, Systematic Theology, p704.]
“. . . while it is not true that Christ in the incarnation surrendered the relative attributes of omnipresence, omnipotence and omniscience, He did embark upon a program where it was necessary to submit to a voluntary nonuse of these attributes in order to obtain His objectives. Christ does not seem to have ever exercised His divine attributes on His own behalf though they had abundant display in His miracles. This is qualified to some extent by the fact that His omniscience is revealed in His prophetic ministry, but He did not use His divine knowledge to make His own path easier. He suffered all the inconveniences of His day even though in His divine omniscience He had full knowledge of every human device ever conceived for human comfort. In His human nature there was growth in knowledge, but this must not be construed as a contradiction of His divine omniscience. Limitations in knowledge as well as limitations in power are related to the human nature and not to the divine. His omnipotence was manifested in many ways and specifically in the many miracles which He did, in some cases by the power of the Holy Spirit and in others on the basis of His own word of authority. Here again He did not use His omnipotence to make His way easy and He knew the fatigue of labor and travelling by walking. Though in His divine nature He was omnipresent, He did not use this attribute to avoid the long journeys on foot nor was He ever seen in His ministry in more than one place at a time. In a word, He restricted the benefits of His attributes as they pertained to His walk on earth and voluntarily chose not to use His powers to lift Himself above ordinary human limitations.
“The act of kenosis as stated in Philippians 2 may therefore be properly understood to mean that Christ surrendered no attribute of Deity, but that He did voluntarily restrict their independent use in keeping with His purpose of living among men and their limitations.” [Note: John F. Walvoord, Jesus Christ Our Lord, pp143-44. Cf Robert P. Lightner, Evangelical Theology, p84; and Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology, p262.]
Jesus Christ did not regard His former manner of existence something that He wanted to hold onto. In view of the context this seems to be the correct interpretation. Another LESS LIKELY possibility is that He did not need to grasp after equality with God since He already possessed it. A third undesirable alternative is that He did not grasp equality with God prematurely, as Adam did, but waited for the Father to bestow it on Him after His passion.
Jesus was willing to alter His behavior for the welfare of others, and in this He is an example of submissiveness for us.
“. . . his true nature is characterized not by selfish grabbing, but by an open-handed giving . . .” [Note: Hawthorne, p85.]
Contrast Adam, who considered equality with God something to be seized. Adam tried to become like God by grasping, but Christ, who was God, became man by releasing. This analogy is only conceptual, however, since there are no linguistic parallels to the Genesis narrative here. (Expositor Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/philippians-2.html; bold, capital and underline emphasis ours)
Carmen Christi: Worshiping Christ as God https://answeringislam.net/authors/shamoun/carmen_christi.html
Beyond the Veil of Eternity http://jesusiscreator.org/?p=298
The Meaning Of ἁρπαγμός In Philippians 2:6 – An Overlooked Datum For Functional Inequality Within The Godhead https://bible.org/article/meaning-harpagmos-philippians-26-overlooked-datum-functional-inequality-within-godhead