on Philippians 2 :6
Who, being in the form of God - This verse has been the subject of much criticism, and some controversy. Dr. Whitby has, perhaps, on the whole, spoken best on this point; but his arguments are too diffuse to be admitted here. Dr. Macknight has abridged the words of Dr. Whitby, and properly observes that, "As the apostle is speaking of what Christ was before he took the form of a servant, the form of God, of which he divested himself when he became man, cannot be any thing which he possessed during his incarnation or in his divested state; consequently neither the opinion of Erasmus, that the form of God consisted in those sparks of divinity by which Christ, during his incarnation, manifested his Godhead, nor the opinion of the Socinians, that it consisted in the power of working miracles, is well founded; for Christ did not divest himself either of one or the other, but possessed both all the time of his public ministry. In like manner, the opinion of those who, by the form of God understand the Divine nature and the government of the world, cannot be admitted; since Christ, when he became man, could not divest himself of the nature of God; and with respect to the government of the world, we are led, by what the apostle tells, Hebrews 1:3, to believe that he did not part with even that; but, in his divested state, still continued to uphold all things by the word of his power. By the form of God we are rather to understand that visible, glorious light in which the Deity is said to dwell, 1 Timothy 6:16, and by which he manifested himself to the patriarchs of old, Deuteronomy 5:22, Deuteronomy 5:24; which was commonly accompanied with a numerous retinue of angels, Psalm 68:17, and which in Scripture is called The Similitude, Numbers 12:8; The Face, Psalm 31:16 : The Presence, Exodus 33:15; and The Shape of God, John 5:37. This interpretation is supported by the term μορφη, form, here used, which signifies a person's external shape or appearance, and not his nature or essence. Thus we are told, Mark 16:12, that Jesus appeared to his disciples in another μορφη, shape, or form. And, Matthew 17:2, μετεμορφωθη, he was transfigured before them - his outward appearance or form was changed. Farther this interpretation agrees with the fact: the form of God, that is, his visible glory, and the attendance of angels, as above described, the Son of God enjoyed with his Father before the world was, John 17:5; and on that as on other accounts he is the brightness of the Father's glory, Hebrews 1:3. Of this he divested himself when he became flesh; but, having resumed it after his ascension, he will come with it in the human nature to judge the world; so he told his disciples, Matthew 16:27 : The Son of man will come in the glory of his Father, with his angels, etc,. Lastly, this sense of μορφη Θεου, is confirmed by the meaning of μορθη δουλου, Philippians 2:7; which evidently denotes the appearance and behavior of a servant or bondman, and not the essence of such a person." See Whitby and Macknight.
Thought it not robbery to be equal with God - If we take these words as they stand here, their meaning is, that, as he was from the beginning in the same infinite glory with the Father, to appear in time - during his humiliation, as God and equal with the Father, was no encroachment on the Divine prerogative; for, as he had an equality of nature, he had an equality of rights.
But the word ἁρπαγμον, which we translate robbery, has been supposed to imply a thing eagerly to be seized, coveted, or desired; and on this interpretation the passage has been translated: Who, being in the form of God, did not think it a matter to be earnestly desired to appear equal to God; but made himself of no reputation, etc. However the word be translated, it does not affect the eternal Deity of our Lord. Though he was from eternity in the form of God - possessed of the same glory, yet he thought it right to veil this glory, and not to appear with it among the children of men; and therefore he was made in the likeness of men, and took upon him the form or appearance of a servant: and, had he retained the appearance of this ineffable glory, it would, in many respects, have prevented him from accomplishing the work which God gave him to do; and his humiliation, as necessary to the salvation of men, could not have been complete. On this account I prefer this sense of the word ἁρπαγμονbefore that given in our text, which does not agree so well with the other expressions in the context. In this sense the word is used by Heliodorus, in his Ethiopics, lib. vii. cap. 19, etc., which passage Whitby has produced, and on which he has given a considerable paraphrase. The reader who wishes to examine this subject more particularly, may have recourse to Heliodorus as above, or to the notes of Dr. Whitby on the passage.
on Philippians 2 :6
Who, being in the form of God - There is scarcely any passage in the New Testament which has given rise to more discussion than this. The importance of the passage on the question of the divinity of the Saviour will be perceived at once, and no small part of the point of the appeal by the apostle depends, as will be seen, in the fact that Paul regarded the Redeemer as equal with God. If he was truly divine, then his consenting to become a man was the most remarkable of all possible acts of humiliation. The word rendered "form" - μορφή morphē - occurs only in three places in the New Testament, and in each place is rendered "form." Mark 16:12; Philippians 2:6-7. In Mark it is applied to the form which Jesus assumed after his resurrection, and in which he appeared to two of his disciples on his way to Emmaus. "After that he appeared in another form unto two of them." This "form" was so unlike his usual appearance, that they did not know him. The word properly means, form, shape, bodily shape, especially a beautiful form, a beautiful bodily appearance - Passow. In Philippians 2:7, it is applied to the appearance of a servant - and took upon him the form of a servant;" that is, he was in the condition of a servant - or of the lowest condition. The word "form" is often applied to the gods by the classic writers, denoting their aspect or appearance when they became visible to people; see Cic. de Nat. Deor. ii. 2; Ovid, Meta. i. 37; Silius, xiii. 643; Xeno. Memora. iv; Aeneid, iv. 556, and other places cited by Wetstein, in loc. Hesychius explains it by ἰδέα εῖδος idea eidos. The word occurs often in the Septuagint:
(1) as the translation of the word ציי - Ziv - "splendour," Daniel 4:33; Daniel 5:6, Daniel 5:9-10; Daniel 7:28;
(2) as the translation of the word תּבנית tabniyth, structure, model, pattern - as in building, Isaiah 44:13;
(3) as the translation of תּמונה temuwnah, appearance, form, shape, image, likeness, Job 4:16; see also Wisdom Job 18:1.
The word can have here only one or two meanings, either:
(1) splendor, majesty, glory - referring to the honor which the Redeemer had, his power to work miracles, etc. - or.
(2) nature, or essence - meaning the same as φύσις phusis, "nature," or ουσία ousia, "being."
The first is the opinion adopted by Crellius, Grotius, and others, and substantially by Calvin. Calvin says, "The form of God here denotes majesty. For as a man is known from the appearance of his form, so the majesty which shines in God, is his figure. Or to use a more appropriate similitude, the form of a king consists of the external marks which indicate a king - as his scepter, diadem, coat of mail, attendants, throne, and other insignia of royalty; the form of a counsul is the toga, ivory chair, attending lictors, etc. Therefore Christ before the foundation of the world was in the form of God, because he had glory with the Father before the world was; John 17:5. For in the wisdom of God, before he put on our nature, there was nothing humble or abject, but there was magnificence worthy of God." Commentary in loc. The second opinion is, that the word is equivalent to nature, or being; that is, that he was in the nature of God, or his mode of existence was that of God, or was divine. This is the opinion adopted by Schleusner (Lexicon); Prof. Stuart (Letters to Dr. Channing, p. 40); Doddridge, and by orthodox expositors in general, and seems to me to be the correct interpretation. In support of this interpretation, and in opposition to that which refers it to his power of working miracles, or his divine appearance when on earth, we may adduce the following considerations:
(1) The "form" here referred to must have been something before he became a man, or before he took upon him the form of a servant. It was something from which he humbled himself by making "himself of no reputation;" by taking upon himself "the form of a servant;" and by being made "in the likeness of men." Of course, it must have been something which existed when he had not the likeness of people; that is, before he became incarnate. He must therefore have had an existence before he appeared on earth as a man, and in that previous state of existence there must have been something which rendered it proper to say that he was "in the form of God."
(2) that it does not refer to any moral qualities, or to his power of working miracles on earth, is apparent from the fact that these were not laid aside. When did he divest himself of these in order that he might humble himself? There was something which he possessed which made it proper to say of him that he was "in the form of God," which he laid aside when he appeared in the form of a servant and in the likeness of human beings. But assuredly that could not have been his moral qualities, nor is there any conceivable sense in which it can be said that he divested himself of the power of working miracles in order that he might take upon himself the "form of a servant." All the miracles which he ever did were performed when he sustained the form of a servant, in his lowly and humble condition. These considerations make it certain that the apostle refers to a period before the incarnation. It may be added:
(3) that the phrase "form of God" is one that naturally conveys the idea that he was God. When it is said that he was "in the form of a servant," the idea is, that he was actually in a humble and depressed condition, and not merely that he appeared to be. Still it may be asked, what was the "form" which he had before his incarnation? What is meant by his having been then "in the form of God?" To these questions perhaps no satisfactory answer can be given. He himself speaks John 17:5 of "the glory which he had with the Father before the world was;" and the language naturally conveys the idea that there was then a manifestation of the divine nature through him, which in some measure ceased when he became incarnate; that there was some visible splendor and majesty which was then laid aside. What manifestation of his glory God may make in the heavenly world, of course, we cannot now fully understand. Nothing forbids us, however, to suppose that there is some such visible manifestation; some splendor and magnificence of God in the view of the angelic beings such as becomes the Great Sovereign of the universe - for he "dwells in light which no map can approach unto;" 1 Timothy 6:16. That glory, visible manifestation, or splendor, indicating the nature of God, it is here said that the Lord Jesus possessed before his incarnation.
Thought it not robbery to be equal with God - This passage, also, has given occasion to much discussion. Prof. Stuart renders it: "did not regard his equality with God as an object of solicitous desire;" that is, that though he was of a divine nature or condition, be did not eagerly seek to retain his equality with God, but took on him an humble condition - even that of a servant. Letters to Channing, pp. 88-92. That this is the correct rendering of the passage is apparent from the following considerations:
(1) It accords with the scope and design of the apostle's reasoning. His object is not to show, as our common translation would seem to imply, that he aspired to be equal with God, or that he did not regard it as an improper invasion of the prerogatives of God to be equal with him, but that he did not regard it, in the circumstances of the case, as an object to greatly desired or eagerly sought to retain his equality with God. Instead of retaining this by an earnest effort, or by a grasp which he was unwilling to relinquish, he chose to forego the dignity, and to assume the humble condition of a man.
(2) it accords better with the Greek than the common version. The word rendered "robbery" - ἁρπαγμος harpagmos - is found nowhere else in the New Testament, though the verb from which it is derived frequently occurs; Matthew 11:12; Matthew 13:19; John 6:15; John 10:12, John 10:28-29; Acts 8:29; Acts 23:10; 2 Corinthians 12:2, 2 Corinthians 12:4; 1 Thessalonians 4:17; Jde 1:23; Revelation 12:5. The notion of violence, or seizing, or carrying away, enters into the meaning of the word in all these places. The word used here does not properly mean an act of robbery, but the thing robbed - the plunder - das Rauben (Passow), and hence something to be eagerly seized and appropriated. Schleusner; compare Storr, Opuscul. Acade. i. 322, 323. According to this, the meaning of the word here is, something to be seized and eagerly sought, and the sense is, that his being equal with God was not a thing to be anxiously retained. The phrase "thought it not," means "did not consider;" it was not judged to be a matter of such importance that it could not be dispensed with. The sense is, "he did not eagerly seize and tenaciously hold" as one does who seizes prey or spoil. So Rosenmuller, Schleusner, Bloomfield, Stuart, and others understand it.
on Philippians 2 :6