We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more
Select Bible Use this Lookup to open a specific Bible and passage. Start here to select a Bible.
Make selected Bible the default for Lookup tool.
Book: Ch.V. Select book from A-Z list, enter chapter and verse number, and click "Go."
  • Previous Result
  • Results
  • Look It Up Highlight any word or phrase, then click the button to begin a new search.
  • Highlight On / Off
  • Next Result

The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

Related Content

Commentary on Philippians

Jump to: Select book from A-Z list, enter chapter and verse number, and click "Go."
Text Commentary side-by-side

Introduction ( 1:1–11 )

( 1:1–2 ) Greeting

Paul includes colleagues with himself in seven letters, and Timothy most often, but not as co-author; in 2:19–24 he occurs in the third person. Paul refers to them both as ‘slaves’ of Christ Jesus, as in Rom 1:1 . Since this is an opening formula, it can hardly be a conscious anticipation of its application to Christ in 2:7 , though this may strike a reader today. Paul uses the expression ‘the saints’ in six letters, thus or in the formula ‘called [to be] saints’. Modern versions often paraphrase it as ‘the holy people of God’; the phrase connotes the Christian claim to have been brought through faith in Christ into God's covenant people (Ex 19:6; 1 Pet 2:9–10 ). Though the words ‘bishops and deacons’ come from the Greek (see PHIL B.2), their meanings have changed so much since their NT use that it is less misleading to render them by (e.g.) ‘pastors’ or ‘guardians’ and ‘assistants’. The inclusion of these ministers, as well as the repeated ‘all’, five times from 1:1 to 1:8 (admittedly unusual for Paul), have been seen as a first hint of the disunity that Paul will address more clearly later (Lightfoot 1879: 67; Peterlin 1995 ). At this point, however, this can hardly do more than raise a suspicion. v. 2 , ‘Grace to you and peace’ slightly varies the word order of a formula Paul uses in opening and closing greetings. The ‘grace’ formula is echoed in 4:23 to wrap up the whole letter. Though the Holy Spirit is expressly named only three times ( 1:19; 2:1; 3:3 ), here the formula can be called implicitly trinitarian (cf. 4:7; see Fee 1995: 48–9).

( 1:3–11 ) Thanksgiving and prayer

v. 3 , Paul begins every letter to a church (except Galatians) by thanking or blessing God for the good he has heard about his addressees. Here he mingles these two reactions with his prayer for them ( 1:3–4 ) and with joy ( 1:5 ), a combination he will recommend in 4:6 , as in 1Thess 5:16–18 . This paragraph is like a musical overture which anticipates themes to be heard later (PHIL F). Joy (chara) is the first of these; with its verb chairein it runs right through the letter. The focus of Paul's joy is the Philippians' sharing (koinōnia) with him in the gospel ( 1:5 ). Koinōnia is a keyword in the letter; aspects of it can be expressed by ‘partnership’, ‘fellowship’, ‘union’, and ‘communion’. It occurs again at 2:1 and 3:10 . Koinōnos (sharer, partner) occurs in the compound form sunkoinōnos at 1:7 and the related verbs at 4:14, 15 . The prefix sun- (‘together’) occurs twelve times in the letter, compounded with eight nouns or verbs; it serves to enhance Paul's constant emphasis on relationship, unity and joy in community, and in sharing with him. The Philippians, of course, knew what the sharing had meant. For other readers Paul reveals it gradually: work for the gospel ( 1:5 ); prayer for him in his imprisonment and preaching, which he calls ‘shar[ing] in God's grace’ with him ( 1:7 ); striving side by side ( 1:27; 4:3 ) a metaphor from athletics that will recur, and finally their gifts of material support ( 4:15–18 ). v. 6 , ‘I am confident’ ( 1:6 ): with this Paul passes from the Philippians' action to God's. (The verb recurs at 1:25, 2:24 , and 3:3–4 .) What Paul is confident about here is that their faith is God's ‘good work’, from when he began it till he brings it to completion ‘by the day of Jesus Christ’. Paul returns to the interplay of human effort and God's work at 2:12–13 . ‘The day of Jesus Christ’ is the day of his expected return; the phrase occurs again at 1:10 and 2:16 . Paul refers to it as an assumed point of faith for the Philippians, a future reality though of unknown date; not a matter for overexcitement as it had been in Thessalonica. (This may perhaps lend some slight support for later dating of Philippians.)

v. 7 , the key word phronein (see PHIL E.2) appears for the first time. Here it expresses a warm personal concern, based on mutual affection, to ‘hold’ others in one's ‘heart’. Whose heart, holding whom? Most older versions took it as Paul's, holding that of his friends. NRSV opts for the reverse. Both are grammatically possible; the emphasis may be on the comfort Paul receives in his captivity and his service of the gospel from the thought of them, or on their thought and prayer for him in his situation. It makes little difference, because the relationship is mutual; they are sunkoinōnoi with Paul, they ‘share in God's grace’ with him. To understand the heart as Paul's perhaps makes the next sentence follow more smoothly. v. 8 , Paul says his feelings are not merely his own. He lives in such union with Christ (Gal 2:20 ) that he experiences Christ's compassion as his own. ‘Compassion’ renders splagchna, literally ‘bowels’, an idiom borrowed from Hebrew, which can relate strong emotions to various internal organs.

v. 9 , Paul circles back to what he began to say in v. 3 . He wants them to grow in agapē, the kind of love he has described in 1 Cor 13 , and will appeal to here in 2:1, 2 . He does not say love for whom, either for himself or for each other; he simply prays that their capacity for loving may increase so that it overflows ever more and more. But he wants it to be far more than mere feeling; rather, to be directed by ‘knowledge and full insight’. These words are of great importance for understanding the letter; they spell out what Paul means by phronein. The word rendered ‘knowledge’ is epignōsis, probably in the sense of a knowledge transcending ordinary cognition (gnōsis). This is best illustrated by Paul's use of the related verb in 1 Cor 13:12 : ‘Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known’ (emphasis added); it is knowledge that at least approaches the knowledge that God has of us. ‘Insight’ renders aisthēsis which basically means perception, but the Stoics and other moral philosophers used it for moral knowledge gained by experience, and this is its probable meaning here (the only occurrence in the NT). v. 10 , the verb ‘determine’ (dokimazō) primarily means the testing by which something comes to be approved. ‘What is best’ is literally ‘the things that are different’ i.e. morally better. Such choices lived out will lead Christians to such a state that Christ at his return will find them to be ‘pure and blameless’. The former word probably refers especially to motives; the latter (lit. with no stumbling) may refer both to moral steadiness and to not causing others to stumble. All this will bear the ‘harvest of righteousness’ through Christ's gift and to God's glory. Paul's prayer contains a whole cluster of pregnant words concerned with moral experience that develops character, and especially the capacity for loving realistically. Cf. Philem 4–7 . The desired ‘knowledge’ is of God; the ‘insight’ is experience that builds up that knowledge; the testing of all things (1 Thess 5:21 ) leads to knowledge of God's will (Rom 12:2; Eph 5:10 ), with the purification of motives and moral firmness; all add up to the global moral term ‘righteousness’. These ideas, if not the same words, reappear in Paul's central affirmation of his deepest values in 3:8–12 . They are fundamental for the whole theory and practice of discernment in Christian tradition; yet it was Stoicism that provided Paul with many of the keywords: there is no need to shy away from this conclusion.

Paul's Situation and his Reactions to it ( 1:12–26 )

( 1:12–18 ) What has been Happening

Two keywords mark off this section as another loose inclusio. The first is ‘progress’ (prokopē, v. 12 , obscured in NRSV's ‘to spread the gospel’). This is picked up again in 1:25 , where the progress is on the part of Paul's addressees. The other keyword is ‘confidence’; it recurs in 1:14 , of Christians heartened by Paul's successful witness despite his imprisonment, and again in 1:25 of Paul trusting that he will remain some time longer for the encouragement of the Philippians. Other keywords in this section are ‘gospel’ ( 1:12, 16, 27 ) and ‘rejoice’/‘joy’ (chairō, chara, 1:18, 25 ).

In the first seven verses Paul assures his readers that two aspects of his situation which might be expected to cause him pain and frustration have rather had the opposite effect. The first is his captivity. He does not describe his circumstances except by the conventional ‘chains’ and the implication that it would be his guards who spread favourable impressions of him around the praetorium ( 1:13 probably in the regimental sense, Lightfoot 1879: 99–104). On the alternative theories based on Rome and Ephesus, see PHIL C. The traditional view, that Paul is writing from Rome, naturally refers to Acts 28 ; he had come ‘in chains’ ( 28:17 ) with a soldier guarding him ( 28:16 ), temporarily in a ‘guesthouse’ ( 28:23 ) but then for two years in lodgings where he could receive visitors ( 28:30 ). Philippians, for all its reticence, implies severer conditions than this. Perhaps after two years of waiting, on being called to have his case heard, Paul came under regulations requiring prison custody. Apologia (defence) in Phil 1:7 and 16 could refer to a formal hearing (cf. 2 Tim 4.6 ) but by reason both of its range of meaning and of its context here it can equally well refer to the ‘apologetic’ aspect of preaching. (Of course, such a series of events could have taken place in Ephesus, and no arguments seem decisive.) Paul does not explain how his imprisonment has encouraged Christians to witness to their faith more boldly (v. 14 ). Perhaps they are saying ‘if Paul can do so much in chains, how much more should we dare to do in freedom?’ If his guards have played a part, this could be cheering news also for his readers in a proud Roman colonia (Tellbe 1994: 110–11). v. 15 , Paul sees two spirits at work in their activity, one of goodwill (eudokia) and love towards him, the other of envy (phthonos), rivalry (eris), and selfish ambition (eritheia, v. 17; 2:2 ), making some act not with pure motives (hagiōs, purely), but to cause Paul distress (thlipsis, v. 17; 4:14 ). The latter group is not identified, but they seem to be a part of the Christian community where Paul is. Clement of Rome, writing to Corinth not long afterwards (PHIL E.2), says that Peter and Paul were hounded to death by envy, jealousy, and rivalry (1 Clem. 5.2–5); see Brown and Meier (1983: 123–7; they also favour Rome as where Paul wrote Philippians, pp. 185–8). The trouble could well have begun with Jewish Christians who wanted the church to remain within Judaism and saw Paul's policy as misguided. Paul, however, regards all negative factors with a sublime equanimity, because for him they are outweighed by his supreme desire, to see Christ's gospel spreading; frustration and anger are simply overwhelmed by joy (v. 18 ).

( 1:19–26 ) Paul's Hope and Confidence in Christ

Paul turns from his reactions to recent events to envisage the foreseeable future. Inclusio markers are ‘joy’ (v. 26 , picking up the related verb in v. 18 ), ‘progress’ (v. 25 , from v. 12 ), and ‘trusting’ (v. 25 , from v. 14 ). All three have now changed their subjects (see PHIL 1:12 and 1:18 ; ‘joy’ is now Paul's wish for the Philippians). The passage is full of the vocabulary of hope and confidence and the motives for these, and of a peaceful yet passionate equanimity, based on certainty of Christ's love. v. 19 , this verse is pivotal, grounding both Paul's joy in the situation just described and his confidence for the future: ‘I know [the verb is repeated at v. 25 ] that…this will result in my deliverance.’ Verbally this is one of the few OT allusions in Philippians; it reproduces the Greek of Job 13:16 , in a passage that expresses Job's invincible trust in a transcendent justice. But in Paul's very different situation he is hardly likely to be comparing himself with Job; the coincidence of language could almost be accidental. ‘Deliverance’ is sōtēria (salvation); the NRSV's rendering seems to focus on Paul's vindication and release, but this does not exclude an implicit eschatological sense, as is clear, with reference to the Philippians in 1:28 and 2:12 . Paul's first motive for confidence is his certainty that his friends pray for him as he does for them ( 1:4 ), and that their intercession is effective. Paul's second motive is revealed with the first of the three explicit references to the Holy Spirit in Philippians (see PHIL 1:2 ). ‘Help’ is epichorēgia, the act of supplying or providing for needs. Lightfoot (1879: 91) discusses whether the Spirit is the giver or the gift, and concludes for both. Chōrēgia and the related verb could still retain a note of generous bounty, from their origin in sponsorship of civic celebrations by rich Athenians. v. 20 , ‘eager expectation’ (Gk. apokaradokia) evokes a picture of heads strained forward in anticipation. The only other occurrence in the NT is in Rom 8:19 , where Paul sees the whole of creation thus longing ‘for the revealing of the children of God’. Paul hopes that he, and still more the gospel, will not be brought into public discredit, especially at his trial. In the biblical world ‘shame’ refers not so much to an emotion as to public worsting and discrediting; the psalmists often pray to be spared it (e.g. Ps 71:1 ), but to see their enemies suffering it (e.g. Ps 70:2 ). Positively, Paul hopes to speak ‘with all boldness’: the last word is parrhēsia, which is what Peter and John showed before the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:13 ). It is contrasted with being put to shame also in 1 Jn 2:28 , but at the eschatological judgement, not a human trial. However, Paul's focus here, that ‘Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death’ may have an overtone of the special sense of parrhēsia which developed in the NT. The word was born in political and forensic contexts, meaning freedom of speech or outspokenness. It came to connote also courage in speaking out; finally in the NT it has a special sense of confidence in God, a gift of the Holy Spirit to all who become God's children in union with Christ, and through him have access (prosagōgē) to God. (See Rom 5:2; 2 Cor 3:12; Eph 3:12; Heb 4:16; 10:19; 1 Jn 3:21; 4:17; 5:14 .) Paul need not have this sense fully in mind here, but he is hardly thinking merely of speaking boldly at his trial. He speaks from his awareness of constant union with Christ. If he is worsted, then Christ will be shamed in him; if he is enabled to speak well, Christ will be ‘exalted’ in him, and just as much if he dies as if he lives on, for neither circumstance can separate him from Christ. v. 21 , thus Paul's thought flows straight into the third great expression of his spiritual equilibrium. First came prison or liberty; then being spoken of with love or with malice; now death or life, because ‘to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain’. A psychological state undisturbed by fear or human attachments was the ideal for both Stoics and Epicureans; but for Paul, both his emotional balance and his whole range of values are entirely governed by his union with Christ, as he will make even clearer in 3:7–12 . This serenity pervading Philippians, in contrast to Galatians and 2 Corinthians, suggests a spiritual state perhaps more appropriate to Paul's final years, and therefore to Rome. (‘Gain’, kerdos, reappears with its related verb in 3:7–8 , referring to values which Paul has rejected and replaced by new ones.) He cannot make a choice even between living and dying (even though the latter would lead to his being ‘with Christ’ in the fullest sense) except by discerning Christ's will. This evidently leads him to decide that he must stay (v. 24 ); then immediately he says that he knows this with confidence (cf. 1:6, 19 ), for the Philippians' ‘progress and joy in faith’: (v. 25; cf. 2:17 ). Towards them, he is so far from Stoic apatheia as to want to come ‘and share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus’ (v. 26 ). This is one of only three occurrences in Philippians of the word-group of kauchaomai, commonly rendered ‘boast’, that is so characteristic of Paul (55 of 59 instances in NT, 34 of them in 1–2 Corinthians; see TDNT iii. 645–54). His repeated concern with having (or not having) grounds for boasting is puzzling, especially given his teaching on ‘works’ in Romans 3–4 ; one can only conclude that the Greek words have a wider reference than self-glorification, and include joyful exultation for and with others, as seems the case here.

First Exhortation on Discipleship ( 1:27–2:18 )

( 1:27–30 ) Steadfastness in the Face of Opposition

This paragraph is linked to what precedes, especially by ‘gospel’ ( 1:12, 16, 27 ), ‘salvation’ ( 1:19, 28 ), and ‘faith’ ( 1:26, 29 ). v. 27 , ‘conduct yourselves’ translates the verb politeuesthai, ‘to act as a citizen’ (Lightfoot 1879; Brewer 1954 ). NRSV misses the political sense (important also in Stoicism), though it keeps it when the related noun politeuma ‘commonwealth’ or ‘citizenship’ occurs in 3:20 . Miller (1982) shows that Judaism had appropriated this vocabulary, and argues that Paul follows this usage, implying that the church is the New Israel; but see Engberg-Pedersen (1994: 263) and Fee (1995: 161–2). It makes a difference whether Paul is urging the Philippians to show their Christianity in good citizenship, or has transferred the verb to a purely Christian context. His wish for their steadfast unity in fidelity to the gospel (rest of 1:27 ) might suggest the latter, but bold resistance to their opponents (v. 28 ) implies the public forum. The exhortation to unanimity in Christ already anticipates 2:1–5 . Is then the ‘one spirit’ in 1:27 simply human unanimity (as NRSV implies), or does it point to the clearer reference to the Holy Spirit in 2:1 ? Fee (1995: 164–6) argues plausibly for the latter. For unanimity Paul could easily have used the Stoic homonoia (frequent in 1 Clement), just as his athletic metaphors (‘striving side by side’, v. 27 , and ‘contest’, v. 30 , NRSV ‘struggle’) are Stoic clichés (Tellbe 1994: 111). What is essentially Christian is, of course, the hope of ‘salvation’ which ‘is God's doing’ (v. 28 ), and the sense that both faith in Christ and suffering for him are ‘graciously granted’ (echaristhē) as a privilege (v. 29 ), which Paul sees as binding them more closely to himself in Christ, v. 30 . Faith in Christ is again linked with the idea of suffering in 2:17 and 3:9–10 . The ‘opponents’ at whose hands suffering is expected probably refers to political and social pressure to take part in the imperial cult (Tellbe 1994 ). If politeuesthe indeed refers to good citizenship, Paul would be recommending this as the best defence (cf. Polycarp, Phil. 10.2). But the threat is also to the Philippian church's unity, and Paul is passionately concerned that this should be in and with the suffering Christ as Paul has preached him.

( 2:1–6 ) Unity of Minds and Hearts

v. 1 , the tone of appeal now rises to a more intense level of feeling through a series of ‘if’ clauses, regular in the rhetoric of entreaty. This more solemn tone tells against supposing a ‘hymnic’ style only from v. 6 onwards. In prayers, the formula typically reminds a deity of past theophanies; here the idiom implies something like ‘if × means anything to you, then prove it now’. Paul appeals to what he is sure the Philippians have experienced: ‘encouragement in Christ’, ‘consolation from love’, ‘sharing in the Spirit’, ‘compassion [see PHIL 1:8 ], and sympathy’. Of these, sharing, koinōnia, is fundamental to all the others, above all since it is in (now certainly the Holy) Spirit. At last (v. 2 ) comes the apodosis to the four ‘ifs’: ‘make my joy complete’, the joy which Paul has expressed for himself in 1:4 and 18 , and wished for them in 1:25 . The desired response is described by four phrases which all express union of minds and hearts: two use the keyword phronein (‘be of the same mind…of one mind’); the others are ‘having the same love’ (agapē) and ‘being in full accord’ (sumpsuchoi, united in soul). The most important words here were already established in 1:4–9 , together with words compounded with sun-, ‘together’, to intensify the sense of sharing. In v. 3 Paul continues his description of the attitudes he desires by alternating dos and don'ts: not ‘selfish ambition’, which he has been suffering ( 1:17 ), nor conceit (kenodoxia, vainglory) but rather ‘humility, regard[ing] others as better than yourselves’. The last phrases are significant for the letter's unity, being echoed both in 2:7–8 and in ch. 3 . v. 4 , another do and don't concerns looking to ‘the interests of others’. The verb is skopeō, ‘to aim’ (like phronein, a Stoic word); it recurs (with its noun) in 3:14–17 . In Paul's present context, of course, phronein essentially involves a right skopos of mind and heart, ‘as in Christ Jesus’ (v. 5 ).

Do the attitudes (and perhaps activities) not commended in vv. 3–4 point to actual divisions within the Philippian church? Whether 1:1–4 contains hints or not, the immediately preceding exhortation in 1:27–30 now makes a reference to disunity more likely, especially on such grounds as Tellbe (1994) suggests. This will be discussed later, where clearer indications occur. Here it is not certain how far breaches of unity have actually gone. ‘Selfish ambition’ ( 2:3 ) could be in Paul's mind because he has suffered from its effects ( 1:17 ). Other phrases he uses may well refer to the quarrel to be mentioned in 4:2 , especially if others had joined in; but surely the main thrust of this appeal, as of the passage into which it leads, is to focus the Philippians' minds on their relationship with Christ; references to human faults need to be clearer to prove an actual state of conflict.

( 2:5–11 ) Christ, the Focus and Model for Discipleship

The standpoint of the following comments is outlined in PHIL D. vv. 5–11 , most commentators, accepting a hymn theory, set the passage out like verse. This displays its elegant composition in short cola, as found in classical artistic prose, but does not prove it to be a hymn in terms of either Semitic or Greek models. The wide and imprecise use of ‘hymn’ in modern discussion has not helped (O'Brien 1991: 188). The opening exhortation follows smoothly from the preceding sentences, points to Christ as model, and continues with a narrative about him in language which is certainly poetic and goes beyond Paul's usual vocabulary, but not necessarily his capacity when moved. Many keywords are echoed later, especially in ch. 3 . The following exegesis takes the passage as it stands in its context. However, the possibility that Paul is adopting the structure of an existing model for credal-type statements will be considered in conclusion.

v. 5 , ‘Let the same mind be in you that [was] in Christ Jesus’: more literally, ‘be thus minded in/among yourselves as also in Christ Jesus’. The first ‘in’ is ambiguous in Greek; the context favours ‘among’, i.e. in interpersonal relations. The unexpressed verb has to be understood; more complicated ellipses have been proposed, e.g. ‘which you have by virtue of your [life] in [union with]’; but ‘was’ is most satisfactory. Paul points to Jesus, as known on earth, as the example for Christians in their relationships. This is rejected by some, for whom the hymn theory dictates their exegesis; they hold that the hymn was kerygmatic, proclaiming doctrinal truths about Jesus and that to make him a mere ethical model is somehow an inferior use of the hymn (cf. Martin 1983: 68–74, 84–8; Stanton 1974: 99–110; O'Brien 1991: 253–62). v. 6 , ‘who, though he was in the form of God’: ‘though’ is an added interpretation; others suggest ‘because’ (Moule 1970 ). The Greek for ‘was’ is not the simple verb, but the participle of a stronger verb, huparchōn, ‘existing’. Form (morphē) has a complex history (Behm, TDNT iv. 742–50). It connotes the outward aspect of something but not mere appearance; it also reflects the inward nature. Since God is incorporeal we must examine how Scripture describes theophanies. This suggests ‘glory’ as being what morphē implies, but this will not fit in v. 7 , where morphē is that of a slave. It is desirable to keep one word in both places, and ‘form’ remains the least unsatisfactory. This verse already raises the question whether it refers to Christ's pre-existence or to his life on earth, but first we must read further. Paul has just used the verb ‘regard’ (hēgoumai) in exhortation ( 2:3 ), and will use it thrice of his own values in relation to Christ in 3:7–8 . ‘Equality with God’ seems like a repetition with variation of ‘being in the form of God’, but not all agree on this. Indeed, the meaning of this clause is the storm-centre of modern controversy on Philippians. ‘Something to be exploited’ interprets one word, harpagmon. It is important that in the Greek the negative governs not the verb ‘regard’ but this noun (Carmignac 1971–2 ). The actual order is: ‘not [as] harpagmos did he regard being equal to God’. The issue is not pedantic; it is between two alternative ‘stories’. These depend (1) on two possible senses of harpagmos and (2) on what is being contrasted with what. Harpagmos is a verbal noun from harpazō, to seize or snatch. Its form raises problems (BAGD 108; Hoover 1971; O'Brien 1991: 211–16); it can refer either to the act of seizing or the thing seized, and the sentence does not indicate when in the ‘story’ either of these was contemplated by Christ, in his ‘pre-existence’ or his earthly life. This question also affects how, in the next verse, we understand ‘he emptied himself’ and what follows; it is relevant also to the other Pauline passage which seems to parallel this passage most closely: ‘For you know the generous act [lit. grace] of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich’ (2 Cor 8:9 ).

The two lines of exegesis may be summarized as follows. First, most of the tradition, from the Greek fathers till recent times, assumes that vv. 6–11 are integral to their context and also that Paul believed in Christ's divinity and incarnation. Christ's being ‘in the form of God’ and ‘equality with God’ refer to his status ‘before’ his incarnation, which is the subject of v. 7 . Christ, being by nature one with the Father, regarded this status as no harpagmos, i.e. not like a prize which he had won (and might fear to lose, as a freed slave would jealously treasure his new status and refuse slavish work). Instead, in trustful obedience to the Father, Christ ‘emptied himself’ and became not only mortal but actually like a slave, e.g. by washing feet, and above all by suffering a slave's death. The contrast implied by the placing of the negative is between Christ's status as Son of God and his acceptance of that of a slave. This summarizes the exegesis of Chrysostom (PG 62.217–37) and Isidore of Pelusium (PG 78.1071), both masters of Greek artistic prose as a living tradition.

The second line (or rather several lines, but all stemming from the same basic option) reads the negative as if it governed the verb ‘regard’, and harpagmon as a prize to be won. To mention an agent and immediately characterize him as one who did not seek to usurp divine status suggests a contrast with some figure who did that; thus some have proposed historical rulers (Seeley 1994 ); more have turned to the OT. Here lines diverge: one sees a contrast with rebellious deities, as in the myths (applied to human kings) in Isa 14:12–21 and Ezek 28 , or (as an aetiology of evil and also against the post-exilic Jerusalem priesthood) in 1 Enoch (Sanders 1969 ). More widely canvassed is a contrast with Adam, following the tradition that he sinned by ambitious pride (hubris), wanting to become like God (surveyed in O'Brien 1991: 263–8); Wright (1992: 56–98) makes this integral to a comprehensive New Adam theology. But this reading of v. 6 rests on two unsafe foundations: first, that morphē in the NT can be a synonym for eikōn, the ‘image’ of God, as in Gen 1:26 (in favour, Martin 1983: 106–10; against, Behm in TDNT iv. 752: in Paul, Christ is the eikōn of God); and second, on an unverified assumption that the tradition ascribing such hubris to Adam was in existence by the time of Paul. It is not found in the OT or pre-Pauline literature; it seems to have arisen (perhaps because of the obscure similarities between Ezek 28 and Gen 2–3 ) by ascribing to Adam the arrogant motives of the figures in Isa 14 and Ezek 28 . The earliest hint of this is probably in Josephus, Ant. 1.47 (Procopé 1941–). The roles of Adam in Romans and 1–2 Corinthians are clear; proponents of a contrast with him in Phil 2 have yet to prove that Adam's hubris was already a theme that could be referred to by mere allusion. The most likely OT reference is quite different (see below). These and other proposed backgrounds (Martin 1983: 74–93; O'Brien 1991: 193–7) which generally assume the hymn theory as proved, mostly understand Christ's position in v. 6 as referring to his lifetime on earth, and harpagmos as an act of usurpation which he renounced. Yet not all who interpret thus oppose pre-existence, indeed, this is increasingly (and rightly) recognized as Paul's belief, expressed both here and elsewhere.

vv. 7–8 , the older exegetical line (1) takes these verses as referring first to the incarnation, then to its continuation in Jesus' life and death. Some proponents of a type (2) theory try to make them refer only to Jesus' history, but the effort is forced. The last phrase, ‘even death on a cross’ was declared by Lohmeyer a secondary ‘Pauline addition’ because it did not fit into the ‘hymn’ as reconstructed by him (O'Brien 1991: 230–1). Simply on a stylistic analysis, it crowns a series of steps as a climax (not of height but of depth), the effect of which would strike ancient hearers with the force of shocking paradox (Fee 1995: 217). Its centrality for Paul is reflected in 3:10 . A Christological complication was introduced by the Kenotic theory (Martin 1983: 66–8, 169–72) which interpreted the ‘self-emptying’ as a real abandonment of the nature of God. This misses the metaphoric character of ‘he emptied’ (ekenōsen; for its probable OT source see below); Chrysostom (PG 62.229) realized this, as part of the parable of a self-humbling king's son which he finds implicit in the the whole passage; it is explained by the following phrases in vv. 7–8 . These are admittedly difficult. They are not typical of Paul's usage, and ‘form’, ‘likeness’, and schēma all seem rather weak ways of expressing the reality of Christ's humanity, which Paul surely wants to affirm as truly as his divinity. Morphē in a human context balances its previous divine context, and (as we saw) implies more than mere outward shape; but schēma does mean shape (though NRSV loosely renders it ‘form’), while ‘likeness’ is also vague. And why is ‘slave’ mentioned before human status? The best answer lies in recognizing an allusion to the Isaian ‘Servant’ (Jeremias 1963; 1965 ). This is prima facie likely because that figure was so important for NT writers (Dodd 1952: 88–96). Though here all the words that favour an allusion are different from those usual in the NT, and imply the existence of a translation closer to the Hebrew (e.g. doulos, ‘slave’, instead of pais, ‘boy’), the cluster of significant ideas could well form a recognizable way of hinting at the Isaian figure. Thus he ‘emptied himself’ could evoke ‘he poured out himself’ (Isa 53:12 ), morphē could allude to the Servant's lost beauty (Isa 52:14; 53:2 ), and he ‘humbled himself’ to Isa 53:4 . This proposal has been unjustly opposed; it has more explanatory power than others. It illuminates the paradoxical choice of morphē to connote both Christ's divine nature and his acceptance of ‘slave’ status, especially if we accept that behind the Isaian Servant lies the role of the king in the pre-exilic cult (Eaton 1979: 75–84). Doulos is then not merely a slave as in the Graeco-Roman world but the royal Son and Servant of the divine King, living and dying in obedience (as in v. 8 ) as Chrysostom realized. Christ's ‘self-emptying’, like that of the Isaian Servant, bears an implication of sacrificial self-giving, lived out physically on earth, but also revealing a quality intrinsic to divine love.

Several keywords here also help to anchor the passage in the letter as a whole. ‘He humbled himself’ gives the model for the humility recommended in 2:3 . The root occurs again, together with words formed from morphē and schēma, in 3:21 . As the Son ‘was found’ in the human race (v. 7 ), so Paul hopes finally to ‘be found’ in him ( 3:9 ). But these recurrences are transformed in a way that depends on the second part of the ‘story’ of Christ. The whole passage, 2:5–11 , has a downward-upward movement. The shameful death by the cross is the lowest point; vv. 9–11 are the upward-moving reversal, a second stanza in terms of poetic structure.

v. 9 , ‘Therefore’ (dio) implies God's acceptance of Christ's self-offering, not necessarily a reward. The verb ‘highly exalted’ (huper-hupsoō) expresses a superlative degree of honour. Paul delights in huper-compounds (Fee 1995: 221). Those who take the passage primarily as a Christological statement find it strange that the resurrection is not explicitly mentioned, but it is implicit in ‘exalted’. ‘And gave him’ (echarisato) is more accurately ‘graciously conferred on him’; the verb used of God's giving the Philippians the grace of suffering for Christ ( 1:29 ). This echo, occurring in such close proximity, links their sufferings with Christ's glorification after his passion; the upward movement is for them too. What has been conferred is ‘the name that is above every name’: in biblical idiom ‘name’ can be personal or titular; a name has meaning and is charged with power. What name is meant here? The choice is between Jesus and Kurios, ‘Lord’. ‘[S]o that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend’ (v. 10 ) might seem to favour ‘Jesus’, but the confession that ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’ (v. 11 ) points decisively to the latter. ‘Jesus’ is his human name; Kurios and Christos are conferred titles, as in Peter's proclamation ‘God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified’ (Acts 2:36 ).

Christos (Heb. māšîaḥ) denotes the expected ‘Anointed one’; Kurios was the regular Greek rendering of ᾽ădōnāy, the reverent equivalent of YHWH, though it had many other uses, including for the emperor. But vv. 10–11 are an adapted quotation of Isa 45:23 , the context of which is that YHWH has proclaimed that he alone is God; there he says ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.’ Paul vastly expands ‘every knee’, and changes ‘to me’ to ‘at the name of Jesus’; then he changes ‘swear’ to ‘confess’ adding the object clause ‘that Jesus Christ is Lord (Kurios).’ At the beginning of the ‘story’ in 2:6 Jesus was ‘in the form of God’; now he is ‘hyper-exalted’ and Paul adapts a text that denies that there is any God but YHWH, to say that God has given Jesus the supreme name, so that he may at last be adored by every being in the threefold cosmos and universally acclaimed as Kurios. But in this acclamation does Kurios function as the name YHWH, so that, God having conferred it on Jesus, a distinction is implied between God and YHWH? Or if Kurios functions not as a name but as an ordinary predicate, what other value for it is high enough to measure up to Paul's statements implying Jesus' divinity? (He must also have been aware of making a politically dangerous claim contrary to the imperial cult (Tellbe 1994: 111–14), but Paul's primary focus is theological.) The above dilemma seems inescapable: intolerable to Jews, and embarrassing to Christian exegetes who assume that rigorous monotheism was established long before Jesus and Paul. This is why theories of non-Jewish influences on early Christology have proliferated, encouraging theories that the ‘hymn’ in ch. 2 is non-Pauline. Recent research, however, is showing ever more clearly that, at least until the reconstruction of Judaism after 70 CE, Jewish theologizing took many forms and at least some were far short of the eventual monotheism (Segal 1978; Barker 1992 ). The total identification of YHWH with the High God ᾽ēl ῾elyôn, and the redefinition of the latter's sons as angels, long remained incomplete, and the memory of how the king had been enthroned as ‘Son of YHWH’ haunted minds disaffected towards the second temple. The varieties of pre-rabbinic Judaism already contained the materials for the Christian interpretation of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection in relation to the divine unity. It is no longer enough to say that in v. 11 Kurios is ‘the equivalent of Yahweh’ and that ‘Paul's monotheism is kept intact by the final phrase, “unto the glory of God the Father” ’, as in 1 Cor 8:6 , ‘one God the Father…and one Lord Jesus Christ’ (Fee 1995: 222, 226); this only restates the dilemma above. Paul's faith can be understood only as already essentially trinitarian.

In conclusion, vv. 5–11 are fully integrated in the letter. Paul introduces the ‘story’ of Jesus to encourage the Philippians to humility and mutual respect by looking at him. Within that context the upward movement, effected by God's exalting of Christ, reminds them of the divine call behind the exhortation in 2:1–5 , as if to say ‘as disciples and members of Christ, you do not need to think of your own interests or dignity—leave it all to God; just contemplate (phroneite) the whole story of Christ. Whatever you have to suffer now, Christ is leading you to glory.’ Within the letter as a whole, the passage is the climax of the first great exhortation. The second climax, in ch. 3 , balances the first, both by verbal echoes and by repeating the downward-upward movement, now with reference to Paul. The movement corresponds to a pattern found (with variations) in a number of early quasi-credal statements, some more poetic in style, others less. The pattern would have taken shape in early meditation on Jesus' baptism, death, and resurrection in the light of OT texts, as in Acts 2:22–36 . Its skeleton is in 2 Cor 8:9 ; freer variations appear in Col 1:15–20 and the Gospel of John, especially the prologue and the theme of lifting up and glorification. In early poetry we find it in the second-century Odes of Solomon, with typically Syrian emphasis on the descent to Sheol, in Odes 17, 22 (which brings Jesus' baptism into the pattern), 24, and 42. Since Paul was probably the earliest of all the writers involved, the variants of the pattern may well issue out from him.

( 2:12–18 ) The Response Paul Desires from the Philippians

Paul returns to direct exhortation, now illuminated by Christ's example; ‘you have always obeyed’ echoes ‘he became obedient’ ( 2:8 ), and likewise has no named object, but implies primarily God (Lightfoot 1879: 115–16), rather than Paul (as NRSV). vv. 12–13 , Paul has mentioned salvation as his hope both for himself ( 1:19 ) and for the Philippians, adding ‘this is God's doing’ ( 1:28 ). What is added now is emphasis on human collaboration with God: ‘work out your own salvation…for it is God who is at work’. It is not, of course, autonomous labour. The force of 2:5–11 still directs the thought; the Christian's personal effort is with and in Christ. ‘Fear and trembling’ was proverbial from the OT; Paul usually uses it of human relations (1 Cor 2:3; 2 Cor 7:15; Eph 6:5 ), but here of a stance before God. At 1:15 Paul uses ‘good pleasure’ of attitudes favourable to himself, though usually in the NT it refers to God's benevolent will towards humankind (e.g. Lk 2:14; Eph 1:5 ). vv. 12–13 became a key text in all discussions of grace and free will.

v. 14 , Paul echoes the Exodus story for both warning and encouragement, alluding to the people's repeated grumbling (Ex 15–17; Num 14–17 ) and ‘arguing’: with divided minds, doubting God's providence. v. 15 , phrases in Deut 32:5 are turned from condemnation to encouragement: ‘children of God without blemish’ is what Moses said the people no longer were; Paul promises the Philippians that they can become so. A ‘crooked and perverse generation’ was said of the people; Paul applies it to the hostile environment in which the Philippians ‘shine like stars’ (with perhaps a hint of Mt 5:14, 16 ). He uses the present tense to encourage them, but in v. 16 there is a hint of pleading; on their ‘holding fast to the word of life’ depends his hope of being able to ‘boast [cf. 1:26 ] on the day of Christ [cf. 1:10 ] that [he] did not run in vain’—again the athletic metaphor, used as in Gal 2:2; 4:11 . v. 17 , he changes to a metaphor of religious intensity: ‘even if I am being poured out as a libation [eight words for one in Greek, spendomai] over the sacrifice and the offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice’. Here the ‘priests’ are the Philippians (cf. 4:18 ); he is ready to be part of their offering. (Paul never uses cultic or priestly terms in direct designation of his apostolic ministry, but only by way of metaphor; this is true even of the concentrated cultic language in Rom 15:16 . Priestly and sacrificial language can be applied to all members of the church.) ‘Offering’ here renders leitourgia, see PHIL 1.19 . It came to refer to religious worship (hence ‘liturgy’), especially in the Greek Bible, but it retained its financial connotations (Peterlin 1995: 195–9). Here it combines with ‘sacrifice’ in a cultic metaphor, meaning the life of Christian faith. (In 2:25, 30 the financial sense is more prominent.) v. 18 , Paul ends this section with a burst of joy (‘I am glad’) using not different words (as NRSV) but chairō four times, twice compounded with sun-, to express his own joy and to call the Philippians to the same.

  • Previous Result
  • Results
  • Look It Up Highlight any word or phrase, then click the button to begin a new search.
  • Highlight On / Off
  • Next Result
Oxford University Press

© 2022. All Rights Reserved. Cookie Policy | Privacy Policy | Legal Notice