Better Bibles Blog has moved. Read our last post, below, and then
click here if you are not redirected to our new location within 60 seconds.
Please Bookmark our new location and update blogrolls.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Phil. 2:6

I find it very interesting that someone has written a book on articular infinitives which has a certain "payoff." The payoff is the functional subordination of Christ.

Here is what Jim Hamilton wrote,
    Burk thus renders the sense of the verse as, “Although Jesus existed in the form of God, he did not consider equality with God as something he should go after also” (139). The payoff, then, of Burk’s careful grammatical investigation is that Philippians 2:6 affirms the ontological equality of Father and Son while maintaining the functional subordination of the Son, even in his pre-existent state (cf. 139–40 n. 46).
Here is the verse,
    ὃς ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ ὑπάρχων οὐχ ἁρπαγμὸν ἡγήσατο τὸ εἶναι ἴσα θεῷ
It either means,
    being in the form of God he did not think he had to grasp at being equal with God.
This interpretation is favoured by N. T. Wright and most commentaries that I have read, not many, cause I don't read that many. Wright favours this because the article before the infinitive "to be equal" τὸ εἶναι ἴσα can mean that the phrase refers back to a previous phrase. In this case, the "being equal with God" is something that Christ already is, it is the same thing as his "existing in the form of God." This is a traditional interpretation.

Or it means,
    Although Jesus existed in the form of God, he did not consider equality with God as something he should go after also
Denny Burk has written a book which has this "payoff." He demonstrates that the article is a grammatical necessity and now he is able to divide Christ's equality into two parts, ontological "existing in the form of God" which Christ has, and the second part "being equal with God", which Christ does not have. I think that is what Hamilton is saying about Burk's book.

However, my main point is that Burk is able to communicate the fact that there are two different kinds of equality by inserting the words "although" and "also" into the text. It is not there in Greek.

There are huge differences in the way this verse has been translated. Some other day we can look at that.

PS. This post has been edited for an error in the explanation of the articular infinitive.


At Sun Sep 02, 09:55:00 PM, Blogger David Ker said...

Well, we can at least hope he is an articulate writer.

At Sun Sep 02, 10:06:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Oops, I was not articulate myself, so I have had to edit this.

At Mon Sep 03, 06:08:00 AM, Blogger Doug said...

I'm not at all sure how the theological conclusion follows from the grammatical argument. To draw such a conclusion needs far more than construing τὸ εἶναι ἴσα θεῷ as a direct object. One would need to show that the distinction between ontological and functional subordination was one Paul held. One would further need to be sure of the precise connotations of ἁρπαγμὸν here.

At Mon Sep 03, 11:46:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

As I understand it, the distinction between the ontological and functional equality of Christ to God is a necessary precursor to believing that women have ontological but not functional equality with men.

So, I think, but I am not sure, that what Jim Hamilton describes as the "payoff", is that if one can make this verse consistent with the functional subordination of Christ, then one can also believe in the functional subordination of women as part of the created order, and a good thing.

However, you are right, the interpretation of ἁρπαγμὸν is crucial here. This verse is translated in many different ways. I'd like to come back to it some day.

At Mon Sep 03, 04:36:00 PM, Blogger Jeremy Pierce said...

I haven't looked at the details of this verse in a long time, but your argument strikes me as very strange, in a way reminiscent of Leland Ryken's ridiculous criticisms of the TNIV. He liked to make a lot of the fact that there isn't any word for "or her" when the TNIV translates "him or her", and there isn't any word in the plural when it translates a singular-meaning plural form like the singular "they".

What matters is not whether there's some exact word in the Greek corresponding to the word translated in the original. What matters is whether the English translation captures what the original says better than the woodenly-literal translation that you'd expect if you followed Ryken's method. Translation isn't about finding the right word in the receptor language to translate each word in the original language.

At Mon Sep 03, 04:40:00 PM, Blogger Jeremy Pierce said...

On the translation issue itself, I should say one thing I do remember from the last time I looked at this. Peter O'Brien argues that the best translation of this verse is causal. Because Jesus was in the form of God, he didn't consider equality with God something to hold on to. I know this is an unpopular view (Fee doesn't accept this, even if I remember not thinking his objection was very convincing, but I don't remember the arguments anymore). But it's Peter O'Brien, and therefore it's highly worth engaging with his reasoning to see why he's wrong if he is.

I have no idea how that affects the functional subordination view, but I'd be surprised is O'Brien didn't hold to functional subordination, which would mean you don't need Burk's translation for functional subordination.

At Mon Sep 03, 04:42:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


You are quite right in that respect. It might not matter in a dynamic translation whether one adds the "also" if, in fact, this verse is really saying that Christ is not equal to God.

Once again we need to understand whether there were two different kinds of equality in Paul's thought. Do you have any thoughts on that?

At Mon Sep 03, 04:51:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

I have been briefly skimming a few older commentaries, and I find that functional subordination doesn't really appear that I can see. I certainly don't remember it at all in my very fundamentalist upbringing.

I do have to say that I don't understand all the views on this verse yet, so I won't comment on that. However, I ask myself what the payoff is to proving that Christ is subordinate. Is our salvation greater if Christ was subordinate to God, or if he is one with God. If you separate out his oneness with God into a separate and subordinate will, then how does this increase our salvation. It would lessen it to me, that God would send a subordinate, and that Christ would come because he was subordinate. To me, it lessens grace, and therefore, is not a payoff.

These are just my impressions.

At Mon Sep 03, 06:13:00 PM, Blogger Mike Sangrey said...

I think Denny Burk needs to keep the definite article in its context.

The whole point Paul is making here starts back in his prayer--"that your love may dramatically increase by gaining both an experiential understanding and a deep insight into what is truly important so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ" (my quick translation). He then exegetes that point through his own life-example of how he sets priorities. There are three priorities: The gospel message must go out in spite of what happens to him, that the Philippian church was more important then his desire to be with Christ (again, in spite of what happens to him), and that the unity of believers is vital to that message (again, no matter the suffering). He then puts his finger on the very thing that is needed in order for these priorities to be realized--humility. The perfect example of that is Christ himself.

Developing a theological split-hair by defining different types of equality in an effort to gain some kind of superiority over other people is absolutely foreign to this text--more so than nearly all other texts.

The truly amazing, overwhelmingly amazing thing, is that this God, whom we call Christ, died. And a cross kind of death at that!!! For us, no less! He enslaved himself for our benefit! How's that speak of different types of equality?

(Reminds me of Eph. 5:25.)

The payoff word speaks to the goal of inequality. Paul spoke of payoff, too. Imprisonment coupled with people motivated to harm him further. Disappointment that he'd not go and be with Christ because other people are more important. Suffering so as to maintain the unity with your fellow believers.


That's the payoff.

Until God steps in and rewards. But, that's his call.

I don't mean to shut down discussion. Discussion is vital. However, I'm quite perplexed how anyone could argue from a definite article against 630 carefully placed words (Phil. 1:9-2:18).

I'm all for analytical precision; but, you can't so focus on a detail within the text so as to argue against the text itself.

At Mon Sep 03, 06:23:00 PM, Blogger Denny Burk said...

For anyone who wants to see the full argument for this interpretation but who doesn't want to read the whole book, check out this article:

Denny Burk, “On the Articular Infinitive in Philippians 2:6: A Grammatical Note with Christological Implications” Tyndale Bulletin 55 (2004): 253-74.

Denny Burk

At Mon Sep 03, 06:51:00 PM, Blogger Mike Sangrey said...

I should have said, "Ken Hamilton (not Denny Burk) needs to keep the definite article in context" if, in fact, he (Ken Hamilton) is using the definite article as a theological underpining to gender roles.

My reaction was motivated by my thinking that anyone could make the theological leap from a Christological description to a complementarian versus egalitarian argument.

My apologies for causing any confusion.

At Mon Sep 03, 07:36:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

A summary of Denny's journal article can be accessed at the journal's website, for the volume in which his article appears.

At Mon Sep 03, 07:59:00 PM, Blogger Nathan Wells said...

I am curious, you said, "In this case, the "being equal with God" is something that Christ already is, it is the same thing as his "existing in the form of God." This is a traditional interpretation."

But how do you know that, since you also said, "This interpretation is favored by N. T. Wright and most commentaries that I have read, not many, cause I don't read that many." (emphasis added in both quotes by me).

How do you know what is traditional and non-traditional?

Jesus is equal with God - this verse plainly states that I believe (as do many of the sources I looked at). But the thing you are missing is that, "Christ, that glorious and everlasting God, knew that he might rightfully and lawfully not appear in the base flesh of man, but remain with majesty fit for God: yet he chose rather to debase himself." (Geneva Study Bible, emphasis added)

They have the same essence - but they are separate persons of the trinity, "Being on an equality with God, is not identical with subsisting in the form of God" (JFB)
And as Wesley puts it: "It here implies both the fulness and the supreme height of the Godhead; to which are opposed, he emptied and he humbled himself."

Calvin makes a good point: "he [Paul] mentions, not what Christ did, but what it was allowable for him to do."

Christ is still fully God even in his humbled state. And yet, he did humble himself. He did submit himself to the Father as a man.

I find your comment about adding things that are not in the text refreshing, (you said: "However, my main point is that Burk is able to communicate the fact that there are two different kinds of equality by inserting the words "although" and "also" into the text. It is not there in Greek.")

I am not at the point where I can speak anything as far as Greek - but I would say, it is interesting that two major translations I checked had very close renderings to "although" (nothing with "also") are you saying all the translators who were involved in those translations don't know Greek? Is is really as simple as you make it out to be?

I think "although" makes the passage smooth out a bit - and really I don't see how it modifies any of the meaning...

but I could be mistaken.

At Mon Sep 03, 08:07:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

The beautiful kenosis passage of Phil. 2 speaks of the historical and humbling (v. 8) process the very Son of God went through to bring us salvation. It says nothing about whether the Son was ever subordinate to the Father in his pre-existent state, nor does this particular passage address the question of whether the Son remained subordinate to the Father after his time on earth was completed. That question is, I believe, addressed elsewhere by Paul who states that the Father raised the Son to sit at his right hand and reign with him. My understanding, from reading theologians, is that sitting at the right hand of someone who is reigning makes that person a co-regent, equal in both person (ontology) and rank.

I personally believe that the articular infinitive of Phil. 2:6 is not addressing a condition which did not exist, but, rather, one which had existed for eternity. I have held this position for long before I ever heard of eternal subordinationism or the complementarian vs. egalitarian divide. This understanding of the arpagmon of Phil. 2:6 is one of the exegetical positions which has been held by orthodox theologians for centuries and it is reflected in translations of the verse such as:

Christ was truly God. But he did not try to remain equal with God. (CEV)

He always had the nature of God, but he did not think that by force he should try to remain equal with God. (GNB)

Although he was in the form of God and equal with God, he did not take advantage of this equality. (GW)

Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. (NLT)

The meaning of 'something to cling to' for arpagmos is recognized by the lexicons, and seems to me to fit best with the kenosis passage in which Paul uses the example of the Son not clinging to (retaining) his status of total equality (both ontology and rank) with the Father, but willingly giving up something of that status to become incarnate and gain our salvation for us.

I find no clear biblical teaching that the Son was ever subordinate to the Father before his incarnation. It is clear from his own statements that the Son willingly submitted to his Father during his time on earth. Yet the Son also makes it clear, as Denny does, that there is ontological equality.

The question of whether the Son's subordination to the Father was limited to his time on earth or extends to all eternity cannot, I think, be absolutely answered by scriptural statements themselves. So I think we need some grace toward one another when some recognize eternal subordination of the Son (and, presumbably, the Spirit, as well) and some do not.

Denny's book needs to be read seriously. He is obviously (to me, anyway) a serious scholar. It also deserves to be seriously discussed.

I very much appreciates Mike's earlier comments on the focus of the kenosis passage. It is all about being humble toward one another, rather than lording it over one another. The incarnate Son of God demonstrated such servant headship so well during his time on earth. And Paul tells us husbands to demonstrate it, as well, toward our wives. As Mike likes to point out, that means husbands being willing to sacrifice themselves for their wives. Sacrificial death is painful and humiliating. But it is God's way for heads to sacrifice for those ("bodies") to whom they are connected as heads.

At Mon Sep 03, 08:54:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


I first wrote just "also" and then added "although" as an afterthought. However, there is no word that can be construed as "although" in the Greek. It is added and maybe justly so, but if you are going to argue a point of this nature then better not add things.

But it is the "also" which creates two different kinds of equality and that is my concern. So my post could be honed here to say that "also" is based on the interpretation that there are two different equalities. Thanks for helping me work in this.

As you know I have a deep appreciation for a literal translation.

When I checked a few older commentaries out on the internet they accorded with what you quote here from the Geneva Bible.

"Christ, that glorious and everlasting God, knew that he might rightfully and lawfully not appear in the base flesh of man, but remain with majesty fit for God: yet he chose rather to debase himself." (Geneva Study Bible, emphasis added)

To me that means that Christ is in every way equal to God, but he chose to humble himself and take on the human form. I certainly do not see how any of the quotes you supply infer that there is an ontological equality which is different from how you function. That is, the difference between form and function here is hard to find in the scriptures, at least to me. Not only that, but the very phrase "equal to God" is what Denny Burk seems to be saying Christ is not. He is in the form of God, but not also "equal with God."

Christ is still fully God even in his humbled state. And yet, he did humble himself. He did submit himself to the Father as a man.

I think that functional inequality is supposed to be the pre-existant state for Christ in this teaching.

I have to say that with Wayne, I find that the notion of functional inequality is fairly recent as a broadly taught idea.

I will have to read up on this more.

At Mon Sep 03, 10:25:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

I'm going out on a limb here, but I wonder if rather there being eternal subordinationism within the Godhead, that there is eternal mutual submission. Of course, the Son, at least for a period of time while he was on earth, willingly submitted himself to his Father. That's clear biblical teaching, from Phil. 2, and it seems to be included in Philippians as an example ("this mind") of how we are to mutually submit to one another within the Body of Christ.

Paul clearly teaches that Christians are to submit to one another. There is, as far as I know, no clear biblical teaching for a hierarchy within the Godhead. Perhaps God's desire for mutual submission for his children is reflected by that same mutual submission within his own Godhead.

Voluntary submission does not require the presence of a hierarchy. Neither does headship, at least if we look at specific biblical teaching. Biblical headship is never, as far as I know, equated with leadership. I think that leadership is eisegesis which many have unwittingly imposed upon what little the Bible actually does say about headship.

It seems to me that these questions related to Bible translation in the sense that we need to be careful to translate Bibles in a way that do not go beyond what the biblical source means by what it says. And there, of course, we will disagree, at times, and need to have grace (a form of mutual submission?) toward one another.

At Fri Sep 07, 01:51:00 PM, Blogger Jeremy Pierce said...

I finally had a chance to look at O'Brien. While I'm sure he holds to a functional subordination view, he doesn't get into that at all here. He thinks the grammatical issues are clear enough and that the verse says that it's because Christ was in the form of God already, and thus possessed full equality with God, that he didn't see the need to use that equality for his advantage humanly speaking.

He goes on in his exposition of the next verse to argue that Christ became a slave to God the Father without (the language is like slave-language in the ancient Greek context) while not giving up any of his equality with God. That does in fact amount to functional equality, and many egalitarians admit it. Rebecca Groothuis, for instance, acknowledges functional subordination as long as it's temporary. So nothing here entails complementarian views, anyway. But it does involve a kind of functional subordination in O'Brien's view, even if it takes moving to the next verse. He doesn't think v.6 teaches functional subordination, never mind eternal functional subordination. I suspect he'd say that you need to go to I Cor 11 and I Cor 15 to get that.

At Fri Sep 07, 05:34:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Thanks Jeremy,

I apprecieate that you took time to look this up. That is how I understand it. Christ is equal to God, but submitted his will to God as a man.

However, it seems clear to me that Denny Burk is saying that Christ is in the form of God, but not also "equal to God". I have several concerns with this. It seems to reduce the voluntary nature of Christ's sacrifice. According to Hamilton and Burk this "not quite equal to God" part of Christ's nature has a "payoff." I cannot understand how we can prove something from an isolated grammar point that we are so happy about because it is what we wanted to prove from the first. And why do we want Christ's eternal subordination? If he died for us as equal to God does that lessen his work for us? This is the part I don't understand.

At Fri Sep 07, 07:17:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

1. I find it disturbing that a verse that this verse is being interpreted with the complimentarian/egalitarian debate in mind. The contemporary debate over gender equality is a foreign issue to this text. It’s no doubt important to bring in relevant textual, linguistic, theological, and historical materials when interpreting a verse, but interpreting this particular verse in the light of this particular contemporary controversy strikes me as wrongheaded.

It’s unfortunate that an argument over gender is perverting the interpretation of other seemingly unrelated or distantly related verses. I am not making any comment here about which view is correct.

2. The “payoff,” as I see it is this: Given the traditional and orthodox view of the trinity, the Father and Son are ontologically equal because they are the exact same being. Trinitarians, however, need to explain passages that seem to imply Jesus is in some sense lower than the Father. One way of doing that is to distinguish between ontology and function. This theological distinction is useful in combating subordinationism, Arianism, and other views traditionally considered as heretical. This leads me to my next point.

3. It strikes me as twisted to undermine a distinction that helps defend a traditionally core doctrine of Christianity, like the Trinity, because it may threaten an historically less important doctrine or policy, like the theology of gender. It’s not “majoring in the minors” but rather “undermining the majors in order to defend the minors.”

4. One reason not to bring considerations of the complimentarian/egalitarian debate into the interpreting of this passage is that the complimentarian argument you seek to undermine doesn’t need this verse for it to go through. This theological distinction can be made whether or not Paul (or any other Biblical author) explicitly makes it in the Bible. There are plenty of distinctions the Bible doesn’t explicitly make that are either implicit or reasonable to make on purely conceptual grounds. So, why bring alien issues into the hermeneutics of this text when there is little payoff?

The history of Christianity seems to afford other examples of the heat generated by the theological debates of the time twisting and perverting out understanding of other parts of the bible and theology (e.g. the Reformers interpretation of the Book of Revelation, etc.). The church would be better served if Christians took a long view of these sorts of things. It is not worth making short-term gains in the disputes of the day at the expense of core doctrines of Christianity.

At Fri Sep 07, 07:22:00 PM, Blogger Jeremy Pierce said...

I would also say that his view of functional subordination doesn't seem to be the one that I hold to. In fact, I'm suspicious that it might be the heresy of subordinationism. If it involves Christ not being equal to the Father, then it's not the "ontologically equal but functionally different" view of most complementarians. It's actual hierarchy in terms of inequality of nature.

At Sat Sep 08, 01:06:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


I resist the notion that I am bringing gender to this verse. I am not at sure that that is what you are saying, however.

My distinct understanding is that Burk and Hamilton are framing it this way. An extended reading of their articles and blogs leads me to believe that functional subordination is deeply rooted in the gender debate for these men. I am personally offended by this. It seems to be subordinating discussions concerning the nature of Christ to the authority a man should have over a woman.

Here is a comment by Hamilton this issue,

I think those who speak of the functional subordination within the Trinity only bring this up to show that functional subordination does not imply ontological subordination.

This is generally a response to those who say that anyone who doesn't allow women to do everything men do is automatically demeaning women. No, we reply, look at Jesus and the Father: Jesus is just as much God as the Father is, and women are just as much in the image of God as men are. But just as Jesus has a role that is different from the Father's, so women have roles that differ from those given to men.

On Evangelion.

So demonstrating fuctional subordination is part of the gender rhetoric for Hamiltion. I didn't learn this somewhere else.

Of course, different for Hamilton means subordinate.

At Sat Sep 08, 02:59:00 PM, Blogger Jeremy Pierce said...

From what Hamilton says, I don't think it's fair to treat him as subordinating Trinitarian issues to gender issues. What he's doing is looking to a grammatical argument that he finds convincing, then noting that something he sees taught in scripture about the Trinity is parallel to what he sees taught in scripture about gender role differentiation. If there is role differentiation in the Trinity, and yet the Father and Son are still equal, then it is not demeaning to women to say that there is role differentiation between men and women in scripture.

I actually think this is a very strong point against certain caricatures of complementarianism given by egalitarians. I just don't think this verse provides what it's supposed to be providing. I do think the hierarchical role differentiation within the Trinity is taught in I Corinthians, as I said earlier, and I don't think that because I like the result. I think that because I think it's what those passages teach. The fact that it allows a response to an argument against complementarianism is something I realized long after I came to believe that this view of the Trinity was the correct one.

At Sat Sep 08, 03:02:00 PM, Blogger Jeremy Pierce said...

List: Again, they are not bringing gender issues into the interpretation of this passage. They are looking at the grammar, concluding from it a view about the Trinity, and then noticing that the view says similar things about what complementarians are saying about gender roles. That is not bringing gender into this passage. Their arguments are grammatical, not at all in terms of gender issues or broader theological or ethical issues. If their arguments were based on complementarianism, then your accusations would be legitimate.

A far more legitimate line of attack would be simply to resist their grammatical argument. Claiming that their view is based on gender when it doesn't seem to be based on gender just makes your resistance to this seem misplaced.

At Sat Sep 08, 04:54:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


It seems equally likely that List was complaining about my association between the two lines of argument. I couldn't tell, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt.

However, I am with Witherington on this, that functional subordination came into vogue through the gender debate. I don't think we are both making this up. However, I would have to read more of Hamilton and Burk to prove this. I understand that they have a new article on women which they have cowritten recently. I must remember to write an article on what men (not people, just men) can and can't do some day and ask them how they like it.

At Sat Sep 08, 08:22:00 PM, Blogger Jeremy Pierce said...

Well, functional subordination is just the economic Trinity as opposed to the ontological Trinity, so I don't think it's new with any recent gender debates. I don't think those Trinitarian discussions of way back had their origins in any gender debates either. See the Wikipedia discussion, which does connect the economic Trinity with functional subordination.

As I said before, some egalitarians recognize this. Craig Keener seems fine with it altogether, even with Christ being permanently submitted to the Father in the way that I Cor 15 teaches. Rebecca Merrill Groothuis insists that the Son's submission isn't permanent, even though I Cor 15 seems to say that it is. She says this because she thinks eternal submission requires ontological inequality, basically denying what orthodox Trinitarianism has held all along. I think that, while it's hard to see any functional subordination in Christ prior to the incarnation, it's just as hard to see functional equality any time after the functional subordination begins.

I think it's also worth keeping in mind that many complementarians don't like the subordination language to begin with. I'm uncomfortable with it myself. I don't want to give the impression that a relationship of authority means those under the authority have less important or less good roles, just that someone oversees it authoritatively. Subordination can mean a lot more than I suspect most complementarians have in mind by the authority relationship they see between husbands and wives, between elders and congregations, and between the Father and the Son in the Trinity. What I mean by functional subordination (if it's something I agree with) is going to be a lot less than what I think most egalitarians take it to mean (although still more than what most egalitarians believe is true). I don't think we should forget that.

At Sat Sep 08, 09:07:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


I have read Keener's article and I understand what you are saying. I don't want to go beyond saying that I think Hamilton and Burk are using this language in association with the gender debate. I wouldn't go further than that right without more research.

And yes, subordination is anincredibly terrible way to treat an intimate. However, I am convinced from some of what I have read that indeed many teach that a woman's career, education, time, and energy should be subordinate to the husband's goals, because she is a "helper". While both husband and wife have to subordinate their own interests for the good of the family, I believe it is incredibly and terribly wrong for a husband to hold his wife back to promote his own interests. But if the husband has superior authority, it is going to happen. I know it happens all the time and it is simply wrong. God gave gifts equally to men and women to be used, in mutual subordination, and consistent with what is morally right.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home