The Hymn of Colossae
The City of Colossae was situated in the valley of Lycus approximately 10-12 miles past Laodicea. It was an area which had much diversity in regard to philosophical and religious life. The Colossian Christians were surrounded by these mixtures of ideals but were seemingly not willing to recant or mix their belief in Christ with other religious systems. This lead to a tremendous struggles in the process. Sound familiar? Paul wrote to encourage them and also, indirectly, to respond to those false teachings in which they were being exposed to. It wouldn’t have been easy to resist some of these erroneous teachings since false/alternative teachers were very persuasive in their approach. Much like today, Christians were being fed with anti-Christian worldviews that were accepted by the elite and believers were expected to bow the knee to them yet Paul commands them to resist them (Colossian 2:4,8,16,18) at all cost.
There was one main advantage that these Colossian Christians had and that was they had the very personification of wisdom and knowledge in the Lord Jesus. Truth flows from the person of the Lord Jesus and they could find courage in Him to hold on to the teaching. The letter is a bit different from other epistles dealing with false teaching in that it is a bit more vague. Paul never really comes out to name the false teaching or teachers. I believe the reason he is writing this way is due to the vast array of thinking they were being exposed to. The language used in the letter seems not to point to a particular teaching but perhaps a few different religious beliefs. It is important then to carefully examine the exact terminology used by the apostle in order to give some sense whom he is addressing.[i] I have a leaning however towards the two particular groups based upon some internal evidence. I feel the heretical movements challenging the church in Colossae were based upon a form of Judaism[ii] and most likely Gnostics[iii]. Gnostics in the day of Paul held to a variety of different beliefs but two main tenets seemed to have some popularity in their circles mainly that they had a special privilege in the enlightenment of knowledge. It would not have been rare to hear the Gnostics speak of terms such as wisdom (Sophia) or knowledge (epignosis) as they held to the pursuit of knowledge as a means of final salvation. The other tenet that was popular among them was dualism. The Gnostics viewed their god as ultimately pure and holy and men as corrupt and purely evil. They had difficult reconciling how a pure and perfect god could create something as evil and impure as man. In order to solve the problem they created a lineage where their god created what was called “aeons” which were mediatory angelic beings (or demi-gods) who were grouped into what was called ‘fullness” (pleroma). These aeons are godlike creatures, often identified as angels when Gnosticism encountered Jewish or Christian belief.[iv] Greek Scholar Kenneth Wuest writes:
The more numerous the emanations, the farther away from Deity they became, and as a result the divine element in them became more feeble, until it became so diffused that contact with matter was possible, and creation took place. Thus, the gap between a holy creator God and matter which, according to the Gnostic is evil, is bridged by these emanations from God that are so far removed from a Deity who is holy, that matter could be created which is inherently evil, and this act of creation could not be attributed to a holy God”[v]
Seemingly these Gnostics were said to be from the Valentian School of Gnosticism and were highly influential. We can argue this simply from looking at the amount of space given in scripture to their refutation (1-3John)[vi] and also through the writings of many early church fathers.
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.
The identity of the author of the letter is given, as usual, at the very beginning of the epistle. Paul identifies himself as the author and also expresses the intended recipients of the letter also. Paul identifies himself as an apostle and the term can have different meanings[vii] however it seems to denote the idea of one who is a representative of the Lord Jesus Christ and having some sense of authority to shepherd the sheep through respected teaching from above. It was stamped and sealed in the person of Christ! As most commentators note; Paul had never visited that city yet he was still considered their apostle. This seems rather peculiar since seemingly Apaphras would have been the one who planted the assembly there. The authority of the apostle runs with particularity as one who is in charge of the bigger picture, mainly the churches en toto. This apostleship was by the will of God. This was no mere “wishing” on God’s part but it was His intention for Paul’s work as an apostle. Paul could even say: But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles (Galatians 1:15-16) demonstrating the ultimate Sovereign will in action as to the destiny of this great apostle.
Paul is not alone in his salutation to the Colossian assembly but adds “Timothy our brother” to his opening greeting. Timothy met Paul during his missionary trip to the region of Derbe and Lystra where Paul had met him and took him with him. (Acts 16:1-3) Some have come to the conclusion that the reason that Paul added Timothy to the letter was because they feel perhaps he was taking dictation and it was his hand that wrote it. I don’t believe this is necessarily the case since his name is found in several other of Paul’s epistles. I believe by adding the name “Timothy” was to give a sense of authority to Timothy as a young man shepherding and teaching the churches of God. He seems to have a special place seeing that others are named in the epistle (4:7-14) yet Timothy stands out alongside Paul in the salutation.
In v.2 Paul states who were the intended recipients of the letter and refers to them as “Saints and faithful brethren in Christ at Colossae”. The term “saints” is used because they were set apart to be God’s holy people and representatives in their locality. I believe the reason for calling them “faithful brethren”[viii] was as a means of inclusion especially in light of the family of God. It gives a sense of relationship that we are to have as those who share in the unity that is found in Christ Jesus our Lord. The term “in Christ” is remarkably rich if we take a moment to think about the situation these believers in Colossae were in. They were surrounded by divers false religions even some that had become a mixture of flavours yet in the end they all shared in one common them; they were all “in Adam”. What set the Colossians apart was that they were in Christ.
As customary in Paul’s epistles, he sends the “peace and grace” from God the Father[ix] their way. The desire of Paul’s heart was that they might experience freedom from strife and that the goodwill of the Father might be upon them. It is with love for the brethren that we can muster the desire to see our fellow brethren witness knowledge of the true benevolence of our gracious Father. One must wonder if we lack in this thinking in our day due to the lack of hostility we face in our North American culture.
For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.
We begin in v.13 with an explanation for the expression “who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the Saints in light”. (v.12) The term “qualified” in the preceding verse refers to how God has made us competent or worthy of receiving the inheritance He has promised. We are “qualified” because God has “rescued” or delivered us (NKJV) from the domain of darkness”. The domain of darkness seemingly refers to the powers or authorities of darkness. (Luke 22:53) The domain (exousiaV) is referring basically to the rule of that darkness and I feel should be put in contrast with “inheritance…with light”. We are speaking of being transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of the Son which is where we find our inheritance. The idea of rescuing here is probably parallel to the language of reconciliation we will see later on and seems to be closely paralleled to being brought back from exile. (Exodus 6:6-8; Psalm 107). The Colossians (and all believers) were living in darkness under the rule and dominion of their sin, the world and the devil and were in need of a “rescuing” in order to come into any blessing of the kingdom of God. These Colossian believers were not told that they were only rescued FROM the dominion of darkness but were “transferred” TO the kingdom of His beloved Son![x] This transferring to the kingdom wasn’t something that was future but that they were already in that kingdom. The Kingdom is something that was inaugurated and hence present (Romans 14:17; 1 Corinthians 4:20; 15:24) while not yet consummate and future (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 15:50; Galatians 5:21)
In v.14 Paul furthers the definition of the work of the Father of rescuing and transferring. This effort was accomplished through the Son’s work of redemption. We read “in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. It is “in Him” that we have been rescued and transferred. We have found deliverance from the being exiled from our creator in the creator Himself. The language of redemption for a believer brings us to our true Christian hope. It should be carefully noted that the redemption spoken of is something they is already possessed. It is the accomplishment of Christ’s death in demonstrating that our freedom from the bondage of sin[xi] is due to our being bought with a price. The Messiah is the liberator of His people, not from the slavery of Roman rule or governmental oppression but of man’s greatest slave master mainly sin. The result of redemption is the forgiveness of sins which is the departing of our sins from our account similar to the goat being led away or departing from Israel as he went into the wilderness. Our sins are forever sent away and never to return to us. The blood of Christ is the only means by which we can wipe away the stain of sin and avoid the coming wrath of God in judgment. (John 3:36)
Now we enter into the actual portion that we feel was inserted by Paul as a tool for exhorting the Colossian church. Vs. 15-20 were thought to be a devotional poem or a hymn. Some would even employ it in worship. L. Hurtado writes:
It is likely that it either originated within the context of early Christian praise and worship, as a hymn celebrating Jesus, or was composed by the author of Colossians himself as a hymnlike expression of Christ’s supremacy…so in either case the passage reflects, whether directly or indirectly, the hymnic praise of Christ that was a feature of the devotional life of at least some circles of first-century Christians.[xii]
Now that Paul has spoken of the “Son of His love”, he begins a compilation of focal statements meant to demonstrate who his redeemer is. The next five verses are widely acknowledged as being a hymn that existed prior to the writing of this epistle. It certainly seems by the distinction of the next few verses that there is the idea of something quoted or brought into the discussion. Some argue that Paul was the writer of the hymn however it seems more apparent that Paul utilized a common Christian hymn to which he made some alterations to fit the context of his argument. The reason the hymn was inserted was because it was a type of devotional exhortation to demonstrate the perfection and superiority of Christ over all things. This is very fitting to be sure and stressing the sufficiency of Christ over the mixture of religious thinking in Colossae would have had an impact on the perseverance of these believers. There have also been a variety of opinions on how the hymn should be viewed in regards to its construction but I don’t feel that this really impacts the text enough to really place to much emphasis upon. I have basically found the following to make the most sense:
Vs. 15-16 — Opening main Stanza (pre-eminence over creation)
Vs.17-18a — Transition (pre-eminence over the church)
Vs. 18b-20 — Closing main Stanza (pre-eminence over the new creation or redemption)
Paul wishes to place Christ on the highest point of glory as possible and hence argues that any sort of truth or knowledge must have Him as the primary starting point. No philosophical system or religion can compare to the person of Christ Jesus. With that said, let us explore and savour the sweet aroma of worship dedicated to our great Saviour and Lord.
Vs. 15 begins with the expression “He is the image of the invisible God”.[xiii] The Son, our redeemer and to whom we owe all our blessings in the kingdom, is firstly identified as the image of God. Christ is the image of the invisible God in the sense of being the means by which Jehovah has been revealed to the eyes of men.[xiv] This seems to at least be hinted to by the term “invisible” that in Him the invisible has become visible.[xv] The hymn is expressing that we may see in Christ what God is: All God’s glory is reflected in Him, and when we see Him, we see the Father.[xvi] This is not the same idea as we humans having been created in the image of God since we must distinguish Christ as being the image of God and humans being created in the image of God. The Scriptures are very explicit in their affirmation that our Great God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, cannot be seen. The bible is very clear that No one has seen God at any time (1 John 4:12) since He dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. (1 Tim 6:16) Exodus 33:20 states: “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live! No man can look upon the face of our blessed God the Father, to see Him in full view without any sort of object dividing Him and man and survive. Being in the presence of the great Majesty of God is not viable to man or any other being and we have confirmed that no being has seen God yet, at the same time, the scriptures also substantiate that One has seen Him. Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father. (John 6:46). Our Lord Jesus is the only exception to this particular rule. John 1:18 states: No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. With all this said, we know that men had seen Jehovah (Genesis 12:7; Exodus 33:11; Numbers 12:8 and especially Isaiah 6) but the light of the New Testament explains to us that it was Christ in those instances who was the one who was gazed upon and not the Father. (John 12:29-44) God is revealed in the fullest possible way through His very image who is the exact representation of His nature. (Hebrews 1:3)[xvii]
The great redeemer/Son is also identified further by the apostle by using the expression “Firstborn of all creation”. This is not in relation to the Father but His relationship to creation. The term “firstborn” is used in scripture to identify one who is the first one to be conceived in a family and this interpretation is used of the Lord Jesus (Luke 2:6-7) but in this instance I believe it is saying something more. Professor Moo writes:
The word prototokos (“firstborn”), while often used in the literal sense of the first to come from the womb, takes on a metaphorical significance based on the ancient attribution of pre-eminence to the first to be born”[xviii]
The thought of the position of the firstborn is what Paul is attempting to present to the Colossians. Paul is speaking of a priority to all creation and sovereignty over all creation[xix]. A firstborn son had a position on special honour within the family where he would receive double the portion of the inheritance and was a ruler over his father’s affairs.[xx] (Deuteronomy 21:17)Paul’s emphasis is not to present Christ as the creaturely creator but as the supreme ruler over all creation![xxi] Paul is refuting the Gnostics who pictured Christ as one of the aeons by placing him before “all creation” (angels and men).[xxii] The title helps explain how we can trust that Christ’s redemptive work was going to be sufficient and superior to any other religious system to bring about the forgiveness of sin. The reason they could trust in Christ was because He is the ruler over all creation and His Messianic authority dictates that because He rules over all things that we can be guaranteed the inheritance because we are in Him. (Colossians 1:5,12)
The 16th verse of this beautiful passage begins with the term “hoti” which gives the reason why Christ is the “firstborn of all creation”. Mainly it is because “by Him all things were created”.[xxiii] The term “by” is heavily debated among scholars in regards to how exactly it should be translated. Many argue that the term “en” (by) should be used as “through” in presenting Christ as the instrument of creation (John 1:3; 1 Corinthians 8:6 where the Greek word “dia” is used). The term however seems to be consistently translated as “in” throughout the epistle and it would seem strange to translate it differently here. The expression “in Christ” wasn’t foreign to Paul and probably gives us the idea that all of creation is created “in Him” or “in reference to” Christ Jesus. We can see its usage also in Ephesians 1:3-14 where all blessing is found “in Christ”. In other words everything that is created finds its way back to Christ Himself somehow. The term “all things” is defined as:
Things in heaven and on earth
Things visible and invisible
Thrones, dominions, rulers or authorities
The first qualifier (things in heaven and on earth) seems to be pointing to the fact that the Lord Jesus is the creator of the physical and spiritual realm which is essentially synonymous with the idea of ‘things visible and invisible”. The idea of thrones, dominions, rulers or authorities is basically giving us another parallel to the physical/spiritual realm in that it encompasses both earthly and spiritual rulerships. It is said that All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being (John 1:3). Paul then repeats the term “all things” as to bring us back to what he was defining by these three terms. We saw that all things were created “by Christ” but also they were created through Christ (dia) which is speaking of the role of Christ as mediator in all the creations existence but what is even more important is the idea that all things were created “for Him”. Everything that He brought into existence serves as a purpose and belongs primarily to Him. As Robertson rightly states it is a Christo-centric universe. This is why He is the faithful redeemer because He owns everything that bares the definition of creation. We should not forget that the pronouns expressed in these beautiful scriptures should be paralleled with the words of Paul in Romans 11:36 where we are told that For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things To Him be the glory forever. Amen. Which are speaking explicitly of Jehovah the Father Himself. This is the same idea as we see from the prophet Isaiah who expressed the idea that Jehovah was “all alone” when all things were created. (Isaiah 44:24)
When we enter the transitional verse of the hymn in v.17, Paul seems to bring us the idea of Christ’s role in creation and why it continues in existence today. We read: He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. Christ is before all things which mainly is a beyond the scope of our finite minds. Notice the text says “He is” not “He began” before all things.[xxiv] This is speaking of His pre-existence and also a reference to His eternality. The hymn at this point is very much in line with the text of John 1:1(a) where we read: “In the beginning WAS the Word…” We are speaking of something that has a title to all things because He has never come into existence. Paul is not finished! He expresses creations coming into existence in the past but he now switches to a present continuous reality mainly that all things NOW exist because of Christ. The hymn is giving the title of “Sustainer” to the Lord Jesus in showing that we even owe our existence today to Him. This is a far cry from the gods of Paul’s day who had put things into motion but then sat back to observe. He is sovereign over all things because He participates in their continuous existence and without Him nothing would continue to be.
In the beginning of the 2nd main stanza, we are presented with Christ as it refers to His role in the life of His people. The stanza begins by stating that He is the head of the body, the church which is used elsewhere in Colossians to indicate to us the supremacy of Christ over His people. We are inseparable from the body and He is the supreme authority over the Universal congregation! We are given shepherds and teachers to guide us but ultimately He is the authority figure that is focused upon and made supreme. The role of the body seems to always point to service and worship as one people interlinked with their head. (Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27) The stanza continues with more titles to denote His supremacy mainly that He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead. I would see these expressions as giving us Christ firstly as the one from whom the church originates or was founded (beginning) and His superiority flows from Him being the firstborn from the dead. In other words because of the resurrection He has inaugurated His kingship over the dead and this is where we derive our certainty that we will be resurrected. Christ is the commencing mediator of the new life for those of whom He is the head. Christ’s resurrection guarantees our final resurrection. What was inaugurated in that day will be consummated when He will come to have first place in everything and begin His final rule. (Hebrews 2:8; 1 Corinthians 15:25-28) The resurrection is the fundamental hope for all believers and without it we have absolutely nothing by which to stand upon. (1 Peter 1:3) We have life only because He has it firstly to give to us and He bestows it on whom He pleases. (1 Corinthians 15:20,23)
The hymn is not finished with the praise and devotion to the Christ of God. We are told that it was the Father’s good pleasure that “all the fullness dwell in Him”. The question of what this “fullness” is has been debated but I believe that when we are honest with the parallel passage just a few short verses later where we read: “All the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form” that we are demonstrating that at the incarnation Christ kept the “fullness” of Jehovah Himself. (Colossians 2:9).[xxv] In Christ, Deity finds its dwelling place or home to which it expresses its most powerful attributes to the creation. The term deity[xxvi] here is not merely qualitative but it is expressing the very essence of God. Here the word “divinity” will not do, only the word “deity”. (Wuest) This language is very similar to what we find in John 1:14 where John states that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us in that the Lord Jesus “tabernacled” among the people. The tabernacle was the dwelling place of Jehovah when He was among His people and while the Lord Jesus was on earth, the fullness of deity was dwelling in bodily form among them.
The closing passage in this extraordinary hymn focuses on what was our original context in presenting Christ Jesus as “redeemer”. Christ is the agent by which God “reconciles all things” to Himself. The reconciliation of all things should not be taken as meaning a Universal salvation for everyone and thing but that of a cosmic renewal (2 Corinthians 5:9; Revelation 5:13) that will come to pass through “the blood of His cross”. The blood of Christ is how God made peace with the created universe. This is exactly the argument found in Romans 8:19-23 where creation is in decay and awaiting the final consummation. There is a general reconciliation that was purchase by the death of our Lord but Paul becomes much more specific in vs. 21-24 where this reconciliation is obviously specific (YOU-Colossians) and also the conditional clause “if you continue in the faith firmly established”. The language in vs. 12-14 and 21-24 are way too particular to be speaking of a generic redemption that the Universal Salvation promoters are proclaiming.
The Carmen Christi
Philippi was an ancient city in northern Greece that bore the name of Alexander the Great’s father, Philip II of Macedon. The region of Philippi had, much like other biblical cities, many religious systems that were accepted among its residence but there was truly a predominant religious movement or a state religion in the worship of the emperor and his family members such as Julius, Augustus and Claudius. There would have obviously been much “competition” by the surrounding systems and some had even infiltrated the church as we will see.
It is thought that Paul visited the city around 49 A.D. where he was accused of proclaiming customs which it is not lawful for us to accept or to observe being Roman (Acts 16:21). This is where Paul saw Lydia converted by the power of God (Acts 16:14-15)as well as where we are told that the crowd rose up together against them, and the chief magistrates tore their robes off them and proceeded to order them to bebeaten with rods. 23When they had struck them with many blows, they threw them into prison, commandingthe jailer to guard them securely; 24and he, having received such a command, threw them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. (Acts 16:22-24) It is presupposed that Lydia, the Philippian jailer and those addressed in the letter (Euodia, Syntyche) must have had much influence in that particular assembly to have been named in the epistle. Certainly their conversions where early on and they may have been the very first Christians in fellowship in this particular district.
The epistle was written from prison (1:12-25) but we are uncertain which imprisonment was spoken of even though most scholars agree it was from Rome. This would identify the letter as being written between 60-61 A.D. Paul felt that his imprisonment was a means to show the lengths he was willing to suffer and promote the gospel. He was willing to suffer and die for it which offers some weight to his credibility. Paul’s entire focus was to the proclamation of the person of Christ and the good news found in Him. I feel this should be an example in of itself to the faithfulness of the apostle and its exhortation to us to be faithful even to the point of imprisonment for its proclamation.
There is a major theme behind the epistle that I feel denotes its purpose alongside the promotion of the gospel. Paul’s tone is serious and stern through his constant appeal for “unity in Spirit and one mind. (1:27; 2:1-5; 3:17 ect.) Paul emphasizes exactly how this unity was to be achieved in stating that the church of Philippi was to find unity by doing “nothing from selfishness or empty conceit but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves”. (2:3) The spirit of servant hood was lacking and Paul’s aim was to exhort them to work out their own salvation in this regard since it was obviously tearing apart the assembly. The Spirit of subjection to one another is the true sign of a pure and godly humility which was first demonstrated in the perfect obedience of the Lord Jesus. Paul did not hold back to write to them that they were to be Christ-like in their attitudes by mimicking His perfect submission and service to others. Paul, in inserting this hymn, demonstrates how our attitudes should always be as Christ in our self-abasement towards others. The Son of God descended from so great a height, how unreasonable that we, who are nothing, should be lifted up with pride.[i]
The apostle, in order to explain the true spirit of servanthood, brings into the epistle a citation but not just any ordinary quotation but a hymn. I am not certain if the believers in Philippi would have known this poetic reverence prior to Paul’s epistle but if it was quoted for substantiation then I’m comfortable in stating that it was a known hymn. The passages can be easily identified as a hymn because of a certain rhythmical when read aloud. Scholar F.F. Bruce writes:
Like many other early Christian hymns it is cast in rhythmical prose, not in poetical meter (whether Greek or Semitic). It consists of a recital of the saving work of God in Christ, in self-humiliation followed by exaltation.[ii]
The literary form used (3rd person indicative) and the repeated terminology such as “form, God, death, and name” as well as the rhythmic flow of the lines seems to express a hymn. The author of the hymn is a debated issue and some feel Paul might have been the author. The style of the writing doesn’t really match the style of Paul’s other writings hence it could very well be by another author and probably written earlier than the epistle.
The division of the stanza’s in this hymn are not easy to recognize and there is wide speculation how this text should be divided. I will take the position that the text should be broken down into 6 stanza’s mainly each verse being a particular stanza however I feel within these six stanza’s that we can divide these into two parts mainly vs. 6-8 and 9-11. There is certainly a shift in the tone in v.9 as we can see clearly from the terminology. The hymn takes on the very low note of the shame of Christ in v.8 but there is a victorious tone that supersede from vs. 9-11 which makes me conclude that there are two sections.
Existing in the Form of God
who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,
The opening stanza of the hymn begins by acknowledging for us the pre-existence of the Lord Jesus Christ, not as an angel or as a human, but how He existed “in the form of God”. (also see 2 Corinthians 8:9) The text is a beautiful expression of how Christ existed prior to the incarnation.[iii] The hymn’s opening words demonstrate from the beginning its intent which was to demonstrate what is true humility is found. Christ’s “being” in the form of God shows His possession of the ultimate position which shall be shown to be put aside for a position that is far less attractive.
The way the Lord Jesus “existed” was in the form of God. The term “form” (morphe) seems to denote something that can be seen or something visible to the human eye. This was its primary usage in the Old Testament Septuagint.[iv] The form of God was that which was made manifest to the Old Testament saints (Isaiah 6). In other words this expression is probably speaking of the glory of God as being manifested to humans. (2 Corinthians 4:6) This glory that is made manifest is interlinked with His nature and cannot be separated from it. The meaning the author of the hymn is giving of the line existing the form of God is clarified by the line to be equal with God. This is significant in that the hymn is stating that existing in the form of God cannot be thought of as being inferior to God but as equal. The idea here is the equality in nature and equality with God from a positional standpoint yet, as we will see, only the position changes in His incarnation.
Probably the most debatable part of what this beautiful hymn is attempting to communicate to us is found in the expression did not regards equality with God a thing to be grasped. There are many different interpretations of this particular text and especially ways of understanding the expression “did not regard’ (harpagmos). The terminology can mean to take by force or to attempt to acquire but I am not persuaded at this definition due to the context. My study leads me to conclude that the hymn writer was affirming that Christ possessed the very form of God but He did not choose to utilize or had to hold onto at all cost this position but abased Himself taking on the form of humanity with all its weaknesses and struggles for a purpose. He has equality with God and there is no question of losing it; the issue is His attitude to it.[v] The hymn tells us not only what the Lord Jesus didn’t do (grasped) but also tells us what He did in that He “emptied Himself”. The salvation of Yahweh came by not needing to use His equality with God but by taking on the form of a man, a suffering servant who achieved redemption for man and thus God is glorified.
but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.
The one who existed in the form of God did something that would have been staggering to the recipients of this letter especially one of Jewish descent in the fact that our Lord Jesus “emptied Himself”.[vi] This was done by taking on the form of a bondservant! The means by which the emptying occurs was taken on by taken on human nature. How could one who is equal with God descend to the depths of humanity, not as a king, but as a slave! I am persuaded that the idea here is that He took on the very nature of a man and the position of a slave. This is not to say that the Lord relinquished His divine attribute but veiled them. The term “emptied” is found in two texts and I feel these passages bring some clarity to Paul’s expression:
For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void. (1 Corinthians 1:17)
For (if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified;(Romans 4:14)
In both these examples, the NASB translated the term as “void” or something of uselessness. I believe since the term “form” is used for both His nature as God and as man that this should be attributed to His outward appearance. In other words, He set aside the outward expression of His deity when expressing Himself as a bondslave. [vii]
My understanding of the term “emptied” in regards to the rest of this stanza should be paralleled with texts found in the book of Isaiah. The writer of the hymn may have found some inspiration in the words of Isaiah. Although there are some distinctions, the similarities are worth mentioning.
|but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (2:7-8)||Because He poured out Himself to death,(53:12)For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty. That we should look upon Him,|
Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. (53:2) So His appearance was marred more than any man And His form more than the sons of men. (52:14)
|For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, (2:9)||Behold, My servant will prosper, He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted. (52:13)|
|so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.(2:10-11)||Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; For I am God, and there is no other. I have sworn by Myself, The word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness And will not turn back,|
That to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance.(45:22-23)
Christ’s taking on the form of a bondservant reflects what exactly happened at the incarnation. The whole purpose of the hymn writer was to demonstrate how the Lord Jesus took on a position of inferiority as a slave. The one who was in the form of God and equal with God took on the form of a man and the equality to a slave. He came to be the suffering servant that the prophet Isaiah promised so long ago!
The Humble One
Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Here we mention once again the rhythmic style of the hymn is in view since the repetition of the expression of Christ’s incarnation is brought back to light and accented. The importance of this portion of the humbling of Christ should not merely be taken as the simple taking on of flesh. The real purpose of the hymn is to demonstrate the standard of humility in Christ. The taking on of flesh was the means in which He could manifest to His creation what is the true characterization of humility. The expression of His humble work would have been an impossibility without the incarnation. The one who was in the form of God and equal with God was shamed to such a degree that His life was given in a place of absolute shame called Golgotha. The place where the most heinous and rebellious criminals were put to death! G. Hansen writes:
The one who could have rightfully claimed the highest position in human history and justly received supreme honors deliberately sought the lowest position and submitted himself to extreme humiliation. [viii]
Not only was this humbleness based upon a demonstration of perfect humility but more importantly Christ humbled Himself on our behalf. His quest was to serve others in the most perfect and holy way possible. The cross was not simply a simplistic or humane execution device but it was an extreme torture tool that led to a painful and inevitable death. It is very difficult for us to really grasp the horrors and humiliation associated with suffering a crucifixion. The shame the victim would suffer was so horrendous that the writers of the New Testament shied from describing it in any detail. Even though it was used in this way, it became something so much more when He hung on it. This utterly vile form of punishment was that which Jesus endured, and by enduring it he turned that shameful instrument of torture into his follower’s proudest boast (Gal. 6:14).[ix] The polar opposites cannot be pondered enough when we truly compare the pre-existence and the post-incarnation. The hymn celebrates Christ’s choice to be obedient to death—even the death on a cross.[x]
For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name,
The next stanza and the opening of our second section begins with the polar opposite of where the hymn writer left off. He leaves us in a sort of decrescendo spiral to that shameful place called Calvary where the Son of God is put to death in shame.
This transition begins the theme that the shame of the cross was not the final place for the Son! The hymn writer makes the transition emphatic by placing two conjunctions “and therefore” to show a change of effect.[xi] Now we finally see God the Father intervening and becoming the subject whereas the Lord Jesus is the object of the Father. The Father responds to this self-humbling by demonstrating His complete satisfaction to the willful obedience of His glorious Son. God raised the Lord Jesus from the dead and gave Him the highest position of all, the throne of God!
The hymn presents us with a portrait of a beautiful path upwards in victory by stating that the Father “highly exalted Him”.[xii] The exaltation was as much of a part of God’s purpose as the abasement of the Lord. The exaltation of Christ was a result of His obedience and humility unto death. This doesn’t mean that Christ was motivated to die because He wanted to be exalted since I feel His total motivation was to be the suffering servant. The Lord Jesus spoke on many instances of the one who humbles Himself will be exalted[xiii] to which He is the primary example. God’s exaltation is merely the exoneration by God of the one who gave all for His people. How did God the Father exalt the Lord Jesus? The hymn continues this beautiful elevation by stating that Christ Jesus was given “the name above every name”. The name (to onoma) is used with the definite article hence it is not just any name that is given but “the name”. The question is: what is this name? Some have argued that the name has to be “Jesus” since the very next sentence “at the name of Jesus” seems to point to this rendering. It would however seem a bit strange to give a name that was already in the Lord’s possession. The name “Jesus” was given at His birth but this seems to be a name that was given. The other interpretation and very popular among scholars is the idea that the name given is “Lord”. The term Lord was used by the ancients when reading the divine Name in the Old Testament which we translate Yahweh or Jehovah. This would have been the ultimate exaltation to be certain. There can be no greater name than YHWH! What is fascinating is that the hymn writer uses parallels in Isaiah especially as we will see in Isaiah 45. The whole point of the texts of Isaiah from chapters 41 to 45 is to argue the distinctiveness of Jehovah against all other gods. This is related to us through several unique attributes or titles such as only Saviour (Isaiah 43:11), the first and the last (44:6), creator (Isaiah 45:18) and also the unique name (42:8). [xiv] Yet another interpretation that I feel is worth mentioning is that the name that is given doesn’t necessitate a label but merely states a fact about His exaltation. The “name” sometimes stands for one’s authority and hence in this instance the hymn writer may be arguing from the expression “the name that is above every name” that He is given the highest possible authority and dominion. My understanding would be a blend of point 2 and 3 in that the name “Lord” that is referring to YHWH as supreme Lord of all things which is, in the final eschatological outcome, given to the Lord Jesus.
The Lord of Lords
so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
The hymn continues with two actions attributed to God the Father main that He exalted Christ and gave the name. There are therefore two results that came to pass through God’s action mainly that all created things bow and exalt! The worship of Christ is associated with His position as King! Would any monotheistic Jew in the days when this was written have bowed to any sovereignty especially in the same manner as worship of Jehovah? The parallel verse in Isaiah 45 says much of the quality of the worship in that it demonstrates that the worship was to be attributed to Jehovah. How could we offer the exact worship expressed in Isaiah 45 to Christ?[xv] The whole point in Isaiah was to show that God would finally be acknowledged rightfully as God by all the nations as the only true God and King. The name that is above every name is also a reference to deity since there can be no name greater than YHWH. The name Jesus was the human name that the Word was given and it is interlinked with the previous stanza in that the name Jesus is defined as the one who took on the form of a man. Jesus was the one who died as a sacrifice for sinners but now God has taken that name and made it above all in the expression “Lord”! What is absolutely staggering about the parallel in Isaiah 45:23 is that Jehovah states that “before me” every knee shall bow yet in the text in Philippians the bowing of the knee is ascribed to the Lord Jesus! The name “Jesus” and then “Lord” with all their meaning must be speaking of divine Sovereignty.
The bowing of the knee was an expression of divine worship and subjection attributed focally to God. (Psalm 95:6-7) Some have attempted to attribute the bowing of every knee and confession of their lips to the idea of a final universal salvation of all men. In other words, in the final state of affairs, all men are bowing and acknowledging Christ because they have come to faith in Christ. I am not persuaded that the hymn writer was attempting to communicate this simply because the idea of this final worship is not said to be some voluntary affection but in a setting of judgment (Romans 14:11). This is the case also in the parallel of Isaiah 45 where all those who rage against God will be put to shame. (Isaiah 45:24)
The idea of every knee bowing is qualified by “in heaven, on the earth and under the earth” which I feel can be summarized as the total sphere of creation. The Hymn’s author is making sure we realize that no one is left out of the equation when he qualifies “every knee”. It should be taken as an eschatological event in the future even though the Lord Jesus possesses the name “Lord” right now. This universal acknowledgment is still something we look forward to in the future.
The crescendo of the hymn is found in the fact that Christ Jesus will rightfully be acknowledged as “Lord”. The threefold expression; in heaven, on the earth and under the earth, as Hansen rightfully states, emphasizes that the Sovereignty of Jesus is a divine sovereignty that surpasses all human and angelic sovereignty. [xvi] The idea of every tongue confessing is that of an open confession. There is certainly a possibility to render the idea of confession here as “to praise” or giving some sort of gratitude but I feel in this instance it is not the most likely usage since the term is used quite frequently also as admitting or “to confess” as in the confession of sins.[xvii] Those who preach Universal Salvation argue that Romans 10:9 should be taken as the parallel text to which the promise of God is fulfilled in the confession of Christ as “Lord” to grant them salvation. The question I must ask myself is whether or not this is what Isaiah 45:23 is trying to communicate? There is certainly strong language used in Isaiah 45:24 stating that all who were angry at Him will be put to shame. This shame is not merely stating that they are embarrassed because they did not believe. The language is far too strong for such a rendering and I believe they will be put to shame by having to do something against their wills in judgment which is mainly an open affirmation of Christ’s Divine Lordship. I have never been able to understand attributing Romans 10:9 to the afterlife when it is clearly a reference to this age.
Finally we come to the hymn writer’s final stanza to which we are warmed and joyously proclaimed the expression “to the glory of God the Father”. There are many theories as to what has glorified God but it is my thought that God was glorified in everything preceding this stanza especially the final Lordship of Christ. In other words, God the Father is glorified in that the Lord Jesus, being equal with God, took on the form of man, abased Himself, was put to shame and God exalted Him!
[i] Calvin’s Commentaries, Philippians, Vol. XXI, John Calvin, Baker, Page 55
[ii] New International Biblical Commentary, F.F. Bruce, Hendrickson, Page 68
[iii] Notice that it states how Christ existed not that Christ came into existence
[iv] See Judges 8:18; Job 4:16; 6:16 and Isaiah 44:13
[v] Jesus and the God of Israel, Richard Bauckham, Eerdman, P. 41
[vi] This phrase is also very much debated with three plausible interpretations. The Kenotic theory is the theory which states that Christ emptied Himself of the form of God and equality with God. The second is the incarnation view which is the idea that Christ took on the form of man with all its weaknesses without emptying but veiling His divinity and thirdly the Isaiah parallel view which sees this hymn as a fulfilment or parallel with texts in Isaiah.
[vii] Word Studies in the Green New Testament, Kenneth Wuest, Eerdmans, Page 67
[viii] The Letter to the Philippians, Pillar New Testament Commentaries, G.. Walter Hansen, Page 154
[ix] New International Biblical Commentary, F.F. Bruce, Hendrickson, Page 71
[xi] “dio kai” is used and followed by vs. 9-11 which is, in essence, one long sentence with three stanzas within.
[xii] “The simple verb uyow was often used in the NT to describe exaltation of Jesus. In a literal sense the verb was employed of the action of Moses lifting up the bronze serpent on a pole for all to see (Jn 3:14; CF. Nu. 21:9), while figuratively it pointed to Jesus being placed in a position of highest honour and supreme power (Acts 2:33; 5:31; cf. The blending of the literal and figurative use in Jn. 3:14; 8:28; 12:32,34)- The Epistle to the Philippians, NIGNT, Peter T. O’Brien, Eerdmans, Page 235
[xiii] Matthew 23:12; Luke 14:11
[xiv] It should be noted that Saviour, first and the last as well as creator are all titles that are attributed to the Lord Jesus as well. (see Luke 2:11, John 4:42, Revelation 1:17; 2:8, 22:13; Colossians 1:16; John 1:3)
[xv] Some have attempted to sway the worship from the Son to the Father by arguing that the preposition “en” should be taken as instrumental. In other words they argue that Christ is the means by which worship is offered. I do not feel this is what the hymn writer is attempting to present to us. O’Brien’s remarks are worth mentioning: the adoration is in honour of the exalted Christ…and the parallel words of v. 11b describe explicitly the act of reverence as paid directly to the Son and “to the glory of God the Father”. It is clear that Jesus is the one being worshipped. (The Epistle to the Philippians, NIGNT, Peter T. O’Brien, Eerdmans, Page 240)
[xvi] The Letter to the Philippians, Pillar New Testament Commentaries, G.. Walter Hansen, Page 166
[xvii] Matthew 3:6; Mark 1:5; Acts 19:8; James 5:16
[i] Most scholars are divided as to what exactly was the primary heretical movement that Paul was challenging in this epistle.
[ii] Notice the terminology used by Paul such as Sabbaths, New moons, meats & drinks and circumcision
[iii] Language such as service of angels, fullness and superior wisdom certainly at least hints towards this movement.
[iv] The Forgotten Trinity, James R. White, Bethany House Publishers, Page. 108
[v] Word Studies in the Greek New Testament, K. Wuest, Eerdmans, P. 164
[vi] It should be noted that the epistles of John were addressing primarily, in my mind, the Docetists who were influenced by the Gnostics. These Docetists believed that believed that Christ could not have come in the flesh since He was pure and holy.
[vii] Moo sees the term as being used as a messenger (Philippians 2:25; 2 Corinthians 8:23) and also as an “accredited Missionary” (1 Corinthians 9:5-6; 15:7; Galatians 2:9)
[viii] The term “faithful” is the translation of “pistos” which generally is translated as “believing” or “believers” but in this instance the idea stem from those who were continuously faithful in the circumstances they were in.
[ix] The NKJV (also KJV) add the words ‘and the Lord Jesus Christ” yet the NASB et al. Do not have that reading. It is difficult to establish simply from the manuscript evidence since I feel both have a strong support but it seems more likely that since the reading is similar to Ephesians 1:2 (and these are tremendously similar) then it is logical to say it was an attempt at harmonizing with the Ephesians epistle. In other words, even though rare, I feel the original probably didn’t have “and the Lord Jesus Christ”.
[x] The literal rendering here would be, as the NKJV translates, “the kingdom of the Son of His love”
[xi] Wuest would identify the term “aphesis” as carrying the idea of a release from bondage
[xii] Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in the Earliest Christianity, Larry Hurtado, Eerdman, Page 506
[xiii] The NASB, NKJV, ESV, NIV ect.. translate the term “hos” as “He is” but I prefer the KJV or JND translations in this instance as “who is” since it flows better with the “in whom” in v.14 and it seems to be the more literal rendering.
[xiv] Vincent defines “image” (eikwn) as: image is more than likeness which may be superficial and incidental. It implies prototype, and embodies the essential verity of its prototype. (P.468)
[xv] Bruce P
[xvi] The Lord of Glory, B.B. Warfield, Page 254
[xvii] The term character is very much parallel with the idea of the image. Greek scholar Kenneth Wuest explains: The words “express image” are the translations of charakter. This word was used in classical Greek of an engraver, one who mints coins, a graving tool, a die, a stamp, a branding iron, a mark engraved, an impress, a stamp on coins and seals. Metaphorically it meant “a distinctive mark or token impressed on a person or thing, by which it is known from others, a characteristic, the character of.” It was a Greek idiom for a person’s features. It was used of the type or character regarded as shared with others. It meant also an impress or an image. The classical usage of this world should throw some light upon its use in the New Testament
[xviii] The Letter to the Colossians and to Philemon, Douglas Moo, The Pillar New Testament Commentaries, Eerdman, P. 119
[xix] Wuest p. 183
[xx] Compare Genesis 41:51 & Jeremiah 31:9 and also see Psalm 89:27 and Exodus 4:22
[xxi] D. Wallace writes: “Though some regard this gen. To be partitive (thus, firstborn who is a part of creation), both due to the lexical field of “firstborn” including “preeminent over” (and not just a literal chronological birth order) and the following causal clause (“for [oti] in him all things were created”)- which makes little sense if mere chronological order is in view, it is far more likely that this expresses subordination. Further, although most examples of subordination involve a verbal had noun, not all do (notice 2 Cor. 4:4 above, as well as Acts 13:17). The resultant meaning seems to be an early confession of Christ’s lordship and hence, implicitly, his deity. (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, Daniel Wallace, Zondervan, Page 105)
[xxii] Robertson P. 478
[xxiii] The Watchtower Bible & Tract Societies translation “the New Word Translation of the Holy Scriptures” renders this passage as “all (other) things”. I feel this is unfortunately the very essence of reading your theology into the text. The basis for this insertion is that the term “other” is inserted for clarity but does adding the term “other” in this passage not completely change the intent of Paul? Is it very clear that the insertion was on eisegetical grounds. What is most alarming about this rendering is that it turns Paul’s entire argument against the Gnostic dualism on its head. We have here Christ as “a god” (John 1:1 NWT) and secondary creator who created everything but Himself. How this is any different than the dualistic rendering of creation is questionable to say the least.
[xxiv] It is important to note that the text doesn’t speak about Christ coming into existence at al particular point in time but that His superiority over all things stems not only from the fact that He created it all but that He precedes it all.
[xxv] In Colossians 2:9 Paul expresses the idea that “in Christ” we believers are made full (vs. 10-15). The point Paul is attempting to present is that we as Christians are not to be taken prisoner or captive by wordly and vain philosophical systems to lead us away from our focus on Christ. Why? Because all of God Himself has made His dwelling place or permanent home in Jesus Christ.
[xxvi] Greek jeothV