The Lordship of Jesus the Messiah (Part 2)

We will now examine key texts in the epistles regarding the nature of Jesus’ lordship. Does Jesus’ being called ‘Lord’ (Gr. kurios) identify him as Yahweh or is there another way to define his lordship? Did the NT authors mean for their readers to understand Jesus to be the Yahweh of the OT by their use of kurios? This is indeed the claim of many bible teachers, commentators, and Christian apologists. So common is this idea that it has even made it’s way into the commentary notes of popular Bibles. Take for example the 1985 edition of the NIV Study Bible. In the commentary notes for Romans 10:9 we read this:

In view of the fact that “Lord” (Greek kyrios) is used over 6,000 times in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the OT) to translate the name of Israel’s God (Yahweh), it is clear that Paul, when using this word of Jesus, is ascribing deity to him.

But is it really clear that that is what Paul is doing? Or is this just an assumption on the part of those who are desperate to find Scriptural support for a belief which really lacks such support. We have already seen, in the first part of this study, the wide range of use of the word kurios in both the LXX and the NT. This fact is hidden from the ordinary Bible reader because of the way the word is translated with reference to persons other than God and Jesus. But because of the wide range of use of kurios it is irresponsible to make such assertions as in the above quotation.

Distinguishing the Lord God from the Lord Messiah

We know that in the NT the word kurios is used of God (i.e. Yahweh) and of Jesus the Messiah. Does this mean they are the same person or the same being? The simple answer is no! There are ways in which the NT authors distinguish between the two. Now I am not speaking of a distinguishing between the Father and Jesus; this is accepted by all except oneness or Jesus only believers. I will show how the NT authors clearly distinguish these two (Yahweh and Jesus), primarily by defining who God is and who Jesus is.

In the beginning of Paul’s letters he includes a benediction. It is basically the same in every letter with only minor differences:

  • “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus the Messiah.”  Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:3; 2 Cor. 1:2; Gal. 1:3; Eph. 1:2; Phil. 1:2; Col. 1:2b; 1 Thess.1c; 2 Thess. 1:2; Philemon 1:3
  • Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Messiah Jesus our Lord.” 1 Tim.1:2b; 2 Tim.1:2b
  • “Grace and peace from God the Father and Messiah Jesus our savior.” Titus 1:4b

Basic reading comprehension skills enable us to understand that Paul is speaking of two distinct individuals in these benedictions. The Trinitarian says, “Yes, God the Father and God the Son.” But none of these text say such a thing as that; one must presuppose that in order to see it there. Again, if we employ basic reading comprehension skills it is clear that the distinction is not between Father and Son, persons within God, but between one who is called God and one who is called Lord and Messiah. The Trinitarian cannot just read the phrase ‘God our Father’ or ‘God the Father’ as Paul’s way of identifying the first person of the Trinity, for that would clearly be gross eisegesis. What Paul intends by these phrases is apparent to any unbiased reader; his meaning is ‘God, who is our Father’ or ‘God, who is the Father.’ In other words, by saying this Paul is identifying who God (i.e. the one true God, Yahweh) is — the Father. And in distinction to this God, Paul presents one who is ‘Lord’, i.e. the Messiah Jesus. By the way, as a side note, Trinitarianism teaches that the three persons within God are co-eternal, co-equal, and worthy of the same honor and worship. So why is the Holy Spirit never once included in Paul’s benedictions?

So how does Paul see the relationship between the one he designates as God, that is the Father, and the one he designates as Lord, that is Jesus the Messiah? Here is the answer to that question in Paul’s own words:

” … so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus the Messiah.”   Rom. 15:6

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus the Messiah, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort.”  2 Cor. 1:3

” The God and Father of our Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever.”   2 Cor. 11:31

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus the Messiah, who has blessed us …”   Eph. 1:3

” … that the God of our Lord Jesus the Messiah, the Father of glory … ”   Eph. 1:17

“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus the Messiah …”    Col. 1:3

Paul sees God our Father as the God and Father of the Lord Jesus. Anyone reading these texts without any presupposition would certainly come to that conclusion. In other words, if you were to ask Paul, “Who is our God?” he would answer, “the Father of our Lord Jesus” and certainly not, “Jesus.” So how does this help us to understand the sense in which Jesus is ‘Lord’ ? First of all, if Jesus is supposed to be a co-eval and co-equal member of the Godhead with the Father, doesn’t it seem strange that he has a God? How is one co-equal member of the Trinity the God of another co-equal member? Does the Holy Spirit also have a God? Does the Father have a God? The fact that Jesus has a God, who is the Father, the same God we have, certainly puts him in a different category than God. Now follow me carefully in this as I reason from the Scriptures.

In Micah chapter five there is a prophecy about the coming Messiah. We are all familiar with verse 2 which foretells of one coming out of Bethlehem who will be ruler for God over Israel, but verse four is what I want to focus on. It reads:

“He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of Yahweh, in the majesty of the name of Yahweh his God. And they shall inhabit their place, for then he shall be magnified unto the ends of the earth.”

Now if this is a Messianic prophecy, and I believe it is, then it is referring to the Lord Jesus. The verse tells us, not that this one is Yahweh, but that Yahweh is this one’s God. So when Paul says in Ephesians 1:17 that the God of our Lord Jesus is the Father, we can logically reason that the Father is Yahweh. Nothing controversial about that. But if trinitarianism is correct then Yahweh must be the Trinity. But the God of Jesus is the Father and not the Trinity. Now who is the God of believers? If you say the Triune God then you have a different God than our Lord Jesus. If you say Jesus then you also have a different God than our Lord Jesus. Can believers have as their God someone other than the God that Jesus has? Jesus himself did not think so, for he said to his disciples:

“I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God”  John 20:17

And Paul did not think so, for he told the believers in Jesus, in contradistinction to the many gods of the pagans:

” … but for us there is one God, the Father … ”  1Cor. 8:6

And John, the revelator did not think so, for he said concerning Jesus:

” … and he has made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father …”    Rev. 1:6

So what does all of this mean? It means that it is impossible that Paul intends, in designating Jesus as ‘Lord‘, that we should infer that Jesus is Yahweh himself.

1 Corinthians 8:6

Now let’s take a closer look at 1 Corinthians 8:6 to see just how Paul distinguishes God from the Lord Jesus. First, he says that we believers have one God, whom he identifies as the Father. Please note that Paul’s one God is the Father, not the ‘Father, Son and Holy Spirit.’ Paul could have said that if he believed it; after all isn’t that how orthodox Christians speak of God. Leaving aside the prepositional phrases, he then says:

” and (for us) there is one Lord, Jesus the Messiah …”

Now here is where the apologists’ arguments get really ridiculous, from “Paul is including Jesus in the one God” to “if the Father can be called ‘Lord’ even though Jesus is said to be the one Lord, then Jesus can be God even though the Father is said to be the one God.’ Really! Where are those basic reading comprehension skills when you need them? These arguments just seem like desperate attempts to validate with Scripture an unscriptural tradition.

Paul gives us here two different categories: 1.) the one God, presumably Yahweh, to which belongs the Father. Do I have to point out the obvious, that Paul includes no others in this category, not even Jesus. 2.) the one Lord, to which belongs Jesus the Messiah. The title ‘Lord’ here cannot be a reference to Yahweh because Paul has already dealt with that category and is now speaking of another category. If ‘Lord‘ here did refer to Yahweh then Paul would be  saying this:

” … but for us there is one Yahweh, the Father … and one Yahweh, Jesus the Messiah.”

This would make Paul incoherent and abstruse. The word ‘one’ here precludes that both categories are referring to the same being.

So Paul’s point is clear. Believers have one God, who is the Father, and one Lord, who is Jesus the Messiah. Now, does Jesus’ being the ‘one Lord’ preclude the Father from also bearing the title kurios? No! Why not? Because the Father is kurios by virtue of the fact that he is the one God and Creator of all things and therefore has authority over all, as is confirmed by Jesus himself,

“I praise you Father, Lord of heaven and earth … ”   Matt. 11:25

and by James,

“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father … ”   James 3:9

and by Paul,

“The God who made the world and everything in it, he is the Lord of heaven and earth … ”     Acts 17:24

The word kurios is attributed to the Father either as the Greek equivalent to adon, which is used of Yahweh many times in the OT, or as a substitute for adonai, which was itself a substitute for the Tetragrammaton. So the Father is given the title ‘Lord‘ for a totally different reason than Jesus is given the title.

Another reason Jesus’ being the ‘one Lord’ does not rule out that designation for the Father is that that would mean that Jesus is the Lord of the Father. But that would be total nonsense. Listen to what Paul told the Corinthians:

“For he (God, the Father) has put everything under his (Jesus) feet. Now when it says that ‘everything’ has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Messiah.”  1 Cor. 15:27

And Paul wrote to the congregation in Ephesus:

“There is one body and one Spirit … one hope … one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, the one over all … ”    Eph. 4:4-6

Here also Paul distinguishes between the one Lord, who is Jesus, and the one God, who is the Father of all. But note that Paul says of the Father, who is the one God, that he is the one who is over all, i.e. Lord of all, which must include the one Lord, who is Jesus the Messiah.

So what does Paul mean by ‘one Lord’ with reference to Jesus? Just what he said in these  passages. Jesus has been made the ‘one Lord’ by God, who has put everything under him. And this God himself is Lord over Jesus. This is in line with what Peter said of Jesus in Acts 2:36:

” … God has made this Jesus … both Lord and Messiah.”

Simply put, Jesus is the one from the line of David chosen to rule over God’s kingdom forever — that is, he is the one Lord among men. Jesus is the one man, chosen by God, to whom is entrusted the kingdom and all things that pertain to it. In this sense, not even the Father is Lord. Once again, the Father is called Lord of all because he is God the Creator. This is why Jesus can be appointed Lord over all by the God, the Creator, who is Lord of heaven and earth {Matt. 28:18}. How could God, the Father give Jesus this authority unless it was his to give. So then among all created beings Jesus the Messiah has the supremacy, the first place or rank, because the Lord of heaven and earth has given him that authority. Also his lordship is intrinsic to his Messiahship, as the angel told the shepherds of Bethlehem on the night of Jesus’ birth:

“Today in the city of David, a savior has been born to you who is Messiah, the Lord.” Luke 2:11

As Yahweh’s anointed one, the man Jesus is the only one given authority to rule on Yahweh’s behalf over Yahweh’s kingdom “and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.” {Gen. 49:10}

One other point that further shows the lordship of the Father over Jesus, the one Lord among created beings, is the concept of Jesus being at the right hand of God. This idea is found throughout the NT { see Acts 2:33-34; 5:31; Rom. 8:34; Eph. 1:20; Col. 3:1; Heb. 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Peter 3:22}, as well as two passages in the OT {see Ps.80:17; 110:2}. What does it mean that Jesus is at the right hand of God? First, it is a position of subordination. The one who is at the right hand of another serves that one by carrying out that ones will and purpose. Second, it is a position to which one must be appointed. The Acts 5:31 and Eph. 1:20 passages clearly show that God put Jesus in this position, as does also the Ps 110:2 passage. It is the greater who appoints the lesser. What it means is that Jesus has been given authority to rule over God’s kingdom on God’s behalf. It should also be recognized that Scripture never says that Jesus is at the right hand of the Father, which could indicate a distinction within the Godhead between the person of the Father and the person of the son. But it is always “at the right hand of God,” indicating a distinction between the God, who in the NT is always only the Father, and the man Jesus the Messiah.

Now back to 1 Cor. 8:6. Paul further distinguishes between the ‘one God’ and the ‘one Lord’ by the prepositions that are applied to each. Of the ‘one God’ he writes, ek hos ta panta kai hemeis eis autos, which is literally translated, from whom the all things and we for him.” And of the ‘one Lord’ he writes, dia hos ta panta kai hemeis dia autos, which is literally translated, through whom the all things and we through him.” Now this is usually understood to be referring to the original creation and is therefore read something like this:

” … one God, the Father, who is the source of all creation and we were created for him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things were created and we were created through him.”

So then most exegetes take this as a statement that God the Father is the source of creation which he brought about by means of God the Son, hence making Jesus the actual, hands on, Creator of all things. Whether they realize it are not, this is a thoroughly Gnostic concept drawn from Platonic metaphysics. That aside, is this what Paul actually meant by these words? I would like to suggest another way of reading this passage.

I believe Paul is not speaking about the original creation of all things, but of the reconciliation of all things and the new creation in Messiah. Listen to what Paul says in 2 Cor. 5:17-19:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Messiah, a new creation; the old things have passed away. Look, the new things have come to be. Now the all things (are) from God, the one having reconciled us to himself through Messiah … how God was, by means of the Messiah, reconciling the world to himself … ”  Literal translation

Here we see the same exact wording found in 1 Cor.8:6, clearly in the context of the new creation in Messiah. In both passages there is no verb in the Greek, it simply says, “ from God the all things.” In 1 Cor. 8:6 most commentators supply the thought of , “from God the all things were created.” But in 2 Cor. 5:18-19, after saying “the all things from God,” Paul supplies the verbal thought himself, “from God the all things are reconciled.,” i.e. the all things of the new creation {see also Eph. 1:10; 2:10; and Col. 1:20}.

Paul then goes on to say that this reconciling, which is from God, has been accomplished through or by means of the Messiah, the one Lord . So then we could understand 1 Cor. 8:6 in this way:

“Yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom comes the new creation of all things having been reconciled and we are reconciled for him; and one Lord , Jesus the Messiah, through whom comes the new creation of all things having been reconciled and we are reconciled through him.

Update added on 3/ 30/2019

There is a trinitarian apologetic regarding 1 Cor. 8:6 that has been growing in popularity in recent years. Trinitarian apologists have taken their cue from a number of scholars who have promoted this idea, among whom are N.T. Wright and Richard Bauckham. It states that Paul is splitting the Shema of Israel between the Father and Jesus, thus including Jesus in the one God. The Shema is found in Deut. 6:4:

Hear, O Israel, Yahweh our God (Heb. elohim), Yahweh is one.

The idea is that Paul is applying the ‘God’ part to the Father, and the ‘Yahweh’ part to Jesus. This is because when Paul called Jesus the one ‘Lord’ he used the Greek word kurios. Now when the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the OT, was written, the translators used the Greek word kurios whenever the name of God, Yahweh, appeared in the Hebrew text. This was done because it had been an established practice among the Jews to not say or write God’s name, so in Hebrew they substituted God’s name with the Hebrew word adonai. But when they translated this into Greek they used kurios. Please see my April 2018 post titled The Lordship Of Jesus The Messiah for an explanation of the word kurios. In that post I point out that kurios is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew adon, both words meaning lord or master, i.e. one having authority over another. The Greek word kurios is not, I repeat, is not a translation of the divine name, Yahweh. Kurios was simply used as a substitute for the divine name, to avoid writing it and saying it when reading the text. But apologists for the Trinity have constantly been wrongly asserting that Jesus’ being designated by the word kurios, is meant by the authors of the NT to mark Jesus as Yahweh. 1 Cor. 8:6 is employed by these apologists more than any other verse to make this point. I will now show why this argument is totally fallacious.

First, it would seem what Paul is actually doing here is not splitting the Shema between the Father and Jesus, but rather, adding to the Shema’s confession of the one God, Yahweh, a second confession of the one Lord, Jesus the Messiah. The Shema is not being spread out to include Jesus in it. The allusion to the Shema in 1 Cor. 8:6 is seen alone in the phrase “. . . for us there is one God, the Father . . .” All of the elements of the Shema are in this phrase by itself: the ‘for us’ corresponds to the ‘our’ of the Shema; the ‘one’ corresponds to the ‘one’; ‘God’ here corresponds to ‘God’ in the Shema; and ‘Father’ here corresponds to ‘Yahweh’ in the Shema. Paul’s allusion to the Shema in this passage simply marks out the Father as the one God, known in the history of Israel as Yahweh. To this ancient confession Paul adds the further necessary confession of the one Lord (kurios), Jesus the Messiah. This would seem to eliminate the possibility that kurios in this verse is being used as a stand-in for the name Yahweh, since the name Yahweh has already been alluded to, in the first clause, under the one God, the Father.

Second, there is a clear linguistic connection between v. 5 and v. 6 in 1 Cor. 8. The two verses together, leaving off the parenthetical prepositional phrases, read:

5. For even if indeed, there are those called ‘gods’, whether in heaven or on earth – as there are manygods‘ and manylords‘ – 6. yet for us there is but one God, the Father … and there is but one Lord, Jesus the Messiah …

We see that the ‘one God’ of v. 6 is set in contrast to the ‘many gods’ of v. 5, and that the ‘one Lord’ of v. 6 is set in contrast to the ‘many lords’ of v. 5. This is a clear linguistic connection. In order for this connection to be maintained the words must be referring to the same thing in both verses, i.e. whatever category is being denoted of the ‘many’, so must it be of the ‘one’. The Greek word for God in v. 6 is theos, and for gods in v. 5, the plural form, theoi.  The Greek word for Lord in v. 6 is kurios, and for lords in v. 5, the plural form, kurioiTheos is the general Greek word signifying a deity. Kurios is a Greek word signifying one who has authority over others. Now since the trinitarian apologists assert that Paul is basing his statement in v. 6 on the Shema, let’s translate vv. 5-6 into Hebrew (I will only put the pertinent words in Hebrew) to see if their assertion holds up.

5. For even if indeed, there are those called ‘elohim’, whether in heaven or on earth – as there are manyelohim‘ and manyadonim‘ – 6. yet for us there is but one elohim, the Father … and there is but one adon (the Hebrew equivalent of kurios), Jesus the Messiah …

We see here that a semantic congruence is maintained between the two verses. But let’s see what happens if we translate the pertinent words into Hebrew based on the apologists assertion.

5. For even if indeed, there are those called ‘elohim’, whether in heaven or on earth – as there are manyelohim‘ and manyadonim‘ – 6. yet for us there is but one elohim, the Father … and there is but one Yahweh, Jesus the Messiah…

Since the apologists tell us that kurios in v. 6 is a translation of the tetragrammaton in Deut. 6:4, this is how the verses would look in Hebrew. We can see that in this translation the semantic connection is lost between the manyadonim‘ of v. 5 and the oneYahweh‘ in v. 6. What this tells us is that Paul’s intended meaning in calling Jesus kurios was not to designate him as the Yahweh of the Shema, but as the one adon, i.e. the one man who has been given authority over the rest of mankind.

We can further confirm the falsity of the apologists assertion by assuming the correctness of their assertion regarding v. 6 and translating v. 5 accordingly, to maintain the linguistic congruence.

5. For even if indeed, there are those called ‘elohim’, whether in heaven or on earth – as there are manyelohim‘ and manyYahwehs‘ – 6. yet for us there is but one elohim, the Father … and there is but one Yahweh, Jesus the Messiah …

Here the semantic connection between the verses is maintained but it results in a complete absurdity. Does anybody really think that this is what was in Paul’s mind when he wrote these verses? I think that the absurdity of the trinitarian apologists’ assertion is evident to all by now.

End of Update

The Philippians Hymn

Philippians 2:5-11 – 5. “Let this mind be in you which was also in Messiah Jesus, 6. who, being the visible representation of God, did not consider this equality with God something to be seized for himself, 7. but deprived himself, taking the outward form of a subject, having arisen on the scene like other men. 8. And being found, in his external condition, as an ordinary man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death , even death of the cross. 9. For this very reason God exalted him to the highest place and graced him with the position of prominence above every title of distinction, 10. so that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of heavenly things and of earthly things and of things under the earth; 11. and every tongue confess that Jesus the Messiah is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

This is my own translation, and though it is not word for word, but more of a thought for word translation, it is accurate to the original language, as I will demonstrate. Though it may be unlike any other translation you have seen before, I believe it can be justified.

The first thing we must remember is that this portion of Philippians is almost universally accepted by scholars to be an early Christian hymn. Whether Paul himself wrote the hymn or he just employed an already known hymn is not really important to this study. What we should keep in mind is the poetic flavor of the passage. Hymns and psalms are poetic in nature and the language must be understood in that sense. For example poetic language is not straight forward  language like a narrative or like Paul’s letters. That’s what makes this portion of this letter stand out as distinct from the rest of it. What I have done in the above translation is to put in a more straight forward way what is being said in a poetic fashion in the passage.

The nearly universal way of understanding this passage is that it is referring to the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity. I also accepted this view of the passage for some 35 yrs., but only because I had no reason to doubt the seemingly unanimous opinion of orthodox exegetes and commentators. But having been convinced of the fallaciousness of the Trinity doctrine I have now come to see this passage in a totally different light. So I want to explain the passage from a different perspective, i.e. that it is not speaking of a pre-existent divine being who condescends to come to earth as a human being. Rather the passage is about how a divinely destined human being humbled himself, on our behalf, and was obedient to God, even when that meant his own disgraceful death. So if you have always understood this passage as the majority do, I ask that you just open your mind to another possible understanding and weigh carefully the evidence I present for yourself.

The importance of this passage to our study of the Lordship of Jesus should be obvious — the last verse speaks of every tongue confessing that Jesus the Messiah is Lord. The whole passage throws light upon what it means for Jesus to be so designated. Does it mean, as the Trinitarian apologists affirm, that Jesus the Messiah is Yahweh? I categorically deny that assumption and, based on what we have already seen in this study, maintain that Jesus is Lord in a different sense.

v.5 – When Paul speaks of Christ (Messiah) Jesus or Jesus Christ we should assume him to be speaking of the historical man Jesus of Nazareth who is the Messiah i.e Yahweh’s anointed, as in Rom. 5:15 and 1 Tim. 2:5. Hence, what follows is not about some pre-existing Son or Logos, but about the man, Messiah Jesus.

V.6 – Again, it is the man Jesus who is in the form of God, not some divine being in heaven who then becomes man. Most versions have the correct translation of ‘form of God’ here, with two versions deviating from this. The CEV reads, “Christ was truly God” and the NIV reads, “being in very nature God.” These two translations are totally biased and are not translating here but interpreting. The Greek word is morphe. Strong lists as possible definitions: form, shape, outward appearance. Thayer defines it like this: the form by which a person or thing strikes the vision; the external appearance. Lidell-Scott-Jones has form, shape; also appearance, outward form. So the word speaks of the outward form, shape or appearance of a thing, not the inner or essential nature of a thing, as in the NIV. The word may have held the idea of ‘essential nature’ among the philosophers of the Classical Greek period, but in the koine Greek period, from the 3rd century BC – 4th century AD, the word is used to denote external form and appearance. In the LXX it is used at Isaiah 44:13, where it describes the making of an idol “in the form of a man.”  Surely the idol did not have the inner nature of a man but only the outward appearance of a man. The only other use in the NT is at verse 7 in our text and at Mark 16:12, which reads:

“Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country.”

Surely these passages are referring to the outward shape and appearance, of both the idol and of Jesus after his resurrection, not to the essential nature of either. Morphe is also used once  in the LXX at Job 4:16,  to translate the Hebrew word temunah, which according to Brown-Driver-Briggs means likeness, representation. This word temunah is found in Numbers 12:8 where Moses is said to “behold the form of Yahweh.” This is the closest OT parallel to “the form of God” found in our text. Now what did Moses see? Did he actually see Yahweh? No, for Paul says of God in 1 Tim. 6:16, “whom no one has seen or can see.” What Moses saw was a visible representation of Yahweh. This is why I opt for Jesus being the “visible representation of God.”

Now what does it mean that Jesus is the visible representation of God? Let me first state that if Paul wanted to say that Jesus was God he could have easily done so by simply saying, “who being the God.” If Paul had wanted his readers to understand Jesus to be God , saying that he is ” in the morphe of God” was the wrong way to express that idea. Now this hymn, as well as all the NT, is written from a Hebraic perspective, and is therefore not speaking in categories of Greek metaphysics, i.e. of  essence or ontology, but in Hebraic categories of status and function. When the Hebrew Scriptures speak of God it is never in terms of essential nature, or essence, or other metaphysical concepts, but always in relational terms with respect to Israel, his chosen covenant people. God is presented in his functions within his covenant with his people. God is Israel’s Father, Shepherd, Redeemer, Fortress, Rock, Refuge, Savior, Strength, etc. But all of these functions of God can be summed up in one – Yahweh is Israel’s King. Now there came a time when God chose to express his rule over Israel, his kingdom, through a human agent. He chose David and his descendants to be the visible representation of His invisible rule {see Psalm 2; 89:14-37; 2 Chron. 13:4-8}. This was an everlasting covenant God made with David. The NT depicts Jesus as the final and ideal descendant of David who shall rule for Yahweh over his kingdom {see Micah 5:2; Luke 1:31-33}. Jesus is therefore the chosen one from the line of David, destined to sit on the throne of Yahweh {1 Chron. 28:5-6], as the visible representation of Yahweh’s rule. The ‘form of God‘ is a probable reference to Psalm 45:6, where the Davidic king is addressed as ‘God’, not in an ontological sense, but in accord with his status and function. This is what I believe it means when our text says of Jesus, “who, being in the form of God.”

Although Jesus was destined to this role from the moment of his conception, as Gabriel’s words to Mary indicate {cf. Lk. 1:32-33}, he was not born in a king’s palace nor dressed in princely garb. For it was the will of his God and Father that the path to his glory, as the one who would rule over all on his Father’s behalf, would first involve rejection and the suffering of death. Though he was the rightful heir to the throne, the one foretold of in the Scriptures, he willingly submitted to the Father’s will and purpose regarding how it was that he must enter into that role. Therefore the hymn states that he “did not consider this equality with God something to be seized for himself.” Again, understanding this from a Hebraic mindset, equality with God is not speaking of equality of nature or essence but of status and function. This refers back to being in the form of God, i.e. God’s visible representative. There were at least two times when Jesus could have seized for himself this position which he knew he was destined to obtain. First, when he was tempted in the wilderness and offered by Satan all the authority and splendor of the kingdoms of the world {Lk.4:5}, and second, when after feeding the multitude from just a few loaves and fishes, the crowd intended to come and make him king by force {John 6:14-15}. In both instances Jesus refused to seize for himself that which he knew was rightfully his, but which he also knew was necessary for him to obtain only by suffering and death, according to the will of God.

Some recent scholars have said that harpagmos is better understood as holding on to what one already has or using something to ones’s advantage rather than seizing for oneself something not already possessed. But I just don’t see the lexical evidence for this; it seems like a theologically biased reading. In the orthodox understanding the Son already has equality with God before becoming incarnate and remains equal with God in his incarnation, so that there would never be a time he would be tempted to seize this equality for himself. Hence, orthodox translators have sought for an alternative meaning for harpagmos which would remove this inconsistency with their theology, but the proposal is unconvincing.

v.7 – Imagine Jesus at some point in his life (probably as a child) coming to understand that he is the one foretold who would be a great king, and have great glory and majesty. Yet as he grew older he did not try to gather an army together and make it happen. He willingly laid aside his kingly rights and privileges and lived as a virtual pauper. He lived not as the true king he was but as a subject in another’s kingdom {see 2 Cor. 8:9}. He assumed the outward form of a servant, as one under authority, not as a lord. We also see this picture of the Messiah in the servant song of Isaiah 52:13-53:12, where at 53:2 we are told:

“He (Messiah) grew up before him (Yahweh) like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should regard him (i.e. as our lord), nothing in his appearance that we should desire him (i.e. to rule over us).”

I used to think this was saying that Messiah would not be physically attractive, that he would be homely. But I now understand it to say that he would live his life just like any ordinary man; there would be nothing in his appearance and manner of living that would cause others to regard him as the lord Messiah. The Messiah was held to be a kingly figure, a man of royal lineage. Jesus’ humble life didn’t fit the bill.

I translated “taking the outward form of a subject” for the following reasons. Though the Greek word doulos was used to denote a slave, i.e. one who is put into forced labor, as a translation of the Hebrew ebed, it also denotes one who is a personal attendant of or who serves a king or dignitary or wealthy landowner in some capacity. Examples of this type of servant would be Eliezer, the servant of Abraham, and David, when he was inducted into Saul’s service as a personal musician {1 Sam.16:14-23}. But there is also another way in which ebed was used, i.e. one who, though not a slave or personal attendant of a king or high ranking official, was a subject of such a one. This usage can be seen in 2 Sam. 24:18-25, where Araunah speaks of himself as King David’s servant, though he was neither his slave nor his personal attendant, nor in his service in any way; he was simply one of the subjects in David’s kingdom. Now we know from the gospel accounts that during Jesus’ life he was neither a slave, a personal attendant of a king or high ranking official, nor in the service of any king. So in what sense would he have been in the form of a servant, if not simply as a subject to the ruling powers under which he was born and lived. This is said in opposition to his being in the ‘form of God,’ which speaks of his status as the royal heir to the throne of David. Instead of grasping after all of the prerogatives of his destined status and role, he submitted himself to live as a subject under the rule of others.

The phrase “being made in the likeness of men” is not a reference to an incarnation of some heavenly, pre-existent being, but a reference to the fact that he lived an ordinary life, as other men. The Greek for ‘being made’ is ginomai, which has a wide range of meaning, such as, to be born, to become, to come to pass, to happen, to appear or arise on the scene of history, to be made, to become as or like one. Now I agree that if one already holds to the concept of the incarnation, that this could accommodate that belief, but it in no way teaches that belief. Ginomai is used twice of John the baptizer {Mark 1:4; John 1:6}, translated as ‘came’ with reference to John’s coming on the scene, his coming out to the public in his ministry. In our text it probably has the meaning  that Jesus came on the scene of history like common men and not as a king.

v.8 – The phrase “being found in appearance as a man” is parallel to “being made in the likeness of men,” and so further illuminates it’s meaning. This is a common feature of Hebrew poetry called synonymous parallelism. The word ‘appearance’ here in the Greek is schema. Thayer defines it as “the habitus, as comprising everything in a person which strikes the senses; the figure, bearing, discourse, actions, manner of life, etc.” The only version I found that brings out this sense is the Catholic Douay-Rheims Bible, which has “and in habit found as a man.” Once again, this is not saying that God the Son appeared on earth as a man, but rather that Jesus of Nazareth, though of royal lineage and rightful heir to the throne of David, lived life like an ordinary man.

Both this phrase and “in the likeness of men” in v.7 are to be taken poetically, as in Ps. 73:5 and 82:7, where something like ‘mere‘, ‘ordinary‘, or ‘other‘ is needed to give the true sense. The sense is that Jesus lived like ordinary men and not like the royal son he was.

“He humbled himself” – this is the crux of the passage and of Paul’s admonition in verse 5 to have the same mind as Messiah. His humbling of himself did not stop at living a common life, but went even to the point of giving his life, and that in the most heinous and disgraceful manner, which was an act of obedience to his God and Father.

vv.9-11 – This section begins with the word dio in Greek, which means ‘for this reason, on account of this.’ This means that what follows is the direct result of what came before. The exaltation of the Messiah is the result of his humbling himself and being obedient to his Father. His exaltation is the reason he is to be addressed as ‘Lord’, and the basis for that exaltation is his humble obedience. This is telling us that Jesus’ lordship is not about him being Yahweh, but about his humble submission to the Father’s will, which was for him to die. The writer of Hebrews confirms this by saying:

“But we see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death.”   Heb. 2:9

Paul says that God exalted him, which means that this exaltation was given to him by another, i.e. God, showing the distinction between God and Messiah and the subordinate status of Messiah to the God who exalted him. “To the highest place,” must mean the highest place under the God who exalted him {remember 1 Cor. 15:27}.

The word ‘name‘ here is onoma and can mean a personal name, a title, reputation, fame. When Paul says that God gave him a name, he is not talking about the name Jesus. I used to think it referred to the title Lord, but now I understand it to refer to his position and the honor and glory attached to it. This has been given to him by God, again, showing that it was not something intrinsic to him, i.e. it was not his by virtue of his being God. The Greek is charizomai meaning to extend grace to, show favor to. The exaltation of Jesus the Messiah, by God, was a gift of grace bestowed upon him.

Verse 10 refers to the age to come, for not all bow the knee in the name of Jesus in this age. When Jesus returns to reign on the throne of David then, at that time, every knee will bow to God, in the name of Jesus, and every tongue will confess to Him, acknowledging that the man, Messiah Jesus, is ‘Lord.’ Now Paul says that this is to the glory of God, the Father. Many Trinitarian apologists today attempt to prove that Jesus is Yahweh by pointing out the allusion in this verse to Is. 45:23, but this falls flat when we understand the actions being described here as being done unto God, the Father. The text literally says, “in the name of Jesus” every knee will bow, i.e. to God; and every tongue will acknowledge to God that Jesus is Lord. Hence Is. 45:23 is fulfilled literally through the agency of Jesus, not by Jesus being Yahweh.

Is it not clear that Jesus’ being designated ‘Lord’ by the authors of the NT is in no way intended to identify him as Yahweh, but rather as the man through whom Yahweh will rule his kingdom?

In the next part we will continue to look at important passages in the epistles regarding the lordship of Jesus.