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10. Philippians 2: The Name Above Every Name

Chapter 10

Philippians 2:
The Name Above Every Name

Two of the major New Testament passages that trinitarians use for constructing the God-man constitution of Jesus are recognized by scholars to be poems or hymns. Most people are unfamiliar with poetry, much less poetry of a biblical and spiritual character. This unfamiliarity gives trinitarians an opportunity to interpret poetic words and expressions in a way that suits their doctrines.

Besides John’s Prologue (John 1:1-18), the other poetic passage that trinitarians appeal to is Philippians 2:6-11. They seize upon the poetic expression that Jesus was “in the form of God” as evidence that Jesus is God, ignoring the fact that any Greek-English lexicon will tell us that “form” has to do with external shape, and that God being spirit has no such form. Hence Paul is using the word “form” not in a literal sense but as a metaphor. Later we will see that the word “form” in this hymn is a poetic synonym of “image”. Jesus the last man, like Adam the first man, was made in the image or the form of God, a truth that makes perfect sense in Philippians 2. But trinitarians are keen to extract their God-man notion from this passage. Their persistence is understandable given that there is little else in the New Testament that they can use to prove their point. Here is Philippians 2:5-11:

Philippians 2:5-11

5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,

6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,

7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,

10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (ESV)

There is general agreement that Philippians 2:6-11 is a hymn or a part of a hymn that was used in the early church and written in poetic language. New Jerusalem Bible says in a note that this is “probably an early Christian hymn quoted by Paul”. Many single-column Bibles arrange this passage in stanza format. The hymnic nature of this passage is noted by many scholars, e.g. the ten contributors to Where Christology Began: Essays on Philippians 2. In fact Philippians 2:6-11 is often called “Carmen Christi” (Latin, “Christ Hymn”).

Paul is describing how Jesus became the perfect man

As I reflect on my half century as a trinitarian, and on my ardent devotion to Christ, I now realize ever more clearly that the Christ I was devoted to was not someone I had truly regarded as a human being. In reality I saw him as “God the Son,” the second person of the Godhead. In trinitarianism, the preexistent God the Son acquired a human nature through incarnation, and gained a human body. But to trinitarians there is never any doubt that the real person in the human body of Jesus is the divine “God the Son”. Trying to see Jesus as both God and man is like trying to see something with double vision, so we resolved the problem by thinking of Jesus primarily as God and secondarily as man.

Despite our ardent trinitarian belief, we still felt it necessary to prove from Scripture that Jesus is God. For some reason we could never conclusively prove that he is God, so we constantly returned to the same few Bible texts such as John 1 and Philippians 2 to “prove” that Jesus is God. The issue never seems to be concluded, so books and articles continue to be written on these same texts again and again over the centuries. Yet there is no similar need or effort to prove that Yahweh is God.

Recently it came to me as a flash of insight that the very verses that we put into service for proving Jesus’ deity actually proved something different: how Jesus became the only perfect man. And because of this magnificent attainment, he was exalted by God. When Philippians 2:6-11 is read anew from this angle, fresh insights into the truth begin to emerge, illuminating what trinitarianism has obscured, hidden, and sidetracked over the years.

Here is a summary of how Jesus became the perfect man as seen in Philippians 2:6-11:

  1. Jesus, like Adam, was in the form of God (the image of God, the likeness of God)
  2. Jesus, unlike Adam, did not seek to grasp at equality with God by force (that is, by disobedience, which is an act of rebellion)
  3. Jesus humbled himself, embracing his humanity rather than seeking the glory of deity
  4. Jesus sought servitude rather than dominance among his fellow men
  5. Jesus determined to be faithful to God in every aspect of his life
  6. Jesus was faithful unto death
  7. … even death of the most ignominious type: death on a cross.

If anyone could follow this path of life without committing a single sin (“without sin,” Heb.4:15) starting from the age of responsibility (which the Jews set as 13 years and one day), empowered by the ever-present indwelling of Yahweh, such a person could also attain perfection. But anyone who has ever tried to live for one day without committing one sin in deed or thought would know that this is practically impossible even though believers are also the temple of God’s Spirit (1Cor.6:19). From one’s own effort to live without sin, one comes to appreciate the matchless wonder of Jesus the perfect man, and to realize that God’s bringing into being a new man is a miracle beyond imagination, a feat of creation that is far more impressive than the magnificence of the physical universe.

We cannot, however, discount the voluntary side of Jesus’ becoming the perfect man even though we know that the miracle could not have been achieved apart from God’s sustaining power in him. Jesus’ self-giving love, though inspired and empowered by God who is love, had nonetheless, by Jesus’ own choice, become truly and fully his own. “He loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal.2:20) is one of the most precious statements about Jesus in the New Testament. Without this deep genuine love, Jesus could never have become the perfect man.

But the situation is different with the trinitarian Jesus, God the Son. Since God is love in His very nature (1Jn. 4:8,16), it would be impossible for the divine Jesus, God the Son, not to love. This significantly diminishes the stupendous wonder of God’s achievement in “the man Christ Jesus”.

Anyone who has ever tried to love others continuously and in every situation, especially those who are hard to love, would appreciate the unspeakable magnificence of Jesus’ love, for he perfectly embodied God’s love as expressed in the well-known statement, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn.3:16).

Because of Jesus’ perfect sinlessness, and because he loved us to the utmost in his self-giving death, God exalted him to the highest conceivable position in all of creation: the place at His right hand (Acts 2:33; 5:31; Eph.1:20). In this glorious exaltation, vividly described in Phil.2:8-11, Jesus was given the most exalted name in the universe, at which name every knee shall bow to him and every tongue confess that he is Lord, to the Father’s glory. But how can bowing the knee to Jesus be to the Father’s glory? It can be so because “the glory of God was made visible in the face of Jesus Christ” (2Cor.4:6).

The “form of God”

Trinitarianism clutches at every straw to find proof texts in the Bible for the deity of Christ which is central to trinitarian dogma. A prime example of this is taking the words “he was in the form of God” (Phil.2:6) as evidence of his deity. To see what Paul means when he says that Christ “was in the form of God,” we briefly consider the matter in four points.

Point #1: God is invisible

The New Testament consistently says that God is invisible. He is “immortal, invisible, the only God” (1Tim.1:17). God is inherently invisible also for the reason that “God is spirit” (Jn.4:24). But the same cannot be said of Christ, for he is eminently visible and is the “image of the invisible God” (Col.1:15). Christ has fulfilled the purpose that man was created to fulfill—making visible the invisible God—but man has failed for the most part.

John hints at God’s invisibility in one sense or another when he says that “no one has ever seen God” yet Jesus “has made Him known” (Jn.1:18). Because Jesus has made God known, there is a qualified sense in which we see God: by spiritual perception and not by physical sight. It is said of Moses that he, with eyes of faith, “saw Him who is invisible” (Heb.11:27).

Although Yahweh is invisible, at times He makes Himself visible as in the cases of divine epiphany in the Old Testament, or by showing His glory to His people: the Israelites saw “the glory of Yahweh” in a cloud (Ex.16:10), and Ezekiel saw “the likeness of the glory of Yahweh” (Ezek.1:28).

God’s invisibility is noted by trinitarian references, e.g. New Dictionary of Theology, article “Anthropomorphism”:

God is invisible, infinite and without a body, but human characteristics are frequently ascribed to God in order to communicate information about his nature or acts. Illustrations abound in Scripture. Though God is without a body, his acts are said to be the result of ‘his mighty arm’ (Ex 15:16).

Point #2: “Form” in Philippians 2:6 means external, visible form

In Philippians 2:6 (“though he was in the form of God”), the Greek word for “form” is morphē (cf. the English word morphology, the study of the form of words or of organisms; or morph, to change shape in a smooth and gradual manner). Morphē is consistently defined by Greek-English lexicons as outward, external, and visible form or appearance. For example, Thayer’s Greek-English lexicon defines morphē as “the form by which a person or thing strikes the vision; external appearance”.

The word morphē doesn’t have many meanings, and is given only one definition in BDAG: “form, outward appearance, shape generally of bodily form”. BDAG explains the use of morphē in Phil.2:6 as follows: “this is in contrast to expression of divinity in the preëxistent Christ”. This is a most remarkable statement. Despite BDAG’s trinitarian presuppositions which underlie this statement, it correctly assigns a non-divine, non-trinitarian, and implicitly human meaning to morphē in “the form of God”!

Point #3: “Form of God” means “image of God”

But there is a problem. Since God is invisible (1Tim.1:17) and is spirit (Jn.4:24), therefore God cannot have external shape or form. This is confirmed by Moses’ warning to the Israelites: “Watch yourselves carefully since you saw no form on the day that Yahweh spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire.” (Dt.4:15) If God has no form, how can Paul speak of “the form of God” in Phil.2:6?

Since morphē (“form”) has to do with external appearance, and since God being spirit has no such form (at Horeb He was not seen with the eye), Paul is obviously using the word “form” not literally but as a metaphor.

The problem is resolved when we understand that “form of God” means “image of God”. Just as our being in the “image of God” doesn’t mean that God is visible, so Jesus’ being in the “form of God” doesn’t mean that God is visible. Just as Christ is the “image of the invisible God” (Col.1:15), so Christ is in the “form of God” who is invisible. God is invisible, yet is made visible through Christ who is the image of God and in the form of God.

The equivalence of “form of God” and “image of God” can be established both biblically and lexically.

Biblically, “form” and “image” are used synonymously in the OT, notably of idols. For example, the three words “image” and “form” and “likeness” are used synonymously in Dt.4:16: “Beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female” (ESV; cf. vv.23,25). The functional equivalence of the three words in boldface—image, form, likeness—brings out the functional equivalence of “image of God,” “form of God,” and “likeness of God”.

When God created man, He said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen.1:26). Because we were created in the “likeness” of God, we bear the image of God just as Christ is the image of God. This tells us that Genesis 1:26 is the basis for understanding “form of God” in Philippians 2:6.

Lexically, the equivalence of “form of God” and “image of God” is seen in HALOT (Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the OT), the foremost Hebrew lexicon for biblical studies. The two key words in Genesis 1:26 are “image” (tselem, צֶלֶם) and “likeness” (dmut, דְּמוּת). HALOT defines the former as “likeness, shape, representation,” and the latter as “likeness, form, shape” (note the word “form” in both definitions); hence the two words are basically synonymous. This is the lexical basis for taking “form of God” to mean “likeness of God” or “image of God”. In Genesis 1:26, the use of “image” and “likeness” within the same sentence gives double emphasis to the fact that God made man to be the visible image of the invisible God, that is, to be the “likeness, shape, representation” (HALOT) of God.

Not only in Hebrew but also in Greek there is strong lexical affinity between “form” and “image,” as seen in BDAG’s three definitions of eikōn (which is the standard Greek word for “image,” as in “the image of God”):

1. an object shaped to resemble the form or appearance of something, likeness, portrait

2. that which has the same form as something else, living image

3. that which represents something else in terms of basic form and features, form, appearance

The crucial thing to notice is that the word “form” appears in all three definitions of eikōn (“image”). In other words, BDAG has no definition of eikōn that does not involve form. Moreover, likeness, portrait, appearance are fundamentally interchangeable concepts with form or image.

From the lexical equivalence, in both the Hebrew and the Greek, it is clear that since Jesus Christ is in the “form of God” (Phil.2:6), he is also the “image of God” (2Cor.4:4) and the “image of the invisible God” (Col.1:15).

Many trinitarians agree that “image” and “likeness” are synonymous in Gen.1:26 (“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness”). One of them says that “image” and “likeness” are “essentially synonymous terms” in this verse (Constable’s Expository Notes). NIV Study Bible, on Gen.1:26, says,

No distinction should be made between “image” and “likeness,” which are synonyms in both the OT (5:1; 9:6) and the NT (1Cor.11:7; Col.3:10; James 3:9), as well as in a ninth-century BC Aramaic inscription found in 1979 on a life-size statue of a local ruler at Tell Fekheriyeh in Syria.

The word “likeness” in Genesis 1:26 doesn’t mean that when God created man, He made a physical copy of Himself. On the contrary, man is more properly understood as a representation of the invisible God (“representation” is one of HALOT’s definitions of tselem). Man is a representation of God, but not in physical shape or external form. In creating man with eyes, God indicates that God sees; man’s ears indicate that God hears; the arms indicate that He acts, and so on. To properly represent God, man is given a will, emotions, and the capacity to think.

The ancient Near East was populated with idols and statues of gods (cf. “gods many,” 1Cor.8:5). Those who worshipped these idols were not so naïve as to think that the spirits they were worshipping actually looked like the statues of wood or stone. Some idols have multiple heads and arms, symbolizing the power and intelligence of the spirits being worshipped.

It is clear that “form of God” in Phil.2:6 is derived from the concept of Adam as the “image of God” in Gen.1:26,27. In fact, Jesus is called the last Adam and the second man (1Cor. 15:45,47, “adam” is Hebrew for “man”), and shares the same “form of God” as the first Adam. This is a poetic way of describing the image and likeness of God (Gen.1:26-27) in which Adam was created.

The remarkable fact that “form of God” is found nowhere in the Bible outside Phil.2:6 makes it likely that it is just a poetic expression of a concept already well established in Scripture such as the concept of man being in the image of God or the likeness of God. This is reinforced by the fact that Philippians 2:6-11 is regarded as poetry even by trinitarians.

Poetic language is rich in symbolism and allusion, so the hymn’s use of a different metaphor—the form of God for the image of God—is hardly anything remarkable. In fact the word “formed” is used of the creation of man in Gen.2:7: “Yahweh God formed the man from the dust of the earth”. In other words, when man was created in the image of God, he was at the same time “formed” by God. The Hebrew word for “formed” (yatsar) is elsewhere used of a potter who forms a vessel out of clay (Isa.29:16).

Just as image and likeness are equated in Gen.1:26 (“let us make man in our image, after our likeness”), and just as image, form, and likeness are equated in Dt.4:16 (“a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female”), so form and likeness are synonyms in Phil. 2:7: “taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men”. All these terms are synonymous and interchangeable, both in the Old Testament and New Testament, linking Phil.2:6-11 firmly with Gen.1:26-27 and Gen.2:7. The use of interchangeable synonyms is natural in hymns such as the one in Phil.2:6-11 because of their poetic and metaphorical character.

There is no biblical basis for the trinitarian use of “form of God” (image of God or likeness of God) as an argument for Jesus’ deity. Any attempt to go in this direction should be tempered with Yahweh’s words in Isa.43:10: “Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me” (ESV).

Yahweh is saying that no god has ever been “formed” or ever will be. Hence no one who is in “the form of God” can be Deity. Jesus is in the form of God in the same sense as Adam was created or “formed” (Gen.2:7) in the “image” or “likeness” of God (Gen.1:26).

For a theological discussion on this topic, see Appendix 6 (“Karl-Josef Kuschel on Christ and Adam”) of the present book.

Point #4: Worshipping an image is idolatry

Christ is the “image of God” (2Cor.4:4; Col.1:15). We too are in the image of God, but Christ is the image of God par excellence because he is the only perfect man who has ever lived. When we see Jesus the perfect image of God, we see Yahweh in all His glory, beauty, and magnificence.

In point #3, we looked at BDAG’s three definitions of eikōn (“image”), all of which contain the key word “form,” giving further lexical evidence that “the form of God” really means “the image of God”. This goes a long way in explaining the meaning of “though he was in the form of God”.

From eikōn we get the English word “icon”. The use of this word in computers is impressive for its insight into the fundamental meaning of an icon. The Microsoft Excel 2010 program is an executable file of 20,000,000 bytes whereas its icon is a tiny file of 3,000 bytes. The program is distinct from the icon that points to it, yet the icon is so representative of the program that we click on it as if it were the program itself, and it is through the icon that we gain access to the program.

The word eikōn is used of the image stamped on a coin, e.g. the portrait of Caesar stamped on a coin that Jesus showed the Pharisees, as recorded in Mt.22:20 where eikōn is rendered “likeness” (ESV) or “image” (NIV) or “portrait” (NJB). This eikōn is an image or portrait of Caesar that bears his likeness. What we see on the coin is not literally the person of Caesar but an image of Caesar. In the same way, Christ as the image of God is not God Himself. But as trinitarians we couldn’t even tell an image from the person represented by the image, so we didn’t hesitate to worship Jesus, the image of God, as God.

But Scripture strictly forbids the worship of images. Moses warned the Israelites: “Since you saw no form on the day that Yahweh spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female.” (Dt.4:15-16; cf. Ezek.16:17). Here the prohibition against worshipping an image is all-encompassing, covering everything related to “image” or “form” or “figure” or “likeness”.

Despite the prohibition against the worship of images, trinitarians have no hesitations about worshipping the man Christ Jesus (as he is called in 1Tim.2:5), who is the visible and human image of God. That being so, on what grounds do we prohibit the worship of an ordinary man, who is also in the image of God? (New Bible Dictionary, article “Image,” citing Gen.9:6 and James 3:9, says correctly that “man is still spoken of as the image of God after the Fall”.)

In the first of the Ten Commandments, Yahweh strictly prohibits the worship of anyone (this would include Jesus) besides or before Yahweh, and the worship of any image (including Jesus the image of God):

You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I Yahweh your God am a jealous God. (Dt.5:7-9, ESV, “Yahweh” in the Hebrew restored)

We close this section with a statement by James D.G. Dunn against worshipping Jesus the image of God:

It is this danger [of worshipping Jesus instead of God] that helps explain why the New Testament refers to Jesus by the word ‘icon’ (eikōn)—the icon of the invisible God. For, as the lengthy debate in Eastern Christianity made clear, the distinction between an idol and an icon is crucial at this point. An idol is a depiction on which the eye fixes, a solid wall at which the worship stops. An icon on the other hand is a window through which the eye passes, through which the beyond can be seen, through which divine reality can be witnessed. So the danger with a worship that has become too predominantly the worship of Jesus is that the worship due to God is stopping at Jesus, and that the revelation of God through Jesus and the worship of God through Jesus is being stifled and short-circuited.” (Did the First Christians Worship Jesus?, p.147)

 

Trinitarian idolatry and the golden calf

The trinitarian fabrication and worship of a divine Jesus has several parallels with the fashioning and the worship of the golden calf by the Israelites:

Exodus 32:3-4 So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” (NIV)

Acts 7:41 “And they made a calf in those days, and offered a sacrifice to the idol and were rejoicing in the works of their hands.” (ESV)

There are several parallels between the worship of Jesus and the worship of the golden calf: Both were the products of foreign polytheistic influences, Egyptian in one case, Greek in the other. One was established after Moses had gone up to meet with Yahweh on Mount Sinai; the other was established after Jesus had ascended to the Father. Just as the golden calf displaced Yahweh as the object of worship, so God the Son of trinitarianism displaced Yahweh in trinitarian Christianity. The fury of Moses at his descent from the mountain will be more than matched by the wrath of Jesus at his second coming.

A consequence of Nicaea is that trinitarianism morphed into “Jesusism” because the other two persons, God the Father and God the Spirit, have been given a lesser place in the Gentile church. This is similar to what James D.G. Dunn calls “Jesus-olatry” though he applies that term to the modern church rather than the early church: “I use the term ‘Jesus-olatry’ in an important sense as parallel or even close to ‘idolatry’” (Did the First Christians Worship Jesus?, p.147).

The approximately 300 bishops who convened at Nicaea under the direction and auspices of the as yet non-Christian emperor Constantine, had exalted the man Jesus to coequality with God, after which Jesus became the central object of worship in the church, with little notice paid to the Father and the Spirit. This situation remains to this day in the Catholic church and the Protestant churches.

In the Catholic church, another development followed on the heels of the deification of Jesus, namely, the exaltation of Mary who had been given the title theotokos or “God bearer,” that is, mother of God. Hence one idolatrous step was soon followed by another, in this case towards Mariolatry, the idolatrous cult of Mary. It is in human nature to feel that Mary has a mother’s power of persuasion over her son such that our prayers stand a better chance of being answered if they are addressed to Mary rather than to Jesus. What was being done to the Father by the deification of Jesus was now being done to Jesus by the elevation of Mary as an object of worship in the Catholic church.

As we shall see, Jesus certainly has a most exalted place in the Bible, but not in a way that eclipses the glory of the Father, Yahweh. On the contrary, all that Jesus is and does is “to the glory of the Father” (Phil.2:11, etc.).

Christ did not strive for equality with God

Paul draws a connection between Jesus’ being in the form of God and his not striving for equality with God: “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” (Phil.2:6). What is the logical connection between the two? There seems to be no inherent or causal link, for why would anyone who is in the form or image of God contemplate grasping at equality with God? Every human being is already in the image of God and has never lost that image. This is taught by Paul (1Cor.11:7) and James (3:9), and affirmed in the Old Testament even after Adam had sinned (Gen.9:6). It also remains the theological position of Judaism. Our own experience as human beings made in the image of God tells us that we don’t have any particular desire or innate reason to claim equality with God unless we are deranged or do so for political reasons as in the case of the Roman Caesars.

If there is no obvious connection between these two things in Philippians 2:6 (having the form of God and grasping at equality with God), why does Paul link them? It is because Philippians 2:6ff is a deep spiritual echo of the Genesis creation of man.

As we have seen, “form of God” already has a Genesis connection (the image and likeness of God, and the fact that Adam was “formed” by God’s own hands). The connection is deepened when we bring in the element of grasping at equality with God: Philippians 2:6 takes us back to the Genesis account of the temptation, which is the momentous event in Adam’s spiritual life and by parallel also in Jesus’ (though in a different time and place, and with a different outcome).[1]

In the similarity but also the contrast between Adam and Christ, we see a sharp delineation: one is the first man, the other the second man; one is the first Adam, the other the last Adam (1Cor.15:47,45). Yet they both started out as sinless men. Unique in human history, Adam and Jesus both faced the ultimate temptation to grasp at equality with God. Though we human beings face various temptations along the path of life, these are unlike the kind that Adam and Jesus faced as sinless men. Because we have sinned, we do not think of grasping at equality with God. We have not experienced and can never experience temptation on the same level as Adam and Jesus in their encounters with temptation.

Adam was initially sinless by the mere fact of not having sinned, but he was not morally perfect because moral perfection cannot in its nature be created by divine fiat, but must be attained through the test of faith. Adam was sinless in much the same way an infant is sinless, in that the infant has not yet committed sin, being incapable of discerning right from wrong. In this last respect, Adam and Eve are different from an infant, for they fully understood that they are to obey God’s command not to eat the forbidden fruit. Hence their sin amounts to willful disobedience and is not like an ignorant act of a child. Adam’s disobedience and Jesus’ obedience are the crucial elements pertaining to mankind’s salvation: “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” (Rom.5:19)

The stark contrast between Adam’s disobedience and Christ’s obedience is brought out in their respective encounters with Satan’s temptations. In the case of Jesus, the importance of the temptation (Mt.4:1-11; Lk.4:1-13) lies in the fact that it took place at the commencement of his ministry, which is parallel to the fact that Adam and Eve were tempted soon after their introduction into the Garden.

Philippians 2:6-9 is a portrait of Jesus Christ the perfect man who did not grasp at equality with God. His obedience to God is a resolute rejection of sin just as sin is, in turn, a rejection of God’s lordship and an assertion of equality with God. Adam’s sin constitutes “transgression” (Rom.5:14), which is the “disregarding, violating” of God’s command (Thayer, parabasis), and is rooted in disobedience (“every transgression or disobedience,” Heb.2:2).

But unlike Adam, Jesus “humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Phil.2:7). His perfection lies in his steadfast obedience to the Father all through his life, remaining faithful right up to an excruciating and humiliating death on the cross. His refusal to grasp at equality with God was not a one-time struggle but something that went on all through his earthy life as he was being confronted by one temptation after another, even from the start of his ministry.

Whereas the first man clutched for equality with God (Gen.3:5, “you will be like God”), the second man, Jesus Christ, rejected any such thought.

Trinitarians read Philippians 2:6ff to mean that Christ was already the divine “God the Son” at the time he refused to grasp at equality with God. But if Jesus was already God, why would he need to grasp at equality with God if he was already God’s coequal in every respect according to trinitarianism? Arguing that he was willing to give up his coequality with God is unconvincing because it is impossible for anyone to discard his own essential nature. For example no man can humble himself to become a dog. He can imitate a dog by barking like one but no man can ever become a dog. And since God cannot stop being God, the trinitarian interpretation of Philippians 2:6 does not make sense.

ESV’s translation of this verse (“who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped”) is representative of English Bibles, but NIV abandons translation and ventures into theological interpretation when it says: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped”. The words “in very nature God” are simply not found in the Greek text of Philippians 2:6. It shows that the NIV translators probably did not think that Paul’s original wording is sufficient to establish Christ’s deity.

Has it not occurred to trinitarians that if Jesus is already God, why would he even need to “consider equality with God something to be grasped”? The trinitarian interpretation of Philippians 2:6 violates good sense, insults our intelligence, and attributes to Scripture a nonsensical statement.

In the past, our minds were so attuned to trinitarian error that this interpretation didn’t seem nonsensical to us. In retrospect I now see that one of the frightening aspects of habituation to error is the inability to see the obvious. This is what Scripture calls blindness, since it robs us of the ability to see the simple truth. As a result of trinitarian blindness, the beauty of this verse and of the whole passage, Philippians 2:6-11—in which Paul recounts Jesus’ humility and obedience to God, and his consequent glorification by the Father—is destroyed. This is the kind of thing that trinitarianism has done to many passages in the Bible.

The trinitarian interpretation runs into a similar problem at the end of the hymn (verses 8 to 11) which says that God exalted Jesus to the highest place among all living beings, such that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

But how can this statement apply to the trinitarian God the Son? If Jesus is already God, then every knee would already bow to him and every tongue confess that he is Lord. Exactly how does Philippians 2 enhance the divine glory that Jesus, as the eternal God, had already had in trinitarianism? Can anyone be more highly exalted than by the mere fact of being Almighty God? In Paul’s teaching, the exaltation of Jesus was something that God had conferred on him, yet no such conferring would have been needed if Jesus had already possessed innate divine glory. The trinitarian interpretation simply does not make sense.

New Jerusalem Bible, the official English-language Catholic Bible outside the United States, says something that is impressive for its deep insight but even more impressive for its willingness to discard the standard trinitarian interpretation of Philippians 2:6-11. In the following excerpt from NJB, the word kenosis means the act of emptying oneself:

[Philippians 2:6-11] has been understood as Christ’s kenosis in emptying himself of his divine glory in order to live a human life and undergo suffering. More probably Jesus is here contrasted as the second with the first Adam. The first Adam, being in the form or image of God, attempted to grasp equality with God and, by this pride, fell. By contrast, Jesus, through his humility, was raised up by God to the divine glory. In the traditional but less probable interpretation, this emptying or kenosis expressed Jesus’ voluntary self-deprivation, during his earthly life, of the divine glory. But this interpretation is not only less scriptural but also anachronistic for the development of christology at this moment of Paul’s thinking. (NJB, footnotes Phil.2:5d and Phil.2:7g)

 

The king of Tyre boasted of being a god

Yahweh’s judgment against the king of Tyre gives us an idea of what it means for a person to desire to be like God. The following passage may be hard to follow because it uses four levels of quotation. To grasp the general idea, it is sufficient to read the three clauses shown in italics:

The word of Yahweh came to me: “Son of man, say to the prince of Tyre, Thus says the Lord Yahweh: ‘Because your heart is proud, and you have said, “I am a god, I sit in the seat of the gods, in the heart of the seas,” yet you are but a man, and no god, though you make your heart like the heart of a god … you have increased your wealth, and your heart has become proud in your wealth—therefore thus says the Lord Yahweh: Because you make your heart like the heart of a god, therefore, behold, I will bring foreigners upon you, the most ruthless of the nations; and they shall draw their swords … They shall thrust you down into the pit, and you shall die the death of the slain in the heart of the seas. Will you still say, “I am a god,” in the presence of those who kill you, though you are but a man, and no god, in the hands of those who slay you?’” (Ezek.28:1-9, ESV, “Yahweh” in the original Hebrew restored)

The king of Tyre is described poetically as a quasi-divine being, yet he is only a man presuming to be a god. This is similar to the boasting in Isa.14:13-14 (“I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high … I will make myself like the Most High”) and the idolatry seen in Acts 12:22-23 (Herod Agrippa I was struck down by an angel for accepting idolatrous adulation from the crowd who declared him a god).

From these examples we see that man, especially in situations of earthly power, aspires to be like God. This was Adam and Eve’s ambition. Despite being made in the likeness of God, they wanted to gain the knowledge—and knowledge is power—to be “like God” (Gen.3:5). It is always man who wants to be equal with God.

Taking the form of a servant

The events in Jesus’ life as outlined in Philippians 2 took place on earth and not in some preexistent (pre-human or pre-birth) realm imagined by trinitarians. Jesus’ being in the form or image of God is something that every human being experiences as he or she enters into the world at birth (or, in the case of Adam and Eve, at their creation). Like us human beings, Jesus was “born of a woman” (Gal.4:4). Though he was also “born of the Spirit” at his birth (Lk.1:35; cf. Jn.3:5,6, 8), he was no less human because of that. Likewise, when we are born of the Spirit, we do not become less human. Nowhere in the New Testament is Jesus’ virgin birth used as an argument for his alleged deity. It is interesting that the Qur’an of Islam has a large portion devoted to the topic of Jesus’ virgin birth but without ever taking this as evidence of his deity.

That the other events in the hymn of Philippians 2 took place on earth is obvious enough, such as Jesus’ death on the cross. The poetic language of this hymn, reflected in words such as “form” and “likeness,” recurs in verse 7: “taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” The language of “form” appears in yet the next verse: “And being found in human form” (v.8). The repeated use of “form” has a purpose beyond mere repetition, for the language of “form” or “human form” is meant to resonate with the Genesis account of Adam’s creation (he was “formed” by God).

Jesus’ willingness to be a lowly servant is the key to his whole ministry. The decision to be a lowly servant is a decision to be obedient to God. The highest expression of Jesus’ obedience brings this section of the hymn to a climax: “he was obedient unto death, even death on a cross”. He was willing to suffer and to die as a common criminal without a vestige of honor. “No one takes my life from me but I lay it down of my own accord” (Jn.10:18).

By his total obedience, Jesus left Adam so far behind languishing in disobedience that Adam would scarcely have caught a glimpse of the cloud of Jesus’ victory chariot mounting into heaven (to use the picture of Elisha watching Elijah taken up into heaven).

What Adam failed to attain—to become “like God”—is now granted to Jesus by God the Father. What does it mean to become like God? It would certainly include “participating in the divine nature” (cf. 2Pet.1:4). It would also include being given all authority in heaven and on earth (Mt.28:18).

Jesus’ humility mirrors God’s willingness to humbly serve His people. How many of us can envisage God doing the work of a servant or laborer? I have described this aspect of God in some detail in TOTG chapter 5, pointing to the menial work He was willing to do for man: God planted a garden in Eden for man, prepared animal skins to clothe Adam and Eve after they had sinned, and even buried the lifeless body of Moses on Mount Pisgah! These menial chores, notably the burial of Moses, are regarded as unbecoming of God by many religious thinkers whose hearts and minds are not big enough to accommodate the idea that a “transcendent” God would be willing to “dirty His hands” with menial jobs, even unclean jobs such as burying Moses. Though angels do not appear in the accounts of God’s menial work from Genesis to Deuteronomy, some commentators have speculated that God had in fact commanded the angels to perform these tasks. From all this, we see that Yahweh God is more magnificent in His matchless glory and humility than our puny minds could ever imagine.

Isn’t this the same wonderful servant’s attitude that we see in the risen Jesus, when he sat by a fire which he had started in order to cook breakfast for his disciples at Galilee (Jn.21:9-13)? How true is Paul’s statement that Jesus makes visible the invisible God. Would those who downplay the Old Testament accounts of Yahweh doing menial work also downplay the cooking of breakfast at Galilee or the events outlined in Philippians 2 of Jesus’ life by which he makes visible the invisible God? If we remove the events in Philippians 2 from his life, what would be left of it? Is Philippians 2 not a summation of Jesus’ whole life and ministry? Are not all aspects of his life and his death perfectly summed up in this wonderful hymn, in which Jesus manifests Yahweh’s glory such that we see “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (the subtitle of this book)?

The Lord of glory

Philippians 2 tells of the exaltation of Jesus as being the result of his absolute obedience. God the Father elevates him to a place alongside Himself such that Jesus shares His glory at His right hand. And since it is Yahweh’s own glory that is beamed forth from Christ, all this is “to the glory of the Father” (v.11).

The title “Lord” has been given specially to Jesus the Messiah: “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah” (Acts 2:36). “Lord” as applied to Jesus is not a divine title but a title of exaltation specially given to him by the Father. “Lord” as applied to Jesus must not be confused with Lord in small capitals which is used in place of YHWH in most Bibles. In many Bibles, the OT passages quoted in the NT often have “Lord” in the OT and “Lord” in the NT, a confusion that suits trinitarianism. Falsehood thrives on conflation and ambiguity, but the truth does not.

Jesus is called “the Lord of glory” (1Cor.2:8; James 2:1) because of his exaltation by the Father. This title is not used of Yahweh in the Old Testament and does not even appear in the Old Testament. Although Yahweh is not called “the Lord of glory,” He is called “the King of Glory” in these beautiful lines of Psalm 24:7-10:

Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up,

O ancient doors that the King of glory may come in.

Who is this King of glory?

Yahweh, strong and mighty, Yahweh, mighty in battle!

Lift up your heads, O gates! And lift them up,

O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.

Who is this King of glory?

Yahweh of hosts, he is the King of glory!

Jesus, on the other hand, is called the Lord of glory who was crucified: “None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1Cor.2:8). In our trinitarian days, we saw no problem in believing that it was God who was crucified, not realizing that since God is immortal and is “from everlasting to everlasting,” He could not possibly have died by crucifixion or by any other means of execution.

Trinitarians are in line with Scripture when they say that Jesus was given honor and glory because he had been obedient unto death. But they seem to have overlooked a fundamental tenet of trinitarian dogma: the preexistence of Christ. If Christ is a preexistent divine figure as trinitarians purport him to be in Philippians 2:6 (“though he was in the form of God”), then this person must, by reason of his deity, be immortal, and therefore could not have died on the cross. Continuing this line of reasoning, the exaltation that was a consequence of his obedience unto death could not have been awarded him if he could not die. Then there are two possibilities before us: Either Jesus is a true man (and not merely God with a physical body) and was able to die on the cross, or Jesus is God as trinitarians say he is, in which case Jesus could not have been crucified or depicted as being obedient “unto death”. We cannot have it both ways.

If we say that it was only Jesus’ physical body that died, that doesn’t solve the problem, for his physical body was not preexistent, not even in trinitarianism, in which case the one who died on the cross is not the supposedly preexistent person of Phil.2:6. If it was only the human nature that died, whom will Yahweh glorify such that every knee will bow to him or “it”? Will God glorify the body of Jesus that actually died or the divine person living in that body, namely, the preexistent God the Son who became incarnate in Jesus? Here trinitarianism is caught in a conundrum of its own making, with its falsity exposed to all who are open to the truth.

The name above every name

The magnificent poem in Philippians 2 is concluded with the words, “to the glory of God the Father” (v.11). But how does the exaltation of Jesus bring glory to God the Father rather than divert our attention to Jesus, as has happened in trinitarianism?

A conclusive answer to this question lies in the fact that, as we have seen in chapter 7, there are many doxologies to God in the New Testament, but at most one or two to Jesus (e.g. the debated Romans 9:5). Jesus is not worshipped as God in the New Testament (though he is highly honored), not even after he had been resurrected and given “the name above every name” (Phil.2:9). But in giving Jesus the name above every name, Yahweh has made Jesus’ name the highest in the universe after His own name, such that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow. Let us now look at the latter part of the hymn in Philippians 2.

Philippians 2:9-11

9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,

10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (ESV)

Paul says that God has given Jesus “the name that is above every name” (v.9). [2] What is this name that God has given him? Is it God’s own name Yahweh? If so, there would be two persons called Yahweh. But Phil.2:9 does not say that God gave His own name Yahweh to Jesus. A name identifies a specific person and cannot be given to someone else.

“Yahweh” is a personal name as well as a titular name, so it is not merely a title like “Lord” or “King” which can be bestowed on multiple persons. A personal name, when it is meant to function referentially, identifies a specific person. In this case, a name is also an identity. A person cannot give his own identity to someone else, or else there would be two persons referred to by the same name, when in fact there is only one who is rightly the referred person (the referent). Moreover, whereas there are many Davids and Peters and Matthews in human society, there is only one Yahweh (Dt.6:4).

Yahweh’s name cannot be given or transferred to someone else because a name refers to a particular individual. I cannot bestow my name Eric Chang on someone else (who in any case already has his own name), not even if his name happens to be Eric Chang by coincidence. In other words, I cannot bestow on someone else my own name that is meant to function as a reference to me. My name is the means by which I am identified, so how can it be given to someone else? More importantly, Yahweh is a name with a unique meaning that applies only to Him and no one else, so it is not transferable.

All living beings have names by which they are identified whether they are human beings on earth or spiritual beings in the heavenly realm. Scripture mentions, for example, the names of the archangels Michael and Gabriel (Jude 1:9; Luke 1:19). Jesus even asked a demon its name (Mk.5:9).

We ask again: When Yahweh gave Jesus “the name that is above every name,” what was that name? In grappling with this question, we are confronted with the fact that, strictly speaking, the divine name “Yahweh” is the only name that could be said to be “above every name”. Do we then try to get around this by saying that the name given to Jesus was indeed “Yahweh,” but embedded in the name “Jesus”? The problem with this explanation is that the name “Jesus” (“Yahweh saves” or “Yahweh is salvation”) was given to Jesus at his birth, not at his exaltation in Philippians.

We have been asking, What name besides “Yahweh” is above every other name? That is perhaps the wrong question to ask because the passage is really about the exaltation of the person of Jesus himself, and thereby also the exaltation of his name. The exaltation of Jesus’ name above every other name means that the very person of Jesus is exalted above all of creation such that all creation will “confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (cf. Acts 10:36, “Lord of all”).

Philippians 2:10-11 is an echo of Isa.45:23 which speaks of Yahweh: “To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance”. Does it mean that Jesus has been given the name “Yahweh”? If so, it would mean that Jesus has somehow become Yahweh. But this is impossible for it would mean either that Yahweh has lost His identity or that there are two Yahwehs whereas Scripture says there is only one Yahweh (Dt.6:4). Again we are forgetting that Phil.2:6-11 is poetry. Paul is merely affirming in poetic language that God has exalted Jesus and Jesus’ name above all living beings to the extent that Jesus exercises Yahweh’s authority as His representative. In fact, Paul explicitly says it is “at the name of Jesus” that every knee will bow; Jesus therefore retains his own name “Jesus” but that name has now been exalted above all names.

In Jesus’ time, “Jesus” was a common name equivalent to Joshua. Even though it was a common name in Israel, God bestowed it on Jesus at his birth because its meaning—“Yahweh is salvation”—reveals what Yahweh will accomplish through him. And because Jesus remained “obedient unto death, even death on a cross,” Yahweh soon exalted his name “Jesus” above every other name such that at his name every knee shall bow, to Yahweh’s glory. Yahweh is glorified because, among other reasons, it is through Jesus’ death and resurrection that God has become our salvation (“Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid,” Isaiah 12:2).

Jesus as the exalted Lord

The bestowing of the name above every name in Philippians is an event that took place after Jesus’ death and resurrection. That is why prior to his death and resurrection, Jesus was not called “Lord” except in the following three senses:

  1. A polite and respectful way of addressing Jesus, equivalent to “Sir” or “Mister” (Mt.8:6,8,21; 15:22,25,27; Jn.4:11,15,19,49; etc.)
  2. Jesus as teacher or rabbi, with disciples and followers under him (Jn.6:68; 13:13,14).
  3. Indirect reference to Jesus as Lord by way of a NT quotation of the OT such as, “The Lord said to my Lord” (Mt.22:44, a quotation of Psalm 110:1; the first “Lord” refers to Yahweh, the second to Christ).

The title “Lord” applied to Jesus prior to his death and resurrection does not carry the same exalted sense as “Lord” applied to him after his resurrection, as can be confirmed by checking the word kyrios (Lord) in a concordance or a Bible program. It will soon be apparent that the title “Lord” as applied to Jesus before his resurrection is fundamentally different from that after.

In Acts, Jesus is called “Lord” in the exalted sense of Phil.2:9 (“the name that is above every name”). Peter is so ecstatic about this in his preaching that he bursts out with the declaration “he is Lord of all” in the middle of a sentence (Acts 10:36). Because this joyous outburst disrupts the flow of the sentence, it is enclosed in parentheses in most translations. In the New Testament after the book of Acts, Jesus is spoken of as Lord in this exalted sense.

Surprisingly, “Lord” in the exalted sense of Phil.2:9 is never applied to Jesus in John’s Gospel, and only once in the entire corpus of John’s writings (Rev.17:14). But in the ordinary sense of “Sir,” the word kyrios (Lord) is used of Jesus in John’s Gospel by: the Samaritan woman (Jn.4:11,15,19); an official whose son was sick (4:49); a lame man by the Sheep Gate (5:7); an adulterous woman (8:11); Mary (11:32); and Martha (11:27). Jesus’ disciples addressed him as “Lord” in the sense of “teacher” (Jn.6:68; 13:13,14).

The fact that in John’s writings Jesus is almost never addressed as “Lord” in the exalted sense of Phil.2:9, is all the more remarkable because the Johannine writings make up a significant proportion of the NT. By contrast, a short letter like Jude, which has only 25 verses, refers to Jesus as “Lord” four times in the exalted sense. One can only wonder why John avoids applying to Jesus the title “Lord” in the exalted sense, this being all the more puzzling because the Johannine literature is regarded by trinitarians as espousing a high Christology. This surprising fact should determine our understanding of John 20:28.

The title “Lord God” is not found in John’s Gospel or letters, yet it occurs eight times in Revelation, all referring instead to the “Lord God” (Yahweh God) of the Old Testament (Rev.1:8; 4:8; 11:17; 15:3; 16:7; 18:8; 21:22; 22:5).

An example of “Lord” referring to Yahweh is Revelation 11:15: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.” Here “Lord” clearly refers to Yahweh (Lord), not to Christ, and the same could be said of “he” in “he will reign forever and ever”. Not only is Yahweh the subject of this verse and of the remaining verses in the chapter, a clear distinction of persons is being made between God on the one hand and Christ on the other.

As trinitarians we overlooked the distinction between the ordinary and the exalted senses of “Lord” because we regarded Jesus as God the Son, and took any reference to Jesus as “Lord” in the divine sense. This prevented us from seeing that if Jesus is indeed God, he would already have “a name that is above every name”. What sort of glorification could the Father have given him by bestowing on him something that he had already had as God?

The man Christ Jesus was elevated not to coequality with Yahweh but to sit at His right hand, a position second only to Yahweh’s in the universe. Yet we felt that this wasn’t good enough for “God the Son” whom we regarded as coequal with the Father in every respect even prior to his exaltation. The fact is that trinitarians have already exalted Jesus to so high a position that no further elevation is possible! To be granted a place at the Father’s right hand is actually a demotion from Jesus’ position of trinitarian coequality. The king’s right hand is the highest place of honor and a place where a queen would sit (Psalm 45:9; 1Ki.2:19), but it is not a place equal to that of the king himself. The position at his left hand is accorded less honor than that at his right hand, but it is still a seat of great honor because of its proximity to the king (Mt. 20:21,23).

That Jesus is seated at God’s right hand is a prominent theme in the New Testament. This is seen in the following verses among many other verses [3] (all quoted from ESV):

Romans 8:34 Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

Colossians 3:1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.

Hebrews 8:1 we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven.

Hebrews 10:12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God

1 Peter 3:22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.

The exaltation of Jesus has already taken place in history (the words “exalted” and “bestowed” in Phil.2:9 are in the aorist). In his exalted position over the world, Jesus must reign until he has put all God’s enemies under subjection (1Cor.15:25-28). We join this battle by bringing every lofty thing into subjection to Christ (2Cor.10:4-5). Christ functions as God’s visible representative, hence the subtitle of this book: “The Glory of God in the Face of Jesus Christ” (2Cor.4:6). This helps us to understand the following passage:

… he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he (God) put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:20-23)

Yahweh has placed a man—a true human being—at the pinnacle of all creation by seating him at His own right hand. He has bestowed on Jesus, the only perfect man, a position above all created beings at the apex of the universe. It reminds us of the wonderful words, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1Cor.2:9, a quotation of Isa.64:4).

Jesus, God’s plenipotentiary

The elevation of Jesus to a position over everyone else, even lords and kings, means that God has made him “Lord of lords”. Revelation 17:14 says, “They will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings.” The title “Lord of lords” is also applied to Yahweh (1Tim.6:15; cf. v.16; Psa.136:3; Dt.10:17).

Yahweh has made Christ His plenipotentiary and representative invested with His supreme and universal authority, and has put everything in subjection to him (the following verses are from ESV):

Psalm 8:6 You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet

Matthew 11:27 “All things have been handed over to me by my Father”

Matthew 28:18 “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”

John 3:35 “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand” (also 13:3)

Hebrews 2:5-8 Now it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. It has been testified somewhere (Psalm 8:4-6), “What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him? You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet.” Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control.

It was not to angels but to man (also called “son of man”) that God subjected all things. As trinitarians we didn’t see the wonderful extent of God’s love for a man, so we ascribed the rule over all things to a non-existent person called “God the Son” who is found nowhere in the Bible. Ironically, the rule and authority that we trinitarians ascribed to the non-existent trinitarian Jesus is, in Scripture, conferred on the biblical Jesus (all verses quoted from ESV):

Colossians 2:10 [Christ] is the head of all rule and authority

1 Peter 3:22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.

1 Corinthians 15:27-28 For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.

Daniel 7:13-14 I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.

 

Jesus Comes in Yahweh’s Name

The following verses, one from the OT and five from the NT, contain the well-known words, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of Yahweh (or the Lord),” an exclamation of praise that originally appeared in Psalm 118:26. In the following verses, we replace “the Lord” with “Yahweh” to conform to the Hebrew of Psalm 118:26, in which are rooted the five New Testament verses:

Psalm 118:26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of Yahweh! We bless you from the house of Yahweh.

Matthew 21:9 And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of Yahweh! Hosanna in the highest!”

Mark 11:9 Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of Yahweh!

John 12:13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of Yahweh, even the King of Israel!”

Matthew 23:39 For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of Yahweh.”

Luke 13:35 Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of Yahweh!”

In John’s Gospel, Jesus repeatedly says that he comes not according to his own initiative but because he had been sent by the Father (“I came not of my own accord, but he sent me,” Jn.8:42; cf. 5:36-38; 8:16-18; 10:36; 12:49). He comes in Yahweh’s name, not in his own name, which is to say that he does not act on his own authority but does all things as Yahweh’s representative.

The authority of the Name

What is the link between Jesus’ coming in his Father’s name and the Father’s bestowing on him the name above every name (Phil.2:9)? As we have seen, Jesus’ name has not been changed to “Yahweh” which in any case cannot be given to someone else insofar as a name identifies a person and insofar as there is only one Yahweh (Dt.6:4). Jesus retains his own name “Jesus” but it is now invested with the authority of Yahweh’s Name. As Yahweh’s representative, Jesus is the bearer of Yahweh’s Name even though he keeps his own identity as Jesus.

There is an Old Testament parallel to this: the angel who was appointed by Yahweh to lead the Israelites through the wilderness to the land of promise. Yahweh says of this angel that “My Name is in him”:

Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared. Pay careful attention to him and obey his voice; do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression, for my name is in him.” (Exodus 23:20-21, ESV)

This angel has the authority to pardon or not to pardon, and therefore has the power of life and death, for he is the bearer of Yahweh’s Name. Although he bears Yahweh’s Name and is invested with His authority, the angel was not worshipped by the Israelites.

Another parallel is seen in the story of Pharaoh and Joseph. Pharaoh, by placing his signet ring (which bore his name and emblem) on Joseph’s hand, made Joseph the bearer of his name and authority. It does not mean that Joseph could now be called Pharaoh (he is still called Joseph) but that he could now act with Pharaoh’s full authority:

38 And Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?” 39 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning and wise as you are. 40 You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command. Only as regards the throne will I be greater than you.” 41 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.” 42 Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand, and clothed him in garments of fine linen and put a gold chain about his neck. 43 And he made him ride in his second chariot. And they called out before him, “Bow the knee!” Thus he set him over all the land of Egypt. 44 Moreover, Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I am Pharaoh, and without your consent no one shall lift up hand or foot in all the land of Egypt.” (Genesis 41:38-44, ESV)

The similarities between this story and Philippians 2:9-11 are striking, even down to the command that everyone shall “bow the knee” when Joseph rides in a chariot called Pharaoh’s “second chariot” (v.43). By Pharaoh’s command, everyone in Egypt must submit to Joseph’s authority (vv.40, 44). But the throne, the emblem of supreme authority over all Egypt, remained with Pharaoh: “Only as regards the throne will I be greater than you” (v.40; cf. Jn.14:28, “the Father is greater than I”). Joseph was second only to Pharaoh in the land of Egypt, which was a great country at that time.

To obey Jesus is to obey Yahweh, not because Jesus (or the angel in Ex.23:20) is God, but because Jesus is the bearer of Yahweh’s Name. Likewise, to love Jesus is to love Yahweh. The more we love Jesus (not the Jesus of trinitarianism but Yahweh’s Christ, the anointed man), the more we will love Yahweh. To live for Christ the bearer of Yahweh’s Name is to live for Yahweh. To receive Jesus is to receive Yahweh who sent him (Mt.10:40; Jn.13:20). To reject Jesus is to reject Yahweh (Lk.10:16). If we are Jesus’ disciples who follow his teaching, notably his explicit monotheism (Mk.12:28-29; Jn.5:44; 17:3) which is enshrined in the first commandment, then those who reject us reject Jesus and ultimately reject Yahweh.

Yahweh raised Jesus from the dead and exalted him to His right hand. Jesus was given a position in heaven and on earth second only to Yahweh Himself. God has made a human being—the second man and the last Adam (1Cor.15:47,45)—second to Himself in the whole universe!

Yahweh will rule the universe through Jesus Christ. He has empowered Jesus to rule in His Name, giving him all authority in heaven and on earth (Mt.28:18). “All things have been committed to me by my Father” (Lk.10:22, cf. Mt. 11:27); “He has put everything under his feet” (1Cor.15:27).

Jesus has nothing that came from himself, for everything that he possesses had been given to him by God his Father. God has given Jesus everything that Jesus needs to rule as the Messiah-King over all the kingdoms of the earth, and to reign until he has put under subjection every power opposed to God. When all that has been done, Jesus himself will be subject to Yahweh so that “God will be all in all”:

When all things are subjected to him (Jesus), then the Son himself will also be subjected to him (God) who put all things in subjection under him (Jesus), that God may be all in all. (1Corinthians 15:28, ESV)

The word “subjected” is a passive of hupotassō, which BDAG defines as “to be in a submissive relationship, to subject, to subordinate”. Here we see the subordination of the Son to the Father, which is a common teaching in the New Testament, including Jesus’ own teaching and the teaching of the early church prior to Nicaea. Jesus’ whole life was governed by the desire to do the Father’s will, not his own (Jn.5:30; 6:38; 4:34; Rom.15:3; Heb.10:7,9, cf. Ps.40:7,8).



[1] The connection between Philippians 2 and Genesis is not lost on some trinitarians. The trinitarian reference, Commentary on the NT Use of the OT, on Phil.2:6-8, says “there is an undeniable network of associations between Philippians 2 and Genesis 1 to 3”. Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, in “Philippians,” says, “The claim that Christ Jesus did not grasp after equality with God (Phil.2:6) may even be an allusion to the sin of Adam, who did make a grab for deity (Gen.3:4-6).”

[2] The Majority Text lacks the definite article in “the name that is above every name”. Hence KJV, which is based on this text, has “a name which is above every name …”

[3] Mt.22:44; 26:64; Mk.12:36; 14:62; Lk.20:42; 22:69; Acts 2:33,34; 5:31; 7:55,56; Rom.8:34; Eph.1:20; Col.3:1; Heb.1:3,13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1Pet.3:22.

 

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