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Chapter 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 appeal to for establishing the deity of Christ are recognized by scholars to be poems or hymns. Most people are unfamiliar with poetry, much less poetry of a bib­lical and spiritual nature. This unfamiliarity gives trinitar­ians an opport­un­ity to interpret poetic words and express­ions in a way that suits their doctrines.

Besides John’s Prologue (Jn.1:1-18), the other poetic passage that trinit­ar­ians appeal to is Philippians 2:5-11, especially verse 6 which says that Jesus “was in the form of God”:

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. (Philippians 2:5-11, ESV)

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

Trinitarians seize upon the poetic expression “in the form of God” (v.6) as proof that Jesus is God even though every Greek-English lexicon says that the Greek word for “form” has to do with external shape. But God has no “form” (Dt.4:15) because God is “spirit” (Jn.4:24). Hence Paul is using the word “form” not in a literal manner but as a metaphor. Later we will see that the word “form” in this hymn is a poetic synonym of “image,” for Jesus is “the image of God” (2Cor.4:4; Col.1:15).

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 in double vision, so we resolved the pro­blem by thinking of Jesus primarily as God and secondarily as man.

Despite our firm and committed 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 the deity of Yahweh, that is, the God and Father of Jesus Christ.

Recently it came to me as a flash of insight that the very verses we put into service for proving Jesus’ deity act­ually proved something different: how Jesus became the 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 in theory 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.

On the other hand, we cannot overlook the voluntary side of Jesus’ be­com­ing the perfect man even though we know that the miracle of perfection 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 Bible. Without this deep genuine love, Jesus could never have become the perfect man.

But the situation is different with the Jesus of trinitarianism, called God the Son. Since God is love in His very nature (1Jn.4:8,16), it would be im­possible for a divine Jesus, God the Son, not to love. This greatly 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 Jesus 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 end 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”

To see what Paul means when he says that Christ Jesus “was in the form of God,” we briefly consider the matter in four points.

Point #1: God is invisible

The New Testament consistently portrays God as 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 to do this 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 God is invisible, at times He makes Himself visi­ble in order to accomplish a specific purpose as in the divine epiphanies recorded in the Old Testa­ment. At times He shows 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: The word “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, a word that is also seen in English.[1] 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 says that the use of morphē in Phil.2:6 stands “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 and non-trinitarian 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), He 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 hu­man eye), Paul is obviously using the word “form” 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 Deuteronomy 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 Phil.2:6.[2]

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”; hence the two words are bas­ically synonymous (note also the word “form”). This is the lexical basis for tak­ing “form of God” to mean “likeness of God” or “image of God”. In Gen.1:26, the use of “image” and “likeness” within one 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. [3]

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 (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” (see boldface) appears in all three defin­itions of eikōn. In other words, BDAG has no defin­i­tion of eikōn (“image”) that does not involve form. This establishes the equivalence of “image of God” and “form of God”.

From the lexical equivalence, in both Greek and Hebrew, 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).

The “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 that 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 Genesis 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).

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 God in all His glory, beauty, and magni­ficence.

In point #3, we saw that BDAG’s three definitions of eikōn (“image”) all have the word “form,” giving further lexical evidence that “the form of God” really means “the image of God”. This goes a long way towards explain­ing the meaning of “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 or physically 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. We must bear in mind that man too is in the image of God, but man is not to be worshipped as God.

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 do not hesitate to worship “the man Christ Jesus” (as he is called in 1Tim.2:5), the visible and human image of God. In this case, 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, as well as 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)

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 results 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,” giving the other two persons, God the Father and God the Spirit, 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? At first glance, 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 purposes 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).[4]

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 even 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, however, 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), the “disre­garding, vio­lat­ing” of God’s command (Thayer, paraba­sis), and is rooted in disobedience (“every trans­gression or disobedi­ence,” Heb.2:2).

Jesus, unlike Adam, “humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Phil.2:7). His per­fection lies in his resolute 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 once-for-all struggle but something that con­tinued 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. We must bear in mind that trinitarians do not believe that Jesus has ever lost his deity even in his death and suffering.

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. This shows that the NIV translators probably did not think that Paul’s words are clear enough and explicit enough to establish Christ’s deity.

Has it not occurred to trinitarians that if Jesus is 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? But in Paul’s teaching, the exaltation of Jesus was some­thing that God 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. It also recognizes the equivalence of the form of God and the image of God. 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 is 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?’” (Ezekiel 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 Isaiah 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 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 (Adam 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 is a reflection of God’s humility as expressed in God serv­ing 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 said without biblical support that God had in fact commanded the angels to perform these tasks. From all this, we see that Yahweh is more mag­nificent in His match­less glory and humility than our puny minds can 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 portrays 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 today, the OT passages quoted in the NT often have “Lord” in the OT (when it should be rendered YHWH or “Yahweh”) 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 believe 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 was not the supposed­ly pre­existent per­son of Phil.2:6. If it was only the hu­man nature that died, who 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)

God has given Jesus “the name that is above every name” (v.9). [5] 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” (which means “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 Isaiah 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 was 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 a 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 is 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 his 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 here 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?

But in the Bible, 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 (Ps.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, as seen in the following verses among many other verses [6] (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 of 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 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 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 NT 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 by his own initiat­ive and authority, but 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). In fact 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 which was the standard 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] For example, morphē is found in the English words morphology (the study of the form of words or of organisms) and morph (to change shape or appearance in a smooth and gradual manner).

[2] Most 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” in this verse are “synonymous terms” (Constable’s Expository Notes). NIV Study Bible, on Genesis 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).”

[3] The word “likeness” in Gen.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.

[4] The connection between Philippians 2 and Genesis is not lost on 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).”

[5] The Majority Text lacks the 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 …”

[6] 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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