This page is also available in: Español
Written by Ángel Manuel Rodríguez
Does the phrase “in the form of God” in Philippians 2:6 suggest that Christ was not divine?
Sometimes a few words in a text strike us in such a way that we don’t notice the rest of the passage. In most cases the meaning of those words is located within its own context. This is the case with the phrase you quoted. The noun “form” (Greek morphē) is used twice in Philippians 2:6, 7, and in both cases it refers to Christ: “Being in the form of God” (verse 6), and “taking the form of a bondservant” (verse 7). The first time it describes Christ before He became a man. The second time the word describes Him as the Savior in human flesh. This suggests that the term has to do with Christ’s mode of being.
Second, notice that in the second usage the verb employed is “to take, to accept,” suggesting that this new mode of existence was not Christ’s natural mode of existence. It is not who the preincarnated Lord was in Himself, but who He became. When the text says that Christ took “the form of a bondservant,” it does not mean that He looked like or had the appearance of a servant. It means that when He came “in human likeness,” He in fact became a servant. The phrase combines the ideas of function and essence.
Third, the words “being in the form of God” deal with who Christ was in Himself. He did not appear to be God, He was God. He had the “form” only God has. In other words, the “form of God” means the mode of existence that corresponds to the divine being. The Bible’s New International Version renders the phrase “being in very nature God.” It correctly indicates that “form” means the very nature of Christ before He became human. This may sound strange to us for whom the term “form” stands for the appearance or shape of something, but that is not the case with the term Paul used. It refers to the form that defines or expresses the very nature of a person. Jesus was not simply acting like a servant or like God; He was a servant. He was also God.
Fourth, this understanding of the phrase is supported by the statement made in verse 6: Jesus “did not consider it robbery to be equal with God.” The verb “to be grasped” (Greek noun, harpagmos) means “something one holds to,” expressing the idea of “holding to something one already has,” in this case divinity. Before He became a man, Jesus, instead of holding to His equality with God, “made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant” (verse 7). God decided to humble Himself to the level of a servant. He who was in Himself divine became “the Servant of God” (see Isa. 53:11, 12). This is a wonderful and glorious revelation of the unfathomable love of God.
What do the words “express image of His person” mean in Hebrews 1:3?
In this passage the Bible deals with the divine nature of Christ before He became a man. The New International Version renders the phrase “the exact representation of his [God’s] being.” Both translations are somewhat hard to understand, so a good Bible dictionary or commentary will help to answer your question.
We cannot answer this question without referring to some Greek words used by Paul in the passage. Two of the terms he used are very important. The first one is charaktēr, translated “exact representation” in the New International Version. We get from it the English term “character” or “characteristic.” It means the distinctive marks or traits of an object or person.
The second Greek term is hupostasis, which means “person” or “being.” It was employed in Greek literature to refer to what lies at the foundation, the basis, and then to the essence of something. In Hebrews it was used to refer to God’s essence, His being.
This passage holds two important ideas: First, Christ is fully divine because He possesses the distinctive and exclusive characteristics of God’s being. Second, the passage emphasizes God’s revelation in Jesus Christ. In Him we can recognize the unique marks of God, what makes Him different from any other being. Only Christ, who is fully divine, is able to reveal to us the fullness of God’s nature (cf. Col. 1:19).