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Philippians 2:6 – Existing in the Form of God

Did Jesus Christ lay aside His deity when He became human? Some writers so allege. William Barclay carelessly wrote that Christ “emptied Himself of His deity to take upon Himself His humanity” (Daily Study Bible, XI, p. 45). One might even get the wrong impression from some of the modern English translations of the Bible. For example, the usually reliable New American Standard Bible, renders Philippians 2:6 in this way: ". . . who, although He existed in the form of God. . . " The ASV has it like this: ". . . who, existing in the form of God. . . " “Existing” is a present tense participle. It denotes that Jesus is “in the form of God,” i.e., He possesses the very nature of deity — prior to His incarnation, during that phase of His existence, and following it. He always was, is, and forever shall be God, i.e., deity in nature. Thus underline “existing” in your Bible (or make the correction if your text gives the word a past tense form), and in your margin note: Christ eternally divine.

There is another matter here worthy of reflection. Paul states that Jesus did not consider His equality with God as something to be “grasped” (ASV). The KJV has it like this: Christ thought it not “robbery” to be equal with God. What is the meaning of this? One thing is for sure, it cannot be a denial of the Lord’s deity (as the Jehovah’s Witnesses claim), for that would not only contradict this immediate context, but numerous other passages as well (cf. John 1:1; Hebrews 1:8). It may mean that Christ at no time ever entertained the notion of seizing equal status from the Father, for that nature was always His. Or, it may suggest that the Lord’s equality with the Father was something that He chose not to selfishly “grasp,” i.e., hold on to at all costs; rather, He emptied Himself of the independent exercise of some of His divine prerogatives and assumed the role of a servant (see H.C. Theissen, Systematic Theology, p. 296). There is certainly no negation of the Lord’s deity here. So underline the term “emptied,” and record this comment: No loss of deity; subordination of role.

Scripture references: Philippians 2:6; John 1:1; Hebrews 1:8