did not regard equality with God
as something to be grasped,
2:7 but emptied himself
by taking on the form of a slave, 3
by looking like other men, 4
and by sharing in human nature. 5
2:8 He humbled himself,
by becoming obedient to the point of death
– even death on a cross!
1 sn This passage has been typeset as poetry because many scholars regard this passage as poetic or hymnic. These terms are used broadly to refer to the genre of writing, not to the content. There are two broad criteria for determining if a passage is poetic or hymnic: “(a) stylistic: a certain rhythmical lilt when the passages are read aloud, the presence of parallelismus membrorum (i.e., an arrangement into couplets), the semblance of some metre, and the presence of rhetorical devices such as alliteration, chiasmus, and antithesis; and (b) linguistic: an unusual vocabulary, particularly the presence of theological terms, which is different from the surrounding context” (P. T. O’Brien, Philippians [NIGTC], 188-89). Classifying a passage as hymnic or poetic is important because understanding this genre can provide keys to interpretation. However, not all scholars agree that the above criteria are present in this passage, so the decision to typeset it as poetry should be viewed as a tentative decision about its genre.
2 sn The Greek term translated form indicates a correspondence with reality. Thus the meaning of this phrase is that Christ was truly God.
4 tn Grk “by coming in the likeness of people.”
sn The expression the likeness of men is similar to Paul’s wording in Rom 8:3 (“in the likeness of sinful flesh”). The same word “likeness” is used in both passages. It implies that there is a form that does not necessarily correspond to reality. In Rom 8:3, the meaning is that Christ looked like sinful humanity. Here the meaning is similar: Jesus looked like other men (note anqrwpoi), but was in fact different from them in that he did not have a sin nature.
5 tn Grk “and by being found in form as a man.” The versification of vv. 7 and 8 (so also NRSV) is according to the versification in the NA27 and UBS4 editions of the Greek text. Some translations, however, break the verses in front of this phrase (NKJV, NASB, NIV, NLT). The same material has been translated in each case; the only difference is the versification of that material.
sn By sharing in human nature. This last line of v. 7 (line d) stands in tension with the previous line, line c (“by looking like other men”). Both lines have a word indicating form or likeness. Line c, as noted above, implies that Christ only appeared to be like other people. Line d, however, uses a different term that implies a correspondence between form and reality. Further, line c uses the plural “men” while line d uses the singular “man.” The theological point being made is that Christ looked just like other men, but he was not like other men (in that he was not sinful), though he was fully human.