“Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:5-11).
This is a very beautiful passage exhorting us to think and act in the same way that Jesus thought and acted. Jesus is here set before us as an example of perfect humanity, in contrast with the way the ‘first man, Adam’ acted in the Genesis story of creation. It is too bad that theological controversy in the early 4th century of the “Christian era” has led to such a distortion of Paul’s meaning here that Christianity has lost its focus and can only see here a proof text for the Deity of Jesus Christ – something which is in fact not in the passage at all! The meaning is very clear once it is grasped that Paul is making a stark contrast between Jesus and Adam. Here is my own paraphrase of the passage; hopefully it will help in getting across what Paul was saying.
“I want you to think and act just the same way Christ Jesus thought and acted. He, like Adam, was in the form (image and likeness) of God; but unlike Adam, he did not even for a moment consider trying to be equal with God – which would be theft! Instead, he fully humbled himself in submission to God – taking the form (image and likeness) of a servant. Like Adam, he came into life in human likeness, and was found in human form. But unlike Adam, he became obedient to God, all the way to death – even death by crucifixion. Because of this humble submission and obedience, God has exalted him and given him an authority which is greater than any other authority. Everyone – in heaven, on earth, and in the underworld – will submit to his authority, acknowledging Jesus Christ as Lord. He has this authority from God the Father, and so God will be glorified through him.”
You see, Paul was no more calling Jesus the one true God than he was calling Adam (or any of Adam’s descendants) the one true God! Adam was made in the image and likeness of God, and so was Jesus. Adam was a man, and so was Jesus. But Jesus stands in contrast to Adam (and the rest of Adam’s descendants) in that he did not seek equality with God, but humbled himself in complete submission to his Father’s will. We should be like Jesus rather than Adam! If we do, we will be exalted by our God and Father, just as Jesus was, because as Daniel said in Daniel 7:27 – “And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; their kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey them.” Let’s remove the blindfolds from our eyes, and no longer be duped by the traditions of men into missing the simple meaning of Paul in this text. Throughout the passage, Jesus is presented as distinct from, and completely submissive to, God his Father; and God the Father will receive the glory, not Jesus. Neither Paul nor Jesus ever sought to turn the focus of our attention from God to his servant.
Another verse considered to be a proof text for the Deity of Christ is Romans 9:5 – “to them [the Jews] belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.” Here again, it would appear on the face of it that Paul acknowledged Jesus Christ as “God over all”, which would be the one true God. What we are not generally told is that there are other ways to translate this, just by changing the way we punctuate the sentence. You see, in those early Greek texts there was no punctuation; even the words were not separated from one another. The words were written in capital letters, and would, if literally rendered into English, read like this: ANDOFWHOMTHECHRISTTHEACCORDINGTOFLESHTHEBEINGOVERALLGODBLESSED TOTHEAGES. Translators have to divide up the words and punctuate the sentences. Our English translators, being blinded by centuries of theological dogma known as “orthodox Christology”, have almost all unhesitatingly translated the verse “Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever”. However the NRSV has had the honesty and courage to go against tradition and give an alternate translation: “and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever.” That is, the Messiah (Christ) is over all (as he said in Matt. 28:18), and is forever blessed by God. Another possible translation would be: “and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah. God who is over all be blessed forever.” Both of those alternative translations fit in the context of the particular passage, the rest of the New Testament writings (which consistently speak of the Christ as distinct from and subservient to God, who is his Father), and the Jewish culture from which Christianity derived. Paul was a Pharisee of the Pharisees, and the Trinitarian conception of Jesus as the “second Person” in a Triune God would certainly have never entered his mind. For him, as for all the Jews, God is ONE, not at all divided into separate “Persons”. Such a conception would be considered blasphemy by the Pharisee Paul. His recognition of Jesus as Messiah did not nullify his Jewish theology. The usual English translation of this verse, then, is totally inconsistent with Pauline and New Testament teachings about Jesus, God’s Anointed; and since there are other valid translations which are consistent with overall New Testament “Christology”, one of those alternates should be adopted.
Let’s look at one more set of verses: an Old Testament passage, and its quotation in the New Testament. The New Testament passage is Hebrews 1:8 and 9: “But of the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the righteous scepter is the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions” (NRSV). This is a direct quotation of Psalm 45:6 and 7. The Psalm is addressed to the king in verse 1, and verse 2 describes the king as “the most handsome of men”. So if this passage does have reference to Jesus Christ, as the writer of Hebrews believed, then it refers to him as “the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5); and if the translation is correct in saying “your throne, O god” in reference to the king, the word “god” must be accepted as I have rendered it (with a small ‘g’), as it is in Psalm 82:6 and John 10:34 (“I said, you are gods”). However, there is an interesting alternative translation in both the Hebrew and Greek of the verse. According to a footnote in my NRSV translation of the Psalm (45:6), the phrase “Your throne, O God” can legitimately be translated “Your throne is a throne of God”; and so the Jewish Publication Society translates it: “Thy throne given of God is for ever and ever”. The Greek can legitimately be translated “Your throne is God” (or “God is your throne”). So we see here once again a translation which is very much consistent with overall New Testament ‘Christology’, and with the New Testament teaching that Christ’s authority is given to him by God, his Father; but which is totally ignored by ‘orthodoxy’ because of the blindfold of the traditions of men which have become ingrained since the 4th century AD. It is very much true that Jesus’ authority comes from God (which may be strongly stated as the Greek does, “God is your throne”); and it is even true that Jesus is “a” god in keeping with Psalm 82:6. What is not true is that Jesus is “the” God, “the only true God” who is the Father. “The” God is the One of whom it is said in the end of the quotation: “God, your God, has anointed you [Christ, Messiah] with the oil of gladness beyond your companions”. Jesus, the man, has “companions”, above whom he can be exalted. “The” God has no companions. Notice these verses: from the prayer of Hannah (1 Samuel 2:2) – “There is none holy like the LORD; there is none besides thee; there is no rock like our God”; from a prayer of David (2 Sam. 7:22) – “Therefore thou art great, O LORD God; for there is none like thee, and there is no God besides thee, according to all that we have heard with our ears”; Psalm 86:8 – “There is none like thee among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like thine”; Jeremiah 10:6 and 7 – “There is none like thee, O LORD; thou art great, and thy name is great in might. Who would not fear thee, O King of the nations? For this is thy due; for among all the wise ones of the nations and in all their kingdoms THERE IS NONE LIKE THEE”. There are no ‘companions’ for God; but there are companions and brothers for the Son of God, who is “the man, Christ Jesus”.
May the scales fall off our eyes, so that we will no longer seek to make the Servant to be the same as the God whom he served; the Son to be the same as the God who is his Father; and the Anointed (Christ, Messiah) to be the same as the God who anointed him!