This blog continues my translation of Philippians with a brief commentary
So if you are encouraging each other in Messiah, persuading each other by love, sharing each other’s lives in the spirit; if you are moved by compassion; complete my happiness by thinking the same thoughts, holding the same love, with one accord and one frame of mind. Do nothing out of party spirit or empty pride but in humility count others as better than yourselves. It shouldn’t be “every man for himself” but rather “everyone for each other.”
Your frame of mind should be the one seen in Messiah Jesus:
Although he shared the status of God
He did not consider equality with God
as something to be grabbed
But emptied himself, accepting the status of a slave
and became like human beings.
Appearing in human form
He lowered himself
and was obedient all the way to death,
death on an execution stake.
Therefore God in turn has raised him up to the heights
and given him the name
that is above all names;
so that at the name of Jesus
Every knee in heaven, on earth and under the earth
Should bend in homage
And every language declare
that Jesus Messiah is Lord
in honour of God the Father.
The combination of poetic form and unusual vocabulary has led many scholars to view this passage as a hymn to Jesus, quoted here by Paul. I think this is a reasonable assumption, and in my fiction about Paul I have imagined it coming from an Alexandrian believer. It could be interpreted as sliding near a theology in which Jesus was only apparently human and therefore not truly “flesh” which would be contrary to Paul’s thinking. The speculative terms such as Greek morphe and homoiomati could be indications of that kind of thinking but I’ve chosen to give them a practical translation grounded in the hymn’s main argument of the downward mobility of Jesus: the contrast is not between divine and human substance but between the status of God and that of the dead and crucified Jesus.
Who is the model, if there is one, for this theology? I think it is modelled on the figure of Adam in Genesis, who is made in the likeness of God (sharing God’s status as his plenipotentiary on earth) but who is tempted into grabbing equality with God – the tempter says, “You will be as Gods” – demonstrating the arrogance which is the root of evil. Jesus, on the other hand, is designated as God’s plenipotentiary, but honours the Father by his humility, his willingness to share human flesh and frailty, in his ministry and his death on the execution stake. He entrusts his future to God who “therefore” gives him new life and the status he has not grabbed: he shares with the Father the name, “Lord” (Hebrew Adonai), the one whom all creatures must honour as creator.
If my guess about Adam is right, then the hymn presents Jesus as a second Adam who re-runs the history of humanity, recovering the true role of Adam, and providing a rescuing pattern for others to follow. “A second Adam to the fight/ and to the rescue came.” (Praise to the Holiest in the height)
Paul is concerned as always with a practical theology: believers should share the frame of mind which Jesus demonstrated in his life and death, trusting like him in God’s “therefore”, by which He will reward their humility with victorious life. The affectionate, caring, mutuality which Paul sees as the outcome of trust in Jesus, is also the believer’s share in the very life of Jesus Messiah.