Subject: Saint Paul’s Letters

Prof. Dr. B. Repschinski, S.J.

Scholastic: Paul Truong Minh Cao, S.J (Third Year Theology).

NAB Text Nestle GNT 1904 Text
6 Who, though he was in the form of God,

did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.

7 Rather, he emptied himself,

taking the form of a slave,

coming in human likeness;

and found human in appearance,

8 he humbled himself,

becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.


6 ὃς ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ ὑπάρχων οὐχ ἁρπαγμὸν ἡγήσατο τὸ εἶναι ἴσα θεῷ,


7 ἀλλὰ ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσεν μορφὴν δούλου λαβών, ἐν ὁμοιώματι ἀνθρώπων γενόμενος· καὶ σχήματι εὑρεθεὶς ὡς ἄνθρωπος


8 ἐταπείνωσεν ἑαυτὸν γενόμενος ὑπήκοος μέχρι θανάτου, θανάτου δὲ σταυροῦ·

9 Because of this, God greatly exalted him

and bestowed on him the name

that is above every name,

10 that at the name of Jesus

every knee should bend,

of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

11 and every tongue confess that

Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.


9 διὸ καὶ ὁ θεὸς αὐτὸν ὑπερύψωσεν, καὶ ἐχαρίσατο αὐτῷ τὸ ὄνομα τὸ ὑπὲρ πᾶν ὄνομα,

10 ἵνα ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι Ἰησοῦ πᾶν γόνυ κάμψῃ ἐπουρανίων καὶ ἐπιγείων καὶ καταχθονίων,


11 καὶ πᾶσα γλῶσσα ἐξομολογήσηται ὅτι κύριος Ἰησοῦς Χριστὸς εἰς δόξαν θεοῦ πατρός.

Saint Paul (from the Internet)

In the beginning of the hymn, Saint Paul instructed Philippians that: “Have among yourselves the same attitude[1] that is also yours in Christ Jesus (2:5).” It may be an introduction of the hymn and also his most important instruction (persuasion) for Philippian community. This is Paul’s mind for all Christians, too. One hand the hymn is a very popular faith of early Christians, other hand it is so special to Paul’s mind because it is the Christ’s attitude who is his Lord and he has exemplified enduringly. Through hymn, we see a form of profession of the faith, a kind of way for unity, Christ’s vocation and mission, Christological themes and a heart of Saint Paul’s mind that constructed the hymn’s specialty.

Firstly, the hymn is very special because it is a profession of faith of ancient Christian community – very common faith.

            We know that the hymn is not composed by Paul, though he added something more detail.[2] Saint Paul reused this hymn that early Christian community used to sing in liturgy. This is one of a few times which Paul used the hymn in his letters (written by himself, e.g. Rom 11:33-36). And often that is important point in his spiritual experience.[3] The Christian usually sings hymn again and again in gathering time with sweat rhythm of music, helping them to remember the work of God and internalize the love of God in their heart (1Cor 11:25; Col 3:16), and Philippian community is the same. In other word, singing the hymn is similar to professing the faith of Christians. Moreover, if we look at all his letter, the hymn is only one to be chocked up. It can know that Saint Paul is moved in his heart by his sharing with Philippian community (Phil 1:8; 2:18), so he uttered his conviction (common faith) by hymn naturally in his context of prison. It can say that, the hymn shows the “sensus fidei” in early church.

Secondly, for the hymn performs only one way for unity in the church.

            Saint Paul always concerns the union in community. He contributed many communities during his missionary journeys. The unity of the new communities is the first his concern (1Cor 1:10; Eph 4:1-6; 1Thes 4:1-2). For example, Corinthian community has many problems of faction, division and immoral behaviors. He was very painful and catastrophe for them (1Cor 2:3; 9:1). Although, Philippian is an old church and has strong faith, Paul advised them: “Beware of the dogs! Beware of the evil workers! Beware of the mutilation! (3:2)” or fault relationship between two women (4:2). Galatian also does not except: “if you go on biting and devouring one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another (Gal 5:15).” We can understand easily his care in complex context of early churches.

            To Paul, the way of unity is share, humility and earning interests for others (Phil 2:2-4). Christians share the same mind and the same love in the same common hope, consolation and communion in Spirit. Christians “humbly regard others as more important than themselves”, and “each looking out for others’ own interests (2:4).” As the same thing, they avoid selfishness, vainglory and looking out not for their own interests. They just find this way in Jesus Christ. Christians look into the best imitation of Jesus Christ[4] (2:6-11) as the only way for unity in community.

Thirdly, for the hymn summaries all Jesus Christ’s vocation and mission.

            It is said that, the “Our Father” or “The Hail Mary” prayer is the brief of the New Testament, it is nothing wrong. However, if we say that Phil 2:6-11 is the brief of Gospel of the Lord, I think that it is a stronger argument. The hymn contains all main mysteries of Jesus Christ: Incarnation, death and resurrection. Saint Paul did not use it to explain or prove these mysteries, but to confess the Christian’s faith that tradition bore and nourished them. Jesus Christ’s vocation and mission is the Lord who has become human freely, lived human likeness in every ways except sin[5], to save human from sin. He did it in obedience and love His Father and human being totally.[6] “Through him to reconcile all things for him, making peace by the blood of his cross (Col 1:20),” in the end, He is greatly exalted by God and every creature in heaven, on and under earth “sum up [all things] in Christ… in accord with his favor (Eph 1:10)” and “every knee should bend (Phil 2:10)” before Him as the Lord. Through Him, whole the world is waiting for its salvation in hope and being saved.

Fourthly, for the hymn introduces many Christological themes in it.

            Through the hymn, we know Jesus Christ is the Lord in the beginning: “in the form of God” (ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ).[7] It means that preexistence[8] doctrine existed in early Christians before. Especially, nowhere mentions this theme clearly in the New Testament,[9] except the Gospel of John, chapter one. However, the Gospel of John was probably written in the 90s of the first century, and the letter of Philippian was written about 54-56 AD.[10] Therefore, the hymn is the most important role to know the concept of preexistence of Christ in the beginning. Besides, there are many other Christological themes: the mystery of incarnation, Christ emptied himself and humbled himself (kenosis = “λαβών”, “γενόμενος”, “εὑρεθεὶς” and “θανάτου” – vv.7-8)[11]; the Christ’s death on cross as a sinner; the resurrection, exaltation (glory) and fulfillment as the Lord in nature so they show all movements of the way of salvation.

            We can divide the hymn to two parts. The first part is from verse six to eight and the second is from verse nine to eleven. The first is with movement from above to below. This movement to which Jesus Christ is subject, he himself sets in active position entirely. Although Christ is the Lord (the form of God in the beginning), He “did not regard equality with God” and “emptied himself coming in human likeness.”[12] Moreover, He becomes “the form of a slave” who is under natural human. It is not enough; He is also taking the death under a slave, death on a cross[13] in obedience (ὑπήκοος) freely.[14] Christ “humbled himself” from the highest point (form of God) to the lowest point (the death of a slave on cross). He tried in his best to do it actively (“ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσεν” – active verb) because of human and for human (2Cor 8:9). He becomes the lowest (poor and weak Lord, shoulder limitations into himself, loss his privileges and set his divine essence in human hand) in human being and becomes a true Brother of the painful, sinners and the abandoned.

            Oppositely, the second part’s movement is from below to above.[15] After the death for (obedience), he was exalted by God and be gloried as the “Lord” (not only “as”, but Jesus Christ is the Lord (Κύριος)).[16] The “Lord” is the true nature of the name that it is named by God (Act 2:36). Therefore, Jesus Christ is risen up to highest point (“above every name (ὄνομα)”)[17], and seemly he is in passive statue totally. God himself did everything for him after his death. The actor is not Jesus, but God. Being exalting of Jesus Christ comes from the step by step go down first. Proceeding of “go down” and “go up” of Jesus Christ through which He passed over unending distance between Creator and creatures to be saving grace for human.

            The way of Salvation which Jesus Christ did in both true divine and true human status, can save all from sin and death, because He has won in the lowest human status and to be gloried in the highest divine status. He is first fruit to open the hope way for one who believes in and attaches himself to Him (1Cor 15:20). The salvific of Christ relies on His empty voluntariness, on He is the Lord that become man, and on His love for human being and His Father. To Saint Paul, salvation is the most important thing. He accepted the loss all things and considering them so much rubbish, so that he may know, gain Christ and be found in Him (Phil 3:8). Therefore, he forgets “what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead (Phil 3:13)” to gain salvation consistently. It is the same way, he is really longing for Philippians to “continue on the same course (Phil 3:16)” and imitate of him (Phil 3:17; 4:9; 1Thes 1:6) as he imitates of Christ (1Cor 11:1) who he is willing to follow and consume all his life for (1Cor 4:9-13; 9:22.27). The call of imitation is a free call for all who confess “Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil 2:11)”[18]. The way that one finds oneself by giving himself up, the way of live is through accepting the death.

Finally, for the hymn is center of the letter Philippian and the heart of Saint Paul’s mind.

We know that Paul loves the Philippian community much: “I hold you in my heart… how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus (Phil 1:7-8).” He is moved when Philippian sent Epaphrodite to take care of him in prison (2:25). He rejoiced with their joy in growing up faith. Therefore, they are like his siblings, “whom I love and long for, my joy and crown (Phil 4:1).” He is aware of their love for him, too. So he would like share to them his deepest experience of the salvation. Experience which he know Jesus Christ, “for his sake I have accepted the loss of all things (Phil 3:8)” contains reconciliation of his past, endurance in his present and his hope in future – resurrection (Phil 3:3-14). For him “life is Christ, and death is gain (Phil 1:21).” The heart of his confidence no matter what except the portrait of Jesus Christ – ideal form who he would like to introduce to Philippian imitate.[19] So Christ himself is the foundation of communities’ unity, brotherhood, friendship, joyfulness, faith and surely salvation. Jesus is also the beginning and the end of wearing out of all Christians and Saint Paul.

Conclusion, the hymn is an instruction of Christian heart and mind, a song to sing together in joy and spirit, a principle of life (Christ’s way), an ideal example, seeing the work of God through Christ and the weakness of God for human being, all abundance for Christian life, and fundament of Paul’s mission and his apostleship. After Adam[20], the human being cannot save themselves and nothing worthy for exalting if not from God. But by the sake of the Lord who lived, died and risen for the world, the human being has been repaid and redeemed by Him. So that, no one has right to live for himself, but for Christ (Rom 14:7-9). Now, the human dignity becomes invaluable before God, because it is repaid by His Beloved Son’s blood. We can say that the hymn is an “epic poem” of Jesus Christ and also Saint Paul. Therefore, the hymn becomes very special; the specialty founds on description about the portrait of Jesus Christ himself and the Christian faith.


  1. The Catholic Biblical Association of America, The New American Bible, New York, Catholic Book Publishing Co., 1992.
  2. Mark Allan Powell, Introducing the New Testament: A Historical, Literary, and Theological Survey, Singapore: Baker Academic, 2009.
  3. Bonnie B. Thurston and Judith M. Ryan, S.D.B., Sacra Pagina Series Vol. 10: The Gospel of John, , Daniel J. Harrington, S.J., USA, The Liturgical, 2009.
  4. The New Interpreter’s Bible A Commentary in Twelve Volumes, Vol. XI, Acts, Introduction to Epistolary Literature, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Abingdon Press Nashville, 1995.
  5. Frank J. Matera, God Saving Grace – A Pauline Theology, Cambridge, U.K., 2012.
  6. James D. G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, S.A., Cambridge, U.K., 1998.
  7. Nhóm Phiên Dịch Các Giờ Kinh Phụng Vụ, Kinh Thánh, Hà Nội, Nxb. Tôn Giáo, 2011.

[1] Bonnie B. Thurston and Judith M. Ryan, p.80: it means “disposition” or “habitual attitude.” The New Interpreter’s Bible A Commentary, p.507: the Philippians’ behavior depends on the fact that they are in Christ, and the fact that they are “in Christ” depends on the saving events of the gospel. But the attitude that is appropriate to those who are in Christ is that shown by the historical person whom they know as “Jesus.”

[2] Mark Allan Powell, p.349. The New Interpreter’s Bible A Commentary, p.509: “even death on a cross” and “to the glory of God the Father” are often excised as a Pauline addition to the original “hymn”.

[3] Rom 11:33-36: proud of the mystery of God’s Will.

[4] Mark Allan Powell, p.350.

[5] Nhóm Phiên Dịch Các Giờ Kinh Phụng Vụ, p.2612.

[6] Mark Allan Powell, p. 348: the career of Christ is described in three stages: 1) he was in “the form of God (v.6); 2) he was born in human likeness, and he lived          and died                as a human being (vv.7–8); 3) he was exalted by God to be Lord of all (vv.9-11).

[7] “in the form of God” means that He is the Lord in nature. In the similar way, “the form of slave” is not look like a slave, but he is a man and a slave in nature. Bonnie B. Thurston and Judith M. Ryan, p.81-82: He [Jesus] always had the “essence” (Morphe) of God; He was “in nature God.” The phrase indicates the pre-existence of the Christ. “the form of a slave”: “morphe” repeats to stress that, just as Jesus was really divine, he was also really a slave. “Slave” is both a term Paul used for himself (Rom 1:1; Phil 1:1) and his common description of the Christian life. The New Interpreter’s Bible A Commentary, p.507: “morphe” is “visible form.” Similar ideas are expressed in Col 1:15 – “the image of the invisible God”; Jn 1:18 – “No one has ever seen God: the only Son.” If “morphe” is understood as “equality with God”, pre-existent Christ already possessed.

[8] Mark Allan Powell, p. 349: “Christ existed (in the form of God) before he became the man Jesus who

lived and died on earth.” James D. G. Dunn, p.66. Nhóm Phiên Dịch Các Giờ Kinh Phụng Vụ, p.2612.

[9] Mathew and Luke say about preexistence (Mt 3:17; 16:16), but they do not explain anything. Gospel of John is clearer (Jn 1:1).

[10] The New American Bible, p.142 & 301.

[11] Bonnie B. Thurston and Judith M. Ryan, p.82-83: “Emptied” (ekenosen) is a key verb describing Jesus’ choice of renunciation of privilege. “Emptied himself” is not only graphic, but emphatic. Humility was a lave virtue, and so the verb aptly describes the “emptied condition” of Jesus.

[12] The New Interpreter’s Bible A Commentary, p.507: the hymn is the Pauline literature in telling us what Christ did not do, before spelling out what he did. Adam was creatied after the image and likeness of God, but now Christ is born “in human likeness” and is found in human form.

[13] Death on cross: to Jewish, it is the sign to whom will be woe: Dt 21:22-23; 1Cor 1:23; Gal 3:13.

[14] Bonnie B. Thurston and Judith M. Ryan, p.83: Jesus was obedient or “subject” suggests that the death was not random, but part of a plan – God’s plan of salvation. Death if cross: not only did Jesus submit to death, but death of the most horrible kind. Nhóm Phiên Dịch Các Giờ Kinh Phụng Vụ, p.2612: Christ’s obedient attitude healed the first man’s non obedient attitude (Rom 5:19; Hr 5:8).

[15] Bonnie B. Thurston, Ibid., p.83. James D. G. Dunn, p.66: The movement between these two points (being in the form of God and taking on the form of a slave) is the result of a deliberate choice by Christ Jesus not to insist on his equality with God but to relinquish his divine prerogatives and abase himself.

[16] “Lord” is the name of God -“YHWH” that the Jew used in the Old Testament: Is 45:23-24. Bonnie B. Thurston, Ibid., p.84. Although many are confuse with competition between “the Lord” and “God Father”, we do not mention here. James D. G. Dunn, p.61: Instead of identifying God as the Lord/YHWH, Paul identifies God as “the Father” and Jesus Christ as “the Lord,” thereby applying a name to Jesus that belongs to God. When Paul employs “Lord” apart from a scriptural quotation, it usually refers to Christ. Thus the name Paul applies to Jesus, “Lord,” is the same name that refers to God in Paul’s scriptural quotations. “Christ” identifies Jesus as the redemptive agent of God’s work. “Lord” highlights the exalted status of Christ.

[17] Bonnie B. Thurston, Ibid., p.84: the verb for “gave” (ἐχαρίσατο) has as its root the word “grace.” God gave the name “Jesus,” which is derived from a Hebrew word that means, “Savior,” as an act of grace to give a name is to bestow status, authority, even power. The New Interpreter’s Bible A Commentary, p.510.

[18] Nhóm Phiên Dịch Các Giờ Kinh Phụng Vụ, p.2612: this is a profession of faith (Rom 10:9; 1Cor 12:3), professing the divinity of Jesus Christ.

[19] James D. G. Dunn, p.66: Paul calls the Philippian community to live in accordance with the gospel it professes so that it can participate in his struggle (Phil 1:27–30).

[20] James D. G. Dunn, p.281-288: the suggestion that the hymn has been constructed with strong allusion to Adam or even modeled on the template of Adam Christology is still persuasive. Jesus Christ is both a symbol of Adam and contrast with Adam. Many who were familiar with Paul’s Adam theology.