The Translation of Philippians 2:6-7

06 Jun

I don’t often engage Will Kinney in discussion. It’s typically pretty pointless – I’m not going to get anywhere with him, and circular reasoning from an intelligent person (yes, I do think he’s intelligent, while I also think he’s very foolish) gets extremely exhausting. I only engage with the desire that perhaps the discussion will help someone following it. That said, I posted on his group in response to his article on Philippians 2 regarding “thought it not robbery to be equal with God” vs. “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped”. I love that passage, and really despise it being broken up the way it must be to force the idea of the perfection of the KJV on it, so felt I had to at least offer a comment.

Mr. Kinney’s article can be found at My response follows. Perhaps someone will be edified by it!

I’m not planning to spend a lot of time on a debate. I’ll simply present a few points, knowing that I’m in your “home territory”, and trust that truth will prevail in the hearts of those who truly seek it.
I find it very interesting how you argue. If the ESV “deletes” something that the KJV includes, you point it out. If the ESV “adds” something that the KJV does not contain, once again, it must be wrong. I don’t start with my doctrine and then seek to find the translation that most accurately fits. Rather, I seek to find the evidence of how the text was transmitted, desire to understand what the author actually said, understand what he meant, and build my doctrine based on that.

In your article, you make the argument that the JW’s use the “modern” translation of this passage to argue against the deity of Christ, and therefore it must be wrong. No, the problem is with their erroneous interpretation of the passage. Remember, Mormons use the KJV to demonstrate their false doctrine. So do Pentecostals (snake handling, tongues, etc.), Church of Christ (baptismal regeneration) and other cultish groups. Does that mean we should reject the KJV? That’s a ridiculous idea!

I’ve also seen places where you ridicule “modern” versions for using dynamic equivalency in their translation. But I’m sure you defend the KJV’s use of the same! (Take, for example, the rendering of “God forbid” to translate με γενοιτο (me genoito)- would that be the only valid “translation” in your mind?) That duplicity is seen here as well. The KJV’s “made himself of no reputation” is certainly accurate interpretation of the passage. But it’s not exactly a formal translation of εαυτον εκενωσεν (eauton ekenosen). Accurate interpretation? Yes. But “emptied himself” is a valid translation, and certainly more literal. And of course, the context elucidates the meaning of how it came about – He did not “empty himself” by the elimination of any of the essence of deity, but by taking the form of a servant; by humbling himself. Correct hermeneutics leads to proper interpretation with either translation.

Finally, you said, “The phrase “thought it not robbery to be equal with God”, as found in the King James Bible, clearly teaches that Jesus Christ was in fact God.” Perhaps. But once again, we don’t approach the text by our doctrinal presuppositions (even if they’re true!), but let the text rule in how we understand doctrine. The question is not which translation better teaches the deity of Christ. What we need to see is what Paul intended to communicate. In the flow of the passage, Paul has already made it very clear that Jesus is God. He was “in the form of God” – that is a CLEAR statement of deity, no matter what the JW’s think.

But the primary purpose of the passage is not to teach the deity of Christ. Christ’s deity is assumed here. Rather, Paul is holding Christ forth as an example of humility – a virtue that all Christians must possess in our dealings with one another. Even though he was God, he condescended to enter his creation to redeem us. His exaltation is a result of his humility. With that larger context in mind, we can see Paul’s progression: Christ is the very essence of God. Yet he lowered himself to earth, took on the form of a slave, was born as a man. It’s a downward spiral. Not only that, but in human form, he submitted to death – the result of sin of which he had none – and to add insult to injury, it wasn’t simply the death of natural causes and old age, but the most shameful, cursed death ever devised. See the downward progression of his humility? The passage is not a polemic on the deity of Christ, but demonstrating what he did because of his transcendent love for his people.

So is Paul trying to express the idea that Christ did not think he was stealing from God by being equal with God? Granted, this is not the easiest phrase in the New Testament. And unfortunately, we don’t have other examples of the word in the Scriptures with which to compare the meaning. However, Greek literature does use the word. And from what I can see, when it uses the term to indicate “robbery”, it’s not a theoretical idea, or an attempt. It’s used to indicate the actual seizure of property. If Christ is not God, he can’t seize equality with God, so it’s use with that understanding seems pretty meaningless. The normal use of the word indicates grasping onto privilege, whether it’s already held or not.

Of course Christ is equal with God. But in the flow of the passage, Paul is indicating that he did not tenanciously hold on to the glory that he had with the Father before the world came into being (John 17), but that he laid aside his rightful claim to that glory for the purpose of humility. In other words, his glory would be more magnificently displayed to his creation by being made lower than the angels for the suffering of death.

So the “modern” translation of the phrase is not a denial of the deity of Christ, but an accurate rendering of Paul’s original words. (Yes, I said original, and I meant it. No, I haven’t seen Paul’s autograph here, but there are no variants to even muddy the waters at all, and I am 100% confident that we have the “original”!) And a proper hermeneutic will not lead one to deny the deity of Christ by the phrase, but to glory in the suffering that Christ undertook on behalf of those he would redeem. It’s a glorious passage, made much more precious by careful exegesis rather than the blind defense of a particular translation that just might not be “perfect” in the sense you believe.

You’re right about one thing: I don’t get it. You begin with the premise that the KJV is absolutely perfect as a translation, and therefore must go about to prove it, no matter what the cost to logic and reason. I’ve read enough of your website to understand your position, and reject it completely. Yes, I’ve seen your questioning to others who hold my beliefs, and reject the premise of the questions. I believe God has preserved his word. And I hold it in my hand, whether I’m studying my copy of the Greek New Testament, the KJV, the ESV, or even (gasp) the NIV. The biggest problem we face as believers and teachers of God’s precious truth is not the translation. Our challenge is correctly interpreting the Scriptures. You can twist the language of the KJV and pervert it by wrong interpretation, just as you can with any other translation. There is a reason we have been called to diligence!

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Posted by on June 6, 2015 in Bible Study, Commentary



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