In the Form of (a) God, Pt 2

With Andrew Perriman

To hear the podcast click here.

This discussion is more technical than most we get into, but hang in there and think a few new thoughts today.

In the Form of a God is a new book by Dr. Andrew Perriman.  It is part of series edited by Mike Bird, David Capes, and Scott Harrower called Studies in Early Christology (Cascade). 

Perriman  joined David Capes by Zoom from his home in London for two episodes of “The Stone Chapel Podcasts.”  Here is part 2.  If you haven’t heard part 1, go back and listen to that episode here.

Who is Andrew Perriman?

Andrew Perriman is a researcher and writer on topics related to eschatology and Christology. He is Associate Research Professor, London School of Theology, and spends part of his time in pastoral work around the world.

He also works with a mission organization, Communitas.  As he says, he inhabits two worlds.

Details about “In the Form of A God”

The subtitle of the book narrows the subject of the book The Preexistence of the Exalted Christ in Paul.

Many scholars believe that Paul, our earliest Christian theologian, already held to the notion that before Jesus was “born of a woman” (Gal 4:4-6), he existed in heaven as a divine being “in the form of God” or as Perriman prefers “in the form of a god” (Phil 2:6). 

His book asks the question: did Paul believe in the pre-existence of Christ?  And if so, to what extent?

The Philippian Hymn (Phil 2:6-11)

Perriman has an interpretation of Phil 2:6-7 that is at variance from many scholars. First, he does not regard it as a hymn. He considers it an encomium, that is, rhetoric designed to praise a human being. 

Second, he thinks it unlikely that Paul wrote it.  Rather, Paul approves of it because he incorporates it into his letter.

Third, he focuses upon the phrase “in the form of (a) god” to demonstrate that the backdrop of this passage—at least the first verses of it—comes from a pagan background that is accustomed to god’s appearing in human form. 

Jesus appeared in his ministry as a godlike figure.  It is generally agreed that morphe, that is, “form” refers to an outward appearance not the essence of a person or thing.

Seize the Opportunity

The other key word in this passage is harpagmos, which Perriman regards as an opportunity to be seized. Perriman follows the case made by Roy Hoover in 1971 (see details below). He believes, the most likely reference goes back to Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. The godlike man was presented with an opportunity to have the kingdoms of the world, and he turned it down.

Essentially, the passage (Phil 2:6-11) poses the question: how should a Gentile, a pagan understand Jesus? 

The second half of the hymn or encomium is thoroughly Jewish because ultimately everything, every creature will bow down to the Jewish God, Creator of the heavens and earth. This is a strong allusion to a passage from Isaiah 45.


In the end Perriman regards this passage not so much as a hymn with a preexistence Christology. Rather it is rhetoric designed to make Jesus an example of humility and wisdom, a person worthy of imitation.

Agree or disagree? Leave a comment below.

See Roy Hoover, “The Harpagmos Enigma: A Philological Solution,” Harvard Theological Review 64 (1971) 95-11.

Here are more resources for you.

Check out more Stone Chapel Podcasts on some great topics here.

What’s more, you can get information on upcoming lectures at Lanier Theological Library. Just click here.

“In the Form of a God” with Andrew Perriman

Here is a transcript of a conversation I had with Andrew Perriman recently about his book, In the Form of a God: The Pre- Existence of the Exalted Christ in Paul.

David Capes

Dr. Andrew Perriman, it is so good to see you. Thanks for being with us today on The Stone Chapel Podcasts.

Andrew Perriman

Oh, thank you for the invitation. It’s a pleasure, David.

David Capes

For those who don’t know Andrew Perriman, who is Andrew Perriman?

Andrew Perriman

Yeah, it’s a good question. Thank you. I think I’m primarily a writer, rather than a teacher. I do a fair bit with the London School of Theology now. But we’ve moved around the world with overlaps of my career, our careers, my wife and her work. So, the opportunities for teaching are limited, but I certainly had a pastoral work in various parts of the world. And I’ve done quite a lot, you alluded to, with a mission organization called Communitas, mainly in Europe. But that’s interesting to have these sort of two worlds to inhabit, and then try and work out what happens between them. Trying to do mission, particularly in the European context, after centuries, millennia of Christian Europe, how do we do mission now?

David Capes

Well, you have contributed greatly to our understanding and are contributing to that of Christology. The title of the book is In the Form of a God: The Pre-Existence of the Exalted Christ in Paul. It is part of a series that I edit along with Mike Bird and Scott Harrower called Studies and Early Christology. You’re looking at things in fresh ways and interesting ways. And ways that might go against the grain of where some scholars are, in terms of our understanding of Paul. If there is truly pre-existence of Christ in Paul, in what sense, would that mean, and you ask a lot of the right questions in the opening chapter. So, if you could summarize it, what is the big idea of your book In the Form of a God?

Andrew Perriman

Yes, that’s interesting, isn’t it? Because if you set out to address the question of, did Paul think that Jesus pre-existed, that’s not so much a big idea. That’s just asking a question. And what sort of answer do we get out of it? You can get to the answer. Obviously, some people get there very quickly. You can take a long time to get there. I didn’t want it just to be about this question of pre-existence. I come at this from a particular interest. Nobody mentioned that, that very big narrative that we tell about the life and the mission of the church over the centuries.

But more particularly much of what I’ve done in the past has been on New Testament eschatology. So, it’s thinking, what is the story that Jesus thought he was part of? What has brought them to that point? And where is it going next? The same for Paul and the same for Revelation, the whole of the New Testament. So that’s where I come from. So then, I mean, I think if there is a big idea, it has to do with the relationship between Christology and eschatology, and somewhat turning that on its head and giving eschatology the priority in this. Whereas from the perspective of the traditions, the various sort of theological traditions, we are more likely to begin with Christology. And assume that somehow eschatology is an account over time of the implications of the Christology. As you know, this is my personal approach to the thing and I think for good New Testament reasons, good, biblical studies reasons. It makes sense to ask well, what is Paul saying about Jesus with an overarching storyline in view? I made that point in the introduction of my book that Gordon Fee begins with the person and work of Christ. And if you do that, then the first thing you think about is salvation. That is what the person of Jesus, the mission of Jesus was all about. My approach, my core presupposition would not be that. It would be that Paul expected something to happen in the future that would dramatically radically change the shape of his world. So, if that’s so, let’s approach this question more from that point of view.

David Capes

Is there a sense in which that event or those events had already happened for Paul? Because he does talk about new creation. We’re living in this new creation. So, is that expectation future or is it present? And is there a realized eschatology in Paul?

Andrew Perriman

There’s a couple of things there. I mean, that’s big!

David Capes

Those are the big ideas!

Andrew Perriman

I think kingdom is more important, much more important to Paul than some scholars allow. He doesn’t use Kingdom of God language in the same way that Jesus does. Or to the same extent, clearly.

David Capes

But he does talk about life. And he talks about abundant life, life in the Spirit, those kinds of things. It seems to me he uses life language in kingdom ways. He talks a lot about life and entering into life. Not to the extent that John does with his language of eternal life phrases.

Andrew Perriman

From Paul’s point of view, everything that comes into that category is in anticipation of [the kingdom]. So, I have written on Romans and the book on the coming of the Son of Man. I take the view that Jesus’ horizon, if you like, is what’s going to happen to Jerusalem and the temple. So much of what Jesus has to say makes sense within that particular horizon. I think for Paul, he’s aware of that. But I think he’s looking beyond that to the impact of the resurrection and the exhortation of Jesus. To the impact that will have on the world that he sees when he takes that gospel message out into the Greek and Roman world, potentially as far as Spain. He programmatically begins with Jerusalem and extends his missionfrom one end of the empire to the other. There is very much in Paul’s mind this view that he is taking this proclamation about a future outworking of the implications and the significance of not just the resurrection, it’s not just about life, it’s life for the purpose of Kingdom. So that the one who is raised from the dead is seated at the right hand of the Father. And therefore, you know, the author has been given the authority to judge and rule over the nations. You know everything that has happened, and that is working itself out in the experience of the apostles, in the experience of the churches, is for the sake of some sort of future consummation. Paul’s thinking in more political terms than in final renewal of creation in the sense that we see that the end of Revelation.

So, I think he takes very seriously the circumstances of God’s people in the Greek and Roman world. And he’s looking for that whole situation to be turned on its head, a judgment on the pagan system, a judgment on idolatry. That’s there in the beginning of Romans. I think Luke picks up on it in Acts 17. And instead, the nations of the Greek and Roman world, the nations of the oikoumene, will confess Jesus as Lord. This is not a widely accepted view, and I recognize that, but I think we can be as realistic about Paul’s eschatology in that sort of historical sense as we can about Jesus. Not denying that there is something beyond in a final renewal of creation. But Paul, like Jesus, like the prophets, has his focus, his eyes on a somewhat near horizon.

David Capes

The theo-political horizon in a sense. So, it’s about God in politics, God and kingdom more so than politics.

Andrew Perriman

So, looking back on it from where we are, we might want to say, and you have to sort of approach this rather carefully, but the conversion of the Roman Empire in historical terms is a very messy reality. In that fulfillment of the recognition that the God of Israel, the God who created all things is given to his Son, that supreme authority over the nations.

David Capes

And that authority given, is that given at the resurrection, at the exaltation? Is that given at the eschaton, and in the final things?

Andrew Perriman

I think it’s there with the exhortation to the right hand of the Father. When Israel’s King is seated at the right hand of the Father (this is Psalm 110 or it’s Psalm 2), He receives the nations as an inheritance or sit at my right hand until there’s a future prospect there. Certain things will work out in the course of this reign as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15. Very clearly. So yeah, that’s the basic approach I take, then

come back and look at this question these quite key texts that have been used to demonstrate in an argument for the pre-existence of Jesus in Paul’s mind. And look at those texts again, and see if they look any differently in light of that type of narrative story. Because I think eschatology in Paul’s mind is more significant than the Christology almost. At least he’s doing other things with Christology than trying to sort of understand the relationship between the Son and the Father. What he’s concerned about is what does this relationship have to do? How is that going to play out in the future?

David Capes

I see. Very interesting. So, you look at a number of texts here in the book. Early on, you look at the sending of the Son texts, and very quickly, what is your approach on that? When it says God in the fullness of time God sent forth his Son born of a woman, born of the law, etc? How do you look at those texts, the sending of the Son?

Andrew Perriman

Part of it is in the fullness of time. And so go back to the beginning of Galatians, you have that phrase in reference to the present evil age. Part of my argument, there’s a tendency to think that the present evil age is human history because humanity is subject to evil. We sin and everything else. I think Paul is thinking in much narrower terms of the present evil age that Israel is going through, under Roman occupation, perhaps since Antiochus Epiphanes. So, since the Europeans, the Greeks and the Romans have come in, and made life extremely difficult for his people, and his people have not done a particularly good job of dealing with that. That would be the focus so that in the fullness of time is partly bound up with what’s happening with the law. So that text doesn’t take a broad and universal framework. I think the time frame is quite narrow. He’s looking at, what has God done at this time? And then it just seems to me, you look at the use of the language there, the sending out language is so widely anticipated that there’s plenty of that in Scripture and elsewhere, in Greek texts, or Jewish Greek texts. You send out the prophets, you send out the Kings, to do something. You send out Moses in particular, using the same Gree word apostellein. So, I think the thought there is that Jesus has been sent to Israel at the right moment, to rescue Israel from the catastrophe that is coming upon it in this present evil age.

David Capes

So, the analogy would be closer to God sending Moses to do God’s will, rather than as a pre-existent being, who enters into the world, and has this mission that is very eschatologically, kingdom focused.

Andrew Perriman

That’s right. And it’s the argument in Galatians that’s relevant, obviously. Because he’s being sent out, he’s bringing to an end the rule of the law over His people, which began with the sending out of Moses. But the other point to make that David is one of the core ideas in the book is to keep in mind that Paul is saying these things in the context of the mission to the around the Aegean nations, Asia minor and around the genomic Greek cities. And he’s proclaiming to people as a resurrected Lord, a spirit figure, someone who exists, is invisible in heaven, or is a spirit body in heaven so that for Gentiles, especially, but also for Jews, they are coming to believe in someone who was a genuine human person. The Gentiles begin with the Spirit. And that’s what Galatians is all about. You begin with the Spirit. You worship a Lord who has been revealed to Paul himself from heaven. They encountered the same risen Lord. They experienced their relationship with the risen Christ is experienced through the Spirit.

There are reasons why I think, he needs to fill in the backstory to that. One is to connect it with the story of Israel, clearly, because it’s being challenged by whoever these Judaizers are. He needs to account for the fact that he is saying that all this is going to come about through a persecuted and executed Messiah figure. And he needs to talk about suffering, the apostles experience of suffering and the church’s experience of suffering and to tell them that Jesus went through this first. So, although you’re meeting him, you’re encountering him, you’re calling out to him, and perhaps even in some sense, worshipping Him. All this is a spirit figure who is now seated at the right hand of God. But he was born of a woman. He was born under the law. He started where you are. I think that’s part of it. And then the Romans passage where Christ comes in the likeness of sinful flesh. I think again, the contrast is slightly different in this case. But it’s still looking back from that perspective rather than trying to sort out what came before. And I argue in the book that Paul is reflecting on the fact that the Jews looked on him as a sinner, this likeness of sinful flesh. He’s not contrasting so much whether Christ had an ideal preexistence in heaven, but if you’re going to send a messiah, why is God sending one who has been executed as a sinner? I think that there are ideas in the wisdom literature that, help us understand that. The righteous man who suffers is persecuted and looks like is dismissed by everyone as a sinner.

David Capes

We’re talking to Dr. Andrew Perriman about his book In the Form of a God: The Pre-Existence of the Exalted Christ in Paul. We’re going to do another podcast. So, stick around for that. We’ve talked today about his approach, and about the language of the sending of the Son and where that fits in to Paul’s big story. But we’re going to look next at an important part of the book that is Philippians 2, what is sometimes referred to as the Christ hymn. He has a different perspective than many scholars on that. So, watch for that next. Dr. Perriman, thanks for being with us on part 1 of this interview on the Stone Chapel Podcasts.

Does Everyone Speak in Tongues?

Christopher Hays

It is possible for a small Greek word to lift a great weight of misunderstanding from one’s heart. In 1 Cor. 12:30 Paul’s question about the gift of tongues is marked as rhetorical, expecting a negative answer, by just such a word. Christopher M. Hays is the president of Scholar Leaders. Among his publications are When the Son of Man Didn’t Come: A Constructive Proposal on the Delay of the Parousia and Renouncing Everything: Money and Discipleship in Luke.

To hear the Exegetically Speaking Podcast (10 minutes) click here.

“Exegetically Speaking” is a weekly podcast of the friends and faculty of Wheaton College, IL and The Lanier Theological Library. Hosted by Dr. David Capes, it features language experts who discuss the importance of learning the biblical languages—Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek—and show how reading the Bible in the original languages “pays off.” Each podcast lasts between seven and eleven minutes and covers a different topic for those who want to read the Bible for all it is worth.

If you’re interested in going deeper, learn more about Wheaton’s undergraduate degree in Classical Languages (Greek, Hebrew, and Latin) and our MA in Biblical Exegesis

You can hear Exegetically Speaking on SpotifyStitcherApple Podcasts, and YouTube. If you have questions or comments, please contact us at And keep listening.

A Collection, Sunday, and Sabbath with Jon Laansma

In 1 Cor. 16:2, is Paul stipulating that funds be set aside “individually” or “at home,” and is there evidence here of a special “Lord’s Day” meeting of the church? Jon Laansma is Gerald F. Hawthorne Professor of New Testament Greek and Exegesis in the Classical Languages program at Wheaton College. He has authored articles on the Lord’s Day and Sabbath in the Dictionary of the Later New Testament and its DevelopmentsThe Encyclopedia of the Bible and its ReceptionEarly New Testament Apocrypha, and the Dictionary of the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (forthcoming, Baker).

To hear the podcast (13 minutes) click here.

Nullifying the So-Called Intelligence with Chris Fresch

Dr. Chris Fresch

In 1 Cor. 1:19 Paul quotes from Isaiah 29:14. His Greek wording differs markedly from the Hebrew of the OT passage, but is close to the Greek version of Isaiah then in use (LXX, Septuagint) . . . and nods to Psalm 33:10. Why would Paul do this? Dr. Fresch also wrote a blog post on this issue: “Paul the Paraphraser or Paul the Septuagint Quoter?” Dr. Chris Fresch is Lecturer in Biblical Languages and Old Testament at Bible College SA in Adelaide, South Australia. Among other things, he has authored Discourse Markers in Early Koine Greek: A Cognitive-Functional Analysis with an Application to LXX Translation Technique (SBL Press, 2023).

To hear the podcast click here.