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The Philippian Hymn–Phil 2.5-11

For Paul, the story of Jesus provided the greatest example of what this humility looked like when it was embodied in a life.  He found that story told powerfully and succinctly in an early Christian hymn.   No other passage in the NT has been studied more thoroughly.[1]    Given the poetic, parallel structures and its unusual wording, the hymn was likely a preformed tradition that Paul incorporated into his letter.  Exactly who wrote it, for whom and when are questions worthy of speculation but unlikely to bring certainty.  The fact that Paul included this preformed tradition in his letter to the Philippians indicates his complete agreement with its theology.  Even if Paul didn’t write it, he did agree with it.humble Jesus

 

Paul earnestly desired for the “mind” of Christ to shape the lives and community in Philippi.  He sets up Jesus as the lordly example of humility and selfless service.  The hymn is constructed around two movements: (1) the descent (katabasis) from equality with God to the humiliation of the cross and (2) the ascent (anabasis) from death to exaltation/ resurrection by God and universal acclamation by all creatures.  The descent can be graphically portrayed (2:6-8):

Though he was in the form of God

He did not consider equality with God as something to be grasped

He emptied himself

Taking the form of a servant

Becoming in the likeness of men

Being found in form as a man

He humbled himself

Becoming obedient to death

Even death on a cross

 

Likewise the ascent (2:9-11)

 

To the glory of God, the Father

“Jesus Christ is Lord”

Every tongue confess that

(of heavenly, earthly and subterranean beings)

Every knee shall bow

So at the name that belongs to Jesus

And bestowed on him the name above every name

Therefore God highly exalted him

 

 

There are a number of interpretive schemes for unraveling the meaning of this hymn.  James Dunn notices the number and the sequence of Scriptural allusions to Adam and concludes that the Christ hymn in Philippians 2 is “the fullest expression of Adam Christology in the NT” (cf. Heb 2:5-9).[2]  In particular he notes that Adam is made in image of God (cf. Gen 1:27) and is tempted to grasp at equality with God (cf. Gen 3:5).   The first man fails, of course, and becomes an obedient slave to corruption and death.  Ultimately, in Jewish tradition Adam is glorified.  For Dunn and other interpreters, Jesus provides the converse of Adam, particularly in that the second Adam did not try to grasp for equality with God (something He did not have).  Rather He emptied himself and humbled himself by being willing to die a criminal’s death on the cross.  Given other Adam-Christ typologies in Paul, there may well be a subtle allusion to Jesus as a new Adam who reverses the curse of Adam’s sin.  But this does not cover the interpretive canvas.

 

Michael Gorman suggests that the humiliation-exaltation pattern in the hymn is based upon a similar pattern found in the fourth servant song (Isa 52:13—53:12).  Although he does not discount other options, he believes the Christ hymn would have been patterned after and read according to the final servant poem augmented by Isa 45:23.  Isaiah’s servant song depicts the Servant of YHWH

  • exalted and lifted up (Isa 52:13)
  • despised and reject (53:3)
  • pierced for our transgressions (53:4)
  • led like a lamb to the slaughter (53:7)
  • cut off from the living (53:8)
  • he will see light (53:10)[3]
  • God allots him a portion with the great (53:12)

 

The humiliation and exaltation pattern in the fourth Servant poem does appear to provide further background for understanding the model for the Christ hymn.

 

One of the important interpretive questions we find in the text has to do with the meaning of the phrases “existing in the form of God” and “did not consider equality with God as something to be grasped.”  Most scholars take these as a reference to the preexistence of Christ.  Prior to his entrance into the world, he existed in the form of God.  Nevertheless, he decided not to hold onto his equality with God.  Instead he emptied himself and became a human being.  According to this construal, the hymn is a statement of the preexistence and incarnation of Christ, a divine person.  But not all agree that the doctrine of the preexistence of Christ occurs so early.  As we have seen, Dunn interprets this as an allusion to Adam made in God’s image (Gen 1:27) and seeking to become “like God” by eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 3:5).  Accordingly, these phrases should not be read as referring to the preexistence or incarnation of Christ.

 

Again, while a subtle allusion to Adam is possible, some form of preexistence is clearly in view from one who was in the form of God and who became man.  If he had to become “man,” he was not “man” before.  There is no reason to conclude the Christ hymn does not assume the preexistence of a divine being who subsequently became the man we know by the name “Jesus.”  Yet the hymn is silent on the salient points we are interested in.  Some have tried to flesh out the extent of the self-emptying by naming which attributes he gave up on his journey toward the cross.  But this is more reading into (eisegesis) than reading from (exegesis) the text.  At the end of the day the decision to lay aside equality, empty himself and humble himself had only one thing in view: the cross.

 

As a result of his faith obedience, God super-exalted the crucified Jesus and gave him the name above every name (2:9).  Some, inspired more by our hymnody and praise choruses than Scripture, have wrongly concluded that “the name above every name” is the name “Jesus.”  But Jesus was a common name then and now.  It can hardly be a candidate for the name above every name.  The genitive case “Jesus” in 2:10 is best taken as a possessive genitive, i.e., at the name that belongs to Jesus.  Three things are certain about the “name”: (a) it is a name bestowed upon him in the exaltation-resurrection; (b) it is a name above every name; and (c) it is a name that belongs to Jesus.  So what is the name?  Given all we know from the hymn and given the reverence accorded the name of God in Hebrew Scriptures, the name must be LORD (kyrios), God’s holy, unspeakable name (Hebrew, YHWH).  In the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, kyrios (translated “Lord” in most versions) consistently renders the divine name, a name so holy it was protected by one of the ten commandments (Exod 20:7).  This conclusion is assured by the universal acclamation of all heavenly, earthly, and subterranean creatures.  When the name that belongs to Jesus is expressed: “every knee will bow, every tongue will confess, Jesus Christ is Lord” (2:10-11, alluding to Isa 45:23).  These phrases belong to one of the most significant monotheistic passages in the Old Testament and refer originally to the worship of YHWH.[4]  Paul has deliberately taken scriptural language regarding the veneration of Israel’s one God and applied it to the risen Jesus.  This is a remarkable appropriation of God’s name and worship addressed to Jesus.  As Larry Kreitzer noted: “it is difficult to imagine any first-century Jew or Christian even remotely familiar with Isa. 45 hearing this final stanza of Phil 2.9-11 without recognizing that words of theistic import have now been applied to Jesus.”[5]  Despite this, for Paul, the unique identity of God, including his name, and his exclusive right to worship are not threatened by the universal acclamation of Jesus as “Lord.”  Since the Father has bestowed upon the crucified Jesus His name, the apostle understood that the worship of Jesus by all creatures brought glory to God and fulfilled His will.

 

 

Who does Mark say that I AM?

One of my favorite features of our book, Rediscovering Jesus (InterVarsity, 2015), comes in the Gospels themselves.  In each chapter we ask the question: Who does Mark/Matthew/Luke/John say that I am?  In effect, we take a look at how each evangelist tells the story of Jesus.  Here is an excerpt from the chapter on the Markan Jesus.

WHO DOES MARK SAY THAT I AM?

And who is this Jesus? He is the Messiah (Christ) and Son of God—that is, God’s end-timeRediscovering Jesus agent whose task is to liberate the world from evil, oppression, sin, sickness, and death. The world that Jesus enters is hostile and contrary to the human race. The Messiah appears in order to claim all that God has made on behalf of heaven. In Mark’s account Jesus moves quickly along “the way” challenging and disrupting demonic powers, disease, religious authorities, storms and, ultimately, the power of Rome itself.

But Jesus does not appear from nowhere; prophets such as Malachi and Isaiah have written of him long ago. They foresaw his coming, and John the Baptizer arrived right on schedule to prepare his way. If John is God’s messenger (Mal 3:1) and the voice crying out in the wilderness (Is 40:3), then surely Jesus is the “Lord” whose paths must be made straight (Mk 1:2-3). But the word “Lord” here is no polite address to an English country gentleman or a simple affirmation of a person in authority; it is the way Greek-speaking Jews uttered the unspeakable name of the one, true God of Israel. Jesus the Christ is no ordinary man, for the very name of God—a name protected by the Ten Commandments—belongs rightly to him. As Mark’s story unfolds, it is apparent why this is so.

When Jesus heard that a prophet had again appeared in Israel, he left Nazareth to see for himself. As he entered the Jordan River to be baptized, onlookers would have thought that Jesus was becoming a disciple of John. But it was what Jesus heard and saw next that dramatically changed his life. He saw a vision: the heavens were ripped open, and the Spirit descended on him like a dove. Then he heard a voice from heaven: “You are my Son” (Ps 2:7) and “with you I am well pleased” (Is 42:1). Whether or not anyone else saw or heard what was going on in the heavens that day is unclear. Mark tells us only that Jesus saw and heard; perhaps Jesus’ special sonship was a secret that needed protecting for a while. But it was enough for Jesus to see and hear it, because it was about him and him alone. He knew what he must do next. He must leave behind Nazareth and the anonymity of the workshop for a public life in Galilee and beyond. He must trade a builder’s tools for the skills of a traveling rabbi.

 

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Xmas: Is It Taking Christ out of Christmas?

I remember my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Potts, opening a vein when anyone wrote “Xmas” instead of “Christmas.”  She felt there was a war on Christmas  and that people who abbreviated the name of the holiday were trying to take Christ out of Christmas.  I suppose that is true for some people, but when you look into the real story of “Xmas” you realize that something else is at work.

The story begins with the Ten Commandments.  One of those commandments says, “Do not take the name of the LORD in vain.”  The name by the way is not “LORD,” that was a respectful translation or substitute for the name.  In Hebrew THE NAME is four letters, yodh-he-vav-he. The technical term for the name is the tetragrammaton (literally, “the four letters”).  Scholars today think the name may have been pronounced—when it was pronounced—Yahweh or Yahveh.  But we aren’t sure.  This was the covenant name of God, the name revealed to Moses and Israel at Mt. Sinai. nomina_sacra

Under the influence of the commandment about the misuse of God’s name, the faithful spoke it less and less.  By the time of Jesus speaking the name was considered blasphemous in almost every circumstance. The rabbis made their mark by building a hedge about the law. If you never spoke God’s name, you could never be guilty of taking the name in vain. It was a way of safeguarding the name.  Even when reading Scripture in the synagogue, a substitute word was used.  In Aramaic-speaking synagogues the readers said “Adonai.”  In Greek-speaking synagogues they said “kyrios.”  Both mean something like “Lord” or “Master.”

The Dead Sea Scrolls provide good evidence for how the name of God was written in the centuries and decades leading up to the New Testament era.  In many of the biblical scrolls the name of God is written in paleo-Hebrew script.  That would be like shifting to a Gothic font when writing the name of God.  In other scrolls the name is not written at all; it is represented by four, thick dots written in the center of the line. In yet other scrolls where the name of God should be there is a blank in the line just large enough for the tetragrammaton.  Scholars theorize that the blank was left by a junior scribe and would have been filled in later by a senior scribe who had permission to write the name. Where there is a blank in the line, we think the senior scholar never got around to writing the divine name in the blank. These were some of the ways the faithful showed respect for the name of God.

Early Christians developed their own way of signaling respect for the names and titles associated with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  Copying the New Testament books in Greek, they abbreviated the names (usually first letter and last letter) and placed a line above those letters. You can see this in the picture.  Scholars refer to these as nomina sacra (Latin for “sacred names”).  Copyists continued to write sacred names this way for centuries.  It remains a common practice still among artists who create the icons used in the eastern churches.  Many names and titles were written this way including “God,” “Father,” “Jesus,” “Son of God,” “Son of Man,” “Christ,” “Lord,” “Holy Spirit.” For our purposes note the nomen sacrum for “Christ;” it was written XC. Now remember these are letters from the Greek alphabet not our Latinized version. It is not “X” (eks) the 24th letter of our English alphabet but the Greek letter “Chi,” the first letter of the title “Christ.”

Earliest versions of writing Christmas as “Xmas” in English go back to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (about 1100).  This predates the rise of secularism by over 600 years.  The Oxford English Dictionary cites the use of “X-“ for “Christ” as early as 1485.  In one manuscript (1551) Christmas is written as “X’temmas.”  English writers from Lord Byron (1811) to Samuel Coleridge (1801) to Lewis Carroll (1864) used the spelling we are familiar with today, “Xmas.”

The origin of “Xmas” does not lie in secularists who are trying to take Christ out of Christmas, but in ancient scribal practices adopted to safeguard the divine name and signal respect for it.  The “X” in “Xmas” is not the English letter (eks) as in “X marks the spot,” but it is the initial Greek letter “Chi” (X), the first letter of the title “Christ.”  No doubt some people today use the abbreviated form to disregard the Christian focus of the holy-day, but the background tells a different story, a story of faithful men and women showing the deep respect they have for Jesus at this time of year.

Merry Christmas or should I say “Merry Xmas”!

Xmas: Is it taking Christ out of Christmas?

I remember my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Potts, opening a vein when anyone wrote “Xmas” instead of “Christmas.”  She felt there was a war on Christmas  and that people who abbreviated the name of the holiday were trying to take Christ out of Christmas.  I suppose that is true for some people, but when you look into the real story of “Xmas” you realize that something else is at work.

The story begins with the Ten Commandments.  One of those commandments says, “Do not take the name of the LORD in vain.”  The name by the way is not “LORD,” that was a respectful translation or substitute for the name.  In Hebrew THE NAME is four letters, yodh-he-vav-he. The technical term for the name is the tetragrammaton (literally, “the four letters”).  Scholars today think the name may have been pronounced—when it was pronounced—Yahweh or Yahveh.  But we aren’t sure.  This was the covenant name of God, the name revealed to Moses and Israel at Mt. Sinai. nomina_sacra

Under the influence of the commandment about the misuse of God’s name, the faithful spoke it less and less.  By the time of Jesus speaking the name was considered blasphemous in almost every circumstance. The rabbis made their mark by building a hedge about the law. If you never spoke God’s name, you could never be guilty of taking the name in vain. It was a way of safeguarding the name.  Even when reading Scripture in the synagogue, a substitute word was used.  In Aramaic-speaking synagogues the readers said “Adonai.”  In Greek-speaking synagogues they said “kyrios.”  Both mean something like “Lord” or “Master.”

The Dead Sea Scrolls provide good evidence for how the name of God was written in the centuries and decades leading up to the New Testament era.  In many of the biblical scrolls the name of God is written in paleo-Hebrew script.  That would be like shifting to a Gothic font when writing the name of God.  In other scrolls the name is not written at all; it is represented by four, thick dots written in the center of the line. In yet other scrolls where the name of God should be there is a blank in the line just large enough for the tetragrammaton.  Scholars theorize that the blank was left by a junior scribe and would have been filled in later by a senior scribe who had permission to write the name. Where there is a blank in the line, we think the senior scholar never got around to writing the divine name in the blank. These were some of the ways the faithful showed respect for the name of God.

Early Christians developed their own way of signaling respect for the names and titles associated with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  Copying the New Testament books in Greek, they abbreviated the names (usually first letter and last letter) and placed a line above those letters. You can see this in the picture.  Scholars refer to these as nomina sacra (Latin for “sacred names”).  Copyists continued to write sacred names this way for centuries.  It remains a common practice still among artists who create the icons used in the eastern churches.  Many names and titles were written this way including “God,” “Father,” “Jesus,” “Son of God,” “Son of Man,” “Christ,” “Lord,” “Holy Spirit.” For our purposes note the nomen sacrum for “Christ;” it was written XC. Now remember these are letters from the Greek alphabet not our Latinized version. It is not “X” (eks) the 24th letter of our English alphabet but the Greek letter “Chi,” the first letter of the title “Christ.”

Earliest versions of writing Christmas as “Xmas” in English go back to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (about 1100).  This predates the rise of secularism by over 600 years.  The Oxford English Dictionary cites the use of “X-“ for “Christ” as early as 1485.  In one manuscript (1551) Christmas is written as “X’temmas.”  English writers from Lord Byron (1811) to Samuel Coleridge (1801) to Lewis Carroll (1864) used the spelling we are familiar with today, “Xmas.”

The origin of “Xmas” does not lie in secularists who are trying to take Christ out of Christmas, but in ancient scribal practices adopted to safeguard the divine name and signal respect for it.  The “X” in “Xmas” is not the English letter (eks) as in “X marks the spot,” but it is the initial Greek letter “Chi” (X), the first letter of the title “Christ.”  No doubt some people today use the abbreviated form to disregard the Christian focus of the holy-day, but the background tells a different story, a story of faithful men and women showing the deep respect they have for Jesus at this time of year.

Merry Christmas or should I say “Merry Xmas”!

Is There a Better Word than “Lord”?

 

Recently, I gave the Hayward Lectures at Acadia Divinity College in Wolfville, Nova Scotia.  My topic was “Paul’s KYRIOS Christology.”  Kyrios is a Greek word most often translated “Lord” in English Bible translations.  Paul uses the word about 200 times in his letters to refer to his Lord, Jesus Christ.  On a few occasions he used the word in reference to God, the Father. The word can be used of people as well who possess some sort of recognized, superior status, a king, a master of slave, for example. logo_kyrios

One night after the lecture during the Q&A time, someone asked a good question. It had to do with the English word “lord” or “Lord” as a translation of Kyrios.  The fellow knew about The Voice translation and he appreciated that we had tried to find new words and associations which communicate well to a modern audience.  We translated words like Christos as “the Anointed” rather than “Christ.”  We translated apostolos as “emissary” rather than “apostle.” So he asked, is there a better word than “Lord” to translate kyrios?

The word “Lord” was used first to translate kyrios and other biblical words for English-speaking audiences in the middle ages when the upper classes were referred to as “my lord” or “my lady” by those who occupied lower status.  Given the sensibilities of the modern world, the fellow wondered whether there was a better word.  Though those titles are still used in some societies, they are rare in many countries including the United States.  They have lost currency in many places. The use of “Lord” is restricted to religious language most often referring to God, Christ or, in some cases, the Holy Spirit.  For some “Lord” functions as a name or title for God.

Well, I had no answer. No one had ever asked me that question before so I had never thought about it.  I’m embarrassed to admit I had no response given the fact that we rethought so many of the other key religiously-laden words. I’m still puzzling over it.  I’d be interested in your thoughts.  Is there a better word than “Lord” to translate kyrios in modern English? It would have to have the right meaning and sets of associations. It would need to convey the idea that the person holding the title had supreme authority and power.   Since it is most often used in the New Testament as a title for Jesus linking him with the One, True God, it must be an appropriate honorific (fancy word for “title”) for the Liberating King. I’m hard pressed to come up with anything. If we put our heads together, I bet we can think of something.  Then again, maybe not?!

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