The Incarnation and the Translation of Philippians 2:6
This is my attempt to process an article by NT Wright on Philippians 2, found in his book The Climax of the Covenant. Although I was aware of the problems in the passage associated with the phrase “he emptied himself” (2:7), I was not familiar with the difficulties surrounding the translation of the word ἁρπαγμὸν in v. 6. This word is extremely rare. It only occurs here in the Greek Bible. And most of its other occurrences are found in the writings of the early church fathers in their discussion of this verse. Here are some of the possible translations of the word.
1. The KJV translates the word “robbery.” “[Christ] who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation.” This translation is based on one of its few occurrences in secular Greek. The problem is that this implies that prior to the incarnation Jesus did not possess equality with God. In other words, we might paraphrase the KJV, “Christ didn’t attempt to steal equality with God, instead he humbled himself.” The problem is that the first half of the verse states that Jesus was in the form of God, which seems to suggest that he did possess equality with the Father prior to the incarnation.
2. The ESV, the NIV, the NASB, and the NLT translate the word “something to grasp.” The idea here is that prior to the incarnation Jesus did possess equality with God, but he let go of his divine status in order to become a man. The problem is that this lends itself to “kenosis” readings of v. 7. In other words, Jesus set aside his divine attributes to become a human being. However, the orthodox position has always been that Jesus is fully God and fully man. Even after the incarnation, Jesus was fully God.
3. Wright offers us an alternative. He translates the word “something to be used for one’s own advantage.” This is the translation of the TNIV, the NIV update and the NRSV. In other words, Jesus has always been equal with God. Both before and after the incarnation, Jesus has always had this status. And yet he chose not to use this status for his own benefit, but for the benefit of others (2:4). Here is my own translation of the verse based on Wright’s analysis. ”Because Jesus was by nature God, he didn’t consider his equality with God something to be used for his own benefit, but rather he made himself a nobody, taking on the nature of a servant.”
What do you think?