Philippians 2

About: this paper was delivered to Dr. Jack Painter at Simpson University during my junior year for a class in Greek Readings.


When writing to the Philippians, Paul spilled a fair amount of ink to exhort them to conduct their lives in a way that was pleasing to God. In Philippians 2:1-4 we see clearly what Paul desires of them in their conduct within their relationships with each other. In fact, Philippians 2:1-4 serve as the thesis for the entire chapter, while the remaining verses (5-11) are the working out of the thesis as displayed in Jesus Christ. From the beginning of the letter, Paul seeks to have the Philippians unified, and in chapter 2 we see that Paul exhorts unification by means of humility. It is the call to unification through humility that Paul stresses in vv. 1-4, and it is in vv. 5-11 that he exemplifies Jesus Christ as the epitome of humility being unified with the Father. Certainly, Paul’s point is that by being conformed into the likeness of Christ—the prime example of humility—His followers will also take on humility in their lives.

In verse one of chapter two we have the conjunction ou°n, functioning as an inferential conjunction. It serves to indicate a conclusion or summarization to what has already been said. Paul thus concludes, “Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any solace afforded by love, if there is fellowship of the Spirit, if there is affection and sympathy, make my joy complete” (vv. 1, 2). Paul exhorts the Philippians using the imperative, plhrw/sate/, meaning, “(You) make complete.” Following after the phrase, “make my joy complete” comes a subordinate conjunction for the subjunctive, iJ/na, indicating purpose (“with the goal that”). This conjunction shows the goal or purpose of plhrw/sate/: “make my joy complete with the goal that you might think the same thing” (v. 2) and thus be unified.

How are they to be unified? Paul tells them in verse two with a participial phrase of means, ej/conteß th/n aujth/n ajga/phn, “by having the same love,” an adjective, su/myucoi, “united in spirit,” and another participial phrase of means, fronouvnteß to ej/n, “by thinking one thing.” Paul, probably in hope of leaving no room for miscommunication, tells the Philippians how not to think by using a subordinating conjunction, mhde»n, linking fronhvte with both ejriqei/an and kenodoxi/an: “and not that you might think according to selfish ambition and not that you might think according to empty conceit” (v. 3). Paul uses the contrastive conjunction, ajlla», thus contrasting thinking selfishly/conceitedly with considering others better than oneself and still using yet another participial phrase of means, hJgou/menoi uJpere/contaß eJautwvn: “and not…and not…but in contrast to, that you might think in humility by considering one another as being better than each other” (v. 3). Paul again narrows this idea down even more by using another subordinating contrastive conjunction, mh», linking hJgou/menoi with skotouvnteß and contrasts the two, saying “that you might think in humility by considering one another as being better than each other, not by looking out for one’s own interests” (vv. 3, 4), and then following with an emphatic conjunction, ajlla» kai», linking eJautwvn with eJte/rwn, using two more participial phrases of means saying, “not by looking out for one’s own interests but indeed by looking out for one’s neighbor’s interests” (v. 4). The prevalent theme found in verses 1-4, is that Paul is exhorting the Philippians to be unified by telling them to live lives of humility towards one another.

It is in the latter portion of chapter 2 that we find a most important text understood to be an early Christian hymn (vv. 6-11). Peter T. O’Brien wrote that this “early Christian hymn about Christ Jesus is the most important section of the letter to the Philippians and provides a marvelous description of Christ’s self-humbling in his incarnation and death, together with his subsequent exaltation by God to the place of highest honour” (251). In verse 5, leading up to the hymn, Paul uses another imperative verb, froneivte, thus again exhorting the Philippians to “think this in you.” But what exactly are they to think? Verses 5-11 present Jesus as “the ultimate model for Christian behaviour and action, the supreme example of the humble, self-sacrificing, self-giving service that Paul has just been urging the Philippians to practice in their relations one toward another (vv. 1-4)” (O’Brien 1991: 205). Therefore, they are to think with the humility that Jesus had. Here Paul uses the relative pronoun, oJ/, thus connecting touvto with a relative clause: “think this in you which also was in Christ Jesus” (v. 5). The difficulty in translating verse 5 comes because this verse is elliptical (O’Brien 1991: 205). The question is what verb is to be supplied for this clause? It seems clear and evident enough that the aorist tense of the Greek verb, “to be” can be supplied here: touvto froneivte ejn uJmivn o§ kai» hjvn ejn Cristwˆv Ijhsouv, meaning “think this in you which also was in Christ Jesus.” This raises a question: what did Jesus have in himself? The relative pronoun, o§ß, connects Jesus with the next clause and begins to describe his humility: “who did not consider equality with god something to be grasped” (v. 6). The participle, uJpa/rcwn, is concessive and should be translated as follows: “although being in the form of God” (v. 6). Note that ejn morfhvˆ is a dative of sphere, yielding the idea that Christ was in the sphere of God’s divinity and majesty, where this clause “does not refer simply to external appearance but pictures the preexistent Christ as clothed in the garments of divine majesty and splendour” (O’Brien 1991: 211).

Paul then uses another contrastive conjunction, ajlla», linking hJgh/sato with ejke/nwsen and contrasts them in verse 7 saying, “who did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, rather, he emptied himself.” The Greek word keno/w is understood to mean in context that “he emptied himself of his privileges” Bauer 2000: 539), thus relating quite nicely with the idea that Christ was in the sphere of God’s divinity and majesty which he was privileged to, yet gave them up. The participle labw/n is used as a participle of means, and answers the question how Christ emptied himself: “he emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave” (v. 7). According to C. F. D. Moule, the word douvloß “was best understood against the background of slavery in contemporary society: ‘slavery meant…the extreme in respect of deprivation of rights” (O’Brien 1991: 222), thus understanding that Christ deprived himself of his rights. Furthermore, “slavery would deny a person the right to anything—even to his own life and person’. The statement that Jesus ‘took the form of a slave’ thus means that he ‘so completely stripped himself of the rights and securities as to be comparable to a slave’. This assertion ‘constitutes a poignant description of his absolute and extreme selfemptying—even of basic human rights—and fits the context well’” (O’Brien 1991: 222). Here a participle of purpose, geno/menoß, is used to show the purpose of emptying himself of his privileges, thus translated as “he emptied himself…for the purpose of becoming like men” (v. 7). Although geno/menoß is often understood to be a participle of means, thus being translated “by becoming like men,” this does not seem to get the full point across of Christ’s emptying of himself as well as the purpose participle which tells the point of such emptying. It seems best, therefore, to translate this participle as purpose rather than means. After saying that Christ emptied himself for the purpose of becoming like men, a connective conjunction is used to connect ajnqrw/pwn with aj/nqrwpoß, thus being translated “becoming like men and becoming like a man;” when joined with a participle of means, euJreqei/ß, it then becomes “becoming like men and becoming like a man by receiving an outward appearance” (v. 7).

Again, geno/menoß is used, this time in verse 8, just as it was before as a participle of means and is translated as, “he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death” (v. 8). This participial phrase is followed by an ascensive conjunction, de», which functions to show the point of focus and is translated “even,” thereby translating the phrase as “even death produced by a cross” or “even death of a cross,” for the phrase qana/tou staurouv is a genitive of production showing that when understood this way it “brings out the force of the author’s thought a little better” and “de» makes the statement emphatic (‘even’), which fits well with a genitive of production” (Wallace 1996: 105).

In verses 9-11, we see the result of Christ’s humbling and emptying of himself; these verses “indicate that Jesus’ actions of 2:6-8 received divine vindication and approval” (O’Brien 1991: 253). Verse 9 begins with a inferential conjunction, dio»» kai», indicating a conclusion to Christ’s humility and emptying of himself to follow: “Therefore indeed, God highly exalted him.” A Greek connective conjunction, kai», functions here to connect uJperu/ywsen with ejcari/sato, thus being translated “God highly exalted and gave him a name above all names” (v. 9). Now a subordinate purpose conjunction follows these finite verbs; here iJ/na is used to show the goal of exalting Jesus and giving him a name above all names: “with the goal that in the name of Jesus every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth and every place under the earth” (v. 10). The connecting conjunction, kai», is used here in verse ten to link ka/myhˆ and ejxomologh/shtai, and thus it is translated “and with the goal that every tongue shall confess.” What will every tongue confess? The Greek epexegetical conjunction, oj/ti, answers this question by introducing a change that completes the idea of a head noun, which in this case completes what will be confessed: “every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (v. 11). Notice that the emphasis in the latter part of verse 11 “falls upon the word ‘Lord’: ku/rioß is given special force by being placed first in its phrase” (O’Brien 1991: 246). And for what will this be confessed? A preposition indicating purpose functions to answer this question, and that is exactly what we have here in verse 11; eijß is used to show the purpose of confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord: “for the purpose of the glory of God the Father.”

For the sake of simplicity, Paul exhorts the believers in Philippi to become unified through the humbling of themselves and be conformed to the form of Christ who is the epitome of humility. Paul’s “primary concern,” here, “is to appeal to the conduct of Christ and to reinforce instruction in Christian living. The hymn presents Christ as the ultimate model for Christian behaviour and action” (O’Brien 1991: 252). Paul exhorted the Philippians to be united in their minds, in their way of thinking, in love, and in spirit through humility; and Christ, the epitome of humility, humbled himself giving up his own divine privileges and died on a cross, but God “enthroned [Jesus] as Lord of the universe, and the day will come when all will acknowledge this” (O’Brien 1991: 240). Such acknowledgement will happen whether or not they seek to praise his name, for when the last day comes and every tongue begins to worship Christ, such worship will be “universal, that is, rendered by ‘every knee’” (O’Brien 1991: 239). According to Hooker, Paul tells of a certain “‘interchange’: Christ becomes what we are—thus enabling us to become what he is” (O’Brien 1991: 239). Christ humbled himself so as to meet us where we are here on earth so that he could die for us and allow us to be conformed in his likeness—in his humility. And why did Christ do all this? He did it for the glory of God the Father, that the Father may be glorified through his actions of humbleness and that He may be glorified through our actions of humbleness as well.










Bauer, Walter. 2000. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian

Literature. 3rd ed. Revised and edited by Frederick William Danker. Chicago: University of



O’Brien, Peter T. 1991. The Epistle to the Philippians. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing



Wallace, Dan B. 1995. Greek Syntax Beyond the Basics. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.