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Has Christ always been equal with God the Father?


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#1 Darlene Griffith

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Posted 10 May 2011 - 05:16 PM

When Christ was here on earth was He equal to God the Father? Philippians 2: 5-7 in the Revised Standard Versions states, "Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men."

This passage seems to be saying that Christ was not equal to His Father while He walked this earth as God incarnate. However, in the King James Version verse 6 says, "Who, being in the form of God thought it not robbery to be equal with God." Yet, the rest of the passage in this translation seems to make it clear that Christ regarded Himself as a servant of God implying that He was not equal to God while here on earth. I realize that the meaning of words changes over time and this could attribute to my understanding, or lack thereof, regarding the King James Version.

My understanding of Christ's nature is that in His eternality (eternal existence), He has always been equal to God the Father. Also, it would seem from all that Scripture says that Christ was subject to and therefore lived in obedience to His Heavenly Father while here on earth. Thinking further, perhaps my knowledge of what "equality" actually means with regard to the Trinity might be erroneous. So this leads me to ask, what does the Church mean to convey when we are instructed that the Three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are "equal?"

These matters are difficult to express with mere words and often human language falls short in being able to explain God in such a way that can be concrete. Nonetheless, I would appreciate what the Church's teaching is on this aspect of Christ's nature.

#2 Brian Patrick Mitchell

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Posted 10 May 2011 - 07:25 PM

The key to the equality and subjection of the Son is the two natures of Christ. He is equal to the Father in His divine nature, being fully God and in no way less than God, but He is subject to the Father in His human nature, conforming His human will to the one divine of God. He refers to this one divine will as the Father's will, but it is also the Son's will. Seeing it and calling it the Father's will is a matter of perspective — the perspective of the Son.

#3 Darlene Griffith

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Posted 10 May 2011 - 10:08 PM

Father, thanks for your response. So it would seem from your answer that Christ was not equal to God as regards His human nature, which would mean while He walked the earth. Correct? But what of the King James translation (as well as some others) that say of Christ, "He thought it not robbery to be equal with God?" Is that translation incorrect?

#4 Brian Patrick Mitchell

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Posted 11 May 2011 - 12:52 AM

Christ's human nature is certainly not equal to the divine nature of God. But the "he" in Phil. 2:6 refers to the Person (hypostasis) of the Son, who bears both natures and is known to us as Jesus Christ.

#5 Andrew Prather

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Posted 11 May 2011 - 03:05 AM

I recently wrote this about this passage:

The verse in Greek is complicated, I think. There are two types of translations. I can see either being correct, but I'm not an expert. One states that Christ thought it not robbery to be equal with God. The other states that Christ thought equality with God something not to be grasped or seized. The former does not seem to follow along with the context though because the context of the passage is humility and servitude. The translators who take the latter position however leave words out of their translation. The Greek most definitely has an infinitive form of "to be," yet only former translations have this word. Why the latter translations do not is a mystery, and adds another gripe I have against the materialistic and money minded bible companies and the translations they support.

The former translation states that Christ thought it ok to think himself equal to God, the latter states that Christ, who although in the form of God, being God Himself, did not think that He, as Human, should think of Himself as equal, but took the form of a servant.

Two very different understandings. The Greek of that verse allows both, I think. But the verse must be taken into context, with the latter translation type accounts for.

My translations are rough, and this is how I translate it:
Who, being in the form of God, did not think to be equal with God a thing to be seized.
ος εν μορφη θεου υπαρχων ουχ αρπαγμον ηγησατο το ειναι ισα θεω

#6 Brian Patrick Mitchell

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Posted 11 May 2011 - 05:36 PM

But what of the King James translation (as well as some others) that say of Christ, "He thought it not robbery to be equal with God?" Is that translation incorrect?


I prefer the KJV wording and think it makes the most sense to understand this passage as saying (crudely speaking) that, being God, Christ was fully justified in claiming all of the honor and glory of God, and yet He humbled Himself and became a man out of love for the Father. I can't quote any Fathers to that effect at the moment, but I would bet that's their common take on the passage. It is the simplest reading.

#7 John S.

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Posted 11 May 2011 - 05:42 PM

But what of the King James translation (as well as some others) that say of Christ, "He thought it not robbery to be equal with God?" Is that translation incorrect?


The Lexicon describes the word alternatively translated as "seized" or "grasped" to have the connotation of a “prize” or “booty”, that is, something to be held onto at all costs, something one should hold above all other things.

In light of the rest of the chapter, it seems to be saying that Christ, although as God He is “equal” to God, did not cling to His obvious superiority to us. . . He did not “cling to” or “treasure” the nature or authority that was His by right/nature, but instead condescended to our level. . .

cf. http://www.bluelette...ongs=G725&t=KJV

Likewise, it says in verse 2:5, this mindset should also be in us: we should not cling to or treasure our authority or status over others (though in our case, this superior authority or status is often an illusion, whereas with Christ it is obviously quite real), but we should instead condescend to our neighbors around us.

Perhaps a better translation would be:

“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, did not cling to His superiority as God over us: But instead made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men...”

Forgive me, I am no biblical scholar, but I think that is the idea of this passage. . . Please feel free to correct me if I am mistaken.

#8 Brian Patrick Mitchell

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Posted 11 May 2011 - 06:07 PM

John, forgive me but I think your rendering is the result of popular misunderstanding of the passage. Many people in these egalitarian times see Christ as humbling Himself before us, becoming our servant. The passage doesn't actually say that. In fact, it doesn't say anything about Christ's regard for us. Instead, it says He became a mortal man, and, as we know, not the lowliest of mortal men. He did not become a slave; He became a free man of royal lineage and was received by men of faith as their king.

I would also point out that the contrasting conjunction "but" in Greek does not come between the "form of God" and "equal to God," but between "equal to God" and "humbled himself." The obvious reason is that being in the form of God is the reason for His being equal to God, "but" He nevertheless humbled Himself to become a man.

#9 Andrew Prather

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Posted 11 May 2011 - 06:15 PM

That would be a paraphrase, but captures what I think the passage means quite well.

Chrysostom:
http://www.ccel.org/...iv.iii.vii.html

Cyril of Jerusalem:
http://www.ccel.org/...=6#ii.xiv-p65.1

Athanasius
http://www.ccel.org/...i.ii.i.xi-p36.1
http://www.ccel.org/...ii.ii.iii-p69.5

#10 Brian Patrick Mitchell

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Posted 11 May 2011 - 06:27 PM

Thank you, Andrew. So here's Chrysostom:

Tell me now, what means, “He took the form of a servant”? It means, He became man. Wherefore “being in the form of God,” He was God. For one “form” and another “form” is named; if the one be true, the other is also. “The form of a servant” means, Man by nature, wherefore “the form of God” means, God by nature. And he not only bears record of this, but of His equality too, as John also doth, that he is no way inferior to the Father, for he saith, “He thought it not a thing to seize, to be equal with God.” Now what is their wise reasoning? Nay, say [the Arians], he proves the very contrary; for he says, that, “being in the form of God, He seized not equality with God.” How if He were God, how was He able “to seize upon it”? and is not this without meaning? Who would say that one, being a man, seized not on being a man? for how would any one seize on that which he is? No, say they, but he means that being a little God, He seized not upon being equal to the great God, Who was greater than He. Is there a great and a little God? And do ye bring in the doctrines of the Greeks upon those of the Church? With them there is a great and a little God. If it be so with you, I know not. For you will find it nowhere in the Scriptures: there you will find a great God throughout, a little one nowhere. If He were little, how would he also be God? If man is not little and great, but one nature, and if that which is not of this one nature is not man, how can there be a little God and a great one?



#11 Andrew Prather

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Posted 12 May 2011 - 06:46 AM

Clarification

That would be a paraphrase, but captures what I think the passage means quite well.


That was to John S.

#12 Brian Patrick Mitchell

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Posted 12 May 2011 - 02:11 PM

That would be a paraphrase, but captures what I think the passage means quite well.


If this refers to John S's paraphrase, then I must strongly disagree. Here's John S above:

“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, did not cling to His superiority as God over us: But instead made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men...”


This implies that the Son gave up His lordship over us when He became man, perhaps even that He ceased to be fully God. That's not what we believe, and that's not what St. John Chrysostom, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, or St. Athanasius say about Phil 2:6 in the texts you provided. Read my excerpt from Chrysostom again, then the others:

Cyril of Jerusalem

“The Only-begotten Son is Lord of all, but the obedient Son of the Father, for He grasped not the Lordship, but received it by nature of the Father’s own will. For neither did the Son grasp it, nor the Father grudge to impart it.”

St. Athanasius

“And the term in question, ‘highly exalted,’ does not signify that the essence of the Word was exalted, for He was ever and is ‘equal to God,’ but the exaltation is of the manhood.”

So you see, all three saints say the Son didn't think it robbery to be equal to God because He was already equal by nature on account of being begotten by the Father. He does not give that equality up when He humbles himself; He comes to us as man but also still as our God and King.

Edited by Brian Patrick Mitchell, 12 May 2011 - 02:27 PM.


#13 John S.

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Posted 12 May 2011 - 02:54 PM

This implies that the Son gave up His lordship over us when He became man, perhaps even that He ceased to be fully God.


Father Deacon,

Forgive me, I did not mean to suggest that Christ gave up His Lordship or Divinity in becoming man! Clearly this would be quite a heterodox claim!

What I meant to say was something more akin to your translation: “[B]eing God, Christ was fully justified in claiming all of the honor and glory of God, and yet He humbled Himself and became a man out of love for the Father.”

The whole passage seems to be referring to Christ being God, but condescending to our level, our weakness, by taking on flesh and becoming man. The rest of the passage states that Christ was and is God, but instead of coming on the clouds (as He will one day), He instead “made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.” (Phil. 2.7). And earlier in the passage the Apostle commends that same servant’s mindset also be in us. (Phil 2:5).

This sense is very similar to John 13, where Christ washes the disciples feet, and He says “If I then, [your] Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his Lord.” (John 13:14-16). Certainly St. John is not suggesting Christ gave up his Lordship (or His Divinity) by washing the disciples feet! Instead, this shows Divine compassion and condescension.

So if Christ, who is God, so “humbled Himself,” how much more should we? If Christ did not “cling to” or “treasure” His Divinity so as not to condescend to our level and take on flesh, how much more should we not “cling to” our petty earthly and temporal statuses?

It is in that sense (taking on Human Nature) that I think the passage is saying that Christ did not “cling to” His superiority over the flesh, or His Divine Nature. If you just take that one verse separately of course it looks absurd, but so would the passage where Christ washes the disciples feet. I think the purpose of the passage is to show the Divine Condescension, for if God Himself condescends to us, and no servant is greater than His Lord, then how can we justify not condescending to others?

#14 Owen Jones

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Posted 12 May 2011 - 02:58 PM

mmm, a couple of observations. Most Christology prior to Nicaea was subordinationist of one type or another. Nicaea, primarily a response to Arianism, nevertheless I think recognized that any type of subordinationism has problems.

As for the quote from Philippians in question, perhaps we are over thinking it just a bit. Everything in Scripture has to be taken in context with everything else in Scripture and we believe in a unity and harmony. I think Christ's servanthood is not in question. What Christ does is He takes all of the conventional power relationships and turns them upside down. His Kingship is an essential ingredient of who He is, but much is made of this for a different purpose than we would expect, which is why the animosity against Him by the Pharisees, but also the confusion among his own disciples. That's because after establishing His Kingship, Scripture presents a very different kind of kingship than anyone was familiar with before then. It is a Kingship in which the King becomes the servant of man not the boss of man, not the ruler of man in the conventional sense. This, indeed, was the essence of His temptation after his baptism. To become a conventional Lord and ruler over mankind. We see this in the manner in which He quite clearly and succinctly redefines a Kingdom or realm. The Kingdom of God is within you! This does not make the opposite true -- that we are the boss of Christ! Heaven forbid! This would be faulty logic in the extreme.

Now, the purpose of all of this is to prepare us for several things to happen. One is the descent of the Holy Spirit. Another is the persecutions that will take place. Another is for Christ to be seen as the exemplar for all Christians. This does not exhaust the list of course. But I think these are obvious points. And so how are we to live? We should willingly give up power and embrace the same voluntary giving up of power that Christ assumed on the Cross. In the face of evil, of suffering, of persecution, of death. In this way, the power of the Holy Spirit comes to reside in us and this leads to triumph in a way that no King or conqueror in history could even imagine possible. I don't wish to reduce all of Christology to just one thing and one thing only, but I think if we consider power is the key issue it helps to see what St. Paul is talking about here. Remember, he called himself a slave. Christianity calls into question all of the conventional definitions of what it means to be powerful. It says that the most powerful people in the world are the least powerful people among us and those are the ones we ought to pay attention to if we want to know life everlasting. It is the humble, poor saint who has no material goods. It is the virgin. It is the one who gives up all of his possessions to follow the Lord. It is the one who loves those who despise him. It is the one who is joyful in all things, good and bad. It is the person who can see how a terrible loss can be turned into a spiritual gain. It is the one who acts charitably toward others (especially those who apparently do not deserve it), without expectation of reward or gain. And so on...

Today, the Bishop is the one who personally takes the role of Christ in our midst, which raises all kinds of questions regarding what a bishop is, and what is his mission. In my mind, it is nothing if not a servant of all. That does not mean that we get to boss around the Bishop! It means that the spiritual power invested in him becomes manifest to the degree to which he humbles himself as a servant, and that this becomes palpable to the people around him as a very powerful example of how we should all live. If the Bishop only defines himself in the role of the guy in charge, problems result!

#15 Brian Patrick Mitchell

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Posted 12 May 2011 - 04:56 PM

Most Christology prior to Nicaea was subordinationist of one type or another.


Owen, do you want to rephrase this? If you don't, how do you explain Nicaea? Did the majority of bishops come to Nicaea thinking one thing and then change their minds?

#16 Owen Jones

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Posted 13 May 2011 - 12:23 PM

Nicaea brought the issues that were out there into fuller clarity.

#17 Brian Patrick Mitchell

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Posted 13 May 2011 - 01:14 PM

Nicaea brought the issues that were out there into fuller clarity.


True, but what about your statement that subordinationism was the dominant Christology before Nicaea? It certainly was a common tendency, but the orthodox position has always been that it was not the dominant tradition of the pre-Nicaean Church.

#18 Owen Jones

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Posted 17 May 2011 - 12:03 PM

Well, then I would stand corrected. However, I still have the sense that even Orthodox saints and writers before Nicaea reflected some degree of subordinationism. And certainly the New Testament can easily be viewed that way. But I can't quote you chapter and verse from the ante-Nicene Fathers, I'm afraid.

#19 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 17 May 2011 - 01:02 PM

Being a bear of admittedly little brain, I could be wrong (and often am), however it seems to me that Christ the Lord was fully God AND fully man. Jesus the son of man was not equal to the Father, but Christ the Son of God was, is, and always will be. Christ took on the form of a servant, He who is outside of Creation put on Creation and humbled Himself before God the Father in that form, but He never actually stopped being God at the same time. This is a paradox, not a contradiction. Existing both inside and outside Creation, He became two things at the same time.

Remember that in John 17 Christ prays that God glorify Him as He did before the world was. Christ was before the world, but you and I were not. Outside of Creation, Christ the Lord is co-eternal with the Father and the Spirit, equal to each other, but in His human form He also took on our lowly condition without giving up His Godhood. So it would seem that the answer is yes and no at the same time. If you have a hard time with that concept, try studying quantum physics ...

Herman the quantum Pooh




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