Being in the form of God ( ἐν μορφῇ Θεοῦ ὑπάρχων )
Being. Not the simple είναι tobe, but stronger, denoting being which is from the beginning. See on James 2:15. It has a backward look into an antecedent condition, which has been protracted into the present. Here appropriate to the preincarnate being of Christ, to which the sentence refers. In itself it does not imply eternal, but only prior existence. Form ( μορφή ). We must here dismiss from our minds the idea of shape. The word is used in its philosophic sense, to denote that expression of being which carries in itself the distinctive nature and character of the being to whom it pertains, and is thus permanently identified with that nature and character. Thus it is distinguished from σχῆμα fashioncomprising that which appeals to the senses and which is changeable. Μορφή formis identified with the essence of a person or thing: σχῆμα fashionis an accident which may change without affecting the form. For the manner in which this difference is developed in the kindred verbs, see on Matthew 17:2.
As applied here to God, the word is intended to describe that mode in which the essential being of God expresses itself. We have no word which can convey this meaning, nor is it possible for us to formulate the reality. Form
inevitably carries with it to us the idea of shape
. It is conceivable that the essential personality of God may express itself in a mode apprehensible by the perception of pure spiritual intelligences; but the mode itself is neither apprehensible nor conceivable by human minds.
This mode of expression, this setting
of the divine essence, is not identical
with the essence itself, but is identified with it
, as its natural and appropriate expression, answering to it in every particular. It is the perfect expression of a perfect essence. It is not something imposed from without, but something which proceeds from the very depth of the perfect being, and into which that being perfectly unfolds, as light from fire. To say, then, that Christ was in the form of God
, is to say that He existed as essentially one with God. The expression of deity through human nature (Phlippians 2:7) thus has its background in the expression of deity as deity
in the eternal ages of God's being. Whatever the mode of this expression, it marked the being of Christ in the eternity before creation. As the form
of God was identified with the being
of God, so Christ, being in the form of God, was identified with the being, nature, and personality of God.
, not being identical
with the divine essence, but dependent upon it, and necessarily implying it, can be parted with or laid aside. Since Christ is one with God, and therefore pure being, absolute existence, He can exist without the form. This form of God Christ laid aside in His incarnation.
Thought it not robbery to be equal with God ( οὐχ ἁρπαγμὸν ἡγήσατο τὸ εἶναι ἴσα Θεῷ )
Robbery is explained in three ways. 1. A robbing, the Acts 2. The thing robbed, a piece of plunder. 3. A prize, a thing to be grasped. Here in the last sense.
Paul does not then say, as A.V., that Christ did not think it robbery to be equal with God
: for, 1, that fact goes without. saying in the previous expression, being in the form of God
. 2. On this explanation the statement is very awkward. Christ, being in the form of God, did not think it robbery to be equal with God; but
, after which we should naturally expect, on the other hand
, claimed and asserted equality:
whereas the statement is: Christ was in the form of God and did not think it robbery to be equal with God
(instead) emptied Himself
. Christ held fast His assertion of divine dignity, but
relinquished it. The antithesis is thus entirely destroyed.
Taking the word ἁρπαγμὸν (A.V., robbery
) to mean a highly prized possession
, we understand Paul to say that Christ, being, before His incarnation, in the form of God, did not regard His divine equality as a prize which was to be grasped at and retained at all hazards, but, on the contrary, laid aside the form of God, and took upon Himself the nature of man. The emphasis in the passage is upon Christ's humiliation
. The fact of His equality with God is stated as a background, in order to throw the circumstances of His incarnation into stronger relief. Hence the peculiar form of Paul's statement Christ's great object was to identify Himself with humanity; not to appear to men as divine
but as human
. Had He come into the world emphasizing His equality with God, the world would have been amazed, but not saved He did not grasp at this. The rather He counted humanity
His prize, and so laid aside the conditions of His preexistent state, and became man.