The Bible presents overwhelming evidence for the full deity of Jesus Christ, the Son of God (e.g., Dan. 7:9-14; John 1:1; 8:58; 20:28; Titus 2:13; Heb. 1:3, 8; etc.). Further, the NT presents the Person of the Son as the very object of divine worship (e.g., Dan. 7:14; Matt. 14:33; John 20:28; Heb. 1:8; Rev. 5:13-14). In addition to these verifiable proofs of the Son’s deity, the NT shows that the Son was the very Agent[1] of creation.

For if the Son were the actual Creator of all things, that would mean that He 1) existed before time, thus, He was not a “part” of creation, 2) co-existed with the Father, and hence, 3) is a distinct Person alongside of the Father, as co-Creator. Passages such as John 1:3; Colossians 1:16-17; and Hebrews 1:2 and 10 exegetically affirm this important truth.

John 1:3: “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” In the prologue of John (vv. 1-14), note the verbal contrast between all things created or that had origin (signified by the verb egeneto, “came to be”; cf. vv. 3, 6, 10, 14) and the eternal divine Word (signified by the verb ēn, “was”; vv. 1, 2, 4, 9).[2]

In verse 3, we see the creative activity viewed as one event in contrast to the continuous existence in verses 1 and 2 (cf. Robertson, Grammar, 5:5). The phrase panta di’ autou (“all things through Him”) denotes the role of the Logos in relation to God the Father and the world. What intensifies the argument even more is John’s usage of the Greek preposition dia (“through”) followed by the genitive autou (“Him”). This is a very significant aspect as to the exegesis of the passage. In Greek, dia followed by the genitive clearly indicates “agency” or “means.”[3] The Apostle John communicates in a comprehensible way that the Son, the eternal Word, who was “with” the Father (1:1), is the Creator of all things.

Colossians 1:16-17: “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things and in Him all things hold together.” Despite the biblical simplicity, Oneness teachers, such as David Bernard, attempt to circumvent the biblical truth that the Son is indeed the Creator of all things:

Perhaps these scriptural passages have a deeper meaning that can be expressed as follows: Although the Son did not exist at the time of creation except as the word in the mind of God, God used His foreknowledge of the Son when He created the world. . . . The plan of the Son was in God’s mind at creation and was necessary for the creation to be successful. Therefore, He created the world by the Son (emphasis added).[4]

This is blatant eisegesis. Bernard’s assertion is clear: passages that speak of the Son as the Creator mean that when the Father created all things, He merely had the “plan of the Son” in mind or in view, that is, “God used His foreknowledge of the coming Son when He created the world.” Bernard’s conclusion assumes unitarianism and disallows normal exegesis.

First, Colossians 1:13-15 clearly differentiates Jesus from the Father. These verses contextually prohibit the Oneness notion that Jesus is both the Father and the Son: “For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He [the Son] is the image of the invisible God [the Father].” Second, consider also that Paul’s main purpose for writing the book of Colossians was to provide a meaningful refutation of the Gnostic “spirit” vs. “matter” (which they saw as inherently evil) philosophy. The Gnostic system did not allow for Jesus to be the Creator of something as evil as “matter.” Hence, Paul provides a clear anti-Gnostic polemic by firmly demonstrating that Jesus the Son of God did in fact create all things.

Note the clear and forceful way Paul presents his argument: “By Him [en autō] all things [panta] were created . . . all things [panta] have been created through Him [di’ autou] and for Him [eis auton]. He is before all things [pantōn], and in Him all things [panta] hold together” (emphasis added). The following grammatical aspects pointedly codify Paul’s argument:

1. Along with John 1:3, Paul employs the neuter plural panta (“all things”), which indicates that the Son was the actual Creator of all things. Paul’s use of the articular panta (i.e., with the article, lit., “the all things”), rather than the more popular terms such as pas or pan, shows the unlimited sense of “the all things.” Paul also uses the neuter panta in Romans 8:28: “And we know that God causes all things [not a part of all things] to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” Hence, Jesus created all things, not merely a part of all things as the Jehovah’s Witnesses will assert, but rather all things unlimited.

2. Paul utilizes three different Greek prepositions to amplify his affirmation that the Son was the Creator: All things were created “by/in Him” (en + dative in vv. 16 and 17); “through Him” (dia + genitive in v. 16); and “for Him” (eis + accusative in v. 16).

3. Finally, as with John 1:3, what immediately demolishes the “Son in view” theory asserted by Oneness advocates is the fact that Paul specifically states that “all things” were created “through [dia] Him [autou]” (viz., the Son). As observed, when the preposition dia is followed by the genitive autou, it grammatically reveals that the Son was the Creator Himself. There is no stronger way in which Paul could have articulated that the Son was the actual Agent of creation.[5]

If Paul wanted to convey the idea that the Son was merely “in view” of the Father or an absent instrument of creation, as Oneness teachers assert, he would not have used dia followed by the genitive. Rather, he would have exclusively used dia followed by the accusative, but he does not.[6] The Oneness theological assumption that the Son was not the Agent of creation, but merely in view of creation, cannot stand grammatically or contextually—it changes the intended meaning of the text and ignores the chief theme of Paul’s letter.

Hebrews 1:2, 10: “In these last days [God the Father] has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. . . . And, ‘YOU, LORD, IN THE BEGINNING LAID THE FOUNDATION OF THE EARTH, AND THE HEAVENS ARE THE WORKS OF YOUR HANDS.’” The prologue of Hebrews annihilates the unitarian position regarding its rejection of the pre-existence (and deity) of the Person of the Son, Jesus Christ. In this prologue the full deity and unipersonality of the Son is clearly expressed (esp. vv. 3, 8). Relative to the pre-existence and creatorship of the Son, verses 2 and 10 adequately communicate both truths. As with John 1:3 and Colossians 1:16-17 (and 1 Cor. 8:6), verse 2 affirms that the Son was the Creator. In this passage we find again the preposition dia followed by the genitive: “In these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom [di’ hou] also He made the world” (emphasis added).

Contextually, the main line of evidence that the author presents, which promptly affirms the Son’s creatorship, is the well defined contrast between created things (viz., angels and the heavens and the earth) and the eternality of the divine Son (cf. vv. 2-3, 8-10). In verse 10, the author (quoting the Father) applies Psalms 102:25-27 (LXX) to the Son. This is very significant because (a) the Psalms are a reference to Yahweh and (b) the Father is speaking to the Son, differentiating Himself from the Son (esp. in light of vv. 8-9). The referent to the pronoun su, (“You”) at the beginning of verse 10 (kai su, “and You”) is back in verse 8: “But of the Son He [the Father] says.” Irrefutably, it is the Son whom the Father directly addresses.

Conclusively, the prologue of Hebrews is one of the most theologically devastating prologues in the entire NT for unitarian groups. Not only does the prologue affirm the deity and eternality of Jesus Christ, the Son, as well as the distinction between the Father and Jesus, but also it clearly presents the Son as the actual Agent of creation, the Creator Himself.

John 1:3; Colossians 1:16-17; and Hebrews 1:2, 10 demonstrate exegetically that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the Creator of all things.

Note: Oneness teachers along with other unitarian groups (esp. Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslims) argue that the Son could not have been the Creator because passages such as Isaiah 44:24 and 1 Corinthians 8:6 teach that God the Father alone created all things. However, as consistently pointed out, these groups assume a prior theological commitment: unitarianism or unipersonalism—namely, seeing God as one Person. The doctrine of the Trinity, in contrast to a unitarian assumption, teaches that God is one undivided and unquantifiable Being who has revealed Himself as three distinct co-equal, co-eternal, and co-existent Persons. The three Persons share the nature of the one Being. Thus, as fully God, it can be said that the Father is the Creator (cf. Acts 17:24); the Son is the Creator (cf. John 1:3; Col. 16-17; Heb. 1:2, 10); and the Holy Spirit is the Creator (cf. Gen. 1:2; Job 33:4). The one God is indivisible and inseparable (cf. Deut. 6:4; Isa. 45:5).

Therefore, passages like Isaiah 44:24, which speak of God creating by Himself and alone are perfectly consistent with Trinitarian theology. Again, the three Persons are not three separate Beings; they are distinct self-conscious Persons or Selves sharing the nature of the one Being. Unless one clearly realizes what the biblical doctrine of the Trinity actually teaches, the doctrine will be confounded and misrepresented as Tritheism.

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich [as to His glory in His pre-existence], yet for your sake He became poor [as to His incarnation], so that you through His poverty [humbling Himself, becoming man for the purpose of His atoning sacrifice] might become rich [to “become the righteousness of God”; 2 Cor. 5:21] (2 Cor. 8:9; emphasis added).

NOTES

[1] In the NT, agency is commonly expressed in three ways: ultimate agency (apo, hupo, para, + the genitive), intermediate agency (dia + the genitive), and impersonal agency (i.e., that which the agent uses to perform the act (en, ek + the dative; cf. Wallace, GGBB, 431-32).

[2] The term translated “was” is the imperfect ēn (from eimi, “[I] am”). The imperfect denotes an ongoing past action. Thus, John 1:1a indicates that in the beginning, the Word was already existing—He had no beginning. Note here the contrast between ēn (denoting the Son’s eternality, vv. 1, 2, 4, 9) and egeneto (from ginomai, denoting all things created, vv. 3, 6, 10, 14). Not until verse 14 is egeneto used of Jesus: “The Word became [egeneto] flesh.” The same verbal contrast is found in John 8:58: “Before Abraham came to be” (ginomai) vs. “I Am” (eimi).

[3] Cf. Greenlee, Exegetical Grammar, 31; Wallace, GGBB, 368; Bauer, BDAG, 225).

[4] Bernard, The Oneness of God, 116-17.

[5] In 1 Corinthians 8:6 and, as discussed below, in Hebrews 1:2, dia is followed by the genitive signifying the Son as the Agent of creation.

[6] Although Paul does use the accusative case in verse 16 (auton), he uses it after the preposition eis meaning “for” or “because of” and not after dia.

Scripture presents powerful claims of Jesus Christ attesting to His deity, that is, His coequality with God the Father. The natural response of the unbelieving Jews only adds to the confirmation of what Jesus affirmed: “Because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God” (John 10:33; see also John 5:17-18; 8:58-59). In addition to this is the clear testimonies of the apostles presenting Christ the Son as fully God and fully man, distinct from the Father and the Holy Spirit (cf. Matt. 12:6; 28:19; John 1:1, 18; 20:28; 1 Cor. 2:8; Col. 2:9; Titus 2:13; 2 Pet. 1:1; Jude 1:4). Their Christology is expressed coherently and exegetically.

Along with the testimonies of Jesus and the apostles, (and the OT affirmations[1]), we find clear affirmations of the Son’s deity made by God the Father especially in the prologue of Hebrews. In fact, it was the Father’s testimony that Jesus used to authenticate His own testimony (see John 5:31-32; 8:16-17).

In the NT, God the Father clearly substantiated the deity and unipersonality of His Son, Jesus Christ, by the following:         

1) The Father openly declared Jesus to be the “Son of God” (cf.  Matt. 3:16-17; 17:5)

2) The Father commanded all of His angels to worship the Son (cf. Heb. 1:6)

3) The Father directly addressed the Son as “the God” whose throne is eternal (cf. Heb. 1:8-9) 

4) The Father directly addressed the Son as the “Lord,” that is, the Yahweh of Psalm 102:25-27, the unchangeable Creator (cf. Heb. 1:10-12)

“SON OF GOD”

The theological significance of the title “Son of God cannot be ignored or denied. The biblical evidence is clear: The unique way that Jesus applied this title to Himself and the unique way that the apostles applied it to Him show that it was a title of full deity—tantamount to “God the Son” (cf. John 1:18; 5:17-18; 10:30-33; 19:7; Rom. 1:1-4; Heb. 1).

The Fathers attestation of the full deity of Christ and His coequality with Him, in very nature, starts with His open declaration of Jesus’ Sonship. The Father claimed Jesus was His Son and Jesus claimed the reverse—namely, that He was the Fathers Son. So when the Father openly announced that the person of Christ is His Son, He affirmed in the strongest way the Son’s essential and ontological deity. Jesus’ Sonship was openly declared at several different times throughout His life: At His baptism (Matt. 3:16-17); at His Transfiguration (Matt. 17:5); and in reference to His resurrection (cf. Acts 13:33; cf. also Heb. 1:5). We also read of Jesus’ declaration of Sonship in Romans 1:1-4, where the Son was “declared [‘marked out’] the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness.” The Father’s open declaration of Jesus’ Sonship demonstrates to the world that Jesus Christ is the “one and only/unique Son” (monogenēs huios), God in the flesh. Again, “The Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He . . . was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God” (John 5:18; cf. 10:30ff).         

ALL THE ANGELS COMMANDED TO WORSHIP THE SON (cf. Heb. 1:6) 

Contextually (similar to the prologue of John), the prologue of Hebrews is a well-defined contrast between all created things (viz., angels and the heavens and the earth) and the eternal divine Son (cf. vv. 3, 6, 8), who was worshiped as God (v. 6), and presented as Yahweh, the unchangeable Creator (cf. vv. 2, 10-12). After the author provides some of the most potent passages proving the Son’s deity (esp. vv. 2-3), from verses 5-13, to intensify his antithesis (i.e., the eternal Son vs. creation), the author moves from his own inspired words to the words of God the Father.

In Hebrews 1:6, an undeniable verification of the Son’s deity is evidenced by the fact that God the Father commands[2] all of His angels to “worship” (proskuneō) the Son: “And when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says, ‘And let all the angels of God worship Him.’” The Father’s command to His angels to give religious worship to His Son clearly proves the Son’s essential deity—for creature worship was strictly forbidden by God (cf. Exod. 20:5). There are many places in both the OT and NT where the Son was worshiped in a religious context, by all the angels (cf. Heb. 1:6); by men (cf. Dan. 7:14; Matt. 14:33; John 9:38); and by every creature (cf. Rev. 5:13-14).[3]

DIRECT ADDRESS AS “THE GOD” WHOSE THRONE IS ETERNAL (cf. Heb. 1:8) 

Thus far, the author of Hebrews has exhibited so precisely the very object of Christian evangelism and historic faith: The two natures of the person of the Son, as fully God (esp. vv. 2-3, 6) and as fully man who made “purification of sins” (v. 3). In verses 8-9, the Father demonstrates further the exalted divine status of His beloved Son:

“But of the Son He says” Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, And the righteous scepter is the scepter of His kingdom. 9 You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of gladness above Your companions.’”

Here the Father addresses the Son (pros de ton huion, “but regarding the Son”) as ho theos (“the God”) affirming that the Son’s throne is “forever and ever.” This is a citation from the LXX of Psalm 45:6-7. Although some have attributed the Psalm to David, Solomon, or a Persian king, the original sense of the Psalm is purely Messianic. The writer here seems to envisage the ideal king, a “magnificent and beautiful prince—a prince riding prosperously in his conquest” (Barns). In the same way, Isaiah speaks of the Messiah as “Mighty God” and “Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6). Note the rendering of the ancient Targum[4] of Psalm 45:7, which is a direct address to Yahweh Himself: “Thy throne of glory, O Lord endures for ever and ever.” Further, the targumist applies verse 3 to the Messiah: “Your beauty, O King Messiah, is greater than the sons of men; the spirit of prophecy has been placed on your lips; because of this the Lord has blessed you forever.” None of Israel’s kings were ascribed as “God” whose throne is forever. The full deity of the Christ is a constant theme in the OT (esp. Dan. 7:9-14; Isa. 9:6-7).

In Hebrews 1:8, the Father positively affirms that His Son, Jesus the Christ, is “the God” whose throne is forever and ever. That the Father addresses the Son as “God” (a distinct person) is precisely what the doctrine of the Trinity teaches. In the Gospels, the Son addresses the Father as “God,” while here, the Father addresses the Son as “God.” Just as the Son addresses the Father as “Lord of heaven and earth” (Luke 10:21), in Hebrews 1:10, the Father addresses the Son as the “Lord” (i.e., as the Yahweh of Ps. 102:25-27) who made the heavens and the earth (cf. also John 1:3; 1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16-17; Heb. 1:2).  

Unitarian groups (esp. JWs) consistently deny the direct address rendering and syntax of the passage by translating theos (“God”) either as a nominative, “God is your throne” (as in the NWT) or as a predicate, “Your throne is God.” However, the vocative of direct address[5] rendering of theos (i.e., the Father addressing the Son as “God”) is confirmed by 1) the LXX of Psalm 45:6-7 where Elohim (“God”) is in direct address, 2) the Targum of Psalm 45:6 where “Lord” is in direct address, 3) all ancient versions of Psalm 45, 4) most English translations, 5) biblical commentators, historically and presently, 6) the context of the prologue, which presents a defined contrast between all created things and the eternality of the Son, and 7) in verse 10, the Greek term for “Lord” is in the actual vocative case of address (kurie), which unmistakably shows that the Father addressed the Son as “God” and as the “Yahweh” (“Lord”) of Psalm 102:25-27, as we will discuss below.      

DIRECT ADDRESS AS “LORD”—NAMELY, THE YAHWEH OF PSALM 102:25-27 (cf. Heb. 1:10-12)

“You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of Your Hands. . . .” (v. 10).  God the Father attributes the creation of the heavens and earth to the Son (as did the author in v. 2). This passage (and the entire chapter) is devastating to Oneness advocates who see the “Son” as representing merely the humanity (non-divinity) of Jesus and, of course, most challenging for Muslims and JWs who likewise deny the deity of the person of the Son.

In verses 10-12, the Father applies Psalm 102:25-27, which speaks of Yahweh as the unchangeable Creator, to the Son! As we saw, starting in verse 5, the author moves from his own words, to the Father’s words regarding the Son. Hence, verse 10 does not warrant any break in context or switch of speaker to recipient—it is the Father speaking tothe Son: You, Lord, in the beginning.” The connective conjunction and naturally looks back to the addressee in verse 8: But of the Son He says.” As pointed out, kurios (“Lord”) actually appears in the vocative form, kurie: “You, Lord [kurie], in the beginning.” This irrefutably shows that the Father is speaking to the Son. It also supports the vocative force of theos in verse 8: “But of the Son He says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.’” Hebrews 1:10-12 is a citation of Psalm 102:25-27 (from the LXX),[6] which describes Yahweh as the unchangeable Creator. Hence, the Father identifies His Son with the Yahweh of this Psalm, the unchangeable Creator.  

The Christian religion is established by its Founder, Jesus Christ, God incarnate, Creator of all things. This is confirmed by the OT prophets, NT apostles, Christ Himself, and God the Father. The Father affirmed His Son’s ontological status as God by 1) making open declarations as to Jesus’ Sonship, 2) commanding all of the angels in heaven to worship the Son, and 3) directly addressing the Son as “the God” whose throne is eternal and as the Yahweh of Psalm 102:25-27, the unchangeable Creator.


[1] Cf. Genesis 19:24; Daniel 7:9-14 (cf. Mark 14:62); Isaiah 9:6; “angel of the Lord” references; etc.

[2] The term translated “worship” is an aorist active imperative verb. A verb in the imperative mood indicates a commandment/request. But when the imperative is in the aorist tense, the commandment stressing urgency, a “do it now” kind of verb—namely, worship the Son now!

[3] The word “worship” appeared in the JWs’ New World Translation at Hebrews 1:6 from 1961 (the first complete ed.) to 1970. However, due to the damaging implications of the Son being worshiped, the Watchtower replaced “worship” with “obeisance,” meaning, honor, respect, etc. in all subsequent editions.   

[4] The Targum was an ancient Aramaic translation (in explanations and paraphrases) of the Hebrew OT. In the post-exilic period, Aramaic began to be broadly spoken in the Jewish community in conjunction with Hebrew. The earliest known portions of the Targum were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls (e.g., Job, Cave 11).

[5] In verse 8, we noted that although theos technically is in the nominative case, it clearly carries the vocative force of direct address. In fact, in every occurrence in the NT, where God is being addressed, theos appears in the nominative case except in Matthew 27:46, where both occurrences of theos are actually in the vocative case—Thee mou, thee mou (“My God My God”).

[6] The LXX reads: kat’ archas su kurie (lit., “In [the] beginning, You, Lord”). Hebrews 1:10-12 is utterly shattering to all who deny the Trinity and the deity and unipersonality of the Son since God the Father identifies His Son with the Yahweh of Psalm 102:25-27—the unchangeable Creator whose “years will not come to an end.”

The biblical evidence of the pre-existence of the Son irrefutably proves the Oneness position false. Just as the present active participle huparchōn, in Philippians 2:6 communicates the perpetual existence of the divine Son, more than a few passages contain the present active participle ōn (from eimi), which also  denotes the Son’s eternal existence (cf. Harris, 1992: 157-58). In explicit reference to the Son’s eternality, the present active participle is used both articularly (ho ōn) and anarthrously (ōn). Two such examples of the articular form of the participle are John 1:18 and Romans 9:5.

John 1:18: “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is [ho ōn, i.e., “the One who is/being always”] in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him” (emphasis added).

Romans 9:5: “Whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is [ho ōn, i.e., “the One who is/being always”] over all, God blessed forever. Amen” (emphasis added).

Note the defining context of both passages: the Son’s absolute deity. They even call the Son theos, which intensifies further the affirmation of the Son’s deity and His pre-existence. Referring to John 1:18, Reymond (1998: 303) remarks in the significance of the articular participle: “The present participle ho ōn … indicates a continuing state of being: ‘who is continually in the bosom of the Father.’” In the LXX of Exodus 3:14, we find the same articular present participle to denote Yahweh’s eternal existence: Egō eimi ho ōn, literally, “I am the eternal/always existing One.” Also note the egō eimi phrase preceding the participle here (cf. John 8:24, 58; cf. Chapter 2, 2.4.5).

We also find the use of the anarthrous present active participle ōn, in contexts where the deity of the Son is clearly in view. In Hebrews 1:3, the present active participle (i.e., hos ōn) “marks the Son’s continuous action of being, which denotes total and full deity” (Robertson, 1932: 5:17-18; cf. Tenny, 1981: 34).[7] It “refers to the absolute and timeless existence” (Rodgers and Rodgers, 1998: 516). The participle ōn in Hebrews 1:3 is set in contrast with genomenos, in verse 4. This is similar to the use of ēn, in John 1:1, which is set in contrast with egeneto, in 1:14, and of huparchōn, in Philippians 2:6 (cf. 2 Cor. 8:9), which is set in contrast with genomenos, in verse 7. In each case, there is an outstanding contrast between the eternal pre-incarnate Son and all things created. 

 

6 Who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

 Philippians 2:6-11, known as the Carmen Christi (“Hymn to Christ”)[1] was utilized by the early Christian church to teach and magnify the pre-existence, incarnation, and the full deity of Jesus Christ. The context of Philippians 2 is clear: Paul stresses to the Philippians that they ought to act in a harmonious and humble way. In which Paul instructs them to have an attitude in themselves “which was also in Christ Jesus,”—namely, humility (v. 5).

 Paul then exemplifies the ultimate act of humility: Jesus Christ, God the Son, voluntarily emptied Himself by becoming flesh.In six short passages, Paul provides a beautiful and well defined summary of the gospel of Jesus Christ expressing His essential nature as God (including His pre-existence; v. 6); His Incarnation and cross-work (i.e., His humiliation; vv. 7-8); and His exaltation to the glory of God the Father (vv. 10-11). His role as Mediator involves two states: 1) the state of humiliationand 2) the state of exaltation.

Note the following exegetical points that underline the theological significance and force of Paul’s high Christological Hymn:

  1. Jesus is presented as God—distinct from God the Father.

In the first part of verse 6, Paul utilizes very specific terms to express clearly that Jesus Christ was always subsisting as God: “Who although He existed [huparchōn] in the form [morphē; or “nature” NIV] of God [theou]. . . .” (emphasis added). So, when Paul says that Christ “did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped” and “He emptied Himself” (vv. 6-7, which we will deal with shortly), these two statements must be interpreted in light of his first statement: Jesus was always “being in very nature God” (NIV).

 The word translated “existed” (“being” KJV, NIV) is huparchōn, which is a present active participle.[2] The participle here indicates a continuous existence or state of continually subsisting.[3] Hence, Jesus did not become the very form or nature of God at a certain point in time, rather He was always existing as God, just as Paul expressed (cf. John 1:18; Heb. 1:3). The same truth is found in John 1:1a: “In the beginning was [ēn] the Word—i.e., the Word was “always existing”[4] (also cf. John 1:18; 16:28; 17:5; Heb. 1:3; 10-12).       

 Next, the word translated “form” (NASB) or “nature” (NIV) is morphē. This word denotes the specific qualities or essential attributes of something. Here, it denotes “the expression of divinity in the pre-existent Christ.”[5] It expresses that which is intrinsic and essential to the thing. Thus, in His pre-existent state, Jesus possessed (always subsisting in) essential deity. Warfield clearly expresses its semantic force:  

Paul does not simply say, “He was God.” He says, “He was in the form of God,” employing a turn of speech which throws emphasis upon Our Lord’s possession of the specific quality of God. “Form” is a term, which expresses the sum of those characterizing qualities which make a thing the precise thing that it is … And “the form of God” is the sum of the characteristics which make the being we call “God,” specifically God, rather than some other being—an angel, say, or a man. When Our Lord is said to be in “the form of God,” therefore, He is declared, in the most expressed manner possible, to be all that God is, to possess the whole fullness of attributes which make God God. [6]

 To deny that the Son was truly the morphē of God is to deny that the Son was truly the morphē of man, “taking the form[morphē] of a bond-servant” (v. 7). The last part of the verse (“[He] did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped”) has been a topic of much discussion among scholars as to the precise meaning of the term harpagmos (“a thing to be grasped” or “robbery”). But as we have stated, the meaning must be in light of the first part of the verse: “always subsisting in the nature of God.” But as we have stated, the meaning must be in light of the first part of the verse: “always subsisting in the nature of God.” In other words, the meaning of harpagmos cannot be separated from the meaning of the participle huparchōn.

Because of the articular infinitive, to einai (“to be” equal to God), some would argue that the phrase “equal to God” refers back to the phrase morphē theou (“nature of God”). However, there are exegetical problems with that view.[7] A more plausible view would be to consider morphē theou (“nature/form of God”) as referring to essential nature and “equality with God” as referring to function within the Godhead. In this way, the two phrases (“nature of God” and “equality with God” [v. 6]) are not synonymous. Rather, if this is the meaning, Paul would be stating in essence that although the Son was fully deity, always existing as God, He did not usurp (seize) the role of God the Father.[8]

  1. The Self-Emptying of God the Son. It was theSon who voluntarily “emptied Himself, taking the nature of a servant” (v. 7). The reflexive pronoun heauton (“Himself”) indicates that the subject (Jesus) is also the object (i.e., the one receiving the action of the verb—the verb being ekenōsen, “emptied”). Therefore, Jesus Christ, in His pre-existent state, emptied Himself; it was a “self-emptying” (lit., “He Himself emptied”).  

 The term “taking” is from the Greek aorist active participle, labōn. Semantically, this is a participle of means.[9]The participle of means describes the means or manner of the emptying. Hence, the Son emptied Himself by means of His incarnation (cf. John 1:14). The emptying did not involve in any way, shape, or form, His deity, for Paul safeguards against such an assertion in verse 6: “Who [Christ] always and continually subsisting in the very nature and substance of God” (lit., trans.). Further, the Hymn indicates plainly that it was not God the Father, as Oneness Pentecostals suppose, but the Son, who voluntarily emptied Himself and thus became obedient to death—“even death on a cross” (v. 8).

  1. God the Father exalted God the Son.Verse 9 reads: “For this reason also, God [the Father] highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name.” TheFather exalted God the Son, who emptied Himselfby taking the nature of a servant. Scripture teaches that the Son is “functionally” subordinate to the Father (cf. John 14:28); He perfectly obeys Him and always does His will (cf. John 6:38). However, this does not mean that the Son is not ontologically (by nature) subordinate to the Father.[10] Paul says, “the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:3). But this does not mean that the woman (wife) is less human than the man (husband), nor, in the same way, does it mean that Christ is less God than God the Father. Rather, the passage is speaking about function and purpose, not nature. Since Jesus is not only God, but God-man, the Father exalting the “emptied” Son and glorifying Him with the divine glory they shared “before the world was” (John 17:5) is consistent with the doctrine of the Trinity.  
  2. “At the name of Jesus”: Jesus is the YHWH and thus the fulfillment of Isaiah 45:23.In verses 9-11,[11] Paul then concludes his glorious Christological Hymn with a “purpose of exaltation” (hina) clause:[12] The purpose of the Son’s exaltation was for the result of every knee bowing and every tongue confessing that “Jesus is Lord.” In verse 9, we read that the Father exalted Christ and bestowed on Him the “name” which is above every name. “Name” (onoma) is highly significant in a Semitic (“Jewish”) context. Generally, it carries the meaning of authority, power,or on behalf of (see 1 Sam. 17:45).

 In verses 10-11, without question, Paul is loosely drawing from Isaiah 45:23: “I have sworn by Myself, The word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness And will not turn back, That to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance.” This passage is an undeniable reference to YHWH (cf. vv. 22-25). Paul, however, applies it here to Jesus Christ the Lord who glorifies the Father—namely, the YHWH of Isaiah 45:23.[13]

 There are further exegetical details that enhance the force of Paul’s Jesus-Isaiah connection. First, both Isaiah 45:23 (LXX) and Romans 14:11 (also from Isa. 45:23) contain future tenses (“every knee will bow,” every tongue will confess” [or “will swear allegiance”]) and indicative moods, indicating the future certainty of the event. However, in Philippians 2:10-11, Paul changes the original tenses and moods of the verbs from that of Isaiah 45:23 (and Rom. 14:11) to make, as indicated, Philippians 2:10-11 a purpose and result clause.[14] The purpose of God the Father exalting the Son, then, was for the result of every knee bowing and every tongue confessing that “Jesus Christ is Lord,” thus, the YHWH of Isaiah 45:23—hence Jesus will be the fulfillment of Isaiah’s (future) prophecy.

Lastly, although most translations contain the phrase, “Jesus Christ is Lord” at the end of verse 11, the Greek reads, kurios Iēsous Christos (lit., “Lord Jesus Christ”). Here Paul places kurios (“Lord”) first in the phrase (viz. the emphatic position) to emphasize even more the Son’s exaltation as YHWH, the name that belonged to Him. The LXX translates the Hebrew Tetragrammaton, YHWH, as kurios. Thus, when a New Testament author would cite an Old Testament passage where YHWH appears, the author would use kurios (e.g., Mark 12:29-30; Rom. 10:13).[15]

Since the backdrop of Paul’s assertion of Christ centers on the prophetic word of YHWH in Isaiah 45:23, it is only natural then that he would place kurios first in the clause,[16] thus making his point: kurios [YHWH] Iēsous Christos (“LORD Jesus Christ”).  

From start to finish, this Christological Hymn exegetically affirms the gospel of Jesus Christ; it affirms the two states of Christ, His humiliation (incarnation and death) and exaltation (every knee bowing and every tongue confessing that Jesus is Lord—the YHWH and thus the fulfillment of Isa. 45:23). The Hymn affirms two very fundamental aspects of Jesus Christ: 1) He always subsisting in the nature of God and 2) God the Son became man in order to die on the cross. The entire gospel of the Son is summarized in six short, but very powerful passages—the humiliation and exaltation of our Lord and God, Jesus Christ..

NOTES

[1] Also known as the Kenosis Hymn (from kenoō, “to make empty”).

[2] Huparchōn is from the verb huparchō (“to be in existence”).

[3] Cf. Thayer, 1996: 638; Bauer, 2000: 1029).

[4] The term “was” is from the Greek verb ēn, which is the imperfect tense of eimi (“to be”). An imperfect tense indicates continuous action normally occurring in the past, or an on-going past action (Wallace, GGBB, 541). Thus in the beginning the Word was already existing—no beginning. Jesus’ eternal existence is also seen in passages such as John 8:58 where the presence tense verb eimi (“am”) is in contrast with the Abraham’s created state denoted by the aorist form of ginomai (“came to be”): “Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born [genesthai], I am [egō eimi].”

[5] Walter Bauer, A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed., ed. and rev. Frederick W. Danker (BDAG; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 659.

[6] Benjamin B. Warfield, Biblical Doctrines (Carlisle: Banner of Truth Trust, 1988), 177.

[7] Cf. Wallace, GGBB, 220. 

[8] Ibid.

[9] Cf. Wallace, GGBB, 630.

[10] The mutual operation or functionality of the three Persons of the Trinity in that they have different roles/functions, yet they are working together, is defined theologically as the economic Trinity. The soteriological Trinity speaks of the specific roles/functions each of the Persons have in the work of salvation. And the ontological Trinity speaks of the very nature of the three distinct Persons being co-equal, co-eternal, and co-existent Persons sharing the nature of the one God.       

[11] “For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” 

[12] The Greek conjunction hina (“so that” v. 10) frequently denotes purpose and result (i.e., the purpose of X was for the result of Y; e.g., “He gave His only begotten Son in order that everyone believing in Him shall not perish, but have life eternal (John 3:16; lit. trans.). Thus, the purpose of God giving the Son was for the result of eternal life for everyone believing in Him.

[13] This is one of many places where a NT author applies an OT passage referring to YHWH, to Jesus Christ. For example, compare Psalms 102:25-27 with Hebrews 1:10-12; Isaiah 6:1-10 with John 12:39-41; Isaiah 8:12-13 with 1 Peter 3:14-15; Isaiah 45:23 with Philippians 2:10-11; Joel 2:32 with Romans 10:13.

[14] Specifically, the tenses and moods in Isaiah 45:23 and Romans 14:11 are future indicatives (“will bow,” “will confess/swear”). But in Philippians 2:10-11 Paul modified them to aorist subjunctives following the conjunction hina (“so that”) respectively (“shall bow,” “shall confess”).    

[15] A point to which JWs agree. Except, of course, when the OT passages is referring to Jesus Christ, they do not follow their own rule. For example, the phrase “Jesus as Lord” in Romans 10:9 is clearly the antecedent to the occurrences of the pronoun “Him” and “Lord” following up to verse 13:

9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved;

10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.

11 For the Scripture says, “WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.”

12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of  all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him;

13 For “WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD [YHWH] WILL BE SAVED” (emphasis added).

“Jesus as Lord” is the object of salvation from verse 9-13. Throughout these passages, it is the same “Him” and same “Lord” beginning in verse 9. To say that the “Lord” in verse 9 is a different “Lord” than in verse 13 completely breaks the flow of the passages. The Lord that one confesses (v. 9) is the same Lord that one calls upon for salvation (v. 13). In verse 13, Paul cites Joel 2:32: “whoever calls on the name of the Lord [Heb. YHWH] will be delivered.” Just as he does in Philippians 2:10-11, Paul cites a passage referring to YHWH and applies it to Jesus. Thus, whoever confessing and calls upon Jesus as Lord, that is, Jesus as YHWH will be saved.  

[16] In biblical Greek, the placement of a word in a sentence was not always dependent on the subject-verb word order, but rather on emphasis. Specifically, in verse 11, the anarthrous predicate nominative kurios, occupies the “emphatic position” (i.e., first word of the clause): “Lord Jesus Christ.” As we have shown, the same is true in John 1:1c where the anarthrous predicate nominative theos, is also in the emphatic position: theos ēn ho logos (“lit., “God was the Word”)drawing attention to the Word’s nature as God.