Our Reformed brother in Christ, Ken Temple, recently responded to some reflections I made in the combox of the The Beggars All thread – No one can change the Words of God, with the following:
Philippians 2 is clear in teaching the Deity of Christ. It is amazing to me that one who claims to be a Christian would imbibe interpretations that seek to overcome the teaching of the Deity of Christ. Isn't that your Jehovah's Witness background coming through and effecting you?
What “is amazing to me” is the penchant of many Reformed folk to enlist ad hominem tactics when addressing those who differ with their interpretation(s). Rather than defending his rather bold assertion that the scholars I invoked who differ with his understanding of the famous Qur’anic passage (4.157 -which was being discussed in the thread linked to above), are “just playing with words and getting the opposite meaning of what is clear; kind of like the homosexuals arguing that the bible really doesn't not condemn homosexuality, when it fact it does”, Ken instead makes sweeping ad hominem charges—I say “sweeping” because there are a considerable number of NT scholars (conservative, moderate, and liberal) who agree with my assessment that the Phi. 2:6-11 is anything but “clear”, but rather, is a very “complex” passage that has a, “number and variety of interpretations”, including the phrase “in [the] form of God” (ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ). For instance, one Evangelical scholar (who affirms the Deity of Christ) wrote:
What did Paul mean when he wrote that Christ Jesus always existed ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ? If the number and variety of interpretations given to the expression have any meaning it must be because it is of crucial importance for understanding the whole of the Christ-hymn, of fundamental significance for determining the Christology of the entire passage. The difficulty of this phrase in proverbial, stemming not so much from the fact that the word μορφή (“form”) appears only three times in the New Testament—twice in our “hymn” and once in the longer ending of Mark (16:12)—nor from the paucity of its use in the Greek Bible, nor from an ignorance of its meaning in Greek literature as a whole, but from an inability to know with certainty what Paul meant when he used this word to say that Christ Jesus existed “in the form of God” (ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ), and thus from a sense of helplessness or inadequacy as to how to translate it here in 2:6-7. [Gerald F. Hawthorne, “In the Form of God and Equal with God (Philippians 2:6)”, in Where Christology Began: Essays on Philippians 2, ed. Martin and Dodd, pp. 97, 98.]
I first became cognizant of the incredible diversity of interpretations concerning Phil. 2:6-11 way back in the 1980s as I dialogued with friends of mine who had also left the Jehovah’s Witnesses, but still retained an ‘Arianian’ understanding of God and Jesus Christ. Books like James D.G. Dunn’s, Christology in the Making, exposed to English readers the complexity that lies behind so many of the ‘traditional’ Christological verses, including Phil. 2:6-11.
Perhaps the most solid, and scholarly, defense for the ‘orthodox’ understanding of Phil. 2:6-11 in English, came back in 1967 when Ralph P. Martin released his famous book, Carmen Christi (I own the revised 1983 edition). And yet, Martin’s very first words in the preface of the book should be noted:
There are certain passages of scripture which both provoke and baffle study. Philippians ii. 5-11 is one such section, as all who have tried their hand at its interpretation know full well. (Page vii, 1983 ed.)
So, in ending, while I can understand Ken’s sense of frustration with the comments I made concerning Phi. 2:6-11, I sincerely hope that he can appreciate the fact that I was merely trying to be accurate and honest in my assessments.
Grace and peace,