MOUNCE renders it:

who, although he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,

Westcott and Hort / [NA27 variants] ὃς ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ ὑπάρχων οὐχ ἁρπαγμὸν ἡγήσατο τὸ εἶναι ἴσα θεῷ,

Whereas the NIV (2011) as:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

Regarding this (updated) version of the NIV, its Committee on Bible Translation notes:

When the NIV was first translated, the meaning of the rare Greek word harpagmos, rendered ‟something to be grasped,” in Philippians 2:6 was uncertain. But further study has shown that the word refers to something that a person has in their possession but chooses not to use to their own advantage. The updated NIV reflects this new information, making clear that Jesus really was equal with God when he determined to become a human for our sake: ‟[Christ Jesus], being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage.” https://www.biblegateway.com/niv/Translators-Notes.pdf

What is the new information that is being referred to here? Has it been widely accepted amongst biblical scholars?

  • That's generally been the understanding of the phrase by those who have opposed kenosis. Whether there's historic scholarly work on the linguistics of harpagmos, I don't know, but that may help direct where to look for it (anti-kenosis writings). That's how I had always read it already, so that's quite interesting to me.
    – Joshua
    Commented May 9, 2016 at 10:59
  • There is some excellent feedback (below), but perhaps it still needs to be explained why this MUST be understood in the passive sense? I'm not a fan of the NIV, but their editorially enhanced reading of "something to be used to his own advantage," certainly appears to me (at least) as intended to be understood in the active sense?
    – robin
    Commented Dec 1, 2017 at 23:10
  • 1
    Another observation, a bit of a tangent, but would a closer reading of the actual Greek words, here, be helpful? That is, I see where the NIV reads "τὸ εἶναι ἶσα θε" "...equality with God something..." However, "equal" is a nominative, plural, adjective {2470 A-NPN}, and the article is accusative, singular. That is, they don't go together to be read or thought of as something like "the equality." Rather, the accusative neuter article "to~the [thing], more likely goes with the verb ..."He had deemed not to~the thing" followed by the thought ..." equal [things} to be unto~God" ...
    – robin
    Commented Dec 1, 2017 at 23:34
  • I suggested (above) that the dative, singular, masculine "unto~God" {2316 N-DSM}, could, indeed, be read/ understood as "unto~God" instead of "with~God;" that is, both readings of the dative case are allowable, but it seems to put a different spin on things. That is, "to be equal [things] WITH God" is not the same thought, the impression one gets when reading, "to be equal [things] UNTO God" ... Bottom line, if we read this differently, then, our topic word "harpagmon" could well be read as "active" ..."to~a snatching" {0725 N-ASM} ..."to~a~snatching He had deemed not" ...
    – robin
    Commented Dec 1, 2017 at 23:47

8 Answers 8


The Greek word ἁρπαγμός is a noun denoting "to grasp at something" (source).

This act of grasping can either be active or passive depending on the context.The active sense talks about "a thing to be taken" (res rapienda) while the passive sense talks about "a thing taken" (res rapta).


  1. To steal something by force (robbery).

  2. To snatch at (spoil).

  3. To take something wrongfully (plunder)


The passive sense of the word can still be categorised into whether the thing is already in one's possession (positive) or not (negative).


  1. A thing to be retained (treasure).

  2. A thing to be exploited (advantage).


  1. An object of eager desire (prize).

Philippians 2:6 calls for the usage of the passive sense since ἁρπαγμός in Greek is a noun and it requires the positive meaning since the text speaks , not of the decision , but of the attitude (ἡγήσατο) of Jesus Christ towards his being God's equal.

The TEV translation has faithfully preserved the meaning of the Greek in contemporary 21st century English:

"He always had the nature of God, but he did not think that by force he should try to remain equal with God."

Philippians 2:6 (TEV)

The new information that is being referred to in the OP is about the change in Philippians 2:6 of the NIV translation due to progress in scholarship:

The NIV11’s translation of Phil 2:6 illustrates progress in scholarship. The NIV84 translates ἁρπαγμός as “something to be grasped” (KJV, “robbery”).41 More recent study, however, has shown that we should understand this text as the NIV11 renders it: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage.”

40 Ibid. 41 NIV84, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.” KJV: “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God.” 42 Although the Translator’s Notes do not specify, the scholarship mentioned is the work of Roy Hoover, “The Harpagmos Enigma: A Philological Solution,” HTR 64 (1971): 95–119 (summary of his 1968 ThD diss. at Harvard). Although technically the dissertation had been written and the summary article published prior to the first edition of the NIV, the research had not yet been studied and was not widely known at the time. It has since been adopted in several major commentaries on Philippians (see, e.g., Moisés Silva, Philippians [2nd ed.; BECNT; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005], 103–4; Peter T. O’Brien, Commentary on Philippians [NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991], 214–16). The idiom involved includes the following: (1) When ἁρπαγμός occurs as a predicate accusative with νομίζω, ἡγέομαι, ποιέω, or τίθημι, it is an idiomatic expression. Here the relevant phrase is ἁρπαγμὸν ἡγήσατο. (2) When ἁρπαγμός occurs in this combination as an idiom, it does not have the same sense as the ἁρπαγμός word group in other contexts; that is, there is no connotation of theft or violence. (3) ἁρπαγμός and ἅρπαγμα are interchangeable forms in this idiom. The –μος ending is a rare form (not used in LXX and only herein NT); –μα is the more common form (though used only seventeen times in LXX). As a result, the background for the idiomatic use must come from extra-biblical Hellenistic Greek. (source).

The rendering of ἁρπαγμός as passive sense in the positive is widely accepted amongst biblical scholars (NT Wright, Gordon D. Fee, J. C. O’Neill and so on).

Translations of ἁρπαγμός into English in the passive and positive sense is widely used in modern English Bible versions.

  • 1
    Thankyou, I appreciate your insights (+1). What are your sources and do you have anything that you could add to shed light on what the "new information" referred to in the OP could be? Commented May 11, 2016 at 15:04
  • You're welcome (^_^). BTW, I edited my answer to fully address the OP.
    – R. Brown
    Commented May 11, 2016 at 22:46
  • 1
    Thanks again - (in my opinion) you've now turned a fair answer in to a fantastic one. Commented May 12, 2016 at 3:49
  • You're welcome (^_^) Glory to God alone!
    – R. Brown
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 6:41
  • Follow the reasoning of this being used in a positive manner, because the text reflects attitude, not decision, but I'm still unclear as to why it MUST be understood in the passive sense? Is it passive because it was something already in His possession? How, exactly would we know this?
    – robin
    Commented Dec 1, 2017 at 22:53

What does the word harpagmos mean in Philippians 2:6

In his book "TRUTH IN TRANSLATION Accuracy and Bias in English translations of the New Testament" Jason David BeDuhn an associate professor of religious studies at Northern Arizona University, analyzes the word “harpagmos” in Philippians 2:6. Below are extracts of the chapter.

How to translators handle "harpagmos"

YTL- thought [it] not robbery to be equal to God,"

NRSV -Something to be exploited,

NIV-Something to be used to his own advantage,

KJV- thought it not robbery.

NWT-gave no consideration to a seizure,

ESV-a thing to be grasped.

ASV-a thing to be grasped,

HCSB-something to be used for His own advantage.[a] or( to be grasped)

NIRV-But Jesus did not take advantage of that fact.

NASB-a thing to be [a]grasped .or (utilized or asserted)

RSVCE-a thing to be grasped.

NABRE- something to be grasped.

Berean Study Bible -something to cling to.

So we have "a thing to be grasped", "something to be grasped".

The English word "grasped" can mean either grabbing at something one does not have in order to get it, or clinging to something one already has in order to hold onto it. So by using "grasped" those translations leave it ambiguous whether Paul means that Christ already had equality with God and refrained from clinging onto it, or did not have it and refrained from snatching it.

The KJV, YTL, translate as "robbery" and NWT as "seizure". Both words suggest snatching at something one does not possess.

On the other side ,NRSV as "Something to be exploited",HCSB as "something to be used for His own advantage", NIRV as" take advantage ",B S Bible -"something to cling to".

So what does the Greek noun harpagmos "αρπαγμον"mean?.


The Liddell & Scott Greek dictionary defines "harpagmos" as "robbery", "rape", and "prize to be grasped". But the third definition is it self based on Philippians 2:6, L & S dictionary does give any other case.

Rolf Furili states that. "When a noun with the ending -mos was made from a verb , it became a verbal noun entailing the activity of the verb" (Furili page 263) . Harpagmos is such a noun based upon the verb harpazo.

The Liddell & Scott Greek dictionary provides the following meanings for the verb harpazo": 1/ snatch away, carry off; 2/ seize hastily, snatch up; 3/ seize, overpower, overmaster; 4/seize, adopt; 5/grasp with the senses; 6/captivate, ravish; 7/ draw up.


Harpagmos, appears only in Philippians 2:6 , however several related words are noted in the New Testament, the verb "harpazo" appears 13 times: Mat. 11:12, 13:9, John 6:15, 10:12, 10:28-29: Acts 8:39, 23:10; 2 Corinthians 12:2 , 12:4; Thessalonians 4:17: Jude 23; and Revelation 12:5.


How do some of our translations use the verb "harpazo".

KJV : Mt.11:12 take by force. Mt.13:19 catcheth away. John 6:15 take by force. John 10:12 catcheth. John 10:28-19 pluck. Acts 8:39 caught away. Acts 23:10 take by force. Jude 23 pulling. Rev. 12:5 caught up.

NASB : Mt.11:12 take by force. Mt.13:19 snatches away. John 6:15 take by force. John 10:12 snatches. John 10:28-19 snatch. Acts 8:39 snatched away. Acts 23:10 take away by force. Jude 23 snatching. Rev. 12:5 caught up.

YTL: Mt 11:12 take it by force. Mt.13:19 snatches away. John 6:15 take by force. John 10:12

NRSV: Mt 11:12 take it by force. Mt.13:19 snatches away.John 6:15 take him by force.

NIV: Mt. 11:12. raiding it. Mt.13:19 snatches away.John 6:15 make by force.

ASV: Mt.11:12 take it by force.Mt.13:19 snatcheth away.John 6:15 take by force.

It apparent from our translations above that the verb "harpazo" from which the noun "harpagmos" is derived and used in Philippians 2:6 always means to snatch something away, take it by force, pluck, and caught away. All our translations recognize the meaning, they never translate it to mean holding on to something one already has.

The adjective “harpax” appears in four passages Matthew 7:15, Luke 8:11, 1 Corinthians 5:10-11 and 6:10 . In the order above, KJV uses the words; ravening, extortioners, extortioners, extortioners. NRSV; ravenous, thieves , robbers , robbers . TEV; wild, greedy, thieves, thieves.

The noun “harpage” appears three times, Matthew 23:15, Luke 11:39, Hebrews 10:34. Again translators use words, such as extortion, ravening, robbery, greed, plunder, and confiscation.

We observe that in all cases the words used imply the basic idea of something being seizing something violently from someone else.

Therefore “Harpagmos” means grasping at something one does not have, that is a “seizure”. Christ did not even think of grabbing at equality with God but instead humble himself to self-sacrifice.


The NIV Committee on Bible Translation simply lied and made up the new information they claim settled the matter in a way that supports the creedal formula "eternally co-equal with the Father". It was and is a bald faced falsehood with no basis in reality. The scholarship they appeal to is playing in the fields with the unicorns and leprechauns.

Please note that there is no burden to prove this negative assertion of mine. The burden is upon those who claim that such scholarship exists which you are welcome to attempt to do. I have attempted and failed. The NIV committee is in the service of the father of lies:

KJV 2Co_11:14  And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.

NOTE: Should someone be able to pull up said scholarship I will of course retract this post.

  • Well, there’s this quite worthwhile summary from 2016 — hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/22564/… — which includes references for both article length and PhD length discussions [Roy Hoover, “The Harpagmos Enigma: A Philological Solution,” HTR 64 (1971): 95–119 (summary of his 1968 ThD diss. at Harvard)] Commented Jun 29 at 11:00

I have not yet seen any evidence that the active noun harpagmos, the act of seizing/snatching/robbing, can replace the passive noun harpagma, the thing seized/snatched/robbed. The claim seems to be made only by Biblical academics, but not by Classicists. The request made elsewhere in this question has not been answered : precisely WHAT is the evidence for the passive understanding of harpagmos?

  • No evidence forthcoming to combat the view that the lexical evidence is that harpagmos is the action, but not the product, of seizing/etc? Commented Nov 14, 2019 at 13:52

In John 14:28 Yahushua says his Father is greater than he. In John 5:19 & 30 Yahushua says he can do nothing without his Father. Therefore to avoid contradicting more certain translations, I concur with the NASB translation, "did not regard equality with YAHUAH a thing to be grasped".

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    – Frank Luke
    Commented Jul 2, 2017 at 21:58

In context harpagmos means "something to take advantage of." Humility is the lesson being taught in this passage by Paul.

Christ being in the form (morphe not morphosis) of God did not consider equality with God something to take advantage of.

But (or instead) he emptied himself (or made himself of no reputation). How did he "empty" himself? By divesting his divinity? No! That's impossible. But by adding a human form so as to be able to take the form of a servant.

"Form" in context can only mean in the "true sense." He became truly a servant of God being willing to obey his Father to the end even willing to die on the cross to glorify him and pay off mankind's sin which is the will of his Father. So, just as he was truly a slave it must also be that he was truly God. Form of slave = true slave, Form of God = true God!

If he was truly God it logically follows that he is equal with God. But by obeying his Father even to the point of a horrible death on the cross he did not take advantage of his being equal with his Father to refuse the humiliation of taking the nature of man being made a little lower that the angels and even dying on the cross.

But the humiliation is temporary because he was exalted and revealed/manifested later on as the "Lord" who every creatures in heaven and on earth shall bow down to worship and is not considered blasphemy since worship of Christ is to the glory of God the Father whose Godhead or divinity Christ shares.

"All that the Father has is mine," "I and the Father are one," "Anyone who sees me has seen the Father," "Before Abraham came to be, I am."

It is logical to extend this as "He who worships me worships the Father."

The story line of this passage is so consistent with the lesson being taught in this passage by the Apostle Paul. It is for the Corinthians to embrace the true humility of persons of high social positions acting and behaving as servants of the people with the same attitude of Christ who even as Lord came to serve and not be served.

It is not about the false "humility" of a janitor refusing to sit on the President's chair, a chair that does not belong to him in the first place.


HARPAGMOS has also the meaning of "robbery." and is translated as such in some of the other versions. The NIV does not do the word justice in its modern translation, not did it do well in earlier versions.

When reading the incarnation passages, (i.e. John 1:14 and such), something became vastly different at that point. Paul has the best possible explanation for that in his KENOSIS hymn. He WAS equal, of the same nature, as the Father. He was entitled to that "sameness."He considered that something to be "grasped" - too neutral as a translation. "Held on to at all cost..." is a much better rendition when you want to use that concept. "Did not consider it robbery...," which again speaks of his entitlement of being equal with God - in nature (Deity vs Humanity). He emtpied himself - of that equality, gave it up, left it behind... Or, as in John's words' "...became flesh..." It was through centuries of debate about the nature of Jesus that the idea of him being 100% human and 100% divine while he was on earth. This contradicts the entire concept in Philippians 2 (And other places). How could he have been "tempted in the same way we were..." when he was not "the same way we were?"
The Christ event in John makes it clear. In the beginning, he was with the Father (1:1). He became flesh. (1:14) He was going back to the same glory he had with the Father before (17). The incarnation only makes sense if he truly became "flesh," and not some hybrid between human and divine. That is altogether to pagan a thought.


I believe that Philippians 2:6 to be saying that Jesus although he was in the form of God, didn't snatch at the idea that he was equal with God. I believe this goes along with the context of what Paul was saying to the Philippian Christians at Philippians 2:3-5. Paul was encouraging the Philippian Christians to be humble to think others in the congregation to be superior to them. What I Mean is, Paul was saying that each individual Christian in the Philippian congregation was to think the other individual Christians were superior to himself/herself. With each individual Christian in the congregation thinking the other individual Christians in the congregation being superior to one another then a attitude of humility would exist among the individual Christians in the congregation. Paul at Philippians 2:5 was telling the Philippian Christians to follow the example of Jesus Christ in regard to this humility that Paul was encouraging the Philippian congregation to have among the members in the Philippian congregation. So I don't believe that Paul was telling the Philippian congregation members to grasp at the idea they were equal to God,or that they were to think they were to retain some idea that they were superior to other Christians in the congregation but just not to exploit that idea, or not to take advantage of that idea. Saying that Jesus was equal with God but he just didn't exploit it or take advantage of it, seems to me to go against what Paul was trying to encourage the Philippian Christians to do,which was to think individual Christians in the congregation being superior to himself/herself. I don't see how saying that Christians in the Philippian congregation having the thought that they were superior but not exploiting it or taking advantage of it to be having humility.

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