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Philippians 2:9-11 (KJV)

9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: 10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; 11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

My question is this: Did Paul intend to say that the confession would be that of lordship (that is, in the vein of "Kaiser kurios", or confessing Jesus as king), or of divinity (that is, Jesus is YHWH)?

What support is there for each, if any?

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I do not think that we can dissect a single passage in Scripture to conclude what Paul was or was not saying about the Divinity of Christ. The Church Fathers bound up in the New Testament a coherent corpus testifying to a common theology, not a collection of diverse theological opinions.

As you suggest, looking at Philippians 2:9-11 one could interpret the passage one way or another. Paul himself clearly acknowledged the Divinity of Christ. In Romans (9:5) he writes of Christ being over all. In Colossians (2:9) he wrote that in Christ dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. In his Epistle to Titus he writes that Jesus is our great God and our Saviour (2:13). He also testifies to the Colossians that all things were created by Christ, and for Him: and He is before all things, and by Him all things consist (1:16-17).

Furthermore, had Paul held opinions contrary to that testified by other Apostles and Evangelists regarding the Divinity of Christ (e.g. John 1:1-3, Acts 20:28, etc.), then he or they certainly would have been outside the Church, since truth and untruth cannot coexist within the Church, being itself the pillar and foundation of truth (1 Timothy 3:15), and we would not now be studying their writings as being part of Scripture.

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Since the very passage cited indicates that God gave the title KURIOS to Jesus because of his obedience it should be abundantly clear that it was not a divine title:

KJV Philippians 2:8  And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. 9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name [ie: "title"] which is above every name ["title"]: 10 That at the name ["title"] of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; 11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God [, that is,] the Father.

Paul unambiguously says who God is: the Father. God gave his son, ordered him to die, exalted him to his right hand for his obedience and temporarily made him lord (Suzerain) and all of this was done "to the glory of God" who Paul identifies as "the Father".

There is an excellent antitype provided in Genesis in the account of Joseph's exaltation that I believe provides the best picture of how God wants us to understand Jesus' exaltation:

KJV Gen 41:40  Thou shalt be over my house, and according unto thy word shall all my people be ruled: only in the throne will I be greater than thou.  Gen 41:41  And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, See, I have set thee over all the land of Egypt.  Gen 41:42  And Pharaoh took off his ring from his hand, and put it upon Joseph's hand, and arrayed him in vestures of fine linen, and put a gold chain about his neck;  Gen 41:43  And he made him to ride in the second chariot which he had; and they cried before him, Bow the knee: and he made him ruler over all the land of Egypt.  Gen 41:44  And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, I am Pharaoh, and without thee shall no man lift up his hand or foot in all the land of Egypt.

Joseph was never Pharaoh. All of Joseph's authority derived from Pharaoh. However everyone in Egypt was to bow before Joseph and obey him as if he were Pharaoh himself. He sat beside him on the throne, bore his signing ring (IE: "he was a signer on the royal credit card") and he was ruler over all the people.

His authority was limited in that he was always the obedient subject of Pharaoh and never a challenger to that role. And his role was temporary, subject to the whims of the true Pharaoh.

Paul explicitly defines the source and limits of Jesus' granted authority in the same way:

KJV 1Co 15:24  Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.  1Co 15:25  For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.  1Co 15:26  The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.  1Co 15:27  For he [God] hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him.  1Co 15:28  And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.

Psalm 2 also speaks of Jesus' exaltation in the same terms. It is God that has exalted him, placed him at his own right hand, given him total power over the nations and requires them to serve and obey him - temporarily:

KJV Psa 2:6  Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.  Psa 2:7  I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.  Psa 2:8  Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.  Psa 2:9  Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.  Psa 2:10  Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth.  Psa 2:11  Serve the LORD with fear [by submitting to his Christ], and rejoice with trembling.  Psa 2:12  Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.

So also Psalm 110, the passage most quoted of the OT in the NT!:

KJV Psa 110:1  A Psalm of David. The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.  Psa 110:2  The LORD shall send the rod of thy strength out of Zion: rule thou in the midst of thine enemies.  Psa 110:3  Thy people shall be willing in the day [time period] of thy power, in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning: thou hast the dew of thy youth.  Psa 110:4  The LORD hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.  Psa 110:5  The Lord at thy right hand shall strike through kings in the day of his wrath.  Psa 110:6  He shall judge among the heathen, he shall fill the places with the dead bodies; he shall wound the heads over many countries.  Psa 110:7  He shall drink of the brook in the way: therefore shall he lift up the head.

By sitting at God's right hand he shows that his authority is utterly derivative. God is never displaced from being the Almighty, Christ's God and father.

Isaiah speaks of the exaltation of his servant:

KJV Isa 52:13  Behold, my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high.

This is the unified witness of the scriptures. There is but one God, the father and one lord (made so by God) Jesus Christ:

KJV Act_2:36  Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.

He that has ears to hear, let him hear.

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  • On the other hand, Jesus is a man. According to those who think He is YHVH in the flesh, He is exalted by, and inferior to, God the Father (in said human nature). Interpreting 'name' as '[not YHVH but] lord' seems a bit contrived. The name above every name is YHVH. Apr 10 '18 at 20:50
  • @SolaGratia The name "YHVH" does not appear anywhere in the NT. Repeatedly, though, including in Philippians 2 we are told that God has made Jesus to be KURIOS.
    – Ruminator
    Apr 11 '18 at 13:43
  • Right, but the referent of many instances of kurios is YHVH of course (of which kurios is the translation choice), which would be the point. Also, you've conflated 'the name above every name' with 'kurios'/'master' without contextual warrant. Apr 11 '18 at 13:46
  • @SolaGratia God used to be KURIOS but he gave that role to his Christ (temporarily). It was a divine title and will be one again but now it is the title of his Christ. That is the point. Of course, God is always ultimately the lord of all, including his Christ but does not sport that title in general usage to parade the great power he has invested in his Christ: Joh 5:22 For the Father judges no man, but has committed all judgment unto the Son: Joh 5:23 That all men should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He that honors not the Son honors not the Father which hath sent him.
    – Ruminator
    Apr 11 '18 at 13:49
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    Ruminator, +1. You answer is correct may I say brilliant, however do not be disheartened, they have not down voted you but the scriptures, which obviously they do not like. However you word “temporary “in your comments is not correct and I suggest you delete it. Compare Matthew 7:21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Also Revelation 19:16. Given immortality 1Timothy 6: 14-16. May 4 '18 at 18:57
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Philippians 2:9, Paul describes what God did after Jesus’ death and resurrection: “God exalted him [Jesus] to a superior position and kindly gave him the name that is above every other name.” According to this verse, what did God do for Jesus? It says that God exalted him to a superior position. But if Jesus were equal to God before he died and God later exalted him to a higher position, wouldn’t that put Jesus above God? How could anyone be superior to God? Consider Acts 7:55 the American Standard Version says, But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God. Did Jesus become the Almighty God again and sat on the throne after his resurrection, or is it the Almighty God, his Father, sitting on the throne? Ephesians 1:20. If Jesus is on the right hand of His Father, does Jesus position indicate equality with the Father? 1 Corinthians 15:27-28 says, For the Scriptures say, “God has put all things under his authority.”[a] (Of course, when it says “all things are under his authority,” that does not include God himself, who gave Christ his authority.) 28 Then, when all things are under his authority, the Son will put himself under God’s authority, so that God, who gave his Son authority over all things, will be utterly supreme over everything everywhere. Jesus Christ will relinquish rulership to his Father and will subject himself to his Father's supreme sovereignty.

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No knee should bow unless before God, otherwise it will be an idolatry, for even the highest of angels should not be worshipped. Of course, pagan people of Paul's time bowed knees before Emperors who professed themselves as gods or demigods, but Jews could not do even this, and of course for the heavenly powers (which Paul says also to worship Christ) even the Roman Emperors with all their pomp and power are nothing but miserable ants, who require not worship, but rather a help to take their sinful nature, oppressed even more by fetters of high political function, out of its misery.

However, even the highest of the angelic hosts worship Jesus - their Creator (Col 1:16) - as Lord in God the Father's glory, the same glory which both Jesus and the Father had before the creation of the world (John 17:5), that is to say, in eternity, in which eternity the Son "did not consider it as a robbery and error to be called equal to God" /ἴσα θεῷ/ (Phil 2:6), but rather excluded any possibility to worship the eternal Father as God unless equally co-worshipping also His co-eternal Son (John 5:23), for whoever does not treat the Son as the Lord and God (John 20:28), neither has the Father as God (1 John 2:23).

Thus, this is the meaning of this particular passage of Paul: in order to give proper glory to God the Father and not offend Him, one should acknowledge the Lordship and Divinity of His Son through His Holy Ghost (1 Cor. 12:3).

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  • Rev 3:9 Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee.
    – Ruminator
    Apr 11 '18 at 13:56
  • @Ruminator And? Apr 11 '18 at 15:25
  • You mistakenly equate craven subjugation with worship as Almighty God. Here Jesus promises the humiliation of those of replacement Israelology before his saints.
    – Ruminator
    Apr 11 '18 at 15:32
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    Here, yes, Christ speaks authoritatively as God that He will make the false Jews subjugate under the feet of the angel of church of Sardis, equating the name of His God with His own name (Rev 3: 12-13). The Son before Incarnation, as Logos, is equal to God (Phil 2:6), if so, then also fully divine and co-worshipped; the words "made", "gave" apply to the humanity that He adopted in time, but in eternity He is always co-worshipped with the Father, moreover it is impossible to worship the Father without the Son, not any less than respecting Shakespeare's genius without his plays manifesting it. Apr 11 '18 at 16:06
  • +1 because the answer is so helpful!
    – Radz Brown
    Sep 10 '20 at 14:47
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I would argue that Paul is here referring to Jesus as God. In fact, here Paul is associating the name Kurios with the most sacred name of God that is found in the Old Testament. The key is the fact that the same phrase is found in the Old Testament in Isa. 45:21-23:

Isa. 45:22-23:

22Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else. 23 I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.

The antecedent for "me" in Isa. 45:23 from the earlier context is Jehovah or Yahweh, depending upon how you pronounce the Hebrew word. The KJV translates that name of God as LORD.

Moises Silva declares the following:

Moreover, Phil. 2:10–11 is virtually a quotation of Isa. 45:23 LXX (which Paul cites verbatim in Rom. 14:11), a passage that rings with triumphal certainty concerning the sovereign Lordship of God over all. It is only natural, however, that the manner in which this submission is expressed here focuses on the thankful praise of God’s people.

Moisés Silva, Philippians, 2nd ed., Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), 111–112.

If this is the case, Silva also points out what is contained in Isa. 25.

Isaiah 45:18–25 (excerpted below from the literal NASB) constitutes one of the most powerful OT affirmations of the uniqueness of the God of Israel in the context of his redeeming work:

I am the Lord [Yahweh], and there is none else… . They have no knowledge, Who carry about their wooden idol, And pray to a god who cannot save… . … there is no other God besides Me, A righteous God and a Savior; There is none except Me. Turn to Me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth; For I am God, and there is no other. I have sworn by Myself… . That to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance.

Moisés Silva, Philippians, 2nd ed., Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), 112.

I am here expanding on my original answer to deal with the comments by Ruminator and also to give additional exegetical points:

The question deals with verses 9-11 but it is essential that the reader keep in mind the whole context which begins in verse 1. Paul begins in verses 1-4 with a series of commands having to deal with have a mind of humility and love for one another. Verses 5-8 form a single sentence that begins with a command:

Phil 2:5 Let this mind be in you.. (KJV)

The word "let" being the way to express the fact that this is a command. Not covered here are some textual variations that are also present, the inclusion of γὰρ at the start of verse five strengthening the link back to verses 1-4. Wuest states the following:

Paul says, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” This exhortation reaches back to 2:2–4 for its definition and ahead to 2:6–8 for its illustration. Paul does not give all that is in the mind of Christ in these verses. He selects those qualities of our Lord which fit the needs of the Philippians at that moment.

Kenneth S. Wuest, Wuest’s Word Studies from the Greek New Testament: For the English Reader, vol. 5 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 60.

What makes the entire context difficult is the series of statements that make up verses 5-8. Most of these issues require too much space to be dealt with here.

What does it mean that Jesus was in the form of God (ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ)? μορφῇ here speaks of the idea of essence or nature, the very expression of God. This statement alone points to the Deity of Christ. Weuest states the following:

Our Lord was in the form of God. The word “God” is without the definite article in the Greek text, and therefore refers to the divine essence. Thus, our Lord’s outward expression of His inmost being was as to its nature the expression of the divine essence of Deity. Since that outward expression which this word “form” speaks of, comes from and is truly representative of the inward being, it follows that our Lord as to His nature is the possessor of the divine essence of Deity, and being that, it also necessarily follows that He is absolute Deity Himself, a co-participant with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit in that divine essence which constitutes God, God

Kenneth S. Wuest, Wuest’s Word Studies from the Greek New Testament: For the English Reader, vol. 5 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 63.

Also notice that the article is missing in reference to the phrase ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ and in the later instance of verse six ἶσα θεῷ.

Wuest is again very helpful here:

The word “God” is used again without the article. Had the article preceded it, the meaning would be “equal with God the Father.” The word “God” here refers to Deity, not seen in the three Persons of the Godhead, but to Deity seen in its essence. Equality with God does not refer here to the equality of the Lord Jesus with the other Persons of the Trinity. Nor does it refer to His equality with them in the possession of the divine essence. Possession of the divine essence is not spoken of here, but the expression of the divine essence is referred to, although possession is implied by the expression. Equality with God here refers to our Lord’s co-participation with the other members of the Trinity in the expression of the divine essence. This is a very important point, for when we come to consider the fact that our Lord laid aside something, we will see that it was not the possession but the expression of the divine essence

Kenneth S. Wuest, Wuest’s Word Studies from the Greek New Testament: For the English Reader, vol. 5 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 64.

What does it mean that Jesus made himself of no reputatuion, or as in other versions he emptied himself (ἀλλʼ ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσεν)? Scholars have debated whthe rthis means He emptied himself of his attributes or that he emptied himself of His glory. I come down on the side that Jesus emptied himself of His Glory (the Glory He deserves by being in the essence of God). He did this by becoming a servant and by being born a man. An extremely important point is the pronoun ἑαυτὸν (himself), as God the Son he had the power to take this action himself. In fact, Paul keeps highlighting this aspect because he uses this pronoun in every key phrase in verses 5-8. Those who lessen the Deity of Christ must deal with the fact that Jesus took these steps Himself. μορφῇ appears again and this time it is the Son who takes upon himself to be in the μορφὴν δούλου (form of a servant), by being born in the likeness of man, by being born a man.

The καί that starts verse 8 shows that His obedience, His death on the cross, was an example of His humbling Himself as a man.

Verse nine begins with the conjunction Διὸ explains "that for this reason" God has highly exalted Him and given Him "a name" or "the name." There is a textual issue here where in some texts the article is present, which indicates that the Son has been given "the name" that is above every name. Having completed the work of His humiliation, God reverses it and now restores His full glory and gives Him a name that is above every name.

After some further study I would have to agree that @Ruminator is right that God in verse 9 is in reference to the Father because the article exists in that case. But what cannot occur is the use of this to override the expressions of deity that are present in the very foundation of this passage back in verses 5-8. A better way to explain it is now the Father is going to exalt the Son so that as a consequence the Father is also glorified.

Verse 10 begins with ἵνα which indicates that verses 10-11 are the result of the exaltation and giving to Jesus a name above every name. What is interesting after some additional thoughts is I would argue the result is to glorify the Son through both His name Jesus and by the name LORD which points back to Jehovah of the Old Testament. All of this results in the glory also being given to the Father (v. 11). This as in all of our redemption results in all three members of the Godhead being glorified and lifted up!!

Wuest again said in language so wonderful:

The context here dwells upon the honor and worship bestowed on Him upon whom this name was conferred. The conferring of this title “The Name,” was upon the Lord Jesus as the Son of Man. A Man, the Man Christ Jesus, who as Very God had voluntarily laid aside His expression of the glory of Deity during His incarnation, now has placed upon His shoulders all the majesty, dignity, and glory of Deity itself. It is the God-Man who stooped to the depths of humiliation, who is raised, not as God now, although He was all that, but as Man, to the infinite height of exaltation possessed only by Deity

Kenneth S. Wuest, Wuest’s Word Studies from the Greek New Testament: For the English Reader, vol. 5 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 71.

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    In the Philippians passage the confession pertains to Christ (that God has given him his title because of his obedience) but it is "to the glory of God" who Paul explicitly identifies as "the Father". But dogma is a settled opinion impervious to evidence.
    – Ruminator
    Apr 10 '18 at 21:23
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    @Ruminator, in my mind and in the minds of most Christians, the Biblical evidence is overwhelming that all three persons of the Triune Godhead are equal and all three can be referred to as God, including the Son. Obviously we are not going to solve the debate here in various comments back and forth. We see things very differently when it comes to the Scriptural evidence in spite of your last comment -- "dogma is a settled opinion impervious to evidence"
    – Ken Banks
    Apr 10 '18 at 21:53
  • Ken, do you agree that Paul says that God gave Jesus the title KURIOS because of his obedience?
    – Ruminator
    Apr 10 '18 at 22:12
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    @Ruminator I'll expand my answer later. In the earlier verse it is merely "God" who has given the Son a name (or "the name"), He is not identified as the Father. In your answer you add the phrase [, that is,] as a means to limit God to only being the Father. There is no textual basis for such an addition. The overall context here is the humility of the Son, of which his obedience is a part, but not the whole. God the Son took on human flesh in humiliation and now God the Father has exalted Him in glorification. Verse 10 starts with the hina it marks verses 10-11 as purpose/result
    – Ken Banks
    Apr 11 '18 at 14:49
  • I hope you are not suggesting that the passage leaves open the possibility that Jesus exalted himself in view of his obedience to himself? The apposition (merriam-webster.com/dictionary/apposition) of "God" and "the Father" in verse 11 makes explicit that Paul considered "God" to be identical with "the Father".
    – Ruminator
    Apr 11 '18 at 15:09
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What does Paul mean when he states that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord?

The key to that answer is right before that sentence.

"Wherefore God hath also highly exalted him, and given him a name above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth."

Had he not said "the name," my answer would be different. Paul is saying, Christ is the messiah.

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  • I don't follow why you think "name" is the game changer. Given the context it is actually the "title" that God gave to Jesus for his obedience ("lord") that Paul is talking about, not the name "Jesus".
    – Ruminator
    Apr 10 '18 at 20:21

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