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Philippians 2:5-8 is commonly interpreted by many as a description of the incarnation of Jesus:

5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. [Philippians 2:5-8, ESV]

However, Numbers 23:19 and Hosea 11:9 appear to preclude this possibility:

God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? [Numbers 23:19, ESV]

I will not execute my burning anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath. [Hosea 11:9, ESV]

How can we reconcile these passages?

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    Ask yourself : Who was the original audience of Philippians? - What was the traditional Greek assertion of powerful human leaders : Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar? (Sons of Zeus/Jupiter) - Would the demigod concept apply to any real Hebrew man? – חִידָה Apr 17 at 11:24
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The important phrase, "I am God and not a man" in Num 23:19 and Hos 11:9 is absolutely correct in three senses:

  1. God is not man at the time it was written in the OT - the incarnation had not yet occurred!
  2. God does not suffer from the sinful tendencies in sinful man. Therefore, God is incapable of lying, unlike sinful humans that apparently find it rather easy to tell lies.
  3. As Phil 2:5-8 ably testifies, God became man - took on the form of humanity, for a while but was later exalted to the highest place in the universe. HOWEVER, the humanity that Jesus took "was without sin" (Heb 4:15).

Jesus was a man in every sense of the word but was still different - Heb 7:26-28 -

Such a high priest truly befits us—One who is holy, innocent, undefiled, set apart from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, He does not need to offer daily sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people; He sacrificed for sin once for all when He offered up Himself. For the law appoints as high priests men who are weak; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever.

There is no conflict whatsoever between Num 23:19 and Hos 11:9 vs Phil 2:5-8 - BOTH are completely true.

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    One should also note during the incarnation there still was no conflict. God was not a man in the sense that the two natures mingled. The fact that Jesus IS still fully man and having the full being of God still is just a fact of the hypostatic union. I think your answer still addresses the fundamentals well. – WnGatRC456 Apr 17 at 12:10
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    Did God fully dwell in the human vessel of Jesus of Nazareth only for 1-year, or for 33-years? – חִידָה Apr 17 at 12:12
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    @WnGatRC456 There is no Biblical basis that Christ Jesus has two natures. – carsonfel Apr 17 at 20:39
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    @NigelJ The Council of Nicæa is not a Biblical source. – carsonfel Apr 18 at 9:49
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    @carsonfel I don't get why quoting any council supersedes biblical instruction - esp. here on BH, Quite bizarre! – user48152 Apr 18 at 23:29
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Although my answer is probably not the answer you expected, there is another way to "reconcile" the writings of Paul with the prior Jewish revelation.

With all respect for Paul, his works and his wisdom, the only way to really reconcile his words with the scriptures is to acknowledge that the writings of Paul are not the Word of God as given to the Prophets.

The Christology of Paul is contradicting the teachings of the Torah and the Tenakh in general, saying that God is not human.

Paul is even contradicting Jesus who - according to the reports in the Synoptic Gospels - was aware of his importance to convey the Word of God but also aware of the difference between him and God.

The most evident citation is from Mark 10:18

And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, "Good* Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good*? No one is good* but God alone.

On this background, the most consequent access to "reconcile" Paul's writings with the OT and the Synoptic Gospels is not to see his writings as a prophetic writing but as writings of the most important theologist of early Christianity.

*Referring to this article, the original wording may not be "good" but rather "holy".

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  • With that kind of reasoning regarding "Paul's words with the scriptures is to acknowledge that the writings of Paul are not the Word of God as given to the Prophets" why did you not start with the Apostle John at John 1:1-14? After all it was John who declared that Jesus Christ as the "Logos/Word" is identified as God before Paul showed up. In fact, the Apostle John at 1 John 1:1-4 clearly describes Jesus Christ as the "Word of Life," i.e a person that he and the other disciples have seen and handled with their hands. Are John's words "not the Word of God as given to the Prophets?" – Mr. Bond Apr 17 at 15:25
  • John (whose Gospel probably dates later than the Epistles of Paul) has the concept of the Word of God being the same as God. This supports the view of Paul but it does not really solve the inherent conflict in the Bible on "Christology". – Dflat Apr 17 at 15:39
  • As a Muslim studying the Bible (thus often on this site, but a guest) I should abstain from it but I cannot hold back from saying that later prophecy supports this view tanzil.net/#trans/en.wahiduddin/4:171 – Jeschu Apr 17 at 15:53
  • Paul does not teach that Christ is God, but rather identifies the Father as God in v. 11, and identifies the Father as the "one God" in Eph. 4:6. Contradictions to this truth are not inconsistencies on the part of Paul, but rather on those who interpret his epistles. – carsonfel Apr 17 at 20:27
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    @Dflat As flattering as that is, I do not believe that any human being has the right to give their own private interpretation of the Scripture (I Pet. 1:20). It is not up to human beings to decide what God means. That said, I have provided an answer using explanations from the Bible. It is, suffice to say, not a very popular answer, but that's not the point. – carsonfel Apr 18 at 21:06
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With whom was Jesus equal?

Phil. 2:5-6 NKJV
5Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God,

With whom was Jesus equal? Paul said, "God."

Is Jesus equal in the sense that He is also God?

Isa. 46:5, 9 CEV
5Can anyone compare with me? Is anyone my equal?
9I alone am God! There are no other gods; no one is like me. Think about what happened many years ago.

Is Jesus equal in the sense that He is also God? God said, "I alone am God". Nobody can be equal to God in the sense that they are also God.

Is Jesus equal to God in terms of authority?

I Cor. 11:3 GW
3However, I want you to realize that Christ has authority over every man, a husband has authority over his wife, and God has authority over Christ.

Is Jesus equal to God in terms of authority? Paul said, "God has authority over Christ". Paul did not mean that they were equal in terms of authority.

In what way then can our Lord Jesus be equal with God? In form.

What does it mean to be in the form of God?

Phil. 2:5-6 Greek
5τοῦτο γὰρ φρονείσθω ἐν ὑμῖν ὃ καὶ ἐν Χριστῷ ᾿Ιησοῦ, 6ὃς ἐν μορφῇ Θεοῦ ὑπάρχων οὐχ ἁρπαγμὸν ἡγήσατο τὸ εἶναι ἴσα Θεῷ,
Chris. in the Making, p. 115
"... it has long been recognized that μορφῇ (form) and εἰκών (image) are near synonyms and that in Hebrew thought the visible ‘form of God’ is his glory."

(Christology in the Making: An Inquiry Into the Origins of the Doctrine of the Incarnation, Dunn, James D. G. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996)

What does it mean to be in the form of God? The Greek reads, "ἐν μορφῇ Θεοῦ." What was understood to be synonymous with the word "μορφῇ"? According to James Dunn, a New Testament scholar and theologian, "εἰκών (image)". What Paul wrote to the Philippians is the equivalent of what he wrote to the Corinthians in II Cor. 4:4, in that Jesus is in the image of God.

What does it mean to be in God's image? Does God have a literal appearance? What is an attribute of God?

I Tim. 1:17 NKJV
17Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

What is an attribute of God? Paul said, "invisible". Unlike Jesus, the true God cannot be seen and therefore does not have a literal form or image.

What does it mean then to be in the image of God?

Eph. 4:24 CEB
24and clothe yourself with the new person created according to God’s image in justice and true holiness.

What does it mean then to be in the image of God? Paul explained, "in justice and holiness." Who are also expected to be in God's image? Paul said, "clothe yourself with the new person created according to God's image". Who was Paul speaking to? The members of the Church of Christ. We are instructed to be like God in image or holiness, just as Christ already is. It is in this sense that the Scripture allows for Jesus to be equal with God.

Why is holiness the image of God?

I Pet. 1:16 NKJV
16because it is written, "Be holy, for I am holy."

Why is holiness the image of God? God said, "for I am holy".

What was Christ found in appearance as?

Phil. 2:8 NKJV
8And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.

What was Christ found in appearance as? Paul said, "as a man."

Is this also figurative? Is Jesus man in appearance only? How did our Lord Jesus Christ introduce Himself?

John 8:40 NKJV
40But now you seek to kill Me, a Man who has told you the truth which I heard from God. Abraham did not do this.

How did Christ introduce Himself? Jesus said, "Man". Hence, Jesus is man not only in appearance, but in nature. From whom did Jesus hear the truth? Jesus said, "I heard from God." The one who hears is different from the one who is heard.

What is Christ's nature according to the Apostles Peter and Paul, respectively?

Acts 2:22 NKJV
22"Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know—
I Tim. 2:5 NKJV
5For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus,

What is Christ's nature according to the Apostles Peter and Paul, respectively? They say, "Man". Was Jesus a man attested as God? Peter said, "by God". The one who attests is different from the one being attested. To whom does Jesus mediate man? Paul said, "God". Jesus the Mediator is different from the God to whom He mediates.

What is Christ's nature according to the Prophets Isaiah and David, respectively?

Isa. 53:3 NKJV
3He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
Ps. 80:17 NKJV
17Let Your hand be upon the Man of Your right hand, upon the Son of Man whom You made strong for Yourself.

What is Christ's nature according to the Prophets Isaiah and David, respectively? They say, "Man".

How should we recognize God?

Hos. 11:9 NKJV
9I will not execute the fierceness of My anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim. For I am God, and not man, the Holy One in your midst; and I will not come with terror.

How should we recognize God? God said, "I am God, and not man."

How should we recognize man?

Ezek. 28:2 NKJV
2"Son of man, say to the prince of Tyre, 'Thus says the Lord GOD: "Because your heart is lifted up, and you say, 'I am a god, I sit in the seat of gods, in the midst of the seas,' yet you are a man, and not a god, though you set your heart as the heart of a god

How should we recognize man? God said to the prince of Tyre, "you are a man, and not a god". God is God, and man is man. God is not man, and man is not God. Jesus, who is man, therefore, cannot be God.


The teaching that Jesus is both man and God arose during the apostasy, and was developed in response to external pressures from the pagans.

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  • As I was reading your words I was anticipating these almost final words of yours. "In this way, Jesus was "equal" with God, not by being God, but by being equal in holiness, for He committed no sin, and it is to this standard that we must also strive." Why did the Jews accuse Jesus of blasphemy for claiming to be equal to God at John 5:18? Or claiming to exist before Abraham at John 8:58? John 10:30, "I and the Father We are one?" And the Son of God at John 19:7? Also, Jesus took the form/morphe of a man at Philippians 2:7-8. Does this mean Jesus is not a man in your thinking? – Mr. Bond Apr 17 at 20:48
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    With regards to the Jews, Jesus states that they could not understand His speech (John 8:43). As for Christ being man, He states definitively that He is man (John 8:40). Also, the word used to described Jesus' "appearance" as a man is "schema" not "morphe". – carsonfel Apr 17 at 20:58
  • The Jews knew what Jesus was teaching. Jesus pointed out the dullness of their understanding and their misinterpretation of His words. They were blind and did not realize their condition. That's the point of John 8:43. And the word "morphe" is used at Philippians 2:6, "always existing as God and at vs7 taking the form/morphe of a man. Same word is used. What your doing is applying "schema" at vs8 after the fact of Him taking the form of a man. Read the trial record at Matthew 26:57-66. Note vs63 where Jesus is asked to swear as to His identity. Are you the Christ/the Son of God? – Mr. Bond Apr 17 at 21:28
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    v. 7 says he is in the "form of a bondservant." Also, you are wrongly equating being a "son of God" to being God in nature, for if that were the case, then those who believe in Christ would also qualify to be God. (John 1:12) – carsonfel Apr 17 at 21:35
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    It does not say that being a bondservant means being a human, that's your own conclusion. If this "universal law" upon which you base your faith is applicable in this case, then that would mean that Adam is fully God, for he had no human parents, only God. Jesus is indeed the only Son of God, and a person is one with Him (Eph. 2:15) by being in His body (Rom 12:4-5) or Church (Col. 1:18), and as such are considered joint heirs with Him (Rom. 8:17). – carsonfel Apr 18 at 12:32
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Easy! This is probably the shortest answer I've ever given. The point of Numbers 23:19 is to show that God is not like man who lies and does not keep his word.

God does not change, nor does God need to repent. Romans 3:4, "May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar."

The point of Hosea 11:9 is explained nicely by Barns notes. "Man punishes, to destroy; God smites to amend. God is not swayed by human passions."

Lastly, Numbers 23:19 does not preclude God from becoming a man just as Philippians 2:5-8 teaches.

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    If God becomes a man - He has changed! – user48152 Apr 17 at 14:08
  • @user48152 Good question? So what verse did you have in mind? There's about 10 or 12 verses that would apply. – Mr. Bond Apr 17 at 14:15
  • Even if we assume that Jesus is God using Phillipians 2:6, if he emptied himself, will he still be God if he emptied himself? Where is it written in the Bible that the only true God emptied himself and still is the true God? If Philippians 2:7 really is speaking of making Christ’s divine nature “kenoo,” then it has been made void, hollow, useless, false, null, and of no effect. That means that Jesus was void of a God nature and was only human.[ – Alex Balilo Apr 18 at 4:07
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God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?
(Numbers 23:19 ESV)
לא איש אל ויכזב ובן־אדם ויתנחם ההוא אמר ולא יעשה ודבר ולא יקימנה

I will not execute my burning anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath. (Hosea 11:9)
לא אעשה חרון אפי לא אשוב לשחת אפרים כי אל אנכי ולא־איש בקרבך קדוש ולא אבוא בעיר

Both passages contains statements expressing a common message:

  • God, לא, singular (not אלהים, plural) is not a man, איש that He should lie, or a son of אדם, that is Adam that He should change His mind.
  • I am God, לא, singular (not אלהים, plural) not a man, איש

In both cases "God" is described, or describes Himself using לא which is always singular, not אלהים, which is plural but usually understood as singular. In other words, both passages describe God in language which is unmistakably singular in nature. Both repeat the statement that God is not a man, איש. In Numbers, there is an added statement, God is not a son of man. However, the text clearly distinguishes the two types of man, איש and אדם and more specifically we read, God is not a son of Adam.

Obviously, God is not a son of man or a son of Adam, but the failure to correctly convey the original text obscures the literal message: God (לא) is not a son of Adam. When He comes to earth as the Holy One in our midst, it was not in wrath, but in humble humility:

6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2)

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