Philippians 2:6-7 KJV says

6 who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:

7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men

What reason would it make to talk of robbery to acquire equality?

Did Paul said that Jesus entertained the thought of seizing equality in these verses?

What do the words kenoo (κενόω) and harpagmos (ἁρπαγμός) mean in these verses?


2 Answers 2


ἁρπαγμός (harpagmos) Phil 2:6

The latest research on the meaning of this hapax legomenon is conveniently summarized in BDAG. But I also note that the KJV rendering of "robbery" is not possible neither from theological nor semantic grounds. BDAG has these comments for ἁρπαγμός:

  1. a violent seizure of property, robbery ... which is next to impossible in Phil 2:6 - the state of being equal with God cannot be equated with the act of robbery
  2. as equal to ἁρπαγμα something to which one can claim or assert title by gripping or grasping, something claimed [for more details see the extended material in BDAG]

It is obvious that BDAG favors the second meaning as do many modern versions such as:

  • NIV - something to be used to his own advantage;
  • TLV - something to cling to
  • ESV - a thing to be grasped
  • NASB - something to be grasped,
  • Amplified Bible - a thing to be grasped or asserted [as if He did not already possess it, or was afraid of losing it];
  • CSB - something to be exploited.
  • HCSB - something to be used for His own advantage.
  • God's Word - did not take advantage of this equality.

The reason "robbery" is unacceptable is simple - equality is something that cannot be taken by force or any other means - either one is God or not. Thus, BDAG's correct conclusion that equality with God was not something that Jesus would either use to His advantage or exploit during His incarnation.

κενόω (kenoó) Phil 2:7

This word occurs only five times in the NT (Rom 4:14, 1 Cor 1:17, 9:15, 2 Cor 9:3, Phil 2:7). BDAG, again, is most helpful about Phil 2:7

to make empty ... of divestiture of position or prestige: of Christ, who gave up the appearance of of His divinity and took on the form of a slave

Thus, the "emptying" in Phil 2:7 refers back to the previous two verses - Christ, during the incarnation, was emptied of His position and privilege as God by becoming a "slave".

  • Why is it that some say God and Jesus are equal if Jesus rejected it? John 14:28. So since your answer say "robbery" is unacceptable, does that mean you consider the wording of the verse of the KJB of this verse "incorrect"? If harpagmos mean a violent seizure of property, robbery ... which is next to impossible in Phil 2:6 - the state of being equal with God cannot be equated with the act of robbery, Harpagmos does not mean "he did not hold on to it" correct? Does the word kenoo also mean made void, hollow, useless, false, null and of no effect? Any of these apply to Phil 2:7? Commented Apr 21, 2021 at 5:03
  • @AlexBalilo - stop creating a straw-man argument - no one said anything (and I reject the notion) that Jesus "rejected" equality!!! Yes - I believe that the KJV is not correct here. The rest I have answered above.
    – Dottard
    Commented Apr 21, 2021 at 7:36

In Philippians 2:6, the apostle Paul begins with the acknowledgement that Jesus is God and provides us with a revealed analysis of his redemptive function. Paul does not begin his discussion of Jesus from the vantage point of the incarnation, but from that of eternity. What Paul stresses in the first part of this chapter is the example of humility that Jesus gave us in his willingness to divest himself of divine form for a time on our behalf. This of course does not suggest that he ceased be God. He does not strip himself of deity.

The word translated as emptied means to lay aside. How do we explain how, even in the flesh, he is still God yet remains so without retaining anything that defines divine nature? Perhaps ‘to lay aside’ offers the best explanation. He laid it aside as one would a garment, then in Hebrews chapter one we will see him take it up again.

Emptying of Form: Empty is the verb that defines the action. Equal is an adjective that defines his nature. Equality is a noun that tells what was emptied out.

This is not a passive action. This is self-actuating. No one is doing this to him. He is the one who does the emptying. What he empties out of himself is both equality with God and divine nature. He must possess these qualities intrinsically in order to empty them out of himself.

In order for Jesus to fulfill his redemptive mission, he must assume a fleshly posture. We can find at least four reasons for this in scripture.

  1. Divine essence cannot die. As man he will die.
  2. The requirements of the Law of Moses required a sacrifice of flesh and blood. Divine essence is not made of flesh and blood.
  3. His heritage must come from a specific fleshly linage. As God, he has no linage.
  4. The demands of the Law were imposed upon man and it was required that man fulfill them. The Law required not only that man fulfill its demands but that only a man of the seed of Abraham to whom the Law was given. Thus, a Gentile could never have satisfied the Law, Romans 1:1-5.

Fulfilling the function of a sacrifice required that he assume the form of a sacrifice. In this metamorphosis, he poured out of himself every expression of deity. We do not know how he does this, only that this text shows us that he did. Divine essence is now submitted to limitations. As God, these characteristics of essence are, by their very nature, without boundaries or limitations, but as man, he will be subject to all of the same sets of determined relations that limit all men. Divine character is now submitted to vulnerability. As God, he cannot be tempted, but as man, he yields his divine character to the onslaught of Satan. He becomes the second Adam. He exposes his own moral integrity to the same temptations that are common to all men, Hebrews 2:18, 4:15, and 5:2. Yet, unlike Adam, he maintains his integrity all the way to the cross, Hebrews 4:15 and 2:9. He succeeds where Adam failed. He simply never sinned.

Emptying of Equality:

The word translated equality is nominative and accusative plural neuter suggesting equality in quantity or quality, Thayer's p 307. This is the same language used by Jesus in Matthew 20:12. Here, Jesus relates the parable of the workers in the vineyard. The accusation by those who had labored all day was that the Master was unjust because in giving equal wages to those who had worked fewer hours than they had worked he had granted them equal status. Paul now uses this same word to express the nature of Jesus' divine status. He did not gain his divine equality by an act of seizure or robbery. This equality is his by right of divine essence.

The Form of a Servant:

Taking the form of a servant is an exchange of nature. He exchanged the essence of God for the essence of man. Spirit clothes itself with flesh, John 1:1-2, Hebrews 2:14 and 10:5-10. This is much more than just a transformation from spirit to flesh. Every attribute that defined him as God will either be submitted to limitations or subjected to vulnerability. Omnipotence yields itself to dependency. The all-sufficient one now becomes fully dependent, Isaiah 12, John 5:30 and Matthew 4:1-10. He became subject to all of the same sets of determined relations that are part of all human existence. Omniscience gives way to revelation. He must learn God’s will as a man and submit to it, Hebrews 10:7, Deuteronomy 18:18-19, John 12:49-50 and 17-4. Omnipresence confines itself to the limitations of time and space. His Eternal nature is surrendered for mortality - he became subject to death. The transcendent One became an equal among his fleshly brethren, Hebrews 2:17. The unified One became the cursed of God, Mark 15:34, Galatians 3:13 and 2Corinthians 5:21. The unchanging One became subject to change. He not only changes form but his fleshly form will also be subject to all of the changes of natural biological processes.

In keeping with the posture of a servant / slave, Paul says that he did nothing through selfishness; that he did not seek his own glory but regarded others as more important than himself. He placed the needs of others above his own. He emptied himself. The servant reserves nothing of himself. He stands stripped of all personal will. All has become completely subjected. This is total surrender of control. Now, he is in the likeness of man. In the beginning, God, this God, created man in his own image, according to his own likeness. Now, this same God steps out of eternity into time to be made in the image of his creation - man. The Creator becomes the creature. The Lord of all becomes the servant of all. The Governor of the universe becomes subordinate to another and all of this by his own will.

  • "This of course does not suggest that he ceased be(ing) God" what is your support for this? Or IOW, how was he God in the first place?
    – Steve
    Commented Apr 21, 2021 at 1:59

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.