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Philippians 2:7 NIV

rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

Did Jesus become a servant because he possessed a nature that classified him as a servant?

What particular nature made Jesus a servant?

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    "nature of a servant" is a less popular translation; "form of a servant" seems more common
    – Henry
    Jun 27 at 0:12
  • @Henry. Thank you for your comment. I am interested with what your answer would be to this question. Jun 27 at 0:24
  • Are you asking about the "nature of a servant" or how the word "very" changes that nature, please? Jun 27 at 13:33
  • @RobbieGoodwin.Please read Philippians 2 :7 NIV. What does "very nature" of a servant mean? I am seeking the meaning of the words "very nature". Jun 28 at 10:01

6 Answers 6

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"very nature" is unique to the NIV, which translates the Greek word μορφῇ which occurs twice in Phil 2:6, 7 - once in V6 and once in V7 which is deliberate to contrast the two "forms" of Jesus:

  • V6 - ὃς ἐν μορφῇ Θεοῦ ὑπάρχων ... = who existed in the form of God ...
  • V7 - ἀλλὰ ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσεν μορφὴν δούλου λαβών, ἐν ὁμοιώματι ἀνθρώπων γενόμενος = but emptied Himself having taken the form of a bond-servant in the likeness of humanity

Thus, whatever one argues about the meaning of μορφῇ (= "form") one must apply it to both "forms" of Jesus - (a) the form of God, and, (b) the form of humanity. That is, these verses are saying that Jesus, before the incarnation had the form of God and voluntarily "emptied" Himself and took the form of a human bond-servant.

Ellicott is helpful in explaining the meaning of this word μορφῇ ("form") in commenting on Phil 2:6 -

(6) Being in the form of God.—(1) The word “being” is here the more emphatic of the two words so translated, which lays stress on the reality of existence (as in Acts 16:20; Acts 17:28; 1 Corinthians 11:7; Galatians 2:14). Hence it calls attention to the essential being of Christ, corresponding to the idea embodied in the name Jehovah, and thus implying what is more fully expressed in John 1:1. (2) The word “form” (which, except for a casual use in Mark 16:12, is found only in this passage of the New Testament) is to be carefully distinguished from “fashion.” There can be no doubt that in classical Greek it describes the actual specific character, which (like the structure of a material substance) makes each being what it is; and this same idea is always conveyed in the New Testament by the compound words in which the root “form” is found (Romans 8:29; Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Galatians 4:19). (3) On the other hand, the word “fashion,” as in 1 Corinthians 7:31 (“the fashion of this world passeth away”), denotes the mere outward appearance (which we frequently designate as “form”), as will be seen also in its compounds (2 Corinthians 11:13-14; 1 Peter 1:14). The two words are seen in juxtaposition in Romans 12:2; Philippians 3:21 (where see Notes). Hence, in this passage the “being in the form of God,” describes our Lord’s essential, and therefore eternal, being in the true nature of God; while the “taking on Him the form of a servant” similarly refers to His voluntary assumption of the true nature of man.

Thus, the NIV translation "very nature" is slightly interpretive but defensible.

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    " There can be no doubt that in classical Greek it describes the actual specific character, which (like the structure of a material substance) makes each being what it is;" What then is the structure and material substance of a servant? Did Jesus became a servant because of a particular material substance or nature? Jun 26 at 7:36
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    @AlexBalilo - quite correct - Jesus took a human body made of human living cells and protoplasm, etc. Skin and bone and what the NT calls, coming in the flesh.
    – Dottard
    Jun 26 at 10:05
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    All humans have bodies made of human living cells and protoplasm, etc. Skin and bone, but not all of them are servants. What then is the structure and material substance of a servant? Did Jesus became a servant because of a particular material substance or nature? Jun 26 at 10:09
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    That does not answer my Q. Jun 26 at 10:42
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    @AlexBalilo - I am struggling to put the dots much closer together for you. Jesus became a human bond-servant by taking human form/body and leading a servile life. Thus, Jesus life involved both substance and nature/attitude. See the last few sentences of my quote above.
    – Dottard
    Jun 26 at 10:44
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This statement from Paul is written with the vision of hindsight. The whole life of Jesus was as a servant, but it’s important to remember he grew to be a servant unto death.

His willingness to put aside his own will to serve God’s purposes required a constant deepening of this commitment to obey, no matter the cost, which eventually cost him his life in totally unjust and horrific circumstances.

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death: death on a cross. Phil 2:8

Although he was a Son, he learned obedience from what he suffered. Heb 5:8

but emptied himself (he made himself nothing), taking the form of a servant, being made in human likeness. Phil 2:7

  • This ‘emptied himself’ can only refer to the life of increasing obedience against increasing temptation.
  • ‘being made in human likeness‘ refers to Paul again reiterating the origin of Jesus, just as the Gospels also explain.

But when the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law Gal 4:4

He had to be made like his brothers in every way…. Heb 2:17

What particular nature made Jesus a servant?

His humble and willing obedience to honour and serve his Father and God with his life, but willing also to even die in that service.

The nature Jesus had is one of holiness and total dependence on his God for every need. Through the Holy Spirit given him, he was able to allow God’s nature of love and grace to work through him to become the saviour sent into the world.

His own human nature of self-serving would not suffice! He had to put aside his own will for the will of his God.

For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of Him who sent me. John 6:38

So it is God’s nature working in him to be obedient, to serve, to suffer unto death. This is how he ‘made himself nothing’. It was not about Jesus being Savior on his own, with his own nature, but by allowing God working in him to accomplish that which was necessary. This same nature and presence of God is within believers, but only via the deposit of His spirit.

What is the structure and material substance of Jesus the servant?

The NT tells us unequivocally that he was a man sent by God - instructed and inspired by God, empowered and equipped by God. This man, being holy and without sin, was the closest man to God since Adam. Indeed, Jesus is the last Adam (1Cor 15:45). This intimate closeness, unhindered by sin and deception, allowed Jesus to accept his role and submit with total trust in God's plan for him.

His substance is like any other man - yet without sin. Sin alters a man irreparably! Sin separates us from God - being banished from the 'Tree of Life' signifies this terrible separation. So Jesus' nature and substance is, while the same as ours, untainted by sin and the associated trappings which allows a true servant heart to flourish and persist when all others would fail. This deeper trust and love relationship with God will be re-enabled in all who choose to accept the offer of salvation and reconciliation in Christ.

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Op asked;

"What particular nature made Jesus a servant?"

It would be as child that took on the form of all children.

For because the children shared together in flesh and blood, he also shared in these things in the same form, Hebrews 2:14

From the very moment Jesus was born out of the womb God did something special to one baby. God was there putting trust inside this baby to trust in God from the moment he was nursing at his mothers breast.

As a boy this trust in God continued. A child is very much like a servant to his parents under their authority. It is in this nature of a child trusting his Father. (This is not some thing Adam and Eve were not able to do when they were in the garden of Eden. Trust in God's word it is not evident.)

9Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast. 10From birth I was cast on you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God. Psalm 22:9,10

It's interesting the word for servant used is Matthew 12:18 #3816. pais meaning child, boy, under strict training to reach their highest destiny.

  1. pais ► Strong's Concordance pais: a child, boy, youth Original Word: παῖς, παιδός, ὁ, ἡ Part of Speech: Noun, Feminine; Noun, Masculine Transliteration: pais Phonetic Spelling: (paheece) Definition: a child, boy, youth Usage: (a) a male child, boy, (b) a male slave, servant; thus: a servant of God, especially as a title of the Messiah, (c) a female child, girl. HELPS Word-studies Cognate: 3816 país – a child under training (strict oversight), emphasizing their ongoing development necessary to reach their highest (eternal) destiny. See 3813 (paidon)

“Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. Matthew 12:18

So being in this form of a servant was being born like any other baby.

He emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. Philippians 2:7

That trust in God continued throughout his life, all the way to the cross. It was God's intention to set men free death by destroying the one who had the power of death. It was through the Son of God who also became in the form of the son of man, He was always obedient to the Father's will as the Son who always trusted in Him. A true servant of His Father's will.

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, Hebrews 2:14

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The nature of a servant is humility. The form of a servant is humble.

This is what makes a servant obedient, in that he doesn’t exalt himself. A servant serves and service does not come naturally to someone who is proud, but does to done or who submits and humbled themselves under the authority of another.

Isaiah 7:15 says he will learn to choose this life of obedience.

Phi2:8 says he humbled himself and became obedient.

“Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭18:4‬ ‭

Humility which is demonstrated in obedience and consequently in faithful action rather than slothfulness

“Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.” ‭‭Colossians‬ ‭3:22‬ ‭

“His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭25:21‬ ‭

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,” ‭‭1 Peter‬ ‭5:6‬ ‭

“So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”” ‭‭Luke‬ ‭17:10‬ ‭

Without humility it’s impossible to serve, for only but submitting, lowering and humbling oneself can one get under a yoke.

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭11:29‬ ‭

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  • "The nature of a servant is humility. The form of a servant is humble." "Very nature " means humility? Form means humble? Jun 27 at 10:13
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    @Alex his form or nature was that of a servant (whilst in the human biological machine). The text already says that, very nature was that of a servant. I’m explaining, because you asked, what a servant’s form and nature is. It’s submission to his master. Or one he chooses to submit to. It’s easy to submit to someone who is your superior, it’s entirely different when you are equal to the one you choose to submit to. At that point you have to humble yourself. Jun 27 at 12:57
  • So the definition of form is also nature? What lexicon defines nature as form? Jun 27 at 21:38
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    Your question then is whether it should be translated form or nature. I’ll vote to close the question as it’s not properly formulated Jun 27 at 22:04
  • You can vote as you please. Jun 27 at 22:42
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NIV has a footnote saying "the very nature of a servant", can be read as "the form of a servant". To understand the meaning, it needs to read verses 6-8 together.

Paul was saying "Jesus is God" (vv6a). But He chose to restrict His power as God (did not consider equality with God - vv6b), took the form of a human being (the form (very nature) of a servant, being made in human likeness - vv7), humbled himself and died on the cross according to God's will (vv8)

Paul chose the word "servant", probably came from Jesus self-description in Matthew 20:28: "just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

I would say to be more precise, Jesus himself is God, He is not serving God but to obey His Father. He came to serve us, bring us His salvation.

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  • Philippians 2:6 " being in the form of God," is not the same as " Paul was saying "Jesus is God. The half of the analogy is "form/very nature of a slave" I am interested what your answer about what this "very nature" mean. Jun 26 at 4:24
  • Behold, My servant whom I uphold, My Elect One in whom my soul delights!” Isaiah 42:1
    – steveowen
    Jun 26 at 7:19
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    Paul used the wording "being in the form (very nature) of God" instead of "Jesus is God", was in parallel to the next wording "by taking the form (very nature) of a servant". It is just kind of writing methodology. How would Paul not consider Jesus is God, or any intention to change the status of Jesus by describing Jesus as "a form of God"? There were so many writers in Bible, with various language skill, with so many translation. I choose to listen to the heart of the message, instead of the language. So if one word hinders our understanding, expanding the scope will usually help. Jun 26 at 14:15
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    I read the previous dialogue between you and Dottard. I hope I can answer to your satisfaction why the NIV was using the "very nature" as the translation. We learn Jesus is 100% God, 100% Human and not a hybrid. The description "very nature" reflects the fullness of its kind. Jun 26 at 14:29
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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 was either be submitted to limitations or subjected to vulnerability. Omnipotence yielded itself to dependency. The all-sufficient one now became 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 gaves way to revelation. He had to 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 confined itself to the limitations of time and space. His Eternal nature was 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 2 Corinthians 5:21. The unchanging One became subject to change. He not only changed form but his fleshly form would 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 became completely subjected. This was total surrender of control. Now, he was in the likeness of man. In the beginning, 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.

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  • "Taking the form of a servant is an exchange of nature. He exchanged the essence of God for the essence of man" All humans have human nature/essence, but are they all servants? The verse says "rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness." What is the "very nature" of a servant? Jun 27 at 3:16
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    Tha nature of amy servant is to serve the will of another.
    – oldhermit
    Jun 27 at 9:40
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    You know Alex, I really do not believe you are looking for an honest answer. I believe all you are doing is trying to find some legitimate argument against the deity of Christ. This theme seems to run through all your posts. You seem to be searching for loopholes in scripture rather than simply believing the scripture.
    – oldhermit
    Jun 27 at 12:34
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    The definition Paul give to the word nature in this particular passage is humility. This is the nature that is to characterize a servant.
    – oldhermit
    Jun 27 at 21:58
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    There is a difference between a lexical definition of a word and a contextual definition. You know as well as I do that lexically, the word μορφή means form, shape, outward appearance. You can confirm this through any lexical scholar. Paul is very explicit in Phil 2 that the character that defines the μορφή of Christ is humility.
    – oldhermit
    Jun 28 at 11:42

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