Philippians, Jewish New Testament and comments of David H. Stern

chapter 2
1. Therefore, if you have any encouragement for me from your being in union with the Messiah, any comfort flowing from love, any fellowship with me in the Spirit, or any compassion and sympathy,
2. then complete my joy by having a common purpose and a common love, by being one in heart and mind.
3. Do nothing out of rivalry or vanity; but, in humility, regard each other as better than yourselves —
4. look out for each other’s interests and not just for your own.
5. Let your attitude toward one another be governed by your being in union with the Messiah Yeshua:
6. Though he was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God something to be possessed by force.
7. On the contrary, he emptied himself, in that he took the form of a slave by becoming like human beings are. And when he appeared as a human being,
8. he humbled himself still more by becoming obedient even to death — death on a stake as a criminal!
Of precisely what Yeshua emptied himself in order to do this is debated by theologians. The "kenosis theory" is that he gave up the attributes of God — omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, even consciousness of his eternal selfhood — in order to become a human being. My rendering attempts to express that his emptying himself consisted of three elements:

(1) He gave up his "equality with God" (v. 6), which may but does not necessarily imply that he had those attributes of God or that if he had them he fully gave them up.

(2) He took instead the form (same Greek word as in v. 6) of a slave, the Servant of Adonai (Isaiah 52:13-53:12), by becoming like human beings are — except that he was without sin (Ro 8:3; MJ 2:7, 14). "The Word became a human being and lived with us" (Yn 1:14); apart from his miracles and the Transfiguration (Lk 9:32) his pre-incarnation glory (Yn 17:5, 24) was hidden.

(3) He completed the emptying when he humbled himself still more by becoming obedient even to death — death on a stake as a criminal, the ultimate in degradation. "He has poured out his soul unto death" (Isaiah 53:12). OnJy for someone sinless can death be an act of obedience, not a foregone conclusion (Genesis 2:17; Ro 5:12-21N). "Obedient even to death" might signify descent even farther, into the underworld, with obedience involving elements of voluntary enslavement to the demonic power ofdeath(Ac2:27, 31; Ro 10:6-8; 1С 15:54-57; Ep 4:8-10; MJ 2:14-15; 1 Ke 3:19).

Death by execution on a stake as a criminal, literally, "the death of the cross" (see Mt 10:38N). This was the most humiliating possible death in two contexts. In the Roman setting, it was reserved for criminals who were not Roman citizens: citizenship entitled even capital criminals to better treatment when being executed. In the Jewish setting, the victim of crucifixion came under a curse (Deuteronomy 21:23, quoted at Ga 3:13 in connection with Yeshua); for Jews this was "an obstacle" (1С 1:23) to regarding Yeshua as the Messiah. The curse of separation from God brought about by human sin (Isaiah 59:2) was endured by the sinless Savior (Mt 27:46) and thus removed as a barrier between human beings and God, as taught in Ro 5:9-11.

At the same time Yeshua's death both resembles and is distinct from what Jewish tradition understands as death 'al kiddush-HaShem. martyrdom "for the sake of sanctifying the name" of God. On this see Ac 7:59-60N. 

9. Therefore God raised him to the highest place and gave him the name above every name;
10. that in honor of the name given Yeshua, every knee will bow —, in heaven, on earth and under the earth —
11. and every tongue will acknowledge (Isaiah 45:23), that Yeshua the Messiah is Adonai — to the glory of God the Father.
11 Because he was "obedient even to death" (v. 8), Yeshua was rewarded with exaltation after humiliation (compare his own teaching at Mt 18:4, 23:12; Lk 14:7-11, 18:9-14). God has raised him to the highest place, at his "right hand" (Psalm 110:1; see Mt 22:44N), where he shares "honor, glory and power" with the Father (Rv 5:13). Also God has given him the name, that is, the character and authority, above every name (v.9).Invv. 10-11 Sha'ul reveals the extraordinary fact that this name above every name is Adonai! He states, moreover, that the day is coming when every tongue will acknowledge it — angelic (in heaven), human (on earth) and demonic (under the earth).

Yeshua the Messiah is Adonai (Greek kurios). As explained at Mt 1:20N, the Greek word "kurios" can mean anything from the tetragrammaton (YHVH, "Jehovah," the personal name of God, rendered "Adonai" in the Jewish New Testament) to "Lord" (in the sense of God as universal ruler) to "lord" (in the human sense) to merely "sir" (a respectful form of address). Because Isaiah 45:23, which in its own context applies to YHVH, is quoted in v. 10 in reference to Yeshua, I believe this verse teaches that Yeshua the Messiah is YHVH and not only "Lord" in a lesser sense.

But in what sense "is" Yeshua Adonail It is not that the Father "is" Yeshua, nor does Yeshua exhaust the full meaning of YHVH (the last line of v. 11 shows that neither of these can be meant), but that there is some intimate identity or unity or union between the Son and the Father. See comparable teaching at Yn 1:1&N, 18&N; 10:31&N; Co 2:9&N; Yeshua himself says more about this intimate identity as he prays to his Father in Yochanan 17.

Yet no matter what is said about this, it can be easily misconstrued so as to seem incompatible with the Tanakh and therefore incompatible with Judaism. Obviously, anyone who
(1) speaks of the Father and the Son separately,
(2) says "both" "are" YHVH, and
(3) cleaves to the Sk'ma ("YHVH is one," Deuteronomy 6:4) is, at the very least, stretching language beyond its usual limits — although no more than when God, on the sixth day of creation, said, "Let us make man in our image" (Genesis 1:26). Since God himself transcends human limits, it is not surprising that his nature cannot be expressed fully by the normal use of language. Even though "the Torah uses everyday language" (B'rakhot 31a), so that there is no hidden meaning beyond the ken of ordinary readers, the fact that God transcends human limitation means that he exceeds what language can convey about him. The reader is forced to choose between exploring what "Yeshua the Messiah is kurios" means, and rejecting it by imposing his own limitations on God.

The supreme example of looking out for the interests of others (v. 4) was given by Yeshua's descent from equality with God to die for us (vv. 6-8). In union with the Messiah (vv. 1,5), his attitude (v. 5) of humility (v. 3) can be ours. God rewards such obedience (vv. 8-11).

The material on these verses is largely based on Ralph P. Martin's The Epistle of Paul to the Philippians (Tyndale Commentary Series, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1959); he has also written a monograph on these six verses. The unusual Greek words in this passage suggest that Sha'ul may be quoting an Aramaic or Hebrew hymn used by the Messianic Jews in Israel when celebrating Pesach and Communion (compare the letter of Pliny the Younger quoted in Yn 1:1—18N). Its two sections tell of Yeshua's descent (vv. 6-8) and ascent (vv. 9-11). These each may be further divided: his pre-existence (vv. 6-7a), his life on earth (vv. 7b-8), his present exalted status (v. 9) and his future universal rulership (vv. 10-11).

Though prior to his incarnation Yeshua, the second Adam (Ro 5:15-18, 1С 15:45-49), was, like the first one, in the form or "image" of God (Genesis 1:26-27,2C 4:4, Co 1:15, MJ 1:2), he, unlike the first Adam (Genesis 3:5-7) and unlike Satan (Mt 4:l-10&NN), did not consider equality with God something to be possessed by force. Not possessing by force could mean not retaining the equality with the Father which, as the Son of God. he already had. But more likely it means refraining from seizing what was not yet his, namely, rulership over all created beings, including humanity, who, because of sin, required his death on their behalf in order to be eligible to share in that rulership. For this reason he chose the Father's will over his own (Mt 26:39; MJ 10:7, quoting Psalm 40:9(8)), accepting the path of obedience and suffering for the sake of the promised reward (vv. 8-11; MJ 2:6-14,5:8, 12:2).

The pre-existence of the Messiah was a familiar concept in rabbinic Judaism (Yn 1:1-18&NN), so that it is unnecessary to resort to the idea that Sha'ul is drawing on pagan notions of a "heavenly man" who descended and carried through a mission of redemption for mankind. The Tanakh provides more than sufficient ground for this passage in its material about Adam (Genesis 2:4-3:22) and the suffering Servant of Adonai (Isaiah 52:13-53:12); there is no need to resort to explanations that assume Hellenistic or Gnostic influence.

More problematical for Judaism is the Messiah's equality with God; on this, see vv. 9-11N below. 

12. So, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed when I was with you, it is even more important that you obey now when I am away from you: keep working out your deliverance with fear and trembling (Psalm 2:11),
13. for God is the one working among you both the willing and the working for what pleases him.
We come to the New Testament's most forthright and succinct statement of the paradox of human free will versus God's foreknowledge and/or predestination. God is the one working among you (plural) both the willing and the working for what pleases him. It would be a denial of God's own work not to do the work that pleases him (Ep 2:8-10&N), and we know from vv. 3-4 that what pleases him is believers' looking out for each other's interests.

The King James Version renders me first phrase, "It is God who worketh in you," suggesting that he is working inside each person, enabling each individual to will and do what pleases God. This interpretation too is legitimate.

The paradox of human choice is clearly seen in the Tanakh when Lamentations 5:21 ('Turn us, Adonai, to you; and we will turn.") is set alongside Zechariah 1:3 ('"Turn to me,' says Adonai of Heaven's Annies, 'and I will turn to you.'"). Rabbi Aki va expresses it even more succinctly: "All is foreseen and free will is given" (Avot 3:15). In this verse we see that God does not interfere with free will, but helps those who already seek to do his will to do it better. 

14. Do everything without kvetching or arguing,
Kvetching, Yiddish for "petty complaining," translating the haunting Greek word "gongusmoi" ("murmurings"). 

15. so that you may be blameless and pure children of God, without defect in the midst of a twisted and perverted generation (Deuteronomy 32:5), among whom you shine like stars in the sky,
16. as you hold on to the Word of Life. If you do this, I will be able to boast, when the Day of the Messiah comes, that I did not run or toil for nothing.
The Day of the Messiah. The third reference to Yeshua's Second Coming in this letter (see 1:6,10). 

17. Indeed, even if my lifeblood is poured out as a drink offering over the sacrifice and service of your faith, I will still be glad and rejoice with you all.
Even if my lifeblood is poured out as a drink offering over the sacrifice and service of your faith. Jacob poured out a drink offering of wine over the altar (Genesis 35:14). In Israel's sacrificial system the material of a drink offering was wine (Exodus 29:40; Leviticus 23:13; Numbers 15:5, 7, 10; 28:7; 29:40). In Yeshua's time wine was a metaphor for blood (Mt 26:27-29). 

18. Likewise, you too should be glad and rejoice with me.
19. But I hope in the Lord Yeshua to send Timothy to you shortly, so that I too may be cheered by knowing how you are doing.
20. I have no one who compares with him, who will care so sincerely for your welfare —
21. people all put their own interests ahead of the Messiah Yeshua’s.
22. But you know his character, that like a child with his father he slaved with me to advance the Good News.
23. So I hope to send him just as soon as I see how things will go with me,
24. and I am confident in the Lord that before long I myself will come too.
25. Also I considered it necessary to send you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow-worker and fellow-soldier, the emissary whom you sent to take care of my needs;
26. since he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard he was ill.
27. Indeed he was ill, close to death; but God had mercy on him — and not only on him, but also on me — otherwise I would have had sorrow piled on sorrow.
28. Therefore, I am all the more eager to send him, so that you may rejoice when you see him again; and I, for my part, may be less sad.
29. So give him a joyful welcome in the Lord; honor such people.
30. For he risked his life and nearly died working for the Messiah, in order to give me the help you were not in a position to give.

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