Christ’s Functional Subordination in Philippians 2:6: A Grammatical Note with Trinitarian Implications -- By: Denny Burk

Journal: Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood
Volume: JBMW 16:2 (Fall 2011)
Article: Christ’s Functional Subordination in Philippians 2:6: A Grammatical Note with Trinitarian Implications
Author: Denny Burk


Christ’s Functional Subordination
in Philippians 2:6:
A Grammatical Note with
Trinitarian Implications1

Denny Burk

Associate Professor of New Testament

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Louisville, KY

Introduction

Recent years have seen some disagreement between hierarchalists and non-hierarchalists over the nature of the Son’s submission to the Father in Phil 2:6-7.2 In 2:6 in particular, the discussion has focused in part on the meaning of Christ’s “equality with God”: “Although he existed in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God as a thing to be grasped for” (Phil 2:6, author’s translation). On the one hand, Millard Erickson writes that the Son’s “equality with God” is a reference to the Son’s “equal authority” with the Father—“something he already possessed” in his preincarnate state.3 On the other hand, Wayne Grudem writes that “equality with God” refers to the Son’s “equality in glory and honor in heaven, which Christ gave up in coming to earth.”4 For Erickson, the Son temporarily laid aside his “equal authority” with the Father in the incarnation in order to submit to the Father during his earthly life only.5 The Son’s equal authority was restored to him after the resurrection. Thus in Erickson’s view, there would be no eternal subordination in role of the Son to the Father. For Grudem, the text still allows for the Son to be submitted to his Father from all eternity.

The purpose of this essay is to discuss another possible way of understanding Christ’s “equality with God” in Phil 2:6.6 To do so, I want to highlight a grammatical item that is often overlooked by interpreters and commentators.7 The aim of this short study is not to rehearse the old disputes and give a comprehensive history of interpretation. This task has already been ably done elsewhere.8 My purpose here is to highlight the grammatical item in this verse and to briefly note its potential theological impact on our understanding of intratrinitarian relations.

I render the key phrase, ὅς ἐν μορφ...

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