Philippians 2:5-11: Hymn Or Exalted Pauline Prose? -- By: Gordon D. Fee

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 02:1 (NA 1992)
Article: Philippians 2:5-11: Hymn Or Exalted Pauline Prose?
Author: Gordon D. Fee


Philippians 2:5-11: Hymn Or Exalted Pauline Prose?

Gordon D. Fee

Regent College
Vancouver, Canada

This remarkable passage is at once one of the most exalted, one of the most beloved, and one of the most discussed and debated passages in the Pauline corpus. Because of its sheer grandeur, it has assumed a role both in the church and in private devotional life quite apart from its original context, as a piece of early christology. Scholarship, on the other hand, because of its exalted description of Christ in the midst of a piece of paraenesis, has long debated its meaning and role in its present context. Indeed, so much is this so that one can easily be intimidated by the sheer bulk of the literature, which is enough to daunt even the hardiest of souls.1 The debate covers a broad range of concerns: form, origins, background of ideas, its overall meaning and place in context, and the meaning of several key words and phrases (ἁρπαγμός, μορφή, τὸ εἶναι ἴσα θεῶ, κενόω). But the one place where there has been a general consensus is that it was originally a hymn; in fact the language “Christ-hymn” has become a semi-technical term in our discipline to refer to this passage in particular.

The present paper finds its starting point in two recent studies on this passage. First, in N. T. Wright’s especially helpful overview both of the ἁρπαγμός debate and the overall meaning of the passage in its context, he concludes by challenging: “But if someone were to take it upon themselves to argue, on the basis of my conclusions, that the ‘hymn’ was originally written by Paul himself . . . I should find it hard to produce convincing counterarguments.”2 Second, in Moisés Silva’s recent and very helpful commentary,3 he argues for its being

a hymn,4 very much as it is displayed in NA26, yet in the subsequent commentary, he frankly admits that “the structure of vv. 9-11 is not characterized by the large number of parallel and contrasting items that have been recognized in vv. 6-8” and then proceeds to describe the sentence in thoroughly non-strophic, non-hymnic terms.5

My concern in this brief paper is a modest one: primarily I want to call into question the whole matter of the passage as a hymn, which, despite most...

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