Translating Philippians 2:5-11

Today I preached on Phil 2:1-16 at North Baltimore Mennonite Church, which is a great community just a few blocks from my seminary, but (therefore and unfortunately) 45 minutes from home. The very hospitable people included one of the daughters of Ben Ollenburger, who teaches Old Testament at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary and who lived near me, and taught me, at Princeton some 25 years ago.

During the course of the sermon I read my own translation of Phil 2:5
-11, which is more or less (apart from the brackets) the one that I have used in several publications:

5-Cultivate this mindset in your community, which is in fact a community in Christ Jesus,
6-who, although being in the form of God,
did not consider his equality with God as something to be exploited for his own advantage,
7-but rather emptied himself [of all but love!],
by taking the form of a slave,
that is, by being born in the likeness of human beings.

And being found in human form,
8-he humbled himself
by becoming obedient
to death—
even death on a Roman cross.
………………………………………..
9-Therefore God has highly exalted him
and bestowed on him the title that is above every title,
10-so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend, yes,
in heaven and
on earth and
under the earth,
11-and every tongue acclaim,
“Jesus the Jewish Messiah is the universal Lord,”
to the glory of God the Father.

There’s nothing spectacular about this translation except 2:5. To my knowledge, I’m almost the only one who has proposed it (I can think of one other scholar who has something like it in print), but I’m convinced it’s right and have argued for it on numerous occasions. For those who know Greek, my argument is that “ho kai” functions like Latin “id est” to equate “en hymin” and “en Christo….”

Maybe someone in a new translation will adopt it.

9 Responses to “Translating Philippians 2:5-11”

  1. mshedden says:

    Any chance you can post your sermon or email to me? I would interested in reading that?

  2. MJG says:

    Sorry–I preach from notes only, but if you email me at mjg at michaeljgorman.net, I can send the outline, though it won’t tell you a lot. Sorry.

  3. RevDrDRE says:

    Hmm…that’s interesting. The Vulgate has quod et at Phil 2:5. Also, I suspect you know that Gordon Fee says that “kai does not = est under any circumstances” (his Philippians commentary, p. 201, n. 33). Do you know of other places where ho kai = id est? I do find your translation intriguing, suggesting that the community is one that can be described as “in Christ Jesus,” an important Pauline description. However, it seems stronger to suggest, as per the usual translations, that Paul wants the community to have the same attitude “which also” is in Christ Jesus.

  4. MJG says:

    Dennis,

    My translation does not depend on kai meaning est, because ho kai is short for ho kai estin. There are other instances of it, but it’s been a while since I had them at my fingertips. Another, and perhaps better, Latin equivalent could be qui et. The Vulgate is simply grabbing the two equivalent words of the Greek, not actually translating the sense of them.

    G.B. Caird, in a little commentary on Philippians, is the other one who has also suggested this translation. See further discussion in my Cruciformity, 40-44.

    The strength of my translation is, in part, that it keeps en Christo language as a reference to being in Christ, as it is elsewhere in Paul. And nowhere else does he speak of something (like a mindset) being in Christ.

  5. bruce hamill says:

    Since I’m taking your name in vain in my blog I thought I’d let you know. Sorry this is not a comment on your translation of Philippians, however I do mention your ‘kenotic’ theology. Im at http://dbhamill.wordpress.com/2009/09/10/theosis-and-participation-in-christ/

  6. MJG says:

    Bruce,

    Thanks; I have responded on your blog and am creating a post with your text and my response.

  7. Jason says:

    Interesting rendering–can’t say I’ve come across that particular understanding of v. 5. I am curious about your take on v. 9. You render ????? as “title.” Is this title “Lord” is v. 11 or something else? I ask because I have heard varying opinions on the “name” given to Jesus–that it’s not “Jesus” but Yahweh. Curious as to your thoughts…

  8. MJG says:

    Jason (and all),

    My hasty previous comment (now removed) was insufficiently nuanced, so please ignore it; I will post later a better response. Clearly “the name of Jesus” is not the name “Jesus” but “Lord,” kyrios. Is that exactly the same as YHWH? That’s the part that needs a more nuanced response. One of my students at Duke, now at UVa, wrote a fascinating thesis on this topic, and I will come back to it. My use of the term “title” should not be understood to negate the idea that in an accession the current ruler or deity gives his name to the new ruler. More later.

  9. Jason says:

    Thank you for your clarification–I anticipate your response!

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