Monday, December 5, 2016

A Seasonal Hymn: A Consideration of Philippians 2:5-11 in light of Oneness Pentecostalism

by Michael R. Burgos Jr.
The relentless persecution of the early church by Imperial Rome is typified in Pliny’s letter to Emperor Trajan. Pliny would examine Christians, giving them three chances to recant their faith. When they refused, Pliny ordered their executions. He investigated the former practice of those many turncoat pseudo-Christians, who recanted their faith and gave the requisite offering of incense and wine in accordance with the Emperor cult. What he discovered was an account of the Lord’s day worship of the primitive church:
They were accustomed to meet on a fixed day, to sing an antiphonal hymn to Christ as God, and to bind themselves by an oath, not for the commission of some crime, but to avoid acts of theft, brigandage, and adultery, not to break their word, and not to withhold money deposited with them when asked for it. When these rites were completed, it was their custom to depart, and then to assemble again to take food, which was however common and harmless.[1]
Given its chiastic form, the presence of hapax, the unorthodox use of certain terms, and its amazing content, Philippians 2:6-11 has been understood by Christian scholars to be a fragment of a hymn of the primitive church.[2] Interestingly, the traditional title for this passage is The Hymn to Christ as God or just The Hymn to Christ. Could it be that what was referenced to Pliny was that the hymn Paul cites? I wouldn’t put it past God.
This hymn serves as an inspired object lesson intended to achieve unity within the Philippian congregation by means of humility. In v. 2, Paul tells the church: “Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” In vv. 3-4, Paul provides some practical instruction to live out the humility that will be portrayed writ large in vv. 6-11.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11, ESV)
Τοῦτο φρονεῖτε ἐν ὑμῖν ὃ καὶ ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ, ὃς ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ ὑπάρχων οὐχ ἁρπαγμὸν ἡγήσατο τὸ εἶναι ἴσα θεῷ, ἀλλὰ ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσεν μορφὴν δούλου λαβών, ἐν ὁμοιώματι ἀνθρώπων γενόμενος· καὶ σχήματι εὑρεθεὶς ὡς ἄνθρωπος ἐταπείνωσεν ἑαυτὸν γενόμενος ὑπήκοος μέχρι θανάτου, θανάτου δὲ σταυροῦ. διὸ καὶ ὁ θεὸς αὐτὸν ὑπερύψωσεν καὶ ἐχαρίσατο αὐτῷ τὸ ὄνομα τὸ ὑπὲρ πᾶν ὄνομα, ἵνα ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι Ἰησοῦ πᾶν γόνυ κάμψῃ ἐπουρανίων καὶ ἐπιγείων καὶ καταχθονίων καὶ πᾶσα γλῶσσα ἐξομολογήσηται ὅτι κύριος Ἰησοῦς Χριστὸς εἰς δόξαν θεοῦ πατρός. (Philippians 2:5-11, NA28)
In an ancient scriptorium one would read aloud a text in a clear voice so that scribes could accurately record the Bible. Similarly, in v. 5 Paul calls forth the Philippians to copy an exemplar, namely Christ. He wrote, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” The first clause, “Have this mind among yourselves” points backward to v. 3 and v. 4, and thus indicates that the “mind” or attitude that is under consideration is the one that appropriates the aforementioned instruction (i.e., counting others more significant than oneself). The second clause, “which is yours in Christ Jesus,” indicates that the “mind” of humility was present in the person of Christ. This is a sentiment that finds continuity elsewhere within the Pauline corpus. Ephesians 5:1-2 states, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children and walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us…” Thus, when Bernard argues
the focus is not on the transcendent nature of God, which humans cannot duplicate, but on the attitude of the man Christ Jesus, which we can imitate,”[3] 
he misses the point entirely. God, even God the eternal Son can be imitated.