Can Jesus be equal to God? 


2013 01 02 nine circles w neon twirl continuum

Continuum of comparable qualities


An interesting and puzzling passage is Philippians 2:5-6, often translated to mean that Jesus was God’s equal, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited.” (NRSV)


The 17th century KJV gets closer to a correct translation with, “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God.”  Compare 40 + English translations


Grosvenor’s and Zerwick’s Analysis lets me know that there are two different and contradictory translations that are possible here:  The Greek does indeed say “robbery” (αρπαγμος) and the meaning can be, “booty; also prize, privilege to be retained or to be grasped at; probably a tacit allusion to Adam who tried to usurp equality with God.”


Thayer’s Greek dictionary says, “1. the act of seizing, robbery; 2. A thing seized or to be seized, booty . . . .  to deem anything a prize, – a thing to be seized upon or to be held fast, retained.”


So we get:  Jesus did not regard equality with God as something to be held tightly or retained; OR Jesus did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped at or seized upon.


The Catholic Confraternity Edition, of course, opts for “who though he was by nature God, did not consider being equal to God a thing to be clung to.”  Their footnote admits that, “The Latin could mean ‘usurpation’ but this translation would not bring out so well the doctrine of humility.”  (um – What doctrine of humility?)  So the Latin Vulgate used “usurpation.”  Interesting.


The Confraternity Edition gets tied up in knots trying to explain verse 2:11 which they translate as, “the Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father,” while admitting in a footnote what the Greek actually says:  “The Vulgate reading suggests that both Persons enjoy equal glory. The Greek reads ‘Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father;’ confessing the Son’s divinity redounds to the Father’s glory.”  (Perhaps just ditch those parts of the Vulgate that are unscholarly?)


One useful item from that page and confirmed by a TNIV footnote:  the “form of God” may mean the “nature of God,” something we all possess to some extent, hopefully.


Some editors make easy-to-read-Bibles by replacing texts with their own interpretations:  “Your attitude should be the kind that was shown us by Jesus Christ, who though he was God, did not demand and cling to his rights as God, but laid aside his mighty power and glory.” (2:5-7 (The Way))  Gosh, how could St. Paul have neglected to tell us outright that “Jesus was God” with “rights.”


It just occurred to me that whoever saves us better have the “highest place” and “the name that is above every name” (2:9 (TNIV)).  Wouldn’t the savior have to be more powerful than the God who supposedly is powerless to help us except through the action of that savior who is God’s incarnated Self?


Interesting that Philippians 2:5 can also be translated to read, “Let the same mind be in you that you have in Christ Jesus.” (NRSV footnote)  If I have some share in the Christ-mind, then how equal am I?


I regain my humility by reading Thayer’s definition of ισος / ισα (2:6) meaning “equal, in quality or in quantity” and other meanings, “same,” “agreeing,” etc.  I don’t know much Greek but perhaps we are supposed to get the sense that, “While Jesus had divine qualities, he did not consider it to be stealing to have this sameness with God.”  In other words, Jesus did not usurp godhood nor diminish God.


I’ll conclude by saying I don’t know what the Unknowable is, so I cannot know if Jesus is it.


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3 Responses to EQUALITY WITH GOD

  1. care4earth says:

    This is pretty heavy stuff that you are commenting on. Other questions might be: Are they talking about an equality where some thoughts or qualities of Jesus are the same as thoughts or qualities of God? What qualities of Jesus are also qualities of God? If Jesus is ‘equal’ to God in some manner, is Mary also ‘equal’ to God in like manner? Do we all possess some qualities of God?

  2. Sister Lea says:

    Perhaps Jesus realized the same goodness (divinity) in himself and others that he saw in God…an essential goodness that we too often forget…and so temporarily fall away from who we are. But Jesus kept reminding us of our goodness in the persons of the Gospel stories , even in those who crucified him. Perhaps this is why the Gospels kept getting handed on from generation to generation over 2,000 years.

  3. truleeyours says:

    Update February 27, 2017
    Now four years later, I wonder if there is simple solution to the question of whether a pre-existing Jesus was equal to God. Philippians 2:8-9 had somehow escaped my attention. In that passage Jesus could not have been equal to God before Jesus was born because after Jesus’ death, God exalted Jesus to be higher than he was before. God exalted Jesus because Jesus was obedient.
    “He humbled himself
    and became obedient to the point of death—
    even death on a cross.
    ”Therefore God also highly exalted him
    and gave him the name
    that is above every name”
    But maybe when Jesus was exalted, he was raised up to exactly the same level he had been before. So maybe the ‘exaltation’ is in fact a restoration of status, and he was with God as God “in the beginning” per John chapter 1??
    But take a look at John 14:28, where Jesus says, “The Father is greater than I.” ‘Greater than’ does not mean equal, and equal is the sense we get in John 1 if we try hard enough.
    As I noted in my post above, possibly Jesus was more powerful than God. But could God make someone higher than God? Is God capable of doing that? And if so, why didn’t God do that for Itself, that is, make Itself higher than Itself? (Somehow this reminds me of the question — can God make a boulder that is too heavy for God to lift?) Who knows. Surely “above every name” would have to include the name of God, and thus the name of Jesus is above the name of God?
    Elizabeth A. Johnson seems to be saying that this name “above every name” is Yahweh (page 217 of Quest for the Living God). Thus, Jesus is given the same name as Yahweh, which doesn’t make sense if the Son is not the Father. Doesn’t the Son have a different name? Maybe “Lord” is his name as the TNIV footnote points to verse 11, “Jesus Christ is Lord.”
    Philippians 2:10-11 says: “so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess.” But this is adapted from Isaiah 45:22-23 that tells us there is no God but God: “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, from my mouth has gone forth in righteousness a word that shall not return. ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.’”
    How can Paul, knowing Isaiah 45 because he quotes (or misquotes) it, attribute those qualities that belong to God-alone to Jesus? !!! How can Paul logically say that Jesus has been elevated to be at God’s level — how can Paul know exactly how high Jesus is exalted or restored? There is no logical reason to say that God elevated Jesus to a particular level. Paul is either hallucinating, that is, having one of his visions, or he deliberately writes what he knows to be blasphemy, distorting the Hebrew scripture and in fact, making the one God-alone into two gods or two aspects of God. Certainly Jews could recognize this and did not accept something that was against their sacred scripture – that God-alone is the savior. Perhaps Paul was mocking his Gentile followers who did not know Isaiah well enough to question Paul.
    I suppose Jesus could be the “word” in the Isaiah verses that does not return, and if the Word does not return, then for sure it does not sit at the right hand of God, or become that God, even though in some sense the Word is consubstantial with God because it was generated by It, just as these words are somehow a part of me or were, before they departed from me into virtual reality.
    I have to wonder if Paul had any concrete idea in his head that did approximate what eventually evolved into the paradoxes of Christianity – the unexplainable “Jesus is both fully divine and fully human,” and also, “God is one, but three persons.” Perhaps the illogic is deliberate on the part of those who devised it. After all, the faithful followers are not required to think clearly, only to parrot what they are told. Better to build a belief system on illogic – then no one with any rational thinking can tear it apart because it is built on no premise whatsoever. Illogic does exhaust the rational opposition – how does one confront illogic?
    Perhaps it gives the religion longevity as generation after generation tries to explain the paradoxes or what has evolved into paradoxes. Thousands of books have been written on it?? I just added to it with this post.
    If you go around saying 1=1+1 (both fully divine and fully human) and 1=1/3 (three persons in one god), and a=c, b=c, a≠b (the Son is God, the Father is God, but the Son is not the Father), then some may think those are great mysteries and follow you to the ends of the Earth.
    Thanks to Professor Bart D. Ehrman for alerting me to ‘exalted’ in Philippians 2:8-9, and the connection to Isaiah 45:22-23.
    NRSV used in this post except as noted

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