Can Jesus be equal to God?
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.