Baker Academic

Sunday, April 10, 2016

McGrath on Phil 2 and the Passion

Over at Exploring our Matrix, James McGrath suggests a connection between the hymn in Philippians 2 and Jesus' (possible) anticipation of his own death.



  1. The idea that Jesus might have predicted to some point his death was entertained by many scholars, e.g. Maurice Casey, Jamas Crossley or James Tabor (I think the last wrote something about it, but I'm not sure). The fact that he might have been afraid of dying while praying in the Garden of Gethsemane (I can almost hear Ehrman-style argument in my ears: if there had been nobody around how can we know what he prayed about?) doesn't exclude the idea that he might have seen his death as some kind of atonment sacrifice (in the style of Maccabees martyrs for example).

  2. From: Dr. G

    Many think that Paul's writings were the first major writings in Christianity. Coming from c.56 BC. If so, then his admittedly rather scarce comments about Jesus specifically - including the credo-like Phil. 2.6-11 - are of special interest. Since this passage say, has a dying Jesus, but doesn't have a resurrecting one, McGrath and others might regard it as early. And troubling.

    When was the Easter resurrection added? Paul knows Jesus crucified mainly. To be sure he sees him in a vision on the road to Damascus. But seems to think Jesus returns more in a second coming, in 2 Thes. 2.1-13.

    McGrath himself seems to be raising questions, puzzlement, more than supplying answers here.

  3. Gene Stecher
    Chambersburg, Pa.

    To me, it seems quite probable that "obedience" is an early collective memory in the "hymn" of Phil 2:6-11 for why Jesus was exalted. It seems to conforms with the "creedal" declaration at Rom 1:4. Having said that, one should be aware that the Phil passage is included in Marcion's version and the Rom passage is not attested for Marcion's version of these letters. (DeBuhn, The First New Testament, 2013; 295, 318).

    I'm not sure that the Gethsemane story provides any back-up for the "obedience" data. Some (e.g., Funk and the JS, The Acts of Jesus, 1998: 150-51) think that it has a mimetic (imitation) relationship with the story of David, Absalom, and Ahithophel in 2 Samuel 15-17, including a parallel between David's behavior (15:25-26) and Jesus' statement, "Remove this cup...but thy will not mine." David had said, "If I find favor in the eyes of the Lord, he will bring me back and let me see the ark...But if he says, 'I take no pleasure in you,' here I am and let him do to me what seems good." (NRSV)

    It seems to me that if one couples this mimetic observation with Mark's high christology propensity to send Jesus on a prediction binge of all things large and small, including his death and its manner, any claim that Jesus said anything about his dying would be extremely tenuous.

    1. From Dr G

      I see some interesting things in Paul. But here I see no foreknowledge by Jesus himself. That statement in Phil. 2 is not attributed to Jesus, in first person, But is a later formulaic summary in third person.

      There by the way, Jesus is seen dying, but not much with any hint of resurrection. If Jesus has any afterlife here at least, it is perhaps in the abstract notion of the continuing efficacy of his atonement. Said to survive or live on after his death.

      Which would be a rather spiritual, allegorical- proto-Gnostic, Plaonistic- kind of survival after death. His ideas and salvation live on. Not his body or "flesh".

      So Paul's early Jesus looks Platonic, proto Gnostic. Foreseeing the survival of the ideas, knowledge, only.

      No doubt this was too abstract for everyday citizens. Who quickly invented a materialist analogue to illustrate this: a physical resurrection of Jesus. An idea already found in the Greek Dionysus. And other widespread legends of the rebirth of plants in the spring.

  4. Gene Stecher
    Chambersburg, Pa.

    Hi Dr. G:
    You have twice asserted that Phil 2:6-11 (vs. 9) does not refer to the "resurrection" of Jesus. The key verses read (NRSV), "he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death...Therefore, God also highly 'exalted' him and gave him the name that is above every name...that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is 'Lord'."

    According to my lexicon the Greek word for 'highly exalted' is the verb Huperupsoo, and this is the only place that it appears in the NT, perhaps evidence that this passage is an earlier collective memory in hymn form. My lexicon definition for the word is "raise to the loftiest height."

    A similar Greek word is the verb Hupsoo which occurs 14 times in the NT. We might say that huperupsoo is a hyped up hupsoo, the latter which can be translated 'lift up on high,' 'exalt,' 'raise to honor.' It is used both of persons and the action of God. For example:

    Mt 11:23, Lk 10:15 Capernaum will not be exalted to heaven
    Mt 23:12, Lk 14:11, 18:14 Whoever exalts self will be humbled
    2 Cor 11:7 humbled myself to exalt you
    Ja 4:10, 1 Pet 5:6 humble yourself and God will exalt
    Jn 3:34, 8:28, 12:32, 34 The Son of Man will be 'lifted up'
    Acts 2:33, 5:31 Jesus exalted to God's right hand

    The John and Acts references resemble a 'resurrection' statement.

    In Philippians 2 Jesus is given the name "Lord" which is usually considered the one who is raised to God's side. Rom 10:9 reads, "If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." (also see, e.g. Mk 12:35-37, 1 Cor 2:8)

    Thanks for prompting me to investigate a bit.

    1. From Dr. G:

      "Raised" or lifted up, often seems to also have the possible meaning of being literally lifted up physically, in the crucifixion. Which raises one off the ground.

  5. Gene Stecher
    Chambersburg, Pa.

    Hi Dr. G:

    Again, thanks for prompting a bit of research. I agree that the words for resurrection (e.g., the verbs egeiro and anistemi) in the Christian canon have strong physical connotations.

    Just looking quickly at Mark, the physical implications have a strong association with Jesus' "power." 1:31 J raises up Peter's mother-in-law by his hand from a fever. 2:12 At Jesus' command the paralytic rises up, takes his mat, and walks home. 3:3 A man rises up and his outstretched hand is restored. 3:6 Satan rises up against himself and is rendered helpless. 4:49 Jesus rises up and stills the storm. 5:41 Jesus takes a child's hand and she rises up from a comatose condition. 6:16 Herod thinks that Jesus is JBap raised up from the dead. 8:31, 9:31, 10:34 Jesus predicts that within 3 days of his death he will rise up. 9:9 After Jesus "rises up from the dead" the disciples can break their silence. 9:27 Jesus takes a boys hand and he rises up from an epileptic convulsion. 12:25 Jesus teaches that the institution of marriage does not apply to the lives of those who rise up. 16:6 In the empty tomb, Jesus is described as raised up.

    This, of course, is a very small one gospel sample. Forms of egeiro and anistemi both occur about 150x in the NT.