Goku, thank you for honoring my wish for you to put a shorter version of your post here in the Bible Q&A forum.
No problem Dave.
But first I need to address one of your contentions in your OP.
Goku, I'm not going to answer this because we've gone over this ad infinitum elsewhere. We'll just simply have to agree to disagree that the men who penned God's words into what we call the Bible were inspired by God. It is completely irrelevant what their economic, education or social status was. Their writings were God-breathed, which is what inspired means. It's up to you to choose whether to believe this or not. That's the nexus of our two different worldviews, after all, isn't it.
I just want to clarify that I'm not saying the gospel writers weren't inspired, but that based on historical understanding these writers could not have been part of the original 12 disciples due to things like the lack of education the 12 had and that the gospels were written four to six/seven/eight decades after Jesus' death in a different language than what Jesus and the disciples spoke. This is not my pet theory, but the view of all non-fundamentalist Biblical scholars.
Goku, I'm not sure what led you to this particular series of verses as an example of supporting your belief that the "historical" Jesus was not God during the time that he walked the earth, but scholars and Christians worldwide view these verses by Paul as probably the chief testimony anywhere in Scripture of Jesus' deity before, during and after his incarnate passage upon this earth.
The idea that the historical Jesus did not consider himself God is something that I've encountered several years ago in a lecture by Bishop Spong, and that was the first time I heard that the earlier the writing the less divine Jesus becomes.
As for the Philippians passage I recently came across this a few weeks ago in a series of lectures by NT scholar Bart Ehrman who specializes in the historical Jesus and early Christianity; he is also agnostic fyi. In one of the lectures he brought up the passage and advocated that Paul viewed Jesus as an angel before incarnation and through the cross God exalted him to the same position God the Father held. Ehrman also stated, based on the work of scholars, that various clues in the NT are remnants of pre-written beliefs that indicate the earliest Christians believed God exalted Jesus to Godhood at the resurrection.
Two passages he mentioned were Romans 1:3-4 which states that Jesus was made flesh by the seed of David, and was declared the Son of God "by the resurrection". I suspect you will interpret that passage to mean something like Jesus was always God but that it was revealed to us that fact through the death and resurrection. The other passage is Acts 13:33 where he interprets "today I have begotten you" as a reference to the resurrection in that on the day of resurrection God adopted Jesus as his Son. Again I think you will interpret it similarly to Romans, and I suppose it ultimately comes down to world view coloring our interpretations as you say. I haven't looked into those passages yet to form a solid opinion, but that's something Ehrman mentioned and as periphery passages we can agree to disagree.
OK, we'll review Phil 2:5-11 verse by verse and, in some cases, word by word.
Phl 2:5 - Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
Paul sets the stage for the following verses by establishing the context from the previous four verses. Here he is exhorting readers to have the mind of Christ, which in this context is to be humble and loving.
I agree 100%.
Phl 2:6 - Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
who - Jesus
being - present tense participle, referring to something ongoing existing.
in the form of God - In context Paul refers to the essential nature and character of God already existing in Jesus.
I could stop here to successfully rebut your contention that Paul did not believe in Jesus' deity. He very plainly says that Jesus is God from eternity. There are many passages in Scripture where Jesus made preincarnate appearances. One's worldview may preclude him or her from agreeing to that, and that's why God says the Bible won't make sense to non-believers. You either believe the Bible is God's word and true, or you don't.
robbery - The Greek harpagmos appears only once in Scripture, right here in this verse. It means simply what it says: robbery, a seizing, as in booty or a prize to be plundered.
Robbery is taking something that doesn't belong to you. Paul here is saying that Jesus did not believe he was taking something that didn't belong to him in being equal with God. He already possessed equality with God because he already was (in the form of, having the nature and character of) God.
It's understandable that the negative wording can be confusing to some - "thought it not." To reword Paul's verse in the simple affirmative: "Jesus, always existing as God, knew he was already equal to God."
Your use of the NASB for this verse is unfortunate, and I see how it would lead someone astray: "... did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, ..." The word grasped in this NASB translation is the same Greek word as in the KJV version - robbery. Is "couldn't grasp equality" the same meaning as saying "already equal, so it's not claiming something that isn't true"?
These imply confusingly different meanings. Which one is accurate? It's the one that follows the context found in the rest of Scripture. Scripture says that the prophets knew, the apostles knew, Paul knew, Christ knew, God knew, and we know that Jesus Christ was, is and forever will be God.
I did a little google perusing, and apparently this verse has been the subject of scholarly debate for a long time in what exactly it means.
I agree the "who" is Jesus, and that "being" is past tense referring to before incarnation. There appears to be much scholarly debate on the connection between "form of God" and "equal to God", with some scholars saying they are equivalent in meaning and others saying there is a distinct difference.
Harpagamos according to Strong's Concordance (here) means "the act of seizing or the thing seized". I can see how both the "robbery" and "thing to be grasped" translation occurred, and both are used by many translations.
I found this article interesting. It is too technical for me to understand all of it, at least not without spending time looking up stuff, but it is written from a believer's perspective, and I will quote the exegetical conclusions which is written in more or less plain English.
I propose that if the author had intended to equate the two phrases he could have simply stated, although He existed in the form of God, He did not regard being in the form of God as a thing to be grasped for (ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ ὑπάρχων οὐχ ἁρπαγμὸν ἡγήσατο τὸ εἶναι ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ/). However, the very fact that the author chose to use different phraseology indicates that he wishes to denote differing realities, not synonymous ones.
The question arises then as to how this phrase can be theologically intelligible; how can this interpretation make sense given that μορφῇ θεοῦ refers to the Christ's preexistent essence as deity? Should not Christ's equality with God (τὸ εἶναι ἴσα θεῶ'/) be considered just another way of referring to his preexistent essence as deity (μορφῇ θεοῦ)? The answer to the last question is “no” if we consider the possibility that μορφῇ θεοῦ refers to essence while τὸ εἶναι ἴσα θεῶ'/ refers to function. “If this is the meaning of the text, then the two are not synonymous: although Christ was true deity, he did not usurp the role of the Father.”40
If ἁρπαγμός be understood according to the above analysis, then Christ is said not to have snatched at or grasped for equality with God. Though he was himself true deity existing in the form of God, he did not try to grasp for this other aspect which he himself did not possess—namely, equality with God. On the contrary, Christ emptied himself. This emptying consisted in taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men (v. 7). Therefore, the contrast between verses six and seven is made very clear. Christ, the second Person of the Trinity, did not try to snatch at an equality with God which properly belongs only to the first Person of the Trinity. On the contrary, Christ embraced those duties which were appointed for the second Person—taking the form of a servant and being made in the likeness of men. In this way, Christ did not attempt to usurp the peculiar role of the first Person of the Trinity, but in submission he joyfully embraced his own in the incarnation.
Goku says: Obviously I don't agree with everything he says, but I think it illustrates that the NASB translation of "grasping" is arguably correct as that is the translation he is using as a Christian, and that he argues that the passage is referring to something that Jesus did not possess prior to the crucifixion. Obviously I think the thing Jesus did not possess is meant to be more significant than what he makes it out to be, but I think it is significant that he posits this at all.
Which interpretation is accurate? You say it is the one that builds off the context of the entirety of scripture, but I think it is more appropriate to say the interpretation that is accurate is the one meant by the context surrounding the specific text itself.
As for the Bible not making any sense to non-believers on the grounds that they are non-believers; I think you also have to consider that Christians have a great investment in their own interpretation as well which may blind them to the meaning of certain texts when they don't conform to their specific theology. Bias works both ways. That's partly why I like listening to Ehrman, because he angers both fundamentalist Christians and fundamentalist atheists, and as an agnostic he seems to have less bias than many other scholars.
Phl 2:7-8 - But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
These are the crux verses for an understanding of the next verse. But you'd have to understand and agree to the purpose of the cross. In order for Christ to pay for the sins of the world he would have to take on the sins of the world. He became sin. However, God is without sin, cannot sin, cannot take on sin.
That is why Jesus had to be born into a human body, and live the life of a commoner, "in the likeness of men." But, he remained God the Son throughout his walk on earth, maintaining the nature and character of God. He was without sin his whole life, after all, until he took on the sins of the world at the cross.
Consider that even on the cross Jesus called out to his father, God. He was still God the Son, but his human form was agonized, suffering for the sins of the world; for which he paid the ultimate price. In Matthew 27:46 Jesus cries out, "... My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"
You see, even though God abandoned his son for awhile Christ never stopped being God the Son.
Phl 2:9 - Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:
OK, we need to view this in proper context from previous verses. Paul lays out the sequence that Jesus was humbly human born, subject to all the vagaries of living as a human. In an agonizing act of humble obedience Christ took on the sins of the world for a moment, was abandoned by his Father, and died as horrible a death as the Roman culture at that time could devise.
So, when God highly exalted him what was he lifting him up from? All of Scripture makes it absolutely, abundantly, irrefutably clear to all but non-believers that Christ is eternally God. Like you said, Goku, God couldn't confer on Jesus something he already was. So, what was this exaltation about?
He was simply re-exalting him from the state of humble, tortured, executed human servant full of the world's sin back to his former status he enjoyed prior to the cross. Don't forget, sin cannot exist in heaven. Since Jesus took on sin at the cross he couldn't reunite with God on the throne without God's re-exalting him back to his former sinless status. Paul includes this verse as the final act in the progression of God's plan of salvation through the sacrifice that Jesus made for us.
If Jesus needed to be exalted in order to reunite with God due to sin which God can't be part of, then wouldn't that mean at some point Jesus wasn't God?
Phl 2:10 - That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
These last two verses in your section of Scripture are really a parenthetical anti-climax to the previous verses. These are apocalyptic verses referring to end times judgment. Different subject entirely. I'm thinking that Paul included these verses to show the contrast between the humble servant Christ and the returning Christ who will sit on the throne of David and rule the world.
The end times is a different subject, but in the context of the letter I think it is a clear allusion to Isaiah 45 emphasizing that Jesus is now equivalent to God Yahweh.
Completely off topic, but when you brought up the end times I remembered that according to Christian universalism they use the above passage to say that in the end everyone will be saved. The logic is that in Romans 10:9-10 it says if you confess Jesus is Lord and believe he was raised from the dead you will be saved. Then in Philippians 2:10-11 it says everyone under the earth (Hell) will confess (and presumably believe Jesus was raised from the dead) and thus be saved and granted eternal life in Heaven. Not to shift the discussion; just thought it was an interesting observation when you said it was an end times prophesy.