The Hypostatic Union: Part 3 – The Carmen Christi


The first two posts in this series on the Hypostatic Union explained from the Scriptures why Jesus Christ has to be fully divine and fully human at the same time to be our Savior. These ideas can intrigue the smartest theologian into writing tomes and never fully grasping their depth. Yet, these same ideas are simple enough for children to understand them intuitively. They simply reflect the gospel itself.
However, if this teaching is true, are we just putting things together with a little imagination, or are there verses that actually communicate this concept?
Certainly there are, and Philippians 2:5-11 is one of them. Let’s dig deep into this text to see the Hypostatic Union clearly dictated in both purpose and method.

The Purpose: Humility

The thought that the eternal, majestic God in the Person of the Son Who created the entire universe would become human and deal with our difficulties for any reason that excludes humility would be absurd. The pupose of the incarnation of the Son of God as Jesus Christ is multifaceted. In the previous posts we saw that the incarnation was necessary for Christ to pay for our sins on the cross as the God-Man. However, the Apostle Paul includes a reason that goes beyond our justification: a perfect example of humility. The atonement justified us before God, but the incarnation gives us the example of how we should live and treat others.

Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.
Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
— Philippians 2:3-4

The Apostle Paul instructed us to esteem each other better than our own selves. If I should treat you better than myself and you should treat me better than yourself, what does that imply about how we relate to each other? We are equal, right? As equals, we should have the mind of Christ Who provided the ultimate example of how to submit Himself below equals and serve.

Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
— Philippians 2:6

With the words that may represent a portion of a song or poem, Paul begins to explain the greatest example of humility: disregarding the rights of your nature as an equal and stooping to serve. Jesus Christ was personally the same God the Son Who chose not to grasp or cling to the rights that He possessed by nature.

  • “Who, being in the form of God” (hos en morphe theou huparchōn, or “the one [who] in form of God being/existing”).
    • morphe denotes a “shape” or what can be perceived visually. Do we need to understand that Paul is communicating a physical, tangible, finite thing? The word, indeed, would communicate that if understood without a context. We should understand that the writers of Scripture can choose a word to communicate a concept–a connotative meaning–rather than just the denotative meaning that a printer manual might express. The morphe of something has to do with how it is perceived through the senses or understood in the mind, not necessarily its literal properties. Make no mistake, however. Paul is saying that whatever we understand God is, Jesus is. Paul is addressing the nature of God–not literally, but conceptually.
    • theou means “of God” and is in the genitive case. It relates to morphe above.
      The question is how does this relate to the “form.” In other words, is the form sourced by God, come out of God, possessed by God, part of God, wholly describing God, or any combination of these? These are the questions that genitive case nouns like these ask us. If their meaning is not clear enough and/or if the meaning of the subject they describe is not clear enough, we might have to look at the context of the clause, sentence, or paragraph to figure that out. If “form” has to do with “nature,” I believe it simply describes the nature or essence of what God is. I believe the next verse proves this and I will explain this later.
    • huparchōn literally means “under-existing.” Although it can refer to how something originates, Paul does not intend to communicate any point of origin. huparchōn is a present active participle, which means that it describes what is happening or what something is right now (or at least from the vantage point of the narration). The “under-” prefix emphasizes that this is His very nature or characteristic. Jesus Christ did not become this way; He has been and is this way by nature.

    In other words, Jesus has always existed and is existing in the very nature of God.

  • “thought it not robbery to be equal with God” (ouk harpagmon hegesato to einai hisa theō, or “did not to grasp/cling/seize rule/consider to be equal with God”)
    • hegesato primarily means to precede in the way that an authoritative command precedes the action of obedience. Secondarily, it means to consider. By using hegesato Paul is communicating that Jesus, the Son of God, sovereignly determined what He would do. The Father did not order Him to “give up” anything. The Son chose to do this completely to obtain the goal He wanted to achieve.
      The Son voluntarily performed this act of humility and was under no order to do this but His own.
    • ouk harpagmon in context can have a two-fold meaning. Either it means that the Son did not reach out to grab something that was not His by right, or it means that He already possessed something that is His by right and He did not grasp onto it jealously. Because the context is about humility and how each of us as equals should stoop down to treat each other as better or more important, it makes more sense to understand that Jesus did not jealously cling to the rights that having “the form of God” would afford Him. In fact, in Isaiah 14:14, the king of Babylon as “Lucifer” (and possibly the devil by association) wanted to be “like the most high.” Would we consider any angel or human who simply does not desire or attempt to be “like the most high” to be humble for simply not blaspheming God? Or, does humility itself imply that someone act lower than what he actually possesses by right or nature?
    • hisa means “equal,” but in what sense is this phrase expressing it? Because the sense of the passage so far has been about the rights that a position affords and about humility, we should see “equal” in this same sense. If a king put on street rags and started begging for food rather than living richly in his palace and giving orders to servants and captains, we could sayvthat that he was not being “equal” to the position he holds by nature.
    • theō is the dative case for God. Jesus Christ is equal “to God.” This does not mean that Jesus is a different being from God as if He were a competing deity. Since there is no article before “God” here, we could assume Paul is talking about the nature or quality of God. Even if it is talking about the person of the Father, the Son is the one humbling Himself, not the Father.

    In other words, Jesus was under no compulsion, but He voluntarily chose not to guard the rights and privileges that divinity affords Him.

If Jesus were a finite creature, the incarnation would have been a sovereign order from the Father; yet this was something Jesus considered as the Son Who is fully equal with God. He is our example of humility to submit ourselves voluntarily lower for the sake of others. How did He do this? Through the incarnation He also made Himself equal with us as fully human. He submitted Himself to the divine law (Gal 4:4) and glorified the Father (Joh 17:4).

The Method: Humanity

The question now is what really happened in the incarnation. Did the Son change from God to a man? Did the Son simply put on fleshly clothes to look like a man? Did He indwell and empower a human being the way a demon might possess one? The next verse will tell us.

But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:

— Philippians 2:7

This verse describes the incarnation. Remember this is something that Jesus as the Son voluntarily chose to do as an act of humility. He lowered Himself from the privileges of divinity to serve humans and live under the law to obey the Father.

  • “But made Himself of no reputation” (alla heauton ekenōsen)
    • alla is an adversative conjunction. It tells us that Jesus did this rather than something else.
    • heauton is a reflexive pronoun, meaning that Jesus did something to Himself. Just as the choice was voluntary, so was the power to affect Himself.
    • ekenōsen is an aorist active indicative–typically it can function as a simple past tense action, but it can possibly indicate that effects of the past action continue to the present. This word literally means that Jesus “emptied” Himself.
  • “and took upon him the form of a servant” (morphen doulou labōn)
    • This long phrase in the English is literally three words in the Greek. morphen is the word for “form” that we saw earlier, which tells us that this is a parallel to the other “form.” The difference is that this second “form” is in the accusative case (direct object) and the first is in the dative case. Jesus is eternally in the divine form, but this second form began at a point in time.
    • doulou means “servant” or more specifically “slave.” As a genitive, it tells us something about the “form”–the type. This form is the kind of form that a slave has. Because each “form” mentioned has a genitive modifier, we should recognize that both modifiers are grammatically the same. The first form has the type of divinity, and the second form has the type of a human performing the role of a slave.
    • labōn is actually an aorist active participle that means “taking on.” This is functioning as a instrumental participle (or participle of means). This instrumental participle functions as an adverb, which means that it modifies the previous verb ekenōsen (“emptied”). It tells us how this emptying occurred. Since the participle is aorist, its effects can also continue into the present, which can help us understand what Jesus is like right now.

    Jesus “emptied Himself” by means of taking on a second form–the form of a human slave. While eternally existing in His essential divine form, He voluntarily chose to humble Himself by adding a human form to Himself to perform the role of a slave.

  • “and was made in the likeness of men” (en homoiōmati anthrōpōn genomenos)
    • anthrōpōn is a plural genitive, showing that Jesus took on a form that is fully characteristic of humanity as a category and dwelt among us as one of us.
    • homoiōmati means “like form.” The prefix homoi– means that something is “like” or “similar to” something. In this context, this term does not means that Jesus only looked like a human without truly being one, as certain gnostics would argue. Such would contradict many other passages that say that Jesus is, in fact, anthrōpos (“man”) and “the seed of David” and such. Jesus was like a man in every sense in that the added form was the entirety of humanity, even though we know that He was not only a human.
    • genomenos is the second instrumental participle that tells us how His “emptying” occurred. It is a middle aorist participle, which means “being made,” keeping in mind that this is a voluntary action. Jesus made Himself this way.

    Thus, Jesus emptied Himself via two parallel means. He took on a human form and, thereby, made Himself like a human in every ontological respect. He did not change from divine to human, but rather He took on a second form so that this one Person of the Son was both fully God by one nature and fully human by a second nature.

This beautiful and doctrinally rich passage of Scripture is one of the clearest passages that teaches the Hypostatic Union of Jesus Christ. It is by no means the only passage, but it is one that provides the doctrine of the incarnation a full treatment. Jesus, the incarnate Son of God is distinct in Person from the Father, yet He is equal in divinity and right. He was not under any sovereign order from the Father, but voluntarily chose the incarnation by His own sovereign act. The incarnation was an act of humility. Although eternally possessing the divine nature, He “emptied Himself” of the exercise of divine privilege. This emptying was not by removing divine attributes, becoming less divine, or changing Himself from God to human. Rather, His humility was by adding a second nature to His Person–a full human nature–such that He subjected Himself to the role of a slave. He lived under the Law and fulfilled it on our behalf with a human mind and will. Jesus Christ is, therefore, one Person with two complete natures, and the Hypostatic Union is established.


About dmynyk

Daniel holds a B.S. in Computer Science from Pensacola Christian College and an M.I.S. from University of Phoenix. He is passionate about defending and promoting historic, orthodox Christianity that has lost its foothold in evangelical churches.

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