“Form of God” — “Form of a Servant” (Phil. 2:6-7)

By Eusebio Tanicala

There’s a faulty premising done by some preachers in analyzing Christ’s deity in Philippians 2:6-7. This faulty line of reasoning goes like this in a mock interpellation:

  1. When Christ was in the form of a servant, was He truly a servant? (The expected answer is “Yes, He was a servant)
  2. When Christ was in the form of God, was He truly God? (The expected answer is “Yes.” Of course the one who doesn’t believe in the deity of Christ will quibble at this point).
  3. Conclusion: If Christ was truly a servant when he was in the form of a servant, then he was truly God when he was in the form of God.

But if I were asked the first question above, I would answer: “Form of a servant is not the same as servant.” This answer would block the progression of the interpellation. And I would add that the “form of God” is not the same as “God.”

This article explains the phrase “form of a servant” and “form of God.”

Firstly, in talking about Christ being God or deity, we mean possession of the essence or substance of deity or God. But the phrase “form of God” is different from “essence of God. “Form” refers to detachable or emptiable characteristics while “essence” or “substance” refer to undetachable attributes.From Phil. 2, we understand that Christ emptied Himself of that “form of God” which means that it is not talking about the “essence of God.”

“Form” in the context of Phil. 2:6-7 points to the honor, majesty and glittering splendor of the King of Kings in his royal palace. But a king could suspend or detach from himself the pomp and glitter of royalty and put on the humble appearance and clothing of an ordinary subject. Such is the story of Oedipus Rex in Greek mythology. Oedipus as an infant was abandoned by King Laius and Queen Jocasta of the city state of Thebes. Oedipus was picked up and raised by the king of Corinth. Many years passed and King Laius took off his crown and royal garment. He went hunting without his bodyguards. Now a young man, Oedipus was determined to search for his parents. Along a narrow path Laius and Oedipus met. Each felt royal blood running in his veins. Each presumed the other party to be an ordinary subject.

A duel ensued and the older one lost his life. Oedipus journeyed on and reached Thebes. Not knowing each other, Oedipus became greatly attracted to the widow Queen Jocasta and the two married. Years passed. Eventually the puzzle on the disappearance of King Laius led Oedipus to conclude that the man he killed on the narrow path was his own father. Filled with remorse that he killed his own father and married his own mother, Oedipus blinded himself and went into exile.

The point of the story here is that the glitter and majesty of royalty as in the case of King Laius and King Oedipus, could be set aside. But the essence of their humanity could not be discarded. King or beggar or greasy man, a human being remains human. Humanity is his essence. Once human, always a human.

Christ did an emptying act. He put aside the glitter of the King of Kings and became an ordinary, drab, rural Galilean. He had no photogenic features nor macho appeal. He was despised and rejected. See Isaiah 53:1-3. But Christ didn’t stop being God. He couldn’t discard his deity. Deity is His essence.

Secondly, “form of a servant” tells of appearances to or reputation in the estimation of others. It doesn’t point to essence of humanity. Servanthood is service and humility. Service and humility don’t empty a man of his humanity. Being a king, becoming a general or a manager, a driver, carpenter, farmer, carwasher, janitor, waiter, slave, prostitute – everyone remains equally human. A king could abdicate or be deposed. A general would eventually retire and become an ordinary citizen. But each remains human.

Servanthood was taken up by Christ. Servant of God in the salvation of mankind from the ruin of sin. Servant of humanity in suffering and dying in behalf of humanity. Servanthood was not inherent in the person and existence of Christ. It is not His essence. Christ, in the likeness of man, suffered and died to pay the penalty of sin. He fulfilled the demands of divine justice. The first Adam rebelled while the second Adam suffered the penalty. That was Christ’s servanthood.

After accomplishing His mission of paying the penalty for human rebellion, Christ emptied Himself of the form of a servant. Christ ascended back to heaven and took back upon Himself the privileges, splendor, and glitter of royalty. He sat at the right hand of God in the heavens. See. John 17:5; Rev. 1:9-20; 7:9-17.

Thirdly, since the first premise is based on the phrase “form of a servant” the focus is on the term form; consequently the second premise uses the term “form” in the phrase “form of God.” If the meaning of the first premise is admitted (that is “form of servant” means essence of a servant), then it follows that “form of God” means the essence of God. But the argument in the first premise is denied, hence the argument on the second premise is also denied.

Conclusion: Since “form of a servant” does not mean “essence of a servant” it follows that “form of God” doesn’t mean “essence of God.” Which means that Philippians 2:6-7 is not a direct proof that Christ possesses the essence of deity. Rather it is an indirect evidence of His deity.