Someone asked about non-Pauline statements on the incarnation… I pointed them to one example in Hebrews 2.14ff:
“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” [TNIV]
I got this question back about the verse:
“Regarding the Hebrews 2:14 in the article you sent me, once I was told that the Greek word in there rendered "likewise" only means "close to" and "similar". Not the "exact same". So the verse only means Jesus partook of similar to human flesh and blood.”
I can see how someone might interpret the English that way, but the Greek is clear that this is NOT a correct reading.
Here is the literal structure of the sentence:
Epei (since) oun (therefore) ta (the) paidia (children) kekoinönëken (‘naturally’ share, [perf tense]) haimatos (blood) kai (and) sarkos (flesh), kai (also) autos (He) paraplësiös (likewise) meteschen (‘deliberately’ partook of, [Aor]) tön (the) autön (same/identical things), hina (in order that) dia (through) tou (the) thanatou (death) katargësë (He might destroy)… [UBS4]
The ‘likewise’ word ( paraplasious, with an omega) is an ADVERB, not an ADJECTIVE.
It modifies the verb ‘partake’ and NOT the noun translated ‘the same’…
Even if it meant ‘near to’, as an adverb, it cannot mean this:
“He partook of ‘near to’ the same things (the ‘blood and flesh’ shared by the children in the first part of the sentence)
Because that construction has ‘near to’ modifying the noun ‘same things’—ADJECTIVES modify NOUNS (even in Koine Greek…smile); Adverbs do not.
So, as an adverb, it would have to mean something like THIS:
“He –in a similar fashion—partook of the same (flesh and blood), in order that through death…”
The ‘similarity’ comparison relates NOT to the ‘blood and flesh’ (which is the constant in the comparison—the term ‘auton’ – “the same” indicates that), but to the manner in which Jesus ‘took on’ the ‘blood and flesh’.
The ‘likewise’ word CAN mean ‘nearly’, but it wouldn’t make sense in this sentence because the purpose of the en-fleshment was to be able to DIE… ‘nearly’ taking on blood/flesh doesn’t get you all the way to mortality (‘nearly dying’ won't get us there…).
And this is the way the standard translations understand it:
Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. [NLT]
Since then the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death [NASV]
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death” [TNIV]
Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death” [NRSV]
Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he likewise shared in their humanity, so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death [NETB]
Since the children share a mortal human nature, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of the one who holds the power of death [Lane’s translation in WBC]
Now since the children share in blood and flesh, he likewise shared in them, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death” [NAB]
You can see they all translate it adverbially—as modifying the ‘partaking’. Some of them understand the meaning to have no/negligible ‘difference’ element (i.e., translating it simply as ‘also’ or ‘too’).
Most exegetes suggest that IF there is any difference intended by Hebrews, it is either in (a) the difference between ‘us the sinful’ and ‘Jesus the sinless’; or (b) the difference between us who have blood/flesh ‘naturally’ and Jesus who took on flesh ‘deliberately’:
cumulatively very emphatic. Καὶ here means “also,” possibly
“even.” Αὐτός means “Jesus himself.” Αὐτός
is always used in Hebrews as a (reverential?) periphrasis for the name of God
(1:5 = 1 Ch. 17:13; 4:10; 13:5) or of Jesus (as here; cf. 2:18, and especially
5:2, in a logical argument similar to the present verse). … Παραπλησίως,
“similarly,” reinforces καί; cf. ὁμοίως,
9:21; κατὰ πάντα ὁμοιωθῆναι,
v. 17; 4:15. The same thought is expressed in different language in Phil. 2:7,
and with an added reference to sin in Rom. 8:3. Παραπλήσιον
is used adverbially in Phil. 2:27 in a different sense. [tanknote: actually this is a different word—see the very end of this article]
The context in Hebrews shows sufficiently the basis of comparison, namely
participation in human nature. Though emphatic,
παραπλησίως does not imply identity between
and that of believers. Spicq 1978.665 tentatively suggests that the
use of παραπλησίως may
imply a reservation as to the virgin birth. This suggestion is not only
unsupported in the context, but decisively opposed by κατὰ
πάντα in v. 17. Any reservation relates rather to sin (→ 4:15). … Μετέχω
is perhaps used for variety following
κοινωνέω; its use elsewhere in Hebrews
(5:13; 7:13) is not distinctive, and it does not refer to the relationship
between Christ and believers. In the LXX (10x, e.g.,
Pr. 1:18; 5:17) and in Paul (1 Cor. 9:10, 12; 10:17, 21, 30) μετέχω implies a specific act of sharing,
not mere membership in a family, tribe, or nation (Pryer 46); so
here μέτοχοι (always plural in the NT;
outside Hebrews only Lk. 5:7). It is one of Hebrews’
favourite words, used to describe Christians’ relationship with
Christ (3:14) or their participation in the Holy Spirit
(6:4). An allusion to Ps. 45:7, quoted in → 1:9, is more
than possible. … Τῶν
αὐτῶν, “the same (blood and flesh),” adds further
emphasis. [The Epistle
to the Hebrews : A commentary on the Greek text.
“In v. 14
alone in the NT) takes the classical genitive, as in the LXX. An apt classical
parallel occurs in the military writer Polyaenus (Strateg. iii.11. 1), where
Chabrias tells his troops to think of their foes merely as ἀνθρώποις
αἷμα καὶ σάρκα ἔχουσι,
καὶ τῆς αὐτῆς
[tankXl8: “men having
blood and flesh, and sharing the same nature as
us”] The following phrase
παραπλησίως (= “similarly,” i.e.
almost “equally” or “also,” as, e.g., in Maxim. Tyr. vii. 2,
καὶ ἐστὶν καὶ ὁ
μέρος, καὶ οἱ ἀρχόμενοι
[TankXl8: “The ruler is a part
of a city and the ruled likewise.”])
[Moffatt, J. J. (1924). A critical and exegetical commentary on the
Epistle to the Hebrews (34).
“Having clarified the notion of the sonship shared by
Christ and God’s other children, Hebrews proceeds to explore the redemptive act
itself, and the suffering and death by which Christ was perfected. The sentence
is introduced by the particle οὖν, “therefore,” not to indicate
that an inference is being drawn, but to introduce a new phase in the argument.
Using the term “children” (παιδία) from the
Isaianic passage just cited, the author sketches their condition as one in
which they “share in”
“blood and flesh” (αἵματος καὶ
σαρκός), a common description of the human
condition. Although the order is unusual in the New Testament,
it is attested elsewhere. Nonetheless, the priority given to
blood may evoke the suffering associated with the human condition. Both
terms in any case can suggest the weakness and frailty of humankind. … Christ
shared in the human condition of weakness. The term used to denote that sharing
(μετέσχεν) is synonymous with that used
of the children. The tense, however, differs.
The children “share” in the
human condition; Christ “partook” of it.149 Because of Christ’s act, the
children in turn “partake in a heavenly calling.”
… Christ’s participation took place “likewise” (παραπλησίως).
The adverb certainly does not imply a
docetic Christology, and can be used in circumstances where the similarity
involved is complete. As the summary of the pericope indicates, Christ’s similarity to his
brothers and sisters was “in all things” (2:17). Although Christ will later (4:15)
be distinguished from other human beings by his sinlessness, that
characteristic is not in view here. … Christ’s participation in “blood and flesh” resulted in his death,
whereby he achieved a decisive victory over and “destroyed the power”
(καταργήσῃ) of the
one who held sway over death. The imagery evokes the depiction of the Messiah’s
victory over demonic forces widespread in Jewish apocalyptic tradition
and in early Christianity. This general tradition frequently
becomes specified as a victory over death in Christian sources.
The explicit linking of the devil and death here is also based on traditional
association of Satan and death. The underlying redemption myth
is obviously one shaped within Jewish-Christian circles. There is no indication
that it has undergone the sort of complex metaphorization found in Paul, where
the power of death is sin, or among Gnostics, for whom death is
ignorance.” [Attridge, H. W., & Koester, H. (1989). The
Epistle to the Hebrews : A commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews. Spine
title: Hebrews. Hermeneia--a critical and historical commentary on the Bible
the NT, but cf. παραπλήσιον
at Phil 2:27 in a similar context. For the meaning “likewise,”
cf. Demosthenes Olynth. 3; Arrian Exped. 7.1.6; Herodotus 3.104; Diodorus
Siculus Bib. Hist. 4.48, cited by Wettstein (p. 392); and Maximus of Tyre Diss.
7.2: καὶ ἐστὶν καὶ ὁ
μέρος, καὶ οἱ ἀρχόμενοι
παραπλησίως, “The ruler
is a part of a city and the ruled likewise.” See Moffatt, p. 34. [Attridge, H.
W., & Koester, H. (1989). The Epistle to the Hebrews : A commentary on the
Epistle to the Hebrews. Spine title: Hebrews. Hermeneia--a critical and
historical commentary on the Bible.
“14–15 The implications of the solidarity affirmed in
vv 11–13 are developed in the balanced clauses of a periodic sentence. The
exposition is related organically to its biblical support by the repetition of
the expression τὰ παιδία, “the
children,” contributed by the previous quotation (…). Since “the children” share a common human nature (αἵματος
καὶ σαρκός, Lit, “blood and
flesh”), it was necessary for the one who identified himself with them (v 13b) to assume the same full humanity
(μετέσχεν τῶν αὐτῶν). This assertion grounds
the bond of unity between Christ and his people in the reality of the
incarnation. In the
incarnation the transcendent Son accepted the mode of existence common to all
humanity. … The synonymous parallelism in the statements of v
14a indicates that any semantic difference between the verbs that refer to “the
children” and to the Son respectively ought not to be pressed here. The meaning of the two roots is virtually synonymous; both describe a
full participation in a shared reality (cf. J. Y. Campbell,
“κοιωνία and its Cognates in the New
Testament,” JBL 51  353, 355, 363). The distinction lies in the variation of
the verbal tenses. The perfect tense of
“share,” marks the “original and natural” state of humanity, while the aorist
tense of μετέσχεν, “shared,” emphasizes
that the Son assumed human nature “at a fixed point in time, by his own choice”
(F. F. Bruce, 41, n. 55). By means of this distinction the transcendent
character of the incarnate Son is maintained precisely in a context in which
the accent falls upon his full participation in the human condition. The addition of the adverb
παραπλησίως, “in just
the same way,” which signifies total likeness, underscores the extent of the identity of the Son’s
involvement in the conditions of human experience common to other persons
(cf. Williamson, 82). It anticipates the inferential statement of v 17, that
“obligation was upon him to be made like his brothers in every respect” (κατὰ
πάντα).” [Lane, W. L. (2002). Vol.
47A: Word Biblical Commentary : Hebrews
1-8. Word Biblical Commentary (60).
The word itself is just not specific enough to identify the ‘element of comparison’, but in many cases, it is left vague or it means simple identity:
adv. (Hdt.+) similarly, likewise Hb 2:14. The word does not show
clearly just how far the similarity goes. But it is used in situations where no differentiation is
intended, in the sense in just the same way (Hdt. 3,
104; Diod. S. 1, 55, 5; 4, 48, 3; 5, 45, 5; Dio Chrys. 67, 3; Maximus Tyr.
7, 2a; Philostrat., Vi. Apoll. 4, 18 p. 138, 21; Jos., Vi. 187, 233]. Cf.
Philo, Rer. Div. Her. 151 τὸ
Abr. 162; Arrian, Exped. 7, 1, 6 of Alexander the Great ἄνθρωπος
ἄλλοις [TankXL8: “a man being similar to others of the same kind”]).
M-M.* [Arndt, W., Gingrich, F. W.,
Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (1996, c1979). A
Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian
literature : A translation and adaption
of the fourth revised and augmented edition of Walter Bauer's
Griechisch-deutsches Worterbuch zu den Schrift en des Neuen Testaments und der
ubrigen urChristlichen Literatur (621).
“The same difficulty of evaluating the degree of similarity appears for paraplesios in Heb 2:14, where Christ shares the human conditions after the fashion of his brethren according to flesh and blood. Should we understand this to say "in exactly the same manner" or "in a manner nearly like"—in order to preserve Christ's sinlessness, his human nature not being corrupt— in which case we would say "in his own way," or perhaps in a vague sense "similarly, likewise," neither including nor excluding some particular difference. This last interpretation is the best attested in the first century: 'An equality of the same order is seen in the members of living beings" (Philo, Heir 51); "likewise in all the towns" (Josephus, Life 187); "the people of Asochis, like those of Japha, gave them a noisy reception" (ibid. 233); "to become a good distance runner, one must have robust shoulders and neck, like an athlete who competes in the pentathlon"; "Orpheus made a vow to the gods of Samothrace, just as he did the first time." It would seem that the nuance of Heb 2:14 is that cited by the Greek fathers—"with no difference"—a translation that follows the context. Christ assumed a human nature exactly like that of other mortals, even though its principle of existence was the person of the Word of God—but this is a distinction made by later theology.” [TLNT, Spicq]
BTW, there WAS a way to say ‘near to blood and flesh’, using a related word, if the author of Hebrews wanted to say that, but our author did not use it.
Our word in Hebrews is an adverb (ending in ‘siws’, with an omega). There is a related form that is an adjective (ending in ‘sios/a/on’, with an omicron instead of an omega) and it is used in Phil 2.27:
“…kai gar (and) ësthenësen (he was sick) paraplësion (near to) thanatö (to death)… “
The adjective here functions almost as a preposition (indeed, the translation of Spicq actually calls it a preposition) and it relates to death as its “object” (in the dative).
So, the author of Hebrews could easily have used this adjective (in the genitive plural neuter) and said:
“ai (also) autos (He) meteschen (‘deliberately’ partook of, [Aor]) paraplësiön (near to) tois (the) autois (same/identical things)
.. which would have yielded the ‘similar to our blood and flesh’ meaning of your questioner.
But he didn’t say that, did he? (smile) … he used the adverb instead…
So, the Greek of the passage supports the original understanding that the nature which was ‘partaken of’ by our Lord was ‘identical’ (the ‘same blood and flesh’) as the we, the children/brethren share by birth.
I hope this is clear enough,
FWIW—there are two other passages which have something like the ‘likewise’ thought---those using one of the ‘like-ness’ words (homoioma).
Romans 8.3 says this:
For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh..
And Phil 2.5-8 says this:
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men…
Both use the same word for likeness: homoiomati (from homoioma).
But again this is another case where the biblical writers struggle with word-choices to describe the Jesus of history: a human, perfect in love and obedience to the God of love, and therefore more human than any of us. He is ‘one of us’ (fully human) and yet ‘holy’ (i.e., different from us in His perfectly-human life). His humanity is the ‘original’ (like Adam’s was), it is we who are actually the ‘weaker copies’.
So, biblical scholars note this “same as” and “somewhat different from” aspects in these two passages:
First, the linguistic discussion of the word in [TDNT] states the matter clearly, for both passages:
“Certain difficulties arise in passages in which Paul uses ὁμοίωμα in connection with Christ’s manifestation on earth, R. 8:3 and Phil. 2:7. In R. 8:3 Paul says that God sent His Son into the world in the form of sinful flesh (ἐν ὁμοιώματι σαρκὸς ἁμαρτίας). He is emphasising that Christ was really man. He bore a physical body fashioned according to the human body which is infected with sin. In outward form He was in no way different from other men. But Paul does not say that He came ἐν σαρκὶ ἁμαρτίας. With his ἐν ὁμοιώματι Paul is showing that for all the similarity between Christ’s physical body and that of men there is an essential difference between Christ and men. Even in His earthly life Christ was still the Son of God. This means that He became man without entering the nexus of human sin. The words ἐν ὁμοιώματι keep us from a deduction which Paul did not wish to make, namely, that Christ became subject to the power of sin, and did in fact sin. For Paul Christ is sinless. Sin, which clung to the physical body He assumed, had no power over Him. The ὁμοίωμα thus indicates two things, first the likeness in appearance, and secondly the distinction in essence. Why did God send His Son into the world in the form of sinful flesh? Paul answers: With this body the intrinsically sinless Christ became the representative of sinful mankind. Hence God, by giving up Christ to death, could condemn sin by destroying His body, and thus cancel it.43 Christ took the likeness of σὰρξ ἁμαρτίας in order that God in Christ might achieve the liberation of mankind from sin.
“There is a similar statement in Phil. 2:7: Christ took the form of a servant, came into the world in the form of a man (ἐν ὁμοιώματι ἀνθρώπων γενόμενος), and was found in fashion as a man. Paul shows that Christ has undertaken a μεταμόρφωσις [tanknote: ‘change of inner-and-outer form’]. He has renounced the form of God and assumed that of a slave. He truly became man, not merely in outward appearance, but in thought and feeling. He who was the full image of God became the full image of man. But even in this passage, where ὁμοίωμα so obviously means “form,” there is still in the background the idea of the “image” which is not identical with the original (the form of men) but like it. For in His humanity Christ differed from all other men by virtue of His consistent obedience. It is thus said in Phil. 2:7 that Christ changed His form and assumed an appearance which made Him like men. The divine figure entered history. This is only another way of saying what Jn. says in 1:14: ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο [tanknote: “the Word became flesh”]. Paul does not say with any clarity how far the being of Christ was affected by this change. The words ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσεν in v. 7 could suggest that He retained nothing of His divine nature. But the fact that as man He accomplished what no other man could do, i.e., perfect obedience, leads necessarily to the conclusion that even as man He remained at the core of His being what He had been before. The earthly μορφή is also the husk which encloses His unchanging essential existence, though as such it is, of course, a real human body. Docetic ideas are quite alien to Paul. But as man Christ is in the depths of His essence a being of another kind.
Theological dictionary of
the New Testament. 1964-c1976. Vols. 5-9 edited by Gerhard Friedrich. Vol.
10 compiled by Ronald Pitkin. (G. Kittel,
G. W. Bromiley & G. Friedrich, Ed.) (electronic ed.) (5:195-197).
This is the same sort of tension the biblical writers have in proto-trinitarian concepts: Jesus was God, but somehow distinct from God the Father—without abandoning their ‘stubborn monotheism’. The incomparable Christ is this ‘impossible intersection’ of divinity and humanity in history which can only be ‘pointed to’ and ‘described’ by our language—never defined with ontological precision.
And the commentators for each passage individually echo this perspective, while adding certain cautions against trying to read too much ‘theology’ into the somewhat vague (or poetic) language.
So, for the Romans passage:
likeness; not identity, because not prone to
sin, not mere resemblance, as truly flesh. σάρξ ἁμαρτίας
sinful flesh” [Zerwick, M., & Grosvenor, M.
(1974). A grammatical analysis of the Greek New Testament.
Originally published under title: Analysis philologica
Novi Testamenti Graeci;
translated, revised and adapted by Mary Grosvenor in collaboration with the
“The last part of the clause here is particularly
controversial, for Paul says that God sent his Son “in the likeness of sinful
flesh even as a sin offering” (ἐν ὁμοιώματι σαρκὸς ἁμαρτίας
homoiōmati sarkos hamartias kai peri
hamartias). I have already surveyed briefly the debate
over the meaning of ὁμοίωμα
(homoiōma, likeness) in the exegesis and
“ἐν ὁμοιώματι σαρκὸς ἁμαρτίας. By σὰρξ ἁμαρτίας Paul clearly meant ‘sinful flesh’, i.e., fallen human nature. But why did he say ἐν ὁμοιώματι σαρκὸς ἁμαρτίας rather than just ἐν σαρκὶ ἁμαρτίας? At any rate five alternative solutions to this problem have to be considered:
(i) that he introduced ὁμοίωμα in order to avoid saying ἐν σαρκί, because he did not wish to imply the reality of Christ’s human nature. But this solution which attributes a docetic sense to the phrase must of course be rejected, as inconsistent with Paul’s thought—it is in fact contradicted in this very verse by ἐν τῇ σαρκί (according to the most likely interpretation of that phrase).
(ii) that he introduced ὁμοίωμα in order to avoid implying that the Son of God assumed fallen human nature, the sense being: like our fallen flesh, because really flesh, but only like, and not identical with, it, because unfallen. This, though it is the traditional solution, is open to the general theological objection that it was not unfallen, but fallen, human nature which needed redeeming.
(iii) that he introduced ὁμοίωμα in order to avoid implying that Christ actually sinned, the sense being: like our fallen human nature, because really fallen human nature, and yet only like ours, because not guilty of actual sin by which everywhere else our fallen nature is characterized.
(iv) that ὁμοίωμα is here to be understood as meaning ‘form’ rather than ‘likeness’—that is, as without any suggestion of mere resemblance.
(v) that the intention behind the use of ὁμοίωμα here (cf. its use in Phil 2:7, where there is no specific mention of sin) was to take account of the fact that the Son of God was not, in being sent by His Father, changed into a man, but rather assumed human nature while still remaining Himself. On this view, the word ὁμοίωμα does have its sense of ‘likeness’; but the intention is not in any way to call in question or to water down the reality of Christ’s σὰρξ ἁμαρτίας, but to draw attention to the fact that, while the Son of God truly assumed σὰρξ ἁμαρτίας, He never became σὰρξ ἁμαρτίας and nothing more, nor even σὰρξ ἁμαρτίας indwelt by the Holy Spirit and nothing more (as a Christian might be described as being), but always remained Himself.
“We have already ruled out (i), and have indicated the serious theological objection which lies against (ii). Against (iv) it must be said that, on this view, it is difficult to understand why Paul was not content simply to say ἐν σαρκὶ ἁμαρτίας. With regard to (iii), it may be suggested that the use of the expression ἐν ὁμοιώματι σαρκὸς ἁμαρτίας was not a satisfactory way of indicating that, though sharing our fallen human nature, Christ never actually sinned; for the effect of the use of ὁμοίωμα is to indicate a difference between Christ’s human nature and ours (that His human nature was like, but only like, ours), but the difference between Christ’s freedom from actual sin and our sinfulness is not a matter of the character of His human nature (of its being not quite the same as ours), but of what He did with His human nature. And, if this suggestion is right, it may be further suggested that the natural place for Paul to refer to Christ’s sinlessness was not in the participial clause which is concerned with God’s sending of His Son, but in the main sentence (ὁ θεὸς … κατέκρινεν τὴν ἁμαρτίαν ἐν τῇ σαρκί), and that, rightly interpreted, κατέκρινεν κ.τ.λ., does indeed include the affirmation of Christ’s sinlessness. We conclude that (v) is to be accepted as the most probable explanation of Paul’s use of ὁμοίωμα here, and understand Paul’s thought to be that the Son of God assumed the selfsame fallen human nature that is ours, but that in His case that fallen human nature was never the whole of Him—He never ceased to be the eternal Son of God.
C. E. B. (2004). A critical and exegetical commentary on the
Epistle to the Romans (379).
Other commentators point out the same things:
“The phrase “in the likeness/image of” has been much
debated. Paul is not avoiding saying that
Christ took on a real physical body. He is no docetist or Gnostic (see Phil. 2:5–11). Nor is he saying that
Christ has some sort of special kind of flesh of a different substance than
that of fallen human beings. He uses the language of comparison
here because of the adjective “sinful.” “The likeness of
sinful flesh” means Christ had real flesh, but it was not fallen and sinful
flesh.13 In view of the comparison with Adam in 5:12–21 it is quite believable
that Paul is thinking of Christ as the new Adam who comes on the earthly scene
like Adam before the Fall.14 The phrase compares human flesh and Christ’s
flesh, but also distinguishes them. It does not speak of the deeds of Jesus and
our deeds and so does not say that the Son came and did not sin like all other
human beings, though Paul believes that is also true (cf. 2 Cor. 5:21).15 … Cranfield suggests that the phrase means that Christ came
in the form or likeness of sinful flesh but did not cease to be the Son by
doing so. In other words, he was not changed
into a human being without remainder, but rather assumed human flesh while
still remaining himself, the Son of God.
This presumes the preexistence of the Son in Paul’s thought,
which in my view is exactly what a text such as Phil. 2:5–11 suggests. Christ
took on some of the limitations of human flesh, but only some. Paul seems to think that
Christ could not have condemned sin in the flesh unless he had taken on real
human flesh, without himself having sinful flesh.” [Witherington III, B., & Hyatt, D.
(2004). Paul's letter to the Romans : A
socio-rhetorical commentary (213).
σαρκὸς ἁμαρτίας, “in the
very likeness of sinful flesh.” For ὁμοίωμα
see on 6:5. There may be deliberate irony here: the concrete form which
the divine purpose took was sinful flesh. For σάρξ
see on 1:3 and 7:5. In 7:5, 14, and 18 the σάρξ
had been more clearly characterized as man in his belongingness to the age of Adam, that is, under the domination of sin, its weaknesses
and appetites unscrupulously used by sin to bind man more completely to death. σάρξ ἁμαρτίας is an
effective summary statement of Paul’s view of the fallen human condition, not
as a dualistic denunciation of the flesh as in itself sinful, but as a sober
recognition that man as flesh can never escape the enticing, perverting power
of sin. It was God’s purpose that Jesus’ ministry should be in this form (so
most recently Branick and Gillman). The significance
of Paul’s use of ὁμοίωμα
here is much debated (see, e.g., Käsemann and Cranfield). Probably he used ὁμοίωμα
partly because σάρξ ἁμαρτίας is an
epochal reality—it was in that form, precisely what all humanity within that
reality shared, in which Jesus ministered; and partly because the rule of sin
and death did not have its usual final say in his case. His death was itself an
epochal event which broke the consequence of sin’s hold on the flesh
(it is not
clear that the sinlessness of Jesus is in view here
in the ὁμοίωμα,
as is frequently maintained, even though Paul clearly affirms it elsewhere [2
Cor 5:21]); see on 6:5. In other words, this is the
language of Adam Christology: another son of God (cf. Luke 3:38) whose entry
upon this world had equivalently epochal significance (in effect recalling
5:12–21). Here, however, the fundamental thought is added that God achieved his purpose for
man not by scrapping the first effort and starting again, but by working
through man in his fallenness, letting sin and death
exhaust themselves in this man’s flesh, and remaking
him beyond death as a progenitor and enabler of a life κατὰ
[tanknote: WOW!] Hence
whatever the precise force of the ὁμοίωμα,
it must include the thought of Jesus’ complete identification with “sinful
flesh” (cf. njb: “the
same human nature as any sinner”); a docetic interpretation
can claim no adequate support in the text (see particularly Kuss; though cf. also Knox). As at
“The Son was sent "in the likeness of sinful man" ("man" is literally "flesh"). Observe with what care the incarnation is stated. Paul does not say "in sinful flesh," lest the Son's sinlessness be compromised, nor "in the likeness of flesh," which would convey a docetic idea and thereby deny the reality of the humanity of our Lord, making it only an appearance of corporeality. As it stands, the terminology is in full agreement with Philippians 2:7: "being made in human likeness." [EBCOT Rom 8.3]
The Romans passage is a ‘dogmatic’ text—in the older sense—and hence, the words can be ‘mined’ for individual nuances. The Philippians passage, however, is hymnic/poetic and words have more ‘latitude’ in such texts. They are less precise and more evocative.
Here’s some of the scholarly data on Phil 2.6-8
Silva has some excellent detail/analysis of our passage:
“The exegetical significance of these considerations
is, first, that we need not see a sharp difference between the first two
clauses. The words morphē and homoiōma, whatever distinctions one may detect in some
contexts, are interchanged here for stylistic
rather than semantic reasons. Moreover, we need not look for substantive theological differences
between doulos and anthrōpos;
the first term of course stresses Christ’s attitude of servanthood,
but the latter simply reminds us that he gave expression to that attitude by
becoming man (cf. Rom. 8:3). In the second place, it becomes clear that the use
of schēma is not intended primarily to be
contrasted with morphē (as Lightfoot tried to
prove). Rather, the whole clause recapitulates the thrust of the two previous
clauses by making a succinct statement of the incarnation. As the NBE puts it, “Así,
“ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ: Lightfoot’s claim that μορφή (opposite σχῆμα) refers to unchangeable essence can be sustained by some references, but too many passages speak against it. Plato asks if God can manifest himself in different aspects (ἄλλαις ἰδέαις) and alter “his shape in many transformations” (τὸ αὐτοῦ εἶδος εἰς πολλὰς μορφάς). Xenophon reports Socrates’ advice not to wait “for the gods to appear to you in bodily presence” (τὰς μορφὰς τῶν θεῶν ἴδῃς). Philo describes Gaius’s attempts to prove himself divine “by remodelling and recasting what was nothing but a single body into manifold forms” (ἑνὸς σώματος οὐσίαν μετασχηματίζων καὶ μεταχαράττων εἰς πολυτρόπους μορφάς). Lucian relates the Egyptian story of a certain occasion when one god “in his terror entered into a goat, another into a ram, and others into other beasts or birds; so of course the gods still keep the forms they took then” (διὸ δὴ εἰσέτι καὶ νῦν φυλάττεσθαι τὰς τότε μορφὰς τοῖς θεοῖς). Elsewhere Lucian describes the ugly physical appearance of the god Heracles (τὸ εἶδος τοῦ θεοῦ) according to the Celts, who thereby committed an offense against his form (παρανομεῖν τοὺς Κελτοὺς ἐς τὴν μορφὴν τὴν Ἡρακλέους). A still later writer, Libanius (fourth century), states that “any man who really approximates to the divine, does so not by any physical likeness” (οὐχ ὁ τοῖς θεοῖς τὴν μορφὴν ἑοικώς).”
… σχήματι: The
literature dealing with these words (and such related terms as δόξα, εἶδος,
εἱκών, etc.) is very
extensive and covers a wide range of problems. Whatever distinctions may
be posited are subject to contextual adjustments,
including semantic neutralization, which is most likely what we have here. It
would be difficult to prove that if these three terms were interchanged, a
substantive semantic difference would result. No doubt μορφή was chosen first to provide
an explicit contrast with μορφὴ
θεοῦ in verse 6; ὁμοίωμα
(a close synonym to ἴσος, cf. ἴσα in v. 6) serves to delimit more
precisely the range of μορφή
(that is, although μορφή
covers a very wide semantic range, only that area that overlaps with ὁμοίωμα is in view);
finally σχῆμα, which has an
even greater range than μορφή,
is perhaps the most useful term available to provide a general summary of what
the two previous clauses have stated. “[Silva, M. (2005).
Philippians (2nd ed.). Baker
exegetical commentary on the New Testament (115).
Others draw out the implications likewise:
θεοῦ: ‘in the form of
God.’ ‘Form’ is an inadequate rendering of μορφὴ,
but our language affords no better word. By ‘form’ is commonly understood
‘shape,’ ‘sensible appearance.’ So of Christ’s human form
(Mk. 16:12). But the word in this sense cannot be applied to God. Μορφὴ here means that expression
of being which is identified with the essential nature and character of God, and which reveals it. This expression of God cannot be
conceived by us, though it may be conceived and apprehended by pure spiritual
intelligences. … ὑπάρχων:
‘subsisting’ or ‘though he subsisted.’ Originally ‘to begin,’ ‘make a
beginning’; thence ‘to come forth’; ‘be at hand’; ‘be in existence.’ It is
sometimes claimed that ὑπάρχειν,
as distinguished from εἶναι,
implies a reference to an antecedent condition. Thus R.V.
marg. ‘being originally.’ Suidas, = προεῖναι. That it
does so in some cases is true. (See Thuc. iv. 18, vi.
86; Hdt. ii. 15; Dem. iii. 15, v. 13.) Comp. the
meaning ‘to be taken for granted’ (Plat. Symp. 198 D; Tim. 30 C). On the other
hand, it sometimes denotes a present as related to a future condition. (See Hdt. vii. 144; Thuc. ii. 64; and
the meaning ‘to be in store’ [Æs. Ag. 961].) The most
that can be said is that the word is very often used with a relative meaning;
while, at the same time, it often occurs simply as ‘to be.’ (See Schmidt, Synon. 81, 7.) … … 7. ἀλλὰ ἑαυτὸν
‘but emptied himself.’ For the verb, comp. Rom. 4:14; 1 Cor. 1:17, 9:15; 2 Cor.
9:3; LXX; Jer. 14:2, 15:9. Not used or intended here in a metaphysical sense to
define the limitations of Christ’s incarnate state, but as a strong and graphic
expression of the completeness of his self-renunciation. It includes all the
details of humiliation which follow, and is defined by these. Further
definition belongs to speculative theology. On Baur’s
attempt to show traces of Gnostic teaching in these words, see Introd. vi. … μορφὴν δούλου
taken the form of a bondservant.’ Characterising ἑαυ. ἐκ. generally.
The participle is explanatory, ‘by taking.’ (Comp. Eph. 1:9;
and see Burt. 145, and Win. xlv.) Μορφὴν, as in vs. 6, an expression or manifestation essentially
characteristic of the subject. Christ assumed that form of being which
completely answered to and characteristically expressed the being of a
bondservant. Only μορφὴ δούλου must not be taken as
implying a slave-condition, but a condition of service as contrasted with the
condition of equality with God. … Some, as Mey., Ellic.,
supply θεοῦ, ‘servant of God.’
But this limits the phrase unduly. He was not servant of God only, but of men
also. (Comp. Mt. 20:27, 28; Mk. 10:44, 45; Lk. 12:37;
Jn. 13:1–5, 13–17.) … ἐν ὁμοιώματι
‘having become (been made) in the likeness of men.’ Defining μορ. δού. λαβ. more
does not imply the reality of Christ’s
humanity as μορφὴ θε. implied the reality
of his deity. The former fact is
stated in ἐν μορ.
As that phrase expressed the inmost reality of Christ’s servantship,—the
fact that he really became the servant of men, —so ἐν
expresses the fact that his mode of manifestation
resembled what men are. This leaves
room for the other side of his nature, the divine, in the likeness of which he
did not appear. His likeness to men was real, but it did not express his whole
self. The totality of his being could not appear to men, for that
would involve the μορ. θε. The apostle views
him solely as he could appear to men. All that was possible was a real and
complete likeness to humanity. (Comp.
“The expression the likeness of men is similar to Paul’s wording in Rom 8:3 (“in the likeness of sinful flesh”). The same word “likeness” is used in both passages. It implies that there is a form that does not necessarily correspond to reality. In Rom 8:3, the meaning is that Christ looked like sinful humanity. Here the meaning is similar: Jesus looked like other men (note anthrōpoi), but was in fact different from them in that he did not have a sin nature. … By sharing in human nature. This last line of v. 7 (line d) stands in tension with the previous line, line c (“by looking like other men”). Both lines have a word indicating form or likeness. Line c, as noted above, implies that Christ only appeared to be like other people. Line d, however, uses a different term that implies a correspondence between form and reality. Further, line c uses the plural “men” while line d uses the singular “man.” The theological point being made is that Christ looked just like other men, but he was not like other men (in that he was not sinful), though he was fully human.” [Biblical Studies Press. (2003; 2003). The NET Bible Notes (Php 2:7). Biblical Studies Press.]
“ἐν ὁμοιώματι ἀνθρώπων γενόμενος. ‘He was born like other humans’. This second participial phrase also defines more precisely the expression of the finite verb ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσεν (‘he emptied himself’). As indicated above, the phrase is modal, describing the manner in which Christ ‘emptied himself’, rather than indicating the manner of his ‘taking the form of a servant’. The aorist participle γενόμενος (derived from γίνομαι), together with the preposition ἐν, stresses the notion of ‘beginning’ or ‘becoming’, in the sense of ‘coming into a position, or a state’, and stands in sharp contrast to the present participle ὑπάρκων of v. 6. In fact, two static verbs ὑπάρχων and εἶναι are found in v. 6, but elsewhere the hymn uses verbs that connote action (e.g., ἐκένωσεν, λαβών, and γενόμενος in v. 7; ἐταπείνωσεν and γενόμενος in v. 8). Earlier it was said that Christ always existed (ὑπάρχων) ‘in the form of God’. Here it is claimed that he came into existence (γενόμενος) ‘in the likeness of man’. Although J.-F. Collange objects to rendering the participle by ‘was born’, there is no doubt that Jesus’ entrance into an existence like that of human beings was certainly brought about by human birth, and the same participle means ‘born’ at Gal. 4:4 and Rom. 1:3 (cf. Jn. 8:58).119
ὁμοίωμα (‘what is
made similar, likeness, image, copy’), although occurring seldom in secular
Greek, appeared frequently in the LXX,
connected with words such as μορφή,
σχῆμα.121 ὁμοίωμα can be
used to signify ‘equivalence, identity’ (Rom. 6:5; cf. 5:14),
to emphasize the sense of an identical duplicate of the original, and thus here
speaks of Christ’s ‘essential identity’ with
the human race. He became in all
respects like other human beings (ἀνθρώπων; cf. Heb. 4:15). On the other hand, ὁμοίωμα
can also mean ‘similarity’ or ‘resemblance’, that is, a likeness that
nevertheless retains a sense of distinction from the original. In the present
context this is taken to imply that the incarnate Christ is more than simply a real human being.
Such a view is based on the usage of ὁμοίωμα
in Rom. 8:3 where the incarnation of Christ is emphatically asserted, and yet
his ultimate distinction from sinful human beings is retained by the term ὁμοίωμα (in the
expression ἐν ὁμοιώματι
σαρκὸς ἁμαρτίας), since
he obviously did not assume fallen human nature (cf. 2 Cor.
5:21). … Instead,
the term ὁμοίωμα
should be understood here in the sense of Christ’s full identity with the human
race. O. Michel may be correct in noting that the
hymn employs a number of paraphrastic formulas (Umschreibungsformeln), such as ὁμοίωμα,
instead of straightforward statements. But these are used to depict the marvellous fact of the incarnation and the earthly life of
Jesus. In this context it is too subtle to state that the phrase ἐν ὁμοιώματι
‘suggests a mysterious appearance of one who, since he came from God, still
retains a secret relationship with him, and is, to that extent, removed from men’.
… We agree
with the concerns of both Michel and Martin to assert that Christ fully
participated in our human experience, while at the same time recognizing that
‘even the self-emptying and humiliation have not destroyed or violated the
secret of the pre-existent One’. Jesus is ‘truly Man, but he is not merely Man’.
Nevertheless, here the term ὁμοίωμα
and the other paraphrastic formulas draw attention to
the action of Christ, namely, that as the preexistent one he became a real human being
and took the form of a servant, becoming obedient to death. The expressions do
not point to what is mystical and extraordinary in the nature or essence of the
incarnate one, as Michel and Martin’s statements assert, since these are not
the particular issues at hand. … καὶ σχήματι εὑρεθεὶς ὡς ἄνθρωπος.
Lit. ‘And being found in form as a
human being’. Although a number of exegetes take this clause (v. 7d = v.
8a in E.T.’s) ‘to be closely connected with the preceding
participial affirmation’, in our judgment it is better to
regard it as dependent on the finite verb ἐταπείνωσεν
(‘he humbled’) that immediately follows. The καί
links the two finite verbs ἐκένωσεν
rather than the two participles γενόμενος
This is not to suggest, however, that there is no relationship between the
participial clauses. They are synthetically parallel with the progression of
thought—a recapitulation occurring in the next strophe—signified through the
contrasting ἀνθρώπων–ἄνθρωπος and γενόμενος–εὑρεθείς.
… σχῆμα, ‘outward appearance, form, shape’,
appears only twice in the NT, here and at 1 Cor. 7:31. It occurs once in the LXX, at Is. 3:17; however, in classical
Greek it was used often enough to denote ‘the outward form or structure perceptible
to the senses’. Here in Phil. 2:7 σκῆμα,
when used with the verb εὑρίσκομαι,
refers to the way in which Jesus’ humanity appeared. As R. P. Martin puts it, v. 7d ‘contains an unmistakable witness to
His personal humanity in its declaration that, in the eyes of those who saw His
incarnate life, he was “as a man” ’. The reality of his
humanity is thus reaffirmed. At the same time the statement
carries the point forward in the direction of his humiliation … Christ in his
incarnation fully identified himself with
humanity. As L. E. Keck puts it, ‘he shared man’s plight in reality and was
no mere “reasonable facsimile of a man” ’.
other writers of the NT, Paul (or the author of the hymn) insists on the
reality and completeness of Christ’s humanity
2:52; Jn. 1:14; Rom. 8:3; Gal. 4:4; Col. 1:22; Heb. 2:17; 4:15; 5:7–8; Jn.
4:2–3).147 [O'Brien, P. T. (1991). The
Epistle to the Philippians : A commentary on the Greek
“The one who was existing in
the form of God took on the form of a servant. The word "taking" (labon) does
not imply an exchange, but rather an addition. The "form of God"
could not be relinquished, for God cannot cease to be God; but our Lord could
and did take on the very form of a lowly
servant when he entered human life by the Incarnation. It is
sometimes suggested that the term "servant" refers to the exalted
Servant of Jehovah, but this passage seems intended to emphasize his
condescension and humble station. What an example our Lord provides of the
spirit of humility (cf. 2:3-5)! Inasmuch as
angels also are servants, the statement makes it clear that Christ became part
of humanity: "being made in human likeness." The word
does not bear the connotation of exactness as does eikon, or of
intrinsic form as does morphe.
It stresses similarity but leaves room for differences. Thus Paul implies that
even though Christ became a genuine man, there were certain respects in which
he was not absolutely like the other men. (He may have had in mind the unique
union of the divine and human natures in Jesus, or the absence of a sinful
nature.) … In
summation, Christ did not empty himself of the form of God (i.e., his deity),
but of the manner of existence as equal to God. He did not lay aside the divine
attributes, but "the insignia of majesty" (Lightfoot, p. 112). Mark
Twain's novel The Prince and the Pauper,
describing a son of Henry VIII who temporarily changed positions with a poor
The data of the language, the argumentation in the text, and the context of the writer’s thoughts indicate that there is no basis for claiming that Jesus did NOT have a fully human nature. The passages only point out that ‘human nature’ was not in itself a ‘big enough’ or ‘pure enough’ designation to encompass ALL that the incarnate Son of God was, while on earth.
We have already seen numerous times how the attributes of ‘flesh’ were ascribed to Jesus throughout the NT literature—especially in the repeated references to His death for our benefit.
But here are a few other statements about ‘flesh’ (Grk. Sarx) to summarize some of the material:
“‘The flesh’ may
stand for the whole of this physical existence, and there are
references to being ‘in the flesh’ (Col. 2:1; RSV omits). There is no blame attached to this, and,
indeed, Christ is said more than once to have been ‘in the flesh’ (Eph. 2:15; 1
Pet. 3:18; 1 Jn. 4:2, etc.). To be ‘in the flesh’ is not
incompatible with being ‘in the Lord’ (Phm. 16). The
flesh may be defiled (Jude 8) or purified (Heb. 9:13). The life that Paul the
Christian now lived was ‘in the flesh’ (Gal. 2:20). …But, by definition, the
flesh is the earthly part of man. It has its ‘lusts’ and its ‘desires’ (Eph.
2:3). If men concentrate on these they may be said to ‘set their minds on the things
of the flesh’ (Rom. 8:5). And to set the mind on the flesh
‘is death’ (
“Sarx in the singular can
refer to earthly human form. In Hebrews 2:14 Sarx is used in the
combination “blood and flesh” to refer
to the physical being of people and of the Son who shares in this.
5:7 Sarx occurs in the phrase “in
the days of his flesh,” which again refers to the time of the Messiah’s
physical life on earth in its weakness as truly human. The
same way of using Sarx is found in Hebrews 12:9 with
reference to our earthly fathers. Sarx in Acts 2:26, 31 might
also refer to the physical body of Jesus; it cites Psalm 16:9, “Moreover, my flesh will dwell in hope.”
Acts 2:31 combines this notion of flesh with the notion of corruption in Acts
2:27 to say that the flesh of the Messiah will not decay (cf. Gundry, 210;
Harris, 109)…. Three times Sarx is used of
the Messiah [in the later NT]. In 1 John 4:2 and 2 John 7 flesh
speaks of the incarnation: “every spirit that
confesses that Jesus has come in the flesh.”
But here it refers more to a realm of existence than to having human flesh.
According to John, an orthodox confession says that Jesus’
salvific coming was into the real world of flesh and
blood (Brown, 493). Hebrews 10:20 also refers to the flesh of the Messiah.
Here “his flesh” occurs as the
interpretation (tout’ estin, “this
is”) of the “veil” (since both veil and flesh are in
the genitive case in Greek). Flesh, by metonymy, refers to the offering of his
flesh, i.e., his death (cf. Lane, 275–76). This death inaugurates the new and
living way as opposed to the dead way of the old covenant. These uses of Sarx in Hebrews and 1 John prepare us for its use in other
texts as a salvation-historical term.” [Martin, R. P., & Davids, P. H. (2000, c1997). Dictionary of the later
New Testament and its developments (electronic ed.).
“Though flesh and sin are closely related, Christ redeemed sinful human flesh. In the incarnation Christ assumed human flesh (Jn. 1:14) and lived as a human being (e.g., He. 5:7; 1 Tim. 3:16). It is in His flesh that Christ suffered (1 Pet. 4:1). Against the Gnostics, John taught that the flesh as such is not sinful (see Gnosticism VIII.B; cf. VI.D). In fact, Christ’s incarnation and death are the occasion for the believer’s fellowship with Him in the “eating” of His flesh (Jn. 6:52). As in the OT, the NT professes that one day “all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Lk. 3:6; cf. Jn. 17:2).” [Bromiley, G. W. (1988; 2002). The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (2:314-315). Wm. B. Eerdmans.]
“Flesh as Person with Reference to Origin. Following
an OT usage, “flesh” is used to refer not merely to the stuff of the body or to
the body itself, but concretely to the person as constituted by flesh. In this
usage the word may refer to the person’s human relationship, the physical
origin and the natural ties that bind that one to other humans. Paul speaks of
his kinsmen “according to the flesh,” his fellow Jews (Rom 9:3 KJV), and even uses “my flesh”
(11:14 kjv) as a synonym for these kinsmen. The
“children of the flesh” (9:8) are those born by natural generation in contrast
to those born as a result of divine intervention. Christ was descended from
David according to the flesh (1:3). The phrase does not designate merely the
source of his bodily life, but of his entire human existence including both his
body and his human spirit.” [Elwell,
W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Baker encyclopedia of the Bible. Map on lining papers.
“In Romans 7:4 “the
body of Christ,” which is the instrument through which believers were
rendered dead to and hence free from the Law, refers to Christ’s physical body
in which he suffered death on the cross. Similarly,
“his body of flesh” in Colossians 1:22 is a Hebraism (with
Qumran parallels) denoting Christ’s
physical body, which in death became the means by which God
reconciled sinners to himself: the addition “of flesh”
insists, against the Colossian heresy, on the true humanity of the incarnate
Jesus.” [Hawthorne, G. F., Martin, R. P.,
& Reid, D. G. (1997, c1993). Dictionary of Paul and his letters
(electronic ed.). Logos Library
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