In Christology in the Making, James Dunn proffers that Christological hymn of Philippians 2:6-11 does not express the pre-existence of Christ, but rather is a reflection of an Adamic Christology. For Dunn, ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ1 in v. 6 refers to Adam’s creation in the image of God in Genesis 1-3, with εἰκων2 being synonymous with μορφή.3 Linguistically, this argument is pretty convincing. The difference of word usage can be explained to the poetic nature of the hymn, which sought to marshal the concept of μορφή as a way to contrast the image of God with the status of a servant. Interpretation of the form of God in terms of the Adamic narrative is strengthened by Dunn’s observation as to the how Christ “did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited” corresponds to the serpent’s seduction about the tree:12-5 of knowledge of good and evil will make the eaters like God in Gen. 3:5.4
However, his following argument that the μορφὴν δούλου5 in vs. 7 refers to the Adam as a result of the fall is not as convincing. Adam is not spoken of as a slave after the fall by the OT, nor do we see that understanding in the NT. This would actually run counter to the whole narrative of the OT where humanity ceases to be anything like a slave or servant. Instead, starting with Adam and Eve, humanity becomes disobedient to the will of God. Whereas, in contrast, obedience defines Christ as a human in vs. 8, suggesting δούλος is not simply about to losing a “share in God’s glory and [becomong] a slave”6 but rather about a role of social status that impacts how one relates to another. This manner of relating seems to be the heart of the hymn of v. 6-8. Furthermore the hymn is marshalled in support of other people considering other people’s interest’s more important than one’s own.7 Service to others is seen as a positive thing for Paul, and thus would likely not employed this hymn for this moral exhortation to do such if the “form of a slave” was seen as a loss of status due to the Fall.
However, an alternative is to suggest that vss. 7-8 is an echo of the Suffering Servant hymn in Isaiah 53. There the servant is one who has a low social status in being despised, is put to death, and yet this servant’s faithfulness is the basis of salvation for those who rejected him and this servant will given assign a high status as a result of his faithfulness. Low status, death, and being assigned high status are all features of the hymn in Phil. 2:6-11; we may also suggest salvation to others is implied by Jesus becoming their Lord. In this case, what we are seeing is the Adamic Christology is blended with a Servant Christology. This can then explain the hymn’s usage of δούλος.
We can also see this blending of Adamic and Servant Christologies in Romans 5. Romans 5:12-21 compares and contrasts the effect of Adam’s actions on the world with Christ’s actions on the world. In v. 19, Paul says διὰ τῆς ὑπακοῆς τοῦ ἑνὸς δίκαιοι κατασταθήσονται οἱ πολλοί.8 This compares with the impact upon many mentioned of the servant in LXX Isa. 53:11: δικαιῶσαι δίκαιον εὖ δουλεύοντα πολλοῖς.9
This blending of Adamic and Servant Christologies may also be in play in 1 Corinthians 15:45, where Paul contrast Adam’s reception of life with the last Adam’s giving of life. Similarly, Isaiah 53:4-6 assigns a healing role to the servant’s faithfulness. There, it is the sin of the unjust that are healed by the one who is unjustly killed. Thus contrast that may be implicit in 1 Co. 15:45 is how those who like Adam sin are healed by Christ. Whereas Adam is simply a ψυχὴν ζῶσαν,11 means one does not accept instruction from God12 and thus remain in disobedience to God, Christ as a πνεῦμα ζῳοποιοῦν13 heals the mere “soulishness” of Adam. While the allusion to the Servant Christology is more subtle, when you combine it with the blending of the Adamic and Servant Christologies in Phil. 2:6-11 and Romans 5:12-21, there is enough warrant to see the same pattern in 1 Corinthians 15.
If these three passages really do provide grounds for an early fusion of Adamic and Servant Christologies, then there are four possible observations I would make:
1) This pattern of thinking about Jesus has to be really early in the life of the Church. The blending of the two Christologies are subtle enough so as to have become a habitual thought pattern. This would have taken time to form.
2) If Philippians 2:6-11 is a blending of these two Christologies, then Dunn’s reading of it is only half correct. The hymn is not expressing a recapitulation of Adam as Dunn’s exegesis seems to imply, thereby getting rid of any need for pre-existence in the hymn. Rather, the hymn is expressing an implicit discontinuity with Adam, necessitating Jesus to being something more than human in order to not be like Adam. Hence, it is more coherent to suggest that Christ’s pre-existence is predicated in Phil. 2:6, and it precisely this pre-existence that allows Christ to be an obedient contrast to Adam once He becomes human; though equal with God Christ became a servant who was obedient to God, instead of Adam (and Eve) who sought to become like God and thus became disobedient to God.
3) It is this fusion of Adamic Christology with the Servant Christology that would be a sufficient condition for Paul to have Adam function simultaneously as a continuous comparison and a discontinuous contrast to Christ.
4) The manner in which the early Christians related Jesus to the Scriptures was not simply a simplistic pattern where they tried to match Jesus with specific passages in the OT in a proof-texting manner. Rather, what seems to be the case is that the early Christians were actually seeing Christ through the lens of the ideas that they derived from the Scriptures. Thus, the early Christian movement wouldn’t have been a simply proof-texting movement, but rather creatively explored the significance of Christ. This is consistent with Paul’s rejection of the γραμμα of the Torah, but not the Torah as a source for moral reflection, in contrast to a more creative well-spring coming from the Spirit.14
In short, for Paul and the early Church, Christ’s pre-existence allows him to be human and yet escape the corrupting power of Adam, and therefore become the last Adam who lives as an obedient, suffering servant, enduring the injustice from the disobedience of the descendants of the first Adam, thereby turning the unjust towards righteous obedience.
LATER EDIT: After posting, my friend Joshua Toepper on Facebook pointed to a similar idea NT Wright presents in his The Climax of the Covenant. On pages 57-62, Wright argues that a Servant Christology is consistent with an Adamic Christology in Philippians 2. While I have not read it thoroughly enough to comment, there is one comment I would make. Wright says that both Adamic-Christology and Servant-Christology are really Israel-Christologies, and thus on this grounds they go well together.15 My contention would be to suggest that the Servant-Christology is not understood by the early Church as an Israel-Christology, but rather fits within a prophetic strand, which would emphasize a discontinuity with Israel and Torah. It would be possible to allow for the Servant-Christology to be an Israel-Christology only through the idea of the faithful remnant of Israel. Likewise, the Adamic-Christology contains an implicit critique of Israel, as they share the very same Adamic 16 that Christ as the Last Adam redeems them from. So, on the surface of it it looks as if that the Adamic and Servant Christologies have a subtle critique of Israel. Thus, whereas perhaps Wright would make the Adamic and Servant Christologies emphasize a continuity with Israel with Christ as the fulfillment of Israel, I would say the two Christologies contain A) a latent discontinuity with Torah as a set of fixed writings and the history Israel but B) a continuity with God’s purposes that were in those points of history being expressed through Torah and were being brought forth throughout Israel’s history. But since I have not read The Climax of the Covenant except for a few sections, I can not say confidently that this represents Wright adequately, but only my understanding of his body of work. Furthermore, even if it does represent Wright adequately, the question of emphasis may ultimately boil down to a matter of semantics rather than any substantive disagreement on my part with Wright.
- “in the form of God”
- James D.G. Dunn, Christology in the Making: A New Testament Inquiry into the Orgins of the Doctrine of the Incarnation. (2nd ed.; London: SCM, 1989), 116.
- “form of a slave/servant
- Phi. 2:4
- “through the obedience of the one, the many will be made righteous.
- “To vindicate the righteous one who serves many well.
- “living soul”[/npte] and the status of being Ψυχικὸς10“soul-ish”
- 1 Co. 2:14
- “live-giving spirit”
- Rom. 7:6; 2 Co. 3:4-18.
- N.T. Wright, The Climax of the Covenant. (New York: T&T Clark, 1991), 90.
- Whatever that nature is