See Phillippians 2:6-11
The difficulty Reymond finds with what he calls the classical view is that if the statement that Jesus “being in very nature God,” “made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant.” refers to His incarnation as the classical view holds, then we are presented with difficulty by the phrase that comes between these two statements, specifically that He, “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.” It makes no difference whether we interpret “grasped” to mean He did not consider equality with God a thing to be clung to or a thing to be attained to, either way we have a theological problem. If we understand it to mean Jesus became incarnate, not considering equality with God a thing to be clung to, then we imply that in His incarnation Jesus put aside equality with God. This is a heretical view of our Lord. In truth He was fully God during the incarnation. We believe preexistent God put on flesh, not that He put off deity.
If we take the alternative view of “grasped,” then we are still left in a difficult position. If we say that it means Jesus did not consider the very nature of God a thing to be grasped in the sense of attained to or grasped after, then we imply falsely that He did not fully possess it with the Father prior to His incarnation and subsequent glorification. This understanding of “grasped” also makes hash of the passage itself which says in the verse immediately prior that Jesus was at that time “in very nature God.”
Both of these problems are caused by construing the phrase “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped” to refer to an attitude Christ held before the incarnation. If we believe that Christ preincarnate with the Father did not consider wquality with God a thing to be grasped, then either we imply He at least partially divested Himself of it in the incarnation or that He didn’t fully possess it prior to the incarnation.
Reymond suggests this difficulty can be avoided by understanding the passage to refer to Christ’s activity and attitude during His Messianic mission on Earth subsequent to the incarnation. He suggests we interpret it in light of Matthew 4, Isaiah 53, and I would add Genesis 3.
He interprets Paul’s statement that Jesus did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped with Matthew 4 in mind. Here the tempter cajoles Christ to lay hold of authority over all kingdoms and their glory by laying down and worshipping the tempter. Christ, Reymond says, did not lay hold of authority and glory in any way other than obedience to the Father which led to the cross. He suggests that “emptied Himself,” or kenosis in the Greek, which suggests a pouring out, may be Paul’s language for the prophet’s thought in Isaiah 53:12 where he says that the Messiah pours Himself out unto death.
Finally, to the paralel Reymond suggests I would add another. He points out that Christ did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped in the way Satan tempted Him to in Matthew 4, and the way Satan himself did in his fall. I would add to this observation a paralell with Genesis 3 in that Christ did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped in the way Eve and Adam did, and in the way Satan tempted them to when he said to them that by eating of the forbidden fruit they would be like God.
These paralells offer a way of understanding this passage that does not leave us with the dilemma of Christ either not having equality with God prior to His incarnation, or not retaining it through the incarnation.
In the next and final post, I’ll look at a view that I think captures the best of both the classical and Reymond’s perspectives.
Here’s Reymond’s book, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith.