For a summary of what Adam Christology in light of Paul's theology, is all about I will quote:
James D.G. Dunn's book:
Christology in the Making
(Second Edition, SCM PRESS LTD, 1996)
Paul understands salvation as the restoration of the believer to the glory which man now lacks as a result of his/Adam's sin (Rom. 3.23). ...
For bound up with this understanding of salvation and integral to it is Paul's conviction that Jesus is the indispensable model or pattern for this process. Salvation for Paul is essentially a matter of being conformed to the pattern which is Christ. We see this most clearly in Paul's use of the same two terms which constitute his Adam soteriology [i.e. the study of salvation] - 'image' and 'glory'. ...
The idea of all men somehow caught up in Adam's fall, of man as fallen Adam, and the idea of salvation as a renewal of God's image in Adam and a restoration of God's glory forfeited by Adam. But in Paul's theology Adam is pushed aside at this point, and Christ alone fills this stage. Adam becomes merely the type of fallen man, and another Adam appears as alone the final man to whom believers must be conformed.
The Adam motif is a substantial strand in the warp and woof of Paul's theology, and even when not explicit its influence spreads out widely and throws a considerable light on his understanding of the Christian gospel. Paul's Adam christology is an extension of this motif and wholly consistent with it ...
So Adam Christology is about studying Jesus Christ in the light of the fact
that he came to save us from our sins and restore us to the glory and image
of GOD, that GOD had intended in the first place, for all mankind to
That is why, Paul repeatedly contrasts Adam with Jesus Christ; showing that where Adam failed, Christ succeeded; and thus salvation ultimately, will be when we are all conformed/transformed totally to the image of Christ, who is the image of the invisible GOD. [Col 1.15]
In light of these facts I contend that Phil. 2:5ff has absolutely nothing to do with a pre-existence (and an incarnation) of some heavenly being!
I will now quote Karl-Josef Kuschel's book:
BORN BEFORE ALL TIME?: The Dispute over Christ's Origin
(SCM PRESS LTD, 1992)
I will firstly show a series of quotes leading up to what he has to say concerning Philippians Chapter 2.
The Old Testament also knows the idea of a kind of human 'soul'. However,
it is not pre-existent, but the result of the creative activity of God:
'Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into
his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being'
(Gen. 2.7). ...
All this means that it seems characteristic of the Old Testament notion of pre-existence that God alone is 'pre-existent'; specifically, that means: uncreated and prior to all created things. For the Old Testament takes it utterly for granted that God alone is the creator of all that is; he alone lives 'for ever and ever', or 'from primal times', ... God alone is uncreated, without a beginning, eternal and incorruptible.
Page 194 Concerning 'wisdom' e.g. Proverbs 8
Nor is there any tradition that Lady Wisdom was ever misunderstood in Israel as a "real" goddess appearing alongside Yahweh. Lady Wisdom is not in any way to be called a "goddess".
Nowhere is wisdom addressed personally or approached for help as Yahweh is. ... There can be no question of a 'second principle' in God. So in Judaism - borderline cases apart - the pre-existence of a personified form is not associated either with uncreatedness or with divinity. What we always have - in a poetical and didactic form - is the wisdom of God himself and not the rivalry of a divinized figure of wisdom alongside the one God. Personification and pre-existence are poetic, stylistic means for giving form to that which has no form, for making the intangible tangible, for portraying that which has no image: God himself in his revelation for human beings.
Page 218: ideal pre-existence i.e. exist in the ideas/thought of GOD
Since the fundamental rabbinic studies by the Protestant exegete Paul
Billerbeck, it has still been the case that
'no matter how many messianic figures the synagogue may have created, it nowhere allows its Messiah to go beyond the universal human measure; he remains a man among men (Justin, Dialogue 49). So it was not possible to attribute pre-existence to him. That would have distinguished him from other men.'
In other words, in the synagogue a particular kind of pre-existence was always associated with the Messiah, but it did not set him apart from other men. This is pre-existence in God's thought, the ideal pre-existence of the Messiah. To quote Billerbeck once again:
'The doctrine of the ideal pre-existence of the Messiah in the world of God's thought makes the Messiah an essential ingredient of the eternal and therefore unchangeable plans of God for the world; it is intended to strengthen Israel's confidence in its messianic hopes.'
No text can be identified in rabbinic Judaism for the first century CE which asserts a real pre-existence of the Messiah, ...
And the earliest witnesses do not make the story of Jesus begin 'in heaven', in a mythical prior time, but in a concrete place here on earth. ... Indeed interest from the sources in any prior existence of Jesus seems so slight that the earliest Gospel, Mark, does not even have a narrative about his childhood or a genealogy, and even those Gospels which report his childhood and genealogy have absolutely no interest in grounding Jesus' origin in a heavenly prior time; this prior time is historical and earthly - the history of the Jewish people (Matt. 1.1-17; Luke 3.23-28).
Did Jesus see himself as a pre-existent heavenly figure and require corresponding faith here? Did the earliest witnesses of faith believe in Jesus as a pre-existent heavenly figure? That is what we asked at the beginning of this chapter. The answer is that neither Jesus himself nor the earliest community shows any interest in pre-existence in any form.
Then Kuschel deals with
the hymn of Philippians Chapter 2.
Here are some quotations concerning his findings:
Page 249: concerning Phil. 2.6-11
... in the hymn Jesus is human ... the hymn, however, speaks of God's action on the man Jesus in the act of exaltation. ... the hymn is about appointment to a new, higher dignity and the beginning of his position as ruler of the world, in other words a real enthronement. Finally, in 2.10f. an allusion to Isa. 45.23 ('Before me every knee will bow') is an integral part of the hymn. The conclusion is that the hymn does not say anything about the motivation for the descent ('to make good the fault') nor is there any echo of 'docetism'. On the contrary, in this hymn
Jesus Christ is really human.
From this fact that the Jewish heritage rather than Hellenistic syncretism may be the key to understanding the Philippians hymn, present-day exegetes have drawn the radically opposite conclusion that the Philippians hymn does not speak of the pre-existence of Christ at all. Indeed an increasing number of present-day New Testament scholars with good reason question the premises of exegesis hitherto and cannot see pre-existence, let alone incarnation, in the Philippians hymn.
... in this text Christ is not celebrated as a pre-existent heavenly being, but in good Jewish fashion as a human counterpart to Adam. That view cannot be completely false, simply because in other passages in his correspondence Paul also compares Christ with Adam (Rom. 5. 12-21; I Cor. 15.21f., 45-47). In fact we can ask: is not Adam, the first, original man, here replaced and surpassed by Jesus as the definitive, ultimately valid man? In that case we should regard Gen. 1-3, the creation and fall of the first man, as the traditio-historical background. ...
So the first line of the hymn would speak of Christ, who like Adam was created 'in the image' of God and like Adam participated in the 'glory' of God before his fall. The contrasting term to 'form of God' would further confirm this derivation: 'form of a slave' is evidently an allusion to Adam's fate after the fall. The second contrasting pair at the beginning of the text would point in the same direction: 'likeness of God' probably alludes to Adam's temptation (he wanted to be like God, Gen. 3.5) and 'likeness of men' in turn to Adam's state after succumbing to sin.
The phrase 'being like God' (Greek isa theou), too, may not simply be translated with terms like 'equality to God', 'being like God', as often happens. That would require the form isos theos. What we have in the text is the adverb isa, and that merely means 'as God', 'like God'. So there is no statement about Christ being equal to God, and this in turn tells against an interpretation in terms of pre-existence. ...
So this text would be a piece of Adam Christology, of the kind that also emerges in other contexts in the New Testament. ...
So there is no question here of a pre-existent heavenly figure. Rather, Christ is the great contrasting figure to Adam. To be specific, was it not Adam who wanted to become even more like God and thus succumbed to hybris and the primal sin? Was it not Adam who then as punishment had to live a kind of slave's existence? And is not the Christ of this hymn precisely the opposite? Did he not give up his being in the image of God voluntarily? Did he not take on the form of a slave, not as a punishment, but voluntarily and obediently, so that he was then appointed by God to his heavenly dignity? That, then, would be the contrast,
the great antithesis in this hymn:
Adam the audacious man -
Christ the man who humbled himself;
Adam the one who was humbled forcibly by God -
Christ the man who voluntarily humbled himself before God;
Adam the rebellious man -
Christ the man who was utterly obedient;
Adam the one who was ultimately cursed -
Christ the one who was ultimately exalted;
Adam who wanted to be like God - and in the end became dust;
Christ, who was in the dust and indeed went to the cross - and is in the end the Lord over the cosmos?
Thus in this hymn Christ seems to be the new Adam who has finally overcome the old Adam. There is no question of a pre-existence of Christ with the scheme of a three-stage Christology:
pre-existence, humiliation, post-existence. ...
Jerome Murphy-O'Connor can therefore draw the basic conclusion:
'Strophe 1: As the Righteous Man par excellence Christ was the perfect image (eikon) of God. He was totally what God intended man to be. His sinless condition gave him the right to be treated as if he were God, that is, to enjoy the incorruptibility in which Adam was created. This right, however, he did not use to his own advantage, but he gave himself over to the consequences of a mode of existence that was not his by accepting the condition of a slave which involved suffering and death.
Strophe 2: Though in his human nature Christ was identical with other men, he in fact differed from them because, unlike them, he had no need to be reconciled with God. Nonetheless, he humbled himself in obedience and accepted death.
Strophe 3: Therefore, God exalted him above all the just who were promised a kingdom, and transferred to him the title and the authority that had hitherto been God's alone. He is the Kyrios whom every voice must confess and to whom every knee must bow.
Thus understood, the original hymn represents an attempt to define the uniqueness of Christ considered precisely as man. This is what one would expect at the beginning of Christian theology.'
[Jerome Murphy-O'Connor OP, 'Christological Anthropology in Phil 2.6-11', Revue Biblique 93, 1976, p.49f]
So does not the very formula 'humbling himself' presuppose the pre-existence
of Christ? Where does the statement about humbling himself and emptying himself
come from? ...
But here basically one unproven hypothesis has been used to support another: because Christ is pre-existent, emptying himself can only mean incarnation; or vice versa: because emptying himself can only mean incarnation, here Christ must be pre-existent. But for Rissi himself, the assumption of pre-existence in this text is 'very questionable'. What is the alternative?
The alternative is that in this hymn a messianically orientated servant Christology from Isa. 53 has quite decisively appeared alongside the Adam Christology of the first lines (2.6). This is also confirmed by the parallel statements about exaltation in Philippians and Isaiah. The servant of God in Isaiah will also one day be 'exalted and lifted up' (Isa. 52.13), just as it is said of the Christ in this hymn that God has exalted him above all. Moreover Phil.2.10 contains a clear allusion to Isa. 45.23: 'To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.' So it is only the post-existent, exalted Christ to whom here a dignity is attributed which otherwise is reserved only for God. And in fact allusions to other Old Testament texts seem to point in the same direction.
So vv. 6 and 7 would not be speaking of a pre-existent heavenly being or of
incarnation, but solely of the life of Christ on earth. Rissi's conclusion
is that 'the Christ as the true man in God's purpose did not let himself be
led astray like the first man but remained sinless; however, he did not do
so as an ideal figure but as a real human being. He fulfils the role of
the servant of God in Isa.53. He is the man Jesus who was exalted because he
humbled himself, and at the end will receive eschatological homage from all.
This is clearly a Jewish-Christian interpretation of the career of Christ on the
basis of a christological interpretation of the Old Testament.'
... that Phil. 2.6 is primarily concerned with making statements about high status and by no means necessarily concerned with pre-existence. I do not think that it can be proved that this is a statement about incarnation. ... The conclusion to be drawn from this is that one need not borrow extra-biblical notions and texts to understand Philippians 2. The Jewish background is enough for understanding this hymn and indeed for providing continuity with Aramaic Jewish Christianity in the proclamation of Christ. So 'humbling himself', 'emptying himself', is not to be understood as the act of a mythical pre-existent heavenly being, but as a qualification of the man Jesus.
The focal point, then, is not a Jesus who is divinely 'before time' and his
allegedly divine being which goes with this, but his humbling which leads to the
cross and his exaltation to be Kyrios and Lord of the worlds. So according to
this hymn, Jesus Christ is not primarily a divine figure of the heavenly world
of light, a pre-existing divine being who left the world, took the form of a
servant, and then ascended into heaven again ...
but is primarily the crucified and exalted man who came from God.
I will now quote from James
Christology In The Making (2nd edition)
in regards to the hymn of Philippians Chapter 2.
Phil. 2.6-11 certainly seems on the face of it to be a straightforward
statement contrasting Christ's pre-existent glory and post-crucifixion
exaltation with his earthly humiliation. ...
However, this straightforward interpretation has to assume that Christ's pre-existence was already taken for granted - an assumption we cannot yet make on the basis of our findings thus far. ...
In fact, as J. Murphy-O'Connor has recently maintained, not without cause, the common belief that Phil. 2.6-11 starts by speaking of Christ's pre-existent state and status and then of his incarnation is, in almost every case, a presupposition rather than a conclusion, a presupposition which again and again proves decisive in determining how disputed terms within the Philippian hymn should be understood. ...
How then should the hymn be understood - in what appears (to us) the most obvious way, or in some other way? ...
In brief, the most informative and probable background in my judgment is the one we have been sketching in throughout this chapter - that of the Adam christology which was widely current in the Christianity of the 40s and 50s. It seems to me that Phil. 2.6-11 is best understood as an expression of Adam christology, one of the fullest expressions that we still possess.
Moreover it can readily be seen that the outline of thought in the Philippian hymn fully matches the two-stage christology evident elsewhere in first generation Christianity - free acceptance of man's lot followed out to death, and exaltation to the status of Lord over all, echoing the regular primitive association of Ps. 110.1 with Ps. 8.6.
If we concentrate on vv. 6a-7c initially, it quickly becomes evident that its
development is determined by a double contrast: first
between 'form of God' and 'form of a slave', the former in which he was,
the latter which he accepted; and second between 'equality
with God' and 'in likeness of men', the former which he did not consider
a prize to be grasped, the latter which he became. The best way to understand
this double contrast is as an allusion to Gen. 1-3, an allusion once again, to
the creation and fall of man. In the first contrast, morphe theou [form
of God] probably refers to Adam having been made in the image (eikon) of
God and with a share of the glory (doxa) of God: for it has long been
recognized that morphe (form) and eikon (image) are near synonyms
and that in Hebrew thought the visible 'form of God' is his glory.
Morphe doulou [form of a servant/slave] probably refers therefore to what
Adam became as a result of his fall: he lost his share in God's glory and
became, a slave ...
In the second contrast 'equality with God' probably alludes to Adam's temptation
(Gen. 3.5 - '... you will be like God/the gods ...'),
and therefore 'likeness of men' probably by way of contrast denotes the kind of man that Adam became and so the kind of man that all men now are.
What did Adam seek to grasp and what did he lose? Adam was already in the
image of God (Gen. 1.26f.) and was created 'for immortality' ...
But he chose to grasp at the opportunity to be (completely) like God (knowing good and evil for himself - Gen. 3.5, 22). Snatching at the opportunity to enhance the status he already had, he both lost the degree of equality with God which he already enjoyed and was corrupted by that which he coveted (cf. Rom. 1.21-3; 7.9-11). Not content with being like God, what God had intended, he became like men, what men now are. The contrast in other words is between what Adam was and what he became, and it is this Adam language which is used of Christ.
Christ faced the same archetypal choice that confronted Adam, but chose
not as Adam had chosen (to grasp equality with God).
Instead he chose to empty himself of Adam's glory and to embrace Adam's
lot, the fate which Adam had suffered by way of punishment. That is, in
the words of the hymn, 'he made himself powerless' , freely accepting the lot
and portion of man's slavery (to corruption and the powers) - morphe
doulou, the antithesis of morphe theou; he freely chose to share the
very lot and fate of all men - mankind's mortality and corruptibility, the
antithesis of God's immortality and incorruption. What is expressed in one phrase in Rom. 8.3, 'sent in the very
likeness of sinful flesh', is expressed in two phrases in Phil, 2.7, 'taking the
form of a slave, becoming in the very likeness of
In the last two sections of the hymn (w. 7d-8 and 9-11) the Adam christology covers the ground with which we have now become familiar - Christ as Adam, subject to death, and as Last Adam, exalted as Lord over all. As in Heb. 2.6-8, the programme is run through again and the divine intention for man expressed in Ps. 8.6 becomes at last fulfilled in the one who became Lord.
Finally with Phil. 2.9-11 we enter the last section of the hymn, and the 'last Adam' stage of the christology, when the last Adam by his 'superexaltation' attains a far higher glory than the first Adam lost. It is rather striking that these verses contain in more elaborate form precisely the two affirmations about Christ that the earliest form of Adam christology made: the use of Ps. 110.1 to assert the claim that the Lord God has installed Christ at his right hand and given him also the title Lord (no higher status and title was possible); and the conjoined use of Ps. 8.6 to claim that God has put all things under his feet.
In short, I may hope that my initial claim has been well enough established:
that Phil. 2.6-11 is an expression of Adam christology.
The Christ of Phil 2.6-11 therefore is the man who undid Adam's wrong: confronted with the same choice, he rejected Adam's sin, but nevertheless freely followed Adam's course as fallen man to the bitter end of death; wherefore God bestowed on him the status not simply that Adam lost, but the status which Adam was intended to come to, God's final prototype, the last Adam.
If our conclusion is sound, that Phil. 2.6-11 is through and through an expression of Adam christology, then the question of whether it also speaks of Christ's pre-existence becomes clearer. The point to be grasped is that the question cannot be answered without reference to the Adam christology which forms the backbone of the hymn. Since the thought is dominated by the Adam/Christ parallel and contrast, the individual expressions must be understood within that context. The terms used in the hymn do not have an independent value; their sense is determined by their role within the Adam christology, by their function in describing Adam or more generally God's purpose for man.
This means that the initial stage of Christ's odyssey is depicted as equivalent to Adam's status and choice in the garden. Now Adam was certainly not thought of as pre-existent ... So no implication that Christ was pre-existent may be intended. If Christ walks in Adam's footsteps then Christ need be no more pre-existent than Adam. Nor indeed is there any implication that Christ was contemporaneous with Adam, acting in a similarly transhistorical situation. In point of fact, in earliest Christian Adam theology Christ always presupposes Adam, Christ's odyssey presupposes the plight of Adam, of Adam's offspring. As I Cor. 15.45ff. insists, the temporal order is clear:
Adam first, Christ second -
Christ is last Adam, Adam precedes Christ.
Adam was not a copy of a pre-existent Christ,
but 'a type of him who was to come' (Rom. 5.14).
The Philippian hymn does not intend to affirm that Jesus was as historical or
as prehistorical as Adam, but that the choice confronting Christ was
as archetypal and determinative for mankind as was Adam's; whether
the choice was made by the pre-existent Christ or the historical Jesus is
immaterial to the Philippian hymn.
Here then we can see the point of Murphy-O'Connor's initial criticism and the danger for good exegesis of assuming too quickly that the phrases 'being in the form of God' and 'becoming in the likeness of men', necessarily imply a thought of pre-existence. For the language throughout, and not least at these points, is wholly determined by the creation narratives and by the contrast between what Adam grasped at and what he in consequence became. It was Adam who was 'in the form of God', Adam who 'became what men now are' (in contrast to what God had intended for them).
The language was used ... of Christ therefore to bring out the Adamic character of Christ's life, death and resurrection. So archetypal was Jesus' work in its effect that it can be described in language appropriate to archetypal man and as a reversal of the archetypal sin. ...
So when reading Phil. 2.6-11 we should not try to identify a specific time in Christ's existence when he was in the form of God and before he became like men.
Quite possibly the author assumed Christ's sinlessness and was in effect trading on its corollary - viz. that he who did not sin need not have died (cf. Rom. 5.12c) (that is, he need not have become a slave to corruption like the rest of men). The fact that he did die, however, implies that he did make the archetypal choice, or that his whole life constituted his willing acceptance of the sinner's lot (cf. II Cor. 5.21). In other words, Phil. 2.6-8 is probably intended to affirm that Christ's earthly life was an embodiment of grace from beginning to end, of giving away in contrast to the selfish grasping of Adam's sin, that every choice of any consequence made by Christ was the antithesis of Adam's, that every stage of Christ's life and ministry had the character of a fallen lot freely embraced.
The hymn of Phil. 2.6-11, therefore, is about the contrast of the two Adams:
the first man and the last Adam.
As oppose to being a hymn of a pre-existent personage, being incarnated!?
Let's think about that for a moment, about the so-called orthodox view of this hymn. How were the Philippian saints, human beings like you and I, suppose to get their heads around a concept of a so-called pre-existing 2nd person of a godhead (or even the Oneness view that it was God Himself) coming down from heaven incarnating himself in flesh as a baby, and thus, they must have the same kind of mind?!?!
Is this what Paul was asking them to do?? No! Rather, they were to have the mindset of the man Christ Jesus who humbled himself in regards to his inherent dignity and became a servant; for the redemption of fellow mankind, his brothers and sisters. [Heb. 2.10-18] He humbled himself and took the form of a servant being totally obedient to GOD, his Father, even if it meant death. And because of his sacrifice, GOD has highly exalted him above all!
We then, along with the Philippian brethren, ought to have the same mindset and to follow Christ's example of humility and self-sacrifice: that is, we must humble ourselves and obey our GOD in all things. Even if it means death!! Having full assurance that at the resurrection, GOD will exalt, transform and reward us, and we will reign with the Lord Jesus Christ in his glorious kingdom upon the renewed earth.
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.