who, existing in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited (Philippians 2:6, PME)

The statement of Philippians 2:6 is hugely important as it concerns the Divinity of the Messiah, yet this verse is often not rendered that well among Messianic Bible versions, nor does it appear to be too engaged with contemporary discussions on harpagmos.

The first Greek clause of importance is en morphē Theou huparchōn. This has been inappropriately rendered as “was in the form of God” (RSV/NASB/NRSV/ESV), as huparchōn is a present active participle, best translated as “existing” (ASV/TLV), followed by “being” (KJV/NIV).

The second Greek clause of importance is ouch harpagmon hēgēsato to einai isa Theō. The term harpagmos is widely rendered as “a thing to be grasped” (NASU), but it can more specifically relate to “someth. to which one can claim or assert title by gripping or grasping” (BDAG, 133), often with some degree of violence or abuse involved. As is summarized by the Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament:

“In the Christ-hymn of Phil 2:6-11 it is said of the preexistent one (who ‘was in the form [{morphē}] of God’) that he did not [harpagmon hēgēsato] ‘equality with God.’ The phrase under discussion must be taken as an unceremonious expression, even as a kind of slogan: take advantage of (or seek to take advantage of) something for oneself…But in what sense does this apply to ‘equality with God’ — as something which seductively offers itself as booty (res rapienda) or as something which the preexistent one already possesses (res rapta)? The better arguments favor the latter interpretation, esp. in view of the antithesis in v. 7. This would yield the most likely sense: The heavenly Christ did not believe that he should regard his position of honor, i.e., his ‘equality with God,’ as something to take advantage of for himself, to grasp, to treat as booty” (BibleWorks 9.0: EDNT).

Modern translations which have kept this in view, have more appropriately rendered Philippians 2:6 with: “did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited” (NRSV); “did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage” (TNIV); “did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage” (HCSB); “he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit” (Common English Bible); “did not regard his equality with God as something he ought to exploit” (Kingdom New Testament).

Appropriate paraphrased versions of 2:6 include: “For he, who had always been God by nature, did not cling to his privileges as God’s equal” (Phillips New Testament); “He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what” (The Message).

The Practical Messianic Edition of the Apostolic Scriptures or PME is a specialty edition of the New Testament, based on the 1901 American Standard Version, incorporating the conclusions defended in Messianic Apologetics’ Practical Messianic commentary series and other publications.