Another New Article on Philippians 2:6-11
Thanks to Crispin Fletcher-Louis’ pointer, I’ve read now another newly-published article on the question of whether Philippians 2:6-11 is a “hymn”: Michael Wade Martin and Bryan A. Nash, “Philippians 2:6-11 as Subversive Hymnos: A Study in the Light of Ancient Rhetorical Theory,” Journal of Theological Studies 66, no. 1 (2015): 90-138. In this large article, they essentially argue that Philippians 2:6-11 exhibits key content-features typical of “hymns” as described in ancient rhetorical handbooks and related texts. They also note the verbal resonances and Psalm-like parallelism identified by others.
I’ll have to ponder the matter further, and their case seems substantial enough to warrant it. I’ll offer here only a few initial thoughts on the issues involved in this article and the other one that I posted about earlier this week.
First, there are at least two issues that are related to each other but should be kept distinct: (1) Is Philip 2:6-11 (and Col 1:15-20) a “hymn/ode” deriving from early Christian worship circles/practices? (2) Does Philip 2:6-11 exhibit features of content and construction that reflect a “hymnic” character? Even if the answer to the latter questions is “yes” (as I rather confidently think is the case), that leaves open the other question about the circumstances in which it was composed. Does the passage quote (or reflect, adapt) an early Christian “ode” or “spiritual song” that first emerged in early Christian worship? Or is the passage the product of Paul, admittedly a fine example of “exalted prose” or “praise poetry”, but not a direct artefact of earliest Christian worship?
Given the impressive (to me) compositional qualities of Philip 2:6-11, I confess that I’m less confident that it arose as a spontaneous and inspired oral composition in the context of worship. The verbal resonances (e.g., morphe theou/morphe doulou; hyparchon/labon; christos/patros), and the structured nature of the passage may more readily reflect composition as a text (or so it seems for the moment!).
But it is surely one of the most compressed, pithy and memorable Christological passages in the NT (as is Col 1:15-20). This suggests to me that the thoughts expressed could hardly have been new to the original readers. We require commentaries to explore what the phrasing means, but it seems that the original readers did not require this. So, the passages in question still likely presuppose more than initiate the exalted claims made about Jesus in them.