The Deity of Christ in the New World Translation: Philippians 2:9-11

 

Posted by Clark Bates
July 2, 2017

 

The heart of this series is to aid readers in evangelizing members of the Watchtower Society in the most direct way possible.  I believe that a particular avenue of this approach is to use their own Bible, the New World Translation (NWT), to demonstrate the deity of Jesus Christ (a doctrine the Watchtower Society expressly denies).  The simple truth is that the deity of Jesus is so replete in the pages of Scripture that it cannot be denied, even when a group attempts to create their own Bible.  Because the Jehovah’s Witnesses have translated their text from the Greek (even if fraudulently so) they have not been able to erase this truth.  There have been two other installments in this series and they can be read here and here.

The Carmen Christi

This week’s article will focus on a passage in Philippians often referred to as the Carmen Christi or the “Song of Christ”.  For our purposes here, the portion of the hymn to focus on is found in Phil. 2:9-11 and reads in the NWT as follows:

“For this very reason, God exalted him to a superior position and kindly gave him the name that is above every other name, so that in the name of Jesus every knee should bend—of those in heaven and those on earth and those under the ground—and every tongue should openly acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”

It is unlikely that the hymn Paul includes in his letter to the church at Philippi was created by him, but rather is a common song, well-known to the churches.  The verses that precede the passage above serve, for many in orthodox Christianity, as undeniable proof of Jesus’ equality with God.  It is said that Jesus “was in the form of God”, a translation of the Greek word μορφη (morphe) to be understood as having the exact nature of God.  For greater clarification, this is paralleled with the phrase “taking on the form of a servant.”  Unless we are to adopt the heretical view of Docetism, which viewed the human form of Jesus to be nothing more than a phantasm, we must accept that the use of μορφη in reference to Jesus’ human nature is the same as its use in regards to his heavenly nature.  That is to say, if Philippians 2:7 tells us that Jesus was truly human, Philippians 2:6 tells us that he is also truly divine.

The conclusion to the depiction of Christ’s voluntary humiliation on the cross is his exaltation with the Father, elucidated in verses 9-11.  Christ’s voluntary humiliation will, one day, result in the involuntary submission of all creation to his name.[1]  While much debate could be carried on with a member of the Watchtower Society regarding the early verses of the hymn, there is a specific reason that emphasis should be placed on these closing statements.

Isaiah 45:23

The conclusion of Philippians 2:9-11 is virtually a quotation of Isaiah 45:23. In the New World Translation, this passage reads,

“By myself I have sworn;

The word has gone out of my mouth in righteousness,

And it will not return:

 To me every knee will bend,

Every tongue will swear loyalty.”

The “I” of Isaiah’s prophecy is none other than Jehovah (v.21), therefore the person to whom every knee is to bow and every tongue confess is Jehovah God.  Yet Paul has applied this to Christ.

It must be stated as well, that during the first century, while Hebrew scrolls were somewhat available the texts more commonly used by the New Testament authors were the various Greek translations of the Hebrew scrolls.  Many such translations existed for various books of, what we call, the Old Testament, which we currently refer to collectively as the Septuagint (LXX).[2]

 

Observe the comparison of Philippians 2:10-11 with the LXX of Isaiah 45:23:

 

Philippians 2:10-11 (GNT) Isaiah 45:23 (LXX)
 

10. Ινα εν τω ονοματι Ιησου παν γονυ καμψη

επουραωινιων και επιγειων και       καταχθονιων

11. και πασα γλωσσα εξομολογησηται οτι

       κυριος Ιησους Χριστος . . .

 

 

23.  . . .οτι εμοι καμψει παν γονυ και εξομολογησεται πασα γλωσσα τω θεω

 

Even if you are unable to read the Greek, simply by comparing the text in bold, you can see the exact same word usage between them.  There is no doubt that the apostle Paul, when recording this early Christian hymn in his letter, quoted directly from the Greek Old Testament, and chose a passage originally intended for Jehovah God but applied it to Jesus Christ.

If any argument is made regarding the use of “Lord” (κυριος in the Greek) as a title rather than a divine name, it should be pointed out that in Isaiah 45:25 of the NWT it states that

“In Jehovah, all the offspring of Israel will prove to be right,

And in him they will make their boast.”

Yet, in the LXX rendering of this same text “Jehovah”, or YHWH, has been replaced with “kurios”, the Greek word for Lord.  This demonstrates quite clearly, that within the context of the Greek OT, the very OT used in Philippians 2:10-11, the ascription of “Lord” to the name of Jesus Christ, is an ascription of deity, or the divine name of Jehovah.  The implications of such a comparison are as deep as they are wide, and cannot be ignored.

Conclusion

Quite a few debates have begun from the application of Old Testament Scripture to New Testament circumstances.  On many occasions, it is asserted the OT is misquoted.   At other times, it is asserted that the NT author is using the OT improperly, but for his own ends.  In some circumstances, this can be resolved with an examination of the Greek OT in contrast to the Hebrew, but often a clearer picture of the NT author’s purpose can be observed by expanding the reading in the OT beyond just the quoted text to the entire thought that surrounds it.[3]  Just as singing a single line from a popular song can bring to mind the entire song, a quotation from a Hebrew prophet would bring to the Jewish mind the entire prophecy from which it sprang.

In light of this, we must conclude by pausing to appreciate the stunning implications of applying Is. 45:23 to Jesus in its greater context.  Beginning in v.18, from the NWT, the text reads,

“ ‘I am Jehovah, and there is no one else. . . .

I am Jehovah, who speaks what is righteous and declares what is upright. . . .

They know nothing, those who carry around carved images

And pray to a god that cannot save them. . .

There is no other God but me;

A righteous God and a Savior, there is none besides me.

Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth,

For I am God, and there is no one else.

By myself I have sworn. . . .

To me every knee will bend,

Every tongue will swear loyalty.’ ”

The Carmen Christi, the Christ-hymn, patently expresses the conviction of the early church that the worship of Jesus Christ does not compromise Israel’s monotheistic faith.  On the contrary, Jesus Christ, the righteous Savior, bears the name of the one Lord, Yahweh, “to the glory of God the Father.”[4]

And the New World Translation of the Bible affirms this.

 

[1]   According to Moises Silva, quoting John Calvin, “Paul is not speaking here of voluntary obedience.” Moises Silva, Baker Exegetical Commentary Series: Philippians, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 111.

[2] As an aside, when you find New Testament quotations of Old Testament passages that do not align with what you read in the actual passage, this is often because the source for the Old Testament in English is the Masoretic (Hebrew) text, while the source for the New Testament citation is the Greek text.  A study of these variations and their usage by the apostles is both profitable and recommended.

[3] A perfect example of this can be found in Matthew’s use of Hosea 11:1-2 in Matt. 2:13-15.  If one reads the entirety of Hosea 11, particularly vv.1-9, the deep Christology intended by Matthew becomes more clear.

[4] Silva, Philippians, 112.

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