Philippians 2:6-7 and the Conjunction Alla

by Dudley Ross Spears

     In discussions relative to the nature of Jesus while he was on earth, vain efforts are made to prove Jesus was "just like us, no exceptions." Early on, the statement was made that Jesus was "just a man, an ordinary guy, like you and me." Apologies were made for saying it that way only to be followed by rearranging the words to say the exact same thing all over again. Commenting on Heb. 2:17, one has written, "The point of the verse is that Jesus became just like you and me, completely and fully human." Saying that and saying "Jesus was just an ordinary guy," is tweedle dee, and tweedle dum.

     In defense of this view some argue the conjunction alla in Philippians 2:6-7 "proves" Jesus gave up what he had prior to coming to earth and became "fully and completely human." It is alleged that alla, an adversative participle, indicates an adversative difference between what precedes and follows it. 1 Cor. 6:9-11 is cited as a parallel (please read the verse). The Corinthians formerly were immoral, but (alla) were "washed," "sanctified," and "justified." After they were "washed, sanctified and justified" they could not be what they were before. That is the argument made on Phil. 2:6-7.

     With this same erroneous view of alla another affirms that Phil. 2:6-7 teaches Jesus literally emptied himself of the form of God and retained none of the attributes of deity. We are told, "There is an adversity between those two points (form of God and form of a servant)." Phil. 2:3 (please read the verse) is also used as a parallel and it is argued that one cannot keep strife and vainglory, and have the lowliness of mind also. One asks, "Do I have to get rid of one of them?" -- Note the words "get rid of." This argues that Jesus "got rid" of what he had before when he came to earth.

     The argument is based on the glaring falsehood that alla requires opposition in the clauses it joins. This is a mistake according to A.T. Robertson. Note:

     "It is a mistake to infer that allos means 'something different.' In itself it is merely 'another.' Like de the thing introduced by alla is something new, but not essentially in contrast...

     "(b) Adversative. It should be stated again that not all of these conjunctions mean contrast (antithesis) or opposition, but the context makes the matter clear. (A Grammar of the Greek New Testament, pp. ll85, 1186.)

     The false view of alla makes the very mistake Robertson identified as well as other serious blunders. Please notice:

1. Alla in Phil. 2:6-8 joins clauses but the second clause is governed by the verb "took upon" himself. In passages proposed as parallels, nothing is taken in addition to what already existed. The Corinthians had to fully abandon their former condition to take (or become) washed, sanctified and justified. But Jesus took to himself humanity and retained deity. Those who make this argument on alla claim to believe Jesus retained his full deity during his time on earth. So Jesus' deity was retained when he took the form of a servant in fashion as a man. This is not true of the Corinthians and the assumed parallel to Phil. 2:3. The argument fails.

2. Alla does not always establish adversity or opposition. It means extension and contrast, especially in Phil. 2:6-7. It is the extension of the Lord's glorious station prior to incarnation contrasted with the lowly station of human servitude he assumed. There is no removal (or getting "rid") of the former condition (as in the case of 1 Cor. 6 and Phil. 2:3), only an extension from the former in contrast to the latter.

3. To say Jesus "got rid of" what he had before coming to earth argues he "quit" being in the form of God and equal with God to become a slave. This argument, if it proves anything, "proves" Jesus got "rid of" or "quit" his deity when he came to earth. It is impossible for Jesus to get rid of it and retain it at the same time. The argument has its proponent riding the same horse in two opposite directions at the same time.

4. The argument is based on the false assumption that "emptied" in Phil. 2:7 is meant literally, as to make something completely void. To the contrary, empty is used figuratively meaning Jesus made himself of no reputation (KJV), setting an example for us to think more highly of others than we do of self.

     Thus the argument fails to prove Jesus was "just like you and me, completely and fully human." Jesus was a man, but eternally much more than "just like us, no exceptions."

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