Harpagmos: “Robbery” or “Something to Be Grasped”?

Tyndale and the AV both translate the second clause of Philippians 2:6: “(Jesus) thought it not robbery to be equal with God”. This states that Jesus was ‘being equal with God’, and that he esteemed ‘being equal’ as not an act of seizing.

Modern translations (e.g. NIV) translate, “(Jesus) did not consider equality with God something to be grasped”. This informs us either that Jesus did not grasp equality, and so was never equal, or that he had equality but did not grasp it (to himself) and so retain it, but laid it aside.

It should be noted that these two classes of translation give exactly opposite meanings to the phrase. They also consequently interpret the structure of the verse in opposite ways: the AV sees “(he) thought it not robbery to be equal with God” as an expansion of and parallelism with “being in the form of God”, while the NIV treats the second clause as contrasting with the first, by translating, “being in very nature God, (he) did not consider equality with God something to be grasped”.

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Author: Neil Mullen

Keywords: Pre existence, Pre existence of Jesus, Pre existence of Christ, Christ's pre-existence, Jesus' pre-existence, Jesus pre-existed, Christ pre-existed, Jesus is God, Trinity, Trinitarian, Jesus was God, Jesus is God, God the Son, Incarnation, God incarnate, God in the flesh, Form of God, Jesus became a man, god man, God became a man, incarnate, eternal son, equal with God, equality with God, equality

Bible reference(s): Philippians 2:6-7

Source: “Philippians 2:6-11—A Study in History and Exposition,” The Testimony, Vol. 56 No. 661, January 1986, pp. 25-9. Used with permission.

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