When Tradition Is a Trap: Revisiting the Purpose of Philippians 2:1-11
MetadataShow full item record
Traditions are hard to escape. Especially in the church, tradition guides the ways in which scripture is expounded upon and taught, so that often one hears a particular passage explained in much the same way time and time again. In some cases, tradition can in fact perpetuate exegetical imbalances. I would contend that an example of such an imbalance is evidenced in the interpretation of Philippians 2:1-11. This well-known passage begins with a series of practical exhortations, then moves into the famous “Christ hymn,” which treats Christ’s incarnation, suffering, and ultimate exaltation. The latter half of the passage has been the subject of innumerable sermons, books, and commentaries, and is typically separated from its original function of powerfully illustrating the exhortation in the previous verses. This persistent division of the text is the result of the pattern of its interpretation throughout church history, which was further reinforced by the Trinitarian Controversies of the fourth century. In order to substantiate this argument, I will begin by briefly discussing the grammar of the passage in order to demonstrate the intended unity between the exhortation and the Christ hymn, as well as the exegetical implications of this unity. Then I will survey the potential reasons that this passage was often exegetically divided and how two unique exegetes, Ambrosiaster and John Chrysostom, managed to situate the Christ hymn in its original context in their interpretations.