Note: Although Watchtower Society (WTS) research and scholarship is usually at least the equal of (and often superior to) that of other sources, I have tried to rely most heavily on other sources in Christendom itself (preferably trinitarian) or my own independent research to provide evidence disproving the trinitarian ‘proof’ being examined in this paper. The reason is, of course, that this paper is meant to provide evidence needed by non-Witnesses, and many of them will not accept anything written by the WTS. They truly believe it is false, even dishonest. Therefore some of the following information, all of which helps disprove specific trinitarian “proofs,” may be in disagreement with current WTS teachings in some areas (especially when I have presented a number of alternates). Jehovah’s Witnesses should research the most recent WTS literature on the subject or scripture in question before using this information with others. – RDB.
6 ὃς ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ ὑπάρχων οὐχ ἁρπαγμὸν ἡγήσατο τὸ εἶναι ἴσα θεῷ, 7 ἀλλὰ ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσεν μορφὴν δούλου λαβών, ἐν ὁμοιώματι ἀνθρώπων γενόμενος· καὶ σχήματι εὑρεθεὶς ὡς ἄνθρωπος…. - Greek text.
"Who, being [huparchon] in the form [morphe] of God [theou], thought it not robbery [harpagmos] to be equal [ison] with God. But ... took upon him the form [morphe] of a servant, and was made in the likeness [homoiomati] of men: And being found in fashion [schemati] as a man....” - Phil. 2:6-8, KJV.
“Who, although He existed [huparchon] in the form [morphe] of God [theou], did not regard equality [ison] with God a thing to be grasped [harpagmos], but emptied Himself, taking the form [morphe] of a bond-servant and being made in the likeness [homoiomati] of men. And being found in appearance [schemati] as a man....” - Phil. 2:6-8, NASB.
Some trinitarians insist that this scripture proves that Jesus was (and is) “equal with God.” But all the real evidence proves just the opposite! Phil. 2:6 is, in reality, proof that Jesus has never been equally God with the Father!
To begin with, as the Watchtower Society has pointed out, the context of Phil. 2:3-8 indicates how Phil. 2:6 should be understood. The context stresses the concept of humility and obedience, and Phil. 2:6 itself is clearly meant as the prime example of this for all Christians. The extremely trinitarian The Amplified Bible, for example, translates Phil. 2:3, 5 this way:
“Instead, in the true spirit of humility (lowliness of mind) let each regard the others as better than and superior to himself.... Let this same attitude and purpose and [humble] mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus. - Let Him be your example in humility.”
Then that very example of Jesus (Phil. 2:6-8) is given. - Cf. The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, vol. 1, p. 547.
Most trinitarian interpretations of Phil. 2:6, however, as above, do not show Jesus as regard-ing God as “better than and superior to himself” in the beginning (as the context demands for this example)! Most of them, instead, twist that proper example of humility into just the opposite: an example of a person who regards himself already as equal to the Most High, Almighty God (“thought it not robbery to be equal to God”). Such an interpretation destroys the very purpose (Phil. 2:3) of Jesus’ “example in humility” here!
Paul is not telling us to regard ourselves as equal to others. (Whether we obey them or not is very important but is not the main point here.) He is clearly using Jesus as his example to teach that each Christian must, as the very trinitarian Amplified Bible above puts it, “regard others as better than and superior to himself”! And yet most trinitarian translations show Jesus doing the very opposite in this “example in humility” for all Christians!
Something, then, is very wrong with the translation of Phil. 2:6 in most trinitarian Bibles!
& & & & &
Now notice how these two very trinitarian Bibles have rendered it:
1. “He did not think to snatch at [harpagmos, ἁρπαγμὸς] equality with God” - NEB.
2. “He did not think that by force [harpagmos] he should try to become equal with God” - TEV (and GNB).
We believe that the translations by the trinitarian NEB and TEV Bibles of this part of Phil. 2:6 must be the intended meaning of the original writer of this scripture because (in part, at least) of the obvious meaning of the New Testament (NT) Greek word harpagmos (ἁρπαγμὸς).
There could be some doubt about the meaning of the word harpagmos if we looked only at the NT Greek Scriptures (since harpagmos occurs only at Phil. 2:6 in the entire New Testament). We would then only have the meaning of the source words for harpagmos to determine its intended meaning.
Even so, Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance (by trinitarian writer and trinitarian publisher) tells us that harpagmos means “plunder” and that it comes from the source word harpazo which means: “to seize ... catch away, pluck, take (by force).” - #725 & 726, Abingdon Press, 1974 printing.
And the New American Standard Concordance of the Bible (also by trinitarians) tells us: “harpagmos; from [harpazo]; the act of seizing or the thing seized.” And, “harpazo ... to seize, catch up, snatch away.” Notice that all have to do with taking something away by force. - # 725 & #726, Holman Bible Publ., 1981.
In fact, the trinitarian The Expositor’s Greek Testament, 1967, pp. 436, 437, vol. III, tells us:
“We cannot find any passage where [harpazo] or any of its derivatives [which include harpagmos] has the sense of ‘holding in possession,’ ‘retaining’ [as preferred in many trinitarian translations of Phil. 2:6]. It seems invariably to mean ‘seize’, ‘snatch violently’. Thus it is not permissible to glide from the true sense [‘snatch violently’] into one which is totally different, ‘hold fast.’ ”
Even the very trinitarian NT Greek expert, W. E. Vine, had to admit that harpagmos is “akin to harpazo, to seize, carry off by force.” - p. 887, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words.
And the trinitarian The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology tells us that the majority of Bible scholars (mostly trinitarian, of course)
“have taken harpagmos to mean a thing plundered or seized..., and so spoil, booty or a prize of war.” - p. 604, vol. 3, Zondervan, 1986.
The key to both these words (harpagmos and its source word, harpazo) is: taking something away from someone by force and against his will. And if we should find a euphemism such as “prize” used in a trinitarian Bible for harpagmos, it has to be understood only in the same sense as a pirate ship forcibly seizing another ship as its “prize”!
We can easily see this “taken by force” meaning in all the uses of harpazo (the source word for harpagmos) in the New Testament. But since harpagmos itself is used only at Phil. 2:6 in the NT, Bible scholars must go to the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament (which is frequently quoted in the NT), the Septuagint.
In the Septuagint harpagmos (in its forms of harpagma[2,3] and harpagmata) is used 16 times according to trinitarian Zondervan’s A Concordance of the Septuagint, p. 32, 1979 printing. And in every case its meaning is the taking of something away from someone by force. Here they are in the Bagster Septuagint as published by Zondervan: Lev. 6:4 “plunder;” Job 29:17 “spoil” (a “prize” taken by force); Ps. 61:10 (Ps. 62:10 in most modern Bibles) “robberies;” Is. 42:22 “prey;” Is. 61:8 “robberies;” Ezek. 18:7 “plunder;” Ezek. 18:12 “robbery;” Ezek. 18:16 “robbery;” Ezek. 18:18 “plunder;” Ezek. 19:3 “prey;” Ezek. 19:6 “take prey;” Ezek. 22:25 “seizing prey;” Ezek. 22:27 “get dishonest gain” (through the use of “harpazo” or “force”); Ezek. 22:29 “robbery;” Ezek. 33:15 “has robbed;” and Malachi 1:13 “torn victims” (compare ASV).
So, in spite of some trinitarians’ reasonings and euphemistic renderings, it is clear from the way it was always used in scripture that harpagmos means either taking something away by force (a verb), or something which has been taken by force (a noun).
Many trinitarian translators, however, either make nonsense out of the meaning of Phil. 2:6 by actually using the proper meaning of “robbery” or “taken by force” without showing God’s clear superiority over Jesus which the context demands, or, instead, making sense of it by choosing a word that doesn’t have the proper meaning of “taking by force.”
For example, the King James Version (KJV) does use “robbery” (a nearly-accurate meaning for harpagmos) but obviously mangles the meaning of the rest of the statement so that it doesn’t even make proper sense: “thought it not robbery to be equal with God.” This is a nonsensical statement even by itself. In context it is even more inappropriate!
Yes, as we have seen above, even in the KJV it is apparent from context that the purpose of this example is to emphasize lowliness of mind, humility: to regard others as better than yourself (vv. 3-5). Paul certainly wouldn’t destroy this example of humility for fellow Christians by saying that Jesus is thinking that it isn’t robbery for him to be equal with the Most High! Besides being a nonsensical statement, it is just the opposite of humility! Instead, to be in harmony with the purpose of Paul’s example, we must find a Jesus who regards God as superior to himself and won’t give even a moment’s thought about attempting to take that most high position himself, but, instead, humbles himself even further.
Trinitarian scholar R. P. Martin, for example, feels the context (especially the obvious contrast of verses 6 and 7) clearly proves that harpagmos in verse 6 means Christ refused to seize equality with God. Emphasizing the fact that this is a contrast with verse 6, verse 7 begins with “but [alla].” In accord with this, he tells us,
“V[erse] 6b states what Christ might have done [or could have attempted to do], i.e. seized equality with God; v. 7 states what he chose to do, i.e. give himself.” - The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, vol. 3, p. 604.
The Phil. 2:6 footnote for ‘grasped’ (harpagmos) in the NAB (2002, by United States Conference of Catholic Bishops):
 “Either a reference to Christ's preexistence and those aspects of divinity that he was willing to give up in order to serve in human form, or to what the man Jesus refused to grasp at to attain divinity. Many see an allusion to the Genesis story: unlike Adam, Jesus, though . . . in the form of God (Genesis 1:26-27), did not reach out for equality with God, in contrast with the first Adam in Genesis 3:5-6.”
The NASB, on the other hand, chooses an English word for harpagmos that doesn’t clearly bring out its full intended meaning: “[Jesus] did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped [harpagmos],” when, of course, it should be: “did not regard equality with God a thing to be taken by force [harpagmos].” (Review the quote from the Expositor’s Greek Testament above.)
An excellent illustration of the trinitarian’s dilemma concerning an honest translation of Phil. 2:6 can be shown by the 1971 “Palm Sunday Controversy” in France (see June 15, 1971 WT):
At every Palm Sunday Mass, Phil. 2:5-11 is read. The 1959 lectionary for France’s Catholic Church read: “Being of divine status, Christ did not greedily hold on to [harpagmos] the rank that made him equal to God.”
In 1969 the Roman Catholic bishops of France authorized a new lectionary for their country. The Holy See in Rome approved it on September 16, 1969. In this new lectionary Phil. 2:6 was translated: “Christ Jesus is God’s image [morphe, ‘form’]; but he did not choose to seize by force [harpagmos] equality with God.”
This new translation, needless to say, started a great controversy and demonstrations by many Catholics throughout France. As one French Catholic magazine explained: “If he [Jesus] refused to seize it [equality with God], it must be that he did not already possess it.”
So much pressure was brought to bear upon the Church in France that the trinitarian Catholic bishops who had insisted upon the new honest translation were forced to change it. So, in an attempt to compromise, they rendered it: “He [Jesus] did not choose to claim to be the same as God.”
This newest version was also thoroughly condemned by the same trinity-defending French Catholic magazine. It noted that if Christ “did not choose to claim to be the same as God,” this implied that he was not “the same as God,” and “the practical effect of this substitution amounts to heresy and blasphemy.”
But, in spite of threats and demonstrations, the French episcopate refused to compromise any further. Le Monde reported,
“this translation ... was accepted by the entire body of French-speaking bishops. The Permanent Council of the French Episcopate, that has just met in Paris, has ratified it; so it will stand.”
Why did these trinitarian Catholic scholars and Church officials insist on a translation of Phil. 2:6 that so obviously denies the “central doctrine” of the Catholic Church?
This question was answered by an article in Le Monde (6 April 1971):
“The scholars responsible for this change - a change ratified by the majority of French bishops - consider the new translation more faithful to the Greek text than the former  one was.”
So the French Catholic cardinals, archbishops, and bishops found themselves in a dilemma. They could either give up their new, more honest, translation of Phil. 2:6 which would show they are more loyal to their trinitarian traditions than to the truth of the inspired scriptures (Matt. 15:6-9; 1 Cor. 4:6; Gal. 1:8, 9; 2 Tim. 4:3, 4; John 8:31-32), or they could keep their new official translation and thereby admit that many other French trinitarian Bibles (as well as many translations in other languages) have mistranslated Phil. 2:6. In order to take the latter course required not only a strong stand against tradition but the strength and courage to stand against the desires (and demonstrations, politics, economic pressures, etc.) of a large number of their countrymen. Courage of such a magnitude is rare in the ranks of tradition-bound Christendom!
When even a number of the best trinitarian scholars are willing to admit the actual meaning (or even an equivalent compromise) of harpagmos at Phil. 2:6, it becomes necessary for honest-hearted, truth-seeking individuals to admit that Phil. 2:6 not only does not identify Jesus as God, but that it clearly shows Jesus is not God!
The highly regarded (and trinitarian) The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 1986, Zondervan, says:
“Although the Son of God in his pre-existent being was in the form of God, he resisted the temptation to be equal with God (Phil. 2:6). In his earthly existence he was obedient to God, even unto death on the cross (Phil. 2:8) .... After the completion of his work on earth he has indeed been raised to the right hand of God (Eph. 1:20; 1 Pet. 3:22) .... But he is still not made equal to God. Although completely co-ordinated with God, he remains subordinate to him (cf. 1 Cor. 15:28).” - p. 80, vol. 2. [Emphasis found in quotations is nearly always added by me, as it also is here.]