As I’ve already mentioned here, I was recently released from my latest stint as a Gospel Doctrine teacher. My time in this most recent Church assignment lasted something on the order of eight years, but I was sad to see it come to an end. Gospel Doctrine class is my absolute favorite calling in the Church; the only one that could possibly compete would be “adjunct apostle,” an ecclesiastical office that I have designed myself and in which, according to that careful design, I would get to hear all of the interesting news before its announcement, and could perhaps participate in certain discussions, but would otherwise have no other duties or responsibilities.
Anyway, we somehow managed to keep the job in the family, as my wife was called to replace me.
Today, the discussion covered the epistles to the Philippians and to the Colossians. As I read the chapters prior to class, my attention was caught by Philippians 2:5-11. This is how the passage reads in the King James Version:
5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:
10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;
11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
English-speaking Latter-day Saints have sometimes used this passage, and especially 2:5-6, to argue that it is not wrong for us to teach the doctrine of exaltation, to entertain thoughts of the deification of the human faithful. I’m not at all sure, however, that this is how the passage should be understood or applied.
Here, for example, is how 2:5-7 is rendered in the Revised Standard Version:
5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
And here are those same verses in the translation by J. B. Phillips:
Let Christ himself be your example as to what your attitude should be. For he, who had always been God by nature, did not cling to his prerogatives as God’s equal, but stripped himself of all privilege by consenting to be a slave by nature and being born as mortal man.
In these understandings, Philippians 2:5-7 is speaking about what the Book of Mormon calls “the condescension of God” (at 1 Nephi 11:16), referring to Christ’s voluntary relinquishing of his divine and heavenly status in order to come to earth as an ordinary human being and live and suffer and die among us.
To be continued.