The radical humility of Christ in the sixteenth century: Erasmus and Calvin on Philippians 2:6-7

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© 2015 Cambridge University Press. The christological hymn in Philippians 2, rich as it is in theological potential, has always been a fruitful locus in the history of biblical interpretation for engaging in a number of doctrinal disputes which revolve around questions of the nature of Christ. Thus, an analysis of any chapter in the history of interpretation of the hymn (or at least parts of it) is necessary for understanding the ways in which Paul's text has informed christological discourse or, vice versa, how certain ways of thinking about Christology inform interpretations of the passage. In the sixteenth century, the hymn also serves as a jumping-off point for discussions of the authority of scripture in matters of doctrine, for whether Paul provides sufficient doctrinal fodder to ground an orthodox doctrine of the Trinity (particularly of the consubstantiality of the Father and the Son) will be brought into question, in particular, by Erasmus. Erasmus' understanding of the passage, as it appears in his Annotations, was criticised by numerous Catholics, and the ensuing debate (especially between Erasmus and Lefèvre) is fairly well known. The response Erasmus (and the surrounding debate) elicits from John Calvin, however, has scarcely been mentioned and, to my knowledge, never been examined in depth - this, despite the fact that Calvin's engagement with Erasmus on Philippians 2:6-7 departs from his usual method of perspicua brevitas in commentary writing, and constitutes a significant digression on an array of christological and hermeneutical issues. These two verses, and their reception in the sixteenth century, provide a useful lens for analysing the christologies and the hermeneutical strategies of two biblical humanists who, perhaps, are not often enough considered alongside one another. A close reading of these two exegetes' interpretations of Philippians 2:6-7 will be followed by a consideration of the significance of their emphasis on the radical humility of Christ, which emphasis serves as a departure from the bulk of the antecedent exegetical and theological tradition.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)398-420
JournalScottish Journal of Theology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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