The Condescension of God according to Paul

Frank F. Judd Jr.

Frank F. Judd Jr., “The Condescension of God according to Paul,” Shedding Light on the New Testament: Acts–Revelation, ed. Ray L. Huntington, Frank F. Judd Jr., and David M. Whitchurch (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2009), 171–92.

Frank F. Judd Jr. is an assistant professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University.

The writings of Paul have been difficult for some to understand ever since the Apostle penned them two millennia ago. The chief Apostle Peter counseled the early Christian Saints concerning “our beloved brother Paul,” who wrote epistles “in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:15–16). Peter was concerned that there were some among them who would “wrest” (or, in other words, distort) the teachings of the scriptures, Paul’s epistles in particular. Similarly, the prophet Nephi foresaw a time after the Bible went “from the Jews in purity unto the Gentiles” when some people would take from the gospel “many parts which are plain and most precious” (1 Nephi 13:25–26). Nephi concluded, “All this have they done that they might pervert the right ways of the Lord, that they might blind the eyes and harden the hearts of the children of men” (1 Nephi 13:27).

Fortunately, Nephi also saw a day when “other books” would come forth containing “plain and precious things” for the purpose of convincing all people “that the records of the prophets and of the twelve apostles of the Lamb are true” (1 Nephi 13:39–40). Thus, in addition to testifying of Jesus Christ, one of the primary purposes of latter-day scripture—especially the Book of Mormon—is to help us understand the important teachings of the Bible. Dennis L. Largey concluded, “Failure to incorporate the gospel plainness of the Book of Mormon into New Testament study is failure to understand one of the central purposes of the book’s existence.”[1] A study of the epistles of Paul in light of modern revelation will allow one to better understand the teachings of this great Apostle. This paper will analyze Paul’s teachings in his epistle to the Philippians, focusing on the Christ hymn in chapter 2. This study will also show how Latter-day Saint scriptural sources, especially Nephi’s vision of the “condescension of God” (1 Nephi 11:16), can be utilized to better understand Paul’s epistle. Such a comparative approach reveals that even though Paul’s language and phraseology in the King James Version may be difficult to understand at times, Paul taught the same doctrines concerning Jesus Christ contained in latter-day scripture, particularly in the Book of Mormon.

Paul in Philippi

Following the Jerusalem Council (circa AD 50), Paul set out on his second journey as a missionary. The “apostle of the Gentiles” (Romans 11:13) took Silas and Timothy and spread the news concerning the “decrees . . . that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem” (Acts 16:4). While in Troas, Paul received a vision in which a man from northern Greece begged him, “Come over into Macedonia, and help us” (Acts 16:9). Paul immediately obeyed the vision, sailing over the Aegean Sea and traveling to Philippi, “the chief city of that part of Macedonia” (Acts 16:12).

On the Sabbath day, Paul and his companions preached the gospel next to the river Gangites, where a wealthy woman named Lydia and her entire household believed Paul and were baptized.[2] While lodging at Lydia’s house, Paul cast out an evil spirit from a possessed slave girl who “brought her masters much gain by soothsaying” (Acts 16:16).[3] The slave girl’s masters publicly accused Paul and his companions of instigating a riot and of teaching un-Roman practices. After Paul and his companions were beaten and imprisoned by the local magistrates, an earthquake shook the jail so violently that “immediately all the doors were opened, and every one’s bands were loosed” (Acts 16:26).[4] The warden, fearing that he would be held personally responsible, was on the verge of committing suicide when Paul shouted to him: “Do thyself no harm: for we are all here” (Acts 16:28). Paul then taught the warden the gospel and baptized him and his household.

The next day, the warden received a message from the magistrates stating that Paul and his companions were free to go. But because the magistrates had violated Roman law, Paul was not about to let them off the hook so easily. Paul’s status as a Roman citizen afforded him immunity from such treatment.[5] The Apostle reasoned, “They have beaten us openly uncondemned, being Romans, and have cast us into prison; and now do they thrust us out privily? nay verily; but let them come themselves and fetch us out” (Acts 16:37). When they realized that Paul was a Roman citizen, the magistrates escorted him and his companions out of prison “and desired them to depart out of the city” (Acts 16:39).

Why would Paul have voluntarily submitted to such a beating? If it were found out that that they had violated Roman law by unjustly beating a Roman citizen, the magistrates could have been subject to prosecution themselves. In this way, Paul gained some leverage over the magistrates against possible harm to himself or his Philippian converts from civic officials in the future. As Sidney B. Sperry taught, “In this affair Paul was solicitous not only that he and Silas be accorded their rights as Roman citizens, but also that hereafter missionaries and members of the Church be treated in a manner befitting their high station as ambassadors and representatives of Christ.”[6] Paul’s willingness to undergo abuse for the sake of his converts is an important backdrop to the Apostle’s teachings about Christ in his epistle to the Philippians.

The Setting of the Epistle

Paul’s labor in Philippi yielded a vibrant congregation that continued to support Paul temporally even after he journeyed to Athens and Corinth.[7] Paul praised them for their generosity: “When I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only” (Philippians 4:15).

When Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians, he informed them that he was in “bonds” (Philippians 1:7) or imprisoned probably in Rome.[8] While Paul was in prison, he received a visit from Epaphroditus, a “brother, and companion in labour, and fellowsoldier” (Philippians 2:25) in the Philippian congregation, who had brought much-needed assistance from the Philippian Saints. Paul praised the timely gift as “an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God” (Philippians 4:18). Paul sent Epaphroditus back to Philippi with a letter of gratitude.

This letter to the Philippians begins with Paul’s customary greetings and thanks. Paul then explains that even though he had been through many tough times, these seemingly bad experiences had actually resulted in “the furtherance of the gospel” (Philippians 1:12). During Paul’s lifetime, people had spread the gospel for different reasons: “Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will: the one preach Christ of contention . . . but the other of love” (Philippians 1:15–17). For Paul, it did not matter in the end what was the motive for teaching the gospel, because “whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice” (Philippians 1:18).

Paul’s experiences as a Christian missionary caused him to consider the merits of either being acquitted and furthering his ministry on earth, or being executed and transferring his mission to the spirit world. Paul mused: “To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. . . . Yet what I shall choose I wot not. For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you” (Philippians 1:21–24).[9] After contemplating the matter, Paul was certain that he would eventually be set free: “Having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you” (Philippians 1:25).[10]

Paul then warned the Philippian Saints that they also might experience similar trials for the sake of the gospel: “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake” (Philippians 1:29). Paul counseled them that in such circumstances they should follow the compassionate example of the Savior Himself: “If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love. . . . Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:1–2, 5).[11]

So that the Philippian Christians might know what example the Savior set for them to emulate, Paul quoted to them a hymn or poem about Jesus Christ. “Like many other early Christian hymns,” explained F. F. Bruce, Philippians 2:6–11 “is cast in rhythmical prose, not in poetical meter.”[12] Singing hymns was an important part of early Christian devotion.[13] Even when Paul was imprisoned in Philippi, we are told that “at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God” (Acts 16:25). Concerning our latter-day hymns, President Boyd K. Packer taught, “If we will listen, they are teaching the gospel, for the hymns of the Restoration are, in fact, a course in doctrine!”[14] If we will listen very carefully to the Christ hymn in Philippians, we will learn that it contains many important doctrinal teachings about the nature, life, and mission of the Savior.

The Premortal Savior

Paul’s Christ hymn teaches about the Savior during each of the three parts of His existence: premortality, mortality, and postmortality. Before He came to earth to accomplish His mortal mission, Christ was “in the form of God” and was also “equal with God” (Philippians 2:6). The Greek word morphē, translated as “form,” can mean “outward appearance” and “shape.”[15] Thus, the Father’s form or outward appearance was like that of the Son. The writer of Hebrews similarly taught: “God . . . hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son . . . who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person . . . sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:1–3).[16] Modern revelation confirms this similarity in outward appearance between the Father and the Son: “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also” (D&C 130:22).[17]

Although Paul was specifically referring to the premortal—and therefore unembodied—Christ, we know that spirit bodies generally resemble physical bodies. For example, when the brother of Jared saw the finger of the premortal Savior, he thought he was viewing a physical body: “I knew not that the Lord had flesh and blood” (Ether 3:8).[18] The Lord gently corrected the brother of Jared: “Thou hast seen that I shall take upon me flesh and blood” (Ether 3:9; emphasis added) and “Even as I appear unto thee to be in the spirit will I appear unto my people in the flesh” (Ether 3:16).[19] Thus, in the premortal world Jesus Christ possessed a spirit body that appeared like his own future physical body and also like the physical body of God the Father.

The expression “form of God,” however, has more significance than merely outward appearances. In Philippians 2:7, Paul again used the Greek word morphē and taught that Jesus came to earth in “the form of a servant.” Certainly, the most important idea of that verse is not that Jesus had the outward appearance of a slave. On one level, the phrase “form of God” is basically equivalent to the phrase “equal with God,” and these phrases are thus an “expression of divinity” just as the phrase “form of a servant” is “an expression of servility.”[20] The emphasis is on Christ’s identity or status, rather than just His physical appearance. Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught: “Spiritually our Lord is ‘in the form of God’ (Philippians 2:6); he has acquired all of the attributes of godliness in their perfection; as it is with the Father, so it is with him; he is the embodiment of justice, mercy and truth, of faith, hope and charity, of wisdom, virtue and knowledge, and of every good thing; thus he is in the likeness of and a projection of the personality of the Father.”[21] Therefore, when Paul taught that the Savior was “in the form of God” and “equal with God” in the premortal existence, he was teaching that both God the Father and Christ the Son were divine beings, sharing a semblance of status and attributes, as well as appearance.

Continuing to teach of the Savior’s experience in the premortal realm, Paul explained that Christ “thought it not robbery to be equal with God” (Philippians 2:6). The Greek word harpagmos, translated as “robbery,” can mean “a violent seizure of property” or “something to which one can claim or assert title by gripping or grasping.”[22] Thus, Christ, as the firstborn spirit child of our Heavenly Father, did not regard His high and holy position as something to be seized violently. Neither did the Savior consider His premortal standing as something He should selfishly cling to for Himself alone. Instead, Christ temporarily relinquished His divine status and volunteered to come to earth and accomplish His foreordained mission. When the Father was preparing to ransom His children from sin in mortality, He asked, “Whom shall I send?” to which Jesus humbly responded, “Here am I, send me” (Abraham 3:27).

The Mortal Messiah

The Christ hymn teaches that our Savior then “made himself of no reputation” (Philippians 2:7). The Greek verb used to translate this phrase, kenoō, literally means “to empty.”[23] How did Jesus empty Himself? The Prologue of the Gospel of John declares: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1; emphasis added).[24] Jesus was the God of the Old Testament—Jehovah. When the resurrected Savior appeared to the Nephites, He taught them: “I am he that gave the law, and I am he who covenanted with my people Israel” (3 Nephi 15:5).[25] Thus, Paul taught that the God of Israel emptied himself of premortal status and glory and then “took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of man” (Philippians 2:7). The prophet Abinadi expounded this doctrine to the people of Noah: “God himself should come down among the children of men, and take upon him the form of man” (Mosiah 13:34).[26] As Elder Gerald N. Lund summarized: “Paul reminded us that though Christ had incomprehensible stature, majesty, power and position in the premortal existence, he did not consider that position something that was to be seized and held tightly and not released, but rather, he emptied himself or allowed himself to be taken from that high and holy position and placed into the body of a man with all of its consequent weaknesses and limitations.”[27]

Paul explained that when the Savior came to earth, “being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient” (Philippians 2:8). When the mortal Messiah approached John for baptism, the Baptist initially refused. Jesus explained to John: “Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). Nephi explained what it meant for the Lamb of God to fulfill all righteousness: “Notwithstanding he being holy, he showeth unto the children of men that, according to the flesh he humbleth himself before the Father, and witnesseth unto the Father that he would be obedient unto him in keeping his commandments” (2 Nephi 31:7). Although Jesus was perfect—and therefore did not need baptism for the remission of sins—He submitted to the will of the Father. Abinadi explained that, in addition to baptism, the Savior demonstrated further submission: “And thus the flesh becoming subject to the Spirit, or the Son to the Father, being one God, suffereth temptation, and yieldeth not to the temptation, but suffereth himself to be mocked, and scourged, and cast out, and disowned by his people” (Mosiah 15:5).

The Christ hymn explains that the most crucial aspect of the Savior’s obedience was that “he became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:8). Abinadi taught that Christ “shall be led, crucified, and slain, the flesh becoming subject even unto death, the will of the Son being swallowed up in the will of the Father” (Mosiah 15:7).[28] Crucifixion was a cruel and painful form of execution employed in antiquity, and in the culture of the New Testament world it was a shameful and humiliating way to die.[29] Paul explained that “the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness. . . . But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness” (1 Corinthians 1:18, 23). Thus, the writer of Hebrews taught that Jesus “endured the cross, despising the shame” of this ignominious mode of death (Hebrews 12:2).

But the submission of Christ included more than just suffering excruciating physical pain and cultural humiliation on a cross. King Benjamin summarized: “He shall suffer temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death; for behold, blood cometh from every pore, so great shall be his anguish for the wickedness and the abominations of his people” (Mosiah 3:7).[30] The Lord Himself declared through the Prophet Joseph Smith concerning His suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup and shrink—Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men” (D&C 19:18-19).[31]

What did Christ suffer that caused Him to bleed from His pores? Jacob prophesied: “He cometh into the world that he may save all men if they will hearken unto his voice; for behold, he suffereth the pains of all men, yea, the pains of every living creature, both men, women, and children, who belong to the family of Adam” (2 Nephi 9:21).[32] The writer of Hebrews taught that Christ suffered more than just our sins: “In all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted” (Hebrews 2:17–18).[33] Alma clarified this principle when he prophesied: “He shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities” (Alma 7:11–12; emphasis added). Thus, in the Garden of Gethsemane and upon the cross, Jesus Christ also suffered things that have nothing to do with sinful behavior.[34] Concerning Alma’s prophecy, Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught: “Jesus’ perfect empathy was ensured when, along with His Atonement for our sins, He took upon Himself our sicknesses, sorrows, griefs, and infirmities and came to know these ‘according to the flesh.’ He did this in order that He might be filled with perfect, personal mercy and empathy and thereby know how to succor us in our infirmities. He thus fully comprehends human suffering.”[35] As the Prophet Joseph Smith came to know in Liberty Jail, Jesus Christ truly “descended below them all” (D&C 122:8).[36]

Nephi’s Vision

Like Paul and Joseph Smith, Nephi received knowledge concerning Jesus Christ in a vision. When Nephi responded to the angel that he did “not know the meaning of all things,” the angel proceeded to show Nephi “the condescension of God” (1 Nephi 11:16–17). When the Book of Mormon was translated, the English word condescension meant “voluntary descent from rank, dignity . . . submission to inferiors in granting requests or performing acts which strict justice does not require.”[37] Thus, Nephi was shown how the Savior voluntarily descended from His position of superior dignity, submitted to the will of His Father as well as the designs of evil men, and performed merciful acts for the benefit of all people.[38] As Nephi concluded elsewhere: “If the Lord in his condescension unto the children of men hath visited men in so much mercy, why should my heart weep?” (2 Nephi 4:26).

Nephi’s vision mirrors Paul’s hymn in remarkable fashion. Nephi witnessed the premortal divinity and the mortal birth and submission of the Savior.[39] The gift of the Son of God to the world is “the meaning of the tree” of life from Lehi’s dream, defined specifically as “the love of God” (1 Nephi 11:21–22, 25). Elder Maxwell taught: “The tree of life . . . is the love of God. The love of God for His children is most profoundly expressed in His gift of Jesus as our Redeemer. . . . To partake of the love of God is to partake of Jesus’ Atonement and the emancipations and joys which it can bring.”[40] As the Gospel of John proclaims: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perosh, but have everlasting life’ (John 3:16).

The angel next exclaimed to Nephi: “Look and behold the condescension of God!” (1 Nephi 11:26).[41] Nephi saw that the Savior gave up his high and holy status in order to come to earth and be obedient even unto death: “I looked and beheld the Lamb of God, that he was taken by the people; yea the Son of the everlasting God was judged of the world; and I saw and bear record. And I, Nephi, saw that he was lifted up upon the cross and slain for the sins of the world” (1 Nephi 11:32–33).[42] This condescension of God has the same meaning as “emptying” in Paul’s language, making Nephi’s vision an inspired commentary on the doctrinal teachings later expounded by Paul in Philippians.

The Postmortal Lord

Paul’s Christ hymn does not stop at the death of the Savior. The Apostle explained that after Jesus submitted to the will of His Father in Heaven and descended further than any other person, “God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name” (Philippians 2:9). The chief Apostle Peter similarly declared to a group of Jews, “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour” (Acts 5:30–31).[43] Elder McConkie taught, “The eternal exaltation of Christ himself—though he was a God and had power and intelligence like unto his Father—was dependent upon gaining a mortal body, overcoming the world by obedience, passing through the portals of death, and then coming forth in glorious immortality with a perfected celestial body.”[44]

But what is the “name which is above every name” (Philippians 2:9)? We are taught that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth” (Philippians 2:10). On one level, the “name which is above every name” is the name Jesus. The personal name of the Savior comes from the Hebrew word yěšû‘āh, which means “salvation.”[45] When the angel appeared to the virgin Mary, he said concerning the Holy Child: “Thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21; emphasis added). Truly our Savior possesses an exalted name, Jesus, “in whose name alone salvation can be administered to the children of men” (D&C 109:4).[46]

Yet there is another name that “is above every name” (Philippians 2:9). Not only will the name cause that “every knee should bow” (Philippians 2:10), but also that “every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:11). Who does the title “Lord” refer to? Verses 10 and 11 seem to be alluding to a scripture in Isaiah 45: “Thus saith the Lord that created the heavens. . . . I am the Lord and there is none else. . . . Look unto me, and be ye saved. . . . I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall swear” (Isaiah 45:18, 22–23).[47] When the King James Version of the Old Testament uses the word “Lord” in all small capital letters, it is a reference to the Lord Jehovah.[48]

Thus, Paul is teaching that “every knee should bow” and “every tongue should confess” that Jesus Christ is the Lord Jehovah, the God of Israel. This is the identity that Jesus possessed in the premortal world.[49] This is the rank that Jesus refused to selfishly keep for Himself, but temporarily relinquished in order to come to earth as a human being. And this is the status that Jesus regained after He wrought the atonement for all people and was exalted once again. As the prophet Alma taught: “Every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess before him. Yea, even at the last day, when all men shall stand to be judged of him, then shall they confess that he is God” (Mosiah 27:31; emphasis added).


Following his quotation of the Christ hymn, Paul exhorted the Philippians: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).[50] Yet since “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23), we cannot earn our way to the celestial kingdom. Elder M. Russell Ballard explained the relationship between what we do and what Christ does for us in the process of salvation:

It is only through the infinite Atonement of Jesus Christ that people can overcome the consequences of bad choices. Thus Nephi teaches us that it is ultimately by the grace of Christ that we are saved even after all that we can do (see 2 Ne. 25:23). No matter how hard we work, no matter how much we obey, no matter how many good things we do in this life, it would not be enough were it not for Jesus Christ and His loving grace. On our own we cannot earn the kingdom of God—no matter what we do. Unfortunately, there are some within the Church who have become so preoccupied with performing good works that they forget that those works—as good as they may be—are hollow unless they are accompanied by a complete dependence on Christ.[51]

Paul understood this principle and clarified his own point by adding: “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).[52] The good works we do are not really our own works, but rather the works of Christ. In the words of Nephi, we must earnestly strive to do “all we can do,” but in the end, we must also realize that “it is by grace that we are saved” (2 Nephi 25:23).[53]

Jesus Christ set the perfect example of humble obedience to the will of Father in Heaven during His premortal preparation, His mortal sojourn, and His postmortal reign. The Apostle Paul showed the extent to which disciples should also selflessly devote themselves to God and His children. In all this, we find patterns for our own lives. Following the path marked by our Savior as well as His prophets and apostles allows disciples to truly hearken to what Latter-day Saints call the “admonition of Paul” (Articles of Faith 1:13). Paul concluded his letter to the Philippians with the counsel to pursue all things that are “true,” “honest,” “just,” “pure,” “lovely,” “of good report,” full of “virtue,” and worthy of “praise” (Philippians 4:8). Those who seek after these things will find joy in “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). The Book of Mormon makes the responsibility and reward of Christ’s disciples clear: “Behold, the righteous, the saints of the Holy One of Israel, they who have believed in the Holy One of Israel, they who have endured the crosses of the world, and despised the shame of it, they shall inherit the kingdom of God, which was prepared for them from the foundation of the world, and their joy shall be full forever” (2 Nephi 9:18). Paul eloquently taught the Philippians that just as Christ humbly obeyed and endured to the end on earth and is now exalted in heaven, so can all people obey, endure, and achieve exaltation, if they will only follow the Savior’s righteous example and depend on His mercy and power.


[1] Dennis L. Largey, “The Book of Mormon as an Interpretive Guide to the New Testament,” in Sperry Symposium Classics: The New Testament, ed. Frank F. Judd Jr. and Gaye Strathearn (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2006), 60.

[2] Lydia was “a seller of purple,” probably meaning that she manufactured and sold cloth that had been dyed purple. This seems to have been a very lucrative business in antiquity. The fact that Lydia “worshipped God” (Acts 16:14) has caused some scholars to propose that she, like Cornelius (see Acts 10:1–2, 22) was a God-fearer, or Gentile sympathizer of Judaism, who had gathered with other Jews and sympathizers to worship the true God, Jehovah. For more information on Lydia’s occupation and religious status, see Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Acts of the Apostles (New York: Doubleday, 1998), 585–86.

[3] The Greek literally says that the woman had “a pythonic spirit,” meaning that some people apparently thought she was inspired by the Greek god Apollo, who according to Greek myth had killed a monstrous snake. Apollo was worshipped at the shrine in Delphi and associated with giving oracles (see F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, rev. ed. [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988], 312).

[4] The Book of Mormon contains a similar incident. After Alma and Amulek preached to the inhabitants of Ammonihah (see Alma 9–13), they were beaten and cast into prison (see Alma 14:1–25). When Alma cried unto the Lord for strength, an earthquake shook the prison so much that it fell to the earth, and they broke free from the cords with which they were bound (see Alma 14:26–29).

[5] See Bruce, Book of Acts, 319–20; and Fitzmyer, Acts of the Apostles, 589–90. There were many ways one could become a Roman citizen. Although it is unknown how Paul’s parents became Roman citizens, Paul was “free born” (Acts 22:28).

[6] Sidney B. Sperry, Paul’s Life and Letters (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1955), 79. In light of this, it is interesting to note that the Philippians seem to have had fewer problems in comparison with other congregations as viewed through Paul’s epistles.

[7] Paul was a tentmaker (see Acts 18:3). While in Thessalonica, Paul had worked to support himself, so he would not be burdensome to the Thessalonians (see 1 Thessalonians 2:9 and 2 Thessalonians 3:8–9). Paul told the Corinthians that he had received provisions from other Christians, in order to not burden them (see 2 Corinthians 11:8). According to Paul, Christians from Macedonia gave him this temporal support (see 2 Corinthians 11:9). Both Philippi and Thessalonica were in Macedonia, but Paul was obviously not referring to the Thessalonian saints.

[8] He explained: “My bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace” (Philippians 1:13) and “All the saints salute you, chiefly they that are of Caesar’s household” (Philippians 4:22). It is unknown precisely where Paul was imprisoned. The Philippian Saints apparently knew this information and did not need to be told explicitly. Of the many locations that have been suggested, however, Rome seems to be the least problematic proposal. See Markus Bockmuehl, The Epistle to the Philippians (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1998), 25–32, and F. F. Bruce, Philippians (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1983), 11–16.

[9] The King James Version word “wot” is a translation of the Greek verb oida, which means “know.” Joseph Smith’s translation reverses the order of verses 21–22 and modifies them in the following way: “But if I live in the flesh, ye are the fruit of my labour; yet what I shall choose I know not. For me to live is to do the will of Christ; and to die, is my gain” (Scott Faulring, Kent P. Jackson, and Robert J. Matthews, eds., Joseph Smith’s New Translation of the Bible: Original Manuscripts [Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2004], 521).

[10] See also Philippians 2:24.

[11] On following the example of the Savior, see also 3 Nephi 27:21, 27.

[12] Bruce, Philippians, 68. On other Christian hymns in the New Testament, see Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, Eric D. Huntsman, and Thomas A. Wayment, eds., Jesus Christ and the World of the New Testament (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2006), 132. Paul does not tell us whether he was quoting a hymn composed by himself or by someone else. Either way, the doctrine it teaches is still true (see D&C 1:38).

[13] See Matthew 26:30; Romans 15:9; 1 Corinthians 14:15; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; Hebrews 2:12; James 5:13; Revelation 5:9; 14:3; 15:3.

[14] Boyd K. Packer, “Reverence Invites Revelation,” Ensign, November 1991, 22. Similarly, Elder Dallin H. Oaks explained: “The singing of hymns is one of the best ways to learn the doctrine of the restored gospel” (“Worship through Music,” Ensign, November 1994, 10).

[15] Frederick William Danker, ed., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 659, s.v. “μορφή.”

[16] The phrase “express image” is a translation of the Greek word charaktēr, which means “reproduction” or “representation” and can also carry the meaning of either “character trait” or “outward appearance” (Danker, Greek-English Lexicon, 1077–78, s.v. “χαρακτήρ.”).

[17] After Joseph Smith saw the Father and Son in his First Vision, he described experience in the following way: “I was enwrapped in a heavenly vision and saw two glorious personages who exactly resembled each other in features, and likeness, surrounded with a brilliant light” (Joseph Smith, Times and Seasons, March 1, 1842, 706–7; emphasis added).

[18] President Joseph F. Smith taught: “The brother of Jared was . . . permitted to behold the spirit-body of the foreordained Savior, prior to His incarnation; and so like the body of a man was His spirit in form and appearance that the prophet thought he was gazing upon a being of flesh and blood. He first saw the finger and then the entire body of the Lord—all in the spirit” (“The Origin of Man,” Improvement Era, November 1909, 78).

[19] Of this experience, the editor Moroni concluded, “Jesus showed himself unto this man in the spirit, even after the manner and in the likeness of the same body even as he showed himself unto the Nephites” (Ether 3:17).

[20] Danker, Greek-English Lexicon, 659, s.v. “μορφή.”

[21] Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1973), 3:25; emphasis added. See also B. H. Roberts, Seventy’s Course in Theology (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1910), 3:175. Lorenzo Snow was inspired by Philippians 2:6 to compose the poetic verses: “As man now is, our God once was; / As God now is, man may be.” This poem was composed by President Snow in 1892 and was first published by his son Leroi C. Snow (Improvement Era, May 1919, 660–61).

[22] Danker, Greek-English Lexicon, 133, s.v. “α̉ρπαγμός.”

[23] Danker, Greek-English Lexicon, 539, s.v. “κενόω.” Because of this Greek verb, some scholars refer to the idea of the condescension of Christ as “kenosis” and to these verses as Paul’s “Kenotic Christology.”

[24] The JST modifies this verse from saying, “the Word was God” to saying, “the Son was of God” (JST, John 1:1; emphasis added).

[25] Compare Exodus 3:13–15 and John 8:56–59.

[26] See also Mosiah 13:28 and 15:1. This doctrine cost Abinadi his life. King Noah stated: “Abinadi, we have found an accusation against thee, and thou art worthy of death. For thou hast said that God himself should come down among the children of men; and now, for this cause thou shalt be put to death unless thou wilt recall all the words which thou hast spoken” (Mosiah 17:7–8).

[27] Gerald N. Lund, “Knowest Thou the Condescension of God?” in Selected Writings of Gerald N. Lund (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1999), 160.

[28] See also 1 Nephi 19:9.

[29] For more details on crucifixion, see Kent P. Jackson, “The Crucifixion,” in Richard Neitzel Holzapfel and Thomas A. Wayment, eds., From the Last Supper through the Resurrection: The Savior’s Final Hours (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2003), 318–37, and W. Reid Litchfield, “The Search for the Physical Cause of Jesus Christ’s Death,” BYU Studies 37, no. 4 (1997–98): 93–109.

[30] See also Luke 22:44.

[31] See also Luke 22:42–43.

[32] We know that God has created “worlds without number” (Moses 1:33). Joseph Smith taught that Christ suffered for the sins of all God’s children, whether on this earth or any of the other worlds that God created: “By him, of him, and through him, the worlds were all made…whose inhabitants, too, from the first to the last, are saved by the very same Savior as ours.” Joseph Smith, “Ancient Poetry,” Times and Seasons, February 1, 1843, 83.

[33] See also Hebrews 4:15–16.

[34] For a full study of this, see Frank F. Judd Jr., “Jesus Christ: The Savior Who Knows,” in Celebrating Easter, ed. Thomas A. Wayment and Keith J. Wilson (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2007), 113–36.

[35] Neal A. Maxwell, “Enduring Well,” Ensign, April 1997, 7. See also Gene R. Cook, “The Grace of the Lord,” New Era, December 1988, 4; Jeffrey R. Holland, “Special Witnesses of Christ,” Ensign, April 2001, 14; and Neal A. Maxwell, “Becoming a Disciple,” Ensign, June 1996, 12.

[36] See also D&C 88:6.

[37] Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language (New York: S. Converse, 1828), s.v. “condescension.”

[38] Note the comment of Marion D. Hanks: “In 1 Nephi 11 there is recorded the sobering inquiry from an angel to Nephi as to whether he knows ‘the condescension of God.’ In effect, the Lord seems to be asking if Nephi understands how close to man God is willing to come, how far he is willing to go to help us, how much he loves us, how much he does and is willing to do for us.” Marion D. Hanks, “An Attitude—The Weightier Matters,” Ensign, July 1981, 69.

[39] See 1 Nephi 11:18–21. In the original edition of the Book of Mormon, this section emphasizes the divinity of the Savior more than the current edition. The 1830 edition identifies Mary as “the mother of God” rather than “the mother of the Son of God” (1 Nephi 11:18), and Jesus as “the Eternal Father” rather than “the Son of the Eternal Father” (1 Nephi 11:21). The phrase “the Son of” was added to both verses by the Prophet Joseph Smith, “so that these passages could not be misinterpreted as references to God the Father instead of his Son, Jesus Christ,” and therefore “should be considered as clarifications, not as doctrinal reinterpretations” (Royal Skousen, Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, Part 1: 1 Nephi 1–2 Nephi 10 [Provo, UT: FARMS, Brigham Young University, 2004], 230). Note that later in the Book of Mormon, when Zeezrom asked Amulek, “Is the Son of God the very Eternal Father?” (Alma 11:38), Amulek responded, “Yea, he is the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth” (Alma 11:39).

[40] Neal A. Maxwell, “Lessons from Laman and Lemuel,” Ensign, November 1999, 8.

[41] Elder McConkie divided the condescension of God into two separate aspects: “The condescension of God (meaning the Father) consists in the fact that though he is an exalted, perfected, glorified Personage, he became the personal and literal Father of a mortal Offspring born of a mortal woman. . . . The condescension of God (meaning the Son) consists in the fact that though he himself is the Lord Omnipotent, the very Being who created the earth and all things in it are, yet being born of a mortal woman, he submitted to all the trials of mortality . . . finally being put to death in a most ignominious manner” (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966], 155). This paper, however, will focus only on the condescension of God the Son.

[42] The original edition again emphasizes the divinity of the Savior more than the current edition. The 1830 edition identifies Jesus as “the everlasting God” rather than “the Son of the everlasting God” (1 Nephi 11:32) (see Skousen, Analysis of Textual Variants, 230).

[43] Peter also taught this principle in Acts 2:29–36. For other examples of this general principle, see Matthew 23:12; Luke 14:11; 18:14; James 1:8; 1 Peter 5:6; and D&C 20:21–24.

[44] Bruce R. McConkie, The Promised Messiah (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1978), 456.

[45] Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1951), 447; see the discussion of the name Jesus in G. Homer Durham, “Jesus the Christ: The Words and Their Meaning,” Ensign, May 1984, 14.

[46] See also Acts 4:12; 2 Nephi 25:20; Mosiah 3:17, 5:8; and D&C 18:23.

[47] See also Romans 14:11; Mosiah 27:31; D&C 76:110 and 88:104.

[48] The Hebrew name for Jehovah is yhwh, comes from the verb hwh meaning “to be” (see Exodus 3:13–14). (See Brown, Driver, and Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, 217–19). According to Jewish custom and out of reverence for the divine name, yhwh would be pronounced as adonai—the Hebrew word for “lord” or “master.” See the discussion of the name Jehovah in Durham, “Jesus the Christ: The Words and Their Meaning,” 14. In the Septuagint—the Greek version of the Old Testament—and in the New Testament, the Greek word kyrios (translated in English as “Lord”) is sometimes used to translate the Hebrew yhwh. See Craig J. Ostler, “What is a Mortal Messiah,” in The Apostle Paul: His Life and His Testimony, ed. Paul Y. Hoskisson (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1994), 153–54.

[49] In His Intercessory Prayer, the Savior himself pleaded: “And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was” (John 17:5).

[50] See also Alma 34:37 and Mormon 9:27.

[51] M. Russell Ballard, “Building Bridges of Understanding,” Ensign, June 1998, 65; see also Dallin H. Oaks, “Another Testament of Jesus Christ,” Ensign, March 1994, 67; and Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1955), 2:310–11.

[52] See also Philippians 4:13.

[53] See also 2 Nephi 10:24.