Theology: CHRISTOLOGY – THE KENOSIS

Kenosis, or as some call it, The Kenotic Theory Of The Incarnation

 

Dr. Miller in his theology class notes calls the act of Christ in Philippians 2:7 as His self veiling. When Christ took upon Himself the form of man, He veiled or emptied Himself of His glory so that His true being could not be seen.1

 

Let us take time to read the Philippians text (5-8):

 

“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”

 

The idea of the Philippians text leaves five basic interpretations: (The titles of these theories come from A.B. Bruce.2)

 

1. The “absolute metamorphic” view that Christ gave up attributes and that His divine consciousness was gone until in the temple at twelve when it began to come forth. Gess holds to this thought.

 

2. The “absolute dualistic” theory — That Christ surrendered some of His attributes when He became man. Thiessen describes this position as follows: “They tell us that Christ emptied Himself of His relative attributes, — his omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence, — while retaining His immanent attributes —-His holiness, love, and truth.”3 He lists the following theologians in this tradition. Thomasius; Delitzsch; Forest; Crosby.

 

This, to most, would indicate that he was less than God if there were some attributes that were not there. Indeed, it seems unlikely that He would make Himself less than God and then assume His whole Godness at the ascension. To most it is inconceivable that He could become less than God for if He is less than God, then He is not God.

 

 

3. The “absolute semi-metamorphic” view — That Christ veiled His attributes. This would indicate that He hid them from other human beings. He used them but those around Him did not know He was using them. Walvoord mentions Ebrard’s comment that states “that the divine properties were disguised and appeared as a mode of human existence. The mode of existence of Christ was changed from that of the form of God to the form of a Man, from the eternal manner of being to a temporal manner of being.”4

 

This seems to be a bit on the dishonest side, yet aside from this, it seems that He would not be a real example to us as a man that had a God side that was doing all those great things in secret.

 

4. That Christ laid aside some of His attributes. This seems to be very similar to number two above. If He indeed laid aside anything of His divine nature, He would seem to be less than divine. You cannot separate the divine attributes from the divine and have full divinity remaining.

 

5. That Christ voluntarily limited His use of His attributes. This position would submit to us that Christ remained completely divine and yet completely human. He, on His own, decided to limit the use of some of His divine attributes while here on earth so that He could become our example.

 

Theissen mentions that Strong held to this thought. “The humiliation consisted in the surrender of the independent exercise of the divine attributes…In the continuous surrender on the part of the God-man, so far as his human nature was concerned, of the exercise of those divine powers with which it was endowed by virtue of its union with the divine, etc.”5

 

One major thought to prove this position is that the Lord would have had to call down the angels to save Him. If he had all attributes available to him this would not have been necessary. See Matthew 4:6 cf. Psalm 91:11-12.

 

Theissen holds to the idea of the surrender of the independent exercise of the attributes. “…the Scriptures teach, when taken as a whole, that Christ merely surrendered the independent exercise of some of His relative or transitive attributes.”6 Theissen has a good discussion on this topic.

 

 

Bancroft states, “The self-emptying (kenosis) of Christ, which was a voluntary act, consisted in the surrender of the independent exercise of the divine attributes.”7

 

Bancroft quotes E.Y. Mullins as he gives illustration of this self emptying. Mark Mullins relates it to a teacher that knows all there is to know about mathematics yet to teach a pupil the teacher puts all his knowledge aside for a time to concentrate on the basics with the pupil. He also likens it to an owner of a chain of department stores that is beside the bed of his near dead son. The father has placed all things aside to concentrate on the son. In like manner Christ set all things aside except what He needed to finish the work of redemption.

 

Bancroft finishes by stating, “So it was with Christ, who freely and willingly surrendered the independent exercise of His attributes for the sake of and in the interest of His beloved.”8

 

I like his concluding statement but feel that the illustrations are poor. They speak of functions of the mind and have nothing to do with attributes.

 

This position of the voluntary setting aside of attributes, has some very nice characteristics.

 

a. You have a divine person in the fullest sense of the word and He remains fully divine throughout eternity past, the incarnation, and eternity future. This fits best with the phrase that He is the “same yesterday, today and forever.”

 

b. You have a perfect example for man to follow in their spiritual life. He was a man of like nature that was tested and tempted in like manner as we. He was fully relying upon the Holy Spirit for His strength.

 

c. You have the perfect union of both divine and human. He was just as much God as if He had never been man and He was just as much man

as if He had never been God.

 

In Ryrie’s A Survey Of Bible Doctrine he seems to tie the veiling and nonuse positions together. They are to me somewhat similar, yet different.

 

“The concept involves the Veiling [caps are my addition] of Christ’s preincarnate glory (John 17:5, the condescension of taking on Himself the likeness of sinful flesh (Romans 8:3), and the voluntary nonuse of some of His attributes of deity during the time of His earthly life (Mt 24:36). His humanity was not a glorified humanity and was thus subject to temptation, weakness, pain and sorrow. Choosing not to use His divine attributes is quite different from saying that He gave them up. Nonuse does not mean subtraction.”9

 

There are other views that we might mention that might be slightly different from those given.

 

Anselm held that Christ acted as if he did not possess divine attributes. This would be similar to the veiled view I would think.

 

Walvoord seems to set forth a view that would be similar to the limiting of the attributes view however he maintains that Christ limited the use while still using them. The limitation would be in the idea that He used them at times and at times He limited them. Thiessen seems to follow this line of thinking as well. His view stated is, “…Christ surrendered no attribute of Deity, but that He did voluntarily restrict their independent use in keeping with His purpose of living among men and their limitations.”10 He maintains that Christ used the attributes at will; however never used those attributes in such a way as to make His life as man easier.

 

This would seem to say that Christ did some of the miracles in His own power and some of them in someone else’s power. This is not the great example that the apostles were given, if He is doing the miracles on His own and not relying on the Holy Spirit.

 

The Synod of Antioch in 341 felt that this text meant that Christ emptied himself of “the being equal with God” yet held to the full deity of the Lord.

 

In the Philippians passage we read,

 

“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God, But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men; And, being

 

 

found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” Philippians 2:5-8

 

The form of God idea and the form of a servant idea must both carry the idea of complete God and complete servant. If there is “less than” in one then there would be “less than” in the other. Since He was fully a servant to become our example then He had to have been fully God.

 

The term translated “form” is the Greek word “morphe” which according to Lightfoot after a detailed study of the word in Philo and the New Testament is “that which is intrinsic and essential to the thing.” Thus it shows that He was true and complete God while being true and complete servant.11

 

The term emptied is something that is self imposed be it laying aside, veiling, or nonuse.

 

The same term is used in four other texts:

 

a. Romans 4:14,

 

“For if they who are of the law be heirs,

faith is made void, and the promise made of no effect”

 

The faith is made void or “no good” and of “no value”.

 

b. 1 Corinthians 1:17,

 

“For Christ sent me not to baptize but to preach the gospel; not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ

should be made of no effect.”

 

Again the similar idea of “no good” is seen.

 

c. 1 Corinthians 9:15 also seems to show “no good” is the idea.

 

d. 2 Corinthians 9:3 seems also to show the idea of “no good.”

 

Let us apply that thought to Philippians 2:7. “But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men;” It seems that this text may not give credence to any setting aside, veiling, or nonuse of anything.

 

 

This idea of “no good” or void would give idea that He was setting aside all that it meant to be God in the idea of status and position to take on the place, or position, or the status of a servant.

 

Berkof in his systematic theology mentions of this term and these texts: “The term kenosis is derived from the main verb in Philippians 2:7, ekenosen. This is rendered in the American Revised Version ‘emptied Himself’. Dr. Warfield calls this a mistranslation. The verb is found in only four other New Testament passages. . . .In all these it is used figuratively and means ‘to make void’, ‘of no effect’, ‘of no account’, ‘of no reputation’. If we so understand the word here, it simply means that

Christ made Himself of no account, of no reputation, did not assert His divine prerogative, but took the form of a servant.”12

 

This might imply that the passage has nothing to do with giving up, veiling, or nonuse. It would only mean that the text meant that He did not hold his deity as something to be held onto and took on the form of a servant.

 

I don’t know if this is the message that Dr. Berkof was trying to relay. It would imply that He did not set forth his divine nature but that the emphasis was on the servant.

 

Ryrie takes this line of thinking in his Theology. In speaking of this passage he mentions, “And that passage does not discuss at all the question of how or how much Christ’s glory was veiled. Nor does it say anything about the use or restriction of divine attributes. It does say that the emptying concerned becoming a man to be able to die. Thus the kenosis means leaving His preincarnate position and taking on a servant- humanity. . . .In the kenosis Christ emptied Himself of retaining and exploiting His status in the godhead and took on humanity in order to die.”13 (This by the way, seems to contradict what he held in Survey Of Bible Doctrines pp 57-59)

 

The idea of the Philippians text certainly to me, is as we have just seen. This does not negate our entire discussion. It just gives us a different light and slant to the thoughts.

 

The Philippians text is the idea that Christ was not holding to his status, or position, and was willing to change that status and position. In the process of this change there seems to have been some change in the use of His attributes.

 

That change seems best to be defined as a self-imposed limitation of His attributes. The attributes in question would be omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotence.

 

Those that say that Christ did miracles under His own power list many references to prove their point. There is nothing in any of these references that I have considered that show definitely that His own Omnipotence, or other attributes were suddenly in use as Walvoord suggests.

 

Indeed, for Him to use the powers of God would detract from the promises of the disciples to be able to do miraculous things via the power of the Holy Spirit. They are given Christ as an example yet He can do miracles without the Holy Spirit. This is not a good example of what the disciples could do.

 

Also, it seems to be a detraction from the ministry of the Holy Spirit if one is to attribute some of the miracles of the Lord to His own divine nature. The Spirit ministered in and through Him as He does in and through us.

 

There might be another position that would give some food for thought. The idea that God was limited by the fact of His humanity. He could only see as far as normal man could see so there was nothing he could do other than get close enough to see what He wanted to see. He was limited in brain power and storage capacity so was not omniscient as such. He was in a body that knew fatigue so could do only so much. He was in a human form that was limited in physical strength so could not do superhuman things. Etc.

 

It seems to me that He voluntarily set aside some of these attributes so that He could be wholly an example to the apostles and us that follow. This principle is derived from logic and thought, rather than the Philippians text.

 

 

CONCLUSIONS

 

1. If you hold to the position of Walvoord, or to the self-imposed nonuse of attributes you are on very good ground scripturally. Any other position will find problems. The idea of nonuse seems to have many things going for it.

 

Walvoord concludes his discussion with the following from Strong: “Our doctrine of Christ’s humiliation will be better understood if we put it midway between two pairs of erroneous views, making it the third of five. The list would be as follows:

 

(1) Gess: The Logos gave up all divine attributes;

 

(2) Thomasius: The Logos gave up relative attributes only;

 

(3) rue View: The Logos gave up the independent exercise of divine attributes;

 

(4) Old Orthodoxy: Christ gave up the use of divine attributes;

(5) Anselm: Christ acted as if he did not possess divine attributes.”14 Strong uses the terms “gave up the independent exercise of” which

indicates that He did not use them while Walvoord mentions the idea of use them but “restrict” the use of them. I’m not sure he isn’t miss-using Strong in this quote.

 

Indeed, Strong makes the statement,

 

“In the continuous surrender, on the part of the God-man, so far as his human nature was concerned, of the exercise of those divine powers with which it was endowed by virtue of its union with the divine, and in the voluntary acceptance, which followed upon this, of temptation, suffering, and death.” He also mentions, “In the submission of the Logos to the control of the Holy Spirit….”15

 

Strong is not clear to me just what he means, but it seems that he saw Christ as limiting use, as in, nonuse of the attributes.

 

2. The Philippians text really does not discuss the nonuse, veiling etc. of Christ’s attributes. It deals with status or position.

 

 

3. View Christ as perfectly divine and perfectly man and you have the thought that you need. We have shown this in our studies on His deity and His humanity.

 

4. Because the Lord was relying on the Holy Spirit for all of His knowledge and miracles, then we truly have an example to follow.

 

If you do not feel that His relying on His own divine attributes at times detracts from His being an example to you then that position is quite good. The question is this, When did He rely on His own powers and when did He rely on the Spirit? Did He rely on His own divinity during the wilderness testing? And, we might add who is to determine when He was functioning in the divine and when He was functioning in the servant?

 

5. The Kenotic theology is barely based on scripture any way you view it. It is not good to build theology on one verse that is highly disputed. The idea is to try to explain how God and man can be one so very completely without a conflict of interest lawsuit.

 

6. We have noted that some authors contradict themselves at times in their different writings.

 

Let us think of this for a few moments. I do not say that I know what is going on in their lives. I think that we may draw some possible answers to these contradictions, and see that they are not necessarily sloppy writers or theologians.

 

a. They were trained by some very strong personalities. They may have soaked up their teacher’s theology and bought everything that was handed them. They may in later life have taken time to study some of the recent church fathers and the Bible and realized that their teachers were not infallible. It is normal to do this, and I trust that you will realize that you may have done the same thing yourself in reading this material, or maybe at your home church.

 

We need to check all we hear with the Scripture and see if it really fits. I had a Dallas man in one of the colleges that I attended, for a president. His messages were fantastic. I took notes plus more notes and loved his messages. I went back through his message notes one time and tried to relate what he said to the scripture passage and it just was not there. I

 

 

finally over time threw most of his notes away because they were not really scriptural. Nothing erroneous but not based on the texts he used.

 

b. Some writers have had serious struggles through their years of preparation, and may not have had time to seriously check out their own thinking on all that they believe.

 

c. It is normal to change and redefine your thinking as you age and mature in the Lord. I would encourage you to be very patient with people that are teaching what you would term “false doctrine” until you have fully understood their thinking, and you have completely studied the text, or teaching on your own.

 

Many times I have felt that a persons teaching was incorrect until I took time to understand what they were saying, and took time to study the topic on my own.

 

In conclusion to our study of the Kenosis, Ryrie agrees with me in his “Survey Of Bible Doctrines” when he states, “What is included in a proper statement of the true doctrine of the kenosis? The concept involves the veiling of Christ’s preincarnate glory (John 17:5), the condescension of taking on Himself the likeness of sinful flesh (Romans 8:3), and the voluntary nonuse of some of His attributes of deity during the time of His earthly life (Matthew 24:36). His humanity was not a glorified humanity and was thus subject to temptation, weakness, pain and sorrow. Choosing not to use His divine attributes is quite different from saying that He gave them up. Nonuse does not mean subtraction.”16

 

END NOTES

 

1. Dr. Miller, Theology class notes, Western Baptist College

 

2. Walvoord, John F.; “Jesus Christ Our Lord”; Copyright 1969; Moody Press; p 140 (Quoting A.B. Bruce in his “The Humiliation Of Christ”)

 

3. Henry C. Thiessen, “Lectures In Systematic Theology,” Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1949, p 295

 

4. Taken from: “Jesus Christ Our Lord”; Walvoord, John F.; Copyright 1969, Moody Bible Institute of Chicago; Moody Press. Used by permission. p 141

 

 

5. Thiessen, p 298

 

6. Thiessen, p 296

 

7. Taken from the book, Elemental Theology by Emery H. Bancroft. Copyright 1977 by Baptist Bible College. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. p 147

 

8. Taken from the book, Elemental Theology by Emery H. Bancroft. Copyright 1977 by Baptist Bible College. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. p 148

 

9. Taken from: “A Survey Of Bible Doctrine”; Ryrie, Charles C.; Copyright 1972, Moody Bible Institute of Chicago; Moody Press. Used by permission. p 59

 

10. Taken from: “Jesus Christ Our Lord”; Walvoord, John F.; Copyright 1969, Moody Bible Institute of Chicago; Moody Press. Used by permission. p 144

 

11. Reprinted by permission: Ryrie, Charles C.; “Basic Theology”; Wheaton: Victor Books, 1986, 1986, p 261

 

12. Berkhof finish and add him to book list.

 

13. Reprinted by permission: Ryrie, Charles C.; “Basic Theology”; Wheaton: Victor Books, 1986, p 262

 

14. Taken from: “Jesus Christ Our Lord”; Walvoord, John F.; Copyright 1969, Moody Bible Institute of Chicago; Moody Press. Used by permission. p 145

 

15. Augustus H. Strong, Systematic Theology, Valley Forge, PA: The Judson Press, 1907, p 703

 

16. Taken from: “A Survey Of Bible Doctrine”; Ryrie, Charles C.; Copyright 1972, Moody Bible Institute of Chicago; Moody Press. Used by permission. p 59

 

 

HANDOUT THE KENOSIS

The idea of the Philippians text leaves five basic interpretations: (The

titles of these theories come from A.B. Bruce. 2 )

 

1. The “absolute metamorphic”

 

2. The “absolute dualistic”

 

3. The “absolute semi-metamorphic”

 

4. The view that Christ laid aside some of His attributes

5. The view that Christ voluntarily limited His use of His attributes This position of the voluntary setting aside of attributes, has some very

nice characteristics.

 

a. You have a divine person in the fullest sense of the word and He remains fully divine throughout eternity past, the incarnation, and eternity future. This fits best with the phrase that He is the “same yesterday, today and forever.”

 

b. You have a perfect example for man to follow in their spiritual life. He was a man of like nature that was tested and tempted in like manner as we. He was fully relying upon the Holy Spirit for His strength.

 

c. You have the perfect union of both divine and human. He was just as much God as if He had never been man and He was just as much man

as if He had never been God.

 

The Term used in the Philippians text is used in four other texts:

 

a. Romans 4:14

 

b. 1 Corinthians 1:17

 

c. 1 Corinthians 9:15

 

d. 2 Corinthians 9:3

 

CONCLUSIONS[1]

 


[1] Stanley L. Derickson Ph.D. B.A. (n.d.). DERICKSON’S NOTES ON THEOLOGY: A STUDY BOOK IN THEOLOGY.

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