The term kenosis comes from the Greek word kenoo, translated "emptied" in chapter 2 of Paul's letter to the Philippians:

"Who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men." (Phil. 2:6-7 NASB)

What has come to be called "Kenotic theology" attempts to understand the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity in light of the kenosis of Phillippians 2:7. Its aim is to solve some of the supposed paradoxes arising from Jesus having both a divine nature and a human nature. For example, how could an all knowing God become a baby, how could God be tempted, or how could Jesus (being God) not know the time of His return?

The danger comes when it is concluded that in the incarnation, the second person of the Trinity took on human nature and gave up or lost some of the divine attributes -- such that Jesus was not fully divine. The doctrine of the two natures of Christ (known as the hypostatic union) maintains that Jesus possessed a full undiminished human nature and a full undiminished divine nature, which were not combined or confused into some new nature but were added to each other forever (yet remaining distinct) in the one person Jesus Christ.

The question regarding the kenosis comes to this -- What does it mean when Scripture says Christ "emptied" Himself? Did Jesus cease to be God during His earthly ministry? Certainly not, for deity cannot stop being deity or He would never have been true deity to begin with. Rather, the "emptying" is satisfactorily explained in the subsequent words of the verse, taking note of the two participles which grammatically modify and explain the verb: He emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. This emptying, in fact, was done as the man Christ Jesus, and neither of these ideas necessitates or implies the giving up of divine attributes.

Christianity maintains that Jesus did not "empty" himself of any of his divinity in the incarnation, although it is true that his divine attributes were veiled. When the Kenosis theory concludes that Jesus is or was less than God (as has been the case in the past), it is regarded as heresy.

Resources

  • Thomas V. Morris, The Logic of God Incarnate. Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2001.
  • C. Stephen Evans, ed. Exploring Kenotic Christology: The Self-Emptying of God. Oxford, 2006.
  • Oliver Crisp, Divinity and Humanity: The Incarnation Reconsidered, pgs 118-153. Cambridge, 2007.
  • Colin E. Gunton, Christ and Creation: The Didsbury Lectures. Eerdmans, 1992.
  • John Polkinghorne, The Work of Love: Creation as Kenosis. Eerdmans, 2001.

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