In Philipians 2:7 Paul writes:

but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,[a] being born in the likeness of men (ESV)

I always understood this to mean that he was humble enough to come into our world as a man to die on a cross. Something that I read recently though suggested that Jesus gave up some of his Godly characteristics to become a man (I'm not sure what charcteristics). This seems wrong to me as I always understood Jesus adds humanity to his Godliness, not removing Godliness to become human.

Is there a common protestant understanding of what "emptied himself" means in this verse?

  • 3
    Whenever I have a question like this, I usually do this: biblegateway.com/verse/en/Philippians%202:7 Which while reading all of them, you can see that the translation version AMP probably is the most clear: "But stripped Himself [of all privileges and [a]rightful dignity], so as to assume the guise of a servant (slave), in that He became like men and was born a human being."
    – user1054
    Commented Jan 2, 2013 at 13:06
  • 1
    Can we even comprehend what it would have been like for God the creator of the entire universe to make himself as man knowing this - that man didn't even recognise him. Now that's humility!
    – hookenz
    Commented Dec 1, 2013 at 22:24
  • "...He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,nothing in his appearance that we should desire him."Isaiah 53:2 (NIV)
    – Tony Jays
    Commented Mar 5, 2014 at 8:11

6 Answers 6


The King James translates the same verse as this:

But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:

Of course, there are likely to be several different meanings attributed to this, but the most common is the one that you posted - that He took on the humble nature of a servant.

Barnes' notes on the Bible says this: (Emphasis mine where added)

But made himself of no reputation - This translation by no means conveys the sense of the original According to this it would seem that he consented to be without distinction or honor among people; or that he was willing to be despised or disregarded. The Greek is ἑαυτον ἐκένωσεν heauton ekenōsen. The word κενόω kenoō means literally, to empty, "to make empty, to make vain or void." It is rendered: "made void" in Romans 4:14; "made of none effect," 1 Corinthians 1:17; "make void," 1 Corinthians 9:15; "should be vain," 2 Corinthians 9:3. The word does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament, except in the passage before us. The essential idea is that of bringing to emptiness, vanity, or nothingness; and, hence, it is applied to a case where one lays aside his rank and dignity, and becomes in respect to that as nothing; that is, he assumes a more humble rank and station. In regard to its meaning here, we may remark:

(1) that it cannot mean that he literally divested himself of his divine nature and perfections, for that was impossible. He could not cease to be omnipotent, and omnipresent, and most holy, and true, and good.

(2) it is conceivable that he might have laid aside, for a time, the symbols or the manifestation of his glory, or that the outward expressions of his majesty in heaven might have been withdrawn. It is conceivable for a divine being to intermit the exercise of his almighty power, since it cannot be supposed that God is always exerting his power to the utmost. And in like manner there might be for a time a laying aside or intermitting of these manifestations or symbols, which were expressive of the divine glory and perfections. Yet,

(3) this supposes no change in the divine nature, or in the essential glory of the divine perfections. When the sun is obscured by a cloud, or in an eclipse, there is no real change of its glory, nor are his beams extinguished, nor is the sun himself in any measure changed. His luster is only for a time obscured. So it might have been in regard to the manifestation of the glory of the Son of God. Of course there is much in regard to this which is obscure, but the language of the apostle undoubtedly implies more than that he took an humble place, or that he demeaned himself in an humble manner. In regard to the actual change respecting his manifestations in heaven, or the withdrawing of the symbols of his glory there, the Scriptures are nearly silent, and conjecture is useless - perhaps improper. The language before us fairly implies that he laid aside that which was expressive of his being divine - that glory which is involved in the phrase "being in the form of God" - and took upon himself another form and manifestation in the condition of a servant.

In short, per the Barnes' notes, He did not lay aside any of His power or Godly characteristics, He merely did not exercise them.

Gills' commentary says this:

...He lost nothing of what he had; the glory of his divine nature was covered, and out of sight;...

Vincent's Word Studies also agrees:

The general sense is that He divested Himself of that peculiar mode of existence which was proper and peculiar to Him as one with God. He laid aside the form of God. In so doing, He did not divest Himself of His divine nature. The change was a change of state: the form of a servant for the form of God. His personality continued the same. His self-emptying was not self-extinction, nor was the divine Being changed into a mere man. In His humanity He retained the consciousness of deity, and in His incarnate state carried out the mind which animated Him before His incarnation. He was not unable to assert equality with God. He was able not to assert it.

as do Wesley's notes

Though he remained full, John 1:14, yet he appeared as if he had been empty; for he veiled his fulness from the sight of men and angels.

Most of the commentaries that I can find agree with your original understanding of the phrase. He retained all His power and glory, he merely chose not to exercise it.

These, and a whole slew of other commentaries are available at http://bible.cc/philippians/2-7.htm


The Greek for "emptied himself" is kenosis, now a general theological term for the concept of God choosing to not allow himself the rights and powers of godhood. Kenosis allows for such things as Jesus "being surprised" when power goes out of him (the Syro-Phoenician woman), not "knowing the day or the hour" of his own return, and in general choosing not to exercise any of the things he could do as God.

General Consensus tends to put the motivation for kenosis as one of not "overwhelming" those whom he came to love. If God had come with overwhelming force, he could certainly have garnered the respect and awe of His people, but fundamentally not the free choice of radically less powerful people.

Some people have problems with kenosis, saying that it is inconsistent with hypostatic union. That said, as J. Vernon McGee used to say, "It's ok, they can be wrong if they want to be" :) [Okay, that part's just opinion! But I like to let people know both sides]

In choosing "equality with God as not something to be grasped," then indeed, God is giving up the powers of Godhood, if not its nature. God is who he is - a loving person who desires to be loved by his creation. It is his nature to love his people more than he loves his own power. It is that understanding (amongst other things) of a God who loves rather than subjgates his own that makes the Gospel such truly Good News.

  • Note - there are different links for each of the kenoses that may prove useful... Commented Jan 2, 2013 at 16:06

Perhaps we can also find helpful insight from scripture itself. Here are a few that I think help provide a “general” understanding of what “emptied himself” might mean.

First, John, in prison, asked his disciples to inquire if Jesus was the “one-to-come”. Jesus answered:

Matthew 11:4 - Jesus answered them, “Go tell John what you hear and see: 11:5 the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news proclaimed to them.

Luke 7:22 - So he answered them, “Go tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news proclaimed to them.

Jesus also sent out his disciples with authority to minister to the surrounding towns.

Matthew 10:1 - Jesus called his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits so they could cast them out and heal every kind of disease and sickness.

Luke 9:1 - After Jesus called the twelve together, he gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, 9:2 and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.

And Jesus even permitted the Holy Spirit to lead him into temptation.

Matthew 4:1 - Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

Luke 4:1 - Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan River and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 4:2 where for forty days he endured temptations from the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and when they were completed, he was famished.

I think that without much trouble, we can find many more references in the Bible along these same lines. But using just these, what can we start understanding about Jesus “emptying himself”? We find he yet had the ability to:

  • Gave sight to the blind
  • Heal the lame
  • Remove leprosy from lepers
  • Enable the deaf to hear
  • Raise the dead
  • Proclaim the Gospel to the poor

What else do we see from these scriptures? Jesus had the ability to pass “authority” to the disciples. Using this authority, the disciples(!) were able to cast out demons, cure diseases, and heal the sick.

And finally, would you like to be lead into temptation? Me, I want to flee it! But Jesus allowed the Holy Spirit to lead him into direct “with the devil” temptation. Who had the authority at that time? If it was Jesus, the devil would not have been able to tempt Him. But in this instance, the devil had the authority to harass Jesus much like any one of us gets harassed by him. Truly, Jesus would have had to given “something” up or the devil would not have been able to do this!

So it seems scripture presents Jesus was still quite capable and yet humble in many ways. And really, it’s like, if these are the things He can do in a “limited” state, he is still far more than any person who ever lived and is alone worthy of our praise and worship.

P.S. - Did you notice that Jesus places proclaiming the Gospel right up there with miracles? Perhaps this is for us to realize that without Jesus, it would be impossible to have the Gospel as it too is a miracle He has provided.


Jesus emptied his heart like St. Hesychios the Priest (5th or 6th c.) stated in "Watchfulness and Holiness." We should empty our hearts so that we completely leave all earthly cares behind.

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    Can you please give us a quote of what St. Hesychios said?
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Nov 8, 2014 at 5:49

The anointed of God was sent for a purpose and this purpose was to offer himself (emptied) as an offering to God,to be the Lamb of God. He emptied himself of the rights of all men, that is of taking a wife, having children and owning land, (servants did not own land) But Jesus offered himself willingly for this purpose, as Jesus said, "I don't even have a place to rest my head.

  • Also, you can click edit below your post to change the original. Making two separate answers is pretty unconventional. Please take the tour and see the help center if you have not yet.
    – user3961
    Commented Mar 26, 2015 at 22:25

I believe that He stripped Himself of His divinity, to be born the most humble and helpless thing in the universe...a baby. I believe that He had to have laid it aside to become as human as you and I. The only difference in His birth...He was born with a living spirit...the same as Adam had before he fell, whereas, all humanity are born with a dead spirit...inherited from Adam...until they experience new birth.

JESUS lived and walked in total dependence on God the Father for every move He made and every word He spoke. He was 'made like His brethren.'


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