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Philippians 2:5-9 describes the attitude of humility, love, and service which Christ Jesus possessed while on earth:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name...

There is much already said about what it means to "be in the form of God" and "equality with God" in the literature of both trinitarians and non-trinitarians. See here for a start. This question is not about those particular aspects of what some theologians, in expounding this passage, have termed "the Kenosis".

The question is regarding the notions of "emptying" and "taking the form of". The passage seems to present that in order for Jesus to be found in the form of a servant he needed to empty himself. More specifically, it states that he emptied himself by taking the form of a servant and being born in the likeness of a man.

If Jesus did not pre-exist his birth then:

  1. By taking the form of a servant and being born in the likeness of a man he emptied himself of what, exactly?

  2. How can one empty oneself by birth as a man if one does not pre-exist that birth?

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  • Its a great question, only God Himself can do such things. Therefore, Jesus emptied Himself of His Almighty power, became a completely helpless and dependant human, and lived as we do. Its a truly incredible journey from the Mighty God/Everlasting Father (Isaiah 9:6) to the cross (Prince of Peace)!
    – Adam
    Mar 25 at 11:04
  • Your question inspired me to ask this one: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/57130/… Mar 25 at 14:42
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Caveat: this is a difficult sentence in general and there is no settled translation.

However it's translated, it's easy to make a subtle assumption about the text that isn't actually there (although a straightforward inference coming from a trinitarian position).

In the article Philippians 2:6-8 the authors conclude

"The verse is not speaking either of Christ’s giving up his “Godhood” at his incarnation or of his God-nature being willing to “hide” so that his man-nature can show itself clearly. Rather, it is saying something else. Scripture says Christ was the “image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4), and Jesus himself testified that if one had seen him, he had seen the Father. Saying that Christ was in the “form” (outward appearance) of God is simply stating that truth in another way. Unlike Adam, who grasped at being like God (Gen. 3:5), Christ, the Last Adam, “emptied himself” of all his reputation and the things due him as the true child of the King. He lived in the same fashion as other men. He humbled himself to the Word and will of God. He lived by “It is written” and the commands of his Father. He did not “toot his own horn,” but instead called himself “the son of man,” which, in the Aramaic language he spoke, meant “a man.” He trusted God and became obedient, even to a horrible and shameful death on a cross."

So it's not that there was time 1 'he empties himself' time 2 'he is born'.

To answer the questions

  1. He emptied himself of all his reputation and the things due him as the true child of the King. He lived in the same fashion as other men.

  2. "How can one empty oneself by birth[?]" The text doesn't quite say this, and Young's literal translation reads "but did empty himself, the form of a servant having taken, in the likeness of men having been made". So the Biblical Unitarians in the article quoted above would say it's a misreading of the text. The emptying doesn't happen before, or really even starting with his birth, but at some point in his life (presumably with a gradual increasing awareness as he grew up that he was the Messiah), most notably dying on the cross.

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  • uh oh...this is not correct "emptied himself of all his reputation and the things due him as the true child of the King." He emptied himself of his divinity in order to become a true Child of God. Meaning one who lives in complete harmony with and according to Gods will...not the way you put it! We don't do this because we chose to sin. Whether one wishes to argue if he remained a divine being up until immediately prior to birth...I have significant doubts about that! ( it opens the debate up to corruption from the ethical question of foetal viability.
    – Adam
    Mar 25 at 11:10
  • I agree that the emptying doesn't start before. I believe the text says the birth is the means of the emptying. If it merely starts at the birth then aren't we are required to either believe that a newborn began to humble itself or that he had to wait until he was old enough to understand who he was and then, once realizing that he had taken on the form of a servant, been found in the likeness of a man, etc. he humbled himself? Mar 25 at 12:26
  • @MikeBorden This line from St. Paul is pretty convoluted - I find it hard to make any solid takeaways from it. If I were to paraphrase it, my best guess is "Jesus took the appearance of a mere servant instead of King, which started with his birth." The basic Biblical Unitarian position on St. Paul's writings is that he repeatedly and clearly distinguishes between God and Jesus Christ, so whatever he's saying here, it's compatible with a unitarian position. Mar 25 at 16:25
  • @Adam I'm giving a standard Biblical Unitarian position on this, which is what the question asks. You're welcome to give your own answer! Mar 25 at 16:27
  • @MikeBorden Note Young's literal translation is even more vague. "but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in human likeness." 'birth' might not even be referred to here ('being made in human likeness'). Rather, although King, during his ministry he took the form of a servant, became an 'icon of man'. Who knows. FWIW. Mar 25 at 17:03
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Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name...

There is little complexity here so long as one reading does not superimpose presupposed beliefs onto the text.

The imposition of an alleged time-frame for the various details is a distraction and unwarranted by the text.

  • Jesus is permanently in the form of God. From birth he is holy and the Messiah. How else could he say, "if you've seen me, you've seen (known) the Father"? Being in the form of God was permanent and unchanging - except if he sinned.
  • Jesus is the holy son of God - not only without sin, also without the corruption caused by sin and the alienation of (spiritual) death all men have suffered since Adam ate. His spiritual connection with God is unimaginable! Suffice to say, having this status of being one with God (not a concocted one-substance) grants him the favour of asking for anything he desires - legions of angels for example or myriad other things.
  • This status is not remotely useful in accomplishing his mission to, and completing, the cross. He could not sin even though fiercely tempted or he would not be the 'unblemished Lamb' anymore and could not save himself let alone all creation.

In the days of his humanity, he offered up both prayers and pleas with loud crying and tears to the One able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his devout behaviour. Heb 5:7

  • Knowing that Jesus could "do nothing of himself" aligns with his total dependency on God for all his needs to avoid sin - to avoid putting his will before God's. It is this total dependency that Jesus speaks of when he says he 'emptied himself'. While he was the form of God, he chose the attitude, the humility, the obedience of a servant. This had to be a voluntary choice made in love, trust and faith in his God and Father's plan of salvation - which he was the only key - the cornerstone planned from eons earlier. There is no place in this titanic struggle for victory over evil if he used personal power or influence as the son of God. Pride, vanity, self-indulgence, self-will, arrogance could not win this fight - they were the very things he was fighting in the devil. Jesus could use only the tools of utter dependency on God and His spiritual provisions.
  • He was born like us. The gospels tell us nothing was unusual about this baby boy except he was without sin, holy, and miraculously from a virgin mother Mary. He said,

"but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God." John 8:40.

  • If we make him more than a man (and nowhere are we clearly told otherwise), don't we make him a liar? The very test of God's truthful spirit is that Jesus came in the flesh - like us. Not as a God/man hybrid with two-natures! 1 John 4:2

it seemed good also to me, having been acquainted with all things carefully from the first, to write with method to you, most excellent Theophilus, 4so that you may know the certainty concerning the things which you were instructed. Luke 1:3-4

  • Nothing in any Gospel or Epistle speaks about a pre-existing son of God, or a God becoming man, or Mary birthing God, or any other far-fetched idea about this baby born in Bethlehem. To consider or somehow insist Jesus pre-existed based on a few proof-texts is without merit, requiring a reading-in of this idea.
  • When we are told Jesus is, "taking the form of a servant", no time frame is needed for this 'state'. It is a statement describing how Jesus operated, how he chose to live and function under God's direction. He was born to be a servant. Mark 10:45, Is 42:1, John 6:38, Luke 22:27.
  • all the time being a servant, he is still in the form of God! Paul, the same author says, Col 1:15 He is the image of the invisible God. Image, form, representation...

He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature Heb 1:3 NASB

  • All these terms Paul employs help to put the 'form of God' in the proper perspective. Of course these states are relevant when Jesus walked with man on earth. He set the example of how to live under the one true God - being the form, image etc. while in the flesh - all the way to the cross.

  • No time frame required for being one or the other. While Jesus had great power at his disposal, he was required to live as we do, being made like we are, tempted as we are;

he had to be made like his brothers in every respect Heb 2:17

  • Either he was - as a man like us, or he wasn't! Being a God/man is not like us - to think so is irrational! And so we have another verse that is ignored in favour of another narrative - instead of the plain and simply understood message about the Christ, born of a woman, died as a man, just as we do, who waited in the dirt for his God to raise him and then rightly exalted and honoured him above all, making him heir to His things, judge and life-giver. Heb 1.

  • As the holy man who had God as his Father, Jesus had a certain equality in the sense of having heavenly resources and status. They were his by birthright, but he didn't aspire to glorify himself in this grand state, he didn't seek to raise himself to be with God before his time and swan around in heaven abusing his privilege. No, he had a mission to accomplish and his heart was set on that - the glory would come later - not by taking it (making himself equal) but by being rewarded by his God at the proper time.

  • Jesus 'emptying himself' also aligns with;

Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. Heb 5:8

  • Even as the son of God(!) he had to live out his whole life as a humble servant of God's purposes. This was a process - a continual emptying until his final breath. Always putting God's will first and not his own - even though, as we are told, he dearly wanted to - 'take this cup from me, but not my will...', and many other occasions.

Conclusion

The concept of kenosis as touted by OP is based on several unscriptural ideas - an incarnation, Jesus being part of a trinity, Jesus, therefore, being God, thus also requiring Jesus to have two natures - a hypostatic union! And so the confusion with Phil 2 is understandable when read with all that theological theory in mind.

Jesus was in the form of God and the form of a servant concurrently. The form of God he had from birth, being holy, w/o sin etc. and never lost his form and image of God. The form of a servant increased gradually through his persistent obedience to God (in the face of increasing temptation) until the cross - by putting God's will before his own. There is no time frame for somehow emptying himself of Godliness and becoming as a man - an absurd idea to begin with. God IS God, no amount of sophisticated and mysterious words can justify God becoming a man - made like us in every respect.

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  • Being in the "form of God" Jesus had equality (isos) with God and this adjective predominantly describes alignment in countable and measurable qualities. If the "form of God" is as you say then the equality would have been described with the adjective homoios, which specializes in alignment or lateral correspondence of abstract and uncountable qualities. John 5:18 and Rev. 21:16 are examples of the usage of isos. Oct 15 at 11:56

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