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?

  • Excellent question here! – Kris Mar 24 at 15:39
  • 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/… – Spirit Realm Investigator Mar 25 at 14:42

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.

  • 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? – Mike Borden 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. – One God the Father 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! – One God the Father 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. – One God the Father Mar 25 at 17:03

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