Monday, December 31, 2007

The Kenosis: Was the Incarnate Christ Fully God and Fully Man?

This is one mystery that should not be a mystery ("...having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself",Ephesians 1:9) but only if we open our God-given minds to understand how Paul explained the Incarnation in Philippians 2:5-11.

In a nutshell, the answer to the above question, "Was the Incarnate Christ Fully God and Fully Man?" depends on whether or not we are talking theologically or technically. These two differ, as we shall point out, only because of the differing angles by which they observe the same phenomenon.

First, let us talk about our theological beliefs and uphold the cardinal doctrine of faith that Christ, even in His incarnation, was fully God and fully man. HOWEVER, looking at the baby Jesus, which was the start and essence of His incarnation, Christ was helpless (He Himself needed mother's milk to survive!), not omnipotent (otherwise, He could have flown to Egypt without the help of Mary, Joseph and a donkey), not omniscient (otherwise, there was no need for the angel to come to Joseph in a dream to warn him of Herod. When Christ was a human adult, in Matthew 8:10/Luke 7:9, he exclaimed,"Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel", was Christ just play-acting? or was He genuinely surprised at that point?), not omni-present (there is absolutely no account of sightings of the baby Jesus in India or China during the time of His birth, and only the aberrant Mormons claim uncorroborated sightings of Jesus in the Americas). In John 4:24, Christ Himself declared that "God is Spirit", and Jesus Christ when He spoke that was obviously NOT spirit although He had a spirit like the rest of humankind.

It is quite obvious at this point that our theological statement that Jesus Christ was fully God during His Incarnation has to be carefully qualified and explained. Otherwise, the Jehovah's Witness arguments seem to have more credibility than orthodox Christianity at this point! They are the ones who are less guilty of isogesis or skirting around the issue when it comes to describing the Incarnate Christ. That is because most Christians, even theologians, do not really understand what they are talking about when it comes to the nature of Christ.

Obviously, the Classicists and Calvinists and other Sovereignty-fixated theologians are faced with a logical dilemma (in fact, I would not be surprised to see some of them with sweat in their brows as they wrestle with the facts and still stay logical or rational, at least in their minds!).

Of course, Covenant-Relationship Theology, which we espouse, has a very Biblical and logical answer, and the key to the correct answer is embedded in the language of Philippians 2. We quote this from the NKJV which is still the best for the Greek tenses (present active),

"5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. 9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name,10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

Nevertheless, we also quote from the NASB because the word for kenosis used seems to be the best.

"5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,

6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,

7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.

8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

9 For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name,

10 so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

In verse 6, among the major translations, only the NKJV has the tense right as the Greek verb for the translation, "existed" or "was", is really in the present tense! The NKJV reads, "..being in the form of God". However, for the Greek word, "kenosis", the word empty of the NASB is most descriptive and accurate.

We cite Strong's Enhanced Lexicon:
2758 κενόω [kenoo /ken·o·o/] v. From 2756; TDNT 3:661; TDNTA 426; GK 3033; Five occurrences; AV translates as “make void” twice, “make of none effect” once, “make of no reputation” once, and “be in vain” once. 1 to empty, make empty. 1a of Christ, he laid aside equality with or the form of God. 2 to make void. 2a deprive of force, render vain, useless, of no effect. 3 to make void. 3b cause a thing to be seen to be empty, hollow, false.

Strong, J. (1996). The exhaustive concordance of the Bible : Showing every word of the text of the common English version of the canonical books, and every occurrence of each word in regular order. (electronic ed.) (G2758). Ontario: Woodside Bible Fellowship.
Note the phrases above that I highlighted in red and answer the question, "In the incarnation, what was made void? What was made of none effect? What was deprived of force, rendered vain, useless, of no effect? Note that the very essence of the word has to imply genuineness of state, not just pretend or a pseudo-state!

We also cite the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament dissection of keno-o.
To make empty,” a. “to deprive of content or possession,” mostly with a gen. of obj., more rarely of person, or absolute: ἀνδρῶν τάνδε πόλιν κενῶσαι, Aesch. Suppl., 660; cf. Athen., IV, 17 (p. 139 f.); Jos. Bell., 1, 355; 2, 457; τᾶς συοπλουτοσύνας: God can quickly deprive the wealthy man of his sordid possessions, Kerkidas P. Oxy., VIII, 1082, Fr. 1, col. II, 9; Philo Leg. All., III, 226, medically “to empty,” κενώσω τὸν κάμνοντα. Fig. Somn., I, 198: κενοῖ ψυχὴμ ἁμαρτημάτων. Pass. “to be desolate,” Jer. 14:2 (Ez. 12:20 and 26:2 Σ); Jer. 15:9: ἐκενώθη (אֻמְלְלָה) ἡ τίκτουσα ἑπτά, “the mother of seven sons languished, i.e., became desolate”; cf. Soph. Ai., 986: κενός of a lioness robbed of her young, Bion., 1, 59 (ed. U. v. Wilamowitz-Moellendorff [1900]) of the Erotes robbed of Adonis. b. “To nullify, destroy” ( κενός 2. b.), ὑπάρξεις (goods), Vett. Val., II, 22, p. 90, 7; pass. “to come to nothing.”
In the NT sense a. is used only in Phil. 2:6 f. of Christ: ὃς ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ ὑπάρχων οὐχ ἁρπαγμὸν ἡγήσατο τὸ εἶναι ἴσα θεῷ, ἀλλὰ ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσεν μορφὴν δούλου λαβών, ἐν ὁμοιώματι ἀνθρώπων γενόμενος κτλ. Here sense b. “he negated himself, deprived himself of his worth, denied himself” ( I, 474), is ruled out by the resultant weak tautology of ἐταπείνωσεν ἑαυτόν. We are rather to supply τοῦ εἶναι ἴσα θεῷ as an omitted object, and we thus have the equivalent of ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ ὑπάρχων. There is no suggestion of a temptation of the Pre-existent to aspire beyond His existing state. What is meant is that the heavenly Christ did not selfishly exploit His divine form and mode of being ( I, 474), but by His own decision emptied Himself of it or laid it by, taking the form of a servant by becoming man. The subject of ἐκένωσεν is not the incarnate but the pre-existent Lord. There is a strong sense of the unity of His person. The essence remains, the mode of being changes—a genuine sacrifice. Docetism is excluded. The best commentary is to be found in the par. 2 C. 8:9: ἐπτώχευσεν πλούσιος ὤν, “he became a beggar even though (of himself, and up to this point) he was rich.”
Sense b. is found with καύχημα, act. at 1 C. 9:15 and pass. at 2 C. 9:3. If anyone induced the apostle to ask for support, this would invalidate his materies gloriandi (and therewith his gloria). If the collection in Corinth did not come up to his hopes, then the boasted expectations of Paul would be brought to nothing. Neither of these things must happen. At R. 4:14 the words κεκένωται ἡ πίστις are elucidated in the par. κατήργηται ἡ ἐπαγγελία: if the people of the Law are heirs, this logically implies the invalidation of faith as a principle of salvation; it is made of none effect and the promise loses its force. In this light we can understand 1 C. 1:17: οὐκ ἐν σοφίᾳ λόγου, ἵνα μὴ κενωθῇ ὁ σταυρὸς τοῦ χριστοῦ. Paul must avoid preaching which involves false synthesis in content and empty technique in form, lest the cross of Christ should lose its searching and saving content, lest it should be robbed of its offence and therewith of its divine force and efficacy to save, lest it should become impotent and meaningless (cf. 1:18ff.).

Theological dictionary of the New Testament
. 1964-c1976. Vols. 5-9 edited by Gerhard Friedrich. Vol. 10 compiled by Ronald Pitkin. (G. Kittel, G. W. Bromiley & G. Friedrich, Ed.) (electronic ed.) (3:661-662). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
In the discussion above, again, note the phrases I highlighted in red. What content in the Deity of Christ was deprived? or self-deprived? In the illustration of 2 Cor 8:9 “he became a beggar even though (of himself, and up to this point) he was rich.”

If a rich man truly became a beggar, would he be rich at the same time? If he is rich at the same time, then his beggar-hood was false, and he has never really been a beggar. But when he sets aside all his riches making them void and useless during the time of his mendicancy, then one can say that the rich man has TRULY become poor! And that is exactly what the kenosis means!

Does a version of the classical view have enough integrity if we agree that the rich man simply pretended to be a beggar? God forbid that such be the language and intent of Scripture. How would you like Philippians 2 to read, "...that though He was God, He pretended to be man by taking the form of man.....". There is no humility here if these are all pretense! Humility is the main topic of discourse in Philippians 2.

From the Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains, we read,
3033 κενόω (kenoō): vb.; Str 2758; TDNT 3.6611. LN 76.27 cause to lose power, be emptied, formally, be vain, come to nothing (Ro 4:14; 1Co 1:17; 9:15; 2Co 9:3+); 2. LN 87.70 empty oneself, divest oneself of position (Php 2:7+)

Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Greek (New Testament) (electronic ed.) (GGK3033). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
There may be other references we can consider. However, we have already explored and cited enough to cap this discussion. Most Bible versions are clueless as to the best possible translation but this time the Living Bible got this one right on the head - - - Christ " did not cling to his rights as God."

Yes, whereas Classical theology has always declared Omnipotence, omnipresence and omniscience as divine attributes, they are NOT. Instead, they are simply divine rights! Rights can be relinquished and set aside but not attributes. Hence, if these were indeed attributes of God, then it is logical (but false) to conclude that the Incarnate Christ was NOT God. I would venture to state that if ever there was an "Omni" which could be a divine attribute, I agree with John Sanders, it would be Omni-competence. (More on this in other blogs).

However, although Christ emptied Himself of His divine rights and powers, i.e., Omniscience, Omnipotence, Omnipresence; He NEVER emptied Himself of His divine attributes, i.e., Love, Truth, Grace, Faithfulness, Light, Wisdom, etc. All of these attributes are and were inherent in the nature of Jesus Christ, pre-Incarnate, post-Incarnate AND in the Incarnation itself. The God of the Bible is TRULY giving us a hint of what He is all about and why Jesus Christ is His final and complete attempt at progressive revelation!

If anyone cannot get that, he is truly blind, brainwashed, or biased towards an un-Biblical direction!

The theological answer to the question, therefore, is an affirmation of the orthodox doctrine that Christ is fully God and fully man. However, His being fully God has to be qualified as "NOT in the classical theology sense". It is unfortunate that we have to qualify this precisely because of the damage classical theology has wrought upon this doctrine and their faulty understanding of the Kenosis because they have been too Sovereignty-fixated. One who fully comprehends Covenant-Relationship Theology and its implications, however, can declare the same doctrine without qualification had the relational definition been the traditional one.

Now, let us discuss the technical answer to the question. How can anyone kill God? How can anyone or anything for that matter, torture and crucify God? Anyone with God-given common sense and a God-created rational mind will immediately sense where this discussion is leading is quite an inevitable conclusion to say that during the Incarnation, Jesus Christ was "more man" than God.

This technical answer is based on the classical concept of God. Since theologically, Jesus Christ emptied Himself of His divine rights to become man, He has become fully man. Although He retains His inherent attributes of Love, Wisdom, Truth, etc, Christ Incarnate was no longer immortal, invincible, invulnerable.

This is the essence of why Paul declares that it was God (the Father) that raised Jesus Christ from the dead (see Colossians 2:12). It is true that Jesus Christ did say in John 10:18, "No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again." But Christ had to end that statement with, "This command I have received from My Father." which could mean that such statement He would not have uttered except by the Father's dictation.

What does all these imply? That Christ genuinely suffered and died for us. "God demonstrates his LOVE toward us in that while we were yet sinner Christ died for us" and He was not play-acting. Many people had the chance to view Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ". I would surmise that depending on your understanding of the Kenosis, you were either indifferent or you would have wept.

I wept because of the sense of His Love demonstrated by intense torture and suffering for such an undeserving sinner as I. Had Christ been more God than man at His Incarnation, I could not have cared less about His suffering. Why? Because if He was more God than man, He could have subdued the pain of His torture, shown the world that He was suffering but divinely easing the pain by infusing some divine dose of morphine or something even stronger during His passion. Yes, He could have done it by a word from His mouth or even a thought from His mind!

A true concept of Kenosis declares that Christ genuinely, truly suffered. A faulty concept will redound to Jesus simply acting hurt but all the time just subduing all the pain and blows of His torturers.

Furthermore, Christ's utterance on the cross, "Eli, Eli lama sabachthani!" is not just a quotation from the Psalmist nor simply a fulfillment of some prophetic statement, but a genuine scream of abandonment and despair as the Father turned His head away from His Son for the first and only time in their Triune relationship because at that point, the Son was made sin in our behalf. He carried the sins of the world on His shoulders, something that the Holy God will not behold, though finally accepting the offer of the perfect sacrifice, once and for all, for mankind.

God prescribed the solution to man's sin. In the process, the Son had to suffer and die. The Father had to experience a hurt that must have been unequalled in both the divine and human levels. But in the end, the law was fulfilled and God the Righteous Judge finally accepts the correct atonement for man's sin.

"Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound.
That saved a wretch like me!"

"Amazing Love, how can it be.
That Thou my God, should'st die for me!"


  1. I think you are so very correct saying Christ truly and really suffered for us to the full extent. However, your statement that Christ was more man than God during the incarnation, during crucifixion, seems wrong or perhaps clumsy. If God became fully man, then that man was still fully God. Then God, as man, fully suffered and died.

    The problem I see in your analysis is the trap that scholastic thinking has created: the presumption a Biblical teaching can be fully explained using classical logic. Should we not at times admit we do not know how to explain the Biblical truths to the full rational extent?

  2. David, I agree that is a clumsy statement and does contradict our Fully-God/Fully-Man theology. I just meant to emphasize that Christ was more human than most Christians care to believe, particularly those of real Calvinist doctrine as it emphasizes sovereignty too much and completely ignore the HUGE RISK that even a sovereign God HAS ACTUALLY CHOSEN to take.

    On scholastic thinking, I agree with you and I am against classical logic. However, my take on your last comment is that Biblical revelation from a Perfect Communicator should have a complete understanding or realization< on the hearer's part. Otherwise, revelation is not complete and neither will be our faith.

    So contrary to scholastic thinking, I actually analyze and dissect the text knowing that a Perfect Communicator desires to reveal something perfectly. Of course, I am aware of Deuteronomy 29:29 but that essentially refers to what God has NOT revealed.

    A biblical "mystery" is something that used to be hidden but is now revealed. Now if that revelation is not complete, I do not consider that as revealed, it would still be hidden. This is a black-and-white area to me hermeneutically. Gray areas, yes, but not on what God has revealed.

  3. Let me add a good biblical illustration. In John 4:6 just before Jesus meets the woman at the well, all Bible versions will say that Jesus stopped at the well because he was weary from his travel. This would be a perfect example of Jesus being "more man than God". Jesus got tired! What God would get tired? So in this case humanity trumps divinity, and Jesus was more man than God. There is no way around it.

  4. Jesus being "more man than God" at the incarnation emphasizes the fact that during his crucifixion, He actually suffered physically unbearable torture and pain in our behalf. Again, what God can suffer that? Again humanity trumps divinity in this case. Otherwise, Christ was only faking his suffering when in fact, His divine nature can quickly summon all kinds of anaesthesia to ease the pain.

  5. When Jesus was fast asleep before calming the waves at sea, don't tell me He was faking sleep just to add drama to the story! What God would sleep??? So, we have a lot of proof that Christ was indeed "more man than God" during his incarnation although we do not wish to contradict the doctrine that Christ was fully God and fully man during the Incarnation. In fact, we support that doctrine but it has to be reconciled with all the contradictory classical concepts of what are REALLY the attributes of God. Attributes are those that are still true regardless of circumstances. Since omnipotence, omnipresence and omniscience was given up by Christ during the Incarnation, these are CLEARLY NOT ATTRIBUTES of God. There is MORE to God than these.