Lance Goodall 11 Jan 2020
An increasingly prevalent teaching in evangelical circles, particularly in charismatic circles, is the false doctrine of Kenosis.
This false teaching is drawn from deep impure wells.
It is dangerous because of the other false doctrines it leads to, and it flies in the face of the heart of Christian teaching.
Kenosis – What is it?
The doctrine teaches that the Messiah, in order to assume the form of a servant and become incarnate (into human flesh), had to give up some, several, or even all the powers and attributes of God and “live as a mere man.”
The advocates of this heresy, in an effort to assume an orthodox posture, try to say that the Son somehow “remains God,” though He has given up all parts of that being.
This teaching, which denies so much of the heart of the orthodox faith, comes from the misinterpretation and misconstruction of ONE Greek word. That’s right ONE greek word, an interpretation and wild conclusions taken from one passage of scripture, and aided by the use and reliance on modern English translations.
Bill Johnson of Bethel Church has made this self-emptying doctrine of Jesus the very backbone of his teaching and ministry.
The term kenosis refers to the doctrine of Christ’s “self-emptying” in His incarnation. The word comes from the Greek of Philippians 2:7, which says that Jesus “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (ESV). The word translated “emptied” is a form of kenoó, from which we get the word kenosis.
Notice that Philippians 2:7 does not specify what the Son of God “emptied” Himself of.
And here we must be careful not to go beyond what Scripture says. Jesus did not empty Himself of His divine attributes—no such attributes are mentioned in the verse, and it is obvious in the gospels that Jesus possessed the power and wisdom of God. Calming the storm is just one display of Jesus’ divine power (Mark 4:39). In coming to earth, the Son of God did not cease to be God, and He did not become a “lesser god.” Whatever the “emptying” entailed, Jesus remained fully God: “in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9).
It is better to think of Christ’s “emptying” of Himself as a laying aside of the privileges that were His in heaven. Rather than stay on His throne in heaven, Jesus “made himself nothing” (as the NIV translates Philippians 2:7). When He came to earth, “he gave up his divine privileges” (NLT). He veiled His glory, and He chose to occupy the position of a slave.
The kenosis was a self-renunciation, not an emptying Himself of deity. Nor was it an exchange of deity for humanity.
Jesus never ceased to be God during any part of His earthly ministry. He did set aside His heavenly glory. He also voluntarily refrained from using His divinity to make His way easier. During His earthly ministry, Christ completely submitted Himself to the will of the Father (John 5:19).
As part of the kenosis, Jesus sometimes operated within the limitations of humanity. God does not get tired or thirsty, but Jesus did (John 4:6; 19:28). God knows all things, but it seems that, at least once, Jesus voluntarily surrendered the use of His omniscience (Matthew 24:36). Other times, Jesus’ omniscience was on full display (Luke 6:8; John 13:11; 18:4).
There are some false teachers who take the concept of kenosis too far, saying that Jesus gave up all or some of His divine nature when He came to earth. This heresy is sometimes referred to as the kenosis theory, but a better term is kenoticism or kenotic theology, to distinguish it from biblical understanding of the kenosis.
When it comes to the kenosis, we often focus too much on what Jesus gave up.
The kenosis concept also deals with what Christ took on. Jesus added to His divine nature a human nature as He humbled Himself for us. Jesus went from being the glory of glories in heaven to being a human being who was put to death on the cross.
Philippians 2:7–8 declares, “Taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” In the ultimate act of humility, the God of the universe became a human being and died for His creation.
The kenosis is the act of Christ taking on a human nature with all of its limitations, except with no sin. As one Bible scholar wrote, “At His incarnation He remained ‘in the form of God’ and as such He is Lord and Ruler over all, but He also accepted the nature of a servant as part of His humanity” (J. J. Müller, The Epistles of Paul to the Philippians and to Philemon, p. 82).
Kenosis (from the Greek κένωσις: meaning “emptying”) is an ancient Greece|ancient Greek]] term found primarily in Christian writings, such as the Epistle to the Philippians 2:7, where Jesus is described as having “…emptied himself…” (NRSV) to become a servant of humankind. This paradoxical idea of God’s “emptying” of Himself to become full of love has intrigued the curiosity of countless theologians, and in the process shaped the development of Christian theology and ethics.
Orthodox Christians have interpreted kenosis as meaning Jesus’ sublime humility during the incarnation and complete sacrifice for all, which is simultaneously a call for Christians to be similarly humble and subservient to others.
The topic of kenosis was revived in the nineteenth century to reinterpret classical doctrines of the incarnation.
The ancient Greek word κένωσις kénōsis means an “emptying,” from κενός kenós “empty.” The word is mainly used, however, in a Christian theological context, for example Philippians 2:7, “Jesus made himself nothing (ἐκένωσε ekénōse) …” (NIV) or “…he emptied himself…” (NRSV), using the verb form κενόω kenóō “to empty.”
(KJV) But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
To me this clarifies and creates no confusion. He took off his crown and stepped into our world. That limited his deity but it didn’t mean he put it aside. In other words he came ‘incognito’. He divested himself of certain rights and privileges.
As Philippians 2 says he didn’t think it robbery, in other words he chose to relinquish his place of prominence and stature with God, and humble himself and became a man.
Like a prince from a royal family leaving the palace and putting on ragged clothes and walking down the street, he has divested himself of his position, but not his person. Without the privileges of the palace and the trappings of his position he is now unrecognisable, and seemingly in disguise.
This word, and the doctrine it describes, refer to the deep, mysterious, but vitally important passage of Philippians 2:5-8, and especially in verse 7, where it says Christ “made himself of no reputation,” or “emptied himself.”
The word in the original is ekenosen, from the root word kenoo, which can mean “to empty.” The other references to the word are Romans 4:14, where the meaning is “made void,” 1 Corinthians 1:17, where it means “of none effect,” 1 Corinthians 9:15, where it means “make void,” and 2 Corinthians 9:3, where it means “to be in vain.” These references all refer to abstract principles, such as faith, preaching, or boasting–none of them refer to a person, or even to an object. Therefore, the use of the word as it is used in Philippians 2:7 is unique. The question, which shall be repeated later is “of what did Christ empty Himself?”
The teachers of Kenosis like Bill Johnson say that what Christ did was to “empty Himself of all power.”
The doctrinal area in which we are dealing is not academic, it involves the very heart and centre of our faith.
It is also not just a matter for scholars, but is for all of us. Kenotic teaching has become prominent in charismatic circles, and is the basis for much of what they promulgate.
Indeed, much of the weird theology that surrounds the so-called “faith” movement is based on a Kenotic understanding of the incarnation, combined with a new-age-like leap of logic that says that since Jesus left His powers and attributes behind and lived as a mere man, we born-again believers are “. . . just as much an Incarnation of God as Jesus was” (Kenneth Copeland)
In another leap of logic, these teachers move then to the Mormon-like doctrine of apotheosis (we are little Gods). This trend so concerned Walter Martin that the last thing he wrote before going home to be with the Lord was a contribution to a book refuting these theological trends among TV evangelists.1 This paper on Kenosis is not a detailed analysis, but is instead an expanded outline with footnotes, covering these major areas:
- The Doctrine of Kenosis This part of the paper includes reference material that traces this view to the 19th-century German liberal theologians that first promulgated the Kenotic teaching, and compares it with modern Kenotic teaching.
- The orthodox position on Christ’s humiliation. Includes quotations from noted Evangelical Scholars on the subject.
- A Critical Refutation of the Kenosis doctrine.
- An alternative method of handling the “problem verses” without deviating from orthodox Christology.
I. The Doctrine of Kenosis
A. Classic Kenotic Teaching
(1) “About the middle of the nineteenth century a new form of Christology made its appearance in the Kenotic theories.”2 This is how Berkhof introduces the subject. He then delineates three forms of Kenotic teaching–the first, and least offensive, seems to fit the general view: “Thomasius distinguishes between the absolute and essential attributes of God . . . and His relative attributes, which are not essential to the Godhead, such as omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience; and maintains that the Logos while retaining His divine self-consciousness, laid the latter aside, in order to take unto Himself veritable human nature.”3
(2) “The essence of the original kenotic view is stated clearly by J. M. Creed. ‘The Divine Logos by His Incarnation divested Himself of His divine attributes of omniscience and omnipotence, so that in His incarnate life the divine Person is revealed and solely revealed through a human consciousness.'”4
(3) Charles Hodge classes this view under Modern Forms of the Doctrine [Christology], and includes it under a class of doctrines called Theistical Christology taught by various German theological liberals of that era.5 One form of the view is as follows. “…that the Eternal Logos, by a process of self-limitation, divested Himself of all his divine attributes. He ceased to be omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent. He reduced Himself, so to speak, to the dimensions of a man.”6
B. Comparison with the view of Kenneth Copeland (as a representative of the “Faith Message” school of thought).
This seems to be the general view of the entire “faith message” school of thought, and it is becoming prominent in other charismatic circles as well.
(1) “Jesus hadn’t come to earth as God; He’d come as a man. He’d laid aside His divine power and had taken on the form of a human being–with all its limitations.”7
(2) “They [orthodox Christians] mistakenly believe that Jesus was able to work wonders, to perform miracles, and to live above sin because He had divine power that we don’t have…They don’t realize that when Jesus came to earth, He voluntarily gave up that advantage [deity] living His life here not as God, but as a man. He had no innate supernatural powers. He had no ability to perform miracles until after He was anointed by the Holy Spirit… He ministered as a man anointed by the Holy Spirit.”8
C. General Comment
II. A Positive Affirmation, from Scripture, of the Orthodox Position on Christ’s Humiliation in Relation to Philippians 2:5-11.
Includes quotations from noted Evangelical Scholars on the subject.
A. The self-emptying of Christ was mainly an emptying of the external trappings and Glory of Deity.
The context of Phil. 2:5-11 is that Christ emptied Himself by taking on the form of a servant. Indeed, the overall issue, from 2:1 through the end of verse 15, is on various forms of outward expression, Christ being the example for the life of the saints in Philippi.
(1) Paul was stressing to the Philippians that they should be self-sacrificing, and should not have personal glory in mind as they live their life. Then, he used the Incarnation as an example. (2:1-5)
(2) Christ, says Paul, was in the form (morphe, an outward expression of an inward reality) of God, and did not consider this Glory, this expression of equality with the Father something to be grasped, or held on to (see John 17:1-5, 24).
(3) Most modern translations say in verse 7 “emptied Himself”, but the King James and the New King James read, “made Himself of no reputation.” About this difference, one evangelical scholar wrote “The A.V., while not an exact translation, goes far to express the act of the Lord.”9 ( In this quote, A.V. stands for Authorized Version, or King James). Then it says, “taking the form of a servant.” As we have been talking about outward expressions, vainglory, outward form, etc., and as that is the subject from here through verse 15, the plain sense of scripture here is that Christ’s self-emptying was of the outward glory and majesty of Godhood, and that He accomplished that action by taking the form of a servant. This, of course, is what Paul is asking the Philippians to do. Context is vital here–Paul is not telling the Philippians to lay aside, discard, or disregard their natural abilities and talents, (attributes and powers), he is telling them to submit them to the will of God and the good of the whole church.
a. Possibly because of the negative theological background for it, B.B. Warfield went so far as to call the literal translation of kenoo as “emptied Himself” a “mistranslation.”10
c. “He emptied, stripped Himself if the insignia of Majesty”12 (Emphasis added)
d. “When occasion demanded, He exercised His divine attributes.”13
(4) Verses 8-11 continue the thought–Christ is “…found in appearance as a man…”, and continued His voluntary humiliation through to the Cross, then is exalted by the Father (as He discussed with the Father in John 17).
(5) Other Scriptural references that establish the same principal:
a. John 1:1-14. After laying out His perfections, [(1) “The Word was God”–Deity; (2) “He was in the beginning with God,” Eternity; (3) “All things were made through Him…” Creator; (4) “In Him was life…” Self Existence;] John says “and the Word became flesh.” It is not that God the Son gave up anything, but that He added something–He took humanity to Himself.
b. 2 Cor 8:9 “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.” He gave up the external glories of His riches, but did He really give up ownership? No–in His earthly ministry, He claimed to be Lord of the Sabbath, and exercised dominion over natural phenomena, disease and demonic forces, and even demonstrated His possession of the power of life and death. His poverty did not consist as much in what He gave up (for He still retained title to it) as in what He took on–our nature.
c. 2 Cor 5:21 “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” In His act of atonement, did He give up His own essential Holiness? No, again, it was not that He gave up anything, it was that He added something–He took our sins upon Himself.
B. Do the Scriptures bear out that He possessed the attributes and powers of deity while on earth?
The first, and most obvious reference is His personal conversation with the Father in John 17–He asks (in a “man to man, equal to equal” way) for the return of His Glory. He never mentions the return of His power or attributes–because He still retained them!
(1) Omniscience—John 11:11-14 (“…when Jesus was fifty miles away…”)14 John 2:24-25, 6:64, 70-71. As for the instances when He seems to be claiming ignorance, they have to do with Him speaking from His humanity, and taking our place, and involve a complete understanding of the orthodox teaching concerning the relationship between the Divine and Human in Christ, which will be discussed in section IV.
(4) Providence: Heb 1:1-3–Note that “upholding all things” was predicated of Him in the context of His earthly ministry of declaring God’s truth, and before His atonement, resurrection, and exaltation. Col. 1:17–“In Him all things consist [hold together]” The universe is upheld by His word of power–He holds it together–that is an essential part of who He is. There is no intimation anywhere in scripture that He gave up this function upon Incarnation.
C. Having looked at the issue piecemeal, we can now conclude it with the powerful testimony of the book of Colossians.
(1) Paul says that in Christ “. . .are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” (2:3) and “. . . Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” (2:8-9, emphasis added)
(2) The argument might be (and has been) made that those verses apply to Christ in His exaltation, and not in His humiliation. First, that logic leans to the Gnostic idea of “progression,” that the Logos after His exaltation was materially and essentially different (and improved) as a person from what He was during His humiliation. This is the very idea that Paul was fighting in the book of Colossians! The clincher, however, lies in the earlier verses in chapter 1: “. . . It pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself…through the blood of His cross.” (1:19-20) All the fullness of God dwelt in Him bodily during His earthly ministry!
III. A Critical Refutation, from Scripture and from Evangelical Scholars,of the things implied and taught by the Kenosis Doctrine.
The theologians who crafted Kenotic doctrine were trying to deal with two problems.
The first problem was in how to deal with those texts of scripture (as used by the cults) which seem to indicate that Christ was less than fully God, yet do justice to the obvious Biblical teaching that He was “Very God of Very God.”
The second problem was posed by their understanding that He lived His life in submission to the will of the Father, and largely as a man with a full indwelling of the Holy Spirit. They could not reconcile that in their minds with His full deity.
The problem with these teachers was that they were theological liberals–they did not accept the verbal, plenary, inspiration of the Bible. Because of this, they crafted an erroneous philosophical theological answer, and ignored the fact that the problems were already solved by scripture, and had been fully worked out by the teachers and leaders of the early church during the period from A.D. 250-451. In their effort to improve on the Council of Chalcedon, they created many more problems than those they sought to solve–and did not really solve what they had originally perceived to be problems in the orthodox faith.
A. The philosophical and theological bases for the Doctrine of Kenosis are highly suspect.
The thought process began with an incorrect concept of God as the Absolute and Almighty God.
(1) Thomasius of Erlangen, one of the first and leading proponents, “. . . distinguishes between the absolute and essential attributes of God,” and taught that omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence “. . . are not essential to the Godhead…”15
This is patently ridiculous, and there is absolutely no Biblical basis for classing the three “omni” attributes as non-essential for Deity. Philosophical theologians may find a way to make this add up, but in the words of one of this century’s great Bible teachers, “. . .There is no other possible alternative between an absolutely supreme God, and no God at all.”16 It is impossible to conceive of any being worthy of the title of I AM who does not possess the essential attributes continually posited to God by the Bible. The Bible never mentions God as anything but absolute. The three attributes in question, absolute Knowledge, Potency, and Presence, are foundational to who Jehovah is. The sarcastic charges made by Jehovah against false “gods” usually center in their ignorance, impotence, and immobility (Deut 4:28, Is 45:20, Jer. 10:5, 15). In comparison to idols, Jeremiah says “He who is the Portion of Jacob is not like these, for He is the Maker of all things…the LORD Almighty is His name.” (10:16) Indeed, if one reads the awesome passages like Is 40, Job 38:1-42:6, Ps 90, Rom 11:33-36, etc., as well as the countless other verses and passages that extol and marvel at the greatness of the Almighty Jehovah, there can be no other conclusion but that God is Absolute. There is no Biblical way that the Son could give up his divine knowledge, potency, and presence, and remain “in essence” God. The distinction is strictly one of human philosophy.
Concerning Kenosis, Charles Hodge, the leading American evangelical scholar of the last century, wrote
“The theory in question is inconsistent with the clear doctrine both of revealed and natural religion concerning the nature of God. He is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and immutable. any theory, therefore, which assumes that God lays aside His omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence, and becomes as feeble, ignorant, and circumscribed as an infant, contradicts the first principle of all religion…”17
It must be pointed out here that Hodge fully accepted the doctrine of the incarnation, that God came in the flesh, as an infant and a man. However, he saw it in the light of historic Christology, as discussed in section IV, that while all of that was true, Christ was not confined to that form of a servant, and was not limited by it, except that He willingly gave up the exercise of His Glory, and sometimes chose not to use His other powers, though He retained them fully.
“Think you that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? but how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?” — Matthew 26:53-54.
Berkhof shines more light on the philosophical antecedents of Kenosis when he writes: “The theory is based on the pantheistic conception that God and man are not so absolutely different but that the one can be transformed into the other. The Hegelian idea of becoming is applied to God, and the absolute line of demarcation is obliterated.”18 The theologians who concocted this heresy were German scholars steeped in the insidious philosophy of Hegel, the forerunner of both communism and fascism.
B. The vital doctrine of Immutability is completely destroyed by Kenotic teaching.
(1) Biblically, there was no essential change of the nature of the Second Person of the Trinity in His Incarnation, because He did not lose the essential attributes of deity, He took on human flesh and a human nature. In His own essence, He did not change (Heb 13:8).
(2) Beyond its effect on the immutability of the Son, it would destroy the integrity of the Triune God if He ceased to be fully and totally the Absolute God during His Incarnation, . “It means a virtual destruction of the Trinity, and therefore takes away our very God. The humanized Son, self-emptied of His divine attributes, could no longer be a divine subsistence in the Trinitarian life.”19
C. If the God-Man who died on the cross was not both fully God and fully Man, then the integrity of the atonement is destroyed.
The Blood that redeemed the Church was the “Blood of God.” Acts 20:28 If He was any less than God, then His blood sacrifice was not infinitely powerful and able to redeem all who believe in every age.
IV. An alternative method of handling the “problem verses” without deviating from orthodox Christology.
There are three Biblical concepts which are at the heart of this method: (A) Understanding the biblical doctrine of the two natures of Christ. (B) Understanding His role as our Kinsman-Redeemer and substitute, and (C) Understanding and admitting the existence of the Biblical concept of “mystery”–the fact that there are some things which must be just believed, because there is no way to understand them.
A. Understanding the biblical doctrine of the two natures of Christ.
The Trinitarian Controversy (A.D. 320-381) led directly into a great controversy over the Nature of Christ’s Person. Understanding the doctrinal dimensions of this fight, and understanding the conclusions reached by the church are vital to understanding how to combat the cults in this area, since the cults of today are merely the heresies of yesterday refried. During this period of Church History, there were many evil things done in the name of one doctrine or another, yet miraculously, truth triumphed.
(1) As the early church wrestled with understanding the Biblical teaching about Christ, there were three views that became most prominent. I will try to illustrate these views by assigning different ways of writing the term , “God-Man” to each view.
a. The Monophysites taught that Christ was the God-man, that is, He was not fully God and Fully man, but a third entity which was a fusion of the two natures (The Kenotic teaching is closest to this among the early heresies.)
This heresy was basically a leftover of the Origenistic tendencies of Arianism, and grew strongest in the areas that had been strongest for the Arian view. The battle cry of this party was that Mary was the Theotokos, or Mother of God. The Monophysites carried this erroneous teaching (which survived, though without the Christological conclusions attached) to extremes, and made of Christ a new category of being, with one nature, will, and personality, each a fusion of God and Man.20
b. The Nestorians taught that Christ was the God, Man with two natures so separate as to be a split personality. This teaching developed because of the objections of the church and theological school of Antioch to the growing cult of Mary among monophysite believers.21
c. The orthodox view, which was approved by the Council of Chalcedon in 451, and which has been accepted and proven to be fully Biblical by evangelical Christians since the Reformation, was that Christ was the God-Man, fully God and fully Man, one person with two unmixed natures.22
(1) The important key concept in the orthodox doctrine is whatever Christ did, He did as a whole person. For instance, when His human body was beaten, tortured, and died, He suffered as a whole person, so that though God cannot be killed, it can be said that God Died for Our Sins.23
(2) Because of the Truth of the two natures, we can Biblically say:24
a. Christ is infinite OR Christ is finite. He existed from all eternity OR He was born in Bethlehem
b. He was omniscient OR He was limited in knowledge
c. He is David’s Lord YET David’s son
d. He is the Ancient of Days YET He was born as an infant
e. He is God over all YET He is the son of Mary
f. He upholds all things YET He is weary with His journey
g. Without Him was nothing made that was made YET He can do nothing without the Father
h. His natural form is the form of God YET He takes on Him the form of a servant
i. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever, YET He increases in stature
j. He Knows the Father perfectly YET He increases in wisdom
k. In His own name, he gives a new and more perfect law and proclaims Himself Lord of the Sabbath and greater than the temple, YET He is born under the law and is subject to the law
l. He is the Prince of Peace YET His souls is troubled
m. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords, YET He goes to death at the order of a Roman governor
n. He is with us always unto the end of the world, YET The disciples saw Him being received into heaven out of their sight.
B. Understanding His role as our Kinsman-Redeemer and substitute.
Why was is necessary for the Redeemer to be the God-Man? Why is the doctrine of the two natures of Christ so important? The answers lie in God’s law of the goel, or Kinsman-Redeemer, (Lev 25) illustrated beautifully by the historical story of Ruth. Scofield summarizes the principle concisely in his note on Is 59:20.25
(5) Therefore, what we see as Christ’s humiliation was done as our goel, our redeemer, our substitute. When He was living, acting, speaking, suffering, denying full knowledge of events, claiming total dependence on the Spirit, etc. as a man, he was doing these things out of His human nature, and in our place. Yet, because He was also God, He could pay the whole price–he lived, acted, spoke, and suffered as no other man ever had or ever could.
C. Understanding and admitting the existence of the Biblical concept of “mystery.”
There are some things which must be just believed, because there is no way to understand them.
D. The three core concepts related above should help us understand how Christ lived His life on earth.
He lived in appearance as a man (Isaiah 53:3, Phil. 2:8), and submitted His will to the Father, and lived His life as a man anointed by the Spirit (Luke 4:16-21). Yet, He retained all His powers, and demonstrated His abilities often as a vindication of His messiahship and proof of His authority (Mk 2:1-12). In the mysterious verse John 5:17, “. . . My Father has been working until now, and I have been working,” we are given a clue that He did many of His works “in His own right,” though they were always in accordance with the will of the Father. On one occasion, He even lifted the veil of His flesh, took off His servant nature, so His three closest disciples could see Him as He really was (Mat 17:2). On another occasion, He “lifted the hem of His veil a bit”–when they came to arrest Him, He said “I AM,” and they all fell down (John 18:4-6).
If we were to make an illustration of Jesus as if He were a policeman going under cover in a bad neighborhood, the Kenosis doctrine has the policeman leaving his weapons at home, along with his badge and other symbols of authority. He can call on headquarters for help, but he himself is helpless and defenseless. The orthodox teaching has the policeman himself as a “lethal weapon”, he is a martial arts expert who can kill with a blow–he is skilled on the level that he can reach within a man’s chest and pull out his still-beating heart–he can defeat multiple opponents. He can leave His I.D. , badge, uniform, etc., behind just like cop number one, but he cannot cease to be the walking weapon that he is. He looks normal, he appears as helpless as the first policeman, but he has the ability within himself to defend himself. He might choose to call for help; he might even choose to allow himself to be shackled, hurt or killed for the good of the mission–but he has the ability within himself to defeat his enemies. Raise that illustration, and the powers of the second policeman to infinity, and the illustration shows the difference in the two doctrines.
One of the beauties and glorious mysteries of the cross is that He who hung there was at that moment sustaining the universe–the very breath of the Roman soldiers was in His grip. He could have destroyed the Roman empire with a wink, with a thought, but He voluntarily restrained His great power, submitted to the plan He and the Father had agreed to before the world was made, and laid down His life. The entire Trinity was involved here–The Father pouring out His wrath , the Son Propitiating the wrath (Rom 1:18, 3:25-2, 5:8-11), and the Spirit involved in a way the Bible does not specify (Heb 9:14). This is a great mystery, but it cannot be solved by reducing the Son to something not quite God.
E. It is from applying the core concepts above that we can construct meaningful and orthodox answers to the questions of those who refuse to believe in the God of the Bible.
The answer is not to deviate from Truth ourselves through less-than-precise theology–it is to present the whole Truth unvarnished and uncut.
J.I. Packer, the dean of living evangelical theologians, completely rejects the doctrine of Kenosis, as illustrated in his book Knowing God. He says plainly, “The Kenosis theory will not stand.”26 I encourage the reader, to see what this Christian leader says about the subject. I hope that my study will be of help, and if you have been infected with this false doctrine I pray you will seriously consider modifying your views in this vital area.
1 Walter Martin’s last published writing was a refutation of apotheosis in the book The Agony of Deceit , (Moody Press, 1990). Included in that same book is an article by Dr. Rod Rosenbladt entitled Who Do TV Preachers Say That I Am?, which refutes, among other things, the teaching of Kenosis.
2 L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, (Wm B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1940) pg 327.
4 Ralph P. Martin, Kenosis, The New Bible Dictionary (Wm B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1973), pg 6.89
5 Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology vol. II/III, (Reprint by Wm B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977) pp 428-440.
6 Dr. Rod Rosenbladt, Who Do TV Preachers Say That I Am? The Agony of Deceit, (Moody Press, 1990) pp 114-115.
9 W. E. Vine, (Edited by F. F. Bruce) Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Fleming H. Revell Company, 1981) N. T. Vol. 2, pg 25.
10 Berkhof, op. cit. pg 328.
11 C. I. Scofied, The Scofield Reference Bible (Oxford University Press, 1917), pg 1258.
12 Lightfoot, cited by Scofield, ibid.
13 Moorehead, cited by Scofield, ibid.
14 Scofield, op. cit. pg 1145.
15 Berkhof, op. cit. 327.
16 A. W. Pink, The Attributes of God (Baker Book House, 1975) pg 29.
17 Hodge, op cit, pg 439.
18 Berkhof, op. cit. pg 328.
19 Ibid. 329
20 Phillip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. III (Wm B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977) p705-783.
22 Loraine Boettner, Studies in Theology, (The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1973) pp 195-203.
23 Hodge, op. cit.
24 Boettner, op. cit. 197.
25 Scofield, op. cit. pg 765.
26 J. I. Packer, Knowing God, (InterVarsity Press, 1973) pg. 52.
Johnson teaches about a different Jesus than the Jesus of the Bible. He and many other word-of-faith charismatic preachers believe that when the Bible says Jesus left His throne in heaven and “emptied Himself” (Philippians 2:7), He actually gave up being divine. The incarnate Christ was fully man but not at all God. When Jesus lived a life of sinless perfection, it wasn’t as our substitute but as a model. Any one of us are capable of the same perfection. Jesus didn’t do miracles because He was God. He did miracles to show us that we can do them, too, if we just believe that we can.
“Jesus was so emptied of divine capacity, eternally God but He chose to live with the restrictions as a man. Why? To set a model, to set something to follow, an example. His lifestyle, if He did all of His miracles as God, I’m still impressed but I’m not compelled to follow. I just stand back and go, ‘Wow, that’s amazing. God, do some more. That’s awesome, do some more, God!’
“But when I find out that He set aside divinity and chose to display what life would be like for anyone who had no sin, and was completely empowered by the Spirit of God, He models something that is made available because the blood of Jesus was shed to deal with the sin issue. There is no lack in the power or the effectiveness of the blood of Jesus. There is nothing He left outside of its reach. There’s nothing if He had it to do over again He would include that He didn’t already include. It’s all covered.
“When He said, ‘It is finished,’ He meant it. He meant it is a complete job, and it is more than sufficient for absolute transformation. So what does He do? He models for us the normal Christian life.”
Boy, there are all kinds of problems with this, but let me try to narrow it down to three.
First of all, did you catch that Johnson isn’t interested in following Jesus if Jesus was still God? Even Thomas came to his senses when He realised Jesus was the Messiah, crying out ‘My Lord and my God’.
Yet Johnson is only be amazed by Him, but he wouldn’t be compelled to follow Him.
That’s craziness. Many unbelievers think Jesus was a good man who did some amazing things, but they refuse to honor Him as God (Romans 1:21). Johnson’s Jesus is no better than an atheist’s!
Secondly, there’s no room for sanctification in his message. If the moment you come to Christ, you’re instantly perfect, there’s no growth in holiness because you’re instantly holy. That is counter-biblical. If you are not being sanctified, you were never justified. Those whom Christ has justified, He also sanctifies (John 17:17, Romans 8:29-30, 1 Corinthians 6:11, 2 Thessalonians 2:13, Hebrews 10:14).
When the Bible says that Jesus “emptied Himself,” it does not mean that all of His divinity drained out of Him. Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
So at no point did Jesus cease being God, neither seated in heaven or being born into our world.
Rather, He set His rightful claim as God aside and willingly submitted to the will of His Father, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:5-11). The miracles that Jesus did were not because He modelled a perfection that every human is capable of.
It was to verify that He was from God. This is the reason Lazarus was called out from the tomb. This was to show all Israel, but in particular the Pharisee that he was sent from God.
There is an unavoidable paradox in a Christianity that calls its leaders to be humble. The Key message is HUMILITY.
Philippians 2:5-11, a text on the short list of any consideration of Christian humility, is also a locus classicus for incarnational theology, with its dense and poignant narration of the path that Jesus took from glory to abasement and back to glory.
Paul’s emphasis here is not on the Christology, but on the model it provides to the Philippians of a Christian spirituality: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus “ (Phil. 2:5).
Paul wants his readers to consider how Jesus followed his path, even if the Church has tended to give much more attention to the substantive issues of nature, essence, form, attributes, deity, and humanity.
Philippians is known as an epistle of joy—a recent reviewer has noted “the countless popular studies on Philippians…, many with the word joy in the title somewhere”1—but the foreground of serious distress, for the church as well as for the imprisoned apostle, is increasingly acknowledged.2 Paul commends the mind of Christ (or attitude, or way of thinking, as it is sometimes translated) because he knows that the Philippian community is struggling: God has been “granted” it to them “to suffer for his sake” (Phil. 1:29). In this extremis, Paul commends to his flock the essential mind-set that was Christ’s in the pain of his own distress: “he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death” (Phil. 2: 8).
Humility and obedience, then, go a long way in giving us the content of the “mind of Christ,” that is, the basic orientation and even motivation that governed all that Jesus said and did (and suffered to be done) during his earthly ministry.
The humility is layered and textured: accession to the will of the Father, involving the relinquishing of heavenly prerogatives, the entrance into the existence of the slave rather than a lord, and finally experiencing death itself, and an ignominious death at that. The obedienceis entirely strategic, accomplishing the redemption that is the will of God.3To refuse it would entail an unholy “grasping” or “exploitation” (Phil. 2:6). So this is a humility and an obedience that have the essential character of peace and joy, as the epistle as a whole indicates, and as is clear in the depictions of Christ in the Gospels. In the “mind of Christ,” joy, humility, and obedience define each other.
Much theological effort has been expended on Paul’s observation that “Christ Jesus, being in the form of God,… emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness” (Phil 2: 6-7). Several “kenotic” theories (from kenosis or “emptying”) have been propounded over the centuries to help explain what was laid aside and what retained in the astonishing act of incarnation. Something of a consensus is emerging on the front of Pauline studies, which understands the passage in the following way: “form of God” and “form of a slave/human likeness” point not to a mere surface appearance, but to authentic existence God and as a human.4 Further, those translations—and there are many—which read that “although he existed in the form of God,… he emptied himself” ought to be corrected to more accurate phrasing: “being in the form of God” or even “because he existed in the form of God,… he emptied himself.”
That is, the self-emptying is not to be seen as a divestment of deity; on the contrary, it is an expression of deity.
Jesus is able to do it because he is God. The act of incarnation is an elegant expression of what God can do that is otherwise to us incomprehensible: in the being and existence of God, he took as well the being and existence of the creature. Surely he “emptied himself” of something; above we used J. B. Lightfoot’s language, that he divested himself of heavenly prerogatives. Without ceasing to be God, he became human. As N. T. Wright has written, “The pre-existent son regarded equality with God not as excusing him from the task of (redemptive) suffering and death, but actually as uniquely qualifying him for that vocation.”5
I suggest that there is a key here to the paradox in which Christians are called to exercise leadership in humility.6 If Paul describes deity as being able elegantly to function as humanity, it is not a stretch to understand Christian leadership as intended to function and to be empowered precisely in humble solidarity with humanity. Many are the prerogatives of the professional ministry, some of which are arguably necessary to the task. But all professional honors and privileges and prerogatives cut against the very grain of the ministry itself unless they become part of the resources by which we exercise Christian leadership in the mind of Christ: to be there for others, to listen to others, to pray for others, to exert and network for others, and to speak the grace of God to others in the diligence of obedience.
“If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care—then do me a favor:
Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself…” (Phil. 2:1-6, The Message7).
To refuse to do it would entail an unholy “grasping” or “exploitation” (Phil. 2:6).
2 See, for instance, Gregory L. Bloomquist, The Functioning of Suffering in Philippians (JSNT Sup 78. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993).
3 Romans 5:12-21 offers a further meditation on the value of Jesus’ obedience: if by disobedience the world was plunged into loss and death, “so by the one man’s obedience” loss and death are overturned decisively.
4 The progress of this discussion can be followed in contemporary critical commentaries such as Peter O’Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians(NIGTC. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991) pp. 186-270, or, more briefly, Margaret Thrall, “The Epistle to the Philippians,” in Keck, et al., eds, The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. IX (Nashville: Abingdon, 2000), pp. 500-517.
5 Cited in O’Brien, p. 216.
6 Robert J. Wood, a Quaker and sometime dean of Yale University Divinity School, addresses the proclivity of many in his communion to “regard the term ‘Quaker leadership’ as an oxymoron;” he has much to say to other groups in his essay, “Christ Has Come to Teach His People Himself: Vulnerability and the Exercise of Power in Quaker Leadership,” in Richard J. Mouw and Eric O. Jacobsen, eds., Traditions in Leadership: How Faith Traditions Shape the Way We Lead (Pasadena: The De Pree Leadership Center, 2006) pp. 208-221. The citation is from p. 209.
7 Eugene Peterson, The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language(Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2002), ad loc.
Introduction to the Creed of Chalcedon
The Creed of Chalcedon, A.D. 451, is not mentioned by name in any of our three forms of unity, but the doctrine set forth in it is clearly embodied in Article 19 of our Confession of Faith. It constitutes an important part of our ecumenical heritage.
The Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon settled the controversies concerning the person and natures of our Lord Jesus Christ and established confessionally the truths of the unity of the divine person and the union and distinction of the divine and human natures of Christ.
It condemned especially the error of Nestorianism, which denied the unity of the divine person in Christ; the error of Apollinarianism, which denied the completeness of Christ’s human nature; and the error known as Eutychianism, which denied the duality and distinction of the divine and human natures of our Lord Jesus Christ.
What was confessionally established at Chalcedon concerning the person and natures of Christ has continued to be the confession of the church catholic or universal ever since that time.
Creed of Chalcedon
We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body; consubstantial [co-essential] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the unity, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning [have declared] concerning him, and the Lord Jesus Christ himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.
The Creed of Chalcedon: Historical Notes
- The significant point of the Creed
The Creed of Chalcedon is that Christ is true God and true man united in one person, the person of the Son of God in the Trinity. It therefore answers the question, who is Jesus Christ, with precision. Of special significance are the four terms respecting the union of the two natures of Christ and their relationship: inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably. By this is meant something specific which is as follows:
Inconfusedly or without mixture
Has in view the truth that the divine nature and human nature of Christ are not mixed or confused together so as to become some third kind of being neither divine nor human. Christ has two natures not one. The error in view is called monophysitism, the idea of a God-man, if by the term is meant a mixture of the two natures. By implication the statement also rejects the notion that Jesus being a man evolved into a kind of God consciousness and sense of divinity. The human and divine natures are never mixed or confused. Jesus always possessed both the divine from eternity and the human from the moment of his conception.
Unchangeably or without change
Has in view the truth that neither the divine nature nor the human nature was essentially changed in any way by the union of the two natures in the people of the Son of God. Eternally the Son, Jesus, is God and is eternal, infinite, and almighty according to the divine nature. The union of the Son with the Human nature he assumed, when he took on him the form of a servant and was made man, Philippians 2:7, did not involve a change in the divine nature or essence. Likewise the human nature from the moment of its assumption by the Son of God remained a true, complete human nature which is finite and limited as a creature. It was also a sinless human nature standing at the center of the line of God’s covenant, and a weakened human nature under the judgment of god for our sins. By his resurrection and ascension Jesus has now glorified the human nature but it remains a true human nature also in eternal glory.
Indivisibly or without division
Has in view the truth that each nature is full and complete without being divided into parts, that the son of god did not therefore assume a partial human nature such as a human body without a true human soul, mind, heart and will. It has in view the perfect completeness of each nature so that Jesus the Son of God is very God and very man. This was an answer to some of the false constructions as to the union of the two natures.
Inseparably or without separation Has in view the truth that while the divine did not become human nor the human become divine that there was by unity of person an inner connection between them which was constant and which continues in Jesus Christ. By this inseparable connection Jesus Christ is the perfect revelation and manifestation of the name of God and his glory as the God of our salvation John 17:4-7, 26. By it also The Son of God in his finite human nature was enabled to sustain in body and soul the infinite eternal wrath of God against sin so as to deliver his people from it and rise in power from the dead. Romans 1:3,4; Isaiah 53:4, 6,10
- The use of the term “Mother of God” in the Creed of Chalcedon
The creed also uses the term “Mother of God” concerning the Virgin Mary. In the creed itself it should be noted the term is directly limited by the words “according to the human nature. ” The creed does not teach that Mary is the mother of the divine nature. The Creed likewise explicitly teaches that the person of the Son of God is “begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead.” It is the human nature which the Son of God assumed which is alone ascribed unto Mary from whom, after the flesh, the Savior was descended and born.
The term itself, while it has given rise to Mary worship in both the Eastern church and western Romanism, has also a specific purpose in the creed. Against the error of Nestorius who taught two distinct persons, a human and divine, it was necessary to maintain that it was truly the Son of God united to the human nature who was born of Mary. Mary did therefore carry in her womb the Son of God united to the human nature, and in that sense only may be said to be the mother of God, when she brought forth her first born son after the flesh and laid him in a manger, Luke 2:7.
The Son of God did not come upon the man Jesus as a distinct human person. Nor did the Son of God leave Jesus on the cross in His suffering and death. Both of these errors have repeatedly troubled the Christian church and are a denial of Jesus Christ as the true Savior. It belongs to certain Gnostic heresies, already found in the early church, with which John contends in I John 4:1-4. The denial of the true incarnation of the Son of God in the human nature is according to I John 4:3 of the spirit of Antichrist. This corrupt error, in a garbled form from the Nestorian sect, has also made its way into the Koran. It is not authentic Christian doctrine.
At the same time the perversion of the role of Mary which developed in both East and West justly gives rise to reservations about this expression however it is limited. It is, in part, for this reason that the creed is not named in the Confession of Faith. The sound doctrine of the creed is taken up in the Confession of Faith, rather than the creed itself.
When you hear the word “gospel” mentioned at Bethel Church, know that it is a different gospel they’re talking about. This filters into all of their ministries. The “Jesus” in the name “Jesus Culture” is not the Jesus of the Bible. When you listen to their worship songs, you might hear all the right Christian words, but you are not praising God with them because they are writing and singing about a different Jesus.