From BiblePortal Wikipedia

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]

KENOSIS. —The word κένωσις is not itself found in the NT, but the verb κενόω to empty, to make empty , occurs in  Philippians 2:7, where Authorized Version renders ‘made himself of no reputation,’ but the Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 correctly ‘emptied himself’ (see Lightfoot’s Com. in loc ., and Grimm-Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon ). It is disputed among theologians as to the extent to which the Son of God stripped Himself of His Divine prerogatives, but it is not necessary here to discuss these differences, as the purpose of this article is only to collect the evidences the Gospels afford of the actual conditions of the Incarnation. But two questions may here be very briefly touched on before we pass to this subject.

(1) We may glance at the description of this Kenosis of the Son of God found in the Apostolic writings. The passage in Philippians ( Philippians 2:6-8) lays stress on the surrender, on the one hand, of the form of God (‘the glories, the prerogatives of deity,’ Lightfoot), of equality with God; and the assumption, on the other hand, of the form of a servant, the likeness of man, self-humiliation and obedience ‘even unto death, yea, the death of the cross.’ In  2 Corinthians 8:9 St. Paul describes the Kenosis as the abandonment of wealth for poverty (the Divine for the human mode of existence). In four pregnant statements, in which the Christian salvation is brought into most intimate relation with the humiliation of the Son of God, this Kenosis is more fully defined: ‘God, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh [He shared the flesh, but not the sin], condemned sin in the flesh’ ( Romans 8:3); ‘God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law’ ( Galatians 4:4); ‘Him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf’ [the penalty of sin was endured by the sinless for the sinful ( 2 Corinthians 5:21)]; ‘Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us’ [Christ as the sacrificial victim ‘became in a certain sense the impersonation of the sin and of the curse,’ Lightfoot on  Galatians 3:13]. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews lays emphasis on the participation of the Son of God in flesh and blood , in order that He might be capable of dying ( Hebrews 2:14); on His experience of temptation as enabling Him to sympathize with and succour the tempted ( Hebrews 2:16,  Hebrews 4:15); on the obedience He learned by suffering ( Hebrews 5:8). The prologue to John’s Gospel may be regarded as Apostolic interpretation; and there the Kenosis is described in the words ‘and the Word became flesh’ ( John 1:14, see Westcott in loco ). It is the intention of all these statements to affirm the complete reality of the manhood of Jesus.

(2) We may glance at the attempts to define theologically the process of the Incarnation in the Kenotic theory, ‘which seeks to make the manhood of Christ real by representing the Logos as contracting Himself within human dimensions and literally becoming man’ (Brace’s The Humiliation of Christ , p. 136. This lecture contains the best account in English of the modern Kenotic theories. Bruce distinguishes four types, the absolute dualistic , the absolute metamorphic , the absolute semi-metamorphic , the real but relative . The differences in these theories concern two points, the degree in which the Logos laid aside the Divine attributes of omnipresence, omnipotence, and omniscience in order to become man, and the relation between the Logos and the human soul of Christ, as retaining distinctness, or as becoming identical. As regards the first point, the theories are absolute or relative; as regards the second, dualistic, metamorphic, semi-metamorphic). Of the speculative attempts to formulate the doctrine of the Incarnation, Ritschl says that ‘what is taught under the head of the Kenosis of the Divine Logos is pure mythology’ ( Justification and Reconciliation , pp. 409–411). Without endorsing the terms of this condemnation, the present writer may repeat what he has elsewhere written on this matter. ‘The Kenotic theories are commendable as attempts to do justice to the historical personality of Jesus, while assuming the ecclesiastical dogma; but are unsatisfactory in putting an undue strain on the passages in the New Testament which are supposed to teach the doctrine, and in venturing on bold assertions about the constitution of deity, which go far beyond the compass of our intelligence in these high matters’ ( The Ritschlian Theology , p. 271 note). The study of the facts of the life of Jesus proves undoubtedly the Kenosis , of which none of these theories offers a satisfactory explanation, as partly the data —the inner life of the Godhead—lie beyond our reach. We now confine ourselves to the data offered in the Gospels. (A useful summary of the data, although by no means exhaustive, will be found in Gore’s Dissertations , ‘The Consciousness of our Lord in His Mortal Life.’ Adamson in The Mind in Christ deals very thoroughly with all the data bearing on the knowledge of Christ).

The Kenotic theories concern themselves specially with the three metaphysical attributes of God, manifest in His transcendent, yet immanent, relation to the world—omnipresence, omnipotence, omniscience. The Gospels show that Jesus possessed none of these. He was localized in a body ( John 1:14 ‘ tabernacled among us’), and moved from place to place as His mission required. The cure of the nobleman’s son ( John 4:50) does not prove omnipresence , but is explicable as an act of faith in God. In the absence of their Master the disciples become faithless ( Mark 9:19), and He has to return to them to restore their confidence. In His farewell discourse He promises His constant presence as a future gift ( John 14:18-19), and fulfils His promise after the Resurrection ( Matthew 28:20). His miracles do not prove omnipotence , as they were wrought in dependence on, with prayer to, God ( Mark 9:29,  John 11:41-42), were restrained by unbelief ( Matthew 13:58), seemingly involved physical strain ( Mark 5:30), and sometimes were accompanied by means of cure ( Mark 7:33-34; see The Expositor , 6th series, vol. vi., ‘The Function of the Miracles’). Jesus never claimed omniscience . He claimed to know the Father as no other knew Him ( Matthew 11:27), but, on the other hand, He confessed that His knowledge as Son was limited in so important a matter as the time of His Return ( Matthew 24:36 Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885,  Mark 13:32). The express distinction between the knowledge of the Son and of the Father made in this utterance disproves the view sometimes advanced, that the Son’s perfect knowledge of the Father must include a knowledge of all the Father knows. It is the character, purpose, and activity of God as Father that the Son knows and reveals. When Jesus Himself thus confesses ignorance in a matter affecting Himself so closely, it is not reverence to claim for Him universal knowledge regarding such matters as the date and authorship of Old Testament writings, the causes of disease, the course of events in the remote future; nor is it any lack of homage and devotion to acknowledge the other evidences of limitation of knowledge the Gospels offer. He made a mistake regarding the barren fig-tree ( Mark 11:13); He was sometimes surprised and disappointed [see art. Surprise] ( Matthew 8:10;  Matthew 26:40,  Mark 1:45;  Mark 2:1-2;  Mark 6:6;  Mark 7:24-25;  Mark 7:36;  Mark 8:12,  Luke 2:49); information came to Him by the ordinary channels of hearing and seeing ( Matthew 4:12;  Matthew 4:17;  Matthew 14:12-13,  Mark 1:37-38;  Mark 2:17,  John 4:1-3), and He sought it in this way ( John 1:38;  John 9:35,  Mark 5:30-32,  Luke 4:17). He asked questions not rhetorically, but because He desired an answer ( Matthew 16:13;  Matthew 16:15,  Luke 8:30,  John 11:34). He developed mentally ( Luke 2:52), and during His ministry learned by experience ( John 2:24; the verb used is γινώσκειν, see Westcott in loco ). He sought guidance from God in prayer ( Luke 5:16;  Luke 6:12;  Luke 9:18;  Luke 9:28;  Luke 10:21). The necessity of the cup offered by His Father’s will was not at first evident to Him ( Matthew 26:39), and, when convinced that His Father’s will required it, He was not sure that His strength to drink it would endure ( Matthew 26:42; cf.  Hebrews 5:7-8). His cry of desolation ( Matthew 27:46) on the cross was not only the culmination of His Passion, but in being this it was also the temporary obscuration of His knowledge of the Father, who in that moment had not forsaken Him. Instances of supernatural knowledge are found in the Gospels. Some of these: the getting of the ass ( Matthew 21:2), and of the upper room ( Matthew 26:17-19), the finding of the money in the fish’s mouth ( Matthew 17:27), are only apparent, and allow another explanation. The statement to the woman of Samaria about the number of her husbands ( John 4:17-18) is very perplexing; and possibly, as the conversation was probably reported by the woman, may have been made more definite by her guilty conscience than it actually was, even as she exaggerates in her account of what Christ had told her ( John 4:29). The command to the disciples about casting their net ( Luke 5:5) was probably an act of faith in God, even as the command to the storm ( Mark 4:39). The other cases fall into two classes: prophetic anticipations (His own death and resurrection, the doom of Jerusalem), or exercises of an exceptional moral insight and spiritual discernment. We may admit occasionally, for the fulfilment of His vocation, miraculous knowledge as well as power, without the constant possession of omniscience or omnipotence.

We cannot dissever the intellectual from the moral life; and the development of the latter involves necessarily some limitations in the former. Omniscience cannot be ‘tempted in all points even as we are,’ nor can it exercise a childlike faith in God such as Jesus calls us to exercise along with Him. Moral and religious reality is excluded from the history of Jesus by the denial of the limitation of His knowledge. He was tempted (see articles on Temptation and Struggles of Soul). In the Wilderness the temptation was possible, because He had to learn by experience the uses to which His miraculous powers might legitimately be put, and the proper means for the fulfilment of His vocation. Without taint or flaw in His own nature, the expectations of the people regarding the Messiah, and the desires they pressed upon Him, afforded the occasions of temptation to Him. The necessity of His own sacrifice was not so certain to Him as to exclude the possibility of the temptation to escape it. That Jesus was Himself conscious of being still the subject of a moral discipline is suggested by His refusal of the epithet ‘good’ ( Mark 10:18). Although morally tempted and developing, Jesus betrays no sign of penitence for sin or failure, and we are warranted in affirming that He was tempted without sin, and in His development knew no sin. But that perfection would have been only a moral semblance had there been no liability to temptation and no limitation of knowledge. As Son of God, He lived in dependence on God ( Matthew 11:27 a) and submission to Him ( Matthew 11:25,  Matthew 26:39). It is the Fourth Gospel that throws into special prominence this feature ( John 3:34;  John 5:19-20;  John 8:28;  John 15:15;  John 17:1;  John 17:8). The Son delivers the words and performs the deeds given by the Father. There are a few utterances given in this Gospel which express a sense of loss for Himself and His disciples in the separation from the Father that His earthly life involves ( John 14:28), a desire for the recovery of the former conditions of communion ( John 17:5), and an expectation of gain in His return to the Father ( John 14:19-20). Jesus was subject to human emotion: He groaned ( John 11:33;  John 11:38), sighed ( Mark 7:34;  Mark 8:12), wept at the grave of Lazarus ( John 11:35) and over Jerusalem ( Luke 13:34;  Luke 19:41,  Matthew 23:37). He endured poverty ( Matthew 8:20,  Luke 9:58), labour ( Mark 6:3), weariness ( John 4:6,  Matthew 21:7), weakness ( Matthew 27:32), hunger ( Matthew 4:2;  Matthew 21:18), thirst ( John 4:7;  John 19:28), pain ( Matthew 27:34-35), and death ( Matthew 27:50,  John 19:30). Some have conjectured from the evidence of  John 19:34 that He died literally of a broken heart (see Farrar’s Life of Christ , note at the end of chap. lxi.). This Kenosis did not obscure His moral insight and spiritual discernment; did not involve any moral defect or failure, any religious distrust; did not weaken or narrow His love, mercy, or grace; did not lower His authority, or lessen His efficiency as Revealer of God and Redeemer of men; but, on the contrary, it was necessary, for only under such human conditions and limitations could He fulfil His mission, deliver His message, present His sacrifice, and effect His salvation. That He might receive the name of Saviour and Lord, which is above every other name, He must empty Himself.

Literature.—Works referred to in the art.; Liddon, BL [Note: L Bampton Lecture.] ; Gore, BL [Note: L Bampton Lecture.] ; Gifford, The Incarnation  ; Wendt, Teaching of Jesus , on the various passages quoted; Stalker, Christology of Jesus .

Alfred E. Garvie.

Holman Bible Dictionary [2]

The biblical passage from which the theory of kenosis is derived is  Philippians 2:6-11 (a passage considered by most modern scholars as an ancient hymn to Christ used in the early church). The kenotic theory of the incarnation takes its name from the Greek word, kenoo, used in   Philippians 2:7 meaning “to make empty” (KJV translates the word “made himself of no reputation”).

According to the kenotic theory, when the Son of God was incarnated as Jesus of Nazareth, He “emptied himself” of some of His divine attributes (for example, omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence) and lived for a period on earth within the limitations of human existence. Jesus retained other divine attributes according to the theory (for example, holiness, love, and righteousness). Thus, while God is omnipotent (that is, all-powerful), Jesus' power while in the flesh was limited. While God is omniscient (that is, all-knowing), Jesus' knowledge was limited. Similarly, while God is omnipresent (that is, everywhere present), Jesus was limited with respect to space and distance. This theory is, then, an attempt to understand how Jesus could be both fully human and fully divine. This theory takes all of Jesus' human limitations with full seriousness without questioning the reality of His deity.

Two major criticisms of this theory must be noted. First, as was pointed out earlier,  Philippians 2:6-11 is in all likelihood a hymn. As a hymn, it utilizes poetic language, which is highly figurative in nature. For example, when Isaiah (a poetic book) is read, one would not come away believing that mountains and hills have the ability to sing nor that the trees of the fields have the ability to clap their hands (  Isaiah 55:12 ). The ancient and modern reader alike would understand that figurative language was being used and not intended to be taken literally. In like fashion, when Paul said that Christ emptied Himself in  Philippians 2:5-11 , he may have been saying that Jesus gave Himself sacrifically for the sake of others without intending to say anything about what attributes Christ gave up. One must decide if the language used here is literal or figurative.

Another criticism of the kenotic theory is that Paul's intention in using the hymn to Christ was for ethical rather than doctrinal purposes. That is to say, Paul was more intent on instructing the Philippians in how to live than in what to believe in this particular passage. The Philippians had exhibited selfishness and conceit in their relations with one another. Paul's exhortation to these Christians was to look not only to their own interests, but also to the interests of others ( Philippians 2:3-4 ). The best example of selfless love and humility of which Paul was aware was the example of Jesus Christ. Therefore, Paul said to the Philippians, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” ( Philippians 2:5 ). Paul then quoted the hymn, which shows how Jesus gave of himself to the point of enduring death on a cross for the sake of others. Paul wanted the Philippian Christians to have the same attitude toward one another. Thus, if it was Paul's intention to give ethical rather than doctrinal instruction, some would say that to use this passage to speak primarily of doctrinal matters is a misuse of Scripture. See Christology; Incarnation

James Simeon and Phil Logan

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [3]

KENOSIS . This word means ‘emptying,’ and as a substantive it does not occur in the NT. But the corresponding verb ‘he emptied himself is found in   Philippians 2:7 . This passage is very important as a definite statement that the Incarnation implies limitations, and at the same time that these limitations were undertaken as a voluntary act of love.   2 Corinthians 8:9 is a similar statement. The questions involved are not, however, to be solved by the interpretation of isolated texts, but, so far as they can be solved, by our knowledge of the Incarnate Life as a whole. The question which has been most discussed in recent years relates to the human consciousness and knowledge of Christ, and asks how it is possible for the limitations of human knowledge to coexist with Divine omniscience.

The word kenosis , and the ideas which it suggests, were not emphasized by early theologians, and the word was used as little more than a synonym for the Incarnation, regarded as a Divine act of voluntary condescension. The speculations which occupied the Church during the first five centuries were caused by questions as to the nature and Person of Christ, which arose inevitably when it had been realized that He was both human and Divine; but while they established the reality of His human consciousness, they did not deal, except incidentally, with the conditions under which it was exercised. The passages which speak of our Lord’s human knowledge were discussed exegetically, and the general tendency of most early and almost all mediæval theology was to explain them in a more or less docetic sense. From the 16th cent. onwards there has been a greater tendency to revert to the facts of the Gospel narrative, consequently a greater insistence on the truth of our Lord’s manhood, and more discussion as to the extent to which the Son, in becoming incarnate, ceased to exercise Divine power, especially in the sphere of human knowledge. The question is obviously one that should be treated with great reserve, and rather by an examination of the whole picture of the human life of Christ presented to us in the NT than by a priori , reasoning. The language of the NT appears to warrant the conclusion that the Incarnation was not a mere addition of a manhood to the Godhead, but that ‘the Son of God, in assuming human nature, really lived in it under properly human conditions, and ceased from the exercise of those Divine functions, including the Divine omniscience, which would have been incompatible with a truly human experience.’ It has even been held that the Son in becoming incarnate ceased to live the life of the Godhead altogether, or to exercise His cosmic functions. But for this there is no support in the NT, and   Colossians 1:17 and   Hebrews 1:3 more than suggest the contrary.

J. H. Maude.

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [4]

( Κένωσις ), a Greek term signifying the act of Emptying or self-divestiture, employed by modern German divines to express the voluntary humiliation of Christ in his incarnate state. It is borrowed from, the expression of Paul, " But Made Himself Of No Reputation ( Ἑαυτὸν Ἐκένωσε , emptied himself)," etc. ( Philippians 2:7). The same self-abasement is indicated in other passages of Scripture; e.g. the Son laid aside the glory which he had with the Father before the world was ( John 17:5), and became poor ( 2 Corinthians 8:9). This term touches the essential difficulty in the doctrine of the incarnation. That difficulty seems to consist in the supposition that the Logos In His Absolute Infinitude of being and attributes united himself in one personality with an individual created man. On the other hand, it has been alleged as an objection to the kenosis theory that "to assume any self-limitation on the part of God is inconsistent with the unchangeableness of the divine Being." But God's immutability is that perfection by virtue of which his will and nature remain in constant harmony. Every change must, as a matter of course, be rejected that would bring God's will or nature in conflict with each other. But any act on the part of God, affecting his existence internally or externally, that is in harmony with the divine will and being, is consistent with the divine immutability. To deny such acts on the part of God is to deny the living God Himself. A God without a motion internally or externally would be, according to the Scriptures, a nullity, a dead God, an idol. "The very idea," says Ebrard, "of God as the living one implies the possibility of a self- limitation or change of self, of course of such a change by which God continues as God, and out of which he has at all times the power of asserting his infinitude. In the divine Being this is possible through the Trinity.

As the triune God, there is in his being the possibility for him to distinguish himself from himself also in time, i.e. to receive within himself the difference between existence within time and out of time." That the Son of God can become a man without thereby destroying his true divinity even the fathers of the Church taught. Tertullian says: "God can change himself into everything and yet remain (in substance) what he is." Hilary says: "The form of God and the form of a servant can indeed not unqualifiedly become a unity; they rather exclude one another as such. But how does their union become a possibility? Answer: Only by giving up the one, the other can be assumed. But he that has emptied himself, and taken upon himself the form of a servant, is therefore not a different person. To give up a form does not imply the destruction of its substance. Exactly in order to prevent this destruction the act of self-emptying goes only far enough to constitute the form of a servant."' Ebrard makes the fitting comparison: " If a crown prince, in order to set others free, should go for the time being into voluntary servitude, he would be, to all intents and purposes, a servant, and, as he has not forfeited his claims to the crown, also a prince, so that he could with propriety be called both servant and a prince: in the same manner Jesus was the true and eternal God, and at the same time a true and real man; and it can be said with propriety of him, the Son of God is man, and the man Jesus Christ is God." To this is added by the author of Die biblische Glaubenslehre (published by the "Calwer Verein"): "The same is the case with man, who, notwithstanding the various changes of his circumstances here, and the great changes which he shall undergo in the resurrection, is still the same person. We meet even in God with a change of conditions. He rested before and after he had created the world; does not this imply a self-limitation on the part of God? And what self- limitations does not God impose upon himself with regard to human liberty! The omnipresence of God is no infinite diffusion, but has its definite starting-point; and if God is not as near to the wicked as he is to the pious, this is likewise an act of self-limitation on God's part over against the ungodly. Again, the personality of God, what else is it than a self-comprehension of the infinite ? Yet in all these self-limitations God remains God. Should, then, the Son not be able to remain in substance what he is, if, out of compassion for fallen humanity, he becomes a man, and, in order to become a mal, lays aside his divine glory?"

This leads us, then, to the main question, What have we to understand by the divine glory which the Son laid aside during his sojourn on earth ? To this question the Christologians who adopt the kenosis return different answers. We are met here again by the old difficulty to unite the divine and the human in one self-consciousness. The question is this, Whether the self- consciousness of the Godman is the divine self-consciousness of the eternal Son, or the self-consciousness of the assumed human nature? Gess (Gesch. D. Dogmatik) takes the latter view, and says that, in order to do justice to the true humanity of Jesus Christ, it is necessary to consistently carry out the self-emptying act of the Logos, so that the Son of God in the act of the incarnation laid aside the divine attributes of omnipotence and omniscience, together with his divine self-consciousness, and regained the latter gradually in the way of a really human development, in such a manner as not to affect the true and real divinity of Christ. Whether a temporary laying aside of the divine self-consciousness is consistent with the immutability of the divine Being we need not discuss here. The argumentation of Gess is very acute, and may appear to the metaphysician the most consistent and satisfactory analysis of the personal union of the divine and the human in the person of Christ; but exegetically it seems to us untenable, nor is it fit for the practical edification of the Christian people, and a theology that cannot be preached intelligibly from the pulpit is justly to be suspected . We conclude with Liebner and other Christologians that by the glory which the Son of God laid aside during his sojourn. on earth we must not understand his divine self-consciousness, not the fulness of the Deity, as far as it can manifest itself in a human nature. On the contrary, it is said of this very glory, "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw his glory, a glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.... And of his fulness we all have received grace for grace." This divine fulness the Son did not give up at his incarnation, but it followed him as his peculiar property from heaven, from out of the Father's bosom, to legitimate him as the Logos, as the only begotten of the Father, yet so that he turned it into a divine-human glory, acquired in. a human manner. Only the form of God, the divine form of existence, consequently the transcendent divine majesty and sovereign power over all things, united with uninterrupted glory, he exchanged, at his incarnation and during the time of his sojourn on earth, for his human form of existence, for the form of the servant. Into this his antemundane glory, however, he re-entered ( John 17:5) on his going home to his Father ( John 6:62), also in the capacity of the exalted Son of man ( Philippians 2:9).

But in every stage of his divine-human development the Son's oneness of being and of will With the Father remained, and by this very fact he was in his human teaching and conduct the express image of the invisible God, the personal revealer of him who had sent him, the Son of God in the form of human existence. According to this view, the immanent relation of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost did not suffer any change by the laying aside of the divine form of existence on the part of the Son, nor during the time of his existence in human form. Only according to this view also have the words of the incarnate Son of God their full force: "Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me; if not, believe me for the very works' sake. The words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself, but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works" ( John 14:10-11). If it be objected that the really human development of Jesus is inconsistent with or excluded by the continuance of the eternal self-consciousness of the Logos in the incarnation, we answer that this inference does not necessarily follow. There is nothing self-contradictory in the assumption that the incarnate Logos had in his one Ego a consciousness of his twofold nature. Even if we cannot explain how the Logos was conscious of himself as the eternal Son of God, and yet had this. self-consciousness only in a human form, yet the. consciousness of his twofold nature was necessary for the mediatorial office of the incarnate Logos; he was to know himself according to his absolute divinity and his human' development; and if we suppose that of his divine self-consciousness only so much as was necessary for his. mediatorial office passed over into his human self-consciousness, this double self-consciousness is in perfect agreement with his purely human life and with his mediatorial office. As to the divine attributes or powers that are connected with the divine self-consciousness, there is nothing. self- contradictory in the supposition that the divine Ego of the Logos acted in concert with the powers of human nature, with human self-consciousness, and human volition, if we adopt the above-mentioned relative self limitation of the divine knowledge and will as necessary for the mediatorial office. But even if by this view of the personal oneness of the divine and the human in Christ the metaphysical difficulty should not be fully removed, we would prefer confessing the unfathomable depth of this mystery to any philosophical solution of the problem which we could not fully reconcile with the plain teachings of the Word of God.

One of the latest and most striking presentations of this self-abnegation on the part of our Lord is that found in Henry Ward Beecher's Life of Jesus (i, 50), which we here transcribe, omitting its monothelitism and anthropopathy: "The divine Spirit came into the world in the person of Jesus, not bearing the attributes of Deity in their full disclosure and power. He came into the world to subject his spirit to that whole discipline and experience through which every man must pass. He veiled his royalty; he folded back, as it were, within himself those ineffable powers which belonged to him as a free spirit in heaven. He went into captivity to himself, wrapping in weakness and forgetfulness his divine energies while he was a babe. 'Being found in fashion as a man,' he was subject to that gradual unfolding of his buried powers which belongs to infancy and childhood. 'And the child grew and waxed strong in spirit.' He was subject to the restrictions which hold and hinder common men. He was to come back to himself little by little. Who shall say that God cannot put himself into finite conditions? Though a free spirit God cannot grow, yet as fettered in the flesh he may. Breaking out at times with amazing power in single directions, yet at other times feeling the mist of humanity resting upon his brows, he declares, 'Of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.' This is just the experience which we should expect in a being whose problem of life was, not the disclosure of the full power and glory of God's natural attributes, but the manifestation of the love of God, and of the extremities of self-renunciation to which the divine heart would submit, in the rearing up of his family of children from animalism and passion. The incessant looking for the signs of divine power and of infinite attributes in the earthly life of Jesus, whose mission it was to bring the divine Spirit within the conditions of feeble humanity, is as if one should search a dethroned king in exile, for his crown and his sceptre. We are not to;look for a glorified, an enthroned Jesus, but for God manifest in the flesh; and in this view the very limitations and seeming discrepancies in a divine life become congruous parts of the whole sublime problem."

Most theologians, however, will see in this progressive development of Jesus rather the growth of the human faculties as shone upon by the inward sun of divine life; and in the alternate lights and shades of the Redeemer's career, not so much the vicissitudes imposed upon the enshrined Deity by the earthly abode, as the :mutual play of the divine and the human natures, now one and now the other specially manifesting itself. Indeed, the theory of a somewhat double consciousness, if we may so express it, or at least an occasional (and in early life a prolonged) withdrawal of the divine cognitions from the human intellect, and thus of the full divine energies from the human will, seems to be required in order to meet the varying aspects under which the .compound life of Jesus presents itself in the Gospels. Certainly the union of the divine Spirit with a mere 'human body is a heathen theophany, not a Christian incarnation. Indeed, the "flesh" which the Saviour assumed, in its Scripture sense, has reference to human nature as such, its mental and spiritual faculties not less than its physical. The problem, therefore, still is to adjust the God to the man. This, of course, can only be done by conceiving of the infinite as assuming finite relations, and this, in short, is the meaning of Kenosis. (See Humiliation).

This topic became a subject of controversy in the first part of the 17th century between the theologians of Giessen and those of Tubingen; the former (Menzer and Feuerbourn) contending that Christ during his state of 'earthly humiliation actually divested himself ( Κένωσις proper) of omnipotence, omniscience, etc.; while the latter (Luke Osiander, Theodore Thummius, and Melchior Nicolai) maintained that he still continued to possess these divine attributes, but merely concealed them '( Κρύψις ) from men (see Thummius, De Ταπεινωσιγραφίᾷ Sacra, Tubing. 1623; Nicolai, De Κενώσει Christi, ib. 1622). For details of the controversy, see Herzog, Real Encykl. 7: 511 sq.; 14:786. On the doctrine itself, see Dorner, Doct. Of The Person Of Christ, I, Ii, 29; Schrbckh, Kirchengesch. 4: 670 sq.; comp. Bib. Repos. July, 1867, p. 413; Amer. Presb. Rev. July, 1861, p. 551; Meth. Quar. Rev. Jan. 1861, p. 148; April, 1870, p. 291. The treatise of Bodemeyer, Die Lehre von der Kenosis (Getting. 1860), is of a very vague and general character. (See Christology), vol. ii, p. 281, 282.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [5]

kḗ - nō´sis  : The word "kenosis" ( κένωσις , kénōsis ) has entered theological language from   Philippians 2:7 , where in the sentence he "emptied himself" the Greek verb is ekénōsen . "Kenosis," then, the corresponding noun, has become a technical term for the humiliation of the Son in the incarnation, but in recent years has acquired a still more technical sense, i.e. of the Son's emptying Himself of certain attributes, especially of omniscience.

1. The New Testament:

(1) The theological question involved was one about as far as possible from the minds of the Christians of the apostolic age and apparently one that never occurred to Paul. For in  Philippians 2:7 the only "emptying" in point is that of the (external) change from the "form of God" to the "form of a servant." Elsewhere in the New Testament it is usually taken as a matter of course that Christ's knowledge was far higher than that of other men (  John 2:24 is the clearest example). But passages that imply a limitation of that knowledge do exist and are of various classes. Of not much importance are the entirely incidental references to the authorship of Old Testament passages where the traditional authorship is considered erroneous, as no other method of quotation would have been possible. Somewhat different are the references to the nearness of the Parousia (especially   Matthew 10:23;  Matthew 24:29 ). But with these it is always a question how far the exact phraseology has been framed by the evangelists and, apart from this, how far Christ may not have been consciously using current imagery for the impending spiritual revolution, although knowing that the details would be quite different (see Parousia ). Limitation of knowledge may perhaps be deduced from the fact that Christ could be amazed ( Matthew 8:10 , etc.), that He could be really tempted (especially  Hebrews 4:15 ), or that He possessed faith ( Hebrews 12:2; see commentary). More explicitly Christ is said to have learned in   Luke 2:52;  Hebrews 5:8 . And, finally, in  Mark 13:32 parallel   Matthew 24:36 , Christ states categorically that He is ignorant of the exact time of the Parousia.

(2) An older exegesis felt only the last of these passages as a real difficulty. A distinction constructed between knowledge naturally possessed and knowledge gained by experience (i.e. although the child Jesus knew the alphabet naturally, He was obliged to learn it by experience) covered most of the others. For  Mark 13:32 a variety of explanations were offered. The passage was translated "neither the Son, except the Father know it," a translation that can be borne by the Greek. But it simply transfers the difficulty by speaking of the Father's knowledge as hypothetical, and is an impossible translation of   Matthew 24:36 , where the word "only" is added. The explanations that assume that Christ knew the day but had no commission to reveal it are most unsatisfactory, for they place insincere words in His mouth; "It is not for you to know the day" would have been inevitable form of the saying ( Acts 1:7 ).

2. Dogmatic:

(1) Yet the attempt so to misinterpret the verses is not the outcome of a barren dogmatic prejudice, but results from a dread lest real injury be done to the fundamentals of Christian consciousness. Not only does the mind of the Christian revolt from seeing in Christ anything less than true God, but it revolts from finding in Him two centers of personality - C hrist was One . But as omniscience is an essential attribute of God, it is an essential attribute of the incarnate Son. So does not any limitation of Christ's human knowledge tend to vitiate a sound doctrine of the incarnation? Certainly, to say with the upholders of the kenosis in its "classical" form that the Son, by an exercise of His will, determined to be ignorant as man, is not helpful, as the abandonment by God of one of His own essential attributes would be the preposterous corollary. (2) Yet the Biblical data are explicit, and an explanation of some kind must be found. And the solution seems to lie in an ambiguous use of the word "knowledge," as applied to Christ as God and as man. When we speak of a man's knowledge in the sense discussed in the kenotic doctrine, we mean the totality of facts present in his intellect, and by his ignorance we mean the absence of a fact or of facts from that intellect. Now in the older discussions of the subject, this intellectual knowledge was tacitly assumed (mystical theology apart) to be the only knowledge worthy of the name, and so it was at the same time also assumed that God's knowledge is intellectual also - "God geometrizes." Under this assumption God's knowledge is essentially of the same kind as man's, differing from man's only in its purity and extent. And this assumption is made in all discussions that speak of the knowledge of the Son as God illuminating His mind as man. (3) Modern critical epistemology has, however, taught man a sharp lesson in humility by demonstrating that the intellect is by no means the perfect instrument that it has been assumed to be. And the faults are by no means faults due to lack of instruction, evil desires, etc., but are resident in the intellect itself, and inseparable from it' as an intellect . Certain recent writers (Bergson, most notably) have even built up a case of great strength for regarding the intellect as a mere product of utilitarian development, with the defects resulting naturally from such an evolution. More especially does this restriction of the intellect seem to be true in religious knowledge, even if the contentions of Kant and (espescially) Ritschl be not fully admitted. Certain it is, in any case, that even human knowledge is something far wider than intellectual knowledge, for there are many things that we know that we never could have learned through the intellect, and, apparently, many elements of our knowledge are almost or quite incapable of translation into intellectual terms. Omniscience, then, is by no means intellectual omniscience, and it is not to be reached by any mere process of expansion of an intellect. An "omniscient intellect" is a contradiction in terms. (4) In other words, God's omniscience is not merely human intellectual knowledge raised to the infinite power, but something of an entirely different quality , hardly conceivable to human thought - as different from human intellectual knowledge as the Divine omnipotence is different from muscular strength. Consequently, the passage of this knowledge into a human intellect is impossible, and the problem of the incarnation should be stated: What effect did Divine omniscience in the person have on the conscious intellect of the manhood? There is so little help from the past to be gained in answering this question, that it must remain open at present - if, indeed, it is ever capable of a full answer. But that ignorance in the intellect of the manhood is fully consistent with omniscience in the person seems to be not merely a safe answer to the question as stated, but an inevitable answer if the true humanity of Christ is to be maintained at all.


Sanday's Christology and Personality , 1911, and La Zouche, The Person of Christ in Modern Thought , 1912, are among the latest discussions of the subject, with very full references to the modern literature.