February 25th 2011, 02:46 PM #1
A Refutation of Kenotical Christology
In regards to the self inflicted humiliation of Christ as described in Philippians 2:7, there exists a kind of doctrinal abberancy among certian groups and individuals. This problem is one that is termed "kenoticism." Kenoticism is a word that derives it's origin from the Greek verb kenao, which is usually rendered "emptied" or "made Himself nothing" in our various translations of Philippians 2:7. In short, kenoticism contends that the Lord Jesus surrendered His deity for the purposes of redemption prior to the incarnation, whereas during His incarnate state He possessed no divine being. This I believe to be perfectly unbiblical and logically unnecessary. But, because of the existence of such a position in certian liberal or charasmatic assemblies, I feel it is a problem that needs to be taken to task.
My refutation will consist of four points: exegetical, theological, patristical, and philosophical.
Phil 2:6-7 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
Phil 2:7 ἀλλὰ ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσεν μορφὴν δούλου λαβών, ἐν ὁμοιώματι ἀνθρώπων γενόμενος: καὶ σχήματι εὑρεθεὶς ὡς ἄνθρωπος
There are several exegetical concerns I would like to address in this text. First, the verb "ἐκένωσεν" (ekenosen) from "κενόω" (kenao), meaning emptied and to empty respectively, is never utilized by the Apostle Paul literally. The three other Pauline uses of the verb ( 1Cor 1:17, 9:3/15, and Rom 4:14) carry a metaphorical/idiomatic meaning and not the hard edged meaning needed for a divestment of a divine nature. Secondly, the second clause of verse seven utilizes the same language as verse 6 and therefore contrasts the μορφῇ θεοῦ (morphe Theou, form of God) with the μορφὴν δούλου (morphe doulou, a servant's form, or form of a servant). This contrast suggests a change in function and not a change in ontological existence, as there is no ontological form of a servant. Furthermore, the Apostle tells us in the third clause of verse seven how the preincarnate Son became a servant; σχήματι εὑρεθεὶς ὡς ἄνθρωπος (skemati hureteis os anthropos, found in the likeness of men). Notice that morphe was not utilized in this clause, but rather skema. Skema, a word that refers to that which is visibly observed. Clearly, the Apostle was not indicating a massive ontological shift, but rather the humility displayed in servitude while maintaining divine equality.
Exegetically, I contend that there is no basis to believe that Christ somehow removed His own deity by virtue of His incarnation.
Should Jesus have surrendered His deity, certain statements, works, and titles attributed to Him would have been incorrect:
•Our Lord's own identification in the various "I Am" verses (John 8:58, 18:5,6,8) undoubtedly correlate with the divine name (Ex 3:14). Although there are those who refuse to acknowledge such a connection, or even the validity of the name, the resulting actions taking by the Pharisees (John 8:59), and the falling back of those who saught to arrest Jesus (John 18:6) preclude their conclusions. The Lord Jesus is identified as YHWH a number of times (Mal 3:1/Mrk 1:2, Is 40:3/Luke 3:4, Heb 1:10-12/Ps 102:25-27, etc) in the text. Should the Lord Jesus divested Himself of His deity the application of YHWH would be inaccurate and blasphemous.
•The Lord Jesus is explicitly called God during His incarnate state (John 1:18, Matt 1:23). The rendering "Monogenes Theos" is present in the earliest of manuscript evidence including P66, P75, and Sinacticus. Those who reject this rendering are most likely basing their choice on the text on doctrinal presuppositions as opposed to objective research and consideration of the evidence.
•Our Lord displayed powers that are impossible for anyone to possess other than God Himself. He forgave sins (Matt 9:2, Luke 7:48). It is theologically and scripturally inconsistent to assume that an appointed or even a specially anointed man could have this authority. This was commonly understood by the Jews(Matt 9:3) as it is today. David's statement in Psalm 51:4 denotes the Judaic understanding of the unique authority of God as judge and redeemer.
•God is identified as immutable and unchanging in character (Mal 3:6, Ps 102:27). So too is the Lord Jesus (Heb 13:8). This is specifically a divine quality that cannot be attributed to a person absent of divinity.
•The quality of omniscience belongs to God alone, and yet the Lord Jesus displays this very thing (Matt 9:4, 12:25, John 1:48, 2:24, 5:42, 6:61, 6:64, 16:30).
•The Lord Jesus is identified as possessing holiness (Mark 1:24,Acts 3:14) and being the Holy One of God (John 6:69). YHWH is identified as the Holy One of Israel (Is 43:3). The correlation between the titles is undeniable. Should the Lord Jesus have divested His deity, to ascribe a title such as this would have been inaccurate and blasphemous.
•The Lord Jesus possesses power to destroy demons (Mrk 1:24). This is again, specifically an area that is suitable only for the divine.
•The Lord Jesus accepted worship during His earthly sojourn (Matt 2:11, 14:33, John 20:28). Worship is a prerogative of God alone (Deut 8:19). Should our Lord had divested His deity, such worship would have been a violation of the Law of God.
•The author of Hebrews identifies the Son as "upholding the universe by the word of His power." The order of Hebrews 1:3 suggests that this is a continual act undertaken by the Son of God in that the writer follows the phrase with "after making purification for sins." In addition the same text identifies the Son as the exact imprint of His (God's) nature. This is an explicit identification of the Son's possession of the divine nature (hypostasis) pre-ascension.
•The Apostle's statement in Colossians 2:9 "for in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily" verifies the continuity of the Son's divine being. Paul speaks here of the co-existence of the body and divine, and thus identifies that the person of the Son retained both. The Apostle does not specify a time for the text, and therefore it is correct to recognize this truth as a reality from Bethlehem on.
Col 2:9 ὅτι ἐν αὐτῷ κατοικεῖ πᾶν τὸ πλήρωμα τῆς θεότητος σωματικῶς,
The verb κατοικε is present indicative active third person singular. Because of the present tense, I believe this discloses the continuous and permanent duration of deity. The word speaks of residing, or settling down (BDAG). The fact that the Apostle is refuting the gnostic heresy in conjunction with the meaning of κατοικεῖ, it is highly improbable that Christ existed this way only after the resurrection. This deity is dwelling in bodily form; that is, He is living deity in human flesh. BDAG states that θεότητος is literally deity or divinity as it were. The often cited rendering of the KJV is inaccurate(Godhead), and thus the true meaning ought to be recognized by the reader. Therefore, this text is not simply speaking of the Father and Spirit dwelling in the Son, but rather that the Son is genuine deity existing in human fashion. The grammar demands this.
Kenoticism is also at odds with a multitude of statements by the early church fathers in regards to our Lord's earthly state, to this I have provided but a minuscule sample of such:
"There is one only physician — of flesh yet spiritual, born yet unbegotten, God incarnate, genuine life in the midst of death, sprung from Mary as well as God…Jesus Christ our Lord." Irenaeus, "Against Heresies"
Note above Irenaeus' use of the term God incarnate. In using this title Irenaeus acknowledged the deity of the Lord Jesus during His earthly time. The phrase is indicative of a continuity of divine being. To suggest that someone is God incarnate would be synonymous with an identification of deity. Irenaeus further exclaimed:
"The Scriptures would not have borne witness to these things concerning Him, if, like everyone else, He were mere man." "Against Heresies"
"The activities of Christ after His Baptism…gave indication and assurance to the world of the Deity hidden in His flesh. Being God and likewise perfect man, He gave positive indications of His two natures…He concealed the signs of His Deity, although He was the true God existing before the ages." Mellito of Sardis "The Guide"
"God alone is without sin. The only man without sin is Christ; for Christ is also God."
Tertullian "The Soul"
"God Himself appearing in the form of a man, for the renewal of eternal life"
Ignatius "Epistle to the Ephesians"
"We are not playing the fool, you Greeks, nor do we talk nonsense, when we report that God was born in the form of a man" Tatain the Syrian "Address to the Greeks"
There are a number of theologically based philosophical objections to the unorthodox kenosis doctrine. From my perspective the most fundamental would be the effect a divestment of deity would have on the atonement of our Lord. God is infinitely holy, righteous, and just. A sin committed against our God is therefore an infinitely heinous crime. Justice requires a punishment that is in proportion to the offense. Therefore, since a sin against God is an infinitely heinous crime, the justice of God demands an infinite punishment. The eternality of Hell agrees with these assertions (Rev 14:11). If Christ had divested Himself of deity, how then could the infinite debt of God be satisfied (John 19:30) by the death of a finite man? It could not.
For if our Lord was to have somehow divested Himself of deity, this would constitute a change in the being of God, thereby voiding immutability and by proxy the soveriegn omniscience of God. The addition of a human nature would not constitute a change in the being of God, but the addition of a human being to the person of the Son.
Although kenoticism is by no means a major movement, it's relevance to the person and work of our Lord place it in a position that is in opposition to not a few of the essentials of Christian faith. While so much more could be said, I hope this brief refutation helps both the orthodox and otherwise obtain a greater knowledge of the Lord of Glory.
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