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Thursday, May 30th, 2024
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

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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 1:14tabernacled 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.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Kenosis'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​k/kenosis.html. 1906-1918.
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