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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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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 mediƦval 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.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Kenosis'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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