The Kenotic View of Jesus

One of the passages that teaches us that Jesus is both God and man is Philippians 2:5-8.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

The word used for “emptying” in this passage is the verb form of the Greek noun, kenosis—and this word gives us the theological perspective we call the kenotic view of Christ. Unfortunately, how people understand this view varies greatly, so it can be a bit difficult to nail down. Some take this theology way too far and use this verse to say Jesus emptied Himself of everything and is therefore no different from any other man (a view that some scientifically-minded Christians seem quite tempted to).

Some would then interject adoptionism, which was the heretical idea that Jesus was just a normal man, “who by God’s decree was born of a virgin, was given supernatural powers at his baptism and, because of his character and work, was raised from the dead and adopted into the Godhead.” But this heretical idea is not what I am advocating for when I talk about kenosis; for as Fleming Rutledge says,

If God is not truly incarnate in Jesus as he accomplishes his work on the cross, then nothing has really happened from God’s side and we are thrown back on ourselves. If there is no incarnation of the Godhead in Jesus’ sacrifice, then there is no salvation apart from what human nature can contribute.

So when I refer to kenosis, I am talking about a balanced understanding of the term. In referencing the theology, I am proposing that there are just a few attributes of God that Jesus had to give up in order to be human. When this view is understood rationally and within balance of the Trinity, we begin to see that the kenotic Christology I am advocating for is a kind that,

holds that God the Son laid aside (kenosis) the use of certain divine attributes, such as his omniscience and omnipresence, precisely because these divine attributes would have precluded his ability to become a full human being. Everything inconsistent with being a true human was set aside in the incarnation. Jesus did not cease to be God, of course, and his divine attributes did not cease to exist. But the Second Person of the Trinity temporarily relinquished his ability to use these attributes.

Again, there are some things Jesus did that we’ll never be able to do. We’re not God-in-flesh, nor are we the Messiah and we’re not going to save the world from sin. We’re also not going to die without ever having sinned or bring ourselves back to life—but we certainly can be more like Jesus than our standard evangelical upbringing taught us—and that includes the ability to walk in power. 


 Cairns, Alan. “Adoptionism.” Dictionary of Theological Terms.

 Rutledge, Fleming. The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ. Grand Rapids/Cambridge, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2015, p. 32.

This is an adapted excerpt from my new book, The Rush and the Rest

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