A Study of Theology III – Part 5



Philippians 2:5-8

A Study of Theology III – Part 5 (Dr. Thomas Figart)

This article continues a study of “The Incarnation of the Son of God.” This includes everything from His birth through His ascension, in ten aspects of truth. The last article detailed the Bible’s teachings about the Virgin Birth of Christ. This article picks up the theme of the Kenosis, or self-emptying of Christ.


A Study of Theology III – Part 5

Dr. Thomas Figart


  1. The Saviour (con’t)


  1. The Kenosis, or Self-Emptying of Christ.
  2. The Question: Of what did Christ empty Himself when He became a man?

1).        Absolute Metamorphic View: He emptied himself of all divine attributes.

His eternal consciousness ceased, but was regained gradually until He attained to the completeness of divine life.

Objection: Even a temporary loss of divine attributes would make God cease to be God; this could not happen, even for three years.

2).        Absolute Dualistic View: He emptied himself of some divine attributes.

He could never lose his ethical attributes such as love, or truth, but could lose physical attributes such as omnipotence.

Objection: The essence of God would be changed if he lost even one attribute!

3).        Absolute Semi-Metamorphic View: He retained all the divine attributes, but did not use any.

He did not lose deity, but disguised it so much so that the Logos, in assuming flesh, exchanged the form of God.

Objection: If this view is correct, then Christ was not fully God and fully man.

4).        Real but Relative View: He retained his Godhead in a real and true sense, but within the restrictions of humanity.

Thus, the properties of the divine nature are changed into the properties of the human nature.
Objection: Attributes are not elastic; there cannot be restricted omnipotence, though there can be a limitation of its use.

5).        Self-Limitation View: He retained all the divine attributes, but voluntarily limited their use in accordance with the will of His Father (John 5:19). He never used divine attributes to benefit Himself or to soften his own path.


  1. The Central Passage: Philippians 2:5-8. Paul was not waging a theological warfare in Philippi; rather, his message was one urging them to be unified, of one mind. He said, “Let this mind be in you” (present tense). This was to be a continuous attitude, the whole thrust of their lives, to be in them, not merely among them. The mind of Christ was to be reproduced in the believer. What is the mind of Christ? It is exemplified in ten concepts:

1).        “being”

a).        The word here is huparchon, a present participle, which implies continuous existence.

b).        Huparchon is not exactly the same as        on, although it is used “widely as a substitute for to be.” (Arndt & Gingrich, p. 845). Thus we can say that huparchon implies existence before the incarnation, though it does not prove eternity; John 1:1 proves His eternity.

c).        The present tense of this participle indicates continuous existence; thus, not what He was, but rather what He is in His intrinsic nature. Other examples of huparchon in present tense: Lk. 16:23. the rich man, “being in torments” (his permanent state in hell); or Gal. 1:14, Paul’s character of “being zealous in the Jews religion” before he was saved.

2).        “In the form of God

a).        Form (morphe) implies that the person who is in the morphe of another possesses the actual attributes of that person.However, morphe is not ousia (essence), yet it implies a participation in the essence. Morphe is the perfect expression (not the shape) of a perfect essence. E.g. a tennis player’s form.

b).        This is not mere outward appearance; it means that Christ was essentially and naturally God. If it were mere outward appearance, then Christ did not leave much to enter humanity.

c).        Further, in v. 7, morphe is used to describe the servanthood of Christ. It certainly cannot mean mere outward appearance as a servant, or His humanity means nothing! He was really God and really man, or He was neither God nor man!              

3).        “thought it not robbery

a).        “thought” means to consider, to weigh the facts. Christ carefully weighed the facts and then willingly surrendered to the Father, realizing that His equality was secure.

b).        “robbery” (harpagmon) refers to a thing unlawfully seized, or a piece of good fortune, a treasure. Christ was so secure in His thinking about His equality with the Father that He never had to clutch onto it for fear of losing it.

4).        “to be equal with God

a).        “equal” is isa (a neuter adjective) referring to equality of things (in this case, attributes) and not equality of persons.

b).        If it were isos (masculine) it would refer to equality of Persons and indicate that Christ limited His Divine             Person in some way by becoming man; this could suggest a division in the Godhead, which is impossible!

c).        However, since it is a neuter, it can refer only to Christ’s voluntary limitation of the use of His divine attributes, though He remained God throughout this time of self-limitation.

5).        “made Himself of no reputation

a).        Whatever He did was of Himself, voluntary, not forced.

b).        He did not give up any of His attributes; this would have made Him less than God. Scripture refutes this, John 2:24-25.

c).        To give up even one attribute would change the character of His deity, not fully God. Col. 2:9 refutes this.

d).        But He could and did voluntarily give up the independent exercise of divine attributes, and use them only to perform the divine will. Jn. 5:19; cf. Jn.2:19-21; 10:18.

6).        “took upon Him the form of a servant

a).        “took upon” means He did not subtract anything; it was an addition. The Master of all took upon Himself to be servant to all.Heb. 2:14.

b).        “form” (morphe) is parallel to “form” in verse 6. Thus, what is true of the one phrase must be true of the other; He is truly God and truly man, or He is neither

7).        “was made in the likeness of men

a).        “was made” (sec. aorist middle participle) from ginomai, can be translated “becoming,” referring to His definite entrance into time. He was not a man in eternity.

b).        “likenesshomoimati meaning resemblance. If homomati had been used, it would have meant “the same.” Christ was not the same as man with a sin nature, but He was like man in all other respects.

c).        Rom. 8:3 gives both aspects: “God sent His Son in the likeness (homoimati) of sinful flesh.” As to deity: Son of God (homomati); as to humanity: likeness (homoimati).

8).        “being found in fashion as a man

a).        “fashion” is schemati referring to His outward appearance, as men found Him, handled Him I Jn. 1:1-4.

b).        This means He was not merely a spirit; He could hunger, thirst, become weary, but without any loss of deity.

9).        “He humbled Himself

a).        “humbled” is in the aorist tense and sums up the entire incarnation in a general way.

b).        “humbled” means to bring low. It was used of the Nile River at low ebb; here it refers to how low He went.

10).    “became obedient unto death… of the cross

a).        “became obedient” see Heb. 5:8; Rom.5:19. This is one thing He could learn only from experience. Before He became man, He knew this only theoretically.

b).        “unto death. . . of the cross.” Obedience to the extent of death, even the most ignominious kind of death! The Romans called it shameful; the Jews called it a curse, Gal.3:13.

  1. The Proper doctrine of the Kenosis includes:

1).        Veiling of His preincarnate glory. He gave up the outward appearance of God, John 17:5. The glory was veiled but not surrendered; it was seen at the Transfiguration, Matthew 17:2.

2).        The union of Christ with unglorified humanity. The incarnation itself was part of the Kenosis; merely becoming subject to human limitations such as weakness, pain, sorrow, thirst and temptation, was humiliating to Christ.

3).        Voluntary limited use of divine attributes, as stated previously. This helps to explain Mark 13:32: the omniscient Christ did not know the day of His own return; Luke 2:52, the perfect Son grew in four areas of life; the perfect Servant learned obedience, Hebrews 5:8.

4).        Voluntary submission of Christ to the power of the Holy Spirit in performing some miracles. Matthew 12:28; Luke 4:18. indicates a voluntary emptying or Kenosis. (He had power to raise Himself from death, John 10:17-18.)

Leave a Comment