Kenosis - The Self Emptying of Christ

Philippians 2:5-8 presents Christ as the ultimate example of humility. We are admonished to follow His example in the life of Christian community. But these same verses cover theological territory that touches on the very existence and nature of God.

In fact, this biblical section is packed with important theological concepts like the incarnation and the two natures of Christ. The incarnation is a cardinal doctrine of the Christian faith. To be specific, it proposes that God became a man, that is, He took on human form. The question is in what way did God become a man? Did He transform into a man by shaking off His Divine properties (the qualities that make Him God)? In other words, did He cease to be God when He became a man? Orthodox Christian faith would say, no. To put it another way, Jesus Christ did not lose His divinity when he became a man. Rather, He clothed His divinity (divine properties) with humanity (properties of man). The incarnation teaches that Jesus Christ became a man in such a way that He still possessed His full Divine nature and identity. Thus, the incarnation is related to the doctrine of Christ’s two natures – one Divine, the other human. Jesus Christ was/is both man and God.

Philippians 2:6 states that Christ existed in “the form of God” (NAS) or “in very nature God” (NIV). This is Paul’s way of saying that Christ was not something like God, but rather He was indeed the very essence of God.  The same phrase is used in verse 7 in reference to His humanity. It states that He took “the form of a bond-servant” (NAS) or “the very nature of a servant” (NIV). He further describes what he means by servant, “being made in the likeness of men.” He served mankind by becoming a man, yet without diminishing His Divine nature. He became 100% man while remaining 100% God.

Some confusion arises from the phrase “(Christ) emptied Himself.” Paul explains that although Christ existed in the form (very nature) of God, He emptied Himself in order to take on the form (nature) of a servant (likeness of men). This is called the “kenosis theory” because the word translated “empty” is from the greek word kenosis. Some have argued that Christ emptied Himself of some of His deity or divine properties. In other words, He became less of God as became more of a man. This is where one needs to distinguish between divine privileges and divine properties. Being God, Christ need not divest any of His divine properties in order to take on human form. He need only lay aside His divine privileges. By property we mean any quality or attribute that makes God be God; His power, His knowledge, His love, etc. It appears more to the point that Christ merely emptied Himself of His divine privileges, or the non exercise of certain powers that He possessed as deity.

If we return to the text, we can see that this more aptly accounts for what Paul is trying to convey. He states that “although He existed in the form of God, (He) did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant (man).”

In other words, Christ was (is) equal with God because He is God, but He did not grasp after this status or privilege. He willingly laid it aside. He condescended, like a king becoming a commoner. In my view, He emptied Himself of His glorious role. He chose not to exercise many privileges, in effect meaning He did not use some of His divine powers or properties. For example, if He is the author and possessor of life, how can He die? Yet Philippians 2:8 makes clear that He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death. Had He exercised His power as a life giving force He would not have died (in His human nature). Yet, such privilege and power were exercised in His resurrection that followed.

Paul’s point is simple. Christ humbled Himself by emptying Himself of His glorious status as God and choosing not to exercise His privileges as God in order to embrace humanity. He took this path of humility two degrees further by experiencing death (a death to redeem lost humanity) and a death that was deeply shameful and humiliating, death on a cross.

We are not taught here to do what Christ did for our own redemption, but we are taught to have the attitude or mind-set that Christ possessed, one of humility, one that does not take regard for one’s own status.



Part of Christ emptying

Part of Christ emptying Himself was that He made Himself of no reputation. So often I am motivated by what others think of me, rather than what my God thinks of me. I should be more concerned with whether Christ is being re-presented accurately in my life than how I am coming across.

I appreciate knowing that Jesus was tempted in ALL points the same as me, yet was without sin.

In reading the Esther study (for the Beth Moore group), I was impacted by the fact that both Mordecai and Joseph REFUSED day after day to submit/bow to either the immorality of Potiphar's wife or the ego of Haman. In your sermon last week, you emphasized how ONE DAY, every knee will bow to the one true God and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. Like Mordecai, we must keep our knees locked and refuse to bow to anyone else. When we worry about our reputations or what others think of us, in a sense, we are "bowing" to them.

The Philippians passages also go along with Hebrews 4:14-18 and Hebrews 5:8. Christ learned obedience through the things He suffered. Suffering has a way of purifying us and bringing out the dross and making us cling to the cross.

For anyone who wants to do further word studies, humbled (5013), obedient (5255--meaning to listen attentively), kenos (2761-- to purpose), reputation (2758 and 2756) were interesting and helped to shed further light on some of these verses.

Emptying ourselves to be like Christ may include suffering, obedience, abasement and making ourselves of no reputation. I am grateful to be in a church with so many excellent examples of this. From the volunteers for Five Dragon Daughter to Sarah and Dan, Sharri, Kevin, Kurt, Ginger, etc., we are rich as a church with members who give their lives away. With gratefulness, Brie and Drew

Also, regarding the "some preach Christ" verse, I had to chuckle when I noticed another church building a "bridge" less than a mile from us. I am so prideful! I should be happy that it is a popular name choice! ;). I have to admit, I still like our bridge the best!


Christ did not give up his divine properties. He was still without sin. He could have choosen to sin just as we have the choice every day many times a day to follow down the wrong path. He chose to stay true to Himself and trust in his Father. He allowed God to use him to save us. He was mocked, ridiculed, spat on, beaten. He suffered the ailments of the human body, he felt the affects of the weather, He felt the sorrow, joy, pain, etc.... He was tempted with the sins of the flesh, of the world, by Satan. The Bible specifically tells us that Satan took him and tried to get him to sin and he CHOSE not too. He is perfect, without sin, honest, compassionate but, as he was in the form of man so he felt as a human while being perfectly, perfect. He gave up privileges but, he was still KING.


Thank you for this entry. I appreciate the clarification of Jesus being God and man at the same time. While I was reading this post, I thought about Hebrews 4:15. I have wondered whether Jesus could have actually sinned. If he couldn't, then he really wasn't tempted. If he could, how could he be God? Do you think that the kenosis theory would apply to this verse?

Thank you for the effort you making to help us understand God and His Word in a deeper way. I am excited to see how God will use your blog for His glory.