25 August 2011

Kenosis and the Omnipresence of Christ

by Phil Johnson

hilippians 2:7 says Jesus "emptied Himself" (NASB)—or if you're using the ESV, He "made himself nothing." Those are both legitimate translations of the Greek verb κενόω, (kenóō) but they must be interpreted carefully in a way that does not contradict the rest of Scripture.

Specifically, because we know that "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever," (Hebrews 13:8), Philippians 2:7 cannot mean that Jesus emptied himself of His deity or laid aside any of His divine attributes when He took on humanity. That is the view of "Kenotic" theology, which is seriously heterodox.

So what about Jesus' omnipresence? Did He not have to divest Himself of that attribute in order to be incarnated in a real human body? Didn't he need to cease being everywhere present so that He could enter this world as a Man? Wasn't His omnipresence necessarily suspended when He was placed in a manger?

Strictly speaking, no.

The Spirit of Christ was no more physically confined to His human body during the incarnation than He is now. Remember that at His ascension He rose bodily and is seated at the right hand of God the Father. From thence He shall come—bodily—to judge the quick and the dead. In other words, He has not abandoned His humanity, even now that He is glorified. And yet He is present wherever two or three are gathered together in His Name (Matthew 18:20). He is "with [us] always, to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20). And He has promised never to leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).

So Scripture expressly affirms that Christ is omnipresent. When He assumed a human nature He did not have to give up that (or any other) aspect of His divine nature. The incarnation was a miracle of addition, not subtraction. Jesus took on humanity; He did not divest himself of deity.

In the words of Peter Lewis:
We must be very careful here not to imagine, as some have done, that at the incarnation our Lord "left behind" something of his Godhead or its attributes. God exists in the perfection of his attributes. Take away any of his perfections and you no longer have God. You cannot have reduced Godhead. There is God and there is not-God: but there is nothing in-between! . . . In respect of his divine nature our Lord continued even during his incarnate life to fill the heavens and the earth with his power and presence. [The Glory of Christ, 233.]

John Calvin said something similar. He wrote this:
[Although] the Word in his immeasurable essence united with the nature of man into one person, we do not imagine that he was confined therein. Here is something marvelous: the Son of God descended from heaven in such a way that, without leaving heaven, he willed to be home in the virgin's womb, to go about the earth, and to hang upon the cross; yet he continuously filled the world even as he had done from the beginning! [Institutes, 2:13:4.]

Hope that helps.

Phil's signature


Dan said...

so when Jesus said, "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father" (Matthew 24:36) was that a decision on His part to lay that knowledge aside temporarily? how does that fit? thanks!

FX Turk said...

Well, Phil, since you mention it, what do we make of Phil 2:7? What does it mean that Christ "emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave" (HCSB) or "he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant" (NIV) or "made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant" (ESV)?

Since it does not mean Christ gave up being God (which I agree with -- He was always God), what does it mean that "ἀλλὰ ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσεν μορφὴν δούλου λαβών"?

Thomas Louw said...

Yes, that does help clearing up a few questions.

So nothing changed except He became man, so is it right to say He became more, something was added to Him?

The problem with saying that is your saying He lacked something and per implication saying God the Father and God the Holy Spirit still lacks something.

Might the answer to that thought be, that as God He is full, He did not lack anything in being God, and He was and is perfect.

The lack of human form was never a “missing” part of Him even though He took it.
(I hope someone can put this previous sentence in clearer words, here to learn no other reason)

I have heard that Jesus restricted the use of His powers when He was on earth.

Could that actually be right, because isn’t Christ even now only doing what the God head want Him
to do, thus even that hasn’t even changed.

Thomas Louw said...

I hope you took the day off, you are going to be a very busy man, and even your sidekicks are asking questions today.

Thomas Louw said...

Here is a strange question, if Jesus was omnipresent when He was on earth why did He have to pray, couldn’t His “presence” with God handled that part ?

Was it to give us an example to follow or was there more to it?

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Arggh. That helps nothing. I always assumed He gave up being Omnipresent with the incarnation, I mean he gave up Omniscience because He said He didn't know when He was returning, right?

Thomas Louw said...

Could this be the answer to your question.
"Of what did He empty Himself? He did not empty Himself of His Deity, but rather the outward expression of His Deity and all it implies. Or, as one author states, "He emptied Himself of His existence-in-a-manner-equal-to-God." He set aside His legitimate and natural desires and prerogatives as Deity so that He might express Himself as a servant."


Thomas said...

In fractal geometry we have the concept of an infinitly long line contained in a finite area. See the Koch Snowflake. So, to a mathematician the idea of infinity contained, yet still infinite, is not an imposable idea. He was contained in human form because, while fully God he was full human too. Tempted in all ways yet without sin (someone help me with a sitation). Just to further bogle everyone's minds.

sincereguy said...

Excellent! Its interesting to me because I posted an article on this exact theme called "the Lord Jesus Christ - One Person, Two Natures." If I allowed to provide a link to it it is: http://effectualgrace.com/2011/08/22/the-lord-jesus-christ-one-person-two-natures/ which I hope will be helpful too, along with a link to Dr. James White's treatment of Philippians 2:7. God bless.

Thomas Louw said...

I will venture that Jesus did not give up/lose any attributes; he didn’t even give up omniscience.

Remember the story how Jesus and Peter’s temple tax was paid, catching the “coined-fish” everything that had to go into that small miracle included omniscience. It could be reasoned that in Jesus’ prayer times God the Father revealed to Jesus what would happen the next day and how He should handle it. Only one small problem with that thinking, nowhere does it state that is what happened. It just says Jesus prayed. Even in the prayer before Jesus is take do we find any indication that it happened that way, all I observe is that it looks like Jesus already knew what going to go down.

This passage however is the pickle for me.
"No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father" (Matthew 24:36)

If Jesus knew the date and said this He lied, it is in the scripture and Jesus does not lie, so somehow He chose not to know. I cannot explain it but, if I can’t explain it does it make it a lie? Think not.

Unknown said...

What about John 17:5, where Jesus requests of the Father to be glorified with Him "with the glory which I had with You before the world was."

The plain understanding of this is that Jesus did not have the glory that he had previously (or has now). If I understand your premise, this should not be the case since the glory of god is something intrinsic to Him and belonging to Him. Just like any other of His attributes, He has, apart from anything outside Himself, glory/majesty/splendor.

How does this fit with your understanding of kenosis?

Thomas Louw said...

@ Steve B

He always had and always will have the Glory.

In the incarnation it was under wraps.

On that question what do you do with the Transfiguration on the mountain?

James Scott Bell said...

The incarnation was a miracle of addition, not subtraction.

Phil, I think that is precisely the right way to put it. Well said. The fullness of Deity was/is not divested in the slightest. That would indeed contradict Scripture, e.g., "For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form" (Col. 2:9).

In function, there was a voluntary laying aside of divine prerogatives, but in essence not any laying aside at all.

Thomas Louw said...

@Johnny Dialectic.

So you think He laid down function. So He still had all His powers but not the function of them, ok that just doesn’t make any sense.

Maybe I’m misunderstanding the implication of what you are saying.
Answer this question: When He was doing the healing miracles, was He doing it through His Godly power or that of the Holy Spirit?

Will a clearer answer not be more in the line that Christ, the whole Trinity for that fact had a plan and Jesus was just acting out that plan and using His infinite powers when and how it was needed to accomplish set mission.

(Phil are we still on topic?)

Brian Davis said...

Read MacArthur's study notes on Mark 13:32. 'When He became a man, He voluntarily restricted the the use of certain divine attributes. He did not manifest them unless directed by the Father." Sounds a little different, but seems to work and fit with the text and the conclusion Phil comes to.

FX Turk said...

Thomas --

I'm a fan of Calvin's explanation of this passage, but I like the way Phil will tell it.

Tom Chantry said...

Um...are we really having a discussion at a Calvinistic website at which we have made the assumption that the sole possible meaning of "know" is "to possess awareness"?


Thomas Louw said...

Sorry I mistakenly took you for the Calvinistic Gadfly.

Is this your Clark Kent incarnation?

donsands said...

Jesus was always GOD, even as He became a man. He was omniscient still, and yet He was not all-knowing as well. For me this is a mystery.

Bottom line of the Kenosis is that it magnifies the exceeding great love of our Lord for us, doesn't it.

"What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?"

Have a terrific Lord's day in His loving-kindness and sovereignty.

Marc Wagoner said...

To all who comment, O the wonder of the God man! Worship Him, follow Him, love him!

Robert said...

"Philip found Nathanael and said to him, 'We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote - Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.' Nathanael said to him, 'Can any good thing come from Nazareth?' Philip said to him, 'Come and see.'

Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him and said of him, 'Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!' Nathanael said to Him, 'How do You know me?' Jesus answered him and said, 'Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.' Nathanael answered Him, 'Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.'" (John 1:45-49)

This clearly shows that Jesus was in at least two places at one time during His earthly ministry.

I think Jesus restricted the use of His divine attributes in submission to God the Father, but that He never laid them aside because that would be impossible. You can not make the perfect imperfect or else it is not really perfect. Even this restriction fits within the perfect will and plan of God.

Bill Combs said...

Frank Turk said:
"Since it does not mean Christ gave up being God (which I agree with -- He was always God), what does it mean that 'ἀλλὰ ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσεν μορφὴν δούλου λαβών'?"

As God, our Lord made himself nothing (enenosen) by taking the form of a slave and by being born like other human beings. He did not exchange the form of God for the form of a slave, but manifested the form of God in the form of a slave. Though the verb kenovw has been taken literally to mean “he emptied himself” (e.g., NASB) and then the question asked, “of what did he empty himself?” this meaning is doubtful. Kenoo is used four other times in the NT, and in each case the meaning is metaphorical (Rom 4:14; 1 Cor 1:17; 9:15; 2 Cor 9:3). The NIV translation “he made himself nothing” reflects the well-established figurative meaning of the verb “to nullify, make of no effect.” For example, in Rom 4:14 Paul states that “if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith has been made of no effect.” No one thinks of asking, “of what is faith made empty?” The kenosis is Christ’s selflessness in assuming the role of a servant.

The next two participle phrases are modal, indicating the manner in which Christ made himself nothing. The clause “taking the form of a servant” is expanded and explained by “being made in the likeness of men.” We should not look for substantive theological differences between doulos and anthropos. The first term stresses Christ’s attitude of servanthood, but the latter simply reminds us that he gave expression to that attitude by becoming a man. Silva believes that here in v. 7 morphe, omoioma, and schema are interchanged for stylistic rather than semantic reasons (Philippians, p. 106; also Fee, Philippians, NICNT, p. 215).

Thomas Louw said...

And Robert slam dunks it.

Joey White said...

Could the common view of omnipresence be too weak in that we think "jesus is everywhere all the time"? Hebrews 1 tells us "he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power", this did not change just because he took on flesh, he was still the creator and sustainer of all things even as a embryo in his mothers womb. Would it be better to look at omnipresence through Christ sustaining power, it that by upholding everything he necessarily knows and sees all things because they exist through him?

donsands said...

"The kenosis is Christ’s selflessness in assuming the role of a servant."-Bill

And so Jesus did not know the Day He would return, and this ignorance is from Him being a servant.

There's such a mystery for me. To say He simply restricted Himself is too simplistic, because He still was all-knowing. This is one of the great mysteries of God, as is His Eternity, which we can never understand, and even when we reach glory we not understand. And His love is beyond comprehension as well. Even though we can experience it, and know our Savior's love, it is infinite and inexpressible.

Alex A. Guggenheim said...

One might, crudely, analogize with the picture of an imprisoned King. The King, while imprisoned on behalf of another (supposing equanimous altruism on behalf of the King)is not dispossessed of his Monarchy, even during this tenure as a prisoner on behalf of another, rather the full exercise of that Monarchy and is bound by what limits are placed upon him as a prisoner. One would say "The King is imprisoned".

Christ did not divest himself of his divinity or its capacity, rather its exercise as was limited by his human locality. He accepted (took upon himself) this on our behalf.

Now and eternally, unlike while on earth where his humanity was that to which our Lord yielded his divine expression (without any lessening of his divinity in any manner), his humanity is yielded to and possessed by his divinity.

Matthew said...

Interesting article. Now, one could always respond as do the Lutherans...

Christ's human nature is omnipresent.

Christ's human nature is omnipresent because the attributes of his divine nature are communicated to his human nature. They are not attributed to the human nature through necessity or nature, but by the free attribution of the divine nature.

Christ in his human nature is not omnipresent in and of itself, for that would destroy his humanity. However, due to the unified person of Christ, the attributes of the divine nature are communicated to the human nature. It is by gift, not by nature.

Jesus has a human nature that can suddenly appear in the middle of rooms, disappear, move through crowds, walk on water, and ascend into the sky. He can do things that the ordinary human can't. Why? Because of the Hypostatic Union. And that doesn't mean that his human nature is not any less real or any less human. Why can't this be true in terms of omnipresence?

Is this taught anywhere directly in scripture? Observe Paul’s statement in Ephesians:

"He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things." - Ephesians 4:1 NKJV

The context has to do with cosmology. It describes a place He was from, went, and now is. This speaks of Christ’s ascension to fill the whole universe. If this were merely about his divine nature, then one would have to admit that Paul believes Christ to have been omnipresent in his divine nature only after the incarnation. Since this destroys his deity, it is untenable. Thus, Paul must be referring to Christ in his human nature.

"No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven." - John 3:13 NKJV

Just a thought....

Bill Combs said...

The divine nature (call it the logos) did not always communicate everything to the human side, so the human side could be ignorant of some things:
"No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father" (Matthew 24:36)

Clearly there are statements made by Jesus in the Gospels that are only true of one aspect of his nature. For example:"before Abraham was born, I am" (John 8:58). That statement, though uttered by the God-man, was only true of the divine side (the logos), not the human side.

Coram Deo said...

I think Jesus restricted the use of His divine attributes in submission to God the Father, but that He never laid them aside because that would be impossible. You can not make the perfect imperfect or else it is not really perfect. Even this restriction fits within the perfect will and plan of God.

One wonders how this line of thinking plays out in light of Christ's infancy and toddler days.

If you've spent any time at all around young children you know they utterly lack...uh...impulse control; so from this perspective I guess we can be thankful that the Father didn't allow Jesus to destroy the universe during a childish fit over His mushy matzo ball soup.

In Him,

David J. Houston said...

The Definition of Chalcedon states that the same person has both natures ‘inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably’. Kenotic christologies will either deny that Christ has, at all times from the incarnation onwards, two natures ‘inconfusedly, unchangeable, indivisibly, inseparably’ or they will mess around with the traditional understanding of what it means have a divine nature. The first option is in obvious conflict with the Chalcedonian definition so those kenotic christologists who do care about orthodoxy tend to prefer the second. They like to re-define what the church has always meant by God.

Traditionally, each member of the Trinity is said to possess all essential properties of divinity (anything such that if they lacked this property they could not be properly called ‘divine’) such as omnipresence, omniscience, omnipotence. So God the Son, as a member of Trinity, in order to have both natures in the way specified above, must retain these properties in his divine nature while adding to himself a human naturel complete with all it’s limitations, in order to keep both natures. This is weird and cries out for explanation. Enter kenoticism! “Wait”, says the Kenoticist, “There’s another way! What if we change what it means to be God?” He goes on to explain that rather than God being essentially omnipotent we could say that God is merely accidentally omniscient or maybe he has a weird property like being-omniscient-unless-incarnate. The problem with either choice is that it changes what the Bible, historic orthodoxy, and our intuitions about God have always required. It also means that God is rendered essentially mutable - another departure from orthodoxy. It leaves our basic ideas of God in a mess since if there’s three things God’s supposed to be it’s omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent. What do we mean by ‘divine’ if it doesn’t include these three traits? I don’t want a God who can be distant, ignorant and weak! The long and the short of this is that if we care about Catholic orthodoxy (‘Catholic’ in the best sense of the word in which I can refer to myself as a ‘Reformed Catholic’) then we must reject kenotic christologies.

The way that orthodox theologians have answered how Christ could be God and man simultaneously is by attributing to him the properties of both natures while keeping the natures distinct. So when the Gospels say something to the effect that Jesus didn’t know such-and-such we do not read this as ‘God was unable to do such-and-such’ but as ‘Jesus in his human nature could not do such-and-such’ where we could include that ‘Jesus in his divine nature could do such-and-such’. Mysterious indeed but nothing contradictory about it.

One last comment: Someone said that the language of ‘adding’ a human nature implies a lack in God prior to the incarnation. I don’t think so. God is complete in his divine nature during and after the incarnation but the human nature is added so that Christ could atone for us. This is the last and best argument against kenotic christologies. How could Jesus reconcile man to God if he could not represent both parties in his atonement? If he ceases to have a fully divine nature during his cross-work how could his atonement be infinitely meritorious in order to win countless sinners from an infinite punishment? The atonement requires orthodox Christology.

Coram Deo said...

Well said, David!

Maybe in Phil's next article he can tackle the Filioque clause.

In Christ,

James Kubecki said...

I was just reading Lewis Bayly's The Practice of Piety (1611 - called by some "the book that started Puritanism") and in there, he says this which I found tremendously helpful:

The two natures of the Godhead and manhood are so really united by a personal union, that as they can never be separated asunder, so are they never confounded; but remain still distinguished by their several and essential properties which they had before they were united. As for example, the infiniteness of the divine is not communicated to the human nature, nor the finiteness of the human to the divine nature.

Yet by reason of this personal union, there is such a communion of the properties of both natures, that that which is proper to the one is sometimes attributed to the other nature. As, that God purchased the church with his own blood (Acts xx. 28); and that he will judge the world by that man whom he hath appointed (Acts xvii. 31.) Hence also it is, that though the humanity of Christ be a created, and therefore a finite and limited nature, and cannot be everywhere present by actual position, or local extension, according to his natural being; yet because he hath communicated unto it the personal subsistence of the Son of God, which is infinite, and without limitation,, and is so united with God, that it is nowhere severed from God, the body of Christ, in respect of his personal being, may rightly be said to be everywhere.

ANiMaL (richard) said...

To say this makes my brain hurt is an understatement. If it didn't I would have reduced God down to something he isn't and would be forced to rebuke myself.

CD: Picturing temper tantrum Jesus is one of the views that stems from this false view.

I think I used to believe that Jesus could have sinned, because that's what everyone around me believed (or so I thought). Listening to JMac this last year, particularly Hebrews, it was such a relief to realize it wasn't like I thought. Seeing the great High Priest as one who was tempted but did not sin, did not imply he could have. It simply points to the fact he can empathize with our trials. I think it was Piper who pointed out to me, if God sinned all the universe would come undone. For Jesus to be able to sin would by it's very nature mean he was not God.

donsands said...

"The divine nature (call it the logos) did not always communicate everything to the human side..."-Bill

That's the mystery isn't it. How Jesus can be God and yet not know as Man.

And I was thinking also how in the Garden when our Savior was in agony as He prayed to His Father, "Please let this cup pass from Me, if there is any possible way", as His pores brought forth not only sweat, but blood. "Nevertheless, not My will, but Your will be done Father."

Thank You Lord for giving Yourself wholly as the Lamb of God, who took away our sins, and made all things new.

Coram Deo said...


Of course my comment was tongue-in-cheek, but your reply does raise an interesting question.

Is it your view that "baby Jesus" was always and everywhere a perfectly content, serene, mild-mannered infant with a beatific smile permanently plastered across His chubby little cheeks?

Never cried out of human want or need or simple discontentment?


Sounds sorta Nestorian to me.

In Him,

Robert said...


I would say that the difference between baby Jesus and other babies could be noted from an observation that St. Augustine made while watching babies being nursed. He noted that even infants became jealous of the other babies who were being nursed after they had already been nursed to fullness themselves. I would say that this is something that would not have occurred with Jesus as a baby because it surely seems to be sinful.

As for happy smiles all the time, I am unsure about that. It wasn't like the adult human Jesus was always smiles.

Anonymous said...

I think we need to be careful to assign innocence to childish behaviours (even among babies) rather than sin.

Not saying that tears are sin, not at all, but certainly saying that a tantrum, no matter the age, is a sinful call for self-importance.

I've always seen this whole "emptying himself" thing as Jesus not using His perogative as God, rather than an actual laying aside of any divine attributes.
But the not knowing the day or the hour thing I've heard taught both that Jesus didn't know the hour while he has on earth, and Jesus not knowing the hour even now at the Father's right hand.

The latter seems odd to me, although I've heard that more often than the other (until recently).

FX Turk said...


Fine, I say. What exactly did Christ give up? That is: what is Paul's point here?

Anonymous said...

Bill Combs,

"The divine nature (call it the logos) did not always communicate everything to the human side, so the human side could be ignorant of some things:"

Sounds kinda Oneness Pentecostal to me...

Jesus was one guy, right? One guy completely God and Man but not 2 guys (one God and one man) stuffed into one body.
I think that once Jesus became an adult, He knew everything.

ANiMaL (richard) said...

CD: Thanks for the clarification.

Some struggle with Jesus staying behind at the temple as a form of sin. Teenage rebellion. Russel Moore wrote once on whether Jesus could have gotten sick, showing his mother wrapping him in swaddling clothes. In the end he concluded "maybe" if I remember correctly. Jesus coming in contact with all the sick and yet never getting sick caused me to realize that answer did not make sense. I could be wrong. /shrug

I believe he got cold. I believe he got hungry. I believe he never doubted (like we do) his father would provide for his every need. I believe he experienced human physical frailty without sinning.

In imagining a sinless child, I've learned not to call all forms of ignorance sin. A child can't talk, and so cries to get what it needs. If Christ had used his divine power and fed himself, he would not be able to relate to us the same way. I think (and boy I probably shouldn't) if we look at Christ's miracles as him using his divine trump card instead of as God's affirmation of Christ's divine authority we will quickly digress into all kinds of crazy beliefs. Including that he was not fully God and fully man.

Maybe as someone so early in the process of chewing on meat I should be careful to comment. Someone pass the milk please I'm feeling vulnerable.

Mike Riccardi said...

Jesus was one guy, right? One guy completely God and Man but not 2 guys (one God and one man) stuffed into one body.

That's a helpful reminder. Confusion is sure to come when we ascribe to natures what should only be ascribed to persons.

St. Lee said...

OK, is it just me, or is anyone else hoping Tom Chantry will elaborate on his comment?


Pastor Paul said...

Maybe I look at things too simply, but it occurs to me that the Lord has used a physical form prior to incarnation and did not limit Himself. The verse in Phil 2 does not refer to the attributes of God, but more plainly His position. Taken in context, the Lord humbled Himself and became a man. He did not show Himself as on Mt. Sinai with thunderings and voices, but interfaced as one of us. Not a king, not a wealthy man, but an everyday working stiff who knew how to live, teach and turn the world on it's ear.
As to Him not knowing when He would return. That was social convention. He was showing honor and glory to the Father by stating that was His call not the Son's or anyone else. Hebrews of the first century, when asked when the wedding would take place, would answer that only their father (who was paying the bill and throwing the wedding)knew. It does not mean that Jesus limited His knowledge, but honored His Father in heaven.
I don't think this needs such overthinking and philosophizing, but where's the fun in that.

Mike Riccardi said...

OK, is it just me, or is anyone else hoping Tom Chantry will elaborate on his comment?

One way to answer the question of what it means that the Son does/did not know the day or hour of His coming, is to take "know" in the sense of "determine" or "ordain," the way Calvinists understand foreknowledge in Rom 8. So, Jesus would be saying, "It's not my role as the Son to determine the time of My coming. The Father alone has determined that time."

At least, that's what I thought he was getting at.

Tom Chantry said...

Certainly my point was that the word "know" can be understood in more ways. Like every word, it has a range of meaning. To assume that Jesus must be saying that He does not know the day of His return in the same sense that I do not know my great grandfather's hat size (I do not, have never, and probably can never possess that information) is simply unintelligent. And as Calvinists, who have had to argue the nature of "foreknowledge" and who have pointed out that biblically "know" can mean "be aware of," "determine," "love," or even "have sex with," we really ought to be on top of the issue of definitional nuance when it comes to the word "know."

But no, I do not think that Mark 13:32 is resolved in the same manner as Romans 8:29. Augustine argued that "know" meant "reveal" in this case, as in, I will not reveal it to you. Calvin pointed out, though, that in the passage Jesus says something deeper and more mysterious than this - that He does not know in much the same manner that angels and men do not know.

I believe that David Houston is on the right track, although, of course, to talk over-much about "Jesus-in-His-humanity" and "Jesus-in-His-deity" could lead to its own problems if we are not careful

Tom Chantry said...

Don Sands made this beautiful observation: Bottom line of the Kenosis is that it magnifies the exceeding great love of our Lord for us, doesn't it.

Absolutely true, but let us understand something else, whatever Jesus gave up or submerged or laid aside temporarily, He did so not only on our account but also on account of the Father. He came in obedience to the Father as well as out of humble concern for us. The merging of those two motives is the primary point of Philippians 2.

Where Calvin is so strong on Mark 13:32 is in that he brings out the fact that what Jesus does in His humiliation is that He lays aside divine power because it is according to the Father's will that He do so during the period of His humiliation, in order that He might accomplish His mediatorial office. He observes that Jesus had already acknowledged that He had set aside authority to place one on His right hand and another on His left (Mark 10:40). As God, this clearly was within His authority, but, as Calvin argues, under His humiliation He had sovereignly laid aside such authority in submission to the Father. Calvin avoids saying "this is just Jesus the man speaking," by emphasizing the state of humiliation, in which Jesus had willingly laid aside authority in submission to the Father. Such a willing submission relates not only to His humanity, for all men ought to obey God, but also to His divinity, for as the Son, He is eternally subject to the will of the Father.

In light of this fact of the humiliation of Christ, it is no difficult thing to imagine that He laid aside some of the knowledge that is naturally His. He did not do this absolutely, for we are told that He knew the hearts of men (Matthew 9:4; Luke 9:47) - a knowledge limited to God Himself (I Samuel 16:7). Yet, some knowledge He did lay aside, just as He laid aside some authority, and as indeed He laid aside immortality.

Now, this would mean that "know" in this case is not absolute, but it is nevertheless true. At that moment, in the state of humiliation immediately following His incarnation, He had laid that knowledge aside and, in deference to the Father's will that He be humbled for the sake of His mediatorial office, He would not take it up again.

Tom Chantry said...

As for what Jesus gave up, it is clear that beyond His voluntary laying aside of some authority, of some knowledge, and of immortality, He also laid aside glory. It is true that the life and death of Christ glorified both the Father and Himself. Glory, though, as the shining brightness of the immensity of the attributes of God, is what He laid aside. He was powerful, but that power did not shine clearly to men. He was wise, but that wisdom was not so clear. The inability of the disciples to identify Him as God after three years of association demonstrates this fact. Glory, though, is not exactly an attribute of God - it is the manifestation of the sum of His attributes to men. God can veil it and reveal it as He pleases. He did so with Moses (Exodus 34:1-9), and the Lord Jesus did something quite similar in Gethsemane (John 18:4-6).

Tom Chantry said...

One last thought, though perhaps this has been adequately dealt with here:

Is it your view that "baby Jesus" was always and everywhere a perfectly content, serene, mild-mannered infant with a beatific smile permanently plastered across His chubby little cheeks?

Never cried out of human want or need or simple discontentment?

I don't know about Nestorian, but anyone who has such a view is certainly Docetic, and probably loves that great Docetic hymn: "Away in a Manger."

Christians, though, believe that Jesus never sinned, including in His infancy.

FX Turk said...

Chantry nails it.


The point here is what Christ gave up in order to do what he came to do. You know: obedience doesn't make Christ humble. Obedience which causes him to surrender his status as equal with God, and to die as if guilty when he is in fact eternally innocent thereby surrendering his honor demonstrates Christ's humility.

The point is here from Paul is not to say that Christ gave up his infinite powers as creator and sustainer to die for us: it is to say that he surrendered the right demands he could place on us for worship and honor and praise from us in order to save us from our own fault, our own sin.

If that doesn't make you a little sit to your stomach today over what kind of person you are in comparison to what kind of person Christ is, and willing to praise Him more for being greater than us even in humility, then I'm worried about you.

Whoever you are.

donsands said...

Jesus laid aside His glory.-Tom

Wow. Amen.

And I wonder was Peter privileged to see a glimpse of it, when he saw our Lord with Moses and Elijah?

"Father, the hour has come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify Thee: As You have given Him power over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. ...And now, O Father, glorify thou Me with Your own self with the glory which I had with You before the world was." John 17:1-5

St. Lee said...

stedThanks Tom, I am glad I asked.

James Scott Bell said...

. . .is that He lays aside divine power because it is according to the Father's will that He do so during the period of His humiliation

Indeed, "lay aside" (see my 12:07 a.m. comment, above) presents a beautiful picture of Jesus' obedience and humility.

Zoarean said...

Luke 4:1-13 And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness (2) for forty days, being tempted by the devil.

Luke opens this passage by mentioning the fact that Jesus “was led by the Spirit”, which naturally begs the question- Why would an omniscient Jesus need the Spirit to lead Him? What void, what lack was there within an innately almighty Christ for the Spirit to fill up? Implicit here is the notion that the Spirit had knowledge that Jesus was not privy to in His wilderness wanderings.

Use commentary as you please, but I think Scripture is pretty clear that there was indeed a "subtraction" when Christ made His visitation...

Luke 4:14-18 And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. (15) And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all. (16) And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. (17) And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, (18) "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.”

Luke 5:17 On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with him to heal.

Zoarean said...

And then there is the book of Acts...

Acts 2:22-24 Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know.

The word “through” lends tremendous evidence to the idea that the miracles were not of Him, but came from another Person of the triune God working “through” Him.

Acts 10:36-40 As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), (37) you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: (38) how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.

Zoarean said...

And Hebrews...

Hebrews 2:5-10 Now it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. (6) It has been testified somewhere, "What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him? (7) You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, (8) putting everything in subjection under his feet." Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. (9) But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. (10) For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.

The writer is stating the reason that Jesus power was "subtracted"- that true suffering demands innate weakness.

Zoarean said...

Hebrews 4:15-16 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (16) Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

An earthly priest could often commiserate with the petitioner’s needs, because he had often experienced the same lowly fleshly temptations, & Christ is no different in His ministry as our one & only priestly intercessor with the Father. This starts to get to the crux of the reason why this matters: if Christ was Superman in those 33 years, meaning naturally enabled with special x-ray vision & tremendous strength, more naturally insightful & powerful than us, then it really can’t be said that He was tempted like us “in every respect”.

Landon said...

First off, thank you to you and the other Pyromaniacs who devote so much time and effort in this blog, it's a real blessing to many of us. I believe you hit the nail on the head with the comment that he did not lose anything, but rather took on the limitations of humanity.

However, I will disagree with you in that Jesus was omnipresent, omniscient, etc., even while incarnate. In order for Him to be tempted in all things as I am tempted (and thus be a sacrifice that both can cover my sin and fully covers my sin), he must have existed within the limitations of unfallen humanity. In the same manner that the first Adam was not omniscient before the fall, so the second Adam was not omniscient in his unfallen humanity.

A more accurate way of understanding the kenosis would be this: in taken on the restrictions of unfallen humanity to Himself, Christ gave up the independent exercise of His divine attributes. The analogy I use to explain it is this: imagine a soldier (representing Christ), with a sword on his belt (representing His divine attributes). The soldier can choose to leave his sword sheathed, acting within the constrictions of normal civilians. He cannot be said to not possess his sword, it is always at his side. He has not surrendered it, sold it, or given it up in any way. But in refusing to make use of the sword, he now operates on the same level as those who do not wield the same power. He can now be tested as they are tested, and become the perfect example and sacrifice.

Jesus' miracles, then, are a result of God the Holy Spirit working through God the Son. The Holy Spirit, as it were, hands His sword to Jesus, who wields it at the behest of the Spirit.

Times when Jesus clearly demonstrates omniscience (the meeting with Nathanael in John 1:48, Peter's temple tax), He is granted that omniscience by the Holy Spirit.

This illuminates normally difficult passages like John 2:1-11, the miracle of turning water into wine. When Mary first approaches Jesus, asking Him to spare the wedding from the embarrassment of running out of wine, Jesus responds by saying His hour has not yet come (v. 4), because at that point it had not, and He could not anticipate when it would.

Then in v. 7, He's doing exactly what He just refused to do. Why? Because between v. 4 and v. 7, His time came, as dictated by the Holy Spirit, without the foreknowledge of Jesus.

If Jesus were in-fact omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, and the rest, all while being incarnate in His first coming, I cannot believe that He was tempted as I am tempted (Heb 4:15).

This is no way prohibits Him from both independently exercising those attributes at His second coming. The Son of Man has been glorified, and never again will He adopt the restrictions of unfallen humanity. He will come again in bodily form, but as a mighty King, not a humble servant.

Jesus' divinity is so often under attack these days that we respond by affirming His divinity as often as possible. A worthy goal, to be sure, but the danger is that we often make the mistake of assuming that He uses divine power when it's not necessary. We forget that Jesus was not shackled by sin, He was completely unfallen, and was therefore brilliant beyond anything this world has seen since Adam. It is much more exegetical to assume that Jesus did everything within the restrictions of unfallen humanity unless we are forced to assume divine power, as in the case of miracles.

Phil Johnson said...

Landon: "A more accurate way of understanding the kenosis would be this: in taken on the restrictions of unfallen humanity to Himself, Christ gave up the independent exercise of His divine attributes."

That doesn't actually contradict the point I was making. For Christ to give up "the independent exercise of His divine attributes" is not the same as divesting Himself of those attributes. That's really my whole point.

Another way to say the same thing (in language I believe someone used earlier in the thread) is that He gave up the prerogatives of deity, without giving up His deity per se.

He "emptied Himself," not by losing anything essential to the divine nature, but (as the text says) by "taking the form of a servant." Addition, not subtraction.

David J. Houston said...

I know this comment box is huge but...

The solution you guys are working with - the Jesus has the divine properties but he isn't using them and the Holy Spirit is working through him in his miracles - that might work for, say, omniscience and omnipotence since at least theoretically he could bracket off certain propositions that he knows. I just don't know how that's supposed to work for omnipresence, timelessness, immutability, etc. These are modes of being rather than powers. You can't go ahead and be timeless one minute, pop into time for a coffee and then pop out to chill with the rest of the Godhead afterwards. We may speak this way among the vulgar but we'll have to do better than that with the learned!

I'm skeptical about being able to limit powers like omniscience but you might be able to finesse it if you settle for weaker versions of God's modes of being. You might sub in everlastingness for timelessness and immutability of character for immutability of being for instance. Nonetheless, that would mean a rejection of the classical doctrine of God so you might think twice about it. But perhaps I'm reading you wrong.

I've heard that the 'HS did it!' solution comes from John Owen but I've never read him on it. Is that where you guys are getting this from?

donsands said...

"I'm skeptical about being able to limit powers like omniscience but you might be able to finesse it if you settle for weaker versions of God's modes of being."-David

How to you explain Jesus saying He doesn't know the day of His return?

Zoarean said...

I don't understand how having all the power of God, but keeping it "sheathed" can allow a proper exegesis on "for a little while (He) was made lower than the angels". "Made" infers a actual condition, & is drawn from the earlier verses that speak of our also being "made" in the same way. Hebrews seems to be rather overtly appealing to us to accept that Christ was truly like us in all our manner of weakness, in other words, fully human in all manner of power & prescience. The only way I see the two can be rationalized is to say that His status as "lower" was a matter of mere appearance, and thus He was only feigning a lower status.

David J. Houston said...

Donsands asked: “How to you explain Jesus saying He doesn't know the day of His return?”

My standard response to these kinds of questions is, as I said earlier, to attribute all claims of weakness and finitude to Christ’s human nature rather than his divine nature. So Christ qua human does not know the day of his return but Christ qua divine does. This at least gets us out of the logical bind of saying that he is both omniscient and ignorant at the same time in the same way. Does it help to explain Christ’s psychology? How he actually experienced the incarnation? Not really. But there’s a good reason for that.

Can anyone know what it’s like to be God? Richard Swinburne says that we can:

”Imagine yourself, for example, gradually ceasing to be affected by alcohol or drugs, your thinking being equally coherent however men mess about with your brain. Imagine too that you cease to feel any pains, aches, thrills, although you remain aware of what is going on in what has been called your body. You gradually find yourself aware of what is going on in bodies other than your own and other material objects at any place in space... You also come to see things from any point of view which you choose, possibly simultaneously, possibly not. You remain able to talk and wave your hands about, but find yourself able to move directly anything which you choose, including the hands of other people... You also find yourself able to utter words which can be heard anywhere, without moving material objects. However, although you find yourself gaining these strange powers, you remain otherwise the same - capable of thinking, reasoning, and wanting, hoping and fearing... Surely anyone can thus conceive of himself becoming an omnipresent spirit.” - The Coherence of Theism, pg. 107

I don’t think I’m alone in saying this when Swinburne wrote that the effect of alcohol and drugs had not ceased affecting his brain! We exist in an almost completely different of mode of being than God so it is impossible for us to know how he experiences himself. This should help us to understand why we have trouble explaining Christ’s psychology. We may understand how it feels to be human but we do not understand how it feels to be God so it makes sense that we do not know how it feels to be Godman. I prefer a two-minds Christology (how else can account for his two wills?) but I don’t pretend that this solves all the mysteries... far from it! Mystery abounds in our understanding of the divine essence and how it can assume a human nature! However, we are to come at these mysteries in the tradition of faith seeking understanding, humbly submitting our minds to what is revealed and yet incomprehensible to us.

Phil Johnson said...

It seems to me that a few of our commenters are flirting with sub-orthodox ideas. It is patently wrong, for example, to suggest that all Jesus' miracles were purely manifestations of the Holy Spirit's power and in no way expressions of Christ's own deity. See John 2:25; 5:21; 10:17-18; Matthew 9:6.

Here's a pretty good set of notes on Philippians 2:7 and the various pitfalls people fall into with careless interpretations and misinterpretations of kenosis.

Please permit me just a word of exhortation to some of you: DIY hermeneutics isn't a good idea when dealing with something as crucial to our faith as basic Christology (especially when we're handling truths that are so well established and universally affirmed in the historic creeds and confessions). You might want to actually study this issue before proposing novel ideas of your own.

Phil Johnson said...

Sorry. The link I tried to post in the previous comment did not come through;

Here's a pretty good set of notes on Philippians 2:7 and the various pitfalls people fall into with careless interpretations and misinterpretations of kenosis.