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Dogmatology Seminar 18 Kenosis and Hypostatic Union

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Andrew Hodge                                                                                               12th February 2006

CMI Dogmatology Seminar 18

God the Son - The Kenosis and the Hypostatic Union

L.P.Chafer "Systematic Theology" Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Dallas Theological Seminary 1948 and 1976  I, 373-381 The Kenosis;  I, 382-396 The Hypostatic Union



Explain which attributes Jesus laid aside when He became the God-man:

The verb ekenosen in Philippians 2:6 is translated as “made himself of no reputation”, and is aorist, active, indicative, third person singular. The Greek root of this word means to empty or make void; kenosis is the related noun.

The English translation is accurate in showing that Christ did not shun His equality with God, but voluntarily added to Himself of all that was necessary so that He could function fully as a human being on earth. This was not something forced on Him by the other Persons of the Godhead, nor did He relinquish His Deity in a misguided attempt to express His identification with mankind more ‘fully’.

I agree with Chafer that it is right to exclude the incarnation from Christ’s humiliation of His trial and the Cross; it is proper to make this Christ’s condescension ie his willingness to be lowered from His pre-existent state.

Christ was the Father’s gift to the world (Romans 6:23) and as Jesus He willingly became subject to the will of His Father (Hebrews 10:5-7), which He delighted to do (Psalm 40:8).

It might be argued that the infinite attributes of God could not be contained in human form (Moses had to be protected in a cleft of a rock as the back of God passed by). Chafer points to the type of the burning bush where the presence of God did not consume the bush. In any case, faith readily accepts that God can exist quite comfortably in human form if He desires to do so.

Chafer quotes Dr Charles Lee Feinberg (Bibliotheca Sacra XCII, 415-418) expositing on the four theories of the kenosis:  “The four types of kenotic speculation are: (1) the absolute dualistic type; (2) the absolute metamorphic type; (3) the absolute semi-metamorphic type; (4) the real but relative.”[1]

The absolute dualistic type supposes that the attributes of God can be separated into two distinct groups - one that Christ as God could temporarily do without eg omnipresence, omniscience, omnipotence; and the other which He could not give up eg absolute love, truth, holiness. This theory “depotentiates the Logos to an unwarrantable degree” ie how can Christ remain God if He loses essential Godly attributes?

The absolute metamorphic view holds that Christ emptied Himself so much that He became only human - no Godly attributes at all. In order to avoid Apollinarianism it was necessary to allow Christ to have His own human soul, rather than the Logos. He was supposedly to develop His eternal consciousness over the time before commencing His ministry until He became fully God again. As Feinberg states, this “theory is so untrue……….that it needs no minute refutation”.

The third theory, the absolute semi-metamorphic, contends that the Eternal Son in becoming man underwent not a loss but a disguise of His deity, in such a sense that “the divine properties, while retained, were possessed by the Theanthropos only in the time-form appropriate to a human mode of existence.”[2] In other words, Christ exchanged His eternal manner of being for a temporal manner of being, which then remained perpetual and absolute. Clearly unscriptural. (Why do people put up such rubbish when the scripture is so clear?)

The fourth theory, real but relative, massages the qualities of God so that they fit fully into a human context ie limited, but not essentially altered in character. How then can Christ be fully God? The omni attributes by definition remain the omni attributes whatever vessel attempts to contain them.

There is therefore a fifth, scriptural view. Again Chafer:” The kenosis, furthermore, implies that Christ gave up, as Strong aptly suggests, the “independent exercise of the divine attributes” (Systematic Theology, p. 382). Christ was possessed of all the essential attributes and properties of deity, but He did not use them except at the pleasure of the Father. We believe just this is meant when Christ declares: “The Son can do nothing of himself” (Jn. 5:19).[3]” This is further supported by John 5:20, 22, 27, 30, 36, 37, 43.

Examine how Christ was fully God, yet fully man:

If Christ was to remain God (He claimed this for Himself, the Father, the Holy Spirit and the saved declare it and His acts prove it), then it is not possible for Him to relinquish any of His attributes and still remain God (Colossians 2:9, 1 Timothy 3:16, Titus 2:13), for as God He is immutable. As difficult as it may be to comprehend for example, He did not relinquish His omnipresence merely because He is ‘confined’ in a human body (John 10:30, 14:9-11).

Can He therefore be truly human?

In my view at present, yes and no.

Firstly it is necessary for my salvation that Jesus was born, lived and died - outwardly at least - as someone that I could relate to and accept as a ‘proper’ sacrifice on my behalf (Hebrews 2:14, 16-17). It is not possible for me, as it was for the Israelites, to be satisfied with the blood of bulls and of goats when Jesus has offered me so much more than was offered them. In this sense Christ was fully human.

Secondly, it is not possible to accept that His vicarious sacrifice was tainted with the sin nature common to all other humanity. If Christ had the ability to sin, even though remaining sinless, His sacrifice could not have achieved full satisfaction for me. In this sense Christ could not be fully human (see below).

Scripture is clear that Christ came to be the Revelation and the Redeemer. He requires to be fully God and fully human to achieve this, taking on the nature of a servant (not just the outward form of one) in order to serve both God and man in accomplishing both goals. It should be remembered, as in my notes for Seminars 15 and 16, that according to the Greek of Philippians 2:5-7 Christ retains the nature of God (morphe) and servant (morphe) but clothes these with the appearance (schema) of humanity.

This is not to say that Christ fakes His humanity as a cover for Deity, because He takes on the nature of a servant, which requires full humanity.

It should also be noted that in context, Philippians 2:5-8 follows 2:4 where we are encouraged by Paul to have the same mind toward our fellow human beings as Christ did toward us ie a servant nature in its full human characteristics. Christ did not prize His deity to the point that He became incapable of being a servant to us; the truth is that He subordinated Himself to His Father and to us, without discarding His own self in any way. It is helpful here to include the full Chalcedonian Declaration, taken from Wayne Grudem:

4Wayne Grudem "Bible Doctrine: Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith" Abridged by Jeff Purswell  Intervarsity Press, Leicester, England 1999  p244

            The only alteration I might have made to the Chalcedonian Declaration is to change Mary to “the mother of Christ”, but when the context of the Declaration is taken into account it is understandable that “mother of God’ was used (see notes Seminar 17).

As Chafer points out: “With reverence it is said that the Deity which Christ is could not, unaccompanied, save the lost, nor could the humanity which Christ is, acting solitarily, redeem.[4] “ This is a profound statement in that Chafer affirms that neither nature in the hypostatic union is sufficient of itself to redeem humanity, including Deity. “So delicate is the adjustment of these two natures in Christ that to emphasize one at the expense of the other is to sacrifice the efficacy of all.[5]”

Discuss the relationship of the Father, Spirit and angels with the Son during His life and at death:

It is interesting that only the Son, of all the three Persons, entered time at His incarnation, and has taken His humanity back with Him into eternity. This is not a change to His Deity, but an addition; possibly the same kind of humanity that Adam had before his Fall. Christ as Jehovah would have walked in the Garden with His two created beings (prefiguring our relationship with Him in eternity?).

As a result of His voluntary hypostasis, Christ also obtained a victory (Hebrews 10:12-13), a surpassing glory (Philippians 2:9), joy (Hebrews 12:2), and earthly sovereignty (Revelation 11:15).


            Christ’s relationship with His Father Both the Father and the Son assumed a relationship of oneness with equality eg John 17. The Son lived on earth in perfect submission to His Father’s will in accord with His full humanity. The Father delegated to His willing Son authority over all things, including final judgment (Matthew 28:18; John 5:27; 1 Corinthians 15:24–28).

            Christ’s relationship to the Holy Spirit  Chafer: “It is written that the Spirit generated the humanity of the God-man (Luke 1:35); He descended upon Christ (Matt. 3:16); He filled Christ without measure (John 3:34; cf. Luke 4:1); Christ asserted that His works were wrought by the Holy Spirit (Matt. 12:28); and He offered Himself to God by the eternal Spirit (Heb. 9:14).[6]”

It is not unreasonable to presuppose that the works Christ did in His humanity on earth were not done because He is God, but that the Holy Spirit cooperated with both the Son and the Father to achieve them in His humanity, in much the same way that we in our humanity can achieve God’s purpose by allowing the Holy Spirit to work through us.

This observation throws some light on to the nature of the hypostatic union - as to when it was necessary to separate the function of the two Natures in the one Person.

            Christ also had a cooperative authority over the Spirit (John 16:7, 13).

            Christ’s relationship to unfallen angels  There is hardly a significant event in Christ’s life that is not attended in some way by the presence of holy angels - from announcement of conception to ascension.

            Christ’s relationship to fallen angels  This relationship demonstrates the dual nature of the unity which is Christ. On the side of Deity, Christ had full authority over devils/demons (Matthew 8:29, Mark 1:24, 3:11, Luke 4:41).

On the human side, Christ was tempted by Satan. Chafer states that:” This testing was wholly within the sphere of His humanity and concerned issues which had to do with the Father’s will for Him.[7]”  At present I have to accept this at face value.


Value the historic creedal battles waged around the peccability and impeccability of the Son of God:

Chafer’s argument supporting the impeccability of Christ is not wholly convincing in at least two points. First he states that “in all points He was tempted as a man apart from those temptations which arise from the sphere of a sin nature (Heb. 4:15).[8]”  It is difficult to conceive from the basis of my own sin nature that any of my temptations could be divorced from my sin nature. Secondly he uses a potentially heretical view that Christ could not sin because He was God. He uses the Unity of Christ to allow His Deity to overshadow His humanity. Obviously humanity cannot relate to that at all.

The creedal battles fought in the past regarding the Hypostatic Union necessarily have their own individual slant on Christ’s im/peccability, depending on whether the Deity or humanity of Christ is emphasised, or whether the two are fused into something unrecognisable as either.

It is a fact that Christ was tempted as we are tempted (Hebrews 4:15), which gives Christ the advantage that He can “be touched with the feeling of our infirmities” so that we have the knowledge that in our own temptations He identifies with us.

It is also a fact that Christ did not sin (John 8:46), nor was sin “found” in Him (1 Peter 2:22, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Hebrews 7:26, 1 John 3:5).

Much is made of the observation that temptation is only the precursor to sin - because we have a sin-nature we frequently take the sin step; because He did not, Christ did not (James 1:13). But this does not answer the question as to whether or not He was able to take that step, thus fully identifying with us in normal daily life.

For me at present, Christ could not have had a sin nature because His sacrifice would therefore have been insufficient to satisfy the infinite holiness and justice of the Father for my sin.

Wayne Grudem suggests the following, being careful to pre-empt any criticism by saying that there is no explicit scripture to support it: ‘In answer to the question “If Jesus did not have a sin nature, how could His temptations be real?” he uses the example of Jesus’ temptation by Satan to change stones into bread. In His Divinity, Jesus had the ability to do this; but if He had, He would have failed the test of submission to His Father’s will in His humanity that Adam also failed, and therefore forfeited any capacity to earn our salvation. Jesus refused to rely on His divine nature to make obedience easier for Him. It seems reasonable to conclude that Jesus met every temptation to sin on the strength of His human nature alone, but in His case perfectly depending on God the Father and the Holy Spirit at every moment. It has been said that resisting a temptation to ultimate victory over it is much more difficult than giving in to it at once. Therefore they were most real to Christ because He did not give in to them.’9





Defend the Deity of Yeshua to an unbelieving Jew:

Yeshua/Joshua/Jesus was clearly a well-documented human historical figure. He claimed to be the Jewish Messiah/Redeemer but was rejected by the Jews at the time because He claimed to be God and was put to death as a consequence. There is no doubt that the majority of the ruling Sanhedrin had this view, and successfully petitioned the Romans for the death penalty. If Jesus was God, how could he die? If he was a man, how could he verify the claims of Deity that He made?

  1. Jesus fulfilled the prophecies concerning the OT Messiah
  2. Jesus’ supernatural works prove He was God
  3. He performed works that the Jew recognised only the God-Messiah was predicted to perform

To be the predicted Messiah, Jesus therefore had to be both God and man. There is also a good argument as noted in previous Seminars that Jesus is the OT Jehovah.





[1]Chafer, Lewis Sperry. Systematic Theology. Originally Published: Dallas, Tex. : Dallas Seminary Press, 1947-1948., Vol. 1, Page 379. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1993.

[2]Chafer, Lewis Sperry. Systematic Theology. Originally Published: Dallas, Tex. : Dallas Seminary Press, 1947-1948., Vol. 1, Page 380. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1993.

[3]Ibid p381

[4]Chafer, Lewis Sperry. Systematic Theology. Originally Published: Dallas, Tex. : Dallas Seminary Press, 1947-1948., Vol. 1, Page 385. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1993.


[6]Ibid p390

[7]Chafer, Lewis Sperry. Systematic Theology. Originally Published: Dallas, Tex. : Dallas Seminary Press, 1947-1948., Vol. 1, Page 392. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1993.

[8]Ibid p393

9Wayne Grudem "Bible Doctrine: Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith" Abridged by Jeff Purswell  Intervarsity Press, Leicester, England 1999 p235

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