In Philippians 2:7 the Apostle Paul writes about Christ, “but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” (ESV) This verse has been interpreted many different ways by many different theologians as well as many different denominations and religions. This essay will explore the question did Jesus lay aside some of His Deity when He became human or did He keep all His Deity when He became flesh? I will also discuss what Christology and the Hypostatic Union is and how it relates to the views of Christ’s Deity and humanity. It is very important as Christians to grasp this concept and not limit Christ in His Deity as He took on the form of human.
One of the most important doctrines to the Christian faith is that Jesus Christ is God. In John 1 we read, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.” (John 1:1-4. ESV) Here John is writing that Jesus is fully God and has been God from the beginning. In Psalm 33:6 we read, “By the Word of the Lord the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of His mouth.” (NIV) We also read in the Gospel of John that “the Word became human and lived here on earth among us.” (John 1:14, NLT) John is telling us that not only was Jesus fully God, but that He is fully human as well.
The question that has been debated over the centuries is when Jesus took the form of a servant and was born in the likeness of man as Philippians 2:7 says, did He give up all some or none of His Deity? The two main views is the classical view and the kenotic view. The classical view is that God is both fully God and fully human at the same time. In Scripture we read that Jesus was fully God (John 1:1), but also that His humanity is revealed throughout the Gospels. This view also asserts that Scripture shows that Jesus was both human and God at the same time, and did not give up any of His divine attributes. The kenotic view is a view that states that believing that Jesus Christ was fully God and fully human does not require the belief that Jesus Christ was both omniscient and non-omniscient or omnipresent and non-omnipresent at the same time. This means that Jesus would have had to lay down or empty some of His Deity when he became man. Part of the kenotic view is that the Second Person of the Trinity laid aside His omniscience in order to become fully man, for a person cannot be fully human and omniscient at the same time. This view clearly takes away from Jesus being fully God, which if we take Scripture at its word Jesus was and is God. From these two different views we see that the main issues scholars address is what exactly Christ emptied Himself of as part of the movement from being in the form of God to taking on the form of a slave.
Jesus came in the form of a man (incarnation) and still remained God. According to Towns, the incarnation of Jesus Christ is central to all Christian doctrine. Since the incarnation is so important in the Christian doctrine it only makes sense that theologians would debate this issue. Did Jesus lose some of His Deity when He came to earth as a man? If you believe in the kenotic view then this is what you believe. The problem with this view is that in the verse it says nothing about Christ stripping Himself of His divine attributes as has sometimes been suggested. The use of the Greek word ekenosis, translated as emptied, might indicate that at His incarnation, Jesus gave up certain prerogatives associated with His divinity. One of the prerogatives that Jesus gave up willingly to come to earth as a human was the glory that He had as God. In one of my favorite prayers in Scripture, Jesus prays before His death and says, “Father, bring me into the glory we shared before the world began.” (John 17:5, NLT) Jesus here is asking the Father to restore His glory He once had with Him “In the beginning” (Genesis 1:1), and we know from Stephan’s vision in Acts 7:56 as he was dying that He was restored to that glory. In Philippians 2:6 Paul writes, “Though He was God, He did not demand and cling to His rights as God. (NLT) He willingly gave that up to take the form of a servant as He was born into the likeness of man. A servant or a slave would be the exact opposite of the highest place Jesus would have in being in the glory of God. A slave has the lowest position; he is powerless; he has no rights, he has no glory, no honor only shame. For Jesus to come in the form of a slave means that he had human emotions. He laughed, He cried, He felt anger and temptation, all while continuing to be sinless as well as fully God. In Colossians 2:9. Paul writes, “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form.” (NASB) This means that Jesus was and is fully and completely God and He also dwelt in the form of full man.
When also examining this passage we must also look at what Christology is. Christology is studying of the nature of Jesus, and according to The Lexham Bible Dictionary, “Christology is the theological investigation of the Christ. The study of Jesus in the New Testament, namely His persona, activity and especially His role in salvation.” The classical view and the kenotic view that is continually being debated is all a part of Christology. For many young, as well as older Christians in their faith this could seem very hard to understand. Proper interpretation while reading Scripture will allow us to understand which view is the correct view and which one aligns with Scripture.
The kenotic view seems to look at passages such as Mark 13:32 to show that Jesus admitted that he did not know “the day or hour” of His return. Because of this they believe that Jesus lost part of His Deity when He came to earth, because surely if He was completely God He should still be completely omniscient. I believe what they are not seeing in this passage is that Jesus was only affirming his being fully human. What they also seem to be missing when reading this verse is that no one knows the day or the hour, and Jesus is teaching that we all should be ready for His return and not try and predict when it will occur. I do reject the kenotic view because it is not biblical and it diminishes the Deity of Christ.
Paul does not say that Christ emptied Himself of the “form of God,” either as to His divine nature or as to His human nature which at the time of His incarnation was made partaker of this form. It is my belief that Christ only set aside His glory in order to come in human form to show us how to love and how to be a servant. When we say we are followers of Christ, we must show that we have the mind of Christ and serve each other and live the way Jesus taught us to live being obedient to God. When Christ emptied Himself and took the form of a servant it means He added humanity to Deity rather than subtracting Deity from His person. In Philippians 2:8 we read why Jesus humbled Himself and emptied Himself of the glory that He had with God the Father. He did it so that He could die on the cross for our sins. Romans 8:3 tells us, “The law of Moses could not save us, because of our sinful nature. But God put into effect a different plan to save us. He sent His own Son in a human body like ours, except that ours are sinful.” (NLT) The law was powerless to conquer sin, but what the law could not do, God did by sending His very own Son with a nature that resembled our sinful nature. He came in the likeness of sinful man. There would have been no other way for God to dwell among us besides being in the form of man.
While I do take the position of the classical view, I do realize that there are some feelings of opposition to this. As Boyd wrote, “How can we conceive of a single person with two minds?” This seems to be a common issue in regards to Christ’s Deity as the God-man, as well as when speaking of the Trinity. When we think with our finite mind we miss that there are some mysteries of God that we may never know in this life. If we read the rest of Scripture we can clearly see that Christ remained God, He remained co-existent with God the Father and God The Holy Spirit.
Many theologians attempt to answer the question of what exactly Christ emptied Himself of, but as Witherington wrote, “the text does not tell us directly what Christ emptied Himself of, but clearly some kind of self-imposed limitations are implied. I do believe that too many are not seeing the real reason Christ came as a humble servant, it was so He could show us the true character of God and that His coming was to offer salvation to everyone who accepts Him so that we would not have to face eternal death and separation from Him.
There are many verses in Scripture that show us that Christ remained fully God when He was fully man. We read in John 2:25 that Jesus “Himself knew what was in man,” (ESV) in John 1:45-49 Jesus saw Nathaniel under a tree when Philip went to call for him as Jesus was looking for His disciples, Jesus also makes His eight I AM statements in John showing that He knew He was God. If we are to look into what it means that Jesus is fully God and fully human we can look at what is called the hypostatic union. A great definition for the hypostatic union is in the incarnation of the Son of God, a human nature was inseparably united forever with the divine nature in the one person of Jesus Christ, yet with the two natures remaining distinct, whole, and unchanged, without mixture or confusion, so that the one person, Jesus Christ, is truly God and truly man. In other words Jesus is a single person with two natures, human and divine. Neither His divine nature nor his human nature ever compromised each other, and since neither of these natures compromised each other He did not lose any of His Deity when He became human, He willingly gave up some of His attributes to be fully man. While in His human form He was subject to the law (Gal. 4:4), He was subject to the Father who sent Him (John 5:30), He was circumcised (Luke 2:21), He would grow in wisdom and in stature (Luke 2:52), and He would not know all things (Mark 13:32). This does not take anything away from His Deity as God, because He also accepted worship (Matthew 14:33), He performed Miracles (John 11:43), He healed the sick (Matthew 8:3), and the greatest miracle of all was when He rose from the dead and conquered death and the grave.
In conclusion you can see that the kenotic view of Philippians 2:7 is unbiblical and is only trying to explain away a great mystery of God. If we thoroughly dig deep in God’s Word we can see that the New Testament shows times when Jesus is showing Himself as fully human, and there are times when He is showing Himself as being fully God. Our primary focus should not be on what Jesus may or may not have given up when He came to earth in human form, our focus should be on what He what He taught and what He did for us on the cross when He came down as the suffering servant to be the sacrifice and the atonement for our sins. We also can see that Jesus Christ was the Word and created all things as He has always existed with God, He is equal to God, in complete cooperation with the Father He became man, humbled Himself as a servant becoming flesh and blood to offer salvation to all who accept Him, Christ also in the form of a man was tempted, felt pain, cried, became angry as well as continuing to be fully God by performing miracles, knowing the hearts of man, and rising from the dead
 Boyd, Gregory A, and Paul R Eddy. Across the Spectrum: Understanding Issues in Evangelical Theology. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, Div of Baker Publishing Group, 2009. 113.
 Boyd, Gregory A, and Paul R Eddy. Across the Spectrum: Understanding Issues in Evangelical Theology. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, Div of Baker Publishing Group, 2009. 118
 Boyd, Gregory A, and Paul R Eddy. Across the Spectrum: Understanding Issues in Evangelical Theology. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, Div of Baker Publishing Group, 2009. 112
 Brown, Derek R. Lexham Bible Guide: Philippians. Edited by Douglas Mangum. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2013.
 Towns, Elmer L. Theology for Today. 3rd ed. United States: Wadsworth Group/Thomson Learning, 2002.
 Loh, I-Jin, and Eugene Albert Nida. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. UBS Handbook Series. New York: United Bible Societies, 1995.
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 Boyd, Gregory A, and Paul R Eddy. Across the Spectrum: Understanding Issues in Evangelical Theology. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, Div of Baker Publishing Group, 2009. 119
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 Boyd, Gregory A, and Paul R Eddy. Across the Spectrum: Understanding Issues in Evangelical Theology. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, Div of Baker Publishing Group, 2009. 116
 Witherington, Ben, III. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Company, 2011.
 Elwell, Walter A. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2001. 583
 ‘Jesus’ Humbled State and What It Means’, CARM – The Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry (CARM – The Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry, n.d.), accessed August 2, 2015, https://carm.org/christianity/christian-doctrine/jesus-humbled-state-and-what-it-means.