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False Teachings
Historic Heresies: Kenoticism

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The doctrinal heresy known as Kenoticism originated in the nineteenth century by the German theologians, Thomassius, von Frank, and Gess. It teaches that Christ divested himself of certain divine attributes, such as omniscience and omnipotence, while becoming incarnate. Kentocism, while rightly affirming the humanity of Christ, denies, however, the fully deity of Christ and is to be rejected.

The Teaching Summarized
Kenoticism comes from the Greek word, kenosis, meaning "emptying." The heart of this incorrect doctrine originates from a poor exegesis and interpretation of Phil 2:6-7:
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:5-11, emphasis added. Note the text that reads, "humbled Himself," is literally "emptied himself," ekenoosen, as in the NAS translation).
Using this passage (especially v. 7), the kenoticists taught that God subtracted something from his very nature to become man. This, however, is not an accurate contextual exegesis of the verses. Neither is it faithful to the rest of the biblical teaching that in Christ, the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily (Col. 2:9). Therefore, it should be rejected.

The word, ekenoosen, is used elsewhere in scripture to mean "of no account" or "of no reputation" (Rom. 4:14; 1 Cor. 1:17, 9:15; 2 Cor. 9:3). If this is so, then the word translated "empty" seems to indicate nothing about the actual fullness of Christ’s divine nature, but rather the own humiliation of Christ and selfless servanthood (hence the reason why the NIV, NKJV, KJV, and the ASV all translate the word in that sense in Phil. 2:7). In fact, one would do well to consider the context of the surrounding verses (vv. 5-6), even the entire book of Philippians, as Christ therein is referred to as the one who took “the form of a bondservant.” For, it is in this sense that Christ emptied himself. And, as such, the humility of God's people (modeled after that of Christ) becomes the central theme of the 3rd and 4th chapters of Phillipians. Surely, when one sacrificially serves another, there is humility. But, at the same time, such service does not subtract from the full equality of the server with the one served. This is especially true of the husband-wife relationship, where the wife, while she submits to the husband, is still equal in every respect to the husband. In the same way, although Christ was made man by becoming incarnate, he was and is still Lord over all.

The scriptures are clear that Christ was and is fully divine (see's article, The Deity of Christ), and nowhere do they teach that Christ did not possess the divine attributes as Jesus! The Reformers summarized it well, when they stated that Christ gave up “the independent exercise” of his divine attributes. The Son voluntaritly accepted limitations in this unique union with humanity. This means that even as a child in the manger, Christ was still upholding and sustaining the entire world! Of course, the baby Jesus did not exercise all of the attributes of Diety, but still possessed them.

The mystery of the incarnation, therefore, is not resolved by a truncation of the deity of Christ in a doctrine such as kenoticism. God being made flesh will remain a mystery, which is not fully comprehensible. Yet, this is the joy in worshipping a wonderfully infinite God, who is Lord over all, self-existent, and Almighty.

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