The Humiliation of the Son of God -- By: John F. Walvoord

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 118:470 (Apr 1961)
Article: The Humiliation of the Son of God
Author: John F. Walvoord


The Humiliation of the Son of God

John F. Walvoord

One of the important considerations in the theological statement of the incarnation is the definition of what was involved in the condescension and humiliation of Christ in becoming man. How could the eternal God take upon Himself human limitations while retaining His eternal deity? Orthodox theologians have answered the question by declaring that God in becoming man did not diminish His deity, but added a human nature to the divine nature. How this actually affected the divine nature is treated in the classic passage of Philippians 2:5–11. Some have interpreted this statement as meaning that Christ in some sense gave up part of His deity in order to become man. As such a conclusion would seriously affect the orthodox doctrine of the deity of Christ, theologians have examined this passage minutely to find an answer to the problem of what Christ actually did in becoming man.

In general, the act of the Son of God in the incarnation is described first by the word condescension in that He, the eternal God, condescended to be man. As a man He submitted to the death on the cross which is described by the term humiliation. After His passion, Christ rose from the dead and later ascended into heaven where He was exalted to the right hand of God the Father. The theological question is raised, therefore, as to whether the process of condescension, humiliation, and exaltation involved any change in the divine nature of Christ.

The Exegesis of Philippians 2:5-11

The Philippian passage concerning the self-emptying or kenosis of the Son of God was introduced in support of a practical exhortation to have the mind or attitude of Christ. In support of this, the action of Christ in proceeding from glory to become man and suffer on the cross was cited as an illustration. In the accompanying explanation, the apostle gave one of the most concise theological statements of the incarnation to be found anywhere in the Scriptures. Christ is described first of all as “existing in the form of God.” The word for existing is not the usual Greek verb ὤν (to be), but ὑπάρχων

which is found in a form used for both the present and the imperfect participle and carries the meaning of continued existence. The thought is that Christ always has been in the form of God with the implication that He still is. If the Greek form is taken as the present tense instead of the imperfect, the word would mean that Christ existed as God in the past, that is, before the incarnation, and is still existing in the form of God. This wou...

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