The Doctrine of the Kenosis in Philippians 2:5–8 -- By: Alva J. McClain

Journal: Grace Journal
Volume: GJ 08:2 (Spring 1967)
Article: The Doctrine of the Kenosis in Philippians 2:5–8
Author: Alva J. McClain

The Doctrine of the Kenosis in Philippians 2:5–8

Alva J. McClain

President Emeritus
Grace Theological Seminary

[The above article first appeared in The Biblical Review Quarterly, October, 1928. Its editor, Robert M. Kurtz, commented as follows: “It is therefore with considerable satisfaction that we present Professor McClain’s paper, “Tbe Doctrine of the Kenosis in Philippians 2:5–8.” Its acumen and force have moved a competent theologian to pronounce this discussion unsurpassed by anything extant upon the subject. After noticing briefly the early shifting of emphasis as between our Lord’s Deity and His humanity, and the later development of various kenotic theories, the paper takes up the theme proper. Professor McClain’s reasoning is so sound and his style so lucid that no analysis here could add to his able treatment. Readers who have found the general arguments about the kenosis inconclusive, if not confusing, may well feel indebted to the writer of this able piece of doctrinal exposition.]

This passage in the Philippian Epistle has been so closely connected with certain problems of Christology that any discussion of it will be the more complete if prefaced by a brief historical survey in this particular field of Christian doctrine. Such a survey will serve to show the theological importance of the passage, why the attention of Christologists from the first was drawn to it inevitably, and how speculations regarding the Person of Christ have finally culminated in several theories, related in principle, which receive their name from a Greek word in the passage, and are based to a greater or less extent upon it.

The dreariest, most barren pages of church history deal with that period of Christological controversy which followed the Nicene Council. Having successfully repelled the Arian assault, the attention of the church had logically shifted to another problem—how to reconcile proper Deity and true humanity in the Person of the historic Saviour, Jesus Christ. Over this question discussion ran the gamut of conceivable opinion. Men, according to their bias, became Apollinarians, Nestorians, Eutychians, Monophysites, Monothelites, Adoptionists, and Niobites, until at last they all but lost themselves in subtle distinctions and, bewildered by the dust of battle, actually “fought against their own side.” In the heat of conflict men not only lost their way, but also lost their tempers, and applied to one another certain offensive and unmusical epithets such as “Phthartolatrae,” “Aktistetes,” “Aphthartodocetics,” and “Ktistolators.” It was an unhappy age, of which Dr. Bruce appropriately speaks as “the era of anatomical Christology.”

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