The Doctrine Of The Kenosis In Philippians 2:5-8 -- By: Alva J. McClain

Journal: Masters Seminary Journal
Volume: TMSJ 09:1 (Spring 1998)
Article: The Doctrine Of The Kenosis In Philippians 2:5-8
Author: Alva J. McClain

The Doctrine Of The Kenosis In Philippians 2:5-81

Alva J. McClain2

Those participating in Christological controversies that followed the Nicene Council sought to reconcile proper deity and true humanity in the Person of Jesus Christ, but in doing so, they often neglected the humanity of Christ. The Reformers did not solve the problem, but they restored a proper emphasis to Christ’s humanity. Subsequent to the Reformation, scholars tended to underplay His deity. Careful attention to the details of Phil 2:5–8 helps to state as well as the human mind can comprehend just what the kenosis involved and hence how His humanity and deity related to each other. He emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, and humbled Himself, becoming obedient to death. He stooped to servanthood and death with all the sovereign free will of One whose choices are limited only by His own holy and loving will.

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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 Savior, 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,” “Aphtharto-decetics,” and “Ktistolators.” It was an unhappy age, of which Dr. Bruce appropriat...

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