Kenosis Part 1, The Classical View

See Kenosis Part 2, Reymond's View

I read an interesting analysis of Phillipians 2:6-11 recently in Dr. Robert Reymond’s systematic theology, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith. This part of Phillipians is the famous passage where Paul tells us that Christ humbled Himself to the point of death in obedience to the Father. In verse 7 Paul says that Christ made Himself nothing, or emptied Himself. Kenosis is the Greek word Paul used to describe this emptying. In this three part series we’ll look at what Dr. Reymond calls the classical view of what this passage describes, Dr. Reymond’s own slightly unusual view, and then an alternative to the two that seems to me to capture the best of both.The passage in question reads:

“[Christ Jesus,] who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

The classical view sees a “U”-shaped progression in the passage from Christ preincarnate “in the form of God,” downward as Christ “empties” Himself through incarnation to the “form of a servant”, reaching a bottom in Christ’s “death, even death on a cross.” The progression then swings upward as the Father exalts Christ to glory.and the passage looks to final glory when every tongue and knee will acknowledge the reign and glory of Christ.

This is what Reymond describes as the classical or evangelical view. Certainly no Christian ought to quarrel with the notions in themselves that Christ existed in the form of God with the Father before the incarnation, that in His incarnation He took the form of a servant, that He died and was exalted by the Father to His own right hand and that He will enjoy future glory when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess His lordship. Christians have affirmed these beliefs since our earliest creeds, and Reymond affirms, as he should, all of these truths in the clearest terms.

Rightly so. Scripture in many places clearly teaches us all of this. In this particular passage however, does Paul have in mind this “U”-shaped progression or something different? Dr. Reymond believes Paul has something different in mind. In the next post in this series we’ll look at Dr. Remond’s own view of the passage.