Summary: There is a growing belief in the Church that Jesus completely emptied Himself of His divinity in order to become human so that He could be the perfect sacrifice for all humanity, which is why He attributed all of His works and doctrines to the Father.
"Jesus emptied Himself of His glory, taking the nature of a bondservant, and came in the likeness of men" (Phil 2:7).
There is a growing belief in the Church that Jesus completely emptied Himself of His divinity and/or attributes in order to become human so that He could be the perfect sacrifice for all humanity and that He attributed all of His works and doctrines to the Father.
Some proponents will agree that Jesus was God in the flesh, but that He ministered only as 100% fully human to redeem fallen humanity because that is the only way He could be the perfect sacrifice for them. They believe that Jesus laid aside His divine power, giving up the advantage of deity and taking on the form of a human being with all its limitations. Jesus, it is said, had no innate supernatural powers, and He ministered as a man anointed by the Holy Spirit and not as God incarnate.
Others believe that Jesus had no power to do miracles until He received the Holy Spirit in all His fullness when He was baptized without measure, and then operated by faith alone. Then, at His death, He took back His divinity in Hell after becoming born-again (John 2:11, 3:34, 8:28, also see Isa 11:1-2, 42:1-7, 61:1-2; Luke 3:21-22; Acts 10:38).
These beliefs are variations of what is known as the "kenosis theory," which started just before the turn of the twentieth century. It posits that Jesus was not fully divine when He walked on earth in a state of diminished deity, where He gave up His divine attributes and knowledge of matters of fact, yet retained full divine infallibility on moral issues. In other words, the "kenosis theory" enables people to view the teachings of Jesus as human but not divine.
The primary justifications for the kenosis theory are as follows:
- When Jesus was unable to heal a blind man initially, it is proof that He did not have His divine attributes but need to rely exclusively on the Holy Spirit (see Mark 8:22-26).
The supernatural healing was in two-stages. It was commonly believed in the ancient world that saliva had curative properties, so Jesus began with a symbolic act that provided the man a point of contact with the promised Messiah. He “asked,” “Do you see anything?” The verb “asked” is in the imperfect tense, suggesting a process and indicating Jesus did in fact, know that the recovery of sight at this stage would initially be only partial. The man responded that he was able to see dimly; he could barely distinguish men from trees, except that the former were walking about. Then, Jesus laid His hands upon the person and touched his eyes. At that moment, his sight was fully restored. Jesus has complete and total control of the circumstances (Mark 8:22-26).
- Another example given to support Jesus was only human while on earth is when, while visiting His hometown, “He could not do any miracles there.”
Jesus did perform miracles there, and laid “his hands on a few sick people” and healed “them” in spite of their profound “lack of faith” (Mark 6:4-6).
- It is also said that Jesus did not know who “touched” Him, which shows that He did not have use of the divine attribute of omniscience (see Mark 5:30).
It is clear from the context, and previous healing miracles, that Jesus didn’t ask the question to obtain information but because He wanted the woman who had been healed to provide a witness of both her faith and her healing to the crowds around her, which she clearly did.
- As previously shown, the final example is the baptism of Jesus at the river. It is surmised that Jesus did not have the filling of Holy Spirit and anointing to use the nine supernatural gifts of the Spirit until the ‘Dove: descended on Him and the Father said “This is My beloved Son in who, I am well pleased” (Matt 3:16-17 KJV; see also 1 Cor 12-14).
Indeed, the Bible does not speak definitively about this; however, it seems somewhat illogical, confusing, and intellectually incongruent that John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit before he was born, yet the Creator of John the Baptist had to wait 30 years before He was filled with the Holy Spirit.
The Hypostatic Union
The historical doctrine of the ‘kenosis,’ known as the Hypostatic Union, is to be differentiated from the "kenosis theory." The doctrine of the kenosis deals with the whole question of the meaning of the Greek word that is translated "emptied" (Phil 2:7 NASB).
The words “He emptied Himself” in Philippian’s 2:7 comes from the Greek word ‘ekenose,’ and its root word ‘kenoo,’ which can mean "to empty" (Phil 4:7.) The Greek word “ekenose” has also been translated as “He made himself of no reputation," ‘made void,” “none effect,” “to be in vain” (see Rom 4:14; 1 Cor 1:17, 9:15; 2 Cor 9:3). All of these references refer to abstract principles, such as faith, preaching, or boasting, and none of them refer to a person, or even to an object. The use of the word “ekenose” is unique.