According to the dictionary, the word kenosis is a Christian theological term, defined as Jesus’ renunciation of His divine nature during His incarnation on Earth. The term is derived from the Greek word keno, which means to empty.

Whether Jesus renounced his Godhood in full or just in part, or even not at all, during His incarnation has been the subject of much speculation over the centuries. We do know that the incarnated Jesus was both man and God; He had to be both for His self-sacrifice to have been effective in reconciling mankind to God. That is also why His birth had to be from a virgin: His humanity derived from Mary’s egg, which carried the human bloodline from Adam through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, David and Solomon, while His Godhood derived from the perfect seed as created from His divine nature through the execution of the Father’s will by the Holy Spirit.

There are Christian camps that adhere to all three possibilities regarding Jesus’ kenosis. While Scripture doesn’t make any overt statements about the degree of self-emptying that Jesus accomplished during His time on Earth, it does provide some clues. Most important of these is that Jesus claimed that He is the exact image of the Father as humans can perceive: anyone who sees him automatically sees the Father. Jesus said this directly to the Pharisees and their followers in John 12:44 and 45:

“Jesus cried out, and said, He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on him that sent me. And he that seeth me seeth him that sent me.”

Jesus’ own words to that effect were echoed by Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:3 and 4:

“But if our gospel be hidden, it is hidden to them that are lost, in whom the god of this age hath blinded the minds of them who believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.”

The fact that Jesus so perfectly represented the Father requires that on Earth Jesus must have perfectly conformed to the Father’s will. To assist in that achievement, He undoubtedly was helped by the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Of all the speculations on the topic of kenosis of which I am aware, the most attractive to me as being consistent with Jesus’ Godhood and humanity as presented in the Bible is the commentary made some time in the 1920s by Alva McClain. I presented McClain’s thoughts on kenosis in my novel Home, Sweet Heaven, which is excerpted below:

One day while they were enjoying an idle day of sun at the beach, Jacob looked over to his lovely companion with a question on his mind. “Do you think that Jesus ever went swimming?”

“’What kind of question is that?” she replied. “He made the ocean. He made the water that’s in the ocean. In fact, He made the molecules that make up the water, and the atoms that . . .’

“’Okay, enough. And then you’re going to ask why He’d need to swim in the first place, since He can just walk on the top. That’s not what I’m asking I’m thinking of what He did in an experiential sense while He was on the Earth. What He tasted, or felt. Did He enjoy the sun like we’re doing now? Did He get to feel His body surrounded by warm water? What did He know of His own Godhood? How far did He go in His kenosis?’

“’I can’t answer that intelligently, dear. How can anyone possibly know what went on in Jesus’ mind during His incarnation.’

“’Agree. But I’ve read a large number of accounts, many of which diverge rather extensively from what Scripture itself teaches. One that did agree with Scripture was particularly appealing. It was written some time in the 1920s, as I recall, by a professor by the name of Alva McClain. In his article he said something that really stuck with me, something to the effect that it would be infinitely better to give up the notion of his absolute attributes than his moral heroism. That statement alone fits perfectly with Earl’s notion of God’s omni-attributes being subordinate to His primary attribute of His willingness to give them up for the sake of selfless love.’

“’What a beautiful thought!’ Moira remarked.

“’Yeah. McClain’s concept of Jesus’ kenosis makes sense in terms of the Scripture he cited as driving the entire controversy over how much Godhood Jesus maintained in His human form.’

“’Which is?’

“’Philippians 2, verses 5 through 8. Here, I have a Bible in the backpack. I’ll read it to you.’ He extracted the Bible and started reading:

“’Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God. But made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men; and, being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.’

“’McClain differentiated the form of God from the intrinsic nature of God,”’Jacob continued, ‘the nature of God being His transcendent attributes as well as His personality. The implication is that in His kenosis, his emptying of Himself, Jesus did not give up His Godhood, but just His form, which is the exercise of Godhood. What He really gave up was the independent exercise of Godhood, voluntarily and in perfect obedience to the Father’s will restricting any manifestation of Godhood to that specifically willed by the Father through the Holy Spirit. That restriction included His knowledge as well as His actions, which means that He was fully aware of His Godhood, but voluntarily maintained, in humble obedience to the Father, any actions or knowledge that wasn’t in perfect conformance to the Father’s will. To me that makes perfect sense, and it emphasizes Jesus’ selfless nobility.’”


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