Kenosis, Hypostatic Union, Impeccability Summary

Introduction: Doctrines related to Christ’s incarnation. When “the word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14), God the Son became man. What happened to his deity? Jesus continued to true and undiminished deity. What did change was that He took upon Himself true humanity. The transformation was outwardly visible. The biblical doctrines of kenosis, hypostatic union, and impeccability explain the additions to deity and those effects on Him as now God and man.

  1. Kenosis means that Jesus Christ left heaven and took on Himself the true nature of a human slave under God’s authority. In doing so He chose not to continually show His divine attributes—those visible demonstrations of His deity which He displayed in the Old Testament history such as the burning bush in Exodus 3, the cloud and fire and smoke during the exodus, and the Shekinah glory in the tabernacle and temple. By kenosis Paul meant that Jesus took the nature of humanity—a slave—so that He could die on the cross for mankind’s sins. The main verb in Philippians 2:7-8a is the aorist indicative of “to empty,” κενοω kenow. The verbs “taking, being made, and being found” are all aorist participles. They further explain emptying Himself. The actions are simultaneous to “empty.” The usage of the participles is most likely temporal (when He took…,) or attendant circumstance (and He took…,). In no way does this suggest He became less God.
    1. The words in Philippians 2 help us to understand this truth.
      1. The word “form” in Philippians 2:6 and 7–form of God and form of slave—is μορψη, morphe and it means real nature or form of someone or something that appears to the senses. What appears to the senses is a form of the genuine person or thing. In verse 6, the form of God means that of godness that appeared to the senses in the Old Testament revelations of God—His majesty, glory, and splendor. In verse 7 it is the form of a slave—under authority of God the Father—that appeared to people.
      2. The word “likeness” is ̈μοιωμα ‘omoiwma. This refers to a copy of something, and here a copy of humanity—body, soul, and spirit—and so similar to all humanity, but not the exact image.
      3. The word “appearance” is σκημα skema and this refers to how He looked outwardly to other people.
      4. So the emptying was actually taking the form of a slave so He could die.
    2. Charles Ryrie, in Basic Theology, page 262, writes “It seems to me that even evangelicals blunt the point of the passage by missing its principal emphasis as suggested above and focusing on trying to delineate what limitations Christ experienced in His earthly state. To be sure, the God-Man experienced limitations; but equally sure the God-Man evidenced the prerogatives of Deity. Therefore, conservatives suggest that the kenosis means the veiling of Christ’s preincarnate glory, which is true only in a relative sense (see Matt. 17:1–8; John 1:14; 17:5). Or they suggest it means the voluntary nonuse of some of His attributes of Deity. This was true on occasion but certainly not always throughout His life (see [John] 1:48; 2:24; 16:30). Neither did He only do His miracles always in the power of the Spirit, but sometimes in His own power (Luke 22:51; John 18:6). So if our understanding of kenosis comes from Philippians 2, we should get our definition of the concept there. And that passage does not discuss at all the question of how or how much Christ’s glory was veiled. Nor does it say anything about the use or restriction of divine attributes. It does say that the emptying concerned becoming a man to be able to die. Thus the kenosis means leaving His preincarnate position and taking on a servant-humanity.”
  2. Hypostatic union is the name or label for the biblical doctrine that Jesus Christ is God and man in one person forever. Philippians 2:5-11 makes this clear. Philippians 2:5 refers to Jesus Christ. Then verse 6 begins with “who” and refers to Jesus Christ. The passage goes on to say He is God and He is man. Verse 11 concludes the section by saying that everyone will confess that resurrected Jesus Christ is Lord. John 1:14 says “the word became flesh and lived among us.” John 10:30 records Jesus saying “I am the Father are one,” and He is speaking while a man. First Timothy 2:5 calls Jesus the mediator between God and man, and He must be God and man to be a true mediator. Revelation 19 shows Jesus returning to earth as a soldier king, and His name is The Word of God. There is no question that Jesus Christ is God and man in one person forever.
  3. Impeccable (not able to be tempted) and peccable (able to be tempted) relate to the question, could Jesus, the man, really be tempted? Jesus Christ was tempted in His humanity, and His temptations were very real, but He never ever sinned. Because He was tempted in His humanity or human nature, He understands our weaknesses, temptations, and the spiritual battles that we go through (Matthew 4:1-12; Luke 1:36; Hebrews 4:15). But, Jesus Christ could not be tempted in His deity (James 1:13).