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Particulars of Christianity:
310 Pentecostalism,
the Charismatic
and Faith Movements

Kenotic Theology

Specific Doctrines of the Charismatic Movement/Faith Movement
Kenotic Theology
The Anointing and Being Under Authority (Part 1)
The Anointing and Being Under Authority (Part 2)
Sickness and Healing (Part 1)
Sickness and Healing (Part 2)
Prayer, Asking and Receiving (Part 1)
Prayer, Asking and Receiving (Part 2)
Christians and Material Wealth (Part 1)
Christians and Material Wealth (Part 2)
Christians and Material Wealth (Part 3)
The "Rhema" and "Logos" Word (Part 1)
The "Rhema" and "Logos" Word (Part 2)
Those Who Speak in Tongues Necessarily Understand Themselves

Section 1 | Section 2 | Section 3 | Section 4
| Section 5

The term Kenotic Theology is derived from the Greek words "kenos" (Strong's No. 2756) and "kenoo," (Strong's No. 2758) which mean, "to empty." The critical occurrence of "kenoo" as far as this doctrine is concerned, occurs in Philippians 2.

The main premise of Kenotic doctrine is that Jesus Christ was God before he came to earth and resumed his divinity after his ascension, but just prior to the incarnation He "emptied" himself of divine properties so that he was only a man, and not God, during his 33 years here on earth.

Here is the key text from Philippians 2.

Philippians 2:5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery [725] to be equal with God: 7 But made himself of no reputation [2759], and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. 9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: 10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; 11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

First, as usual, there is some simple vocabulary that needs to be done. The word for "robbery" in verse 6 is the Greek word "harpagmos" (Strong's No. 725.) Harpagmos is used as a noun here and in this passage it refers to "a thing seized or to be seized, booty to deem anything a prize, a thing to be seized upon or to be held fast, retained." So, for the sake of clarification, verse 6 is simply stating that Jesus did not consider his equality with God something to prize or cling too. This is not an issue with Kenotic Theology. Those who hold to Kenotic Theology agree with this much.

As we stated above, the word translated into the English phrase "made himself of no reputation" is the Greek word "kenoo," (Strong's No. 2758), which means "to empty."

Now, according to Kenotics this means that Jesus emptied himself of divine properties. Kenotics also distinguish between "divine properties" such as omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence and "divine character attributes" such as holiness, love, mercy, benevolence, etc. They make this distinction for a reason. In short, Kenotics interpret from verse 7 that Jesus Christ emptied himself of divine properties but not the divine character attributes. But it should be noted that the Kenotics define what is divine strictly in terms of the divine properties. Or in other words, when Jesus emptied himself of omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence, etc. he ceased being God even though he retained the character attributes that God possesses. So, for Kenoticists, it is the divine properties that constitute the divine nature.

And that distinction in and of itself is not a problem theologically. Nor does that distinction necessarily logically lead to the Kenotics conclusions. It's where the Kenotics go from that point forward that is the problem.

The problem is threefold for Kenotic Theology. First, Kenotic theology contradicts its own proof text. Kenotics take the word "kenoo" to indicate that Jesus Christ literally emptied himself. Therefore, they conclude he was not God while he was here on earth for 33 years. However, Kenotics also believe that Jesus Christ retained the character attributes of God despite this emptying that occurred. Thus, even for Kenotics, emptied doesn't mean entirely emptied, for even the Kenotics believe that Jesus did not empty himself of the divine character attributes. And by allowing Jesus to retain some of his former qualities despite this emptying, Kenotics are actually acknowledging that the emptying does not require the loss of qualities. Therefore, since qualities can be maintained through the emptying process, there is no need to assert that this verse requires that Jesus Christ gave up any qualities at all, including the "divine properties."

In short, the very way in which Kenotics themselves interpret this passage contradicts the doctrine they derive from it. Therefore, Kenoticism is self-contradicting and should be rejected.

Second, the context of this passage actually tells us specifically what it was that Jesus emptied himself of. Starting with verse 6, we find that Jesus Christ (who before his incarnation was known as the Word) is equal with God. Or in other words, he is not subordinate to anyone, not even God. He was equal and supreme over all things. But verse 6 continues by telling us that he did not consider this supremacy something to cling to. Instead of clinging to this supremacy, verse 7 tells us that Jesus Christ emptied himself of that supremacy, that is, his divine rank and authority. Jesus Christ did not empty himself of divinity in any way. Rather, he emptied himself of his rank and authority as the Supreme Being and took on the role of a subordinate, a servant as verse 7 plainly tells us.

Clearly what Jesus Christ gave up was supreme authority in order to live as a subordinate. In verse 8, he continues to be humbled, subordinating himself to God the Father even so far as to obey him and give up his life. Truly the Supreme being of the Word was nullifying his own supreme authority by subordinating himself in this way.

And verse 9-11 tell us the conclusion. Having emptied himself of his supreme authority in which he was subordinate to none, God the Father then restored to him this supreme authority once his mission was complete. Once he subordinated himself to the point of death, God gave back to Jesus Christ all the authority he had emptied himself of. He emptied himself of his kingly rights and authority and lived as a servant. Then God gave him back his kingly authority so that every knee would bow and every tongue confess his supremely sovereign name.

This is not a story of Jesus Christ giving up divine properties or attributes or divinity in general. It's a simple statement about Jesus Christ giving up his sovereign supreme authority by living in submission as a humble, lowly servant. There is no reason to interpret this passage the way that Kenotics do. The only way to end up with the Kenotics' conclusion is to start out with that idea already and read it into the text, which on its own would not warrant such a conclusion apart from pre-existing biases.

Third, Kenotic teaching is in direct contrast with orthodox Christian teaching handed down by the Apostles. As such, it is a heresy and should be rejected as such.

But, of course, many readers will realize that they've probably never heard Kenotic Theology taught in Faith Movement Churches. And that's true. This idea is not named, nor directly stated in the Faith Movement. However, this doctrine is believed knowingly by some pastors and probably indirectly by others. That's how we came to believe it for a time before rejecting it as the heresy it is.

In reality, Kenotic theology is necessary in one form or another by the Faith Movement doctrine regarding how the atonement works. In short, Faith Movement teachers generally believe teach that Jesus' death on the cross was not sufficient to atone for and redeem mankind. They maintain that he also had to suffer torment in hell. But, most significantly, they also demand that Jesus had to suffer spiritual death, which is defined as separation from God.

Now, spiritual death truly is separation from God and all unredeemed mankind suffers this fate because of sin. But, Jesus himself did not suffer it. The problem is a misunderstanding of how the atonement works. (For more on this see our article series on the Redemption.) In short, in order for Jesus to endure spiritual death, he would have to be separated from God. But Jesus could not be separated from God so long as he is God. Therefore, it is necessary to explain how Jesus was not God for a time. And this is where Kenotic Theology fits in because it misinterprets Philippians 2:7 as a basis for teaching that Jesus ceased to be God for some time. Thus, it becomes possible for Jesus to die spiritually as the Faith Movement teachers believe and teach.

And, the real novelty of Kenotic Theology is that by stating that Jesus emptied himself of divinity, Faith Movement teachers can still say with confidence that Jesus was eternally God prior to the incarnation. This is essential because it allows them to appear orthodox even though they are speaking outright heresy. Through this subtlety, because most Christians do not consider the implications of such ideas, Faith Movement teachers can attract large numbers of Christians from all denominations even though their teaching necessitates heretical doctrines.

There is one additional heretical implication of Kenotic Theology on the orthodox, Christian view of God that we might also mention. Kenotic Theology's assertion that Jesus emptied himself of his divine properties and ceased to be God for his 33 years on earth has profound implications on the Trinity. If Jesus was not, by nature, God for his life on earth, then during that same period of time, God was a duality and NOT a Trinity. This is because, without Jesus remaining God for those 33 years, the godhead would only have been comprised of two persons, God the Father and the Holy Spirit. Of course, such a suggestion is heresy, since it is contrary to both scripture and orthodox, church history.

In closing, the following Faith Movement teachers have taught on the record that Jesus Christ died spiritual, which necessitates that Jesus must cease being God at least for a time. Once again, the page number behind each quote below denotes the page number on which it can be found in Hank Hanegraaff's book Christianity in Crisis, published by Harvest House Publishers, Inc. July 1997, 590 pages. Behind the page number is the publication or tape where the original statement was made.

Frederick K.C. Price: "Do you think that the punishment for our sin was to die on a cross? If that were the case, the two thieves could have paid your price. No, the punishment was to go into hell itself and to serve time in hell separated from God." - Page 383, Ever Increasing Faith Messenger [June 1980], 7.

Charles Capps: "The sinless son of God became as a serpent that He might swallow up all evil...If you will behold what happened when the sin offering was made and the fact that Jesus became a serpent upon a pole, it will change your life...Jesus died spiritually, not for any of His own sin? He became the serpent on the pole, the snake on the ground, in the Old Testament type." - Page 383, Authority in Three Worlds, 177, 166-67.

Kenneth Copeland: "That Word of the living God went down into that pit of destruction and charged the spirit of Jesus with resurrection power! Suddenly His twisted, death-wracked spirit began to fill out and come back to life. He began to look like something the devil had never seen before." - Page 383, "The Price of it All," Believer's Voice of Victory 19, 9 [September 1991]:4.

Kenneth Copeland: "What [why] does God have to pay the price for this thing? He has to have a man that is like that first one. It's got to be a man. He's got to be all man. He cannot be a God and come storming in here with attributes and dignities that are not common to man. He can't do that. It's not legal." - Page 138-139, 394, "The Incarnation" (Fort Worth, TX: Kenneth Copeland Ministries, 1985), audiotape #010402, side 1, emphasis in original.

Kenneth Hagin: "[s]piritual death means something more than separation from God. Spiritual death also means having Satan's nature...Jesus tasted death-spiritual death-for every man." - Page 156, 395, Kenneth E. Hagin, The NName of Jesus (Tulsa, OK: Kenneth Hagin Ministries, 1981), 31, emphasis in original.

Frederick K.C. Price: "Somewhere between the time He [Jesus] was nailed to the cross and when He was in the Garden of Gethsemane-somewhere in there-He died spiritually. Personally, I believe it was while He was in the garden." - Page 157, 395, "Identification #3" (Inglewood, CA: Ever Increasing Faith Ministries, 1980), tape #FP545, side 1.

Kenneth Copeland "The righteousness of God was made to be sin. He accepted the sin nature of Satan in His own spirit. And at the moment that He did so, He cried, 'My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken Me?' You don't know what happened at the cross. Why do you think that Moses, upon instruction of God, raised the serpent upon that pole instead of a lamb? That used to bug me. I said, 'Why in the world would you want to put a snake up there-the sign of Satan? Why didn't you put a lamb on that pole?' And the Lord said, 'Because it was a sign of Satan that was hanging on the cross.' He said, 'I accepted, in My own spirit, spiritual death; and the light was turned off.'" - Page 158, 395, "What Happened from the Cross to the Throne" (Fort Worth, TX: Kenneth Copeland Ministries, 1990), audiotape #02-0017, side 2.

Kenneth Hagin: "He [Jesus] tasted spiritual death for every man. And His spirit and inner man went to hell in my place. Can't you see that? Physical death wouldn't remove your sins. He's tasted death for every man. He's talking about tasting spiritual death." - Page 164, 396 "How Jesus Obtained His Namme" (Tulsa, OK: Kenneth Hagin Ministries, n.d.), tape #44H01, side 1.

Kenneth Hagin: "Jesus died as our Substitute. He who knew no sin was made to be sin. He took upon Himself our sin nature. And He died-He was separated and cut off from God. He went down into the prison house of suffering in our place. He was there three day and nights." - Page 396, "Made Alive," The Word of Faith 15, 4 (April 1982):3.

Benny Hinn: "My, you know, whoosh! The Holy Ghost is just showing me some stuff. I'm getting dizzy! I'm telling you the truth-it's, it's just heavy right now on me...He's [referring to Jesus] in the underworld now. God isn't there, the Holy Ghost inst' there, and the Bible says he was begotten. Do you know what the word begotten means? It means reborn. Do you want another shocker? Have you been begotten? So was He. Don't let anyone deceive you. Jesus was reborn. You say, 'What are you talking about?'...He was reborn. He had to be reborn...If He was not reborn, I could not be reborn. Jesus was born again...If He was not reborn, I would never be reborn." - Page 173, 397, Benny Hinn, "Our Position 'In Christ,' Part 1" (Orlando, FL: Orlando Christian Center, 1991), videotape #TV-254.