Does ισα το θεου refer to the role of Jesus as κυριos in Philippians 2:6?

In verse 10, Paul applied the monotheistic-YHWH text Isaiah 45:23 to Jesus which showed that Jesus was either co-equal with the κυριος of Isaiah 45 or the very κυριος himself of Isaiah 45. Either way, Jesus was being identified as divine in this text by giving him the role κυριος of the God of Israel. Thus, this passage acts similarly as 1 Corinthians 8:6 which is another text that equates Jesus with the God of Israel. This time it was specifically the κυριος of the Shema itself that was being ascribed to Christ [cf. Deut 6:4 LXX].

If Jesus was equal to God as κυριος in Philippians 2:6, then, that would mean that the kenosis of Jesus was about function, not essence. The rationale for this would be the next verse. Verse 7 says that Jesus emptied himself via taking the form of δουλος. The contrast between κυριος (master) and δουλος (servant) in Phil 2:6-7 would support that ισο το θεου in v. 6 to refer to Christ's role as κυριος. Is this plausible?


The word "kenosis" (kenosis) has entered theological language from Philippians 2:7, where in the sentence he "emptied himself" the Greek verb is ekenosen. "Kenosis," then, the corresponding noun, has become a technical term for the humiliation of the Son in the incarnation, but in recent years has acquired a still more technical sense, i.e. of the Son's emptying Himself of certain attributes, especially of omniscience (source: https://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/kenosis/).

In this question, the underlying theory is that the Son emptied himself of his ισα το θεου which is identified as his role as κυριος. In this case, it was function, not a certain divine attribute, that is being emptied by the Son. The lowly status of δουλος was the thing being substituted for the exalted status of κυριος. If this interpretation is correct, then, Phil 2:6 would be a parrallel to Phil 2:9-11

  • I think you need to explain 'kenosis . . . about function, not essence', defining the terms and showing how they apply to the text, hermeneutically.
    – Nigel J
    Jun 29, 2020 at 18:13
  • @Nigel, i revised the kenosis part of the question.
    – R. Brown
    Jun 29, 2020 at 18:51
  • 1
    Since Jesus was able to stand on earth, in humanity, and to say 'I and my Father are One' and also to say 'The Son (of man) which is in heaven' then it seems to me a false opinion to suggest that the Son of God 'emptied himself of omniscience'. Doesn't make sense to me.
    – Nigel J
    Jun 29, 2020 at 19:01
  • 1
    @Nigel, I agree. I was against the notion that Jesus emptied himself of any divine attribute due to μορφη θεου (the divine nature) being immutable. That is why my original question points to Jesus emptying something else i.e. equality with God as κγριος (function, not essence).
    – R. Brown
    Jun 29, 2020 at 19:15
  • 1
    Thank you. I am clearer now on the structure and the purpose of your question.
    – Nigel J
    Jun 29, 2020 at 19:21

3 Answers 3


This is a deep and contentious subject as the OP would be painfully aware. I doubt we will solve it here. Therefore, I will offer some comments hoping that this will further the discussion.

First, if we believe that the Bible teaches that there is but one God (Deut 4:35, 6:4, 32:39, Isa 44:6, 45:5, 6) which the NT affirms (1 Cor 8:4; Eph 4:6, 1 Tim 1:17, John 17:3), then there cannot be any other God whether secondary of an inferior God. There is but one and only one God.

In the passage Phil 2:5-8, we have a simple progression before the final exultation:

  1. Christ Jesus (v5) is in the form (μορφή) of God. Christ Jesus is also equal to God.
  2. Christ Jesus emptied Himself (in some sense). The fact that Jesus did this Himself suggests that Jesus did it voluntarily and that it was not forced upon Him. What this process was is not defined but the outcome is listed in what immediately follows.
  3. Christ Jesus (a) takes the form (μορφή) of a servant, (b) the likeness of humanity, (c) has the appearance of humanity, (d) humbles Himself, (e) becomes obedient (= subject) to death, (f) even death on the cross (the ultimate humiliation in Roman times)

In characteristic fashion, Paul chooses his words very carefully. In what way did Jesus empty Himself? Let me suggest a few ways that this does NOT entail and some that it does.

  • When Jesus became man, He did not cease to be God (Matt 1:22, 23, John 20:28, Col 2:9, etc) and still accepted worship (Matt 2:11, 14:33, 28:9, 17; Luke 4:8; 24:52; John 9:38; etc). In this sense at least, Jesus remained our "Lord" and people addressed Him as such.
  • When Jesus became a man, He did give up (temporarily) His central place in the courts of heaven (John 17:5) to which He was restored upon His return as Phil 2:9-11 makes very clear.

Phil 2:10, 11 is very significant for at least two reasons:

  1. By quoting Isa 45:23, an OT passage about the LORD (= YHWH) and applying it Jesus, Paul confirms that Jesus is Jehovah God, the Great I AM.
  2. There also appears to be some kind of eschatological (ie, future prophetic) component to Paul's statement because he goes to some trouble to explain that every knee will bow before Jesus: every knee in heaven, on the earth, and under the earth. Now regardless of what eschatological theology one holds, this suggests (without suggesting an kind of vapid universalism) that all people will ultimately acknowledge that Jesus is Lord, even the wicked. (Paul does not explain how this will be accomplished.)

Therefore, it appears that when Jesus "emptied Himself" he voluntarily put aside His prerogatives as God (without ceasing to be God) and lived as a man with all the limitations that entails. It was in this sense that Jesus was supremely tempted because, unlike us, He was still God and had access to unlimited power which He chose not to use, but depended on the Father, just as we need to. Thus, Jesus was more severely tempted that we can ever be.

[This leads directly into the next of the OP's question about Jesus' temptations, but I will avoid this here.]


There is a mistake many might make in associating Jesus' name with his humanity merely.

That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; (Philippians 2:10, KJV)

I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear. (Isaiah 45:23, KJV)

Jesus said:

I am come in my Father's name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive. (John 5:43, KJV)

That name of "Jesus" is the only name whereby we must be saved.

Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. (Acts 4:12, KJV)

Jesus gave, as his last words to the disciples, the "Gospel Commission."

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: (Matthew 28:19, KJV)

This text would appear to indicate three entities, but under a single name (it is singular both in Greek and here in English). "Father", "Son", "Holy Spirit"--these are titles, not names. Undoubtedly your father has a name, and it is not "Father."

So what is the "name" of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit?

The disciples understood this.

Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. (Acts 2:38, KJV)

(For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) (Acts 8:16, KJV)

And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days. (Acts 10:48, KJV)

When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. (Acts 19:5, KJV)

Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? (Romans 6:3, KJV)

For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (Galatians 3:27, KJV)

In not one instance do the disciples baptize in other than the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. They make no mention of "Father" while baptizing at all. The name for all three titles is one: "Jesus Christ."

While Jesus' name is the Father's name which He had given to the Son, as a human being, Jesus had a body, soul, and spirit that were human, just as we have. It was this body which was possessed by the Spirit of God. When tempted, Jesus' humanity was tempted--for divinity could not have been tempted (see James 1:13). As a human being, Jesus could not be omnipresent nor omniscient--and he was certainly neither immortal nor invisible as a human. But the indwelling presence of God was all of those. God did not cease to be God by taking on the form of humanity. Neither did humanity become elevated to Godship. Within the person of Christ, both humanity and divinity co-existed. Humanity was never equal to God, nor can be.


God did not give up His divinity, nor could any of His attributes be changed; but He cloaked His divinity in the body of humanity to bring Himself closer to us and to show us the path of life. That humanity was a distinct being from that of God the Father, one which came as a humble servant, and who was yet our Lord, having "all the fulness of the Godhead bodily" (Colossians 2:9).


Perhaps it would just be easier to simply post an exegesis of the text and you can use whatever you deem helpful.

In Philippians 2:6, the apostle Paul begins with the acknowledgement that Jesus is God and provides us with a revealed analysis of his redemptive function. Paul does not begin his discussion of Jesus from the vantage point of the incarnation but from that of eternity. What Paul stresses in the first part of this chapter is the example of humility that Jesus gave us in his willingness to divest himself of this form for a time on our behalf. This of course does not suggest that he ceased be God. He does not strip himself of deity. I am quite sure that we will never fully understand all that is involved in Jesus’ emptying himself of divine form and equality. All we can rely on is the language of the text. The word translated emptied means to lay aside. How do we explain how, even in the flesh, he is still God yet remains so without retaining anything that defines divine nature? Perhaps ‘to lay aside’ offers the best explanation. He laid it aside as one would a garment, then in Hebrews chapter one we will see him take it up again.

Emptying of Form: Empty is the verb that defines the action. Equal is an adjective that defines his nature. Equality is a noun that tells what was emptied out.

This is not a passive action. This is self-actuating. No one is doing this to him. He is the one who does the emptying. What he empties out of himself is both equality with God and divine nature. He must possess these qualities intrinsically in order to empty them out of himself.

In order for Jesus to fulfill his redemptive mission, he must assume a fleshly posture. We can find at least four reasons for this in scripture.

  1. Divine essence cannot die. As man he will die.
  2. The requirements of the Law of Moses required a sacrifice of flesh and blood. Divine essence is not made of flesh and blood. 3.His heritage must come from a specific fleshly linage. As God, he has no linage.
  3. The demands of the Law were imposed upon man and it was required that man fulfill them. The Law required not only that man fulfill its demands but that only a man of the seed of Abraham to whom the Law was given. Thus, a Gentile could never have satisfied the Law, Romans 1:1-5.

Fulfilling the function of a sacrifice required that he assume the form of a sacrifice. In this metamorphosis, he poured out of himself every expression of deity. We do not know how he does this, only that this text shows us that he did. Divine essence is now submitted to limitations. As God, these characteristics of essence are, by their very nature, without boundaries or limitations, but as man, he will be subject to all of the same sets of determined relations that limit all men. Divine character is now submitted to vulnerability. As God, he cannot be tempted, but as man, he yields his divine character to the onslaught of Satan. He becomes the second Adam. He exposes his own moral integrity to the same temptations that are common to all men, Hebrews 2:18, 4:15, and 5:2. Yet, unlike Adam, he maintains his integrity all the way to the cross, Hebrews 4:15 and 2:9. He succeeds where Adam failed. He simply never sinned.

Emptying of Equality: The word translated equality is nominative and accusative plural neuter suggesting equality in quantity or quality, Thayer's p 307. This is the same language used by Jesus in Matthew 20:12. Here, Jesus relates the parable of the workers in the vineyard. The accusation by those who had labored all day was that the Master was unjust because in giving equal wages to those who had worked fewer hours than they had worked he had granted them equal status. Paul now uses this same word to express the nature of Jesus' divine status. He did not gain his divine equality by an act of seizure or robbery. This equality is his by right of divine essence.

The Form of a Servant: Taking the form of a servant is an exchange of nature. He exchanged the essence of God for the essence of man. Spirit clothes itself with flesh, John 1:1-2, Hebrews 2:14 and 10:5-10. This is much more than just a transformation from spirit to flesh. Every attribute that defined him as God will either be submitted to limitations or subjected to vulnerability. Omnipotence yields itself to dependency. The all-sufficient one now becomes fully dependent, Isaiah 12, John 5:30 and Matthew 4:1-10. He became subject to all of the same sets of determined relations that are part of all human existence. Omniscience gives way to revelation. He must learn God’s will as a man and submit to it, Hebrews 10:7, Deuteronomy 18:18-19, John 12:49-50 and 17-4. Omnipresence confines itself to the limitations of time and space. His Eternal nature is surrendered for mortality - he became subject to death. The transcendent One became an equal among his fleshly brethren, Hebrews 2:17. The unified One became the cursed of God, Mark 15:34, Galatians 3:13 and 2 Corinthians 5:21. The unchanging One became subject to change. He not only changes form but his fleshly form will also be subject to all of the changes of natural biological processes.

In keeping with the posture of a servant / slave, Paul says that he did nothing through selfishness; that he did not seek his own glory but regarded others as more important than himself. He placed the needs of others above his own. He emptied himself. The servant reserves nothing of himself. He stands stripped of all personal will. All has become completely subjected. This is total surrender of control. Now, he is in the likeness of man. In the beginning, God, this God, created man in his own image, according to his own likeness. Now, this same God steps out of eternity into time to be made in the image of his creation - man. The Creator becomes the creature. The Lord of all becomes the servant of all. The Governor of the universe becomes subordinate to another and all of this by his own will.

A Cloak of Humility, Philippians 2:8:

Humility is not foreign to the character of man but rather intrinsic to it. Humility is demonstrated by obedience that characterized the life and ministry of the Lord. He “became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” ‘Became’ suggests a change of status. Before assuming the posture of a man, he is not subject to deity as a subordinate creature or even as a lesser member of the triadic unity. This is a process of character development as a man, Matthew 26:52-54. He must learn obedience to the will of God as a man, completely subject to the will of the Father, Hebrews 5:8-9. He did not allow his status as Son of God to exempt him from the obligation of obedience. What then did he learn about obedience? There are at least eight things that scripture reveals about this learning process.

  1. He learned its duty – Even though he was a son – This is the duty of sonship.
  2. He learned its necessity – The cup cannot pass unless he drinks it.
  3. He learned its demand – All that I am and all that I have – This is total consecration.
  4. He learned its cost – For a time, it cost him even heaven itself. In the end, even his human life.
  5. He learned its integrity – He kept the law of God all the way to the cross.
  6. He learned its honor – He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey.
  7. He learned its reward - He was highly exalted and given a name that is above every name. Because he learned all these things, he is now able to lay hold of the reward of obedience.
  8. “Even death on the cross.” This is the last greatest act of humility. It is the culmination of everything in the purpose of God to redeem man back to himself. This is the last full measure of devotion for loves sake. He does not even consider equality with man a thing to hold on to. He even pours himself out to become the cursed of the cursed, Galatians 3:13 and Deuteronomy 21:23.

Enthroned and Glorified, Philippians 2:9-11 A. “Therefore” (because he humbled himself) God highly exalted him, 9. B. “Given a name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow,” 9-10 and Romans 14:11 – “Every knee shall bow and confess that Jesus is Lord / Jehovah,” Isaiah 45:23.

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