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 '20 at 18:13
  • @Nigel, i revised the kenosis part of the question. – Radz Brown Jun 29 '20 at 18:51
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    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 '20 at 19:01
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    @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). – Radz Brown Jun 29 '20 at 19:15
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    Thank you. I am clearer now on the structure and the purpose of your question. – Nigel J Jun 29 '20 at 19:21

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.]

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