Philippians 2:5-8 (YLT):

5 For, let this mind be in you that [is] also in Christ Jesus,

6 who, being in the form of God, thought [it] not robbery to be equal to God,

7 but did empty himself, the form of a servant having taken, in the likeness of men having been made,

8 and in fashion having been found as a man, he humbled himself, having become obedient unto death -- death even of a cross,

I'm aware that many questions have been asked already about this controversial passage of Philippians 2, but I'm not sure if there is a question concerning the precise times of Jesus' emptying process. For context, this question is motivated by an interesting question recently asked on Christianity.SE that seeks the Biblical Unitarian view on the exact moment when Jesus began to empty himself and what he was emptying himself of. In an attempt to broaden the discussion to include any view (not just the Biblical Unitarian one), I ask:

  1. At what exact moment did Jesus start emptying himself (of what)?
  2. At what exact moment did Jesus finish emptying himself (of what)?

5 Answers 5


The Apostle Paul explains it quite nicely at Philippians 2:3-8. Vs3, "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of your regard one another as more important than himself; vs4, do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interest of others." This is not hard to understand because true love puts others first.

Vs5, Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus." So what kind of an attitude and love did Jesus have? Vs6, who, although (although means in spite of the fact) He/Jesus existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped."

vs7, but emptied Himself, (how?) by taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. vs8, And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."

So what Jesus Christ did was go from one form as God and took on another form of a bond-servant/man. Instead of clinging to what was rightfully His before He became a man He forewent the prerogatives of His deity. That's what it means when it says, "He emptied Himself" at Philippians 2:7. He did not empty Himself of His deity, or His attributes.

Rather, these were "concealed under a veil of flesh." There is a distinct difference between emptying and concealing. Hebrews 10:19-20, "Since therefore, brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us THROUGH THE VEIL, THAT IS, HIS FLESH."

Or to put this another way. Jesus the Son of God voluntarily submitted Himself to His Father. The Son was inferior to His Father in position only, but equal in nature. The President is superior in position because he is the President. He is not better than you in nature because he has the same human nature as we do.

The following is what Greek Scholar A.T.Robertson says. What do your Greek Scholars have to say to refute Mr.Robertson?

Verse 6

Being (υπαρχων — huparchōn). Rather, “existing,” present active participle of υπαρχω — huparchō In the form of God (εν μορπηι τεου — en morphēi theou). Μορπη — Morphē means the essential attributes as shown in the form. In his preincarnate state Christ possessed the attributes of God and so appeared to those in heaven who saw him. Here is a clear statement by Paul of the deity of Christ. A prize (αρπαγμον — harpagmon). Predicate accusative with ηγησατο — hēgēsato Originally words in μος — ̇mos signified the act, not the result (μα — ̇ma). The few examples of αρπαγμος — harpagmos (Plutarch, etc.) allow it to be understood as equivalent to αρπαγμα — harpagma like βαπτισμος — baptismos and βαπτισμα — baptisma That is to say Paul means a prize to be held on to rather than something to be won (“robbery”). To be on an equality with God (το ειναι ισα τεοι — to einai isa theoi). Accusative articular infinitive object of ηγησατο — hēgēsato “the being equal with God” (associative instrumental case τεωι — theōi after ισα — isa). Ισα — Isa is adverbial use of neuter plural with ειναι — einai as in Revelation 21:16. Emptied himself (εαυτον εκενωσε — heauton ekenōse). First aorist active indicative of κενοω — kenoō old verb from κενος — kenos empty. Of what did Christ empty himself? Not of his divine nature. That was impossible. He continued to be the Son of God. There has arisen a great controversy on this word, a Κενοσις — Kenosis doctrine. Undoubtedly Christ gave up his environment of glory. He took upon himself limitations of place (space) and of knowledge and of power, though still on earth retaining more of these than any mere man. It is here that men should show restraint and modesty, though it is hard to believe that Jesus limited himself by error of knowledge and certainly not by error of conduct. He was without sin, though tempted as we are. “He stripped himself of the insignia of majesty” (Lightfoot).

  • So basically you agree with Tony Chan's answer regarding the times (birth and the ascension to Heaven), right?
    – user38524
    Mar 25, 2021 at 18:06
  • 2
    @SpiritRealmInvestigator Yes, I basically do agree with Tony that when Jesus incarnated or when He became flesh. (John 1:14) Jesus' mission began. I don't believe Jesus emptied Himself of His deity or His attributes. As I said, they were VEILED when He became a man. Look at it this way? If I were on a family vacation, and if I carried all my money in my wallet, I would prefer that my wallet be concealed than emptied. Remember Howard Hughes was a billionaire and chose to live like a bum. He still had access to his money if he wanted. John 17:5, His glory was returned to Him after He ascended.
    – Mr. Bond
    Mar 25, 2021 at 21:06
  • 1
    The Greek is clear that He didn’t conceal, but He made void, or He nullified His divine attributes. You are not free to redefine kenosis. He did it voluntarily which you rightfully point out. Other than the conceal part, I felt this was a great response +1 Mar 26, 2021 at 3:48
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator I agree with Mr. Bond's answer. Don Stewart's article In What Sense Did Jesus Empty Himself has a great list of 5 misconceptions and 3 ways that Jesus emptied himself. Mar 26, 2021 at 4:46
  • -1 For arguing that emptying doesn't mean emptying, but ony concealing.
    – Austin
    Jan 7, 2023 at 17:23

The process of εκενωσεν kenosis as it’s known for the immediate understanding of Philippians 2:7 text refers to the incarnation.

“Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me;” ‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭10:5‬ ‭

That illustrates the preexistences of Jesus prior to taking on a human body, further corroborated by texts such as Jude 5

“Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.” ‭‭Jude‬ ‭1:5‬ ‭

Which makes Jesus the Angel of the Lord who was therefore the visible God of the OT

“Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”” ‭‭John‬ ‭8:58‬ ‭

Making reference to both Abraham and the burning bush, where He identifies as the God in the burning bush and the Lord God that spoke to Abraham, as well as prior

What’s curious is that Jesus makes an additional claim I John 17, twice. He claimed to have had a glory prior to Creation, meaning prior to the existence of anything, whether that be the heavens, angels, the stars, prior to the Beginning.

“And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” ‭‭John‬ ‭17:5‬ ‭

“Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” ‭‭John‬ ‭17:24‬ ‭

This would indicate another form of kenosis, this time not from Angel of the Lord to human, which started at conception and ended on the day of His resurrection after the meeting with Mary in the Garden, but prior to Him Creating the universe (before the world/cosmos), until His incarnation.

After the garden experience with Mary He regained the heavenly body but ALSO the glory that He had prior to anything existing, except God.

  • 1
    "although you once fully knew it, that Jesus" Textual variants on this. Some are 'Lord', not Jesus. Aramaic variant = "God". Perhaps weaker evidence for your hypothesis than as presented, IMO! Mar 25, 2021 at 21:49
  • @AnthonyBurg regardless of the Jude passage, Jesus Himself speaks of being prior to Abraham and prior to Creation itself. So my argument did not rest exclusively on that verse. Thank you for your dv Mar 25, 2021 at 22:21
  • Hebrews 10:5 doesn't say "before he came into the world, he said", it says "when he came into the world, he said". How does this illustrate pre-existence? Furthermore, in that quote he says "Here I am [...] I have come." He's not talking of coming in the future. Mar 25, 2021 at 22:31
  • ""before Abraham was, I am." [...] where He identifies as the God in the burning bush and the Lord God that spoke to Abraham" Do you think the beggar in John 9 who used the exact same phrase 'I am' was also identifying as God in the burning bush? Mar 25, 2021 at 22:34
  • 1
    @AnthonyBurg when was the body prepared? And more precisely when did Jesus say these words? When he had already come into the world. Not as an embryo but as a man, most likely at His water baptism. And the Father says He is well pleased in Jesus. The body had already been prepared. H10:5 is not the moment of incarnation. At least you cannot prove it is. The subtlety of preexistence is that Jesus says the body was prepared for Him Micah 5:2. This requires a lengthier discussion than a comment. I’ll agree that on the surface you appear to be right, even though you are categorically wrong. Mar 25, 2021 at 23:31

At what exact moment did Jesus start emptying himself (of what)?

When he took on flesh in the womb of Mary, he emptied himself of omnipresence. He became localized in space-time coordinates.

Luke 1:35 The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.

At what exact moment did Jesus finish emptying himself (of what)?

When he sat at the right hand of God.

Mark 16:19 After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God.

  • Can you substantiate your second paragraph from scripture When he took on flesh ... emptied himself of (then three attributes) ?
    – Nigel J
    Mar 25, 2021 at 21:55
  • Good point. I modified.
    – user35953
    Mar 25, 2021 at 22:01
  • Have you considered that, whilst on earth, his feet firmly on terra firma he said 'The Son of man which is in heaven' ? John 3:13.
    – Nigel J
    Mar 25, 2021 at 22:03
  • @NigelJ John 3:13 can be the narrator of John speaking, not Jesus being quoted. Mar 25, 2021 at 22:15
  • 1
    Yes, @NigelJ, in this connection, Jesus was still omnipresent. In terms of his physical being, Jesus was localized.
    – user35953
    Mar 25, 2021 at 22:17

Answering this from a Biblical Unitarian perspective that holds Jesus 'pre-existed' his birth only in the sense that he was part of God's plan.

The text is pretty difficult to understand here.

In the article Philippians 2:6-8 the authors conclude

"The verse is not speaking either of Christ’s giving up his “Godhood” at his incarnation or of his God-nature being willing to “hide” so that his man-nature can show itself clearly. Rather, it is saying something else. Scripture says Christ was the “image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4), and Jesus himself testified that if one had seen him, he had seen the Father. Saying that Christ was in the “form” (outward appearance) of God is simply stating that truth in another way. Unlike Adam, who grasped at being like God (Gen. 3:5), Christ, the Last Adam, “emptied himself” of all his reputation and the things due him as the true child of the King. He lived in the same fashion as other men. He humbled himself to the Word and will of God. He lived by “It is written” and the commands of his Father. He did not “toot his own horn,” but instead called himself “the son of man,” which, in the Aramaic language he spoke, meant “a man.” He trusted God and became obedient, even to a horrible and shameful death on a cross."

The logical conclusion from this perspective is that there was no specific moment this happened. Rather, it was an ongoing process, presumably beginning as Jesus began to become aware he was the Messiah, and it culminated with the death on the cross.

The 'emptying' was repeatedly renewed or ongoing, as his prayer in Gethsemane indicates, "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." (Luke 22:42).

Q: So are you saying that he emptied himself in a psychological way over a long period of time so to speak? He was brought up to believe that he was the Messiah, and then he sort of had to fight against the pride and remain humble, like a psychological battle against the pride of knowing that he was the Messiah?

A: I wouldn't say he was brought up to believe he was the Messiah (it's certainly possible, but the texts don't say), but he would have had to have an inner realization he was the Messiah. This coincided with accepting the plan God had for him, which was to die on the cross and then be raised and ascend to rule. So yes, it was an ongoing process of psychologically 'dying to' his own ego. This seems to be what St. Paul is talking about (Phil 2:12 and on going) in the application of these ideas to his audience in his letter.

Q: Thanks for offering a fascinating statement : "Jesus began to become aware he was the Messiah". - Where would this moment occur in scripture?

A: He clearly realized it at some point, but I don't think scripture says. Luke 2:40 and on gives a clue. Perhaps when he was quite young.

Q: Given the various events that had happened to Mary and Joseph, surely they would have told Jesus about these as he grew up and so raised him as the Messiah?

A: I agree it seems likely Jesus would have been told some of these things, and he could have been raised as the Messiah in some sense. Yet, he would have had to come to an inner realization - not just from his parents telling him, but from God telling him.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – curiousdannii
    Mar 26, 2021 at 3:20
  • The text of 2 Corinthians 4:4 is without the article: ὅς ἐστιν εἰκὼν τοῦ θεοῦ, who is an image of the God. Also it is Colossians which states the truth in another way. Colossians 1:15: ὅς ἐστιν εἰκὼν τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ἀοράτου, who is an image of the God the invisible. Also the Unitarian treatment assumes μορφῇ and εἰκὼν mean the same thing. Clearly a mistake. Feb 2 at 15:54

This question has an unintentional "barb" (theological trap) in it. The question involves two separate matters -

  1. When did Jesus' "kenosis" (emptying) begin? and
  2. When did Jesus' "kenosis" (emptying) end?

The first is straight forward and the second is extremely controversial.

1. When did Jesus' "kenosis" begin?

The answer to this is actually two-fold and both revolve around the incarnation, but the question cannot be fully answered because the process of the incarnation is NOT described.

(A) Jesus DECIDED/AGREED to become the sacrificial "Lamb of God" (John 1:29) at some ancient time:

  • 1 Peter 1:20 - He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. See also Eph 1:4, Rev 13:8, 17:8, etc.

(B) Jesus became Human as per Phil 2:5-8. It is pointless to discuss whether this was at the moment of birth or at the moment of the Holy Spirit implanting the embryo in Mary (Luke 1:32-35) but it happened.

2. Now to the second and most contentious matter - When did/will the "kenosis" end? Two schools of thought exist - either:

  • the kenosis ended at the resurrection and subsequent enthronement of Jesus in heaven
  • the kenosis is permanent

Good, conservative cases can be made for both and have caused an enormous amount of heat and very little light. I will refrain from venturing into the minefield and suggest that the most important thing is that it occurred in the first place.

Allow me to proffer one more piece of data - after the resurrection, Jesus demonstrated His identity to the doubting Thomas by asking him to examine the healed scars from the crucifixion. Now be careful - all this means is that Jesus retained some of the human body characteristics and really says nothing (necessarily) about the kenosis of Jesus.

  • I invite you to supply scriptural support for the wording 'implanting an embryo'.
    – Nigel J
    Mar 25, 2021 at 21:59
  • @NigelJ - as my wording above suggests - we do not know how this occurred - except that I imagine that Mary's pregnancy lasted the usual 9 months. I do not know precisely how it was initiated as the Bible is silent.
    – Dottard
    Mar 25, 2021 at 22:14
  • The exact wording is 'the begetting (participle) holy', where the 'begetting' is (unlike natural generation) prior to delivery (tikto).
    – Nigel J
    Mar 25, 2021 at 22:15
  • @NigelJ - that is the same word γεννάω (Luke 1:35) used of all human births. What point are you making?
    – Dottard
    Mar 25, 2021 at 22:17
  • Untrue. John's 'begetting' is worded dissimilar to Jesus' 'begetting'. John's is after delivery. Jesus' is prior to delivery. What was in the virgin's womb was already a 'begetting' . . . . and then it is - 'holy'.
    – Nigel J
    Mar 25, 2021 at 22:18

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