“The verb here rendered ‘emptied’ is in constant use in a metaphorical sense (so only in the New Testament: Romans. iv.14; I Corinthians i.17; ix.15; II Corinthians ix.3) and cannot here be taken literally. This is already apparent from the definition of the manner in which the ‘emptying’ is said to have been accomplished, supplied by the modal clause which is at once attached: by ‘taking the form of a servant.’ You cannot ‘empty’ by ‘taking’ — adding. It is equally apparent, however, from the strength of the emphasis which, by its position, is thrown upon the ‘himself’. We may speak of Our Lord as ‘emptying Himself’ of something else, but scarcely, with this strength of emphasis, of His ‘emptying Himself’ of something else. This emphatic ‘Himself’, interposed between the preceding clause and the verb rendered ‘emptied’, builds a barrier over which we cannot climb backward in search of that of which Our Lord emptiedHimself… ‘He made no account of Himself’, we may fairly paraphrase the clause; and thus all question of what He emptiedHimself of falls away. What Our Lord actually did, according to Paul, is expressed in the following clauses; those not before us express more the moral character of His act. He took ‘the form of a servant’, and so was ‘made in the likeness of men’.
At a theological level kenosis appears to move in the wrong direction. Its basic equation is: incarnation = God minus. The biblical equation is rather: incarnation = God plus. In becoming incarnate the divine Word did not relinquish his deity; he added to it, if one may so speak, by taking a full human nature into hypostatic union
with the Word. Further. if the incarnate Son lacked any essential divine attribute, he immediately fails us at three quite fundamental points: revelation (being less than God he cannot truly reveal God), redemption (being less than God he can no longer reconcile us to God) and intercession (if union with human nature necessarily diminishes the divine nature, the ascended Lord could not ‘take to heaven a human brow’; his high-priestly intercession is immediately invalidated). Finally, Archbishop William Temple asked: ‘What was happening to the rest of the universe during the period of our Lord’searthly life?’ If the second person of the Trinity was wholly enclosed in the babe of Bethlehem, who was performing the role of the upholding Word in the universe? Appeal to the notion of the co-inherence of the persons of the Trinity does not help, since it is precisely a separation of the persons which the kenotic theory requires.
This text does not assert that the eternal Son of God gave up or surrendered any attributes of deity. Jesus “emptied” himself by becoming a man, not by ceasing to be God.
We now come to the all important statement in v. 7 that the Son “emptied himself” (NASB) or “made himself of no reputation” (KJV) or “made himself nothing” (ESV).
The verb used is kenoo, and is found in the NT only in Paul’s writings: Romans 4:14; 1 Cor. 1:7; 9:15; 2 Cor. 9:3; and here in Phil. 2:7. A crassly literal rendering, “to empty,” (as is found in the NASB), inclines us to ask the question: “Of what did Christ empty himself?” In spite of the fact that the “it” or “content” of which Christ allegedly “emptied himself” is nowhere stated in the text, many have insisted on supplying an answer.
The argument has often been made that he emptied himself of the divine nature or the “form of God” (v. 6). Others point to his position or status of “equality with God” (v. 6) as the content of which he emptied himself. H. A. W. Meyer, for example, writes: “Christ emptied himself, and that, as the context places beyond doubt, of the divine morphe, which he possessed, but now exchanged for a morphe doulou” (88).
The theological implications of such a view must be noted. It would mean that by virtue of the incarnation, the second person of the Trinity ceased to be God. This view, known in history as the doctrine of Kenosis (hence Kenotic Christology), entails a form of divine suicide. More on this below.
A slight variation (and, in my opinion, improvement) on the Kenosis doctrine is the assertion that it was the “glory” or doxa of God of which he emptied himself. I.e., the Son divested himself of the visible splendor and outward radiance of deity by clothing himself with human flesh. He remained God, but the glory of his deity was obscured and hidden “by the dark lantern of His humanity” (Taylor).
Clearly, however, Paul intends us to interpret this verb in precisely the way he uses it elsewhere in his epistles. In each of the other texts the meaning is “to make void,” “to render of no effect,” “to nullify,” “to despoil,” “to make of no reputation,” or the like. The point of the word is not to specify some content of deity or divine glory of which Christ emptied or divested himself. Rather, it is designed to emphasize the radical and far-reaching dimensions of his self-renunication.
Again, not surprisingly (if we keep in mind the crucial role of context), the meaning of this verb is in vv. 7-8. He “emptied himself” by taking the form of a bond servant and by being made in the likeness of men and by being found in appearance as a man. In other words, Christ did not divest himself of any divine attributes or in any sense become less than God. Rather, Christ “emptied” himself, paradoxically, by taking something to himself. Simply put:
THE INCARNATION IS THE KENOSIS!
That which constitutes the self-renunciation or self-emptying of Christ is the assumption of human nature. The second person of the Trinity “made himself of no reputation,” not by ceasing to be God, but by becoming man!