If we put ourselves imaginatively in the situation of the early Christians, we can understand how puzzled they were when they tried to think of what sort of person Jesus Christ was. The initial Jewish complexion of the Church was soon lost, and anyway, the Old Testament did not clearly indicate the nature of the Messiah. The Gentiles, who soon became the overwhelming majority in the Church, could not, with their pagan background, easily understand the nature of Christ. Nothing in paganism gave them any hint. Accordingly it took the Church some centuries to digest the teaching of the Bible.
Dr. Gordon H. Clark. What Do Presbyterians Believe? 1965. 2nd Edition. (Unicoi, Trinity Foundation: 2001), p. 94.
As you may recall, the Protestant Reformation rejected the doctrine of sola ecclesia or the church alone as having the final authority and returned to the Scriptures as the final authority. Sola Scriptura is or should be the final authority for all Protestants and Evangelicals today. It is worth repeating that the Westminster Confession of Faith lists the system of doctrine deduced from the Bible in descending order of priority or importance beginning with Scripture in chapter one. The doctrine of Christ does not occur until chapter eight. The doctrine of the trinity is chapter two, meaning that the Puritan theologians thought that the doctrine of Scripture was most important followed closely by the doctrine of the trinity as the second most important doctrine. So in investigating the doctrine of the incarnation we need to see what the Bible actually says about the incarnation. Does the Bible say that Jesus Christ emptied Himself of His deity during His time on earth as the man, Jesus the Christ?
The pertinent passage that liberals use to justify their reduction of Jesus Christ to mere humanity is in the pericope in Philippians chapter 2:
Philippians 2:5–11 (NKJV)
It would take too much time to go into a lengthy exegesis of this passage here. However, it should be noted that verse 5 emphasizes intellectual understanding, not emotion. We are to have the mind of Christ, not feelings and emotions of Christ. One pastor of a Presbyterian Church in America told me that he had read Gordon H. Clark's books but not to bother with Clark's commentaries because his commentaries were not critical commentaries. I beg to differ. Although Clark's commentaries are not lengthy and do not go into great detail on grammatical issues and textual criticism, he does deal with these things in brief. Clark's purpose in writing commentaries was to logically examine the text and show how liberalism sometimes uses irrational arguments and wrong grammatical arguments to inductively prove their liberal generalizations. But it would take too long to go into great detail on this.
The real issue I want to focus on here is the liberal doctrine of the kenosis. Kenosis is the Greek noun that liberals use to the alleged self-emptying of Christ but in the text the Greek word is actually a verb. [Gordon H. Clark. Philippians. (Hobbs: Trinity Foundation, 1996), p. 56-57.] In verse 7 the phrase "made Himself of no reputation" is actually just one word in Greek. Greek uses formative verbs and participles where English sometimes requires several words to express the same idea. You can compare several translations of verse 7 at the Biblehub.com website. Several of them, including the NASB, say that Christ "emptied Himself" while the NKJV and the KJV say that He made Himself of no reputation, though I concede that Dr. Clark said that the term can be translated properly as "emptied Himself" it needs further interpretation. [Clark. The Atonement. 1987. 2nd Edition. (Hobbs: Trinity Foundation, 1996), p. 44] . Surprisingly so-called Evangelical translations seem to agree with the liberals on the meaning of Philippians 2:7. Did Jesus really cease to be God during the incarnation? Even the ESV, the preferred translation of most of the neo-Calvinist Evangelical denominations these days says that Christ emptied himself:
And even worse, the New King James Version has this footnote attached to the verb "made himself of no reputation" as footnote number 3: "emptied Himself of His privileges". This is very misleading and is actually reflective of a serious capitulation on the part of Evangelical scholars to the prevailing liberal view. If we take this footnote seriously it reflects the sub-kenotic view of Millard Erickson, Henry Thiessen, and the many of the Pentecostal and Charismatic scholars and teachers, including my former professor at Southeastern College of the Assemblies of God (Southeastern University), Lakeland, Florida, Dr. Michael Dusing. As I said before, classical Pentecostals have an agenda to make the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit subject to volitional control and the exercise thereof available to those who have been sanctified by the Holy Spirit and baptized by the Holy Spirit as an empowerment for supernatural evangelism (See Acts 1:8; Acts 2:4). Although this is not the heresy of adoptionism outright, it certainly does imply that heresy and, worse, it makes Jesus less than divine during the incarnation so as to make believers equal with Jesus in the authority to speak revelations and perform signs, wonders, and miracles. (Mark 16:15-17). Interestingly enough, Pentecostals do not agree with the liberal textual critics that the longer ending to Mark 16 is not in the original autographs.
In other words, Arminians, and especially Pentecostal Arminians, have an agenda to make man sovereign over the Creator by exalting libertarian free will over the sovereignty of God. But Pentecostals go even further and make even the "operation" of the gifts of the Holy Spirit subject to the volition of the believer, though some classical Pentecostals emphasize that the gifts of the Spirit are subject to a sovereign distribution of the gifts as the Holy Spirit decides to distribute them. (1 Corinthians 12:4-11). But this is equivocal and unclear as to how the Spirit can be sovereign over miracles while giving humans cooperation in the execution of signs, wonders and miracles in the light of the Arminian doctrine of libertarian free will. One Charismatic theologian and pastor, Vincent Cheung, a former student of Dr. Gordon H. Clark, even goes so far as to say that those who refuse to exercise the gifts of the Holy Spirit are in open rebellion against God:
The Bible commands Christians, "Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy" (1 Corinthians 14:1). If cessationism is correct but we do not know it, then we could still safely obey this instruction, although we will not receive what we desire. That is, if prophecy has ceased but I think that it continues, then I could still desire the gift of prophecy in accordance with this command, but I will not receive the gift of prophecy. No harm is done.
On the other hand, since the cessationist teaches that prophecy has ceased, then although the Bible says "desire spiritual gifts," he will not desire spiritual gifts, since the spiritual gifts are no longer in operation, and what gifts people think they have are necessarily false. This also applies to prophecy in particular. So although Paul says, "Do not treat prophecies with contempt," the cessationist must treat all prophecies with contempt, since he believes that prophecy has ceased, so that all prophecies today are false. His view toward prophecy must be "reject everything" instead of "test everything." But again, if cessationism is false, then this person would be preaching rebellion against the biblical commands to desire and test spiritual manifestations.
Vincent Cheung. "Cessationism and Rebellion."
I find it interesting that Cheung himself denies that he is a Scripturalist or a Clarkian, yet one Scripturalist blogger is continually quoting and citing Cheung as if he were in fact a proponent of the Clarkian position. Be it known here that Clark did not advocate Wesleyan experimental religion or experiential theology, most especially not that of the Charismatics or the Pentecostals. For Clark experience is relative and directly opposed to propositional revelation and the system of theology that is to be rationally understood with the mind, not ecstatically experienced. Clark opposed empiricism in all its forms, including religious experience. It is Cheung who is in rebellion and he is in rebellion against the doctrine of Sola Scriptura and the sufficiency of Scripture:
Cessationism is the false doctrine that the manifestations of miraculous endowments such as those listed in 1 Corinthians 12 have ceased since the days of the apostles and the completion of the Bible. Although there is no biblical evidence for this position, a main motive for this invention is to secure the sufficiency of Scripture and the finality (completion) of Scripture. However, it has been shown that the continuation of miraculous manifestations does not in fact contradict these two doctrines or put them at risk. Thus cessationism is both unbiblical and unnecessary.
More than that, cessationism is also evil and dangerous. This is because if cessationism is false, then those who advocate this doctrine are preaching rebellion against the Lord.
In short, it is not only cessationism that is the basis for rejecting Cheung's brand of Charismatic theology but also because Cheung's view is not propositional knowledge but is instead based on non-doctrinal pietism, mysticism, and ecstatic religious experience or existentialism. But I stray too far from the subject. Be that as it may, I cannot ignore the implications that apply to the so-called third wave theology that is influencing even Baptist and Presbyterian denominations that were traditionally Evangelical. Initially the liberal Episcopalians and liberal mainline Presbyterians were the first to embrace the charismatic movement, though the Roman Catholics soon were on board as well. But because of the weakness of Arminian Evangelicalism and its tendency to drift in the liberal direction and the tendency to accommodate to the prevalent culture, the experiential theology of the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement and the church growth movement is spreading throughout the Evangelical denominations. This is most evident in the Presbyterian Church in America where the regulative principle of worship has been rejected and contemporary worship in the charismatic style has replaced traditional hymns and reverential worship.
But back to our brief exegesis of the word kenoō in Philippians 2:7. What is the original Koine Greek verb and what does it mean? Biblehub.com is useful to show you what the Greek word looks like and the parsing of the verb: ἐκένωσεν. The transliteration is ekenōsen. The word is parsed as an aorist active indicative in the third person singular. (See: Philippians 2:7). Although the word can primarily mean self-emptying, it can also mean humbling oneself and making oneself of no reputation. The Bauer Arndt Gingrich and Danker Greek lexicon says:
κενόω fut. κενώσω; 1 aor. ἐκένωσα, pass. ἐκενώθην; pf. pass. κεκένωμαι (trag., Hdt.+; pap.; Jer 14:2; 15:9; Philo; Jos., Ant. 8, 258v.l.) make empty.
1. to empty pass. κενοῦται ὁ ἄνθρωπος the man is emptied Hm 11:14. Of Christ, who gave up the appearance of his divinity and took on the form of a slave, ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσεν he emptied himself, divested himself of his privileges Phil 2:7 . . .
William Arndt et al. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature : A Translation and Adaption of the Fourth Revised and Augmented Edition of Walter Bauer's Griechisch-Deutsches Worterbuch Zu Den Schrift En Des Neuen Testaments Und Der Ubrigen Urchristlichen Literatur. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), 428.
How could Christ still be fully God if He made Himself less than God during the incarnation? That is the problem in concise statement. Evangelicals who wish to maintain respect in academic circles, capitulate to liberalism because they have similar starting points with liberals, namely empirical epistemology. The BAGD lexicon does not even offer the translation that Christ is of no reputation. But that is what classical Reformed theologians have said previous to the 19th century modernist revisionism:
For speaking in the person of the Mediator, he holds a middle place between God and man; yet so that his majesty is not diminished thereby. For though he humbled (emptied) himself, he did not lose the glory which he had with the Father, though it was concealed from the world. So in the Epistle to the Hebrews (Heb. 1:10; 2:9), though the apostle confesses that Christ was made a little lower than the angels, he at the same time hesitates not to assert that he is the eternal God who founded the earth. We must hold, therefore, that as often as Christ, in the character of Mediator, addresses the Father, he, under the term God, includes his own divinity also. Thus, when he says to the apostles, "It is expedient for you that I go away," "My Father is greater than I," he does not attribute to himself a secondary divinity merely, as if in regard to eternal essence he were inferior to the Father; but having obtained celestial glory, he gathers together the faithful to share it with him. He places the Father in the higher degree, inasmuch as the full perfection of brightness conspicuous in heaven, differs from that measure of glory which he himself displayed when clothed in flesh. For the same reason Paul says, that Christ will restore "the kingdom to God, even the Father," "that God may be all in all," (1 Cor. 15:24, 28). Nothing can be more absurd than to deny the perpetuity of Christ's divinity.
John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion. Book I:13:26. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 1997).
These blog posts, however, are meant to show that Dr. Gordon H. Clark's thinking on the doctrine of the incarnation was incipient to his earliest days, though he did more fully develop his two person view of the incarnation toward the end of his life. Also, it should be noted that Clark in no uncertain terms denies the doctrine that Christ emptied Himself of deity or that He laid aside his divine privileges or the free exercise of His incommunicable attributes during his time on earth. Even Dr. Robert L. Reymond, friend of Dr. Gordon H. Clark, likewise said that the Evangelicals who were advocating for a sub-kenotic view of the kenosis—as if laying aside His divine privileges were different from emptying Himself of deity—were in fact advocating a false Christology. (Sermon Audio: Demolishing the Stronghold of a False Christology). In fact, Reymond names Millard Erickson in this lecture and calls his view a false Christology, though he stops short of calling it heresy.
I want to show Dr. Clark's view on the kenosis by quoting two of his books at length. First from his book, The Atonement:
The verb kenoō, or the noun kenosis, expresses the idea of vain or empty. The noun does not occur in the New Testament; the verb occurs five times: Romans 4:14 speaks of making faith void; 1 Corinthians 1:17 speaks of making the cross of Christ of no effect; in 1 Corinthians 9:15 Paul refers to something that would make his glorying void; in 2 Corinthians 9:3 it is boasting that should be vain; and Philippians 2:7 is the fifth instance. It would seem strange to translate this verse as, "Christ made Himself of no effect." He surely did not. There is nothing wrong with saying, "Christ emptied himself," though it might be better to retain "made himself of no reputation"; and so far as translation goes, one could with a minimum of stretching it, say "humbled himself."
All these translations need interpretation. The theory of kenosis suffers from a certain degree of vagueness and from its modification in several authors. Henry Ward Beecher and others taught that the Logos so depotentiated himself of all his divine attributes that he completely ceased from his cosmic functions during the years of his earthly life. This view denies that the Logos took the place of the human soul and makes Christ, at least in his activity, entirely human. A variation of this holds that the Logos took the place of the human soul as it is in ordinary men, but that no divine prerogatives were exercised. Martensen is even more confused. Walter R. Martin wrote a small book for popular consumption, Essential Christianity (Zondervan, 1962, 28-29), in which he says, "Christ did not exercise at least three prime attributes of Deity while on earth prior to his resurrection. These were Omniscience, Omnipotence, and Omnipresence." Henry C. Thiessen in his Systematic Theology describes the kenosis theory as holding that Christ emptied himself of his relative attributes—his omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence—while retaining his immanent attributes—his holiness, love, and truth." Then further down the page Thiessen continues, "Instead of the above mentioned theory, the Scriptures teach, when taken as a whole, that Christ merely surrendered the independent exercise of his relative attributes. He did not surrender the immanent attributes in any sense . . . . Thus he was omniscient as the Father granted him the exercise of these attributes."
Dr. Gordon H. Clark. The Atonement. 1987. 2nd Edition. (Hobbs: Trinity Foundation, 1996), pp. 44-45.
The point here is that Dr. Clark does not object to emphasizing the true humanity of Christ but to do so at the expense of His divinity or deity is to go too far in that direction. Jesus is both God and man and neither nature should be compromised in the transaction. The fact of the matter is that Jesus is not just "God in a body" as some television evangelists have ignorantly asserted as a misunderstanding of Hebrews 10:5. (Clark, The Atonement, p. 43). The error of Apollinarianism, that is that the Logos (John 1:1) replaced the human soul of Jesus, undermines both His full humanity and His complete deity. Unless Jesus has a genuine human soul, he cannot be the mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5; Galatians 3:20) because He would be less than fully human. Though the liberals have attacked the deity of Christ, it is equally wrong to attack His humanity. In order for the mediator to mediate between God and men He must be both fully God and fully man. If He is less than fully God He cannot satisfy the eternal justice and the eternal penalty of God's wrath against sin and sinners.
But for those who say that Clark out of the blue wrote The Incarnation and became a Nestorian at the end of his life I will quote again:
. . . one must pay attention to the Scriptural basis for asserting that Christ was a man, that is, in ordinary language, that he had a human soul.
Now, the verses quoted, in addition to showing that he walked here and there, also predicate of him psychological activities that are not possible of God. He got hungry, he got tired, he slept. [sic]. But "he who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep"; [Psalm 121:4; cf. Isaiah 40:28]. Jesus also experienced grief and sorrow. He called himself a man, and Peter called him a man. Deceivers and the antichrist deny that he came in the flesh; but since God's children are sharers in flesh and blood, he also himself in like manner partook of the same.
Luke 2 and Mark 13 assert his humanity in most extraordinary terms. As a boy, Jesus grew in wisdom as well as in stature (neither of which Jehovah could do); and he even grew in favor with God as well as with men. In his adult life, he was ignorant of the date of his second advent. Presumably he was ignorant of other things as well, but the Logos is omniscient. The Scripture therefore attributes to Christ human psychological characteristics that cannot possibly be predicates of God.
But with all these finite creaturely characteristics so definitely asserted, it does not follow that the Messiah's essential deity was in any way impaired. In its insistence on Christ's human nature, the Bible does not teach what has come to be called the theory of kenosis.
Dr. Gordon H. Clark. The Atonement. 1987. 2nd Edition. (Hobbs: Trinity Foundation, 1996), pp. 43-44.
Although this book was written one year prior to The Incarnation, it shows that Clark did not just write a book espousing the Nestorian heresy at the end of his life as some of his critics have claimed; in fact, his view is not Nestorianism. Instead this is a theology and philosophy that he deduced from the Bible and he had been saying similar things from early on in his career and which propositions came to fruition later in his life. His commentary on Philippians, which also indicates the logical nature of his thinking on the Incarnation, was written in 1982. In that book he says in reference to the trinity:
Nevertheless there are difficulties. First, there are terminological difficulties. Discussions on the Trinity have, over the centuries, utilized the words nature, essence, being, substance, subsistence, and the very unfortunate Latin term person. These are hardly ever defined with precision. For example, one would ordinarily think that a person must have a will. But the orthodox doctrine allows the three Persons of the Trinity to have only one will among them, while surprisingly the incarnate Jesus has two wills and yet is not a human person. Nestorianism, with its assertion that Christ was two persons, is considered a heresy. Other theologians, orthodox or otherwise, distinguish between the substance of God and his nature. But would not a substance without a nature lack all attributes? And would not a substance without attributes or characteristics be a blank nothing? . . .
Gordon H. Clark. Philippians. 1982. (Hobbs: Trinity Foundation, 1996), p. 55-56.
As this post is getting lengthy, I will again pause here for further reflection. But I am not done discussing the issue of kenosis as I want to show briefly the view of Millard Erickson, whose Christian Theology we used as a text for systematic theology classes at Southeastern College of the Assemblies of God around 1988-1991. I also heard Erickson lecture when I was a student at Southeastern College. (Now called Southeastern University).
After I deal with kenosis I want to speak to the issue of the trinity and how Dr. Clark dealt with the issue of one God who is also three Persons and his view of propositional knowledge and how a person is defined in light of his logical Scripturalism. This will be crucial in understanding his solution to the paradox of the incarnation. I also want to flesh out Dr. Robert L. Reymond's response to the Lutherans view of consubstantiation and the sub-kenosis views as two examples of a false Christology. I think Reymond also alluded to his disagreement with Dr. Clark's two person view of the Incarnation and I will comment briefly on that as well.