Carmen Christi: Hymn to Christ as to God (Part II)

Introduction: The decade of the 1990s has witnessed a veritable flood of books about the person of Jesus of Nazareth. A. N. Wilson, a British journalist and novelist, gave us a book, which was meant to shock the world, with the simple title Jesus. This work was heralded by talk show hosts and print journalists alike. Turns out there is actually nothing new here, just old retreaded rejections of Christianity regurgitated in modern dress. And what American has not seen or heard the radical opposition to the Jesus of Christian confession made by retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong? In his book Born of a Woman, Spong claims that the doctrine of the virgin birth helped to foster the oppression of women. Spong completely remakes the Biblical understanding of Jesus, both His person and His work. The Jesus of Bishop Spong cannot be the Savior, because his Jesus is not the Jesus revealed in the New Testament.

All of this has prompted N. T. Wright, one of the leading New Testament scholars of our day, to conclude:” For some reason, this “interest” in Jesus has even reached the level of farce. The British satirical puppet show, “Spitting Image,” which has usually contented itself with lampooning politicians and the Royal Family, finally brought out a “Jesus” puppet designed to shock and offend. And the well-known American writer Gore Vidal, in a similar vein, published a scurrilous novel about the origins of Christianity, called Live from Golgotha, in which, as the editor of The Times put it, he came across like a smutty schoolboy shouting rude words across the playground.”[i]

Especially bad (and in my opinion far more dangerous) is the heretical teaching about Christ that comes from the stable of Charismatic preachers that parade across the TBN network of Paul Crouch. Kenneth Copeland is surely one of the worst. Copeland relates a message he claims to have had from Jesus Christ himself: “Don’t be disturbed when people accuse you of thinking you’re God. They crucified me for claiming I was God.” Here Copeland seems to come very close to placing himself on the same plane as Jesus Christ, claiming the same divine authority for his actions. Copeland relates how in the same vision he heard Christ speak these words to him: “I didn’t claim that I was God; I just claimed I walked with him, and that he was in me. Hallelujah! That’s what you’re doing.” The uniqueness of Jesus Christ is thus denied: Christ was just someone who walked closely with God, like others, including Copeland himself.

The ontological gap between Christ and Christians, so vital a safeguard against irresponsible leadership and the more vexing theological developments normally linked with the New Age movement, is thus denied. And as Jesus Christ is unable to make personal television appearances, get on the lecture-tour circuit or deliver personalized sermons, those who claim to have authority on the same level as his would seem to have a significant advantage over him in this respect. Indeed, one of the most troublesome features of some sections of modern evangelicalism is irresponsible leader’s willingness to allow a blurring of the vital distinction between the will of God and the will of the charismatic Christian leader.[ii]

Review: The immediate context of our passage centers on Paul’s ethical call to have humility of mind. It is when we display selfish or boastful attitudes that strife and friction bring disharmony into our fellowship. True humility, however, sets aside whatever rights or privileges we have in order to serve others. This is the key to understanding the text. In order to illustrate that point the Apostle presents the great change that was displayed in the incarnation. The one who possessed and displayed in every way imaginable the very nature of God—a state that was always His, nevertheless, voluntarily undertook to accomplish His Father’s will by entering in a different form. This is the thrust of the passage. The Son did not descend from an inferior status, but from one of equality with the Father.

I. WDJD: What Did Jesus Do?

A. Negatively: Phil. 2:6 says He “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.” (NIV) The word trans. “grasped” is HARPAGMOS lit. “to reach out and seize”. The word has either an active sense “robbing” or a pass. sense “prize gained through robbery.” the meaning is that Christ did not use His equality with God in order to snatch or gain power and dominion, riches, pleasure, worldly glory. He did not reach out of His favored place and grasp at authority.[iii] What is clear from the text is that if Christ was not co-equal with the Father but was in some sense inferior to the Father, Paul’s illustration is to none effect. Equally mistaken is the decidedly unbiblical notion that Christ aspired (or was tempted to do so) to be equal to God since He knew He was not co-equal. Rather the whole of the NT unites in affirming Christ’s self-abrogation. He had no guilt, but He bore it (Jn. 1:29). He had no sin, but He was made sin on our behalf (II Cor. 5:21). He was rich but became poor for us (II Cor. 8:9). He laid aside His eternal glory to accomplish his mission (John 17:4).

B. Positively: “He made Himself nothing.” (NIV) The KJV has “he emptied himself.” The word here is KENOŌ lit. “to empty.” This, in biblical studies, is referred to as the Kenosis of Christ. Does this mean that Christ ceased to be what He was, that He gave up His Deity? No, not at all. To begin with the word itself is never used by Paul in a literal sense (cf. Rom. 4:14; I Cor. 1:17; 19:5; II Cor. 9:3). It is used in all of these texts in a figurative or a metaphorical sense Warfield has convincingly argued, the word should never be translated “emptied.”[iv] What did Christ do then? Moise′s Silva helpfully remarks, “we can and should recognize that the phrase “he emptied himself” may well have evoked a larger network of associations, and those would be part of the “total” meaning. Particularly intriguing is the possible connection with Isa. 53:12, where the Servant of the Lord (cf. DOULOS in Phil. 2:7) is said to have “poured “out Himself (lit. His soul) unto death.” The fact that Phil. 2:11 quotes Isa. 45:23 increases the probability that we may have an allusion to Isa. 53:12. But an allusion is not a direct reference. To say that the Christ-hymn is primarily an attribution to Jesus of the Servant of the Lord description seems to me to be an overstatement; much less is it acceptable to argue that “He emptied Himself” actually means, “He suffered the death of the Servant of the Lord.”[v]

Conclusion: “Self-denial for its own sake,” wrote Warfield, “is in its very nature ascetic, monkish. It concentrates our whole attention on self–self-knowledge, self-control–and can therefore eventuate in nothing other than the very apotheosis of selfishness. At best it succeeds only in subjecting the outer self to the inner self, or the lower self to the higher self: and only the more surely falls into the slough of self-seeking, that it partially conceals the selfishness of its goal by refining its ideal of self and excluding its grosser and more outward elements. Self-denial, then, drives to the cloister; narrows and contracts the soul; murders within us all innocent desires, dries up all the springs of sympathy, and nurses and coddles our self-importance until we grow so great in our own esteem as to be careless of the trials and sufferings, the joys and aspirations, the strivings and failures and successes of our fellow-men. Self-denial, thus understood, will make us cold, hard, unsympathetic, —proud, arrogant, self-esteeming.–fanatical, overbearing, cruel. It may make monks and Stoics, —it cannot make Christians. It is not to this that Christ’s example calls us. He did not cultivate self, even His divine self: He took no account of self. He was not led by His divine impulse out of the world, driven back into the recesses of His own soul to brood morbidly over His own needs, until to gain His own seemed worth all sacrifice to Him. He was led by His love for others into the world, to forget Himself in the needs of others, to sacrifice self once for all upon the altar of sympathy. Self-sacrifice brought Christ into the world. And self-sacrifice will lead us, His followers, not away from but into the midst of men. Wherever men suffer, there will we be to comfort. Wherever men strive, there will we be to help. Wherever men fail, there will be we to uplift. Wherever men succeed, there will we be to rejoice. Self-sacrifice means not indifference to our times and our fellows: it means absorption in them. It means forgetfulness of self in others. It means entering into every man’s hopes and fears, longings and despairs: it means manysidedness of spirit, multiform activity, multiplicity of sympathies. It means richness of development. It means not that we should live one life, but a thousand lives,–binding ourselves to a thousand souls by the filaments of so loving a sympathy that their lives become ours. It means that all the experiences of men shall smite our souls and shall beat and batter these stubborn hearts of ours into fitness for their heavenly home. It is, after all, then, the path to the highest possible development, by which alone we can be made truly men. Not that we shall undertake it with this end in view. This were to dry up its springs at their source. We cannot be self-consciously self-forgetful, selfishly unselfish. Only, when we humbly walk this path, seeking truly in it not our own things but those of others, we shall find the promise true, that he who loses his life shall find it. Only, when, like Christ, and in loving obedience to His call and example, we take no account of ourselves, but freely give ourselves to others, we shall find, each in his measure, the saying true of himself also: “Wherefore also God hath highly exalted him.” The path of self-sacrifice is the path to glory.”[vi]


[i] As cited by John H. Armstrong “Jesus the Christ: The Unique One”, “Reformation & Revival” A Quartly Journal for Church Leadership (Vol. 8, No. 4, fall 1999), p. 8.

[ii] As cited by Alister McGrath, Evangelicalism & the Future of Christianity (IVP, 1995), p. 71. For extensive documentation of this type of charismatic heresy cf. Hank Hanegraff Christianity In Crisis (Harvest House, 1993), and The Agony of Deceit: what Some TV Preachers are Really Teaching ed. M.S. Horton (Moody, 1990).

[iii] Cf. F. Rienecker and C. Rogers, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament (Zondervan, 1982), p. 550.

[iv] The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield III (rpt. Baker, 1981), p. 375. He added that Christ is “not a shriveled God; and no Christian heart will be satisfied with a Christ in whom…there was no Godhead at all while He was on earth, and in whom (we may add) there may be no manhood at all now that He has gone to heaven. It really ought to be clear by now that there cannot be a half-way house erected between the doctrine that Christ is both God and man and the Christ is merely man.”

[v] M. Silva Philippians: The Wycliffe Exegetical Commentary (Moody, 1988), p. 185.

[vi] B.B. Warfield, The Saviour of the World (rpt. The Banner of Truth, 1990), p. 182.

The New Testament Documents

by F.F. Bruce

The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?

Can we trust the New Testament? Hasn’t it all been disproved? Doesn’t modern scholarship show that it was all made up much later, so that the supposedly historical foundations of Christianity are in fact a figment of the imagination?

This sort of thing is said so often in the media, in some churches, and in public life in general that many people take it for granted that nothing can be said on the other side. But, as so often, this is where careful, accurate historical scholarship of the type in which F.F. Bruce excelled has a quiet, thorough, and complete answer. Yes we can trust the New Testament. For a start, the documents themselves—the manuscripts from which our knowledge of the New Testament comes— are in far, far better shape than the manuscripts of any other work from the ancient world, by a very long way. Examine the New Testament, and you’ll find that our knowledge of it rests on a very large number of manuscripts, several hundred in fact, which go back as far, in some cases, as the early second century, less than a hundred years after the books were first written. There is better evidence for the New Testament than for any other ancient book.

This Modern Classic in the Field of New Testament Studies offers a compelling defense of biblical truth. F. F. Bruce, one of evangelicalism’s most respected scholars, makes a clear case for the historical trustworthiness of the Christian Scriptures, drawing on evidence from the New Testament documents themselves as well as extra-biblical sources. Concise chapters explore the canon and dating of the New Testament, the nature of the Gospels (including a look at miracles), the life and writings of Paul, and archaeological and literary evidence. Including here a completely updated bibliography. Bruce’s long-standing affirmation of the New Testament is still as authoritative and engaging as ever.

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