Monday, April 29, 2013

Section 16: The Genus Majestaticum and Kenosis

The Self-Donation of God, pg. 230:

"In order to make our case for this understanding of kenosis and self-understanding of Christ, we must examine the texts of the New Testament that deal with the subject. We begin with the locus classicus of the doctrine of kenosis, the Christ hymn of Philippians 2. The hymn begins by Paul stating that although Christ was in or possessed the “form of God” he did not “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” or as some (including NRSV) translate it, “something to be exploited.” Gerald Hawthorne has also suggested “ground for grasping,” whereas Peter O’ Brien has suggested “something to be used for his own advantage.” N.T. Wright favors this latter translation and has argued very convincingly that Paul is here contrasting Jesus’ proper and self-giving use of his power to pagan Hellenistic kings. We cannot, of course, enter into the debate concerning the exact translation of the phrase here. Nevertheless, what seems to be clear is that a great many translators and exegetes of merit seem to think that the phrase means that although Christ possessed all the power and glory of divinity, he did not use such glory for himself or for his own advantage. 
Before we enter into a discussion as to how Christ used or did not use such sovereignty, we must first explore the meaning of the phrase “the form of God.” Lutherans have historically understood this to be a reference to the genus majestaticum. In order to see the reason for this interpretation, we turn to Johann Gerhard’s exegesis of the passage which is representative of the larger tradition. First, Gerhard notes, that the hymn describes the action of “Christ Jesus,” that is, the human nature considered in the abstract. He is spoken of as “Christ” in connection to his human nature, in that the name means “anointed,” something that clearly did not occur to the logos asarkos before the Incarnation. We ourselves might add that this is supported by the fact that on the very few occasions that Paul speaks of Christ’s pre-incarnate state, he does not typically speak of the subject “Christ Jesus,” but rather of the “Son” (Rom 8:3; Gal 4:4). Gerhard goes on to point out that the logos asarkos does not possess the “form of God” but rather is God. In that Paul has already indicated that he is talking about the “anointed one” (the human nature in the abstract), who possessed the “form of God” (rather than “was God” as he states in Rom 9:5 ), he seems to be referring to the humanity of Christ in itself. Christ's humanity possesses the "form of God" because it possesses the fullness of divine glory."

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