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This article examines William Branham's interpretation of the concept of "kenosis" as found in Philippians 2:7.
What the Bible says
Philippians 2:5-8 reads as follows in the KJV:
- Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
The Greek verb "ἐκένωσεν" (ekenosen) is derived from the root word "κενόω" (kenoo) and means "to empty". The KJV is therefore not correct in its interpretation. The proper translation is seen in the ESV:
- Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 
And also in the NASB:
- Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
How did Jesus "empty" himself?
Philippians 2:5-8 teaches that Jesus Christ became a real human because he did not cling to his divinity. He was willing to “empty himself” in order to take upon himself “the form of a slave” and be “born in human likeness.” What did Jesus empty himself of?
Paul taught the Corinthians that though Christ was originally “rich,” he became “poor” in order to make us “rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). He laid aside his treasure in order to open up a way for us to share in his treasure. Jesus refers to this treasure that he laid aside as his “glory” when he prays, “Father, glorify me ...with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed” (John 17:5). Jesus shared in the Father’s glory prior to his becoming human. He was “rich,” being in every way “equal with God.” But he relinquished this glory to become genuinely human. This is part of what is meant when John says that Jesus descended into the world (John 3:13). Christ lowered himself to become one of us. His prayer in John 17 is that he would soon regain his glory through his death and resurrection (Phil. 2:9–11). Without ceasing to be God, Jesus divested himself of some of the riches, glory, rights, and attributes of his divinity in order to invest himself fully in humanity.
Further evidence of Jesus’ kenosis is found in the Gospels. While Scripture is clear that God knows all things (Ps. 139; 1 John 3:20), it is also clear that Jesus did not know all things—even though he was fully God. Jesus admitted that he did not know the “day or hour” of his return. Only the Father knew this (Mark 13:32).
Jesus did not know who touched him to receive a healing (Mark 5:30) or how long a young boy had been demonized (Mark 9:20–21). In the Garden of Gethsemane, he prayed that his Father would find a way for him to avoid his crucifixion “if it [was] possible” (Matt. 26:39). Jesus could not have sincerely prayed this prayer if he as God knew all along that it was not possible to avoid his crucifixion.
It seems clear, therefore, that as a full human being, Jesus was not omniscient (all-knowing). He had a finite mind, for this is an essential part of what it means to be human. Jesus had to learn and grow in wisdom just as all other humans do (Luke 2:52). Indeed, Scripture says that God made Jesus “perfect through sufferings” (Heb. 2:10). “He learned obedience through what he suffered,” and it was only after he had “been made perfect” that he could become “the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (Heb. 5:8–9). This does not imply that Jesus was morally imperfect, for the Bible tells us he was sinless (Heb. 4:15). But it does imply that as with all humans, Jesus had to grow spiritually as well as mentally and emotionally. To do so, Jesus had to surrender temporarily the use of his infinite wisdom and power.
Only this "emptying of himself" explains how Jesus could have been tempted just as we are “in every respect,” even though Scripture also states that God cannot be tempted (Heb. 4:15; James 1:13). Either we must accept the contradictory view that Jesus both could and could not be tempted, or we must conclude that Jesus relinquished the use of those aspects of his divinity (such as his omniscience) that prevented him as God from being susceptible to temptation.
How William Branham interpreted it
William Branham referred to Philippians 2:7 and seems to have understood the basic meaning of "κενόω" but also appears to have completely misinterpreted the passage:
- Now, when It said here that He emptied Himself, or poured out, now, we would think like this, that He “vomit up,” the English word of emptied, or poured out from Him, see, something went out of Him that was different from Him. But the word kenos, in the Greek, does not mean that He “vomit up,” or some …His arm went off, or His eye went out, another person.
- That is, He changed Himself, He “poured Himself into,” (Amen!), into another mask, into another form. Not another person went out of Him, called the Holy Spirit, but It was He Himself. You get it? [Congregation says, “Amen.”—Ed.] He Himself poured Himself into the people. “Christ in you!” How beautiful, how wonderful, to think, God pouring Himself into the human being, into the believer. “Pour out!” It was a part of His drama, to do so. God, all the fullness, all the Godhead bodily was in this Person, Jesus Christ. He was God, and God alone. Not a third person or a second person, or a first person; but the Person, God veiled in human flesh.
- ...Notice, all the Glory that is in God is in the Word. All the blessings that’s in God is in the Word. It’s hid, to the unbeliever, by traditions. See what I mean? But It’s all in Christ. All that God was, He emptied Himself, “kenos,” and came into Christ; and we, into Christ, are behind the veil.
William Branham does not understand that Christ emptied himself to become a man. He changes the meaning of "emptied himself" to "poured into" and then says that this means that God poured himself into Christ, which is not what the passage says. Christ emptied himself! The passage does not state that the Father emptied himself into the Son. This is not what the passage says.
William Branham further misinterprets this a few weeks later:
- In Joel 2:28, He promised, that, “In this last days there would be a latter rain poured out upon the people, in the last days.” I think the Greek word there is kenos, which means that He “emptied” Hisself out. Not in the way that we would say, like something was inside of somebody, that He emptied out. But, He poured Himself out.
- ...You’ll see the full value, and see the unveiled God come right in view. That, He’s just the same as He was when He fell on the Day of Pentecost, upon the people, when He kenos’ed Hisself, “emptied” right into It. That’s right.
Of course, the book of Joel was written in Hebrew and not in Greek. There is a translation of the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek (the Septuagint) but in the Septuagint the word "poured out" in the Greek is "ἐκχέω" (eckcheo) which means "to scatter a substance or mass."
And the Greek word "kenoo" is not found in the book of Acts, so William Branham's further statement about the pouring out of the Holy Spirit has absolutely nothing to do with kenosis. Other places where the word appears in the New Testament would include 1 Cor. 9:15 and 2 Cor 9:3.
This is a good example of William Branham having a specific theological view and then attempting to twist scripture to agree with his view.
- The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), Php 2:5–8.
- The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Php 2:5–8.
- New American Standard Bible, 1995 Edition: Paragraph Version (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Php 2:5–8.
- Gregory A. Boyd and Paul R. Eddy, Across the Spectrum: Understanding Issues in Evangelical Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009), 119–120.
- William Branham, 64-0614M - The Unveiling Of God, para. 77-78, 238
- William Branham, 64-0629 - The Mighty God Unveiled Before Us, para. 91, 217
- Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 199.