He Humbled Himself


Anti-trinitarians perceive a contradiction between verses like John 14:28: "You have heard Me say to you, 'I am going away and coming back to you.' If you loved Me, you would rejoice because I said, 'I am going to the Father,' for My Father is greater than I" -- and the traditional Christian affirmation that the Son is equal to the Father.  But far from being in contradiction with scripture, Christians say what they do about God because that's what the scriptures say:

"Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Philippians 2:5-11).

This passage portrays a dynamic roller-coaster ride, from the glory of heaven to the depths of suffering on the cross...then back again. It is thus inattentive to read passages like John 14:28 as describing a static condition. How can One who 'humbled himself' remain as great as before?

"And not, therefore, without cause the Scripture says both the one and the other, both that the Son is equal to the Father, and that the Father is greater than the Son.  For there is no confusion when the former is understood as on account of the form of God, and the latter as on account of the form of a servant.  And, in truth, this rule for clearing the question through all the sacred Scriptures is set forth in one chapter of an epistle of the Apostle Paul, where this distinction is commended to us plainly enough.  For he says, 'Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God; but emptied Himself, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and was found in fashion as a man.' The Son of God, then, is equal to God the Father in nature, but less in 'fashion.' For in the form of a servant which He took He is less than the Father; but in the form of God, in which also He was before He took the form of a servant, He is equal to the Father. In the form of God He is the Word, 'by whom all things are made;' but in the form of a servant He was 'made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law.' In like manner, in the form of God He made man; in the form of a servant He was made man.  For if the Father alone had made man without the Son, it would not have been written, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.' (Augustine, On the Trinity, Book I, Chapter 7.14).

So it's on account of Philippians 2:6 that believers describe Jesus as equal with the Father, not unmindful that He then laid aside His divine prerogatives. With astonishing condescension, the mighty God "humbled himself"!



Jesus washing Peter's feet at the Last Supper, Ford Madox Brown
Jesus washing Peter's feet at the Last Supper, Ford Madox Brown

The Hymn of Christ


Arius, who denied the deity of Jesus Christ, assumed that John 14:28 describes the way things have always been, and that the Son was lesser by nature.

A verb in present tense may be talking about what's happening right now: for example, when Jesus told His brothers He was not going to the festival: "You go up to this feast. I am not yet going up to this feast, for My time has not yet fully come." (John 7:8). But He did go later. If one understands the present tense of 'I go not' to mean, not just 'I go not,' but 'I haven't gone, I am not going, and I am not ever going to go,' then one imputes prevarication to the Lord! Present tense can be simply that, 'I go.' Present tense may also evoke a timeless reality: "God is love." This does not mean, 'God is at the moment love, things formerly having been quite different.' Readers whose orthodoxy is beyond question have read the 'is' of John 14:28 in both ways.

Not only the heretic Arius, but also some who know the Lord read this verse as describing an unchanging reality. Alexander, Arius' nemesis, viewed John 14:28 as touching on the Father's greater dignity as origin: "Therefore His proper dignity as unbegotten must be reserved to the Father, no one being called the cause of His existence.  To the Son must be accorded the honor which befits Him, ascribing to Him a generation from the Father without beginning.  And, as we have already said, we are to render worship to Him, only piously and religiously saying of Him the was and the eternal and the before ages; not, however, rejecting His divinity, but ascribing to Him in all things an exact likeness in the image and in the character of the Father.  To the Father alone, however, do we ascribe the peculiar circumstance of being the Unbegotten; for the Savior Himself has said, 'My Father is greater than I.'" (Encyclical Letter of Alexander of Alexandria, 12, 679, p. 301, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Volume 1, William A. Jurgens).

But as Augustine points out, Philippians 2:5-11 shows us Jesus making Himself less than He had been. Can His relations of equality and inequality remain the same even while He makes Himself unequal to what He had before been?


The Incarnation

 "...the seed of Abraham." 



This behavior might seem oddly out of place for the mighty God. It's not, it's familiarly in character:


Weight David
Israel Mary's Magnificat
Friedrich Nietzsche Lowest Place
God-Likeness Imaginary Friends
Douglas Wilson He Humbled Himself