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Did Jesus give up His divine powers?

Perhaps you’ve heard a new teaching about Jesus from today’s so-called apostles and prophets. According to this teaching, when Jesus was on earth–though He was fully God—He voluntarily gave up the use of His divine powers and did all His miracles as a mere human being through the power of the Holy Spirit. The implication of this teaching is that there was nothing unique about Jesus’ ability to do miracles. Rather, He served as a pattern for all his followers to do miracles as He did.

In other words, you and I–in our day-to-day Christian lives–should be calming storms, healing the sick and raising the dead.

charisma_mar_2012

Charisma magazine, March 2012

The teaching that Jesus temporarily gave up His divine powers was promoted recently in Charisma magazine. In the March cover article article, titled “You’ve Got the Power!“, Bill Johnson, the senior pastor of Bethel Church in Redding, California, wrote:

“While Jesus is eternally God, He emptied Himself of His divinity and became a man (see Phil. 2:7). It’s vital to note that He did all His miracles as a man, not as God.”

Other influential promoters of this teaching include C. Peter Wagner (former professor at Fuller Theological Seminary and presiding apostle emeritus of the International Coalition of Apostles) and  Jack Deere (former professor at Dallas Theological Seminary and founder of Wellspring Church in North Richland Hills, Texas).

C. Peter Wagner explained the teaching in his 2008 book titled Dominion!:

“Reread the gospels in light of this [that is, in light of Jesus’ temptations by Satan], and you will see that all of Jesus’ mighty works—His miracles, His signs and wonders, His prophecies, His deliverance ministry and the rest—can be explained adequately by the supernatural working of the power of the Holy Spirit through Jesus as a human being. … This should dissipate any doubts as to how  Jesus could tell us, as mere human beings, that we would do the same works He did and even greater works. The same Holy Spirit who did miracles through Jesus is available to do them through us today.”

Similarly, Jack Deere wrote:

“Thus the Old Testament prophets, Jesus himself, and his apostles all attribute the divine power in his [Jesus’] ministry not to the uniqueness of his deity, but rather to the ministry of the Holy Spirit through him.” (Surprised by the Voice of God, page 45).

The teaching that Jesus temporarily gave up His divine powers has a number of problems, which I plan to address in upcoming posts. In this post, I will address one of those problems. But, first, I must be clear: I am not addressing the issue of whether miracles occur today. What I’m addressing here is a very specific claim– that is, the claim that Jesus gave up His divine powers when he came to earth.

This claim is based, in large part, on a misreading of Philippians 2:7. This verse—according to some translations of the Bible such as the New American Standard Bible—says that Jesus “emptied Himself.” What did Jesus empty himself of? A mistaken assumption is that He “emptied” himself of his divine attributes or at least the use of them. Recall that this is how Johnson interpreted this verse in the Charisma article cited above, stating that Jesus “emptied Himself of His divinity.”

But Philippians does not teach that Jesus emptied himself of his divinity or any of his divine attributes. Rather it teaches that he gave up His divine status and privileges to be born and suffer as a human. As commentator Sean M. McDonough says:

“Greek kenoō can mean “empty, pour out” or also (metaphorically) “give up status and privilege.”  Does this mean that Christ temporarily relinquished his divine attributes during his earthly ministry? This theory of Christ’s kenosis or “self-emptying” is not in accord with the context of Philippians or with early Christian theology. Paul is not saying that Christ became less than God or “gave up” some divine attributes; he is not even commenting directly on the question of whether Jesus was fully omnipotent or omniscient during his time on earth. Nor is he saying that Christ ever gave up being “in the form of God.” Rather, Paul is stressing that Christ, who had all the privileges that were rightly his as king of the universe, gave them up to become an ordinary Jewish baby bound for the cross. Christ “made himself nothing” by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men (roughly equivalent phrases). While he had every right to stay comfortably where he was, in a position of power, his love drove him to a position of weakness for the sake of sinful mankind (cf. 2 Cor. 8:9, “though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich”). The “emptying” consisted of his becoming human, not of his giving up any part of his true deity.” [see McDonough’s commentary on Philippians 2:7 in the notes of the ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008), 2283]

Thus, the true meaning of Philippians 2:7 is better captured in the translation given by the English Standard Version. Rather than “emptied Himself,” it says that Christ “made himself nothing.”

So, this verse cannot be properly used to support the teaching that Jesus gave up His divine powers and did all his miracles as a mere human being.

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13 Responses to “Did Jesus give up His divine powers?”

  1. samuel Says:

    THE PRESUMPTION OF both you and the accused is that Jesus was fully God, fully man nonsense, which you say “God became flesh” but the truth is that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that Jesus, the word of God, the Son of God, became man, (son of God in son of man) to pay for our sins. He did do as we should, should we be walking as true sons of God! The miracles he did, were done because God gave Him power and authority, because he was sent by God, the father. You accuse others of being error, yet you your self preach JUST THE OTHER SIDE OF THE COIN…

  2. David Says:

    The apostles did many of the same miracles as Jesus did, and Jesus Himself promised that some would do, “greater works.”  And they were not God, nor, “little gods.”  So the REASON Jesus was able to do miracles is irrelevant for proving whether His disciples could possibly do them — He said they WOULD do them.  C. Peter Wagner and his group of deluded prophets are heretics for reasons far deeper than anything mentioned in this article.  The reason any miracles they do (i.e., claim to do) are to be discounted is because they are leading people away from the Truth in Christ to another gospel.

  3. Friend of Muslims Says:

    We know that our Lord “grew in wisdom and stature” (Luke 2.52). This meant He learned. That shows us in some unfathomable way He gave up His own innate divine wisdom and knowledge – or perhaps lived in a moment-by-moment decision not to use them. We read her was “surprised”, that He “marvelled” – these are expressions of humanness. We read He asks questions and responds to the answers. We read that He DID perform mighty miracles, signs and wonders by the “power of the Spirit” (Luke 4.14, Acts 10.38). John perhaps in His gospel more distinctly than the other evangelists gives us another aspect of His service – at times He DID use His divine power. The qualification is that it is all “at the command of the Father” (John.2.11, 5.19, 10.17-19). He takes the position of man, refusing to use His divine power for Himself (Luke.4.4) that He might redeem man. But at the same time God the Father is determined for us to see who the Son is and to glorify Him. Hence the transfiguration. His “emptying of Himself” is truly an unfathomable mystery and we are stepping onto holy ground trying to completely define it. We cannot have it in simplistic terms one way or the other.

  4. IWTT Says:

    This was a huge discussion that occured on FB here..

    http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Bethel-Church-and-Christianity/148396958530669

    and then this site has a huge amount of information…

    http://notunlikelee.wordpress.com/

  5. IWTT Says:

    Sorry, the FB link didn’t work, if you have Facebook search Bethel Church and Christianity page… you find it as you serach through some of the topics…

  6. Les Crosthwaite Says:

    This is not a ‘new teaching’ as you claim. For example, John Owen (perhpas the greatest theologian of the Puritan era) held this view.

  7. Jack Swager Says:

    In full agreement with samuel; Jesus said “of myself I can do nothing”. Jesus didn’t lie! We may not like what the truth is but we have to accept it if we want the benefit of full truth . Jesus had to be fully man in order to to over come the world on our behalf so that in new life through him, we can overcome the world as he did.

  8. Dan Fairchild Says:

    Interesting how Jesus never performed any miracles until after He was  filled with the Holy Spirit.  Jesus did miracles and raised the dead the same way people are doing miracles and raising the dead today.

  9. Rich Moore Says:

    The pastor at my church is teaching this heresy and that is what it is Heresy. When Jesus said he could do nothing of himself he was stating that he didn’t work independently of the Father.  The Spirit coming upon him was an public declaration of the start of his ministry, not how he was able to do miracles. We are told John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit from birth, are to we assume the Jesus was void of the Spirit.  Note also the Jesus said it was the Father dwelling in him that did things (Jo 14:10) Who created everything Father, Son and Spirit. Who raised Jesus from the dead, Father, Son and the Spirit. Who works mans salvation. Father, Son and Spirit. The bible attributes these acts to all three persons. We need some Trinity teaching in todays churches.
      People are lower Jesus position so they can raise their own. Heresy!

  10. Jack Swager Says:

    Your remark are obscure. Thr Word declares that Jesus was tempted in all points as we yet without sin. God cannot be tempted with evil. So Jesus ovef came sin as s msn.

  11. Steve Says:

    I first read Deere’s book some 20 years ago and didn’t have any real problem with it, in fact while not agreeing with all of it, on the whole I quite liked it but I am not so comfortable with his newer publication ‘Beginner’s Guide to the Gift of Prophecy’. This was before I had heard anything of the NAR. If Deere is associated with the NAR, which he appears to be, I would not recommend any of his newer books. I don’t recall Deere ever suggesting that Christ gave up His divinity re Phil. 2:7 – I don’t know how I would have missed that. I believe that Phil. 2:7 teaches that Christ retained all His divine attributes in the incarnation (He had to or He would cease to be God) but chose, as the Suffering Servant, not to “grasp at” and use those attributes to their fullness during His earthly life (all part of the suffering). I also would agree with Deere if he is asserting that Christ performed His ministry through the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus of course is our Model for ministry – “as the Father has sent me, so I send you. With that He breathed on them and said, ‘receive the Holy Spirit.” Jn. 20:22. We live and minister through the power of the Holy Spirit as Jesus did. I understand Deere to be say just that.  In his association with the NAR I hope he hasn’t moved to a position where he compromises the doctrinal position that affirms the full Deity of Christ during His earthly life. If he has made that shift, that is very sad and very dangerous.
    Steve

  12. Jonathan david Says:

    I think the key here is to be able to distinguish ontological from the operational.

    I would hope that all here believe the primary ontological truth that God is 100% God and 100% man. Bill Johnson has stated this 100/100 truth in public and on Website, so that is not the issue here.

    The operational aspect has to do with trying to grasp the deep truth of how the hypostatic union worked “under the hood.” It is not hard to miss that Jesus operated in a sort of operational limitation while here on earth. He did not make use of his omniscience. He grew in wisdom (Luke 2:52) and did not know when he would return (Mark 13:30-32).
    It is critical then, to understand that operating at less than full capabilities did not contradict who he was.

    It is clear there Jesus followed an operationally limiting protocol. There are a lot of ways to try and phrase it. and some phraseology is better than others, but all will be inadequate of giving appropriate depth to this complex truth — yet may be helpful. 

    For example, a CPU chip will be used in a limited configuration for different applications and purposes. This does not mean it is not a complete (ontological) XYZ chip! (Techies should appreciate that approach!).

    In that respect, one could say that Jesus operated in a limiting configuration, for particular divinely ordered reasons. It is for the Bible student to search out those reasons.

    Let’s show grace to others as we all struggle to grasp an unfathomable truth in our limited minds and expression!

  13. Al Mariano Says:

    The concept of “fully God and fully man” missed a very important truth leading to a flawed explanation of “operationally limiting protocol”, i.e., “limited configuration for different applications and purposes”
    That, as a man, Jesus maintained his divine powers from birth till death. But, what is the truth? Understanding what the word “god” is, as defined in the Bible (Old and New Testament), will help in seeking the truth. Access this link:http://fact-s.net/2015/07/20/what-is-god/
     
    The faith “of” Jesus is central to our salvation. Jesus is the YHVH, the Creator God as explained in John 1:1. What is this “faith of Jesus” in the Father? It is, that when he incarnates  or becomes human without his previous powers, that he would receive the Holy Spirit after water baptism, do miracles because of these powers from the Holy Spirit, die as a Passover for all mankind and as propitiation for sins, that he would be resurrected and be given the Holy Spirit by the Father, to then be given to humans to seal us and be “one” with them. After all of these, the God-kingdom will be established composed of “sons of God” with Jesus as the “elder brother”.  When we become members of this kingdom, salvation would be achieved.
     

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