The Divine Name as a Form of Kenōsis in Both Biblical Testaments


The Synopsis Purioris Theologiae contains a series of Disputations held at Leiden University, and appeared in 1625 because of the need for clarification of Reformed doctrine after the troubles that had led to the Synod of Dort of 1618-19. In the Third Disputation, “Concerning the Canonical and Apocryphal Books,” its president Antonius Thysius drafted the following, twentieth thesis:[1] “The canonical books, and thus the canon, at first comprised the Books of Moses”.[2] To this initial canon other texts – viz. historical, didactic and prophetic books, and the New Testament – were then added for various reasons. And thus, the thesis concludes:

As the Old Testament is the foundation of the New, so the New Testament is the fulfilment of the Old. And so the canon was not made complete by means of these books insofar as the universal doctrines of salvation are concerned, but insofar as their unique qualities, clarity and evidence are concerned.[3]

This last sentence assumes some premises that are questionable for our modern consciousness, such as the historical premise that the Pentateuch, with Moses himself as its author, contains the oldest parts of the biblical canon, and the philosophical premises that the perfection of the whole should also be essentially present in all its parts and that universal truth cannot include any development. Nevertheless, Karl Barth, who refers to the thesis from the Leiden Synopsis (as well as to a similar sentence of William Bucanus[4]) – and who undoubtedly did not subscribe to the premises I mentioned – could write: “We can say that this is too bold a view. In any case, it is gratuitous, for we do not have to do now only with the Pentateuch. But I cannot see where it is wrong. If all scripture does in fact attest one thing, it cannot be denied that if we only know one part of it, it attests it perfectly even in that part.”[5]

Barth’s approbation concerns the presence of the whole doctrine of salvation in all the parts of Scripture, not specifically its presence in the “Books of Moses.” In my valedictory lecture as Professor of Biblical Hermeneutics on 7th May 2019, I announced a project in which, starting from the theses of orthodox Reformed theologians as Thysius and Bucan, I aim to explore the possibilities of developing quaestiones in Christian doctrine from within the Torah, albeit self-evidently not from the Torah as a collection of texts in isolation from the canon as a whole.[6] The present chapter – in which I explore the possible presence of the concept of kenōsis in the Torah – is meant as an example of the quest that I intend to undertake. However, in our correspondence following the above lecture, Bruce McCormack expressed some hesitations with regard to my programme and its presupposition that the Torah is basic to the structure of the biblical witness.[7] He wrote: “I remain convinced that Von Campenhausen was right to say that Irenaeus made the Hebrew Scriptures to be the Christian Old Testament through his suggestion that the New Testament itself had effected a shift from a centre of gravity in Torah to a centre of gravity in the prophetic literature in its reading(s) of Old Testament texts.”[8] In the following, I will first examine the presupposition that was questioned by McCormack and ask whether and to what extent the Torah (as “teaching,” “instruction,” which in Latin would be doctrina) can function as a source and authority in unfolding Christian doctrine. In that context, I will offer a falsification of my presupposition in conversation with Katherine Sonderegger, too. Thereafter, given (as Calvin would say[9]) the similarity as well as the difference between the relationship of YHWH, Moses, and the people of Israel on the one hand, and of divinity and humanity in Jesus Christ on the other hand, I will explore some aspects of proto-Christological patterns in the former relationship, with a particular focus on the presence of possible kenotic tendencies. These aspects will be: (1) the humility of God and of his servant, (2) the speaking and the writing of the Word, (3) the authority, the sin and the seath of Moses and (4) Moses mediating the covenant, respectively. And finally, I will draw some lines from the Torah to the locus classicus of kenoticism, the hymn in Philippians 2:5-11. These lines are, firstly, the child of Adam, resisting temptation and ready to share in the human condition, and, secondly, the Name that is above every name.

The Instruction of Moses and the Doctrine of the Church

In the epoch-making view of Wellhausen, the prophets were initially the founders of the law, but prophecy lost its critical force in its post-exilic elaboration, suffocating in legalistic regulations and bringing living history to an end through a dead literalism until Jesus, in his conflict with the aristocracy of the temple and the lawyers, revitalised the original prophetic spirit.[10] Wellhausen was accused of anti-Judaism for this line of thought, and although others used in that way, it is more likely that his own motives within the Protestant world were primarily anti-clerical. At the same time, however, for Wellhausen the slogan lex post prophetas did not include the process of canonization. On that level, the closure of the redaction of the Pentateuch came slightly earlier than that of the books of the prophets. This classical thesis has been contested in the more recent literature, e.g., by Stephen Chapman.[11] He shows that Deuteronomy 34:10-12 explicitly links Moses at the end of his “books” to the prophets – “There has not arisen since in Israel a prophet quite like Moses” is meant in a superlative degree – and that Malachi 4:4-6, as the last words of the books of the prophets and corresponding to those last words of the Torah, insists on remembering the law of Moses. In addition, Chapman traces how in the later parts of the scriptures, such as Chronicles and Daniel, the twofold nature of the law and the prophets is emphatically underlined.[12] An alternative to Wellhausen’s classical thesis has thus been developed.[13]

Nevertheless, although the law and the prophets are canonically linked and there are many cross-references between these major parts of the canon,[14] at the same time each of them represents its own literary genre and a specific theological purpose. Ever since the second century BCE, the Torah has stood as a category on its own.[15] One can say: “the river Jordan flows between Deuteronomy and Joshua.”[16] Intentionally, the Torah concludes at the border of the promised land: it remains, to express it in Kantian categories, a “regulative principle” which never legitimizes the actual practice of habitation, and which, for exactly that reason, can survive any experience of exile. In terms of systematic theology, I would say that the Torah contains teaching and instruction, or “doctrine” – albeit not in the categorical mode to which we are accustomed – while the Prophets contain “contextual theology,” as it is always related to an (at least alleged) particular time: “it came to pass in the days of…, that the Word of the Lord came to . . .” Both modes are important, but they must not be confused or divided. In my project, I will explore the Books of Moses as “doctrinal” dogmatics and ethics, but not without considering their perichoreses with the Prophets as the other main part of the Old Testament canon.

Now it is undeniable that no easy continuity exists between those portions of Scripture and the New Testament. For Paul, the law had become an obstacle for the relationship of Jews and Gentiles, and an oppressive, even deadly, institution. In his eyes, it could no longer indicate a way of life unless the Spirit – that is the Spirit of Jesus Christ – functioned as its forceful presupposition (Rom. 8:2). But at the same time, a careful reading of his letters by Jewish and Christian scholars together has also found that, as the disciple of Gamaliel he had been, his instructions for the ekklēsiai show remarkably halakhic traits.[17] And for John, the aim of the law, i.e. “grace and truth” – the translation of hesed we-’emet,“abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” in God’s self-proclamation of Exod. 34:6 – was fulfilled only in the coming of Jesus Christ (John 1:17).[18] At the same time, in the fourth Gospel the story of Jesus is told on the basis of the Jewish festivals (heortai, feasts, 17 times in the Gospel).[19] However, John’s calendar is different from that of Matthew. In one such difference the crucifixion coincides with the slaughtering of the paschal lamb on 14 Nisan (John 19:36). This corresponds with the tradition of the Quartodecimans of Asia Minor, who (perhaps for reasons of delimitation from Judaism) would be condemned at the first council of Nicaea. The Christological preaching on the text of Exodus 12 in Melito of Sardis’s Peri Pascha (around 165 CE) also evidences the same tradition. Von Campenhausen observes that Melito, almost a contemporary of Irenaeus, still kept the same “old method” of reading the Old Testament that the young Irenaeus had practiced.[20] For him, Christ himself was speaking in the Torah, also in some of its halakhic aspects. In my view, the key for this development that we can trace in the texts of John and Melito is to be found in the loss of the second temple in 70 CE. For the rabbinic tradition, the way out of this predicament was as follows: when the priestly parts of the Torah could not be practiced in the temple anymore, they could nevertheless be transformed and “democratized” in the daily halakhic practice of the Jewish household.[21] At the same time, for the messianic groups, they were fulfilled in the crucifixion of the Lord and to be retained in remembrance of him. Therefore, in both traditions, the Torah had to be reread.


At this point in my argument, having claimed that early Christianity heard Christ himself speaking in the Torah, I must halt. For another view has been presented by a Christian theologian, whom I greatly admire for many reasons, which also stresses that Torah is the “form” and “pattern” of biblical teaching but at the same time refuses to appropriate its text by way of a Christological reading. I am referring to the fascinating first volume of Katherine Sonderegger’s Systematic Theology.[22] Her starting-point is the shema‘ – “Hear, O Israel” (Deut. 6:4). This is taken as indicating the Oneness of God, a “metaphysical predicate” of the godhead that in systematic theology must be treated prior to the reflections on the trinitarian-Christological dogma of the church and must “govern and conform and set forth” those reflections. She does not hesitate to call monotheism the conviction that “aligns the Christian God with the faiths of Abraham, Judaism and Islam.”[23]

            “Hear Israel, YHWH our God, YHWH is One.” The meaning of the Hebrew sentence is not fully transparent, and one can combine and translate the words differently. But it is certainly clear that the Name YHWH here determines what can be said about ’elohim, godhead. In contrast with the view Sonderegger that divine quiddity should not be compressed into divine identity, the “Who?” of God not in His “what?,”[24] I read this wording precisely the other way around: although YHWH is always veiling himself in his unveiling, the revelation of the Name, i.e. the identity, predicates the nature (’elohim, as the general designator for divine entities). In contrast with the Torah, we read in the Qur’an, Surah Al Ikhlas, 112:1: Qoel: Allahu ahad, “Say: He is God (Allah), the One.” A personal Name as a subject of the sentence is missing here, and the generic name takes over its function. Therefore, the Torah (and Jesus in the Gospel, Mark 12:29) and the Qur’an differ in their phrasing and therewith in their witness.[25] For precisely that reason, the shema‘ can function as an indication of the covenant of this specific Name with this specific people, the people of Israel in the whole of the book of Deuteronomy. Certainly, Sonderegger refers to the covenant,[26] but what are the implications for the One Himself that He is willing to be the God of this covenant? Surely my Reformed mind is to blame, but I cannot imagine speaking of divine Oneness in this context without reflecting on the meaning of election and covenant for the One God. But that is not the way Sonderegger proceeds; see also her rejection of the concept of the will of God in favour of the divine nature in §4 of this first volume of her Systematic Theology.

At the very beginning, Sonderegger points to references in the Gospel and in James to the shema‘ but is silent about Paul’s reference to it in Galatians 3:19-20. I can imagine why this is the case, for verse 19 in particular is a notorious crux interpretum, if only because of the divergent manuscripts.[27] In the preceding verses, Paul has stressed the provisional character of the Torah: it was not yet there in the days of God’s promises to Abraham, and it is no longer there in the days of the Messiah, and now he poses the question, “Why then the law?” He responds (according to P46): “[the law] of works? – [that functions as an interim] until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made.” Perhaps because this sounds too enigmatic, most manuscripts write instead: “It was added because of transgressions, until….” This assertion seems to be an allusion to the later explanation in the letter to the Romans.[28] However, in the explanation of early Christian commentators on Exodus, the verb “to transgress” refers to the apostasy in the story of the calf (Exod. 32:8): because of this sin, Moses (and not the Lord himself, as was the case the first time) is supposed to have written the Ten Commandments on two tablets again (see some variants of Exod. 34:28 and 34:1). It may be for that reason that the following verses speak of a mediator: the first two tablets were written “with the finger of God” (Exod. 31:18); the second tablets, on a lower level, “by the hand of Moses” (for this expression see Lev. 26:46 [KJV]), the mediator. Galatians 3:19b states: “(and it was) ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator” (KJV). The theophany at Sinai gives the impression that angels are present at the divine revelation and organize it. But for Paul, in this context, that is a minor aspect. At the centre is Moses being called a mediator. This can be related to Moses’ writing the law, but even more, in accordance with the tradition of Philo and the rabbinic figure of a sirsur (broker), to his intercession after the history of the calf (Exod. 32:31–33:17) – I will return to both aspects below. Then, in verse 20, Paul sketches a clear antithesis: “however, a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one” (KJV). As a middleman, Moses (the intercessor) mediates between two parties, God (represented by his angels) and sinful Israel. Therefore, the Torah reflects an antagonism, a compromise, an interim. And now, strikingly, Paul confronts this defect in respect of the involvement of the mediator with the shema‘: for God is not two, but one! In his Septuagint, the apostle would have read: Akoue, Israel, kyrios ho theos hēmōn kyrios eis estin. Kyrios! I presume that Paul is seeing Jesus here as kyrios, a translation of the tetragrammaton YHWH. Appealing to the shema‘, he is provocatively saying: “in Christ, more than Moses is here, not the mediator,[29] but the divine Name, the divine Name that is one!” In my view, this text must be brought into conversation with Sonderegger’s argument that the interpretation of the shema‘ should not be confused with Christological reflection, and furthermore it should be a motif for examining the mediatorship of Moses in the Torah.

Kenotic Aspects of the Speaking and Acting of YHWH and of Moses

In his revelation to Moses in the burning bush, YHWH says: “I have come down (’ered) to deliver [my people] from the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up (ha‘alot) out of that land to a good and broad land” (Exod. 3:8). The divine Name is coming down, and the people will be brought up. This twofold movement is comparable with the twofold movement in Karl Barth’s doctrine of reconciliation – “the humiliation and obedience of the Son of God” and “the exaltation of the Son of Man” (Church Dogmatics IV/1 – IV/2)[30] – although Barth, as far as I know, never refers to this verse from Exodus to clarify this twofold movement that is so fundamental to his understanding of Jesus Christ.[31] The metaphor of the “coming down” of YHWH (cf. Gen. 11:5, Exod. 19:11, Num. 11:17 etc.) is significant for understanding who he is in his revelation to his people. In this context, I would say that it makes sense to speak of the “humility of God,” linking the Torah to a motif of kenōsis in the New Testament. However, I am aware that this is not quite the same meaning of the divine attribute as it finds in Sonderegger’s study. She speaks of God’s omnipotence as the Lord’s “holy humility,” and therewith she primarily means the divine hiddenness in the world he has created – a “holy and gracious freedom exercised by the One for others” – such that God can be near to creation without overwhelming it.[32] If I understand this correctly, the concept expressed in this way approximates to the Jewish-kabbalistic conviction of divine self-limitation, in which YHWH makes room for his creatures to be and to act of their own accord. This element, in my perception, is not absent in the Torah: particularly after the great catastrophe of the golden calf, YHWH attentively issues commands so as to provide means for his covenant partners to express themselves: the priestly parts on the tabernacle, the sacrifices, and the feasts all point in that direction. But there is a divine humility in the central drama of the story too, and that is what interests me in the present context: the divine coming down, with the intent of causing the ascent of his enslaved people.

  The figure of Moses reflects this descent of his Lord. When Origen, at the very beginning of his work On First Principles,wants to illustrate that Christ had already spoken before his incarnation, he simply quotes Hebrews 11:24-26: “By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called a son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to share ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered abuse suffered for the Christ to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt.”[33] From here, we can certainly draw a line to the etapeinōsen,“he humbled himself,” that is said of Jesus Christ in Philippians 2:8. The same can be said of the characterization of Moses in Numbers 12:3 – said in the context of several challenges to his authority here and in the following chapters – that Moses was “very humble, more so than anyone else on the face of the earth.” He did not try to become powerful or rich at the expense of his solidarity with this people of former slaves.

The authority of Moses is clearly connected with his office of speaking and writing the Word of the Lord. The book of Deuteronomy offers an explicit and subtle theological reflection on this office.[34] Chapters 9 and 10 reflect on the story of the great rupture in the covenant that each new generation must appropriate again for itself. The focus here is not on the image of the calf, but on the second set of tablets which Moses receives from the Lord and stores in the Ark of the Covenant (Deut. 10:5). The importance of this action becomes clear at the end of Deuteronomy. Moses writes down in the “book of the Torah” the words that he has spoken and places the book at the side of the ark (Deut. 31:24-26). Anybody who wants to pay attention to the words which YHWH himself wrote down must turn to Moses’ book. At the same time, the authors of Deuteronomy have managed, in a sophisticated way, to identify the “book of the Torah” with their own book without explicitly saying so. With regard to the Lord, this means that he had laid his own words “in the hands of Moses” (as a text in its canonical shape) and made himself dependent on his servant for their handing on, which is itself a kenotic expression of confidence.

 We have already noted that Paul in Galatians 3:19 was overly critical of the mediatorship of Moses in this respect. The literary unit of 2 Corinthians 3:1-4:15 likewise has frequently been interpreted as displaying a similarly critical approach. Nevertheless, here too the method of interpretation is strongly influenced by rabbinic practice. The (liturgical) combination of Exodus 34:30-35, on the shining face of Moses coming down from mount Sinai, and Jeremiah 31:31-34, on the renewal of the covenant that shall be written in the hearts of the people, may be venerable. And the quibble between cherōt (engraved; Ex 32:16) and the Aramaic cherut (freedom; 2 Cor. 3:17) can be found in the Mishna as well.[35] There thus may be a consensus that what Paul is stressing here is how only our turning to the Messiah in his Spirit can make the understanding of the text of Moses effective. Paul, formulating this hermeneutical rule, did not know about a “New Testament” as a text. For us, therefore, the rule is not so much a reproach in the direction of the Synagogue, as it implies a challenge to us in our reading of all the scriptures. The Lord has laid the books of Moses as well as the epistles of Paul in our hands, and he has taken a great risk in doing so.

From the day YHWH called Moses (Ex 3:4), the voice of Moses (Ex 3:18) – through his own mouth and through the mouth of Aaron (Ex 4:15) – would speak the Word of the Lord to the king of Egypt and to the people. This gratia unionis between Word and word, however, does not have an anhypostatic character. For there existed a separate human being, Moses, before it. His fury about injustice led to a murder that harmed his reputation (Ex 2:11-15), and his flight and afterward his marriage led to inactivity with regard to the liberation of Israel (Ex 2:15-22). Only then did YHWH intervene, coming down and calling his servant. And again, also after his calling, Moses existed as a separate human being. Although the Lord protects him against the many complaints and insurrections of the people (between the Sea of Reeds and Mount Sinai, Ex 15-19; between Sinai and Kadesh, Num 10-20; and from Kadesh to the plains of Moab, Num 20-26), at one point the old fury and revolutionary impatience turns up again, when Moses at Meribah prematurely smites the rock with his rod for water, not trusting sufficiently in God’s promises (Num 20:2-13).[36] The response is immediate: “But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you did not trust in me, to show my holiness before the eyes of the Israelites, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them’” (v. 12).

            However, when in Deuteronomy Moses tells the people that he asked the Lord to let him cross the Jordan, he continues: “But the Lord was angry with me on your account and would not heed me” (Deut 3:26). “[O]n your account”—what can that mean? I suggest that it has to do with the function of the Jordan flowing between the Law and the Prophets mentioned above. Had Moses settled with the people in the land, he would inevitably have become the legitimizing instance of the practices of settling. But because Torah is a “regulative principle,” that kind of legitimizing function of the Torah must be avoided. In this way, “on your account” is said as an act of preparing the place for the people. Moses must sacrifice himself to avoid idolatry with his name (and with his unknown grave, across from Peor in Moab that shall not become a place of pilgrimage; Deut. 34:6). He sinned, but in a particular sense you can say he did so for our sake: for Moses as well, God “made him to be sin” (cf. 2 Cor. 5:21).

 The Torah does not often connect Moses with the experience of death. It preaches a witness of life, and for Israel to be holy means to stay away from cadavers (e.g., Lev. 21:11-12, Num. 19:11-22, and connected halakhic provisions). Therefore, it is not easy to link the “learned obedience” of Moses with “what he suffered” (Heb. 5:8) in an unambiguous way. Nevertheless, this element is not missing in the Torah. We can recall in particular the moment when, after a most intense insurrection of the people, it was not Moses but his brother, the priest Aaron, who “put on the incense, and made tonement for the people. He stood between the dead and the living; and the plague was stopped” (Num 16:47-48).[37] The death of Moses himself at the end of Deuteronomy has a more peaceful connotation. The Rabbis explain the expression ‘al phy YHWH (at the mouth of the Lord) as his being taken away with a kiss. This makes possible the presence of Moses with Elijah as companions of Jesus and voices of the Word eternal. Sonderegger dares to speak of the “deification” of Moses.[38] While I am not sure whether I would adopt this wording, it is remarkable that the last verse of the Torah speaks of “all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel” (Deut. 34:12). Did he do them, or did his Lord?

As we saw, Paul in Galatians 3 downgraded the standing of Moses (in comparison to Jesus Christ) to that of a middleman negotiating between two parties. Nevertheless, one can doubt whether the apostle’s understanding of mediatorship is the only possible one. Therefore, let us look at the story of Moses as a mediator after the catastrophe of the adoration of the calf more closely.[39] K.H. Miskotte wrote a draft contemplation on Exodus 33:(10)14-16, meant for meditation in connection with the kerygmatic and didactic work of interpretation and witness. In what follows, I quote some sentences from this study. First, considering verse 10:

The people confess, by their falling down to worship, that the encounter with them takes place in the encounter with Moses. But one could also say – in view of what is inherent in the ‘Name’ – that God defers to the approach of the mediator. Thus, the whole of the Old Testament (though the origin of the covenant can be called “monopleuric”) is concerned with the relation between divine and human yearning and waiting, the mutual suffering and patience of God and his people. They stand over against each other and become “as enemies,” and then they come together and find each other. There is a divine suffering on account of men, but also a suffering with men, and there is a human suffering on account of God, but also a suffering with God. Nowhere in the Old Testament is there a trace of an absolute, unchangeable God; nowhere is he presented as “almighty” in the abstract sense; nowhere is there a conflict between his honour and the honour of the creature.[40]

Then, in verses 11–13, “the speech in which the Lord[41] and Moses engage here” is “an independent, antecedent secret, a friendship, as it were, a relationship that possesses a far higher degree of immediacy than the relationship to the people.” Miskotte writes: “How tremendous is this Moses who can rise up and boldly accuse YHWH of dealing equivocally with his servant.” He continues: “This prayer, this ‘demand’ of the mediator, is pitched exceedingly high. We stand aghast at the temerity with which Moses insists that the apostasies which occurred so recently shall be accepted and transformed into a knowledge (yada‘) of God’s nearness.” And he observes: “How ‘superhuman’ all this is, and how ‘subdivine.’”[42] This last sentence shows that, for Miskotte, Moses is far from being a particular specimen of the general category “mediator” in religious history. He is intimate with the intentions of the Lord to such a degree that, as his servant, he must remind YHWH to prove who he is in his Name. Although the categories of “superhuman” and “subdivine” exceed the boundaries of the definition of Chalcedon, one could paraphrase that here the Lord is humiliating himself, listening to and following the demand of his servant, whereas, in the same movement, the human servant is exalted to the highest stage of intimacy, reaching the heart of the Lord. While this is not a direct Christology, I dare to call it proto-Christological. And it can help transform Chalcedon in a much more vivid, dialogical, and moving direction. Perhaps Paul, writing to the Galatians at the beginning of his apostleship, struggling with the Law, and enthusiastic regarding the appearance of YHWH ‘êkhād in Christ, underestimated these specific proto-Christological traits of the mediatorship of Moses.

Lines leading from the Torah to the kenotic hymn in Philippians 2

Whoever is used to hearing the Torah in the circular form of the sabbatical lectures of the liturgical years can experience how the narratives of Genesis 1 to 4 follow the books of Numbers and Deuteronomy. In the wilderness, Israel became acquainted with temptations, the desire in its heart to be as gods, and the desire to be tested in its ability to obey and to be humbled (Deut. 8:1-10). However, in the garden of Eden man and woman showed they could not manage the test and were not willing “to live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” By contrast, early Judaism (and not only in its Hellenistic circles) developed a tradition of the original Adam, made in God’s image (Gen. 1:27), resisting temptation. There are grounds for recognizing such a first and true Adam in the person that is described in the first stanza of the song that Paul quotes in Philippians 2:6-11.[43] In that sense, the words en morphē theou hyparchōn can be translated as “existing in God’s image.”[44] When the son of Adam, of whom the hymn sings, “thought it not robbery” to be as God, he is characterized as the one who resisted the temptation to which the Adam of Genesis 3 succumbed. In this connection, it is less important whether we must interpret this figure as a “heavenly Adam” or as the person Jesus in his earthly appearance. In a haggadic sense, both at the same time can be true. In the same way, the narratives of the temptations in the synoptic gospels (Mark 1:13 par.) are written in a “mythic” tonality yet without lacking reference to the history of Jesus Christ as a whole.

            The second stanza starts: all’ heauton ekenōsen, morphēn doulou labōn. While the image of God is associated with dominion, now the child of Adam in question realizes this image in accepting the existence of a slave. Regarding this motif, a midrash that is handed down in several variants in the Babylonian Talmud may be instructive:

When Moses ascended on high to receive the Torah [Exod. 19:20ff.], the ministering angels [cf. the angels in Gal. 3:19] said before the Holy One, blessed be He: Master of the Universe, what is one born of a woman doing here among us? He said to them: he came to receive the Torah. The angels said before Him: The Torah is a hidden treasure that was concealed by you 974 generations before the creation of the world [i.e., 1000 generations, Ps 105:8, minus 26 generations between Adam and Moses], and you seek to give it to flesh and blood? “What is the man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You think of him?” (P. 8:4 [here, distinguished from its original meaning, quoted in a disdainful sense]). (…) The rightful place of God’s majesty, the Torah, is in the heavens. The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moses: Provide them with an answer as to why the Torah should be given to the people. […] Moses said before Him: master of the Universe, the Torah that you are giving me, what is written in it? God said to him: ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt from the house of bondage’ [Exod. 20:2]. Moses said to the angels: did you descend to Egypt? Were you enslaved to Pharaoh? Why should the Torah be yours? [45]

The Torah was not written for the glorious essences in heaven, but for that man who – in his kenotic existence – shares the burden of being tempted, is bewildered by the mysteries of earthly existence, and has been imprisoned in slavery. And the Son of Man on earth who lives in obedience to this Torah, he will experience his glory (Phil. 2:11) precisely because he resists temptation, because he shares the fate of a condemned slave on the cross (v. 8).

The hymn can be compared with the musical form of a fugue.[46] In such a reading, the “prologue in heaven” about the true Adam who resisted temptation figures as the first voice, and the portrait of the human being in his solidarity with the fate of slavery as the second. The fugue-like development (starting with the dio, “therefore” in verse 9) does notintroduce a new phrase, but it offers a perspective on both themes or voices sounding together: this servant is qualified as “the name above every name,” and therefore, he is kyrios, Lord (v. 11). No other person deserves the designation Lord than he who went the way of a servant to his bitter end.

            Is it permissible to identify this name kyrios withthe tetragrammaton, the name of the God of Israel?[47] In my eyes, it is too simplistic to pose the question in this way. To begin with, kyrios is a translation, not of YHWH, but of ’ādon, lord. And lord is not a name, but a title, a functional designator. Consequently, when it functions as an indication of the Name YHWH, it does so in the shape of a specification. God (the subject, that does not appear in the hymn before verse 9!) is the one who is “handing over the Name to Jesus”[48] – as God did to Moses in Deuteronomy 34:12, as we saw above. But God does this without enclosing his Name in him, because it happens to “the glory of God the Father” (v. 11). R. Kendall Soulen[49] praises Karl Barth for reflecting the roots of the ecclesial doctrine of the Trinity when he identifies the “revealed” divine Name, characterizing it as Yahweh-Kyrios.[50] But Soulen regrets that, at the same time, Barth speaks of a “dissolution” (Aufhebung) of the tetragrammaton in its actualisation by the incarnation of the Son in Jesus Christ.[51] In this way, the divine Name of the Old Testament is eclipsed,[52] and in the end the notorious threat of Christian supersessionism[53] has by no means been overcome. To prevent the continuation of this tendency, I have tried to show in this chapter that the story of YHWH “behind” the story of Jēsous Kyrios has its own power and its own contribution to make to the ongoing reflection of the Christian church on divine humility – on the kenōsis of the Lord, the kenōsis of his servant, and more particularly the kenōsis of the Lord as servant – as well as of the servant as Lord. Moses’ witness must not be dissolved in our reading of the New Testament’s witness but can be thought through on its own terms. This witness has a certain surplus, to be elaborated further.

[1] Synopsis Purioris Theologiae – Synopsis of a Purer Theology, Latin Text with English Translation, Vol. I., Studies in Medieval and Reformation Traditions, edited by Roelf (R.T.) te Velde (Leiden: Brill, 2015), 86-87. Previously, the disputatio that was held on 21 March 1620 had been published separately. See D. Sinnema and H. van den Belt, “The Synopsis Purioris Theologiae as a Disputation Cycle,” Church History and Religious Culture 92 (2012): 505-37.

[2] Reference is to Deut. 4:2 (the “canonical formula”) and Rom. 2:17-20. Despite the Apostle’s irony, for Thysius what Paul said of the Jews is apparently true, namely that they have “a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment (morfōsis) of knowledge and truth” (v. 20).

[3] “Adeoque hisce libris Canon non est factus perfectior, quoad universalia salutis dogmata, sed quoad eorum singularitatem, claritatem et evidentiam”.

[4] Guielmi Bucanus, Institutiones Theologiae, seu Locorum communium christianae religionis etc. (Bern: Iohannes & Isaïas le Preux, 1605), Locus IV, xi. Quaestio, 40-41: “Quando tantum quinque libri Mosis fuerunt, sufficientes fuerunt. His autem accesserunt Prophetae tamquam interpretes. Erat ergo Vetus Testamentum integrum et sufficiens quoad sensum, etsi quod non quod ad verba: accessione igitur Novi, non perfectius, sed clarius factum est.”

[5] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, volume I/2, edited by G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance, translated by G. T. Thomson and Harold Knight (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1956), 485.

[6] Rinse Reeling Brouwer, ‘Het onderwijs van Mozes en het onderwijs van de ekklesia’,, accessed 1st June 2021.

[7] This was also the conviction of the Dutch Theologian K.H. Miskotte, one of the eponyms of my Chair, especially in Edda en Thora, his major pamphlet against the neopaganism of Nazism from 1939 (3rd ed. 1983). Now see the German translation: K.H. Miskotte, Edda und Thora: Ein Vergleich germanischer und israelitischer Religion (Berlin: Lit Verlag, 2015).

[8] Private correspondence, 4 March, 2020.

[9] Cf. John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religon, edited by John T. McNeill, translated by Ford Lewis Battles (Library of Christian Classics; two volumes; Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), II.x-xi.

[10] Julius Wellhausen, Israelitische und Jüdische Geschichte (Berlin: Riemer, 1914).

[11] Stephan B. Chapman, The Law and the Prophets. A Study in Old Testament Canon Formation, extended ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, [2000] 2020).

[12] This is also the case in the New Testament; Chapman, Law and Prophets, 266, 276-79.

[13] Chapman, Law and Prophets, 20n22, mentions that even in Von Campenhausen, The Formation of the Christian Bible (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1972), “the standard model,” although “magisterially expressed,” “remained the consensus view.”

[14] Examples of such cross-references include: the covenant of releasing slaves in Gen. 15 and Jer. 34; the tension between Judah and Joseph in Gen. 37-50 and the tensions between Judah (the South), and Ephraim (the North) in the “early Prophets” and many later texts; the “calf (calves) of gold” in Exod. 32 and 1 Kings 12 (Jeroboam), as well as the connection between the appeal of Moses in the same chapter of Exod. 32 (v. 26) and that of Elijah in confrontation with Baal in 1 Kings 18 (v. 21).

[15] Cf. Acts 15:21: “For in every city, for generations past, Moses has had those who proclaim him, for he has been read aloud every sabbath in the synagogues” (Acts 13:15 speaks about the reading of Moses and the Prophets).

[16] Karel Deurloo, Exodus en Exil: Kleine Bijbelse Theologie Deel 1 (Utrecht: Kok, 2003), 63-66.

[17] Peter J. Tomson, Paul and the Jewish Law: Halakha in the Letters of the Apostle to the Gentiles (Assen/Minneapolis: Van Gorcum/Fortress Press, 1990). Campenhausen, The Formation, 24-37, was not yet acquainted with such insights.

[18] Campenhausen, Formation, 52, referring to the similar view of Bultmann: “‘The Law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ,’ meaning only through Christ, who truly knew the Father, and absolutely never at any time through Moses and the Law.” That is an extremely strong wording.

[19] Aileen Guilding, The Fourth Gospel and Jewish Worship (Oxford: Clarendon, 1960), had already appeared before the German original text of Campenhausen’s Formation in 1968. Her proposals are critically revised in the posthumous edition of Dirk Monshouwer, The Gospels and Jewish Worship (Vught: Skandalon 2010), 253-84.

[20] Campenhausen, Formation, 184.

[21] Jonathan Sachs, Leviticus: The Book of Holiness (Covenant & Conversation 3; Jerusalem: The Toby Press Ltd., 2015).

[22] Katherine Sonderegger, Systematic Theology. Vol. I, The Doctrine of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015); “form and pattern” appears at 10.

[23] Sonderegger, Doctrine of God,quotes on 15, xv, xiv, respectively.

[24] Sonderegger, Doctrine of God,11.

[25] This observation is made against one of the main theses of Miroslav Volf, Allah: A Christian Response (New York: HarperCollins, 2011), 143.

[26] Sonderegger, Doctrine of God, e.g.,12, 20.

[27] For the following, cf. Rochus Zuurmond, God noch gebod: Bijbels-theologische notities over de brief van Paulus aan de Galaten (Baarn: Ten Have, 1990), 154-59.

[28] E.g., Rom. 5:20, although Gal. 3:19 uses parabasis and Rom. 5:20 paraptōma for ‘transgression’. For the argument, cf. also Rom. 7:13.

[29] Because of Gal. 3:20, H.J. Iwand in his lectures in Bonn 1953/54 questioned the title “mediator” for Jesus Christ in theology, in particular since Schleiermacher and Hegel. See Hans Joachim Iwand, Christologie, Nachgelassene Werke. Neue Folge Band 2(Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 1999), 111. He especially judged the way Emil Brunner used the category in his book Der Mittler (Tübingen: Mohr, 1927) to be incorrect. Jesus is not to be seen as a “middleman” between God and human beings. Jesus Christ is not the “third” person, who as a man represents me before God, but God was in him reconciling the world to himself. That does not mean that it would be inadmissible to use the term at all. As Zuurmond, God noch gebod, 159, argues, 1 Tim. 2:5 can be read as a “Christological midrash” on the shema‘(and perhaps on Gal. 3:19-20). See also Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, volume IV/3, edited by G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance, translated by G. W. Bromiley(Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1961), 51: “The prophecy of Jesus Christ is that of the Mediator. It is not, then, the prophecy of a partisan. Nor is it that of a negotiator running to and fro between two parties and now speaking for the one, now for the other. It is that of the One who is both Yahweh and the Israelite, both the Lord and His Servant and the Servant and His Lord, in one and the same person. He does not need to look or point beyond Himself to attest the fulfilment of the covenant.”

[30] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, volume IV/1, edited by G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance, translated by G. W. Bromiley (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1956), and volume IV/2, edited by G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance, translated by G. W. Bromiley (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1958).

[31] The objection could be made that Barth is speaking of reconciliation and the book of Exodus of liberation (hatsil, to deliver). However, in that respect it is remarkable that the Gospel of John – as already occurs in Ezek. 45 – combines imagery of the Passover and the Day of Atonement, i.e., of the feasts of the first and of the seventh month. Cf. Monshouwer, Gospels and Jewish Worship,273-274. In the Christian calendar, the triduum of Easter includes characteristics of both main theological themes, to at times quite confusing effect.

[32] Sonderegger, The Doctrine of God,e.g., xii, 140, 151 (title §4).

[33] Origen, De Principiis, I praef. 1; ‘abuse suffered for the Christ’ (‘the reproach of Christ’, KJV): inproperium Christi.

[34] G.J. Venema, Schriftuurlijke verhalen in het Oude Testament (Delft: Eburon, 2000); English summary on 242ff.

[35] mAbot 6.2.

[36] Mary Douglas, In the Wilderness: The Doctrine of Defilement in the Book of Numbers (Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, [1993] 2004), 58, 190, sees an earlier parallel in the story of Moses asking Hobab to be their guide in the wilderness, insufficiently trusting the guidance of the divine cloud (Num. 10:29-32).

[37] Sonderegger, Doctrine of God, 271-94,treats the wilderness experiences in Numbers under the heading of the divine perfection of Omnipotence. At the end of this discussion, 293-94, she notices Christological patterns in Moses’ prophetic “hypostatic union with the Word” as well as in this priestly intercession of Aaron.

[38] Sonderegger, Doctrine of God, 288, 293.

[39] A parallel narrative can be found in the meeting of YHWH and Moses after the murmuring of the people because of the false reports of the promised land spread by scouts, Num. 14:10b-35. Verse 20, where YHWH says: “I have pardoned, according to thy word” (KJV), became part of the synagogal liturgy on the Day of Atonement.

[40] Kornelis H. Miskotte, When the Gods are Silent, translated with an introduction by John W. Doberstein (London: Collins, 1967), 388-97, here at 392; translation revised.

[41] Miskotte writes “Here” in Dutch, which is the functional title for “Lord” that became an intimate name in Dutch Reformed piety.

[42] Miskotte, When the Gods are Silent, 392, 393, 395, and 393, respectively.

[43] Rinse Reeling Brouwer, “Kenosis in Philippians 2:5-11 and in the History of Christian Doctrine,” in O. Zijlstra, ed., Letting Go: Rethinking Kenosis (Bern: Peter Lang, 2002), 69-109. For arguments on the heavenly Adam (Lohmeyer), see 73.

[44] This translation has been defended in Oscar Cullmann, The Christology of the New Testament, translated by Shirley C. Guthrie and Charles A. M. Hall (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1959). See the chapters on the “Servant of the Lord” and the “Son of Man”. One objection might be that the usual translation of demut in Gen. 1:26 is eikōn, as in 1 Cor. 15:49, and that of its synonym tselem rather homoiōma, as in Rom. 5:14. However, see the lemma morphē in TDNT Vol. IV, 751n53 (Behm).

[45] bShabbat 88b (quotation of r. Jehoshua ben Levi, around 250 CE); cf. bSanhedrin 38b.

[46] G.H. Ter Schegget, Het lied van de mensenzoon: Studie over de Christuspsalm in Filippenzen 2:6-11 (Baarn: Wereldvenster, 1975).

[47] Rinse Reeling Brouwer, “Wel ‘JHWH is de drie-ene God’, en niet ‘De naam is Jezus Christus?’ In gesprek met Jan Muis over de ene Naam,” Kerk en Theologie 68, no. 3 (2017): 237-48.

[48] C.R. Seitz, Figured Out: Typology and Providence in Christian Scripture (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 141-44.

[49] R. Kendall Soulen, “YHWH the Triune God,” Modern Theology 15, no. 1 (1999): (25-54) at 36-41; R.K. Soulen, The Divine Name(s) and the Holy Trinity. Vol. I. Distinguishing the Voices (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 93-104.

[50] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, volume I/1, second edition, edited by G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance, translated by G. W. Bromiley(Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1975), 348.

[51] Barth, Church Dogmatics, I/1, (316-)319.

[52] Heinrich Assel, “Gottes Namen nennen – Karl Barth oder Franz Rosenzweig?,” Zeitschrift für dialektische Theologie 22, no. 1 (2006): 8-33, speaking here of “Die Emergenz des Namens.”

[53] Soulen, “YHWH the Triune God,” 29-30, quotes the abovementioned Melito of Sardis as a classical example of this supersessionism.

About the author

R.H. Reeling Brouwer

1 reactie

  • Beste Rinse,
    Je artikel met groot interesse en plezier gelezen. Was al langer geboeid in deze ‘kenosis’ gedachte van Paulus én was i.v.m. een dienstvoorbereiding homiletisch geïnteresseerd in een uitwerking van deze gedachte in haar bijbels-theologische samenhang. Eens grasduinend op je site kwam ik dit artikel tegen (en nog een ander elders op internet). Ik wil nu niet inhoudelijk hierop ingaan, maar je alleen met erkentelijkheid terugmelden dat ik goed gevoed werd door jouw dogmen-historische informatie én verheldering van de Bijbelse structuur van de ‘neerdalende God’. Ik was onderweg met een voorlopig begrip ‘messiaanse configuratie’ die ik bij verschillende figuren in Tenach (en daarbuiten) zag, maar ben daar nog niet bij de Here zelf aangekomen. Dan: op een gegeven moment citeer je uit het kerstlied van Luther ‘Gelobet seist Du Jesu Christ…’ Dat ontdekte ik nadat ik voor de dienst lied 474 heb gekozen van de Lutheraan Nikolaus Herman, ‘Gelobt sei Gott im höchsten Thron… m.n. vers 3. Helaas is het Lutherlied niet meer teruggekeerd in het Nieuwe Liedboek. Tenslotte: ik vind het zeer goed van je dat je je werk zo toegankelijk op je site zet om van en met je te leren.