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Masao Abe: a Zen life of dialogue
Phillipians 2:7 is not about S'uunyataa

Phillipians 2:7 is not about S'uunyataa: Abe, Bracken and Pannenberg

Masao Abe, a Zen professor, has argued that the New Testament refers to the kenosis (self-emptying) of God, and that this is in some sense the same as the Buddhist S'uunyataa. Abe then argues more generally that this can serve as a basis for Christian-Buddhist dialogue.

This interpretation of the text has been disputed by Pannenberg, a protestant theologian and pastor, who holds that these are two quite different ideas.

The text does indeed use the word kenosis, or rather the verb form, which literally means to empty. But what Paul is saying in Philippians 2:7 is that He {Christ Jesus] humbled himself, and took on the form of a slave (all' [Cristos Ihsos] eau ton ekenwse, mopfhn doulon labwn,... ).

"Empty" in the New Testament has negative connotations, as in Luke 1:53 [peinwntas eneplhsin agaqwn, kai ploutountas exapesteile kenous - He has filled the poor with good things, and sent th e rich away empty].

There is a good case to be made for religious dialogue, both pragmatically (there are too many religious wars) and ethically (we should try to understand the good aspects of other traditions). But it should be on the basis of a correct understanding of what those traditions represent, and not by inventing parallels where in fact they do not exist.

Joseph Bracken, SJ. "The Abe-Pannenberg Encounter". pp199-208 in Mitchell (ed), Masao Abe: a Zen life of dialogue. Tuttle, 1998.

Wolfhard Pannenberg, "Afterword". pp208-210, ibid.

Masao Abe, response, pp388-389, ibid.