The original question was:
At my theological college the lecturer is stating that because Jesus emptied himself of the divine in order to become fully man, that meant he certainly accepted the teaching of Moses about six days of creation, but only because he was ignorant of the science we have since discovered about evolution. In fact we now know a lot more than Jesus did. How do I deal with this? Help!
Answer by Simon Turpin
The subject of the relationship between Jesus’ divine and human natures has been a complex issue ever since the time of the early Church. The teaching that Jesus emptied himself of divine attributes in order to become fully man and hence subject to making errors as all men do, is known as the Kenotic heresy, a term based on Philippians 2:7, where the Greek word kenosis is used and translated ‘emptied’. This teaching was rejected by the Church in the 4th century. But before we look at the question of Jesus humanity, we need to look at what the New Testament states about Jesus divinity – his God-ness. In John 1:1, one of the most incredible verses to speak of Jesus’ divine nature, the apostle John writes that ‘the Word [Jesus] was with God and the Word was God.’ In this instance, the word ‘with’ is the translation of the Greek Pros which is the root of the word prosopon (face) in Greek. Jesus was literally face to face with God. Several verses later John writes that the Word who was with God in the beginning ‘became flesh and dwelt among us’ (1:14).
Notice that John does not say that the Word stopped being God. In fact John uses a very particular term here: skenoo ‘dwelt’, which means he ‘pitched his tent’ or ‘tabernacled’ among us. This is a direct parallel to the Old Testament record of when God ‘dwelt’ in the tabernacle that Moses told the Israelites to construct (Ex.25:8-9; 33:7). John is telling us that God ‘dwelt’ or ‘pitched his tent’ in the physical body of Jesus – He was a walking tabernacle.
It is important we note that Jesus’ human nature did not displace his divine nature. Rather his divine nature dwelt in a human body. This is further affirmed by the Apostle Paul in Colossians 1:15-20, especially v19: “for in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” Not only does the New Testament explicitly state that Jesus was fully God, it also recounts events that demonstrate Jesus’ divine nature. For example, while Jesus was on earth, He healed the sick (Matt 8-9) and forgave sins (Mark 2). What mere man could ever forgive sin? What is more, He accepted worship from people (Matt. 2:2; 14:23; 28:9). Worship is only meant to be given to God (Rev. 22:9), yet Jesus never rebuked people for this. He also did miraculous signs (John 2, 6, 11) and had the ability to judge people (John 5:27) because he is the creator of the world (John 1:1-3; Heb. 1:2). Furthermore, the reaction of those around Jesus demonstrated that he thought and claimed himself to be divine. In John 8:58 Jesus said to the Jewish religious leaders, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am. This ‘I am’ statement was Jesus’ clearest example of his proclamation “I am Yahweh,” from its background from Isaiah (41:4; 43:10-13, 25; 48:12). This divine self disclosure of Jesus’ explicit identification of himself with Yahweh of the Old Testament, is what led the Jewish leaders to pick up stones to throw at him. They understood, and that is why they wanted to stone him for blasphemy. A similar incident takes place in John 10:31. The leaders again wanted to stone Jesus after he said ‘I and the Father are one’ because they knew he was making himself equal with God.
Does the Bible state that Jesus emptied himself of his divine nature?
Firstly we must consider that if Jesus empted Himself of any of his divinity then how could he be the person Paul wrote of in Colossians 2:9 ‘For in Him all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form … ’ Nevertheless, people often turn to Philippians 2:7, another Pauline passage, in order to prove that Jesus emptied himself of his divine nature. Philippians 2:5-8 states (American Standard Version); “Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” . Here the word kenosis or ‘emptied’ is used in verse 7, but what does it actually mean?
The text does not say that Jesus emptied himself of anything in particular; all it says is that he emptied himself. It is pure conjecture to argue from this verse that Jesus gave up any or all of His divine nature. He may have given up some of His divine privileges, perhaps His omnipresence or the honour that He had with the Father in heaven, but not His divine power or knowledge. We also can compare how Paul uses this same term in other places. In Romans 4:14; 1 Corinthians 1:17; 2 Corinthians 9:3 Paul always uses ‘emptied’ metaphorically rather than literally. In this instance, it is therefore perhaps more accurate to see ‘emptying’ as Jesus pouring himself out in an expression of divine self-denial (2 Cor. 8:9). In practise, this meant that Jesus: 1: took the form of a servant 2: was made in the likeness of men It is also important to put Philippians 2:7 in its context and that context is humility.
As sinners we require a change in nature to become humble, but for Jesus to become humble is not a change in his nature. Humility is to regard other people and their needs as being more important than your personal privileges and fulfilment, and to put these aside in order to meet the needs of others. Jesus was the ultimate example of doing this when as the eternal sinless Son of God He did not have to suffer death, but he chose to do so for our sake. The passage does not say Jesus ceased to be God, or ceased in any way to have the authority and knowledge of God. For modern Kenostics to begin to prove their case, they must find a statement that explicitly states Jesus emptied himself of these things.
What about Jesus human nature?
The point of the incarnation, however, is that not only did Jesus retain his divine nature, but he also took on a human nature. Touching His divine nature Jesus was omniscient (John 1:47-51; 4:16-19, 29), having all the attributes of God, yet his human nature had all the limitations of being human, including limitations in knowing. When we think about the Incarnation, we must not get the two natures, divinity and humanity, mixed up and conclude that Jesus had a deified human nature or a humanised divine nature. We can distinguish between them, but we must not separate them because they exist in perfect unity. For example, in Mark 13:32 where Jesus is talking about His return, He says these words “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
Does this mean that Jesus was somehow limited? How should we handle this statement by Jesus? The text seems straight forward in saying there was something Jesus did not know. Let’s think about when Jesus was born: do we think he knew about the sun, moon and stars? As a new born human baby, no, but in His divine nature absolutely, after all He created them (John 1:1-3)!
Does the fact that Jesus was also human mean that he was capable of error?
Many people are familiar with the Latin adage errare humanum est – to err is human. For instance, what person would ever claim to be without error? But does this apply to Jesus? Because of his human nature, many famous liberal critics of the Bible (Rudolf Bultman, Karl Barth and Emil Bruner) say that there is no problem in saying Jesus had a false view of Scripture. Although they agree that Jesus recognised Scripture to be God’s Word (see John 10:34-35; Matt. 5:17-19), then they go on to say that He was wrong. In the eyes of these critics there is no contradiction here since Jesus was not omniscient and, therefore, could not know the truth. After all, omniscience is an attribute of divinity not humanity.
However clever this sounds it has a fatal flaw for if Jesus in his humanity claimed to know more or less than he actually did, then such a boast has, and had, profound ethical and theological implications concerning Jesus in his claim of telling the truth, the coming prophet predicted by Moses in Deuteronomy 18. Even those who did not understand that Jesus was God, accepted him as a Prophet, (e.g. Luke7:15-17, Luke 2:19, John 9:17) and Jesus referred to himself as a Prophet (Matthew 13: 57, Mark 6:4, Luke 13:33). But to be a true Prophet of God especially ‘The Prophet’ foretold by Moses when he told the Jewish people to look for a Prophet like himself (Deut. 18:18-19) “I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell the people everything I command him.” These words are fulfilled in Jesus, the final Prophet. Jesus’ teaching had no origin in human ideas but came entirely from God. In his role as Prophet, Jesus had to speak God’s word to God’s people. Therefore he was subject to God’s rules concerning prophets. In the Old Testament, if the Prophet didn’t get it right 100% of the time, he would be stoned to death as a false prophet, by order of God, because God got it right 100% of the time, therefore so must any of His prophets. (Deut. 13:1-5; 18:20).
In his Prophetic role Christ represents God the Father to mankind. He came as a light to the world (John 1:9; 8:12) to show us God and bring us out of darkness (John 14:9-10). In John 8:28-29 Jesus also showed the evidence of being a true Prophet – that of living in close relation with His Father passing on His teaching (see Jer. 23:21-23): “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” Jesus had the absolute knowledge that everything he did was from God. What he says and does is absolute truth because His Father is “truthful” (John 8:26). Jesus only spoke that which His Father told Him to say (John 12:49-50). So it had to be 100 percent correct in every way.
Jesus on Genesis
So what did Jesus teach concerning the book of Genesis? It is clear that He believed in the literal truth of its history: Adam and Eve (Matt. 19:4-6) Abel’s murder (Lk. 11:50-51), Noah and the Flood (Matt.24:37-39) and Lot and the fall of Sodom (Matt. 10:15). In Mark 10:6 Jesus said: “But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female” the words ‘of creation’ is one word in Greek. Jesus was saying that Adam and Eve were there at the beginning of creation not billions of years after the beginning. However, some people believe that even though Jesus taught and believed these things, he was simply accommodating the cultural beliefs of his day. Yet this overlooks the fact that Jesus never hesitated to correct erroneous views common in the culture (Matt. 7:29). Jesus was never constrained by the culture of his day if it went against God’s word. He stood up to the highest and lowest in the land, and particularly opposed those who claimed to be experts on the Law of God, if they were teaching error. His numerous disputes with the Pharisees are testament to this.
Jesus the Truth
In John 14:6 we are told that Jesus not only told the truth but that he was, and is, Truth. Therefore if he is the truth he must always tell the truth, and we should note that much of Jesus’ teaching began with the phrase “Truly, truly I say … ”. If he taught anything in error, even if it was from ignorance, he would not be the truth. Jesus also made a strong connection between Moses’ teaching and his own (John 5:45-47). And Moses made some very astounding claims about 6 day creation in the 10 commandments which Moses records were penned by God’s own hand. (Exodus 20: 9-11 and Exodus 31:18) If Jesus was wrong about Genesis then he could be wrong about anything, and none of his teaching would have any authority. Those who claim that Jesus was merely repeating the ignorant beliefs of his culture are claiming to have more authority than Jesus.
Jesus the Saviour
The critical point in all of this is that Jesus did not have to be omniscient to save us from our sins but he certainly had to be sinless. For someone to pretend or proclaim to have more knowledge than he does have is a sin. The Bible tells us that ‘with teaching comes the greater judgement’ (James 3:1). Scripture also says that it would be better for a person to have a millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned than to lead someone astray (Matt. 18:6). Jesus said ‘I teach nothing on my own authority but only that given to me by my Father ’ (John 14:10) and ‘I am the truth’ (John 14:6).
Now if someone claimed to teach these things and then taught erroneous information (i.e. teaching on creation) then his claims would be falsified, he would be sinning and this would disqualify Jesus from being our Saviour. The falsehood He would be teaching is that He knows something that He actually does not know. For example, if your Pastor said in one of his sermons on Sunday morning that he is only going to speak of what he has learnt from God the Father and that he is not only going to bear witness to the truth but that he is the truth and then goes on to speak all kinds of error. What would you think of him? Would you hold him responsible for doing that? Once Jesus makes the astonishing claim to be speaking the truth, He had better not be teaching mistakes. In his human nature, Jesus may not have been omniscient but because he was sinless, and as such the Godhead dwelt in Him. This means that everything Jesus taught was true and one of the things that Jesus taught was that the Old Testament Scripture was God’s Word (true) and, therefore, so was his teaching on creation.
Jesus and Creation
So when we come to Jesus’ view on creation, if we claim him to be Lord then what he believed should be important to us. How can we have a different view to the one who is our Saviour as well as our Creator! If Jesus was wrong concerning His views on creation, then we can argue maybe He was wrong in other areas too. Where does it end? People say ‘I believe in Jesus but I do not believe the Bible when it comes to its account of creation,’ but this cannot be said without denying the very Lord Jesus whom they claim to serve. Jesus said to his own disciples those ‘that receive you (accept the apostles’ teaching) receive me’ (Matt. 10:40). How can we say Jesus is my Lord but not believe him as the teacher of the Church? Remember Jesus said to Nicodemus ‘If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you of heavenly things’ (John 3:12). The issue of the authority of the Bible ultimately is settled only in the authority of Jesus.
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