Blog 79: 2.13.2 - 2.13. 4

Rick Phillips

These three paragraphs are mainly given to the refutations of heresies and errors pertaining to Christ's true humanity.  Just as important as Calvin's refutations are his observations regarding the cause of these errors.  With both the Marcionites and the Manichees, the false teaching relies on isolated texts, without consideration of other Scriptures that speak to the matter.  Moreover, these isolated texts are abstracted from their contexts so as to be made to fit the philosophical systems in view.  Through his response, Calvin provides numerous and direct Scriptural sources to support the orthodox doctrine, complete with references to context and to other supporting passages.  Calvin also takes these opportunities to show that by imposing the wisdom of man upon the text of Scripture, the heretics miss the teaching of Scripture according to God's wisdom, which is far more wonderful.

The first error Calvin refutes here is the Marcionite teaching that Christ only appeared to have a human body.  Marcion argues this from Paul's teaching that Christ was "made in the likeness of man" (Phil. 2:7).  Calvin argues the correct meaning of this statement in light of its context, namely, that "Paul is really teaching not what Christ was, but how he conducted himself" (2.13.2).  Marcion fears that the taking up of a true body will disgrace Christ, but Calvin shows that Christ receives a new and far greater glory, in light of his self-abasement as God's Servant and our Savior.

Calvin moves next to the Manichee error which holds that Christ "forged... a body of air", since Paul refers to Jesus as "the Second Adam of heaven, heavenly" (1 Cor. 15:47).  Here, again, comparison with other Scriptures will prove that Christ's was a true and fully human body.  Moreover, the context of the text in 1 Cor. 15 argues that Christ must have been fully human for us to have a hope of resurrection with him.  This leads to an impressive array of Scriptures showing the true humanity of Christ's body.  Most impressive and successful is Calvin's appeal to Hebrew chapter 2, with its many statements both to the reality and necessity of Christ's true humanity.  Again, I believe that Calvin's argument from the title "Son of Man" is not completely accurate, although he is right to point out that this expression in its common sense refers to a human being (what he fails to note is its special prophetic sense in Daniel 7, in which case it is not referring strictly to human nature).  Calvin ends 2.13.2 by refuting the idea that Christ's true humanity means that all men, regardless of faith or unbelief, are thus united to Christ and made sons of God.  Calvin refutes this simply, pointing out that faith in Christ remains necessary for salvation.  Calvin concludes this meaty section having proved his points with typically lucid and overwhelming appeals to the text of Scripture.

2.13.3 responds to attacks against the titles "seed of Abraham" and "offspring of David".  Calvin points out that whatever else is meant by these titles, they both necessitate Christ's true humanity.  The argument that woman do not have "seed" is refuted as absurd and ignorant, as is the accusation that "son of David" makes a merely notional connection between Jesus and David, rather than a physical one.  Along the way, Calvin makes some observations regarding gender that would certainly draw the ire of today's feminists.  Finally, in 2.13.4, Calvin rails against the last of the "childish calumnies" leveled against Christ's true humanity.  This is the idea that for Christ to be fully human would entail him being sinful, despite the clear teaching of the apostle Paul to the contrary (Rom. 5:12, 18; 8:3-4).  In these - and Calvin might have marshaled more texts - Paul makes plain that Christ "is true man but without fault and corruption."  Even more childish is the erroneous teaching that Christ's sinlessness proves that only the male seed is sinful, but not the female.  But it was not Calvin's birth by a woman that preserved him from original sin, Calvin asserts, but his conception by the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, when Scripture emphasizes Christ's perfect purity, it refers to his whole human nature and not his deity, which needs no such emphasis.  The upshot of this is one of real pastoral importance today, namely, that humanity is not wicked or w orthless in and of itself, but is only made wicked by the fall into sin.  Humanity was made with divinely-wrought dignity and goodness.  This alone dispels both the Gnostic loathing of all things material and today's nihilistic anti-humanism.  Recognizing the true humanity of Christ, Calvin concludes by returning us to the wonder that the God who fills the universe had yet deigned to be born in a virgin's womb.