Jesus in the Flesh (3)

I was prompted to write these posts because of an exchange I had with Dr. Kent Sparks of Eastern University about the nature of Christ’s humanity. You can read the post and following comment thread HERE.

It seems clear from the online conversation that one’s view of Scripture will necessarily impact one’s view of Christ. If you believe that the Bible is full of errors then it is inevitable that you will believe Jesus to have been a flawed, erring, mistake-prone human. Those who believe this often times dismiss higher views of Christ as “Docetism” the heresy that denies the true humanity of Jesus. But this is a red herring. Indeed, Scripture and, appropriately, historic Christian orthodoxy have never held that Christ erred and made mistakes.

I will not bother to interact with those who deny the deity of Christ. To do so requires an outright dismissal of all that the New Testament teaches. Rather I will address those who, while affirming the deity of Christ nevertheless maintain that He erred and made mistakes.

First, some conclude that Christ erred because of a misunderstanding of Hebrews 2:17 which states, “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” It is rightly acknowledged that the “every way” does not include sin. Inexplicably however this reality seems to be treated at times as if it was not highly significant.

The problem here is that it gravely underestimates the effects of sin upon the sinner. Sin is far more than deliberate moral failure. Sin runs deeper than outward disobedience to God. Sin affects us mind, body, and emotions. How much does the absence of a sinful nature, sinful thoughts, sinful motives, and sinful actions differentiate Christ from sinners? I would suggest that the difference is quite radical. Jesus’ sinless humanity is far different from my fallen, corrupted humanity. To suggest otherwise grossly underestimates both the nature of sin and the perfections of Christ.

Second, some conclude that Christ erred because of, I believe, a wrong assumption concerning Christ’s possession of divine attributes. This misunderstanding is based less upon a particular text of Scripture than upon a theological presupposition that holds that Jesus must surely have divested himself entirely of the incommunicable attributes of his deity. This may arise from a misunderstanding of Christ’s self-emptying or kenosis.

The word kenosis is derived from a clause in the Christ hymn of Philippians.

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (2:5-11).

The phrase heauton ekenosin (“made himself nothing”) is literally “himself he emptied.” Some take this to mean that Christ emptied himself of all vestiges of his divine nature. But is this the biblical witness to Christ? Is the Christ revealed in the Gospels one who had divested himself of all divine identity and attributes?

Consider also the entire clause from Philippians 2: “but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant”. There is a deep paradox here. Christ emptied himself through the act of taking on something new. His self-humbling was not through laying aside what made him God but through taking on humanity. In his incarnation Jesus never ceased being “very God of very God.”

In the next post in this series I will demonstrate further the weaknesses of the flawed understanding of Christ’s kenosis.