As I have discussed the “historicity” of Adam and Eve on this blog there have been a few comments asking how a denial of a real, historical Adam impacts not only our Bibliology, but our Christology as well.
Jesus affirmed the historicity of Adam. If we assume that authenticity of these statements (which I have no reason to doubt) then Jesus is reported to have mentioned the first man in Matthew 19.4-6 and Mark 10.6-8 and his son Abel in Matthew 23.35 and Luke 11.51. This causes some problems for Christians who argue that Adam is figurative. It would seem to indicate that Jesus was wrong about something or that Jesus taught something based on a mythopoetic description of human origins that many moderns seem to find misguided and misinformed.
Peter Enns has been reviewing K.L. Sparks’ Sacred Word, Broken Word. Today he mentions an argument that Sparks makes concerning Christology and its analogy to Bibliology. In Enns’ post Jesus Had a Fallen Nature, Just Like the Bible he summarizes Sparks’ views as the following:
“…Sparks asserts that Jesus did not fake being fully human. He really was, and that necessarily means he was limited in his humanity. Part of that limitation, Spraks argues, is that Jesus necessarily participated in our fallen nature, though without sinning. (See Romans 8:3-4, where Paul says that God sent Jesus “in the likeness of sinful flesh.” Also, Jesus was made like us in every way, as in Hebrews 2:17 and 4:15.)
“It was necessary for Christ to take on the fallen human condition in order to redeem it. “Fallen creation is redeemed only when God participates in fallen creation” (p. 27).”
Enns says that Sparks compares this to Scripture. Jesus did not sin, but the incarnation demands that he was a real first century Jew with real human limitations. Like Scripture, Jesus may have spoke the truth through his worldview. In other words, for example, when Jesus mentions the first man he may have been wrong about the historicity of Adam but he was right about the need for fidelity in marriage. Simply put, Jesus taught truth through the limitations of his humanity and Scripture does the same.
We know from the Synoptic depiction of Jesus that he “grew” in wisdom (Luke 2.52) and that there were some things he did not know like the time of his coming (Matthew 24.36; Mark 13.32; cf. Acts 1.7). It seems quite orthodox to say that Jesus’ knowledge was limited if we affirm the Kenosis (Phil. 2.5-11). It seems a tad more dangerous to say that what Jesus did claim to know may have been in some sense “wrong.” It is one thing to say that Jesus did not know when he would return, but it is something different to say that he might have been wrong about returning altogether–maybe he made a mistake?
What do you think? Does the incarnation open the door for Jesus to believe things about reality that may not meet the standards of modern knowledge? Is there a difference between Jesus admitting he doesn’t know something and saying he knows something that may be misguided or outdated? To what extent should we understand the Kenosis?
To some it’s blasphemy to say Jesus had a fallen nature, just like the rest of us. It shouldn’t cause the scandal it does though – and I agree that he did. This makes his accomplishment of living a sinless life more amazing not less, and it doesn’t detract from his divinity either.
A reasonable discussion can be found at a blog you occasionally link back to – Naked Bible.
Mike Heiser writes:
“My question, to start the ball rolling, is simple: If ALL humans since Adam inherited Adam’s guilt (however that happens), then why does Jesus get off the hook? He is 100% human in biblical theology. His genealogy goes straight back to Adam (see Luke 3:23-38; esp. v. 38). Now, I know what the standard answers are. ‘Oh, Jesus was God, so he didn’t have original sin.’ This avoids the question; it doesn’t answer it: he’s was also 100% human.”
He goes on to make pretty much the same argument you seem to be attributing to Sparks. The argument is reasonable.
I agree with those who say Jesus was incarnate into a fallen humanity. Bobby Grow has argued on this blog (following Torrance, et al.) that for God to redeem humanity and creation he had to enter into it as it is. That makes sense.
What I am trying to decide is whether or not I think that allows for Jesus to have said wrong things or to have been mistaken, e.g., If Adam is not historical but Jesus thought he was historical that would make Jesus mistaken, right? Does the incarnation allow for this and what are the implications?
I am reading Sparks’ new book as well. A very similar thesis to his previous work, God’s Word In Human Words, but much briefer and easier to digest.
I like what Sparks has to say, but might nuance a few bits of terminology. But here is what we fail to notice, which I think we can distinguish not just theo-philosophically, but also biblically. There is a difference between a) perfection in sinlessness and b) perfection in something like omniscience, omnipotence, etc.
Both the incarnate Christ and the account of pre-fall Adam give us persons who fall in category A, but not B. They were sinlessly perfect, but not perfect in knowledge. Adam might have had a faulty cosmological view, but to espouse such was not sin. And such an imperfect cosmology would not have yet been an effect of sin. It was reality prior to the fall. Christ, as a real Jewish male and all it entailed to be a real Jewish male in the first century, would have held to certain perspectives that were ‘faulty’. We know he was not omnipresent in his incarnation. So neither was he omniscient. And Scripture clarifies this. So he probably didn’t know the Pythagorean theorem or that we live in a heliocentric, sun-centred solar system. And he could miscue on a math quiz, stub his toe, pass gas. Not to mention we would expect him to embrace some things within the general worldview of his, like that there was one first man and his name was Adam, though it’s possible that’s not how it all ‘actually’ worked with the start of the human race. Doesn’t make them worse than us. We still participate in this in many ways as well. It just practically recognises their real, actual world that they really and actually lived in.
None of this is sinfully wrong. But Christ actually did come to be just like his brothers (Heb 2:14) and embrace fallen flesh (Rom 8:3). It is not (or does not have to be, though many claim it is) detrimental to our Christology and view of Scripture. We can still embrace that Christ is who he is and did what he did as God’s Messiah. We can still embrace that Scripture is what it says it is, not what we wish it were.
There is a whole epistemological approach that also needs to be addressed, which Sparks does in the first chapter of his previous book. I believe we need to guard against an overly modernistic approach that thirsts after 100% verifiable objectives. I think a view like practical realism is a more reasonable and healthier approach to truth. We say Scripture must be absolute…or else. But we say this, not Scripture, nor God. God is absolute, Scripture is not. God knows all perfectly. Scripture does not. God in his essence knows all perfectly. Christ, in his incarnation, embracing the reality of Heb 2:14 and Rom 8:3, does not. We still can very much believe his words, and Scripture’s words. But we can’t if we are wrapped in a modernist, Cartesian thirst for absolutes for all truth. I know Christ’s resurrection is real and I know the evangel is real. Both transformed me. I could never deny these truths. But neither call for an overly modernistic, Cartesian approach to Scripture. Scripture is true, Christ is true. But they might not have been ‘absolutely’ true in every jot and tittle. This is the reality of God giving us his true word, living and written, in our fallen world. They were not impervious to such, as Scripture reminds us (Heb 2:14; Rom 8:3; Luke 2:52; Matt 24:36).
I’d also add that what Jesus says in [Matt 19:4-5] or [Mar 10:6-8] doesn’t necessitate the literal person ‘Adam’ (so there is wiggle room still to deny the historicity of ‘Adam’); rather what it does is say God created two genders, male and female. However his naming of ‘Abel’ in [Matt 23:35] and [Luke 11:;51] makes it harder to deny Abel as a historical person since that appears to be his endorsement of the belief ‘Abel’ existed.
Thank you for the helpful comment. You have stated the position well and I think it is a plausible way of understanding the incarnation. That said, how do we guard against Jesus being wrong on things that matter to us? Again, if Scripture tells us things through a worldview that is limited and contains error, and Jesus did the same, could he have been wrong about his second coming or some of his ethical teachings and so forth and so on?
This would seem to depart from the Johannine claim that Jesus taught only what he heard from the Father, no?
Agreed, the mention of Abel seems more concrete. The only way out of having to interpret Jesus literally here would be to insinuate that Jesus was using this as a short hand for human or Jewish history? Would that work?
Your question about whether or not it allows for Jesus to have said wrong things or to have been mistaken is another issue. I don’t think it does.
The Holy spirit provides insight, amongst other things. Even if Jesus was born into fallen humanity and capable of error though He never err’d, Jesus was still completely full of the Holy Ghost [Luke 4;1,14,18] even from the womb [Luke 1:15] which didn’t detract from his humanity.
What it did though was give Him uncommon insight – knowledge beyond fallen humanity. Jesus knew their thoughts [Matt 9:4][Matt 12:25][Luke 11:17], and their nature so He knew facts others wouldn’t have [John 4:18]. Having said that, the same Spirit that imbued Jesus giving him knowledge, insight imbues others through faith. This is precisely how the Spirit guided the writing of the bible, and how God can use imperfect vessels to do his will, making fools, wise [Acts 4;13] (and unschooled men uneducated in the bible, understand things scholars are blind to)
There is absolutely nothing more stunning than being surprised by the Spirit, at the wonder of one’s own words; being astonished by faith at what the Holy Spirit inspires one to write, say or realize. Truly, the Holy Ghost frequently makes bricks without straw [Exo 5:16]. Can you image what He could do with Jesus who never sinned, and thus never grieved the spirit [Isa 63:10][Eph 4:30] (which is what dulls our ears and blinds our eyes).
I don’t believe it possible for Jesus to have said wrong things or been wrong though He was fully human.
I am in the beginning of a book entitled “Genesis Unbound” by Dr. John Sailhamer. So far he has provided reasonable evidence for the idea that the creation account is depicting God preparing the promise land for Adam and Eve and that Genesis 1 and 2 don’t apply to the entire Earth, which already existed and functioned likely as a product of evolutionary processes. I don’t know for sure his entire take on the historicity of Adam. However, using that line of thought it’s not a giant leap to consider the possibility that God created Adam in the literal sense described and this was the first “Man” in the sense of being the first creature to have a relationship and covenant with God. The biological human species may have existed in other parts of the world. This would also help explain the motivation God had for forming an exclusive relationship with the Jewish people, as they are directly tied to Adam.
From this perspective Jesus was entirely accurate when referencing Adam. I think it’s important to view Jesus as being accurate. Otherwise his statement of claiming to be the Truth would be called into question. It seems reasonable that viewing Jesus as the Truth is foundational to Christianity.
My disclaimer: I’m just musing and don’t hold to the idea described above, as I have never heard it discussed, debated, or vetted in any way. It is interesting though.
Agreed, it seems quite problematic in light of the early church’s claim that Jesus was anointed and guided by the Spirit as a prophet who spoke the Word of God or the more intensive Johannine claim that Jesus spoke the words he heard from the Father.
It seems that we may agree that there seems to be a difference between Jesus not knowing the Pythagorean Theorum or that the universe is heliocentric or the time of his second coming as Scott observes and Jesus teaching the wrong things, especially when he claimed to speak for God.
I agree that it seems quite foundational to Christianity for Jesus to be a truth speaking, prophet of God. If we lose that it seems to remove the very foundation upon which Christianity is built. It is one thing to avoid using the word “inerrancy” to describe Scripture, but if Jesus himself is errant then what is our grounds for accepting or rejecting what he said about this or that?
Here’s where Genesis 1 and 2 took place. Note – isn’t the world’s largest natural basis a perfect place for a flood? (Oh! and where one actually took place, geologically speaking).
Brain, I agree there’s a difference, Jesus seems to have avoided speaking to some things while absolutely addressing others.
(Did Jesus know the Pythagorean Theorum or about a heliocentric universe? The bible doesn’t let on – so we can’t say for sure, but he knew his audience didn’t, so avoided speaking to it. If I bet, I’d give him the benefit of the doubt though – as I think he could have reasoned it out with the best of them)
Look how masterfully he dealt with the issue of political allegiance by what he didn’t say [Matt 22:21].
This would seem to depart from the Johannine claim that Jesus taught only what he heard from the Father, no?
I am not sure John is making a sweeping statement about every statement in Jesus’ 33-35 years. Imagine Jesus as a 5-year old. I know at 12 Jesus is already showing an astute focus on the Father. But I think this is a general statement of Christ’s ministry focus. It’s also probably a very messianic statement.
That said, how do we guard against Jesus being wrong on things that matter to us? Again, if Scripture tells us things through a worldview that is limited and contains error, and Jesus did the same, could he have been wrong about his second coming or some of his ethical teachings and so forth and so on?
It’s a good question. And I’ll be honest to say I do need to think through it more. I do note that too many Christians live in fear of this. So what happens is they either a) turn their head and dismiss it as silly and ungodly scholarship or b) come up with shallow and superficial answers. Sparks notes this as well. I also think that our desire to ‘perfectly’ answer such a question shows our epistemological foundation. There is too much of an insatiable appetite for the absolutely verifiable and provable. It’s modernism at its best.
But I think we can reasonably deal with the questions. This is the practical realist approach. The church has believed the gospel for its salvation – king Jesus died and rose from the dead. That is the gospel testimony. No creed or confession has ever required belief in a literal Adam (though, granted, much of the church has in history). The more important tenets of our faith deal with the Creator God, humanity in God’s image, and sin.
Of course, this doesn’t even deal with the possibility that Jesus could have known it was a storied, non-factual account, but still used it to teach and didn’t want to rock the boat and say this isn’t actually how it happened. Possibilities like this. Pete Enns, in his The Evolution of Adam, shows how ancient Israelites and Jews could have taken the early chapters in Genesis as non-literal/non-factual.
You again ask in a comment: but if Jesus himself is errant then what is our grounds for accepting or rejecting what he said about this or that?
Let me ask – Could a pre-fall, sinless first human, Adam, be wrong?
Brian: I posted this over on Pete’s site as well, but it would be helpful for this entire discussion if Sparks’ definition of “fallen nature” was explained. Honestly, the word seems to be used with such a broad range that the claim being made with it could be either quite controversial or quite tepid as it relates to traditional orthodoxy.
Brian, it’s hard for me to swallow that Jesus was wrong about theological matters, not scientific ones. So, for instance, where Jesus says the smallest of seeds is the mustard seed, I have no issue. On theological matters, it definitely causes internal discord. So, was Jesus wrong about his return? Was he expecting a soon return and tell his disciples to expect one? I would have issue saying that he did.
Of course, but my concern isn’t merely with whether or not Jesus is sinless. I don’t sin when I get a math problem incorrect. If I am bad at math and I get many problems in correct I don’t sin. But neither should someone consider me an authoritative mathematician. So Jesus may remain sinless before God if he got things wrong, but that doesn’t help us with the question of whether or not Jesus is authoritative.
My fear is that this trajectory gives us some confidence in one thing: Jesus was raised from the dead. But we don’t know if that has anything to do with the Hebrew Scriptures since they might be full or error and we don’t know what this means for the future since the church’s interpretation of the event might be full of error.
Suddenly it does seem like the Gospel is at stake because everything that gives context to the death, burial, and resurrection is considered expendable. I’m not saying we need to be inerrantist living and dying over whether there was a global flood or not or spending our hours trying to harmonize the genealogies of Matthew and Luke. But if we remove Jesus’ authority, or if we seriously question it, then we are suddenly walking on air in my opinion.
As I understand it Jesus’ “fallen nature” means that he wasn’t born in the same state of Adam where he was free from sickness or where he could have lived forever without facing death. Jesus entered into humanity as it existed post-Adam (fallible, dying, sickly, weak).
Agreed, I can accept that Jesus didn’t know everything about science. Obviously this would make sense if we speak of Jesus as being fully human. I don’t know that the “mustard seed” passage causes problems for me because I don’t know that I would interpret him as making a universal statement as much as a contextualized one for the Jewish audience he was addressing (for whom the mustard seed might have been the smallest known seed). Statement about a first man seem universal, and therefore I am not sure that we can classify them the same way as the mustard seed statement.
Jesus’s knowledge about the second coming is a different issue still. It would be a fallacy to conclude that because Jesus did not know the time of his second coming then (at the moment of [Matt 24:36][Mark 13:21]). It is a fallacy of modal logic to conclude that something that is true at one point in time is true at all points in time. For example consider “It is raining”, might be true NOW but is it true in a week?
The reason Jesus did not know, was because God has ordered it sealed [Isa 29:11]:
[Dan 8:26] “The vision of the evenings and the mornings that has been told is true, but SEAL up the vision, for it refers to many days from now.”
[Dan 12:4,9] “But you, Daniel, shut up the words and SEAL the book, until he time of the end. Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase.” “Go your way, Daniel, for the words are shut up and SEALED until the time of the end.”
Then look what happens immediately after Jesus said that “no man knows” – Jesus completes the last supper celebrating His own Passover with the disciples [Matt 26][Mark 14], is arrested and crucified (as a lamb), resurrected, witnessed, and carried up heaven [Luke 24:51][Mark 16:19]. But that’s not the end of the story ….. John witnesses what happened next …
… in [Rev 5:4] John weeps loudly while seeing events in heaven because no one is found worthy to unseal the scroll. He is then told to “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals. And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne.” [Rev 5:5-7].
A moment before there is no lamb, and no one worthy to unseal what God had sealed. Immediately after Jesus ascension John sees him arrive in heaven and then take the scrolls. He proceeds to unseal them in [Rev 6:1,3 …]. What was true when Jesus spoke was clearly not true afterwards.
What Jesus did after he unsealed scrolls was begin to reveal them to those who serve him [16:25]. It may have been true Jesus did not know the moment he spoke [Matt 24:36][Mark 13:21], but that was temporary. Likewise, it is a fallacy to cite that verse and say ‘no man knows now’, for what was true then, is not eternally true – biblically or logically.
Brian: Thanks for clarifying. In that case the claim is fairly tepid. He was fully man. Easy enough. Not sure why some seem to be up in arms over that.
Now, if it also involves original sin (which people sometime pull into the term “fallen”), then Sparks’ argument becomes controversial.
I could be wrong, but I don’t think Sparks denies Jesus’ sinlessness. If so, yes, that strikes at the heart of orthodox Christology and I can see why many would be upset.
To answer your comment to me – You just went down the line of thinking about, maybe stressing about, every single problem. You followed the slippery slope.
But you know what you suggest is not true. You know it, I know it, the church of 2000 years know it. I revel in the peace of our faith in the resurrected Christ. I find comfort in the mystery of our faith and godliness (1 Tim 3:16).
I’m not sure that I understand your point. It is not a “slippery slope” argument, per se. I am not saying to avoid asking these questions or that if one affirms Sparks’ view that they cannot maintain that Jesus was resurrected. I am wonder out loud if this view has any coherence. In other words, how does it hold together? Or does it become a sort of resurrection-centered agnosticism where we affirm Jesus’ resurrection happily without knowing what it means?
The Evangelists understood the resurrection to have meaning because it was foretold in Scripture. The resurrection led to a reinterpretation of Scripture, but it is equally true that Scripture provided categories for understanding the resurrection. Jesus point back to Scripture in John 5 and Luke 24 to understand his person and work. The Book of Acts is filled with sermons that use Scripture to give meaning to the life and person of Christ. The Pauline Epistles do the same. The early church fathers do the same. So when you appeal to the church as if they felt that Jesus’ resurrection is sufficient as a stand alone event where our understanding of Scripture and the person of Jesus doesn’t matter then I’m not sure I follow, if this is what you mean. If not, please clarify.
By the way, if I misunderstood your response please let me know. I want to make I understand what you are saying when you wrote, ” You know it, I know it, the church of 2000 years know it. I revel in the peace of our faith in the resurrected Christ. I find comfort in the mystery of our faith and godliness (1 Tim 3:16).”
I agree with all you said in your second paragraph. As to your question – I am ok with the possibility of what I’ve been saying because of what it meant for Christ to become like us in all ways, yet without sin, and maintaining that he spoke truthfully as led by the Father, though maybe not absolutely perfect in every detail, in a modernist sense. Scripture is God’s written word. Christ is God’s living world. None of this detracts for me.
I don’t have a problem with that theoretically. For example, if thirteen year old Jesus was asked fro directions by a group of travelers and he made a mistake in his response this doesn’t bother me. The Adam questions seems more complex though, especially since it appears to move into his “authoritative teaching” category.
If we suppose that Jesus was a carpenter with a normal human brain and short-term memory apparatus, did he ever think that he left saw leaning against the wall when it was on his bench? Did he ever misjudge the nail and hit his finger with the hammer?
If so, so what?
Also, I think we’ll have a hard time if we try to distinguish the everyday errors of Jesus from the errors in his “teaching.” Even with mistakes, he was a good carpenter. Even with mistakes, he was a good teacher.
I do believe the important thing is that God has won a great victory for us in Jesus Christ. The goal was not to ensure perfect theology and secure incorrigible truth for human consumption (which gets back to the thirst of Adam and Eve for divine knowledge). No, the goal was to fix a broken world through the power of resurrection.
Jesus could be wrong on his knowledge of say math skills or as a carpenter or his knowledge of this or that. He was limited to the scientific views of His peers, IMO. He could have been a poor soccer player. Maybe He couldn’t dunk a basketball or hit a baseball.
Could the Messiah have been wrong on theology? Could He have missed metaphor and confused it for reality ?
Jesus was predicted to speak in metaphorical language in a Psalm, Matthew asserts “up to now all He spoke in was metaphors”, in John the 12 freak out when Jesus finally speaks directly. So, this was a very metaphorical Jewish prophet. Yet, maybe He doesn’t know the difference in the scriptures between metaphor, reality and apocalyptic speech and He’s our Messiah?
I cannot imagine someone is closer to The Father than Christ was in His humanity, so He got more insights than we can, IMO.
Even though Moses told us “Yahweh will raise up a prophet like me……….. and He will speak the words Yahweh puts in His mouth” and Jesus repeatedly states , “I speak only what I first hear from My Father”, Jesus might have gotten it wrong about theology ideas or the nuance between seeing metaphor and reality ?
Jesus even referred back to Adam and Eve when asked about divorce by the Pharisees, He told those guys marriage and divorce were “not like that in the beginning”.
With His unique access to The Father, I see no logic to thinking Jesus missed on His hermeneutic and some of us have figured out where He missed. Messiah had the closest affinity and relationship of all humanity to The Father and The Spirit and He was part of the culture the Hebrew bible emanated out from.
Jesus is THE MAN in all respects even EX His Divinity. When Pilate said “Behold THE MAN”, he was right.
Thank you for commenting! It is a privilege.
I think one important difference might be that if Jesus gives some travelers the wrong directions this “mistake” is quite different categorically from the one that challenges the idea that Jesus relayed the words of the Father or that Jesus’ teachings are authoritative and foundational for the church (this doesn’t deny the need for interpretation, contextualization, and application). It could be argued that if we aren’t careful we may as well toss out all of Johannine Christology, but it seems that even the Jesus portrayed in the Synoptics is a far cry from who the Evangelist present him to be.
What makes this Jesus different from Hillel or Shammai? How do we pick-and-choose between what Jesus said that was true and inspired and what Jesus said that was mistaken? As I’ve asked in the comments above, if Jesus is wrong about human origins could he be wrong about his second coming or his ethical teachings or his proclamation of the Kingdom? It is possible, but I think it is fair to ask how this shapes our Christology and how our Christology might hold together after the fact.
And why should we go as far as to say that “God has won a great victory for us in Jesus Christ” when our ideas about God and his “victory” through resurrection are shaped by the teachings of Scriptures and more importantly Jesus. I understand that we don’t have to have “perfect theology” (I’m an evangelical for goodness sake) or “secure incorrigible truth,” but I do think it is fair to ask why we should trust anything Jesus said, or what makes Jesus greater than contemporary thinkers of his day, or why resurrection has any meaning let alone cosmo-altering significant as your wording seems to argue.
I am all ears. I don’t aim to be contentious or apologetic here. But I do think these things are well worth considering since I think it is fair to say that we could be presenting a Jesus that is quite different from the one that the church has presented for some time. I am sure you agree that caution in these matters is no vice.
The honor is mine.
I understand your point. But might I suggest that behind this discussion stand the twin spectres of epistemic and soteriological anxiety? Jesus came “to seek and to save what was lost.” What if this does not mean that he intended to ensure that we know we’re right and are going to heaven? What if this means that Jesus saves us in spite of ourselves and his victory is won whether we realize it or not? If so, then any misunderstandings of Jesus’ teachings, whether caused by the content itself or by our own confusion, will have no bearing on the outcome. We must remember, billions of people have lived and died without reading even the OT, much less hearing about Jesus and reading the NT. If God can handle that, he can certainly handle a little theological confusion among Christians who have read these books and heard the gospel.
Jesus saves. That is, in itself, the good news. If we understand that clearly enough, it’s fantastic … if we don’t, then its still true … and still fantastic!
I agree with you that someone’s salvation is not connected to their knowledge or their understanding. That said, God speaking through Scripture, and more importantly God speaking through Christ, seems intended to inform. We could say that that it informs mission, or practice, or whatnot. And yes, maybe Scripture and Christ are not black-and-white for whatever reason (maybe God prefers we wrestle with the claims of Scripture and Christ over obtaining assurance of all things “orthodox”). But that still leaves me wondering why the early church seemed so concern with tying Christ to Scripture and with relaying the teachings of Christ to the next generation in their new contexts. Theoretically God could have gone and done his thing without giving humanity Scripture, or the apostolic mission, or the preserved/interpreted teachings of Christ, but he did give it to us. What would you say in your paradigm emerges as the purpose of Scripture, or Christ’s teachings, or the apostolic message that connects the two?
Also, I might ask, why should we believe this to be good news? That seems to be a presumption based on Scripture, or the teachings of Jesus, or the tradition of the church. It doesn’t come of out of the blue. Again, I get that we don’t have to understand these things for them to be real, but that still doesn’t help me understand why you are saying they are real.
I don’t mean to come across arrogant and apologetic, Dr. Sparks, so forgive me if it comes across that way. I’m very open to what I know of your proposed thesis concerning biblical inspiration. But it’s hard for me to make the assumption that in some matters I’m a better theologian than Jesus was in his humanity. Perhaps it is my upbringing that makes this thoroughly repugnant for me – of this I am not sure.
I definitely believe there is a lot of unity and a lot of diversity in the Scriptures (more unity I’d say). Strictly speaking of the word theologian, Jesus was the greatest theologian who ever existed – he truly revealed who God is! And for me to go so far as to assume he was wrong on matters concerning God, the one in whom he’s lived in eternal relationship with, well, it leaves me with little hope that we’ll ever get things right.
I think one of the things Kent is saying is that it might not matter is we “ever get things right” since the work of God remains his whether or not we understand what is happening. This does raise the important point of the role of “knowing” in one’s salvation. It seems that while there is room for people being saved by God without epistemological evidence of God’s work that it was still the “norm” that people would hear the Gospel, understand the Gospel, and confess to the truth of what was proclaimed, namely Jesus is God’s chosen Messiah through whom salvation and judgment come. Paul was concerned that those who do not “hear” cannot “believe.” He assumed that those who “believe” will “confess.”
It almost seems like this is a form of blind Calvinism in which God elects and knowledge of one’s election and the experience of being elected and growing in grace are things that don’t really matter. I am not saying that this is the necessary deduction, but it seems hard to avoid.
Now I am not saying that what one knows or believes about Adam and Eve determines one’s salvation or even that if one believes Jesus got something wrong that it determines one’s salvation. But I do wonder why it matter that the saved know the teachings of Christ. Why not go our merry way spending our days doing as we please with no care for what the Kingdom of God might mean since it doesn’t matter if we understand it, especially if Jesus was wrong about it anyways?
I believe you overall question is this – If Christ got it wrong in one point (i.e., Adam as literal, factual), then why should we trust that he didn’t get anything else wrong, especially the important stuff.
I believe it is a good question, one that we all have considered or will considered, and one without a simple answer if we honestly wrestle with it. It’s not unlike the question – If Scripture got it wrong in one point (i.e., Adam as literal, factual), then why should we trust that it didn’t get anything else wrong, especially the important stuff.
Of course, as you note, the second question is not as determinatively important as the first. But we must admit that they are connected. Not intricately at every point, but connected, since Scripture is one of the great witnesses to Christ. (We could start a side debate of what bears the greatest witness to God’s revelation in Christ – the Spirit, Scripture, the historic and living body of Christ, etc. But we can at least agree that Scripture is one of THE great testimonies to God’s redemptive revelation in Christ.)
But we, at least you and I, find it easier to allow for “faults” in the Scripture text, but also noting that, if it does have such, it still remains the divinely, God-breathed, authoritative text that Scripture itself testifies to. So, we have to ponder why this is ok for Scripture, but not for the incarnate Christ. If Scripture, and great writers of it like Paul, believed Adam was a literal, factual person, but Adam wasn’t, why is this ok? Should this put the integrity of Scripture in to question? Well, many evangelicals believe this. This is one of the big flash points in both blogging and books in the past few years. But, again, you and I are not too thrown off by this (not to mention that, despite some of the arguments, we are never actually going to be able to 100% “prove” that the Scripture writers, Jews, Christ and early Christians believed Adam was a literal, factual figure). Again, I think Pete Enns shows that Israel/Jews could have held that the early chapters of Genesis were not literal, factual.
Why is it that the Scripture writers could not have simply assumed the context they were in? Of course, God’s revelation can “rise above” the cultural context, in that it is prophetically revelatory. But it does not become so super-spiritual and abstract that it makes no sense to a real person living in that time. Why can the Scripture writers not assume that the earth was flat, that we live in a geocentric cosmos, that the flood would have been “worldwide”, that there was a literal first couple called Adam & Eve, etc. They were never able to engage in the sciences that we are today. Again, we are NOT better than them. Just living in a different era with a bit more knowledge as to our world and God’s good creation.
So if Christ actually really became like one of us (the whole Heb 2:14 and Rom 8:3) thing, if he really became a Jewish male in the first century, it meant he actually assumed that worldview. That worldview wasn’t bad, wrong, in a false-deceptive sense. But it was not fully correct (just as we stand quite imperfect today in our assumed worldviews). Let Scripture be fully human, but still God’s good revelation of himself, summed up in Christ. Let Christ be fully human, but still God’s good revelation, summed up in himself and his work.
To ask – if Christ got A wrong, then could he not have gotten B through Z wrong – the answer is, yes, of course. But I think you can reasonably answer your own questions that you ask. We still cannot “prove” Christ got something “wrong”. But I still believe the testimony of Scripture, even down to the very words Christ spoke as he referred to the Adam figure. For me, if Adam wasn’t literal but Christ believed he was (though we are not certain on this), it does nothing to denigrate the tenets of our faith around God’s good creation, humanity in his image, we are sinful and in need of redemption, Christ is God’s incarnate Son who accomplished exactly what the Father had for him to accomplish. Christ’s knowledge was not a divine download. He had to hear, hear through ears that were part of a fallen world. He had to discern the Father’s voice in the midst of what it meant for him to embrace a human fallen personhood (at least that is how I believe it would have been if Heb 2:14 and Rom 8:3 actually communicate something about his state).
In the end, I’m going on and on, even repeating some things I said earlier. I would encourage you that, a) your question is a good one and important but b) that I believe you, personally, can reasonably engage with your own question as you wrestle with it before the Lord and Scripture. How you’ve grappled with these questions about Scripture might also help with you grappling with these questions about Christ and what it meant for him to assume his culture in a fallen world.
It seems to me that one major difference is that while Christians believe Scripture to be “God-breathed” we believe Christ to have been God’s final and authoritative Word. If we give credence to John 5 or Luke 24 we learn that Scripture wasn’t given to us to tell us about the Canaanites or the Assyrians, the geography of first century Palestine, or the exact order of Paul’s travels. This is why I don’t have a problem with historical-critical scholarship (though I am less optimistic of its “findings”) for the most part. I think it is asking questions that are different from the ones the text as Scripture aims to answer.
While Hebrews 2.14 and Romans 8.3 do highlight the genuine humanity of Christ neither Paul nor the author of Hebrew makes the leap to equating Christ’s teaching with possible or inaccurate. The author of Hebrews understands Christ to be God’s final and definitive mouthpiece (not deny that God speaks other ways, but that his authoritative statement comes when he speaks in son, 1.1-2.
If at the end of the day Jesus is someone who could be mistaken on the very important things then this morphs our faith quite a bit. Sure, it can exist as you and Kent rightly note, but I’m not sure how that makes us different from liberal Protestantism of the past and present. And as we’ve seen from Borg, Crossan, et al., this eventually leads to our inventing a Jesus that looks nothing like that of the church, but probably a tad more absurd.
In this paradigm I am not sure why we should even fret over Jesus as being God “incarnate.” That seems excessively “traditional”, so why do we maintain it? Is it because it is the church’s “doctrine?” Is it because it is “creedal?” (This being the major difference in my mind between a critique like the one given by Christian Smith and the one we see here…at least he has a foundation from which to argue). What I don’t quite get about this discussion is the picking and choosing of what we want to hold to regarding traditional Christology and what we want to toss. What is our method/motivation? Again, this is a far cry from needing everything to be “perfect theology” or “secure incorrigible truth.” I’m not asking for that much, but I would like to know that these conclusions are being reached on more than a whim or a feeling or a “well, it could be….”
As I’ve said above, sure, this could be the right way to think about Jesus, but he is a very different Jesus from the Johannine Christological presentation of a Jesus who “exegetes” the Father and who knows the Father intimately. Rather, we have a Jesus that is probably on par with Isaiah or Hosea or even Peter and Paul. He mostly knows the will and word of God, but sometimes he doesn’t. This might make him quantitatively superior to Hillel or Shammai as a Jewish teacher, not not qualitatively.
Let me emphasize that my push-back is not aimed to be contentious, but rather I want clarification and clarity of thought. I want a rational (which is not the same as being rationalistic) argument for why this Christology is worth adopting. I want to know why it is “epistemic anxiety” to confess along with the church what the church seems to have taught from very early in their history but it is not epistemic anxiety to feel like I have to completely alter my Christology because we aren’t quite sure how to understand Adam in light of the Human Genome Project. In other words, why should my place in history (wherein I am willing to admit that I have incomplete knowledge regarding how Adam fits into the picture) override teachings that have been so core to Christianity (yes, yes, I know, a heliocentric universe….but that was hardly a central tenant of the Christian faith).
Kent said “What if this does not mean that he intended to ensure that we know we’re right and are going to heaven? What if this means that Jesus saves us in spite of ourselves and his victory is won whether we realize it or not?”
That’s an interesting ‘What if’ … What if that’s true – I don’t see how that solves the problem Brian was asking about.
Let’s suppose that Jesus didn’t come so we could know we’re right and are going to heaven. If he came to save regardless, who did he come to save? This is where the faith comes in, and the business about knowing we’re right because if not what is it that defines his sheep other than faith?
Jesus said “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” [ Matt 15:24] and certainly the so-called ‘new covenant’ was also intended for the same “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt.” [Heb 8:8-9]
Let’s suppose that Jesus’ role as Messiah wasn’t precipitated upon his message being accepted in a de-facto sense, the question of who the elect are becomes merely a historical issue. I agree with Brian that this becomes a ‘blind election’ in a Calvinist sense, except that in this scenario where salvation is not contingent upon an epistemic response, biblically even Calvinists wouldn’t have claim on being ‘elect’ because belief in Christ’s words is not a precondition. We would have to default to the bible’s identification of God’s elect [Rom 9:4].
The position with the position Mr. Sparks articulated is by detaching epistemology from soteriology some explanation is required of what makes one an object of salvation in the first place (if not epistemic acceptance). Epistemology may not be a precondition of salvation, but how does he know it is not evidence of it?
You concluded: If at the end of the day Jesus is someone who could be mistaken on the very important things then this morphs our faith quite a bit.
That is a conclusion many evangelicals make. I don’t think it has to be the conclusion.
Let me clarify – I am not arguing that Jesus was wrong. I am saying that it is not going to throw my faith if he were wrong on the Adam issue, at least the Adam issue as him having to be a literal, factual figure. It doesn’t throw me if Scripture presents him to be such and he wasn’t. It doesn’t throw me if Paul presents him to be such and he wasn’t. It doesn’t throw me if Jesus presents him to be such and he wasn’t. But, again, though many evangelicals think it’s pretty easy to show they truly believed Adam to be literal-factual (and with arguments that are very superficial, at least in dealing with biblical scholarship), I don’t think we can certainly confirm this one area.
As a side note, yes, I think we need to rethink our Christology, our understanding of the incarnation. Not to depart from historic, orthodox Christianity, but because our more modern systematic formulae are a cry far from the actual purpose of the biblical writers. This is why a book like Wright’s How God Became King is helpful (or, as I hear, and have on my shelf to read, Jesus and the Victory of God). Wright comes to the same conclusion as historic Christianity, but through a different approach. Probably a more first-century, Jewish, biblical approach.
are you implying a universal salvation, then?
It doesn’t have to be the conclusion, I agree. That said, I would like to think that when we speak of Jesus’ authority we have reason for doing so. I don’t doubt that Jesus’ words can be difficult and that submission to Jesus isn’t one-for-one with blind literalism (e.g., I have never plucked out my eye when I saw a woman and lusted). But I do wonder where this leads. When we speak of Jesus as being the most authoritative mouthpiece of God (so much so that the Johannine presentation calls him the “Word”) do we undercut our claims when we suggest that we might have more insight into reality than Jesus did.
Sure, I understand that the incarnation means that Jesus did not know about the Higgs Boson. That is not problematic. What is problematic is that he claims to teach what he knows from God. He is remembered as having an authority of his own that was superior to the scribes and Pharisees. It seems to me that we are masking our denial of this claim in Kenosis language when I don’t necessarily see Kenosis language as meaning this to the early church.
Like you I don’t think that our faith should be tossed aside if it proves to be true that the best way to think of the incarnation is to think of a Jesus who could have been wrong about Adam, his second coming, his interpretation of Torah, or any variety of things. But we should admit that our faith is in a Jesus that many of our brothers and sisters in Christ would not recognize.
When we set aside this Jesus we set aside the Jesus presented in the Gospels in my opinion. I appreciate historical Jesus studies (I prefer to called “historiographical Jesus studies”), but this isn’t a historical Jesus concern as much as it is a theological/Christological concern. We could never reach a sinless, perfect, “word of God” Jesus using historiographical methodology. We come to him through the language of faith. When we argue that Jesus might be wrong about these things we have departed from the Evangelist’s Jesus as I see it. We are left with our own “theology” of Jesus void of the authority of the church. This is why I asked how this approach differs from Borg, Crossan, et al. Should we accept a Jesus that is as multi-faceted as historical Jesus studies? I know that the canonical Gospels present a multi-faceted Jesus, but he is far more unified that almost any four historical Jesus scholars are.
Even people like Evans, Hurtado, Wright, and others do historiography with the influence of their “confessional” stance. There is no objectivity and they do not pretend to be objective. They do their best with historiographical tools, but let’s be honest, Wright is a confessional Christian and when we does his work on the historical Jesus there is a qualitative difference from the work of those who find the input of the historic church prevents them from doing “real history.” Wright may tweek how the church understands Jesus coloring in our black-and-white “systematic” vision of him so that he doesn’t become an ahistorical pseudo-human, but that seems different to me from what Sparks is suggesting here. I don’t know that I can imagine Wright saying that Jesus was “wrong” in what he taught.
One last thing: I don’t have a problem with Jesus having partial or incomplete knowledge. For instance, when Jesus preached the Kingdom it seems that he was somewhat aware this would lead to his death. I don’t know that he knew how to reconcile his vocation with this sense. I don’t know when he understood that God might vindicate him through resurrection or if he knew that God would do it in the middle of time rather than at the end of the age. But partial knowledge remains a far cry from outright “error” and I think the implications are vastly different.
I appreciate this conversation. You and Kent have been wonderful dialogue partners and I can’t remember the last time my brain has been this stretched! Thank you.
I was asked on Facebook about this post and I responded by proposing these possible solutions to this problem:
I think the possible solutions are these: (1) Jesus was a normal human (not divine, though maybe quite superior as a prophet) and therefore it makes sense that as a first century man he would have been wrong on human origins. (2) Jesus was a normal human who was also divine, but his divinity was integrated into his humanity that he would have believed things that other first century Jews believed–like a historical Adam–even if he was wrong. This comes from Kenosis Christology based on Phil. 2.5-11. (3) Jesus used Adam like someone might use “Huck Finn.” We know he wasn’t “real” but he helps serve our purpose if people understand his “character.” (4) The Gospels got this one wrong and Jesus never said this or we don’t know what Jesus thought of Adam. (5) Jesus was informed by God through the Spirit as regards what he taught and therefore we should submit to his authority regarding Adam even if we don’t know how this meets modern science. (6) Someone might argue along with (5) that modern science gets human origins wrong altogether. I think these are the ways one could look at it.
Would you add any?
I think this whole question is obviously a theological/christological one, as you rightly note, Brian. I am not totally sure why we must posit, given the twin realities that Jesus was both a hundred percent divine and human conjoined in his one person, that Jesus could ever err about his relationship to the Father—and as his exact impress to boot. If the ground of Jesus person is homoousion and consubtantial as the Patristics rightly verbalized; then I have to wonder how that informs the way we conceive of his acts? In other words, if his ‘Person’ is divine at ground, then why should we conclude that he could act any other way than the way of the Father by the Spirit were at act, so to speak, through him? This would implicate his person as the man from Nazareth all the way down. I don’t see any room for error in his teachings, unless of course his teachings can somehow be abstracted from his person; and thus annexed in a way that pits his humanity against his divinity thus placing a fissure in his person—of the kind that might make Nestorius proud.
I also think this whole discussion begs the question of how “what it means to be ‘human'” is defined? It seems like an operative assumption in some of the comments above (not yours, Brian) is that we are using our experiences of what it means to be human and then using this as the analogy for what it means for Jesus to be human. This seems quite backward. I am not suggesting that we can’t surmise that being human involves being finite, and all of the subsequent consequences of that; but that what it means to be finite ought to first be understood by what that comes to mean in the incarnate person of Jesus Christ. So, obviously, I am positing that how we conceive of humanity needs to be theological, and it needs to start with Jesus humanity as definitive of that. So a top down approach instead of the bottom up one that seems to be being appealed to here in the comments.
So in light of this what does it mean that Christ assumed a sinful humanity (but remained sinless)? I think that it means that God in Christ’s humanity has mediated Godself to us. If this is true, then I cannot conceive of a way that Jesus could have erred in any meaningful sense relative to his mission defined by his person to communicate God to us and thus for us (cf. John 1:18). To make an inference from the possibility that Jesus could have hit his thumb with a hammer, and then surmise that he also could have put his foot in his mouth in his teachings; fails to honor the fact that Jesus was (while fully human—again we have to think further about what this means) unique (sui generis)! All of these facts are not open to historical inquiry, but theological revelation and interpretation. I have a quote from TFT on this, that I might stop by later with and provide a quote from.
I think the key to this question is to parse out further how indebted the epistemic is grounded in the ontic relations of God. So really, this whole question is bound up in a doctrine of God and his triune relations. Or again, this question is very theological.
Here is a quote from TF Torrance on the uniqueness of God’s Self-revelation in Christ, and how both history and theology are brought together and implicated in Jesus’ one person. I understand that this quote does not deal directly with the specific question of this post; but, I think it is helpful to orient this discussion towards its right perspective. That is, how ought we to think of this relation of the Son to the Father in his revelation through salvation history? Here is what TFT has written:
All of the above noted, Torrance (along with Barth) believed that scripture could err, BUT, neither of them believed Jesus could err as God’s eternal Word and Son. BUT, this has to be understood—i.e. the belief that scripture could err given its human, but inspired, authorship—in a way that emphasizes that at least for TFT (and I think Barth), that so called “error” of scripture is overcome by the Spirit’s relating of these special words by grounding them in the reality to whom they bear, who is Jesus Christ. So there is a double movement, the words themselves are human (and thus ‘could err’, but only in sense that these words like anything human needed to be redeemed); but the words, indeed are redeemed as they point us beyond themselves to their reality in Jesus Christ (a theological movement)—as we are all redeemed in the humanity of Christ. So there is a dialectical Yes and No, on whether scripture and thus humanity errs in relation to Christ’s humanity. In one sense, scripture does err, but in another it cannot relative to its reality (given the triune speech act it has been taken up into).
So this seems to present another layer towards your original question, Brian. The question of what did Jesus know V. what did the scripture writers know. Jesus could not have erred (as I have already suggested in my first comment) given his ontological unity with the Father through the communion of the Holy Spirit. Scripture, according to Torrance & co. could have (and probably did to some degree) erred given its unredeemed human character. Yet, when the creative activity of the Holy Spirit underwrites the unredeemed human character of scripture’s words through bringing those words into union with their reality; those words themselves break off into their reality in Jesus Christ. So a Yes and No. Thanks for making me think about this once again, too, Brian.
Thank you for your helpful comments! In part this is why I have been saying that if we go this direction we are abandoning the Johannine contribution to Christology. I suppose the Synoptics allow for us to speak of Jesus as an anointed man only though I don’t think they do this. But then I am not sure why we should desire to maintain language about the “incarnation” if we abandon the Johannine angle. That is what I have found perplexing about what Kent and Scott have suggested since it seems like an effort to have one’s high Christological, incarnational cake while eating it too.
As Christians I think we can follow Barth and Torrance in saying that Scripture might err, but yes, as Christ interprets and fulfills Scripture it gives Scripture a new “Christological” meaning that is more important than what our historical-critical studies can recognize (this coming from someone who enjoys and appreciates historical-critical studies). But if we remove Christ as the “inerrant” one connected with the Father and Spirit then we have no epistemological justification for espousing Christianity in my opinion. We abdicate Christ’s authority which creates a vacuum that can be filled only by what each individual says about God, Jesus, and truth at any given moment. I am all for the critique of postmodernism, but I think this comes dangerously close to absolute relativism or should we say Christological relativism.
Brian et al –
Why is Christ “good news,” and why did the early church focus on his teachings, and create canonical collections of classic texts as Scripture, if these things were subject to the usual limitations of human perception and judgment?
Perhaps there’s another spectre here besides epistemology and soteriology. Perhaps we are also dealing with Protestantism’s very dark view of humanity. Orthodoxy and Catholicism have much higher (and in my view, better) views of human persons as “sick” rather than “dark and horrible.” If we take that view, then we can remind ourselves that human beings … even you and I … get many things right, including things theological. The very fact that we dialogue as we do on this blog presupposes that not only Jesus (the divine-human) but also we have great capacities for understanding and action. We don’t cease our conversations because we know error is possible … we converse in our confidence that some modicum of progress is possible. That is, in spite of the “refracted” view of reality that we have through human eyes, we still have the ability “to see.” And, if we’re able to find value in what each of us has to say, how much more should we appreciate the value in what Jesus and his followers said. Of course, we must make adjustments for their limited cultural viewpoints. But that simply goes with the territory if God chooses to reveal himself through contextually contingent human beings, even if one of these human beings was himself. I suspect (actually, more than suspect) that the damage done to our perspectives by our own cultural lenses is much greater than whatever limitations Jesus and Paul faced. Sure, we’re smart … we know about evolution and neuroscience and can make ipads … but our culture is deeply fractured and broken, including the church itself.
My basic point is … if everyday human perception and understanding is good enough for us, then it’s good enough as a mode of God’s communication to us.
I believe that Jesus is as good as it gets when it comes to God’s revelation … but the revelation was not primarily cognitive and epistemic (as is proved by the fact that God does not ensure that everyone hears about it) but rather ontological … the healing of our world through God’s unique participation with his creation and with us.
Christians wrote and canonized texts to pass on this news to others, as we do whenever we have something important to say beyond an immediate face-to-face context. Because these texts testify to what God did in Christ, they are special in a way that other texts are not. Inspiration is the world we use to mark the uniqueness of these texts, though, in my opinion, we don’t actually know how “inspiration” worked. It is a mystery. But the value of the texts is proved by the transformative relationships that they foster between God and human beings.
You wrote: ” It seems like an operative assumption in some of the comments above (not yours, Brian) is that we are using our experiences of what it means to be human and then using this as the analogy for what it means for Jesus to be human. This seems quite backward.”
What does it mean for God to tell us Jesus is human if he means: “But, of course, not human like you.” But if like us, then it is precisely in our humanity itself–in our experiences and relationships–that we find the clearest analogies for what God and Jesus are like. God is our “father” … we are his “children.” That is, the Bible itself shows us that our humanity IS our conduit of understanding God … we are created to bear his image so that we can know something of what he’s like.
There is something quite useful to emphasizing the ontological revelation of God. I think that is something I can affirm. I agree that my relationship with God through Christ is to be prioritized over my knowledge of how it works.
It seems that you find value for the epistemic matters, at least as a vehicle through which the Gospel could be transmitted from one generation to the next. In your view this doesn’t demand “inerrancy” and I agree with that (we are closer on Bibliology than Christology, I think). Yet it does seem to require some truthfulness. Would you follow a Barthian line of thinking (if I understand Barth correctly) that what matters when we read the Bible is not that we obtain a bunch of fact but that through Scripture we encounter God? Also, if you wouldn’t mind, if this is your view would you mind unpacking how you understand the teachings of Jesus and Scripture to guide us today? Are they more like a conversation starters that tells us what questions we should be asking or can we expect to find God’s mind on things like how we treat our neighbor or whether we should harm another person or how to live in a marriage?
Thank you again for your willingness to engage.
I agree with you 🙂 . Scripture has its reality in God’s inerrant Word, Jesus Christ that is.
I am not totally familiar with where you are coming from—in regards to your book on scripture, since I haven’t read it yet.
As far as my point which you responded to; I am way more comfortable with saying “But of course we are human like Jesus. I don’t think we are the images of God first, instead, I think we are an image of The image, Jesus Christ (see. Col. 1:15). And so it is this which I am referring to by way of dogmatic order and the priority of Jesus’ humanity as archetypical humanity. I reject the ‘analogy of being’ and ‘social Trinitarianism’ (even if Tom McCall does the parsing on that, i.e. on “ST”), and so this might help you understand where I am coming from a little further in regard to why I can’t accept your point about using human relationships as analogies for what it means to be Fathers and Sons (or children) and then import that kind of human relation into the eternal Father/Son relationship; again, this is backwards, dogmatically and by way of priority. If we followed this out prolegomenally, again, we will be working from sort of analogy of being. Since this goes beyond the particulars of this post, though, I’ll stop.
Thank you, Kent. I too appreciate the engagement. Blessings.
Sorry for a bit of a delay in getting back in the conversation here. Here are some points that I’ve been mulling over that I think are worth considering.
It seems that you, like me, are willing to admit that Scripture is not “inerrant” in every single detail. At least an easy one to consider would be the cosmological understanding of the ancient Scripture writers. They probably believed in a flat earth with “four corners” and a geocentric model, etc. It wasn’t just phenomenological language for them as they wrote (though it would be for us). They probably perceived the world to be so. Or we have quite contradicting details in varying parallel accounts in the Scripture (Samuel-Kings & Chronicles, the Gospels). In his recent book, Sparks points out that 2 Sam 24:1 tells us that Yahweh incited David to take a census. In 1 Chron 21:1, we find that the writer attributes it to Satan, possibly trying to correct the previous Samuel statement so as to reconcile any kind of wrong view of the Lord. The Scripture writers, even while they penned what later became part of Scripture, were not “inerrant” in every detail. But what they wrote was still very much truthful, faithful, God-breathed and authoritative.
So you are willing to acknowledge such about Scripture and also acknowledge that this should not denigrate our view of Scripture. But here is the interesting thing to ponder: Many other evangelicals would say to you – “But if they got it wrong in a detail here or there, then how can we trust anything else, like what we find recorded by Paul or Christ’s words in the Gospels?”
My point is that you are asking the question about Christ – “Well, if Christ got Adam wrong, then how do we know he didn’t get something else wrong?” But the same could be charged against you about Scripture knowing your particular view of Scripture. I think your view of Scripture is much more real and organic considering all factors. But why do you get to ask this question about Christ in his humanity, but then disregard the question about the writers of Scripture in their humanity? Remember, Scripture is God’s word. If it gets one thing wrong, how can we trust anything else in the text? I think the question is a bit silly with Scripture. What does this mean when we think about Christ in his real humanity?
Next, in a very similar comparison, you seem willing to accept that Christ could have gotten a math problem wrong, dropped a 2×4 on his toe (didn’t he know it would fall?), assume an ancient cosmological model, etc. And for him to be “wrong” in these areas, for you, it is ok. But not in the theological-spiritual teachings he brings forth, because he was the word of God in flesh bringing the exact teaching of the Father. But, again, many a evangelicals would accuse you of what they accused in the above scenario – “If Jesus got it wrong in normal, non-spiritual things like math or cosmology, then how can we trust anything else we said?” Again, it seems a bit of a double-standard, at least if we are consistent. I think it’s a very unhelpful modernist epistemic approach to Scripture and Christ’s humanity.
Listen, I don’t have all the answers to this by any means. I, like you, am ok with these statements about the Scripture canon as a whole, but still feel a bit awkward to think that Jesus got something “wrong” as recorded in Scripture. I’m not saying he did. But I think Jesus could miss a math problem, have a faulty cosmological understanding, etc, yet in his embracing of fallen human flesh, why does he all of a sudden become impervious to any such thing with regards to his theological-spiritual teaching? It’s a good question. And this is why I am not too bothered if he got an Adam thing “wrong”. But I don’t think he got anything “wrong”, in the sense that modernism is obsessed with. He simply worked within the given framework of what it meant to be an actual, real Jewish male living in the first century. Not to mention that Mark 10:6-8 and Matt 19:4-6 don’t really mention Adam in the specific. And, as a side note, it’s interesting to ponder that what we have in the Gospels comes from the 4 evangelists, not necessarily “direct” words of Christ. So we have to work within those factors as well.
I don’t know if I’m just repeating myself or I am making sense. I hope it is adding to the discussion.
As a side note, I do believe Sparks appreciates Barth. He quotes him quite a few times in his newest book. 🙂
A wise sage once told me: “Bobby, there are many who mistake inspiration for incarnation.” One of the morals of this aphorism is that we can’t (or shouldn’t) collapse what happened in the incarnation into what has happened in scripture. So this would not allow us, then, to set up an analogy from scripture and apply that back to the analogy of the incarnation. But, that’s not to say that the inverse could not be applicable (so there is an asymmetry); there is a corollary between the analogy of the incarnation which can help situate the way we think of the divine and human interplay that inheres in the inspiration of scripture. Meaning that, I think, we can observe how Jesus assumed human fallen flesh and then immediately sanctified it by the Spirit in order not to sin. In the same way, since the words of scripture are “human” (derivative of humans), they can be understood to be immediately sanctified, such that the words “become” fitting instruments to disclose and bear witness to the Jesus they testify to (in all of their varied types and genres and forms). They don’t lose their character as human words (and thus fallen in need of redemption), but they also have a unique character to them in relation to the One who has taken and orchestrated these words in a way that bears witness to their reality in Jesus Christ.
That said, I find this discussion ironic; since interestingly, those who want to accept the fact that there are “errors” in scripture are using the same model that those who don’t want there to be “errors” in the Bible use in order to assert there aren’t. It’s just that the “errantists” are negating the assertions of the “inerrantists”, and yet still working from the historist critical approach that bequeathed this whole debate to us in the first place. It seems to me, that a good work on a theological retrieval of a doctrine of scripture is in order; but a constructive one (since we are where we are in the history of ideas). I am not totally settled on any of this, so I am thinking out loud as well.
One of the morals of this aphorism is that we can’t (or shouldn’t) collapse what happened in the incarnation into what has happened in scripture.
Sparks would agree. Though it would be considered heretical with Christology, he would argue that an adoptionist view more suits Scripture.
I admit that the “slippery slope” aspect can seem like a weak reason for not accepting an argument. I understand that those who have a more conservative view of Scripture could say the same things I am saying about Kent’s Christology. Let me admit my major hang-up: I agree that Scripture being “inspired” is a mystery and I don’t know how it works exactly. I assume with Scott Hahn that Scripture is a sacrament before it is a document. It is a means of connecting us to God through Christ as an activity of the Spirit. As I mentioned Jn 5 and Lk 24 convince me that while 2 Sam and 1 Chron may be in tension or disagreement or Mark and Matthew may depict things differently the function of Scripture for Christians isn’t necessarily historical or moral or ethical, et al. It is Christological.
Scripture seems to present Jesus and speak of Jesus as superior to itself. The Gospel of John makes Jesus the Word. Hebrews makes Jesus God’s greatest speech-act. Maybe this doesn’t demand that Jesus’ teachings be scientifically or historically accurate, but I am extremely cautious about this and I want to think through all the implications of taking a Kenosis Christology that far. If Scripture is “wrong” on this or that it doesn’t matter if it point us to Christ. If Christ is wrong, then, well, you see the dilemma.
Also, I give plenty of room for Jesus to have misspelled a word when learning to write Aramaic as a young boy as we’ve discussed. That isn’t my concern so much as how we understand Jesus’ teachings in relation to his anointing by the Spirit and his relationship with God the Father. As I’ve stated before, the Johannine depiction of Jesus has him teaching what he knows from the Father. Maybe we can say that his ethical teaching on marriage is true in the context it was delivered and God allowed him to allude to Adam to make the point to audience who believed in Adam, but we’d have to be OK with the “essence” of his teaching not being his allusion to Adam, but his ethics of marriage. One person has proposed this in the comments of another post.
So let me reframe my concern: (1) How do we understand Jesus’ anointing by the Spirit and relationship with the Father to have impacted his teachings? (2) Can we say that when God “spoke through” Christ that it was OK if Jesus communicated through the worldview of his day as long as the “kernel” of his message is true? (3) How does this impact our understanding of his other teachings: second coming, future judgment, the nature of God the Father, etc?
I hope this better reflects my concerns.
I know Barth denied a historical Adam, but as I understand it he is one who presents a very high Christology. Do you know if he addressed this subject? Has Torrance? If they both address it how do they differ?
I’ll have to read Sparks, eventually. Thanks.
Are you wondering about the particular question of Adam, relative to Barth/Torrance?
Yes, Adam, especially as he relates to Jesus’ view of him. Do they address this that you know?
Hi Brian —
Here I’ll respond to two of your comments:
1. “Would you follow a Barthian line of thinking (if I understand Barth correctly) that what matters when we read the Bible is not that we obtain a bunch of fact but that through Scripture we encounter God?”
I would not so neatly separate, as Barth tended to do, our encounter with God from the content of what the human authors expressed in Scripture. Scripture, when read and understood well, fosters in us both an understanding of and affection for God and neighbor … and myself. And when this is the outcome, we experience a foretaste of what it was that Christ came to accomplish … to save what was lost. Our grasp of what is true and our formation as spiritually whole persons is not a distraction from what Christ has done … it is, in fact, what he was and is doing.
“But if we remove Christ as the “inerrant” one connected with the Father and Spirit then we have no epistemological justification for espousing Christianity in my opinion.”
I am not all that interested in whether Jesus erred as a human being. I take it that he did because trial and error is endemic to human interpretation, but I don’t spend much time thinking about it. One reason it’s not a big deal to me is that I don’t follow the logic that seems to stand behind your statement. What you’re saying (I think) is that Christ, if ever he erred as a human being, cannot be divine and hence we’d have no justification for espousing Christianity as true. I would simply reject that. In a world where incarnation and resurrection signal salvation for humanity, the fact that said savior erred as a human being would neither jeopardize the efficacy of his death nor jeopardize the ability of human beings to hear about it and trust it as gospel.
Another reason that I don’t worry about this is that, though I acknowledge Jesus erred as all humans do, I find that I’m inspired rather than troubled by what he said and did. The lone exception would be my discomfort with his talk of eternal torment which, I suspect (and hope), reflects a limitation of his first-century Jewish perspective.
I began your book God’s Words in Human Words and I assume that it will address some of these matters (especially since Sacred Word, Broken Word has been explained to me as a small, user-friendly version). Do you address these matters in that book? I think when I get done surveying Enns and Collins on Adam and may begin discussing your book here. It seems to be a great conversation starter.
I have always hoped that we have misunderstood Jesus’ teachings on hell that seem to indicate eternality and torment. What about his eschatological hope though? Should we cautiously embrace his language that seems to indicate restoration and renewal?
Another thought has come to mind: Does this view factor in Jesus’ post-resurrection teachings assuming that he did appear and talk with his disciples? I know we have a very small glimpse of what he taught, but one might assume that this influenced his disciples.
“Should we cautiously embrace his language that seems to indicate restoration and renewal?”
Speaking for myself, I would no more hesitate to embrace this than to embrace his message of love for God and neighbor, including even our enemies. There are things in Scripture that resonate powerfully as true, and things that do not. We must follow that lead while remaining open to the possibility that what resonates with us is in some way misleading.
“Does this view factor in Jesus’ post-resurrection teachings assuming that he did appear and talk with his disciples?”
Actually, it is the post-resurrection teaching of Jesus in Matthew 28 that causes me to believe that, in the end, Jesus espoused a broad and inclusive message for humanity. Read my discussion of this text in SWBW, where I argue that the great commission was structured to “absorb” the genocide mission delivered by Moses. Perhaps you’ll agree.
I look forward to future discussions. On balance, I’d say that SWBW is a clearer explication of my present thinking than than GWHW, but it covers less ground.
1. Why should we have to worship Jesus if he was fallen? How are we defining fallen? Because when I read/hear fallen, I read/hear sinful, and in tradition and Scripture, Jesus is sinless, he is perfect, he is inerrant. If he isn’t, I see no reason why I should have to worship him; might as well become Buddhist or non-theist at that point.
Of course, the question behind the question of Jesus’ knowledge, is whether or not God is perfectly omniscient, that every thing is pre-determined in God’s mind either before or after the fall, depending on your theology. Of course, I don’t affirm that point of view, so my Christology, logically is going to be different. I see God’s knowledge as being all Wise, and knowing every foreseeable future and possibility, and Jesus is a participant in that knowledge, outside of when Jesus is going to return (only the Father knows, right?
2. While I am not sure about how Jesus sees Adam at this moment in my journey (not really relevant to the questions I am asking), I think we do need to take some doctrines into consideration as we are trying to discern how to reconcile science with theology. Doctrines as rules for language allow us to speak of God as a community. For example, I do not find it helpful to rush to the conclusion that Jesus as The Image of God is the only definition of the imago dei. Both before and after the “Fall” in Genesis, humanity is called the image of God, a picture of royalty in the ancient Near East. Now, to say that Adam is the first human made in the image of God is I think breaking this rule (and quite honestly, can lead to colonizing views of humanity). So, what I would say is that Adam is made in the image of God, but so are the other “Outsiders” that people like Cain meet. I would argue that Adam is the first priest to commune with YHWH, the One True God, and work my way outwardly, in terms of harmitology and soteriology.
As a side point, you said: The lone exception would be my discomfort with his talk of eternal torment which, I suspect (and hope), reflects a limitation of his first-century Jewish perspective.
I’m not so sure Jesus taught ‘eternal conscious punishment’. I think we terribly misunderstand the biblical teaching around sheol/hades, gehenna, and some of the imagery used to describe judgment, as well as some of the historical context. You might be interested in Andrew Perriman’s, Hell & Heaven in Narrative Perspective.
What is ‘broad’ (i.e. [Matt 28]) is the ‘many are called’ part; what is narrow is the ‘few are chosen’ part [Matt 22:14]. It would be a mistake to confuse the scope of evangelical efforts with the scope of salvation. The nature of man to reject the Gospel will by default exclude most who receive the Gospel.
Furthermore, seeing Matt 28 as being comprehensive is a function of how we read ‘all the nations’. ‘All the nations’ could be ‘all the nations of the world’ or it could be ‘all the nations that sprang from Abrahams loins’ or it could be ‘all the nations of the Roman world’ or it could even be ‘all the nations of the House if Israel’. Clearly the hermeuntic scope must be with respect to his audience, not us.
I wouldn’t say that I am concerned that Jesus cannot be divine if he erred. I don’t think Jesus did his miracles or teachings because he was God incarnate. As I understand the incarnation he was fully man so like Peter or Paul he was reliant on the Spirit to do his miracles or do say inspired speech. If divine identity matters in this discussion it would be that his divinity allowed his humanity to be uniquely united to God the Father through the Spirit so much so that he could claim to speak for God (or in the Johannine sense, he teaches only what the Father tells him). I hope that clarifies.
I think in this discussion “fallen” hasn’t meant that he is sinful, but that he did incarnate himself into post-Adamic humanity with all its flaws, sickness, and limitations. I agree 100% that the doctrine of his sinlessness (as in sinning himself, not taking on our sins) is essential. Also, I lean toward your direction that a Jesus like this one seems quite divorced from his unity with the Father and it is hard to understand why we should call him unique, or “Lord,” or follow his teachings. At best he is a good teacher, yes, maybe like Buddha.
Your perspective of Adam is intriguing and it sounds a bit like what some others have noted, namely it doesn’t appear that Adam and his family are “alone” since Cain finds a wife out of nowhere. That still leaves problems for the view of Adam presented in Luke-Acts and Paul, but maybe gets Jesus off the hook.
1. As I use it, fallen does not mean sinful in the sense of having committed culpable sin. If it did, then I’d either deny that Jesus assumed our fallen nature or, as you’ve pointed out, I’d not worship him and I’d not be a Christian.
2. “I think we do need to take some doctrines into consideration as we are trying to discern how to reconcile science with theology.”
I agree, but this doesn’t apply (imo) when the science is so clear that, practically speaking, it can’t be wrong. Humans evolved through an evolutionary process. Whatever we do theologically, it must embrace and dovetail with this evidence, broadly conceived.
Hi Brian –
Understood. I suppose that I’d say John’s view of Jesus (which is not as historically accurate as the synoptics; sorry Dr. Blomberg) probably imbibes already of the same assumptions so common in our day … Namely, that everything said by Jesus, or in Scripture, was perfect. The standard view of inspiration in early Christianity was dictation. In that sort of religious milieu, I think that the kinds of subtleties and distinctions we are making here would befuddle ancient Christian authors, including those who wrote the Bible.
1. Glad to see some clarification on the use of “fallenness” from Brian and yourself.
2. What I meant by doctrines is that helping to reconcile with things like the natural sciences was that doctrines as rules of engagement, language games, ala the narrative theology of Stanley Hauerwas or postliberalism of George Linbeck. That’s all I meant. Just needed to clarify.
I don’t know about the idea Jesus err’d, not in the sense of giving someone incorrect directions, but also not in the sense that everything he spoke beyond criticism.
Take Brian’s idea about how Jesus’ divinity and humanity were bound for example (which is the best model biblically) – he said “As I understand the incarnation he was fully man so like Peter or Paul he was reliant on the Spirit to do his miracles or do say inspired speech.”
I don’t affirm Jesus’ knowledge was complete as a mortal, but that does not mean it was not perfect. From [Phil 2:6-7] “..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.”
I take the “making himself nothing” to mean that he subjected Himself to all of the constraints of being a man, having incomplete (but not necessarily imperfect) knowledge though I do grant him perfect reason and perfect reliance on the Spirit to decide.
Jesus was also reliant on the Spirit when he judged, made decisions, exercised wrath or compassion. This He did perfectly. So (hypothetically) if someone asked him directions, and his knowledge was not complete, he would have had sound judgment enough to speak the truth – which was “I don’t know”.
Therefore I believe the discussion should be about what benefit his perfect reliance on the Holy Spirit gave him. With that I’d start by pointing out that perfection is diminished because of sin when it comes to dealing with the Holy Spirit. When we sin we grieve the Holy Spirit which means our eyes are dulled and our ability to speak truth or do right is ‘off the mark’.
Therefore, there are really two arguments here:
1. Deny Jesus needed to be perfect as man, but somehow still affirm his divinity (which seems to bring Jesus down); or
2. Affirm that if man avoided sin in every instance he would be perfect in the same sense Christ was since the same Holy Ghost available to Christ is also available to man (which is to bring man up).
It isn’t clear to me why should we choose Kent’s approach (1). Why can’t we affirm perhaps constrained, but still perfection through access to the Holy Ghost?
RodTRDH: I agree.
Andrew T: Nothing prevents you from affirming #2. But personally, I don’t think it works because “partial but perfect knowledge” (such as your approach would require) strikes me as impossible. Interpretation is based on context, and partial information about the context changes one’s interpretation for the worse. That’s why so many premodern people believed the earth is flat. For moreon this, see my discussions of epistemology in SWBW and GWHW.
I wrote my book SWBW because of comments like this (just saw it today):
“It’s right for God to slaughter women and children anytime he pleases. God gives life and he takes life.”
– John Piper
A sinful nature and concupiscence (desire and emotion in the direction of sin)
Concupiscence is itself sinful. “Thou shalt not lust.” (Romans 7:7-Gk.) This was a major contention of the Reformation against Rome. All of our Reformed confessions agree on this. The Lutheran Book of Concord condemns the denial of this truth. And the Reformation is joined by the Early Fathers and Eastern Orthodoxy on this point. Any departure from this doctrine undermines the truth that we need continual forgiveness from God; thus, the evangelical breakthrough of Luther is compromised.
Any opposition to this truth is also anti-catholic.
Even the disorderliness of our bodily desires has a sinful quality, according to Romans 6-8 and our Reformed confessions. This also is a vital teaching. To say that sin only resides in the soul is to destroy body-soul unity and give ground to Gnosticism.
Does Kent Spark believe that Jesus was concupiscence-free? Does he affirm that his flesh, though moral, was sinless–and thus free from any inclination in the direction of sin?
What does Peter Enns–and his understanding of the incarnation in particular–affirm about these matters?
In my previous post, the second sentence in the second-to-last paragraph should read “Does he affirm that His flesh, though mortal, was sinless . . .”
Upon further reflection, I wish to withdraw my second question and focus on the first one: Does Kent Sparks* (and Peter Enns) believe that Jesus was concupiscence-free? I think this is certainly a worthwhile question.
* I apologize for the previous error!
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