Monday, December 12, 2011

QUESTIONS CONCERNING THE INCARNATION OF CHRIST

Continuing with the questions from the previous post:
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Did he know who he was? It seems so in the only story we have of his childhood. If so, how? If it was from his mom, well, I’m thinking that would make the whole sibling thing I mentioned above even worse!!! Or did he have a knowledge of God that we don’t have that might have helped in the temptation resisting department?

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I’d like to rephrase this question and put it in the form that it is usually phrased.  It is really two questions.  And I’ll add a third.
·        How much did Jesus know and when did He know it?  i.e., Did He know who He was and when?
·        Was Jesus able not to sin or not able to sin?
·        Related question:  How did He resist temptation?  As man or as God?  Was there “some supernatural interference or predisposition”?

The question of Jesus’ knowledge, especially His self-awareness has perplexed the minds of scholars and saints, probably from the beginning.  There are many views and theories.

There are those, of course, who believe that Jesus at birth understood all, that He could have looked out at the stars from His manger bed and known the names of all, that He knew from the beginning that He was God and knew what His mission was.  However, the Gospel accounts don’t present us with this picture.  They seem to present Jesus as a human being who gradually came to understand His divine nature.  Notice some of the things the Bible says about Him.

Luke 2:52:  “And Jesus was progressing in wisdom and stature …”  This statement follows the account of His precocious behavior and of His words in the temple at the age of 12 stating that God was His Father (verse 49).

Though most of the questions Jesus asked were rhetorical, at least some appear to have been asked out of honest ignorance.  “Who touched My garments?” (Mark 5:30).  If so, this could imply ignorance of other matters.

During His Olivet Discourse, He clearly stated His ignorance of the time of His return.  “But concerning that day and hour, nobody knows – not the angels of heaven, not even the Son – but the Father alone!” (Matthew 24:36).

Hebrews 5:8 tells us that “He learned obedience from the things that He suffered.”

We are told that the pre-incarnate Christ “emptied Himself” at the incarnation (Philippians 2:7).  It is believed that what He emptied Himself of was the independent use of His divine attributes.”  Though He was infinite, He confined Himself to a human body; though all-powerful, He did not utilize that power; and, though all-knowing, He did not utilize that knowledge.

So we have a Man, who was also God, gradually increasing in knowledge (in a way similar to that of others) and gradually coming to a full knowledge of His divine nature through various experiences.

By the time of His temptation experience as recorded in Matthew and Luke, He was aware of His divinity.  But how much knowledge He had as a child we can’t be sure of, nor how this would have been of help in His earlier temptations.

So we come to the old question:  Was Jesus able not to sin or was He not able to sin?  This question, like the previous one, has been debated almost from the beginning and I don’t have much to add to it.  There are essentially two views. I should note that those who disagree on this question do not disagree on the fact that  Jesus did not sin.  All agree that He lived His life free from original sin and from actual sin.

This may seem to many to be an irrelevant debate, but there are important issues here.

Those who believe that He was not able to sin argue that “it was impossible for Him to sin because of the essential bond between the human and divine natures” (L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, page 328).  Some who hold this view feel that to believe otherwise would be blasphemous.

Those who take the opposing view argue that “If He was a true man He must have been capable of sinning …  If from the constitution of His person it was impossible for Christ to sin, then His temptation was unreal and without effect, and He cannot sympathize with His people” (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, page 457).

And so the debate goes.  There are godly persons on both sides, much godlier and wiser than I, so I would hesitate to be dogmatic.  However, I lean toward the second view given above.  I believe the Book of Hebrews makes this clear.

“For in that He has suffered, being tempted, He is able to come to the help of those who are tempted” (Hebrew 2:18).

“For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One Who has been tempted in all things as we are, without sin.  Let us come then with boldness to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help at the right time” (Hebrews 4:15, 16).

So I’d have to say that if Jesus was tempted as a human being, He also resisted as a human being.  This would include those childhood temptations, as well as, those elaborated in the Gospels and related to His adult life and ministry.  If there was some providential “bubble” around Him in the form of His knowledge or some miraculous provision, we are not told.

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