Editor’s note: The purpose of this series is to help our readers think through what the deity of Christ and it’s importance to the Christian faith.

the-deity-of-ChristOver the past two years, I have tried to wrap my mind around what it means for Jesus to have been fully human. Reformed and Evangelical theologians have rightly fixated on the Deity of Jesus–since that is the supremely important truth about Him that is only understood by the supernatural gift of faith. Nevertheless, as the early Christological heresies teach us, much error has been propagated with regard to both natures, when the Person of Jesus has been considered. It seems to me that we do a great disservice to believers if we do not give due weight to what it means for us for Jesus to be fully human–yet without sin–with all of the limitations of finite men and women. It is in acknowledgement of the words of Luke 2:40 and 52 that we must give carefully attention to this subject. There were read, “The Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him” and “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.”

In his outstanding article “The Human Development of Jesus,” B.B. Warfield explained:

There are no human traits lacking to the picture that is drawn of him: he was open to temptation; he was conscious of dependence on God; he was a man of prayer; he knew a “will” within him that might conceivably be opposed to the will of God; he exercised faith; he learned obedience by the things that he suffered. It was not merely the mind of a man that was in him, but the heart of a man as well, and the spirit of a man. In a word, he was all that a man — a man without error and sin — is, and must be conceived to have grown, as it is proper for a man to grow, not only during his youth, but continuously through life, not alone in knowledge, but in wisdom, and not alone in wisdom, but “in reverence and charity” — in moral strength and in beauty of holiness alike. Indeed, we find it insufficient to say, as the writer whom we have just quoted’ says, St. Luke places no limit to the statement that he increased in wisdom; and it seems, therefore, to be allowable to believe “that it continued until the great ‘It is finished’ on the cross.” Of course; and even beyond that “It is finished”: and that not only with reference to his wisdom, but also with reference to all the traits of his blessed humanity. For Christ, just because he is the risen Christ, is man and true man — all that man is, with all that is involved in being man — through all the ages and into the eternity of the eternities.

Warfield was, of course, building on the idea first presented by Irenaeus of Lyons–regarding the idea of anakephalaiosis (i.e. recapitulation). Irenaeus explained this in the following way:

Jesus “came to save all by means of himself–all, I say, who through him are born again unto God — infants, and children and boys and youths and old men. He therefore passed through every age, becoming an infant for infants, thus sanctifying infants; a child for children, thus sanctifying those who are of this age, being at the same time made to them an example of piety, righteousness and submission; a youth for youths, becoming an example to youths, and thus sanctifying them for the Lord.” (Against Heresies book. 2.22.4)

Again Warfield explained that–with regard to His humanity–Jesus had sinless limitations. He wrote:

Everywhere the man Christ Jesus is kept before our eyes, and every characteristic that belongs to a complete and perfect manhood is exhibited in his life as dramatized in the gospel story. All the limitations of humanity, therefore, remained his throughout. One fresh from reading the gospel narrative will certainly fail to understand the attitude of those, who we are told exist, who for example, “admit his growth in knowledge during childhood,” “yet deny as intolerable the hypothesis of a limitation of his knowledge during his ministry.” Surely Jesus himself has told us that he was ignorant of the time of the day of judgment (Mark xiii. 32); he repeatedly is represented as seeking knowledge through questions, which undoubtedly were not asked only to give the appearance of a dependence on information from without that was not real with him: he is made to express surprise; and to make trial of new circumstances; and the like.

This is, in no way, to deny that in His Divine nature, Jesus is omniscient. We must always keep in view that Jesus is  fully God and fully man. James Anderson explains the significance of both truths when he writes:

We’re told that Jesus was omniscient (John 16:30) but also that he increased in wisdom (Luke 2:52). To be precise, however, we should say that Jesus was omniscient with respect to his divine nature and gained wisdom with respect to his human nature. On this basis, it seems natural to say that God the Son is timeless and unchangeable with respect to his divine nature but temporal and changeable with respect to his human nature. Since Jesus’ death and resurrection pertained to his human nature, this standard Christological distinction suggests a way to reconcile the events of Jesus’ life with the immutability of God. (Anderson, “Did God Change in the Incarnation” at TGC)

It is also not to suggest that Jesus somehow lacked human consciousness that he was the eternal Son of God, Messiah and the Redeemer who would lay down His life a ransom for many. Geerhardus Vos rightly explained that Jesus’ “destiny and conscious purpose were identical” when he wrote:

Our Lord affirms that he came to give his life as a ransom. The verb “came” belongs not merely to the first thing named—the ministering—but it belongs equally (as) much to the second thing named—the giving of the life by way of ransom: the Son of Man came to minister and to give. I beg you to notice this form of the statement sharply because many have tried to put upon it the weakening interpretation: Jesus came to serve and found, in the course of his life, that to serve to the full meant for him to die. But that merely makes the death the outcome of the service.

What our Lord affirms is that it was the implication and the avowed end of the service from the outset. What he says carries the knowledge (of) his death and of the saving purpose of his death back into the initial act of his appearance upon earth: his coming was with this end and none other in view. He came to serve not merely to the possible limit of death, but to serve by the absolutely free and deliberate employment of death as the supreme instrument of his service. No one took his life from him. He gave it voluntarily. And he expected to give it from the very moment in which he received it. Hence the writer of the epistle of the Hebrews represents him as entering the world with the words of the Psalmist upon his lips: “Lo I am come to do thy will, O God” (Heb. 10:7, that is, it was God’s will that he should suffer). And “a body didst thou prepare for me” (Heb. 10:5, that is, God gave him a body in order that it might be possible for him to experience death as the true sacrifice for sin).

You see, therefore, how all this excludes the view that our Lord only late in his career began to entertain the idea that his death might be a contribution to the success of his work. No—he carried the conviction that his work centered in his death with him in the silence of his inner life all the days of his pilgrimage. From the beginning he set his face deliberately towards this goal and unswervingly shaped his course with reference to its attainment. The gospel in the mind of Jesus did not need first to develop into a gospel of the cross. He took up the cross when he breathed the first breath of his earthly life. Thank God we are justified in reading the gospels with this thought in mind. Jesus did not live the greater part of his life in a naive ignorance and unconsciousness of the web of destiny that was being woven around him. In his case, as in no other case, destiny and conscious purpose were identical. Not only that he died, but that he meant to die for us, this constitutes the preciousness of the gospel story for everyone who reads it with the eye of faith. (Vos, “Sermon on Mark 10:45“)

What I would suggest is that it is altogether orthodox and right to apply the principle–regarding the humanity of Jesus–to His reading of the Scriptures as a covenant document, in order to be the Covenant-keeping, true-Israelite and Redeemer of His people. He learned more and more of His Father’s revealed will in Scripture–in his human capacity at each stage–in order to be equipped as a man to be the Redeemer of men. Jesus never studied in the Rabbinical schools like all the other religious leaders in Israel (John 7:15). But, we can safely assume that Mary and Joseph faithfully taught Him the Scriptures from His earliest days. We know that He would have been in the synagogues often as a boy; and Luke tells us that He went with Mary and Joseph to the Temple every year. We find Him there as a 12 year old boy astonishing the teachers with His questions and answers about the Scriptures (Luke 2:41-52). So, how did Jesus read the Old Testament? Did He read it as a book of morals or character development? Did He read it like the Pharisees and Scribes read it? Far from it! Jesus read the Old Testament as the Covenant revelation of God written to Him and about Him. We have frequently rushed to this latter part and rightly rejoiced in the fact that Old Testament was written by and about Jesus, but have failed to see that, at the same time, it was written, first and foremost, to Jesus.

This post first appeared at Nick’s blog and is posted here with permission.

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