The same yesterday, today and forever – except for the fallible phase

Following some links through from Bilbo’s blog there’s yet another discussion about the limitations of Jesus’s human existence here. I’ve touched a little bit on the “fallibility” of Jesus here¬† and here because it seems to be a growing assumption amongst “post-evangelicals” that Jesus sometimes got things wrong. Firstly it follows from kenotic models of the incarnation – in which Jesus empties himself of his divinity to enter our world (which I hope I’ve dealt with in the second of my linked posts above), and secondly, as the first link shows, it’s projected from general principles – in this case from (over)interpreting the Chalcedonian definition – if Jesus is like us, and we make mistakes, then so did Jesus. The key point to note is that they say it is important that Jesus be just like us if he is truly to relate to us.

For me, it is more important to faith to concentrate on all that Jesus said he got right and obey it than to speculate on divine psychology as if it were either accessible to us or any of our business. But much of the speculation is blown out of the water by one single episode – the transfiguration. Here Jesus deliberately chooses three witnesses (to provide credible testimony according to Mosaic law), and takes them up a mountain so he can meet Moses and Elijah. The meeting is neither for Jesus’s benefit nor the disciples’ primarily, but for the two glorified saints. Their conversation, according to Luke, is about the Lord’s forthcoming Exodus; it’s not much of a stretch of the imagination to say that he was explaining how it would fulfil their own ministries. Or to put it another way, he was revealing the mystery of the Incarnation and Passion that had, the Bible tells us, remained hidden in God since before the Creation.

For the benefit of Moses and Elijah, then, Jesus reveals his divine glory … maybe in order to be easily recognised, since both of them had visions of God on mountains in the Old Testament, and both had, one assumes, been with Christ in glory for centuries before his Incarnation. Now I don’t know about you, but if I’d been Peter, James or John any speculation I might have previously entertained about Jesus’s human fallibility would have been stilled after what was a terrifying experience of glory – including a direct command from God the Father to listen to what Jesus said. Today’s evangelicals seem made of sterner stuff – they are owed an explanation, it seems.

As the blog first linked implies, there are some practical reasons for this. For example Jesus seems to have assumed that Moses was substantially responsible for the Law, including the Genesis creation account, in his discussion of marriage in Mark 10. Was this an example of his fallibility, failing to give due weight to critical scholarship because of his first century rabbinic ignorance? That could well be the case, of course, but one wonders why Moses himself hadn’t set him straight when he met him a week or two before.

However, I’ve hinted at these things in previous posts, and I want to add a new thought here. All these speculating scholars are Christians, even evangelicals, who hope to meet and spend eternity with Jesus some time soon. If Jesus’s fallibility, and the suppression or withdrawing of his awesome divinity, are so important to his identifying with us, does that not mean that he’d have to retain his ignorance and “kenosis” in the age to come? After his resurrection, remember, Jesus was still recognisably the Jesus the disciples had known (once the initial strangemness was overcome). In fact, most of his Bible exposition on the resurrection occurred after he had risen. Does that mean he retained his supposed first-century limitations? Did he still believe Moses wrote the Law? If not, why didn’t he tell the disciples?

Must we then develop  a new theory about his divine nature, and its supernatural knowledge, only being restored after the ascension, with the resurrection as some kind of halfway house? Did Jesus need a refresher course once he sat at the right hand of the Father? Will this restored glory mean that we never get to meet the human Jesus, being eternally blinded by the divine glory of the Logos once we rise to him?

Or would it be better to stop all this pseudo-psychology about Christ’s hypothetical human limitations, and just obey what he actually taught, if we call him Lord?

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About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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2 Responses to The same yesterday, today and forever – except for the fallible phase

  1. Cal says:

    It’s always baffling that for all the liberality of those who put this kenotic theory forward they’re primary judgment to question Jesus’ knowledge is based upon Western standards.

    What I mean is that the question arises based on statements about cosmology or anatomy or other scientific-ish disciplines that Jesus tangentially references in parables or teachings. How arrogant that Jesus is without knowledge when He uses much richer language. Maybe our mechanical language inherited from Newton and the Enlightenment has made us all the poorer. Even in this robotic sense our language is bankrupt; so much for the ‘uncuttable’ (i.e. atom) which turns out can be cut. Maybe hundreds of years when we’re all speaking Mandarin, our descendents will think us all ignorant blockheads because we’re imprecise with our language.

    2 pence from yours truly,

  2. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

    Thanks Cal

    Even more presumptuous is when they question his theological judgement. Sure he condemned divorce, but he was a product of an age in which adultery was a capital offence. Thank goodness we’re more enlightened now and can decide what he would have said had he the advantage of our ethical omniscience…

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