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How God Could Become a Human

I have finished my posts on the passage of the so-called “bloody sweat” in Luke 22:43-44.   I devoted some considerable time to this text (for a second time on the blog) because I wanted to use it to set up a discussion in response to a question that a reader asked (that I started answering a very long time ago. June 30 in fact….) about what motivated me to write my book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture.   Now, after setting the stage for about two months, I’m able to answer the question.   About time, you might think….

But first, in response to my recent posts, I received this interesting query from a reader, not about the textual tradition of the New Testament but about early Christian understandings of Christ.  Here’s the question.

 

QUESTION:

Have any Christians suggested that Jesus was fully God (from all eternity); but *because* he was God, and was *omnipotent*, he could choose to incarnate as a human and – for a planned period of time – *forget* that he was God and experience everything a normal human would? And then, retain the memory of it when he reverted to his true identity?   I don’t believe that happened. But as I see it, it’s the only way around this conundrum: How can a Being be considered all-powerful if there are *things he can’t do*? Such as, have a real, first-person experience of suffering?

 

RESPONSE:

This is a very interesting and important question.   And as it turns out, the answer is rather involved, because there are a number of issues involved.  But I’ll take on just the main issue.   In fact, I can be brief.  The answer is

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Christ’s Self-Ignorance
How Textual Criticism Became Relevant

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    Wilusa  August 26, 2015

    Thanks for the great response!

  2. Avatar
    Wilusa  August 26, 2015

    BTW, I’d been thinking about a nasty way I’ve read some atheists have tried to flummox believers. Saying, “You claim your God is all-powerful. OK, tell me this. Can God create…*a boulder so massive that God can’t move it*?”

    • Bart
      Bart  August 28, 2015

      Yes he can. And then he’d move it. 🙂

      • Avatar
        Adam Beaven  August 28, 2015

        have there been christians who had believed that god took his powers of and handed them to another and made another immortal?

      • Avatar
        prince  August 28, 2015

        Lol…

    • Avatar
      prince  August 29, 2015

      God subsists and acts in a manner that befits His grandeur and majesty and is consistant with His unique and perfect names and attributes accordingly. Example, God cannot create another uncreated being… that fact doesnt limit or diminish God’s power in any way….

  3. Avatar
    Wilusa  August 26, 2015

    Follow-up thoughts: One might pose the question, “Can God create a situation He cannot subsequently influence?”

    Or a simple, “Can God experience surprise?”

    The response might be that He can, by temporarily disabling His powers. And that would satisfy some questioners.

    But what if someone words the question differently, and asks, “Can God do (whatever it was) *without temporarily disabling His powers*?” They’ve once again come up with something He can’t do!

    So while I’m not the type to go around challenging theists, I don’t think there’s any way a Being can be truly omnipotent.

    • Avatar
      GokuEn  August 28, 2015

      It depends what is meant by “omnipotence”. Contemporary Philosophy of Religion usually defines omnipotence as being able to do what is *logically* possible. Thus God cannot create square triangles or the like. The argument is that logically contradictory notions (such as “square triangle”) are empty of real meaning: logic is a property of *language* not some law of nature. Thus asking God to create a “square triangle” is the same as asking God to create “xjwodqod”. God cannot do either, but not because he lacks power but because the thing to be created is empty of meaning.

    • Avatar
      godspell  August 28, 2015

      There’s no way to know what an infinite being could do. For a finite being, I think this is the most pointless of all questions to ask. We can’t know what God can do, what God can be, what God wants, or if God even exists, and as Scotus Erigenus said many centuries ago, it would be better to say God does not exist–God transcends being and non-being.

      My answer to whether God could create something God could not destroy is “Why would God do that?” These questions, I think, conceive of God as if he/she/it was an individual person, with a defined identity, and how could an infinitely powerful all-knowing entity existing across all time and dimension possibly be that?

      The one thing I know for sure is that we’ll never stop asking these questions, pointless as they are, and therefore God as a concept will never cease to exist in human thought. And we’ll go right on exclaiming “JESUS CHRIST!” when we’re surprised, or agitated.

  4. Avatar
    mjordan20149  August 26, 2015

    Matthew 24:36 certainly plays a big part in this Kenotic Christology, but I have always wondered if the Jesus who proclaimed that “no man knows” the time of the apocalypse is way to human for a lot of Christians. Are you aware of any scribal alterations in that particular passage that attempt to revise that particular tradition?

  5. Avatar
    sashko123  August 26, 2015

    I grew up a fundamentalist, but now as an agnostic I’m amazed at the beliefs my fundamentalist friends and family have. Do you think most fundamentalists would concede that Jesus could not fly to Mars or speak Mandarin or solve 3rd order differential equations? I don’t think they would, and it is difficult for me to understand in what way they consider him human. I suppose they consider him to be made of material but to have a completely different physiology somehow.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 28, 2015

      I suppose it depends on how radically fundamentalist they are.

    • Avatar
      godspell  August 28, 2015

      Actually, you’ll recall that at Pentecost, in Acts 2, the apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit, and began preaching in tongues none of them had known before.

      So I have a hard time seeing how you’d convince anyone who believes in a literal interpretation of scripture to say Jesus couldn’t have spoken Mandarin, if he happened to be in China. The apostles were certainly human–nobody denies that–and they were reported to perform most if not all of the same wonders Jesus did (which ties in to what Jesus actually preached in his life, that his powers came from faith, not from being the Son of God, born of immaculate conception, without sin). And there are, to this day, claims (not all of them religious) that certain humans suddenly start speaking in a language they had not previously known. Not terribly credible, but durable. It’s also something we hear about with regards to demonic possession, of course. Satan is such a copycat. 😉

  6. Avatar
    godspell  August 26, 2015

    My problem with this is that Jesus clearly is portrayed as having divine powers in the gospels–he can raise the dead, control the weather, walk on water, know the future. He can command angels to assist him (but never does).

    And he strongly suggests that any of his disciples–in fact, anyone, period–who has the same belief in God as himself can perform the same feats. Peter actually is able to walk on the water briefly, before he loses confidence, and sinks. Jesus tells people he’s supposedly healed that their own faith has healed them. If your faith amounts to a single tiny mustard seed, you could move a mountain. I don’t think that’s entirely meant as a metaphor. To believe fully in God and his coming kingdom is to be invested with awesome power.

    Jesus may not have necessarily thought he himself embodied the greatest possible faith. We’re certainly told he had doubts–which makes no sense if he merely abandoned his godhood. He still knew who he was, where he came from, where he was going–he still knew God was real, that he would rise again–and yet he prayed for the cup to be taken from him, and cried out that God had forsaken him. There’s a theory explaining that as well, I know. But that theory–that Jesus and Christ were two separate entities in the same body, and Christ abandoned Jesus during the crucifixion–conflicts directly with the theory that he emptied himself.

    I realize the point here is what people believed in Jesus after he died, how they tried to reconcile conflicting ideas about Jesus. But their beliefs seem to have conflicted with what Jesus believed about himself. As perhaps they had to, in order for Christianity to become a long-lasting and influential belief system.

  7. Avatar
    kenpostudent  August 26, 2015

    But he wasn’t human (if he was God in any sense). As a human, I can die at any time for any number of reasons. If we take the gospels at their word (no one should), then Jesus had a specific purpose that had to be fulfilled. Therefore, he did not experience the vagaries of life like we do. He had to live until his appointed time to be sacrificed. He could not get run over by a horse cart and die or die of smallpox. He had an appointed time to die that was outside of his control. Unlike Jesus, my own stupidity can very easily shorten my life. Jesus had a great number of human experiences taken off the table at his birth because of his divine purpose. Therefore, he was not really human in a full sense.

    How do theologians deal with the problem of the Virgin Birth? Specifically, if Jesus had no human father, he only had one set of chromosomes. If that is true, he is not FULLY human, as no human only has one set of chromosomes.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 28, 2015

      Ancient theologians wouldn’t have had a problem with this, since they didn’t know about chromosomes. I’m not sure how modern theologians who believe in teh Virgin Birth (a lot of them don’t) would deal with the problem.

      • Avatar
        bobnaumann  September 8, 2015

        I suppose the other chromosomes were supplied by the Holy Spirit that overcame her. Too bad we don’t have a sample of that DNA.

    • Avatar
      godspell  August 28, 2015

      That is hardly the biggest problem with the Virgin Birth, since we don’t have any Jesus cells to run tests on.

      Haploids–organisms with half the usual number of chromosomes–are not unknown in nature–it’s by no means impossible you could have a complex sentient being who was haploid. In fact, there’s a science fiction story about such a being–“Your Haploid Heart”, by James Tiptree Jr. (who was in reality Alice Sheldon).

  8. Rick
    Rick  August 26, 2015

    “Although he was in the form of God
    He did not regard equality with God
    Something to be grasped after,”

    I don’t know about the Greek, in which Paul wrote this, but….. in the English it seems pretty clearly to deal with two entities… Christ (the “he”) and God with whom “He” did not want to be equal…. All of which sounds a bit pagan rather than monotheist.
    Which raises another point about the question and theology… If the “God in three persons” is doing this, and is omniscient, then he already knows what it is like to have one of his persons experience humanity, since he already knows everything…. and I think I better stop here or I’ll again conclude God is responsible for everything including evil since he is omniscient, omnipotent etc stc…

  9. Avatar
    Adam Beaven  August 26, 2015

    what did the kenotic christians say about gods powers? were his powers operating without his person?

    • Avatar
      Adam Beaven  August 26, 2015

      did they temporarily work independently of the person?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 28, 2015

      They differentiate between God the Son and God the Father.

      • Avatar
        Adam Beaven  August 28, 2015

        this then would imply that the father is not in NEED of his son, he can work without him. his powers remain fully functional without the son.

  10. Avatar
    Todd  August 26, 2015

    I have read that poem many times but your description of its meaning is very clear.

    My question would be: This is found in a letter of Paul. That leaves three choices of its origin. 1. Paul could have composed it. 2. It could have been a concept that came before Paul’s conversion and Paul included it in his letter, or 3. it could have come from early church liturgy or developing doctrine and inserted in Paul’s latter at a later time.

    Do you have any thoughts on its origin?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 28, 2015

      My *hunch* is that he’s quoting something from an early liturgy.

  11. Avatar
    Adam Beaven  August 26, 2015

    ” How can a Being be considered all-powerful if there are *things he can’t do*?”

    imagine if an all powerful being became weak. is he still all powerful? if a god has detached himself from his powers then doesn’t that mean he is no longer god?

  12. Avatar
    Robert  August 26, 2015

    As you say, a very important and interesting question — and answer. From what I know of Christianity, I think this may be the predominant view of Christians today.

  13. Avatar
    Eric  August 26, 2015

    There’s no sense, among those theologians pursuing this line of thinking, that during this incarnation there was an absence or nullity of the omniscient/omnipresent God, is there?

    In other words, this Kenotic Christology (as extrapolated perhaps, in your final paragraph) does not suggest that the entire God emptied himself to become man, leaving the cosmos devoid for a period of its creator in an omnipotent form, does it?

    If not, that introduces other complexities to noodle around…did God “split” at this point? (I realize the Philippians Hymn suggests that there were at least always “two”).

    • Bart
      Bart  August 28, 2015

      This view differentiates between the Son of God who empties himself and God the Father who remains sovereign over the universe.

  14. Avatar
    shakespeare66  August 26, 2015

    This goes along with Greek and Roman gods changing forms to encounter humans. A similar kind of mythology.

  15. John4
    John4  August 27, 2015

    I *looove* your Kenotic Christology post, Bart. *Very* helpful! 🙂

    I notice, though, that Pius XII didn’t seem to think much (lol) of the Kenotic approach:

    “There is another enemy of the faith of Chalcedon, widely diffused outside the fold of the Catholic religion. This is an opinion for which a rashly and falsely understood sentence of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians (ii, 7), supplies a basis and a shape. This is called the kenotic doctrine, and according to it, they imagine that the divinity was taken away from the Word in Christ. It is a wicked invention, equally to be condemned with the Docetism opposed to it. It reduces the whole mystery of the Incarnation and Redemption to empty the bloodless imaginations. ‘With the entire and perfect nature of man’–thus grandly St. Leo the Great–‘He Who was true God was born, complete in his own nature, complete in ours’ (Ep. xxviii, 3. PL. Liv, 763. Cf. Serm. xxiii, 2. PL. lvi, 201).”

    http://www.newadvent.org/library/docs_pi12sr.htm

    Many, many thanks, Bart, for all of your good work! 🙂

  16. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  August 27, 2015

    Interesting. I recently came across this view in an article on the Apologetics Press website. In essence, the view is that Jesus temporarily voluntarily gave up his divine powers in order to save mankind so Jesus was not all-knowing and all-powerful for the period of time that He was human. .

  17. Avatar
    madmargie  August 27, 2015

    Strange…many Christians still believe this.

  18. Avatar
    dragonfly  August 28, 2015

    I agree with the member who asked the question- this is really the only way I can see how a being can be both fully human AND fully God. Anything else can only be described as part human/part God, of which there plenty of examples in greek mythology. I would think the birth narratives in matthew and luke would have been interpreted by many at the time as Jesus being part human/part God, since he had a human mother and a god father. Whether or not that was the authors intentions is another thing.

  19. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  August 28, 2015

    After sleeping on this, it sounds, to me, like some Christian theology requires quite a bit of stretching ….

  20. Avatar
    prince  August 28, 2015

    ..” it was a poem that existed before Paul’s letter to the Philippians, which he is here quoting”…. i find it difficult to grasp that Philippians 2:6-11 is articulating the idea of incarnation by professing jewish monotheists as Hurtado proclaims!

    • Bart
      Bart  August 28, 2015

      Well, Judaism came in lots of forms in antiquity.

      • Avatar
        Adam Beaven  August 28, 2015

        is it true that some christians thought melchizedek was more powerful than jesus?

      • Avatar
        prince  August 29, 2015

        True… but Hurtado for example postulates that earliest jewish monotheists who conformed to 1st jewish monotheism adhered to the incarnation christology that Paul inherited (phil 2:11) from these earliest jewish followers of Jesus…how do you theologically reconcil the concept of incarnation conceptualised in phil 2:11 with 1st jewish monotheism?

        • Bart
          Bart  August 29, 2015

          That’s Hurtado’s entire point. They were monotheists who understood the one God to be both Father and Son. Hurtado has two books on this, one which is short and to the point; the best thing is to read it and see if it makes sense to you.

          • Avatar
            prince  August 30, 2015

            One God comprised of two persons?… i dont recall Hurtado conceptualising the oneness of God in this manner! …

          • Bart
            Bart  August 31, 2015

            He speaks of “binitary worship” — Jesus is worshiped along side with God as a divine being even though there is only one God.

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