The Saviour of Mankind 
 by E.H. “Jack” Sequeira 

3 – Views of Modern Scholarship

There is much emphasis today on modern scholarship as the basis for arriving at truth.  While sound Biblical scholarship is important to a true understanding of Scripture, we must realize that scholars have often gone wrong.  For example, Jewish scholars failed to see the Messiah in the suffering servant of the Old Testament.  This greatly contributed to the rejection of Jesus by the leaders of Israel.

Likewise, many so-called reliable scholars of today still cling to the heresies that are not supported by Scripture.  Again, modern scholarship is often influenced by speculation and liberalism, based on human rationale or the opinions of scientists, rather than a “thus saith the Lord.”

However, this does not mean that we must totally discard modern scholarship.  Present-day Biblical research has done much to give us a clearer and deeper understanding of Scripture, and we must take advantage of it.  This is especially true in regard to the humanity of Christ, for as D.M. Baillie declared:

“It may safely be said that practically all schools of theological thought today take the humanity of our Lord more seriously than has ever been done before by Christian theologians.”

Ever since the incarnation of Christ, man has been confronted with the question Jesus posed to His disciples:

Matthew 16:13:
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

The New Testament writers did not argue the twofold nature of Christ, but proclaimed as a fact that He was fully God and fully man in one person.

The Gentile Christians of the early church, who were mainly of Greek origin, found it difficult to accept this fact at face value.  How could a holy God, they argued, co-exist in human flesh, which to many of them was constituted of evil matter?  And so began, early in Christian history, the great Christological controversies in which some denied our Lord’s divinity while others denied His true humanity.

It required two church councils, Nicea (325 A.D.) and Chalcedon (451 A.D.,) for the Christian church to finally restore and accept the apostolic declarations concerning the unipersonality of Christ — that He was fully God and fully man at the same time.  This position, even though it did not solve all the Christological problems, was generally held until “the age of enlightenment” (18th century), when scholars and theologians again began to question the person and work of Christ.  Today the discussion still goes on.

But while it is true that modern scholars are not all agreed on this issue of the humanity of Christ, it is assuring to know that many reliable present-day Biblical, as well as systematic, theologians — such as Anders Nygren, Karl Barth, J.A.T. Robinson, T.F. Torrance, C.E.B. Cranfield, Nels F.S. Ferre, Harold Roberts, Lesslie Newbigin, and others — without exception, base their arguments on the New Testament teachings.

For example, Anders Nygren, the famous Professor of Systematic Theology at Lund University, Sweden, said this in his Commentary on Romans:

“For it was to be right in sin’s own realm that the Son was to bring sin to judgment, overcome it and take away its power....  Paul is concerned to affirm that when Christ came into the world, He actually stood under the same conditions as we, and under the same destroying powers as had man in bondage....  Christ’s carnal nature was no unreality, but simple, tangible fact.  He shared all our conditions.  He was under the same powers of destruction.  Out of ‘the flesh’ arose for Him the same temptations as for us.  But in all this He was master of sin....  Christ overcame sin in its own realm, in the flesh, when He Himself came in the form of sinful flesh.”  [Commentary on Romans 8:1-11.]

Another modern theologian, Harry Johnson, earned his doctoral degree from London University on this very subject.  In the Introduction to his The Humanity of the Saviour, (Epworth Press, London, 1962; recently reprinted) he said:

“The eternal Son of God assumed human nature; on this all Christians agree.  But what kind of human nature did He assume?  Was it the human nature that was affected by the Fall, ‘fallen human nature’, or was it human nature as originally created by God?  ...The answer of this book is that He took human nature as it was because of the Fall.  Despite this, He lived a perfect, sinless life, and finally redeemed this ‘fallen nature’ through His Cross; in this victory is the basis of Atonement.”  [Flyleaf.]

Johnson adds:

“This Christological position is supported by the New Testament, and there are several indications which suggest that it gives a deeper interpretation to some sections of the gospel narrative.  It is clearly taught by Paul, and is the obvious implication of certain aspects of the Christology of Hebrews.”  [Ibid.]

If we are to restore the full gospel and complete what the Reformers began, some 400 years ago, we need to seriously consider what Thomas F. Torrance has to say about the human nature that Christ assumed in the incarnation.  Please note what this noted scholar has to say about relearning the truth concerning the humanity of Christ.

“Perhaps the most fundamental truth which we have to learn in the Christian Church, or rather relearn since we have suppressed it, is that the Incarnation was the coming of God to save us in the heart of our fallen and depraved humanity, where humanity is at its wickedest in its enmity and violence against the reconciling love of God.  That is to say, the Incarnation is to be understood as the coming of God to take upon Himself our fallen human nature, our actual human existence laden with sin and guilt, our humanity diseased in mind and soul in its estrangement or alienation from the Creator.  This is a doctrine found everywhere in the early Church in the first five centuries, expressed again and again in the terms that the whole man had to be assumed by Christ if the whole man was to be saved, that the unassumed is unhealed, or that what God has not taken up in Christ is not saved.  ...Thus the Incarnation had to be understood as the sending of the Son of God in the concrete form of our own sinful nature and as a sacrifice for sin in which he judged sin within that very nature in order to redeem man from his carnal, hostile mind.”  [Thomas F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ, pp. 48-49 (1983) emphasis original.]

Could it be that it is for this reason The International Critical Commentary has, since 1982, changed its position on the humanity of Christ from the pre-Fall position to the post-Fall?  This is what it has to say, as a result of this change:

“But if we recognize that Paul believed it was fallen human nature which the Son of God assumed, we shall probably be inclined to see here also a reference to the unintermittent warfare of His whole earthly life by which He forced our rebellious nature to render a perfect obedience to God.”

It then goes on to make this observation:

“Those who believe that it was fallen human nature which was assumed have even more cause than had the authors of the Heidelberg Catechism to see the whole of Christ’s life before His actual ministry and death was not just a standing where unfallen Adam had stood without yielding to the temptation to which Adam succumbed, but a matter of starting from where we start, subjected to all the evil pressures which we inherit, and using the altogether unpromising and unsuitable material of our corrupt nature to work out a perfect, sinless obedience.”  [C.E.B. Cranfield, The International Critical Commentary, “Romans,” Vol. 1, pp. 379-383 (1982 ed.)]

After 15 years of exhaustive research, the Word Biblical Commentary has come up with what is believed to be the latest and most thorough interpretations of the Scripture ever written.  Note what this commentary has to say about Christ being sent “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Romans 8:3).

“Here, however, the fundamental thought is added that God achieved his purpose for man not by scrapping the first effort and starting again, but by working through man in his fallenness, letting sin and death exhaust themselves in this man’s flesh, and remaking him beyond death as a progenitor and enabler of a life according to the Spirit.  Hence whatever the precise force of the likeness, it must include the thought of Jesus’ complete identification with ‘sinful flesh.’ [cf. NJB: ‘the same human nature as any sinner.’]

God sent his Son to deal with sin, or more precisely ‘sin in the flesh.’  Since it is through the flesh, through man as he belongs to and is determined by this age, that sin exerts its power [Romans 7:5, 14, 17-18], it is in the flesh that that power has to be combated and broken.  Hence the importance of being able to affirm Christ’s complete oneness with humankind’s sinful flesh.  For Paul the breaking of that power was achieved by Christ’s death as a sacrifice whereby God condemned that sinful flesh.  In the two phrases ‘for sin’ and ‘condemned’ lies the key to Paul’s soteriology.  ...The logic of Paul’s thought here is that sinful flesh could not be healed or redeemed, only destroyed....  God did not redeem flesh by an act of incarnation; he destroyed flesh by an act of condemnation.”  [James D.G. Dunn, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 38, “Romans,” pp. 420-440 (1988) emphasis original.]

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