Doctrine of Christ (part 7)

October 05, 2011     Time: 00:15:53

Remember that I am laying out a proposed Christology for understanding the incarnation. The first plank of this proposed Christology is to agree with the Council of Chalcedon that Christ has two natures – a human nature and a divine nature – and that each of these natures is complete. He is truly human and truly divine. Secondly, I suggest that we agree with Apollinarius that the way this happens is by these two natures’ having a common constituent that they share. And I propose that we think of the soul of Jesus’ human nature as being the second person of the Trinity (the Son, the Logos). The second person of the Trinity (the Logos, the Word) is the soul of Jesus of Nazareth. So when the Logos takes on human flesh, he brings to the flesh all of those personal qualities that go to make it into a human being – rationality, self-consciousness, freedom of the will. So by uniting the Logos with the flesh you have in Jesus of Nazareth a complete human nature – a body and a soul – which is what Chalcedon says human nature is. He has a rational soul and body. It is precisely by the union of the Logos with the flesh that the human nature of Christ becomes complete so that he has both the divine nature he has had from eternity and now the human nature which begins to exist with the conception in Mary’s womb, when the Logos unites with the flesh.

This still leaves unexplained the problem of providing a realistic understanding of Jesus as we read about him in the Gospels. If Jesus was the Logos in the flesh, then why wasn’t he omniscient? Why didn’t he know everything? How could he be tempted? If he’s the second person of the Trinity, he would just blow these temptations off like smoke. How do we understand the human consciousness of Jesus?

Plank Three – The Divine Aspects of Jesus Were Subconscious

That leads me to my third plank which is that we postulate that the divine aspects of Jesus’ personality were largely subliminal during his incarnation on Earth prior to the resurrection and ascension. William James 1 has referred to the subliminal self as that realm of the subconscious in the human personality. What I am suggesting is that the primary locus of these superhuman elements of Jesus’ life were in the subconsciousness of the divine Logos.

We have a very interesting analogy of how this works from hypnosis. As Charles Harris explains, a person who is under hypnosis can be instructed to be informed of certain facts and then to forget about them when he is awakened from the trance, so that he knows them and yet he doesn’t know them! He says,

the knowledge is truly in his mind, and shows itself in unmistakable ways, especially by causing him to perform . . . certain actions, which, but for the possession of this knowledge, he would not have performed.

So he has the knowledge, but he is not aware of it because he is under hypnosis. He goes on to say,

What is still more extraordinary, a sensitive hypnotic subject may be made both to see and not to see the same object at the same moment. For example, he may be told not to see a lamp-post, whereupon he becomes (in the ordinary sense) quite unable to see it. Nevertheless, he does see it, because he avoids it and cannot be induced to precipitate himself against it2.

So someone could be hypnotized not to see this piano3. If you were to ask him, “Is there a piano there in front of the wall?”, “No” he’d say, “I don’t see anything there.” “You don’t see a piano there?” “No, there is nothing there.” But if you were to say, “Well, would you come over here?”, he would walk around the piano and would not run into it. So even though in a phenomenal sense he doesn’t see it, he really does see it because he couldn’t be induced to collide with it. He actually does have a kind of blind sight of it.

This sort of a model, I think, provides a very satisfying account of Jesus as we see him in the Gospels. In his conscious experience, Jesus grew in wisdom and in knowledge, just as a human child does. On this model, we don’t have the monstrosity of the baby Jesus lying in the manger having the full conscious omniscience of the second person of the Trinity. In his conscious experience, Jesus grows and increases in knowledge as he grows older.

Moreover, this makes sense of the temptations of Jesus. In his conscious human experience, Jesus can be genuinely tempted, even though he is, in fact, incapable of sin. He can feel the allure of sin. He can feel the allure of the temptations. These temptations were really felt and couldn’t just be blown away like smoke. It required him to depend upon God. It required spiritual disciple and moral resoluteness on Jesus’ part, even though, in fact, he is incapable of sin because he is the second person of the Trinity.

This model makes sense of Jesus’ ignorance of certain facts. In his waking consciousness, Jesus was ignorant of various facts such as the date of his second coming, even though he was kept from error by the divine subliminal and occasionally would be informed by the divine subliminal about certain supernatural facts. We could imagine that certain aspects of the subconscious might sometimes come to consciousness in the same way that we are able to retrieve deep memories of events that perhaps have been forgotten long ago. So even though the Logos possesses all knowledge of everything from auto mechanics to quantum mechanics, there is no reason to think that Jesus could have responded to questions about auto mechanics or quantum mechanics if we had asked him. He had stooped so low in taking on the human condition that that knowledge was reserved to the divine subliminal and so not available in human consciousness.

Moreover, this makes sense of Jesus’ struggles and prayer life. In his conscious life, Jesus knew the whole gamut of human anxieties and worries. He felt physical hurt and pain and fatigue. The struggles in the Garden of Gethsemane were real and not just showpieces. This model preserves the integrity of Jesus’ prayer life and the sincerity of his prayer life. It explains why, even though Jesus was God, nevertheless he had to depend upon his heavenly Father by seeking him in prayer and seeking the face of God. It explains how Jesus could be perfected through suffering, even though he is the perfect second person of the Trinity in his divine nature. In his human nature, he learned moral virtue through what he suffered and so was capable of being perfected through suffering. Like us, sharing our human condition, he needed to be dependent moment by moment by moment upon his heavenly Father in order to carry out successfully the mission that God had given him. So the struggles, the anxieties, the wrestling with God in the Garden of Gethsemane are all real; they are genuine struggles of the incarnate Logos in his waking consciousness.

So I think all of the traditional objections against the Logos’ being the soul of Jesus’ human nature fall away before this understanding of the incarnation. For here we have a Christ who is not only divine but who also truly shares the human condition by having this theologically significant differentiation of consciousness and subconsciousness. I hope it doesn’t need to be said that this isn’t two persons, just as any ordinary person has a subconsciousness and a consciousness. So what we do is exploit those levels of human personhood by differentiating them in this theologically significant way4.


Question : I am trying to understand his consciousness and subconsciousness. When we have a gut feeling when we need to take either a left or a right, our subconscious may tell us maybe this right feels better, but we go left. Did Jesus feel the temptation? Would there have been a discourse between the two levels of his humanity?

Answer : I think these kinds of details are open to discussion. The model itself doesn’t need to decide one way or another. Did the elements of the subconscious sort of burst into consciousness like bubbles rising to the surface or was it more a sort of gradual dawning? Did Jesus have access to his subconscious but simply refuse to draw upon it? Or was it literally not under his control? Was it suppressed in such a way that he couldn’t voluntarily pull it out? It seems to me that all of those are open questions that the model doesn’t need to decide – whichever you think best fits the data of the Gospels. I would say these are all equally legitimate options that I do not take a position on.

Question :I kind of think of it like whenever I hear a word that I haven’t heard in a long time, I say, “Oh I haven’t heard that word in a long time!” I knew that word in the back of my mind, but I wasn’t conscious of it. So it is a knowledge that I have and can retrieve if I need to, but I don’t. So I kind of think that Jesus had that all in his subconscious but chose not to retrieve it.

Answer :Yeah, I think that deep memories is an experience that all of us have had that can help us understand this. When you say, “Where did I put the keys? I remember; I know!” Or you are trying to remember someone’s name – “I know his name . . .” Sometimes you can’t pull it out, but then a few minutes later somehow it just comes to you, “Oh, yeah, that was his name!” There is clearly this subliminal realm to our personality, where the knowledge is there but we have sometimes limited access to it. So that would be an analogy that would help us to get this idea.

Question :I just want to confirm – as a model, this is our way of making sense of what is going on. We can’t necessarily say this is a proof of exactly what is going on but this is our way of justifying based on our knowledge and our experience that this maybe how we deal with the deity of Christ and man Jesus.

Answer :That is right, and thank you for that reminder! I am not teaching this as biblical doctrine. I don’t know if this model is true. What I am saying is: this is a way of understanding the deity and humanity of Christ which is logically consistent and faithful to the biblical narratives and therefore could very well be true. If that is right, that is enough to defeat any objections offered by the Muslim or the cultist or the humanist who says that the doctrine of the incarnation is a logical incoherence, that it is impossible for someone to be both human and divine. That is the purpose of the model – it is to provide a possible way of thinking of this that will remove or undercut this objection that it is, in fact, logically incoherent.

Question :Just mention miracles. People always ask us about that. Miracles and Jesus’ access and how that works.

Answer :This has come up before and, again, I do not have a position on this myself. I never studied it. The question is, did Jesus do the miracles that he did by his own power or did he draw upon the power of another person of the Trinity, say, the Holy Spirit, to do the miracles? Did Jesus himself heal the blind man or was it the Holy Spirit working through him? I think that Christians have different views on this. I have a colleague at Talbot, for example, Garrett DeWeese, who is convinced that the Logos did not draw upon his own power but he did these through the power of the Holy Spirit. There are certainly some biblical passages that might suggest that. When you think of the resurrection, for example, over and over again it seems to be that it is God the Father who raised Jesus from the dead. He didn’t raise himself from the dead. But Jesus does say in one place, “I have the power to lay it down and I have the power to take it again,”5 which might make you think otherwise. But then there are many other theologians who would say, no, he did this in virtue of his divine nature. I don’t even know how to decide the answer to that question. Again, it is one of those open questions on which I think you can go either way.6


1 William James (1842-1910) was a pioneering American psychologist and philosopher.

2 Charles Harris, cited in A. M Stibbs, God Became Man (London: The Tyndale Press, 1957), p. 12.

3 4:59

4 10:05

5 cf. John 10:18

6 Total Running Time: 15:52 (Copyright © 2012 William Lane Craig)