Doctrine of Christ (part 8)

October 18, 2011     Time: 00:33:20

We have been looking over the past several weeks at the Doctrine of Christ. You will remember that when we introduced this section of the course, I said that the Doctrine of Christ falls into two broad areas – the person of Christ and the work of Christ. Up to this point, we have been discussing the person of Christ and have come now to the end of that section.

I suggested a model for understanding the doctrine of the incarnation that allows us to affirm the deity and humanity of Christ in a logically coherent way that is also biblically faithful. This model involved, as you recall, three planks. First, that we affirm with the Council of Chalcedon that Christ has two complete natures – human and divine. Secondly, that the soul of the human nature – that body/soul composite that was Jesus of Nazareth – was the second person of the Trinity; it was the Logos. In uniting with the flesh, the Logos brought to the flesh everything needed to complete the human nature and to make it a genuine human being. And then, thirdly, I suggested that we think of the divine elements of Jesus’ consciousness as being largely subliminal during the time of his earthly sojourn. Although on occasion it may have surfaced in consciousness in different ways, for the most part we think of Jesus as having an ordinary human consciousness just like any other human being, and that enables us to explain his growth in wisdom and knowledge, his ignorance of certain facts, the ability of Jesus to feel genuine temptation, the anxieties and struggles that he experienced in life, his need for spiritual discipline and reliance upon his heavenly Father, his prayer life, the struggles in Gethsemane, and so forth. It gives us a realistic portrait of Jesus as we read about him in the Gospels, and yet he was also very much aware of who he was and the divine identity that he possessed at the same time.


Question: Subliminal and subconscious. I just was curious why you chose to use the word subliminal. Is there any reason why you used that? Because most of the ones I saw were almost negative.

Answer: I see, OK. Well, I didn’t mean to have any negative connotations here. The reason I picked up on that was, I think, through the influence of William James, the Harvard philosopher and psychologist who talked a lot about the subliminal. But I didn’t mean to be using the word in any technical sense to be different from the subconscious. I would be quite happy to talk about subconsciousness instead of subliminal. So please don’t interpret that in any sort of technical sense; I was using it in just an ordinary language sort of way, and it reflects the influence of the people that I have been reading.

Question: On the subliminal nature of Jesus, it seems to me in the Gospel, he always knew exactly who he was at all times, whether it was the man Jesus or the Son of God.

Answer: Did he always know who he was? Certainly by the time he was twelve years old and his parents brought him to Jerusalem, he had an awareness of this special relationship as being the Son of God. He said “Don’t you know I had to be about my Father’s business?” But when he was six months old, did he have that realization? I don’t think so. It seems to me that he would have the genuine consciousness of a little baby.1

Followup: I don’t think it says one way or the other. That would be complete speculation, as far as his childhood, I think.

Answer: The reason I don’t think it’s complete speculation is that the Scripture says that he grew in wisdom and in knowledge and that he was like us in all things except sin. So I think the presumption would be that he, as a little infant, wasn’t self-conscious that “I am the Son of God, as I am lying here at Mary’s breast.” This would be something, I think, that would emerge as he grows up.

Followup: OK, so as he grew older, it was no longer subliminal in his adulthood.

Answer: Right! Clearly, as I say, by the time of his baptism by John he knew who he was. And I think even earlier with the visit to the temple when he was twelve you already see there this sense of “My Father” with respect to God in a way that set him apart from others. So it developed very young, but I think we want to still give the little boy Jesus a genuine childhood and a genuine infancy.

Question: On your diagram from two weeks ago, can we say that – I guess my problem or concern with that is – can we say that he was truly human if he didn’t have a father, a human father, but he was totally human? But can’t there be – it seems like there could be a counter argument to that that he wasn’t fully human because he didn’t have a human father.

Answer :Well, if that were true, then Adam wasn’t fully human. And neither was Eve. Right?

Followup: If I were to play the devil’s advocate, you have to start somewhere.

Answer :I think that if you believe in the creation of Adam and Eve – and clearly they were humans, they were the progenitors of the human race – you don’t have to have a human father in order to be a human being. God can create a human being, as he created Adam and Eve. So having a father isn’t essential to being human, I would say. The definition the church fathers were using, remember, for humanity was a “rational animal.” That is what is essential to being human, and not how it originated. So Christ, being composed of a rational soul and a body, seems to me to qualify as having a true human nature.

Question: One common objection I have heard is the question: could Jesus, when he said, “I don’t know the day or the hour of my return,” could he have reached or asserted or grabbed that knowledge? If not, how could you say he was omniscient? If so, then how can you say he didn’t know it? It would be like saying, “Do you have the money for me? No, it is in the other pocket.”

Answer: Clearly, on my model I want to say that he does have this knowledge in his subconscious. So I would interpret his statement, “I don’t know the date of my return” as being an expression of what is in his conscious knowledge. It would be a way of giving a kind of phenomenal report, “I don’t know when I am coming again.” But it would have been deep in the subconscious, if either the Father had allowed it to come out or he had been able to reach down and grab it. So I would say that, with a statement like that, don’t overload it with too much theological freight. I think he is just giving a report of what he is aware of. “Yeah, I don’t know,” he is saying.

Question: Somebody raised the question last time and said what is the purpose of this discussion? What are we trying to do? I thought maybe you could say a few more words if you haven’t already. It seems to me that what you are trying to do in this discussion about the incarnation and the two natures of Christ and then previously in the Trinity and the three persons of the Godhead is avoid the indictment that Christianity embraces a contradiction. Because I know your whole project is “Reasonable Faith” and if Christianity does embrace a contradiction, then logically it has to be false. You can have a paradox or an apparent contradiction, but if you have a real contradiction, then we have a serious problem. Can you explain that if you have a logical contradiction, then anything follows from that contradiction including God is evil, the moon is made out of cheese, or whatever. We need to avoid that charge2.

Answer: You are right. A contradiction cannot be true and from a falsehood anything follows, including other contradictions. It is vital, I think, as Christians who want to commend our faith as a reasonable faith, that we want to say that our faith is logically coherent. Now objections have been raised against this, on the one hand by secular thinkers, humanists, and other atheistic or agnostic thinkers, who have said Christianity is logically incoherent in the Trinity and in the incarnation; then also Muslims and cultists have raised this objection. The principal arguments that Muslims raise against the truth of Christian monotheism is that trinitarianism and the incarnation are logically impossible – they just don’t make sense – , and therefore you need to have a unitarian concept of God, as you do in Islam. I just can’t overemphasize how strongly these Muslims press the rationality of Islam over the irrationality of Christianity. They are very insistent on this. So if we are to commend our faith, both to a secular culture, as well as to a resurgent Islamic religion around the world, it is important that we be able to show that the biblical view is not a logical absurdity. With regard to both the Trinity and the incarnation, what I have done, you’ll notice, is to offer possible models of how we might understand these doctrines that are logically coherent and faithful to the Bible. It does no good to be just logically coherent if it is incompatible with the Bible. So what you want is both. I have tried to develop a model that is logically coherent and faithful to the biblical witness. That doesn’t mean those models are true. I should not be accused of a theologia gloriae – a theology of glory – in which I claim to be able to explain the Trinity and the incarnation. No, I am not saying that. But I am saying we can provide models that could be true, and, therefore, this defuses the objection that you have mentioned. That is the project in these two sections of the class.

Question: Could you express the Trinity in terms of the Law of Non-Contradiction?

Answer: Yes, I think that is right.

Question: Could you do it now? Could you explain that?

Answer: Let’s review what we said. Remember, Christianity says that the Father is God. Right? And it also says the Son is God. But then it says that the Father is not the Son. That would appear to be a logical contradiction, given the transitivity of identity. If the Father is identical with God and the Son is identical with God, then the Father is identical with the Son. That just follows logically. That would be the objection that there is a logical contradiction. What we did to try to explain why this is not a contradiction is – as our former president emphasized – it all depends on what the meaning of “is” is. If this were an “is” of identity, then we would have a logical contradiction – if this were an “is” expressing an identity. But it is not an “is” of identity; it is an “is” of predication. That is to say, it is predicating a property of something. So if I say, “The couch is blue,” I am not using the word “is” there in the sense of identity. I am not saying that the couch is a color. Right? It is not an “is” of identity. Or if I say, “The dog is four-legged,” I am not identifying the dog with four-leggedness. Is that clear? So the “is” of predication is not the same thing as the “is” of identity. So when we say that the Father is God and the Son is God, what we really mean is the Father is divine and the Son is divine3. But we are not saying that the Son is the same person as the Father. We are not saying that these two are identical. Indeed, they are not identical. The Father is not the Son. But each of them has the property of divinity. So there is no logical contradiction.

Followup: So it would be in character and function that would make the difference. It is like when we say that Jesus is God in the flesh, what we are talking about is his nature and his character.

Answer: We are saying in that case that he has a divine nature. When you say, “He is God in the flesh,” you are saying that he is divine and incarnate. So you are predicating properties of the person; that is what you are doing with this kind of “is.” This kind of “is” predicates a property of the subject of the sentence. So when you say, “The couch is red,” you are predicating the property of being red of the couch. When you say, “The dog is four-legged,” you are predicating the property of four-leggedness of the dog. If you say, “The president is angry,” you are predicating the property of anger of the president. So when you say the Son is God, the Father is God, you are predicating the property of divinity of these persons, and you are saying that there is more than one divine person. But these persons aren’t identical. There is more than one of them, but there is only one God; and I suggested that God is the Trinity. Now when it comes to the incarnation, there we are predicating two natures of this one person. The second person of the Trinity, the Logos, has all the properties that go to make up a divine nature, and he has all the properties that go to make up a human nature.

Followup: The substance is the same, is equal. Equal in substance.

Answer: Right, the substance in this case is the subject of which the property is predicated.

Followup: OK, they are distinct but not separate then.

Answer: They are not in any way separate – well, except personally separate. They are distinct persons. But they are the same being. Remember the example, or the analogy, I gave of a soul equipped with three sets of rational faculties each sufficient for personhood. There is on soul, one being, there. But there would be three persons. This is reverting back to the model of the Trinity that we talked about. In Christ, you have this sort of mirror image of the Trinity. In the Trinity you have multiple persons in one nature; in Christ you have one person with multiple natures. So they are sort of mirror images of each other.

Question: I am stumbling over your statement that they are not identical. I know they are not the same, but they can be identical. They are identical. They both totally possess the same nature. They are different persons, but they are identical. The Father is not greater than the Son. He is first insofar as procession, but they are identical.

Answer: Let’s talk about this. One of the principles of identity is the property of indiscernibility. If X and Y are identical, then they have all the same properties. They are indiscernible. If they have different properties, then X cannot be identical with Y because X has something Y doesn’t or Y has something that X doesn’t.

Followup: What does the Father have that the Son doesn’t have?

Answer: Well, let me give an example. In classical Christian thought, only the Son is begotten. The Father is unbegotten. So the Father has the property of being unbegotten, which the Son does not have. The Father is unique in being unbegotten, whereas the Son is begotten. In addition to that, there are other kinds of properties. Only the Son died on the cross, for example. You couldn’t say that the Father died on the cross. That would be a heresy called Patripassionism4 , that the Father suffered.

Followup: But that’s the Son in his human nature.

Answer: Granted, that is true. But that would be another example! Only the Son has the property of having a human nature. The Father is not incarnate. So they clearly are discernible. They have different properties, so they are not the same person, even though they both have the same divine nature. I think what you want to say is that they are identical in their divine nature, and, yes, I want to affirm that. They both have the same nature, but they are not the same person. That is evident in that they are discernible in their properties5.

Question: Could you give us the good and the bad, as far as the incarnation is concerned, in your new favorite analogy of Avatar?

Answer: Oh! Yeah, a few months ago, Jan and I went and saw Avatar with our son and daughter-in-law. It struck me that the figure, the principal protagonist in this movie, Jake Sully is a Christ figure because he has on the one hand a human nature, in which he is crippled and confined to a wheelchair, but then they send him into this world where he takes on the body of a Navi (who are the inhabitants of this planet) which is this big, seven-foot, blue, powerful extraterrestrial. And yet it is the same person. Jake Sully is the same person who has on the one hand this Navi body and has on the other hand this human body. It is very interesting because in the film he becomes the savior of the Navi people by saving them from the U.S. military. (That was the negative part about it.) But anyway, he is a sort of Christ figure. I think that if you can understand Avatar, you can understand the doctrine of the incarnation. In fact, that is what “avatar” means! An avatar is an incarnate deity. In Hinduism, they have lots of avatars, who are supposed gods that come down in human flesh. So the name of the movie is, in a sense, “Incarnation,” and it is about the incarnation of this Jake Sully in this other nature. He has two natures, and they have radically different properties – the one is crippled up and impotent and the other is powerful and vigorous and so forth. So the movie is a very nice illustration, I think, of the doctrine of the two natures of Christ – one person with two natures.

Question: When dealing with Muslims, what is their response when you say only the Trinity is God?

Answer: I haven’t heard them respond to that. I don’t know. I have said this in debates with Shabir Ally and others, and I don’t think they really had a response. So I can’t answer the question. Sorry!

Question: Was Jesus aware that he was incapable of sinning?

Answer: I don’t know the answer to that. That is pure conjecture, I think. I think that the question that you are raising is, “How could Jesus feel the allure of temptation and of sin if he knew that he couldn’t give in; if he knew that at the end of the day he couldn’t sin, would he really then be able to feel the lure of it?” Well, maybe he would. I mean, I think we can imagine situations that we would be in where we know in the end we wouldn’t give in, but, boy, it sure looks good! We would still feel the power of that and would have to resist and so forth. On the other hand, if you think that being unaware of his impeccability is a requirement of being tempted, I wouldn’t have any problem with that, at least up to the point of temptation. Maybe after vanquishing Satan and conquering Satan, maybe at that point he did become aware that he was impeccable and couldn’t sin. I think that is an open question, and the model I am giving doesn’t try to answer that.

Question: This is more of a comment. My experience has been with most Muslim arguments is that they really don’t understand the Trinity to begin with. They just consider it three deities, as far as they are concerned. And some of them think it is God the Father, God the Son, and Mary – some of them even go that far. So they don’t understand it. So when they critique it, they critique it based on what they understand, they treat it like some form of Hinduism. So when you come at it from a more sophisticated thing, they never heard the more sophisticated model, at least 99% haven’t, so they really don’t have a comeback to that one.

Answer: I think that is a good point. If you can just articulate the orthodox doctrine of, for example, the Trinity, it usually will catch the Muslim off-guard because his objection is based on a caricature that no Christian believes in. So I think that is a good point6.

Question: In listening to all of this, you can say the Father is God, but you can’t, in an identity sense, say God is the Father because you have excluded the possibility then of the Son being God or the Holy Spirit being God. Is that correct?

Answer: No quite! Almost correct! Because if you can say it one way, you can say it the other way. If you are using it in the sense of identity, it is reflexive or symmetrical. If the Son is identical to God, then God is identical to the Son. But what I would say is that – and please don’t misunderstand me now! – in the sense of identity the Father is not God. God is triune. The Father is not triune. The Father is one person. So in the sense of identity, the Father is not identical to the Trinity.

Followup: OK, my question then would go on to, in talking to Muslims, if you use the word “is” it has a very distinct meaning to most people. And to them, it means you cannot have two things that are the same, or three things. That is the problem they have. Allah is God and no one else.

Answer: What we need to help them understand is that when you are using “is” in a predicative sense, then different things can have the same property. The couch can be red, and the fire truck can be red. But that doesn’t make the couch identical to the fire truck! Similarly, the Son can be divine, the Father can be divine, the Holy Spirit can be divine, but that doesn’t make them identical to each other. So the whole issue here hinges on understanding this difference between the “is” of identity and the “is” of predication. This is a nice example of something that might look like a hair-splitting philosophical distinction that really makes a world of difference once you understand how the word “is” is being used.

Followup: The last point would be: if that is true, can you give me another example – aside from the Trinity – that has that characteristic of three-in-one?

Answer: I tried to use the analogy of Cerberus, you remember, where you have three minds which are one dog because it is a three-headed dog. That would be an example of three canine consciousnesses which are not identical to each other, but together these three are one dog.

Followup: But Cerberus did not really exist right?

Answer: Right, I’m not a pagan mythologist! But it is a nice analogy. It is a good thought experiment.

Question: If I can just make one quick comment, and I do have one question on the Muslim thing about the Trinity. A lot of Muslims actually believe that the Trinity is not God: Father, Son, Holy Spirit. They believe (I mean the ones who aren’t educated) believe that it is God as the Father, which they would think of as Allah, and then Mary and then Jesus – because of Catholic influence.

Answer: Yeah, maybe because of the expression “Mary, mother of God” that they misunderstood that. There is a verse in the Qur’an where Allah says to Jesus, “Jesus, did you teach men to worship me and your mother as gods?” and he says, “Far be it from me to teach such a thing! You are the only God7.” So evidently there were Muslims who misunderstood the doctrine of the Trinity to think that it was composed of the Father, Mary, and their offspring Jesus, which is, of course, a heinous doctrine that no orthodox Christian would accept8.

Followup: About Christ having a sinful nature, I understand that it is impossible because he had to be perfectly righteous and live a perfectly righteous life – essentially righteous. I understand the imputed sin of Adam to be being born under the covenantal head of Adam, as in descending from Adam. Two parents having a child imputes the sin of Adam, and that obviously that is not the case with Christ – he is born of the Holy Spirit and a virgin. Also, the doctrine of rebirth by baptism is us being reborn into the covenantal head of Christ, which rids us of our sin by dying to sin and being raised by Christ. But the Heidelberg Catechism, which I will just quote, says, “Question #16: Why must he, as the propitiation of our sins, be man but also perfectly righteous?” and it answers that, “because the justice of God requires that the same human nature that has sinned, should likewise make the satisfaction for sin; and one, who is himself a sinner, cannot satisfy for others.” I have to ask, under what covenantal head was Christ born?

Answer: He would be still within the Adamic covenant in that he represents, like Adam does, the human race before God. But the essential point here is that sinfulness is not part of the human essence. Adam didn’t cease to be a human being when he fell into sin. When he was pre-fall, he was human, and so Christ, in order to be under the Adamic covenant, didn’t need to be a sinful person. He needed to be essentially human, and he was. So it seems to me that what was expressed in the Catechism is the point that we were making earlier on with regard to that objection to Apollinarianism. Remember that was “That which is not assumed is not saved.” That is why Christ had to have a human nature in order for human nature to be saved. But that human nature had to be a sinless human nature – it had to be righteous. If he were sinful, he would himself need a savior and propitiation. So Christ, like Adam, represents us before God, and in order to do that he doesn’t need to share in our sinfulness because that is not essential to human nature. That is accidental to human nature.

That brings us to a close on the person of Christ. What we will do now is to turn to the work of Christ, and in particular we will want to look at the doctrine of Jesus’ substitutionary atonement. How is it that, through his death, Christ wins salvation and forgiveness for us who place our trust in him? That is the question that we will start next time9.


1 4:59

2 10:03

3 15:00

4 Patripassionism arose in the third century AD and can be considered a form of modalism. Adherents to Patripassionism believe that both the Son and the Father were incarnate and both suffered on the cross. This view is in opposition to the classical theological doctrine in which it is possible for Christ to suffer only in virtue of his human nature – something God the Father does not have.

5 20:08

6 25:20

7 cf. Qur’an 5:116

8 29:51

9 Total Running Time: 33:20 (Copyright © 2012 William Lane Craig)