The Incoherence of Kenotic Christology, or Why Jesus Ain’t Thor

Seven years ago my good friend Tom Belt launched a series of articles criticizing the kenotic christology of Greg Boyd. I am not well acquainted with Boyd’s writings, but Tom’s article did inspire me to take a look at his article “Did Jesus Have Two Minds?” In this short piece Boyd writes that the christological dogma of Chalcedon is fundamentally incoherent:

To be honest, I have always had trouble rendering this view coherent. It requires us to imagine that Jesus was aware of what was happening with every molecule on every planet in the universe even while he was a zygote in the womb of Mary. And it requires that we imagine this while also affirming that, as a fully human zygote, Jesus was completely devoid of any awareness. Is this a legitimate paradox or an unacceptable contradic­tion? One could easily argue the latter. If being God means that one is omniscient and that being human means that one is not omniscient, then it seems we are asserting A and not A in claiming Jesus was both. We could argue along the same lines regarding God’s omnipresence and omnipo­tence. And if this is true, then in asserting that Jesus was a single person who was fully God (and thus fully omniscient) and full human (and thus not fully omniscient), we are asserting nothing, just as when we say “married bachelor” or “round triangle.”

The above represents what has become a not uncommon modern complaint about the Chalcedonian Definition: it’s incoherent because it requires us to believe impossible things. Recall the conversation between Alice and the White Queen:

“Let’s consider your age to begin with—how old are you?”
“I’m seven and a half, exactly.”
“You needn’t say ‘exactly,'” the Queen remarked. “I can believe it without that. Now I’ll give you something to believe. I’m just one hundred and one, five months and a day.”
“I can’t believe that!” said Alice.
“Can’t you?” the Queen said in a pitying tone. “Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.”
Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said, “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

Those poor Chalcedonian Fathers. One can imagine them sitting around a table discussing the christological heresies of the day, when suddenly one bright chap, probably one of the Roman legates, comes up with a brilliant idea: “Let’s compose an impossible creed! We’ll formulate it antinomically. It will drive the intellectuals bonkers.” “Bravo,” cried the Fathers, “bravo. Peter has spoken through Leo.” And so the dogma of Chalcedon was invented.

But Boyd prefers a more reasonable telling of the Incarnation and so commends to us kenotic christology:

Briefly stated, the kenotic Christology teaches that the Son of God emptied himself of all the divine attributes that were incompatible with being fully human. That is, he divested himself of the exercise of his omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence to become a genuine human who had limited knowledge, took up limited space, and had limited power. Of course, Jesus never ceased to be God and his divine attributes continued to exist. However, in order to become fully human, the kenotic Christology holds that he temporarily had to relinquish his ability to use these attributes.

The goal of kenotic christology is laudable. It wants to protect the genuine humanity of Jesus. Kenoticism even provides what initially seems to be a plausible mechanism of incarnation—God the divine Son temporarily relinquishes his essential attributes. The second person of the Trinity puts aside his superpowers and lives as a human being under the conditions of finitude and suffering. It makes a great story. In fact, I think we’ve already seen the movie!

Odin strips Thor of his divine powers, including his immortality, and sends him to earth to learn humility. Okay, maybe it’s not quite the same story. Thor’s story is one of banish­ment and subsequent spiritual enlightenment. The Thunderer is dispossessed of his powers against his will, whereas Jesus consents to his self-emptying. Thor and Jesus become mortal beings, though admittedly Thor still remains quite the warrior, while Jesus ends up dying in agony on a cross.

Kenotic christology seems reasonable and plausible, as it is but an expression of our mythological imagination. It makes sense to us because we know that such things happen with the gods.

The Fathers of Chalcedon may not have had access to comic books or Hollywood cinema; but they knew their pagan mythology inside and out, and they knew that the eternal Creator of the Christian story was essentially different from the divinities depicted in the stories of ancient Greece and Rome. They knew that it was this transcendent and radical difference that made genuine incarnation possible, even though it can only be expressed through antinomy and paradox. Given a proper understanding of transcendent deity, there is no need for the eternal Son to abandon his divine attributes in order to assume human nature and live a genuine human existence. That would be to treat divinity and the world as two competing items alongside each other, as if they inhabited the same logical universe. (The self-emptying of which the Apostle Paul speaks in Phillipians 2, therefore, must be interpreted metaphorically; it cannot be literally true.) William Temple famously stated the incoherence of kenotic christology:

The difficulties are intolerable. What was happening to the rest of the universe during the period of our Lord’s earthly life? To say that the Infant Jesus was from His cradle exercising providential government over it all is certainly monstrous; but to deny this, and yet to say that the Creative Word was so self-emptied as to have no being except in the Infant Jesus, is to assert that for a certain period the world was let loose from the control of the creative Word, and “apart from Him” very nearly everything happened that happened at all during thirty odd years, both on this planet, and throughout the immensities of space. (Christus Veritas, p. 142)

It is because God is transcendent, infinite, self-existent that he can unite himself to human nature and live, suffer, and die as the man Jesus Christ. Indeed, humanity was created precisely for this purpose, as E. L. Mascall observes:

Thus it is, I would maintain, the great strength of Chalcedon that it meets the two demands which, we are repeatedly told, are made by the modern mind upon Christologists, but which the ‘New Christologies’ seem quite incapable of satisfying together, namely, first, the attribution to Jesus of a complete and fully concrete human nature, and secondly an intimate, and not just a remote, involvement of God in the events of the passion and death of Christ. The alternatives to Chalcedon which we are offered give us either an undeniably human Jesus, a ‘man for others’ or even ‘man for God’, but a man whose relation to God is not qualitatively different from that of any other holy man in history, or else, as in the ‘kenotic theories’, they make God the subject of Jesus’ life, but only at the expense of substituting a mutilated or scaled-down divine nature for the genuinely human nature of the Jesus of the Gospels. There is indeed mystery at the heart of the Chalcedonian doctrine, as there is at the heart of the Gospels, but mystery is not absurdity. And everything depends upon the fact which neither Christian thinking nor Christian devotion have found it easy to cling on to, that person, hypostasis, is not a part of nature, not even a tiny and indetectible part, but is its subject. Put in those terms, this seems abstract and technical, and unreasonable to inflict on the simple believer; but it is in fact only what he is declaring by implication every time that he professes his belief in the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of his Father before all worlds, who was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary and was made man. And this carries with it an uncompromising and unqualified consequence, that there is no ultimate metaphysical incompatibility between God and manhood, between Creator and his creation.

If the eternal and uncreated Second Person of the Holy Trinity, Very God from Very God, can become the subject of a created nature, conferring upon that nature, in the very act of creating and assuming it, both concrete exis­tence and individual identity, then human nature must have a fundamental openness to God. If, in the words of Quicunque vult, the incarnation took place ‘not by the conversion of Godhead into flesh but by the taking up of manhood into God’, if, that is, manhood is assumed, it must be assumable; ab esse ad posse valet consecutio. This is, of course, a dignity that manhood cannot achieve by its own efforts, it depends for its actualization upon the love and power of God; but God, in bringing it about, is not doing violence to the inherent structure and functioning of human nature but rather bringing them to a fulfilment which they cannot procure for themselves. Still less (if the phrase makes sense in the context) is he overriding a logical impossibility. And all this, we must observe, is true, not because there is no qualitative difference between God and his creation, but because of the precise way in which they are ultimately and metaphysically diverse. For the contrast between divine and created being is that between being that is that is altogether self-existent and being that is altogether dependent on self-existent being. The orientation of created being towards God and its openness to him is the basic ontological fact about it. (Whatever Happened to the Human Mind?, pp. 35-36)

Does that mean, then, that Jesus was omniscient, that he knew everything? Throughout the history of the Church theologians have speculated about the self-consciousness of the historical Christ and the limits of his human knowledge. But that is all that it is—specula­tion. The Chalcedonian definition does not impose an answer, for it does not seek to explain the mystery of the Incarnation but simply to state it. It certainly does not invite us to imagine a five-year old Jesus as consciously knowing calculus and quantum mechanics, while at the same time learning arithmetic. The Chalcedonian definition was formulated to exclude that kind of confusion and blending. The incarnate Son is not a member of a divine pantheon, not a demigod, neither Thor nor Hercules, neither Achilles, Arjuna, or Percy Jackson. He is the God-man, the Word made flesh.

Yet didn’t Jesus heal the blind, turn water into wine, and still the storm? Who but an omnipotent deity—or at least a being with immense superpowers— could do such things? One might even point to the first chapter of Luke and argue that Jesus was begotten by God, just as Hercules was begotten by Zeus, all the while ignoring the rather obvious fact that the Lukan story pointedly avoids any suggestion of sexual union (see Raymond Brown, The Birth of the Messiah). The docetic turn has always been a temptation, and the best theologians and preachers of the Church have regularly striven against it, even while occasionally succumbing to its allure. So we should not be surprised when we discover that non-Christians believe that we believe that Jesus is a god or demigod.

In 1977 a controversial book was published in Great Britain: The Myth of God Incarnate. I was in seminary at the time and well remember the brouhaha that it caused. Oh the heated and entertaining debates we had in the classroom and refectory! Even Archbishop Michael Ramsey joined in our conversations! The book prompted an illuminating exchange in the New Blackfriar’s Review (subsequently republished in God Matters) between Herbert McCabe and Maurice Wiles, one of the contributors to the volume.

In his initial review of the book, McCabe complains that the Myth of God Incarnate contributors do not understand the significance of the Chalcedonian attribution of a divine and human nature to Christ. They seem to believe that Godhood and creaturehood exist in a competitive relationship: if God were to unite himself to a creature, then the creature must be displaced, just as if I were to push myself into an already over-crowded room, someone would have to leave. Hence authentic incarnation (God truly becoming a human being yet remaining God) is quite impossible. He’s one or the other. At the root of the problem, says McCabe, is a “deficient doctrine of God, and this must be partly due to the authors’ omission of a thousand years of hard Christian thinking on the topic [zing!]” (God Matters, p. 59). McCabe elaborates:

With the idea of God as creator, as source of esse (roughly the being of the thing not just over against a world-without-it, but over against nothing, not even ‘logical space’) comes the idea of God as relevant to things pre­cisely in virtue of transcendence. This God cannot be a Top Person summoned to fill the gaps in the natural order; this God must be at the heart of every being, acting in every action (whether determined or free), continually sustaining her creation over against nothing as a singer sustains her song over against silence—and that too is only a feeble metaphor, for even silence presupposes being.

To begin to grasp the Christian notion of God that was hammered out particularly in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries is to recognise the crudity and utter irrelevance of Feuerbach’s polarisation of man and God. It may well be the case that the bigger place you give to some non-Christian god the less room is left for man, and vice versa; and interference by the celestial Housemaster may well restrict man’s freedom or compete with him for attention. For the Christian, however, Divinity is creative of man’s freedom, and the more man is himself, the more he is free, the more is the action of God manifest. (pp. 59-60)

Of course Christians do not understand what it means to confess that the eternal Word has assumed human nature in Jesus, just as they do not “understand what it means to say that God created the world or that the consecrated elements are the body and blood of Christ or indeed that God exists or that I am a sinner. The doctrine of the incarnation, like the doctrines of creation or redemption, is not conveying information, it is pointing to a mystery in Jesus” (p. 58).

McCabe then addresses the point upon which we all tend to stumble—namely, the feeling that the doctrine of the Incarnation “ought to tell us what Jesus was like, or what it was like to be Jesus” (p. 58), as if the Chalcedonian Definition is instructing us on what the God-Man must have thought and felt. “Of course it does not,” writes McCabe; “it does not tell us of his life but of the significance of his life. It authorises us to say, for example, because of the life of Jesus, that our God was whipped and spat upon and that God has experienced total failure and death itself (and, incidentally, not to say, as Frances Young  carelessly does, that, in Jesus, God ‘bore the pain and the guilt’ of evil” (p. 58).

McCabe provocatively applies his reasoning to the always controversial question: Exactly what did the God-Man know and when did he know it? He acknowledges that extrava­gant claims about Jesus’ knowledge have been made by theologians in the past (if Jesus is divine, how could he not know all about quantum mechanics?); but while these claims may have seemed appropriate to St John of Damascus and St Thomas Aquinas, they are not necessarily connected to the Chalcedonian dogma. The Incarnation is not a blending or mixing of the divine and union natures but their union in the Second Hypostasis of the Holy Trinity:

People ask, then, did Jesus in Galilee assent to the Chalcedonian definition of himself? And nearly everyone nowadays says: No, he didn’t. He lived in a time before the language of Chalcedon was formulated; he no more accepted this than he accepted Newton’s third law or the theory of surplus value. But what about Jesus’ self-understanding as God? There seems to be an idea that if we once admit (with Chalcedon) that Jesus was divine in Galilee—and hence living not merely in history but in eternity—he must, by the power of his divine nature, have foreseen the propositions of Chalcedon and assented to them. Once again the theological mind boggles. It would have seemed absurd to, for example, to Aquinas, to say that Divinity ever assented to any proposition at all. The idea that Jesus, qua Son of God, constructed some special divinely authorized set of propositions such as the Christian creed is as anthropomorphic as the idea that God has a white beard. Whatever we can mean by speaking of God’s knowledge, we know that it cannot mean that God is well informed, that he assents to a large number of true statements [sorry Richard Swinburne]. Jesus’s knowledge of history, as Son of God, was no difference from the existence of the world; it was not in the same ballgame with what he learnt as man. (pp. 58-59)

Wiles offers a thoughtful response to McCabe’s review, but unfortunately passes over McCabe’s critical claim that divine nature and human nature must not be understood as competitive, mutually exclusive realities, as if they existed on the same metaphysical plane. Jesus might be God or he might be human, but he cannot be both simultaneously. Against all such either/or construals the Council of Chalcedon dogmatically confessed the one Christ, “acknowledged in two natures which undergo no confusion, no change, no division, no separation; at no point was the difference between the natures taken away through the union, but rather the property of both natures is preserved and comes together into a single person and a single subsistent being; he is not parted or divided into two persons.”

Wiles does query McCabe’s claim that the incarnational doctrine does not give us informa­tion about the historical Jesus, and he asks McCabe to explain why he believes that Jesus is divine.  In his reply, McCabe acknowledges that Christianity would be disproved if Jesus had never lived or if historical scholarship could demonstrate that Jesus’ body had “rotted away in Palestine.” But the Chalcedonian confession, he continues, is not vulnerable to this kind of invalidation, “because it does not assert historical facts either about the behaviour of Jesus or about his inmost psychology” (p. 69).

How then does McCabe justify his belief in the divinity of Jesus?

So long as we are asking historical questions about what Jesus was like, we shall, according to the traditional doctrine of the incarnation, come up with answers to the effect that he was a man; not, therefore, an angel or a ‘supernatural visitant’, but a human being like ourselves except in not deceiving himself or playing at being superhuman as we do when we sin. But, of course, we do not simply examine Jesus historically to see what he was like; we listen to him, he established communication and friendship with us, and it is this rapport with Jesus that we explore a different dimension of his existence—rather as when we say that the world is created we are considering a different dimension of it from the one we look at as physicists.

The insight that Jesus is uncreated, that he is divine, is available only to those in whom this rapport is established, to those ‘who have faith in his name’. That is why the Church alone, the community founded on this rapport, is able to pronounce on the divinity of Jesus, as she has done (I would maintain) implicitly in the New Testament (especially in John) and later more explicitly in the conciliar pronouncements. It would, I think, be absurd for a man to say: ‘I’m not a Christian myself, but I do see that Jesus must have been Son of God’.

It is in the contact with the person who is Jesus, in this personal communication between who he is and who I am, that his divinity is revealed in his humanity, not in any way, as it were, [by] clinical, objective examination of him. Any such examination will simply reveal correctly that he is splendidly and vulnerably human….

Perhaps, for the authors of The Myth of God Incarnate, the incarnation, whether true or false, is interesting because it tells us something about Jesus. For me, however, it is interesting because, if true, it tells me something about God. For you [viz., Wiles], I think, the proposition that Jesus is divine might be (though probably isn’t) the conclusion from a scholarly examination of the texts of the New Testament and related documents. I have tried to show why I think that such an examination outside the context of the believing community never could arrive at such a conclusion. (p. 71)

And here is the answer to the question so often put to us by those outside the Christian faith: “Prove to me that Jesus is divine.” We can’t. Such “proof,” such as it is, is only available to those who have heard the summons of the risen Christ, been baptized into the Lord’s death and resurrection, and now indwell the eucharistic life of the Church.

(7 February 2014; 28 March 2014–rev.)

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19 Responses to The Incoherence of Kenotic Christology, or Why Jesus Ain’t Thor

  1. Mateo Porter says:

    One major issue is that The Eternal Son of God exists in eternity, not time (while God is able to freely interact with things in time, through, I suppose, His divine energies.) However, Jesus came in to being in time and existed in time. So saying that Christ is all knowing God and a baby that doesn’t know anything “at the same time” doesn’t quite work, because He’s one thing in time and another in eternity. So on the one hand a true kenotic christology is absurd because it would mean a change in eternity for something existing in time, but some version in which Christ comes to exist as a human without divine attributes in time while still existing as God eternally seems possible.


    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      It is precisely the logic of divine transcendence that enables us–indeed compels us–to speak paradoxically–to say that the baby Jesus is both ignorant and omniscient.


  2. This is one of the things I often struggle with when explaining to people my belief in God: it is so hard for people, impossible it seems to many, to entertain the concept of God not as the greatest or biggest or strongest, or whatever it is, in an order, in a company, in a category, not as the strongest, most knowing being in the world, but as the YHWH, the I AM WHO AM, not a part of the world, but the One before all existence, the source of creation, not a creature Himself. It would make so many things so much easier to understand if we accepted that not all that is can be understood by us.


  3. Hi Fr,

    I’m curious about this statement from McCabe – could you elaborate on it a bit for my understanding?

    “…It does not tell us of his life but of the significance of his life. It authorizes us to say, for example, because of the life of Jesus, that our God was whipped and spat upon and that God has experienced total failure and death itself (and, incidentally, not to say, as Frances Young carelessly does, that, in Jesus, God ‘bore the pain and the guilt’ of evil” (p. 58).

    I don’t seem to understand his distinction between “God has experienced …death” and “God bore the pain of …evil.”


    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Good question, Anthony. I’ve wondered about that sentence, too. I don’t think I have a good answer, but I think it lies hidden in McCabe’s rejection of penal construals of atonement (see “If atonement ain’t penal …“). Why was Jesus crucified? Because he was a threat to the political and religious status quo. Why was he a threat? Because he embodied a way of life antithetical to the way of selfless love. McCabe is skeptical of atonement theories that generalize from his very particular death to theories of taking on the guilt of evil. I think it strikes McCabe as just so much mythology–and bad mythology at that. Or something along those lines.


  4. rephinia says:

    For me it’s quite simple. There is just an absolute, infinite, and qualitative difference between human consciousness and divine consciousness (even as the former participates in the latter) just as there is between finite being and Infinite Being. We’re not talking of two competitive ‘objects’ where it can only be one or the other. God’s Consciousness is his self-knowledge (the Son ironically), he is identical to his own intelligence and intelligibility. The human mind in its discursive level is not comparable. In its deeper level, the human mind is a progress to see as God sees himself through participation, so even then there is no competition between two levels of consciousness.

    Anyways, I find Bulgakov most convincing here

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Tom says:

    “And here is the answer to the question so often put to us by those outside the Christian faith: ‘Prove to me that Jesus is divine’. We can’t. Such ‘proof’, such as it is, is only available to those who have heard the summons of the risen Christ….”

    Yes. Thanks for revising/reposting this.

    The divinity of Christ is not a proposition concluded from true premises in a valid syllogism (any more than are the “beauty” of Back’s Cello Suites or the “delicious taste” of a fine meal lovingly prepared). It is the healing effect of Jesus’ risen and reconciling presence in one’s life.


    • Tom says:

      Bach! How embarrassing. But in my defense, it autocorrected before I pasted it in. Happens to Bach all the time. ;o)


  6. nathanieldrakecarlson says:

    I would highly recommend Sigurd Lefsrud’s “Kenosis in Theosis” for another take on this, though that one is primarily about Balthasar’s theology of deification.


  7. Tom says:

    My sense is that ‘two minds’ points in the right direction. And it’s not a new or recent invention either. Forgive the link, but it mentions a “two minds” description (from Maximus’s era) of Maximus’s Christology.

    Rowan Williams: Hulsean Lectures 2016

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thomas says:

    McCabe has a tendency to overstate things. It is true that there are two consciousnesses in Christ, but false that there are two conscious “I”s in Christ. There is only one psychological subject, conscious both through the single, infinite, divine act of understanding and the various human modes of self-knowledge. To posit two pyschological subjects, one divine and the other human, is Nestorian.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thomas says:

      Not to say that’s what McCabe is asserting, but to say that the Chalcedonian formula has nothing to do with Christ’s “innermost psychology”, if taken to its logical conclusion, goes in that direction.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Iain Lovejoy says:

    In order for Jesus to be fully human, there could be no aspect of or event in his life that would be incompatible with his being human. If such a thing is what is meant by “proof” of Jesus’s divinity it would disprove, not prove, traditional Christology, since he then wouldn’t be fully human. If you are going to go about proving Jesus’s divinity it seems to be you have to start with God. My faith in the divinity of Jesus lies in a belief in the inevitably of God’s incarnation due to human suffering and sin – a truly loving God would not abandon us to sin and death but come to meet us and be with us and bring us home. The question is then whether it is in Jesus that God has done that thing. To misquote John the Baptist: is Jesus the one who is / was to come, or should we be waiting for someone else? It is the coming of the Spirit, the faith of the Church and the transformation of the world that is the proof, not whether Jesus could do calculus while in nappies.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Originally published in 1014! We’ll have to crack out Bart Ehrman on this post and see what he reckons about the accuracy of the textual transmission haha


    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      I was also present in 1054 when Cardinal Humbert laid a papal bull of excommunication of the Patriarch of Constantinople on the high altar of the Cathedral of Hagia Sophia. Now that was an exciting day. 🙂

      P.S. Thanks for pointing out the (soon-to-be-corrected) typo. Everyone else seems to have missed it.


  11. coemgen (they/them) says:

    Reminds me of a passage from Robert Farrar Capon’s *Kingdom, Grace, Judgement*:

    “Which brings us to a second question—perhaps difficulty is a better word—that Christians sometimes have when it is suggested chat Jesus’ thinking about his life and work actually underwent development during the course of his ministry. Because they believe he is in fact God incarnate, they have problems with such an apparent limitation of the divine omniscience. Their belief leads them, unless they formulate their theology about it very carefully indeed, to think that development is somehow an unsuitable process for the Redeemer to undergo.

    “What they need to do, of course, is to make some distinctions. Jesus, as twe Word made flesh, is both God and man and he possesses both of chose natures “without confusion, without change, without division, and without separation” (to use the words of the Chalcedonian definition). That means, among ocher things, that while it is perfectly proper co use the attributes of either nature when you are talking about the Person who is both (for instance: *the carpenter of Nazareth made the world; God died on the cross*),you must be careful not to scramble the two natures when you are speaking of how each one operates in its own proper sphere (thus: *God, as God, does not die; Jesus, in his human mind, is not omniscient*).

    “The fact that Jesus is God in man means exactly that: he is true God, genuine Deity, in an equally genuine and therefore complete, even *mere* humanity. In his divine mind, for example, God the Son—the Second Person of the Trinity, the Incarnate Lord—knows absolutely everything; but in his human mind—in the only mind, we believe, through which that same Lord finally, authoritatively, and personally reveals himself in this world—Jesus cannot help but be absolutely ignorant of, say, first-century Chinese, modern French, Jeffersonian democracy, and nuclear physics. The inevitable condition of a historical incarnation—that he must have a particular human body and mind in an equally particular place and time—precludes his being either Superman or Mr. Know-It-All.

    “The upshot of this is that some Christians, failing to make such distinctions rigorously enough, fall into the trap of thinking chat if Jesus is really God, it is somehow unfitting or even irreverent to posit any development at all, even in his human mind. They feel obliged to maintain that, right from the beginning, he had everything figured out completely and that any apparent developments in his awareness were simply due to the way he deferred to our slow-wittedness by doling out his revelations piece by piece. But to put it that way is to expose their fallacy. “From what beginning?” such theologians should be asked. Presumably, they are thinking of the beginning of his public ministry or perhaps of those first words of his at age twelve when he told his parents he had to be “about his Father’s business,” But those are plainly not beginnings enough.

    “Back at the real beginning of his earthly ministry—at the annunciation, say, or in the stable at Bethlehem—how much did he know about anything? Not only was he ignorant, in the only human mind he had, of Chinese and French; he didn’t even know Aramaic. *That* knowledge, since he was truly human, would come only in the way it came to all the other truly human little boys born at the same time: by the natural processes of human development.

    “More to the point, as a baby he was equally ignorant not only of the implausible, left-handed style of exercising power, but even of the simpler, more logical, right-handed one. Truly orthodox, classical Christian theology does not require us to posit for Jesus a human mind that works by freakish stunts. We may posit all the influences of the Holy Spirit upon him that we care to, but it is simply against the rules to turn that mind into a third something-or-other that is neither divine nor human. Jesus has two unconfused, unchanged, undivided, unseparated natures in one Person. He is not a metaphysical scrambled egg. …

    “Which raises once again a theological consideration that needs constant emphasis. Jesus, we believe, is indeed truly divine and truly human. But those two natures, while inseparably joined in God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, are distinct and unconfused. The Incarnate Lord is not a mishmash of divinity and humanity. There is not a scrap of human nature in his Godhead, and most important here, there is not a smitch of deity in his manhood, any more than there is in yours or mine. He came to save *us*, in *our* nature, not to put on some flashy, theandric, superhuman performance that would be fundamentally irrelevant to our condition.

    “Accordingly, when the deity of Jesus acts or impinges upon his humanity, it does so not in the order of nature—not by souping up his humanity into something more than human—but in the order of grace: that is, by divine influences that empower human nature but do not tamper with it. In Scripture it is precisely the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity, who is given credit for enabling and guiding the humanity of Jesus. For example, Jesus casts out demons not by means of some more-than-human power that he has in and of himself, but by the Spirit—by, as he puts it, the Finger of God.

    “Therefore, when we talk about the development of Jesus’ messianic consciousness, we should stay light-years away from any suggestion that he had a kind of trap door between his divine and human minds. We should avoid, in other words, the humanity-destroying trick of positing leaks from his deity into his humanity. The influence of the Spirit alone—acting upon his human nature in no fundamentally different way than it does on ours—is quite sufficient: it covers all the biblical bases; it provides for all the divine “informing” we ever need to speak of; and it does so without turning Jesus into Superman.

    “Indeed, the Superman analogy is a perfect illustration of what Jesus is not. He is not from another planet bur from this one. He does not have, in his human nature, powers beyond chose of mortal men: instead, he is just as mortal as we are. Neither is he immune to any of our other debilities and limitations: not hunger, not thirst, not exhaustion, not exasperation, certainly not speeding locomotives, and probably not even the common cold. Above all, he is born among us as Clark Kent; he lives among us as Clark Kent; he dies as Clark Kent; and he comes forth from the tomb as Clark Kent—not as some alien hotshot in blue tights who, at the crucial moment, junks his Clark Kentness in favor of a snappier, nonhuman style of being.”


  12. cyprian says:

    And how do we address Jesus stating that He did not know something? I’m specifically referring to Matthew 24:36 and Mark 13:32. This was recently brought up in a conversation about religion and spirituality I was having with friends and it stumped me, and almost had me leaning in a kenotic direction concerning Christ. I’m still thinking about it and trying to understand it. If Christ really did not know – what does that say about His Divinity (if it says anything at all?)? And if Christ did know but made it seem like He did not – isn’t that lying?

    This is open to everyone. I’ve just been thinking about this since it was brought up and I don’t quite know how to tackle it. Any thoughts are appreciated!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Grant says:

      I think coemgen post above might be of help to you cyprian, in that we have to keep in mind that the One Person of the Son has to natures, that of God and that of His human nature, in which He grew up as we do, even of the weakened human (that is mortal nature, since that nature could and did die). In His time then near 2000 years ago He knew things in His human nature as we all do, lived and grew up as we do, and in subsisting as that He would not know things certainly prior to glorification, again in His human nature, though even here He still retains two natures but knows in His human nature in a manner of full glorification and divinization. But though He would be uniquely open to knowing who He was and having insight in His human nature, also being without sin and so that misguideness and blindness, He would still be fully human as relates to His human nature and did what did and prophesied by the Spirit of God that anointed Him. As His title gives, Christ, the Anointed, He did what He did in HIs human nature by the Spirit of God the Father sent Him, even as His nature as the Logos, the divine Son of God. He also sends the Spirit.

      It’s not something we can really under in terms of pyschological knowing what it was like to be in the Lord’s head during those years from conception until He was raised and glorified, nor even past that understanding what it means for the One Person to have to natures.

      But anyway, yes I would refer you to coemgen’s post above, I think it goes someway to helping to think about that, in relation to your wondering, and what it means when we say Lord Jesus is both fully God, but all fully man/human.


    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Cyprian, I personally believe that once we stop imposing omniscience on the historical Jesus (except in the sense dictated by the Chalcedonian definition), we are them compelled to abandon our preconceived notions of what Jesus knew and didn’t know. Consider, e.g., N. T. Wright’s essay “Jesus’ Self-Understanding.”


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