Righteousness by Faith and the Questions on Doctrine Controversy, Part III: Christ’s Human Nature: The Bible vs. Questions on Doctrine

In the last installment in this series of articles, we considered the Bible’s view of the nature of sin in contrast to the published viewpoint of Seventh-day Adventists Answer Questions on Doctrine (hereafter, Questions on Doctrine) on the matter. We found that the Bible’s definition of sin is “the transgression of the law” (I John 3:4), which Ellen G. White calls “our only definition of sin” (1). We also found that the Bible teaches that one is only held accountable for their sin if they “know...to do good, and doeth it not” (James 4:17; cf. John 9:41; 15:22, 24; Acts 17:30; Romans 7:7).

Furthermore, we found that it is against the teaching of Scripture for someone to be involuntarily guilty and punished for sins of either ancestors or descendants (Deuteronomy 24:16; Ezekiel 18:1-4, 20), which bars any interpretation of Holy Scripture which concludes that we are involuntarily guilty for the sin of our forefather, Adam, due to our having inherited his fallen human nature.

However, the authors of Questions on Doctrine disagreed with this concept of sin, writing instead,

Adam's sin involved the whole human race. “By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin,” declares the apostle Paul (Rom. 5:12). The expression “by sin” shows clearly that he is referring, not to actual individual sins, but rather to the sinful nature that we all inherited from Adam. “In Adam all die” (1 Cor. 15:22). Because of Adam's sin, “death passed upon all men” (Rom. 5:12). … From Adam we all have inherited a sinful nature. We all are “by nature the children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3). Whether we be Jews or Gentiles, we are “all under sin.” “There is none that seeketh after God. . . . There is none that doeth good, no, not one” (Rom. 3:9, 11, 12). Consequently all are “guilty before God” (verse 19) (2). (Emp. added).

This false concept of sin caused the authors of Questions on Doctrine to revise the historic Seventh-day Adventist stance on the human nature of Jesus Christ—that Jesus came in the human nature as it existed “after four thousand years of sin” (3). Daniel Ferraz notes that

During 100 years, 1852-1952, Adventists taught the post-Fall human nature of Jesus Christ as the undisputed official Adventist position (4).

But this teaching was incompatible with the Questions on Doctrine authors’ new concept of sin—that sin is involuntarily imparted to all mankind as a consequence of bearing the fallen nature of their father Adam. And so, the authors of Questions on Doctrine took the interesting position that Jesus Christ partook of fallen human nature vicariously, as He did the sins of the entire world (5). However, the Holy Scriptures disagrees with this erroneous conclusion.

“Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham”

The first piece of evidence that we have in the New Testament of Jesus Christ’s fallen human nature is in the opening line of Matthew’s gospel, where Matthew identifies Jesus Christ as “the son of David, the son of Abraham” (1:1). Both Abraham and King David were born after Adam’s lapse into sin and, therefore, possessed fallen human natures. To these God gave the promise that the Messiah (Jesus Christ) would come from their loins (Genesis 22:18; I Chronicles 17:11-14). Jesus Christ was the descendant of both Abraham and David, which means that He inherited their shared human nature, which was fallen. Concerning David, Romans 1:3 states that Jesus Christ “was made of the seed of David, according to the flesh.”

“In the Likeness of Sinful Flesh”

The second piece of evidence for Christ’s fallen human nature comes from an emphatic statement in Romans 8:3. In Romans 8:3, the Bible explains that God sent His own Son “in the likeness of sinful flesh.” Historically, Seventh-day Adventists have not used “sinful flesh” in the Augustinian-Calvinist sense of the term—that “sinful flesh” is human nature that inherits Adam’s guilt. Seventh-day Adventists have used this term to describe the human nature of Jesus, who Seventh-day Adventists fully accept was innocent of any and all sin (II Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15) (6). The term as used in the Bible and historic Seventh-day Adventist literature is simply referring to man’s fallen human nature, indicative of his natural predisposition toward sin (7). The Seventh-day Adventist church has never taught that Jesus Christ was a sinner, in any way, shape, or form!

Some, however, in an effort to evade the consequences of the erroneous teaching of inherited guilt, have argued that the word “likeness” here indicates that the passage is not telling us that Jesus Christ had a sinful human nature, but that He took a nature similar to sinful human nature but which could not be described as “sinful.” However, Paul uses the same Greek word translated “likeness” (ὁμοίωμα) in Philippians 2:7 when he states that Christ the Lord was “made in the likeness of men” (emp. added).

Docetism, one of the earliest heresies of the Christian church, “claimed that Christ only seemed to take on human flesh and interact physically with the world” (8). This is the route some have gone down claiming for Philippians 2:7 the exact same interpretation of ὁμοίωμα as those in the prelapsarian* camp of the current debate over the human nature of Christ. Yet, the Bible teaches that Jesus Christ—“the Word [that] was God”—did not merely appear as a human, but became human by becoming flesh and blood (John 1:1-3, 14; Revelation 19:11). Since Philippians 2:7 and Romans 8:3 are both dealing with the incarnation and the atonement in context, it only makes sense that Romans 8:3 be understood as meaning that Jesus Christ actually partook of sinful flesh. However, the reason why Romans 8:3 says that Jesus Christ was sent by God “in the likeness of sinful flesh” shows why the verse can mean nothing else than that Jesus Christ had sinful flesh; that is, He “condemned sin in the flesh.” The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary explains the significance of this:

Christ met, overcame, and condemned sin in the sphere in which it had previously exercised its dominion and mastery. The flesh, the scene of sin’s former triumphs, now became the scene of its defeat and expulsion (9).

Therefore, we must understand Romans 8:3 to mean exactly that, that Jesus Christ came in the 100% likeness of sinful flesh. But there is yet another reason why this can be the only viable interpretation of this verse; He did this “[t]hat the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit” (8:4). Because Jesus Christ was 100% victorious over sin in sinful flesh, we are assured of the same victory over sin in the flesh by the same Holy Spirit which conceived Christ in the womb of Mary (Matthew 1:18, 21).

“Tempted Like As We Are”

The Bible further declares, in the comforting passage of Hebrews 4:15, that “we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” The word here translated “infirmities” is ἀσθένεια, which can be alternatively translated “want of strength, weakness” (10). The context requires that the weaknesses here described are weaknesses toward sin. This is confirmed by the fact that Jesus Christ “was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” According to James 1:14, “[E]very man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust and enticed” (emp. added). Jesus Christ, being tempted in all points like we are, therefore, was tempted in this same fashion, which would require him to possess a fallen human nature since the humanity possessed by the unfallen Adam did not contain such inherent weakness.

 “Made Like Unto His Brethren”

However, the clearest statements in Holy Scripture reside in the second chapter of the book of Hebrews concerning the human nature of our Lord, which confirm the conclusions thus far reached. In it, Paul writes that Jesus took the same human nature (“flesh and blood”) as that of the children of His time (Hebrews 2:14).

According to the record of Genesis 1-4, there were no children before Adam and Eve sinned; therefore, the only nature with which these children were born was fallen human nature. Because of this, Jesus Christ had to come in fallen human nature in order to lend help to Abraham’s descendants (Hebrews 2:16), which means Christ had to be made like His brethren “in all things” (2:17; emp. added). Thus, Hebrews 2:14, 16, 17 effectively eliminate the veracity of any position which gives to Jesus the human nature of unfallen Adam.

A Pattern to Follow

As alluded to before, Jesus Christ set an example for us to follow in His victorious life through the Holy Spirit. We are all born with defective human natures which render us powerless against the temptations of the enemy without divine help. The Bible teaches that Jesus came in just such a human nature; yet, Jesus never sinned (II Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15), while we all have (Romans 3:23). How did He not sin, while we have all fallen? The answer is in the miracle of His birth.

The Bible teaches that our Lord was conceived in Mary of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18). From the beginning, Jesus was born/conceived of the Spirit and filled with the Spirit. It is with His—the Holy Spirit’s—power that Jesus constantly dodged Satan at every turn and managed to lead a sinless life directly to His death without suffering one, single defeat. That same Holy Spirit is available to you and me! That same Holy Spirit gives us the new birth and changes us into new creatures in Christ (John 1:18; 3:3-8; II Corinthians 5:17). With that power, we are exhorted to mortify the deeds of our flesh (Romans 8:13) and may thus follow the example Jesus has set by His life (I Peter 2:21, 22). Thus we may vindicate the justice of God’s law in the great controversy when God is judged (Romans 3:4).

Conclusion

In conclusion, the authors of Questions on Doctrine made a huge blunder in departing from the Biblical position on the nature of sin, because it constrained them to abandon yet another Biblical teaching—the assumption by our Lord of fallen human nature in His incarnation. Jesus came in fallen human nature to do battle with the devil in our flesh, with all of its attendant weaknesses, thus winning the battle and proving how the same battle can be fought and won in our flesh by the same power (the Holy Spirit). Because of this, we may follow the example Jesus set for us, thus vindicating God in the great controversy between Christ and Satan.

References

  1. Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 493.
  2. Ministerial Association of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Seventh-day Adventists Answer Questions on Doctrine (Washington: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1957), pp. 406-408. Reproduced by permission at “Questions on Doctrine -- The Book,” SDAnet, n.d.
  3. Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 49.
  4. Daniel Ferraz, “‘The Humanity of the Son of God is Everything to Us’,” Adventists Affirm, n.d.
  5. “It could hardly be construed, however, from the record of either Isaiah [53:3, 4] or Matthew [8:17], that Jesus was diseased or that He experienced the frailties to which our fallen human nature is heir. But He did bear all this. Could it not be that He bore this vicariously also, just as He bore the sins of the whole world? “These weaknesses, frailties, infirmities, failings are things which we, with our sinful, fallen natures, have to bear. To us they are natural, inherent, but when He bore them, He took them not as something innately His, but He bore them as our substitute. He bore them in His perfect, sinless nature. Again we remark, Christ bore all this vicariously, just as vicariously He bore the iniquities of us all” (Seventh-day Adventists Answer Questions on Doctrine, p. 59; emp. in original).
  6. General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, “28 Fundamental Beliefs (2015 Edition)” [PDF], Official website of Seventh-day Adventist world church, July 2015, no. 9.
  7. “28 Fundamental Beliefs (2015 Edition),” no. 7.
  8. Mark A. Noll, Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012), 3rd ed., p. 35; cf. Dennis E. Priebe, Face to Face with the Real Gospel (Roseville: Amazing Facts, Inc., 2008), p. 48.
  9. Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary (Washington: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1957), vol. 6, p. 562.
  10. Ἀσθένεια,” Blue Letter Bible, n.d.

* Prelapsarianism (pre-, meaning “before”; lapse, referring to the lapse/fall of man into sin) is the position that Jesus Christ took the human nature of Man before the lapse or Fall of Man into sin occurred.