Jesus Without Mistakes: Christ as the New Adam and Inerrant Word
|Someone has made a mistake:|
either the Lord of glory,
or this gentleman preaching
in a Mickey Mouse T-shirt.
To Be Human is to Err?
"To err is human..." This proverb, though not found in Scripture, is certainly reflective of our normal daily experience. But is the obverse true as well? Is 'to be human to err'?
Mark Driscoll, in discussing the true humanity of Christ, seems to think that the answer is 'yes,' and-responding to objections against Driscoll on this issue-Sam Storms has emphatically answered in the affirmative. Driscoll and Storms both believe that in order to be truly human, Jesus must have made errors or mistakes.
Driscoll and Storms are both careful to say that they are not asserting that Jesus made any moral errors or mistakes. Rather, Driscoll believes-and Storms asserts-that Jesus made factual errors or mistakes.
On The Distinction Between Moral and Factual Errors
So, making moral errors or mistakes is a necessary part of what it means to be a fallen human being. But-laying aside the question of fallenness, as Jesus was (and is) sinless-is making factual errors or mistakes a necessary part of what it means to be a human?
On the Proper Distinctions Between God and Man
What are the necessary characteristics of humanity? Specifically, what are the necessary characteristics that distinguish God and Man (considered apart from the Fall)? Most obviously, Man is embodied: as the Baptist Catechism declares, "God made the body of Adam out of the ground and formed Eve from the body of Adam" (Gen 2:7, 21-23; 3:19; Psa 103:14). On the other hand, "God is a Spirit, and does not have a body like men" (John 4:24; 2 Cor 3:17; 1 Tim 1:17).
The other necessary characteristics of humanity-the characteristics that distinguish people body and soul from God-are summed up in two terms: finitude and mutability. Man is finite and mutable, which is to say that people (unlike God) have limits and are subject to change. God alone is infinite and immutable. Jesus' (post-resurrection) statement to His disciples that He is with us always, even unto the end of the age, as we go into all nations (Matt 28:19-20)-a statement indicating that He is limitless-and the declaration by the author of Hebrews that "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever" (Heb 13:8): these are indicative of His divine, not His human, nature.
Jesus is fully human. Jesus is embodied (even now, as Colossians 2:9 declares in the present tense). Touching His humanity (at least during His earthly ministry), Jesus was finite and mutable. During His time on earth, "Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man" (Luke 2:52).
Growth in Wisdom: Some Needed Distinctions
Driscoll and Storms believe that the human characteristics mentioned above imply that Jesus must have made factual errors. Sam Storms writes, "[D]id Jesus ever 'mistakenly' think that 5x5=30? ... When, as a young boy, he looked up at the sky, did [Jesus] ever wonder whether the sun might orbit the earth?" Storms gives a few other examples, and he asserts that these kinds of questions should be answered "yes."
Not all of Storms' examples are alike, and when writing about Jesus' education, Storms fails to distinguish between ignorance, confusion, and false assertions.
In His human experience, Jesus-like all other people-went from not knowing to knowing. In this sense, the Son of Man experienced ignorance, which had to be overcome through education. There is no culpability in this. As with all other children, Jesus had to learn to walk and talk, and He had to be educated day by day. The experience of ignorance, and having one's ignorance overcome through education, does seem to be a necessary part of human experience.
But not knowing is different from being mistaken. I believe that Driscoll and Storms go astray-and lead others astray-from a right understanding of Christ when they indicate that He experienced confusion and seem to indicate that He may have made false assertions concerning matters of fact.
Unlike ignorance and growth in knowledge, confusion is not a necessary part of what it means to be human. When God created Man and declared him "very good" (Gen 1:31), was Man in a state that necessarily included confusion and error? Is the promised paradise of God (Rev 2:7) a place-because people are present-that will contain confusion and error? (I have no doubt that we will be ignorant about many things when we arrive in the new heavens and new earth, and that we will spend eternity growing in knowledge.) God is not the author of confusion (1 Cor 14:33). Without diabolical influence, the people in Eden would have lived in simple faith: growing in knowledge certainly, but never experiencing confusion.
Even more problematic is the idea that Christ may have made false assertions concerning matters of fact. Notably, Storms-in making inferences concerning Jesus' education-never directly states that he believes Jesus spoke statements contrary to fact. Storms clearly believes that Jesus would have, at times, held to mistaken notions about factual subjects like Math or Astronomy. Would He have ever spoken about such mistaken notions? If not-if He actually held to erroneous beliefs concerning matters of fact, but was somehow prevented from speaking these beliefs-then His experience of human life was certainly unusual. (Storms seems zealous to promote Jesus as having a rather normal daily human experience, including confusion and error.) If, on the other hand, the Son of God spoke factual errors, then hopefully no one wrote them down!
The Practical Importance of This Consideration
The idea that Jesus would have thought-or possibly voiced-false assertions leads to a matter of practical importance in this consideration. While the distinction between factual and moral errors is meaningful on one level (as noted above), a great deal of overlap between these categories seems unavoidable. Klaus Issler sees this clearly, noting, "That Jesus would not develop fallible beliefs in these important matters [the 'important matters' Issler has been discussing include categories such as Literature and History] is crucial for maintaining his sinlessness." Even the most basic factual error (say, to take one of Storms' examples, an assertion that 5x5=30) improperly reflects the created order. In this sense, factual errors are indicative of something broken or marred in the way that humans display the image of God. This is one reason, when defending biblical inerrancy, the Chicago Statement declares, "We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science" (more on this below).
|You say Jesus made mistakes?|
Evangelicals who follow Driscoll and Storms' line of thinking on this subject, and who wish to avoid giving credence to liberal questions or denials of Jesus' teaching, may wish to assert that the words of Jesus found in Scripture are free from mistakes or errors. But on what basis are the words of Christ in Scripture inerrant? Isn't it because the Holy Spirit superintended the writing of Scripture? As the Chicago Statement again declares, "We affirm that inspiration, though not conferring omniscience, guaranteed true and trustworthy utterance on all matters of which the Biblical authors were moved to speak and write."
In writing true and trustworthy Scripture, free from error, the prophets and apostles did not become omniscient. They did not become more than human. In writing the New Testament, the apostles received prophecy and clarity concerning Christ from the Holy Spirit (John 2:22; 16:13-14). They began in ignorance concerning some of these matters, and they grew in knowledge. On the other hand, when penning holy Scripture, the apostles were never confused about what they should write down. They certainly never included false assertions in the Bible.
The beliefs that evangelicals readily affirm concerning the production of the Spirit-inspired written Word of God should also be affirmed concerning the life of the Spirit-anointed incarnate Word of God. Scripture, though penned by humans, is inerrant. Jesus, though truly human, is (and always has been) without error or mistakes.
Ignorance Without Errors
If I am correct, then Jesus, while having experienced ignorance and growth in knowledge as a human, was never confused, nor did He make any false assertions. How could this distinction be maintained in Christ, practically speaking? Certainly, no mere human being knows another's thoughts (1Cor 2:11), and we can never come close to fully comprehending the thought-life of a theanthropic Person who is able to read our thoughts (and was able to read other's thoughts during His earthly ministry, even before the resurrection: Matt 9:4; 12:25; Luke 11:17). But I believe that Mark 13:32 provides a helpful basis for considering how Jesus could be ignorant without being confused or led to false assertions. As recorded in this verse, Jesus declared concerning the destruction Jerusalem, "But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone" (NASB).
As a human being like us, Jesus-during His pre-ascension earthly ministry-experienced ignorance concerning certain matters of eschatology. How, then, did Jesus deal with ignorance in a way that did not involve confusion or false assertions? He admitted it! Jesus was perfect in humility. When-as a Man-He did not know something, He did not offer up fallible speculations. Instead, He said, 'I don't know.'
This presupposes, of course, that Jesus-as an unfallen human being, not suffering the noetic effects of sin-did not experience confusion. He never thought He knew something that He didn't actually know. In this way, He was free from the error of making false assertions.
Driscoll and Storms are correct to declare that Jesus was and is truly and fully human. We should understand this to mean that touching His humanity (at least during His earthly ministry), Jesus was like us in being finite and mutable. Jesus experienced ignorance, which had to be overcome through education. This placed Jesus in the position of needing humility.
In their consideration of His humanity, I fear that Driscoll and Storms have failed to properly account for certain aspects of Jesus' human existence. Jesus is the new and better Adam (Rom 5:14b; 1 Cor 15:45). Taken out of the mass of humanity-as the seed of the woman (Gen 3:15) and the descendant of David (Rom 1:3; 2 Tim 2:8)-Jesus became a new beginning. Sinless like Adam, Jesus did not experience the noetic effects of sin. He never experienced confusion. When His disciples woke Him up during the middle of a storm (Matt 8:23-27)-though He was obviously very weary (showing His real humanity)-Jesus did not respond to the situation with the shock and confusion that we all would have likely experienced. He did not make any confused statement, which He did not really mean.
Driscoll and Storms also fail to properly consider the inerrancy of the Word. They would, I believe, affirm the inerrancy of the written Word of God. The inerrancy of Christ should be affirmed on the exact same principles as scriptural inerrancy. I sincerely pray that they-and those on whom they have influence-will see that the incarnate Word of God is (and always has been) free from errors or mistakes.