Written by Ángel Manuel Rodríguez
Does the church have a position on the human nature of Christ?
For decades Adventists have been debating the question of Jesus’ human nature without resolving the diversity of views that characterize the debate. I’m pleased that you did not ask for my personal opinion, but for what the church has to say about this subject. The church has officially addressed your question in an oblique way. I will tell you that position and why, in my opinion, the church is right.
1. Official Position of the Church: By “official position of the church” I mean a specific understanding of a doctrinal issue voted as a consensus by the representatives of the world church in a General Conference session. With respect to your question, the church’s Statement of Fundamental Beliefs is useful because it summarizes that which the church holds to be biblical truth around the world. Let me quote from it some statements related to your question: “God the eternal Son became incarnate in Jesus Christ [John 1:1-3, 14]. . . . Forever truly God, He became also truly man, Jesus the Christ [Heb. 2:14]. . . . He lived and experienced temptation as a human being, but perfectly exemplified the righteousness and love of God [Heb. 4:15].” In infinite love and mercy “God made Christ, who knew no sin, to be sin for us” (2 Cor. 5:21, Clear Word).
Those statements attest that, first, Jesus was divine; second, that He became what He was not, truly human; and, third, that He was without sin, even though He faced severe temptations. We can make those affirmations without hesitancy because that is what the Bible clearly teaches about God’s Son. However, the church has wisely not elucidated in a doctrinal statement the specific nature of Jesus’ human nature.
2. The Mystery of the Incarnation: What took place inside Mary’s womb is unknown to human beings. We should be more than willing to acknowledge that the incarnation of God’s Son escapes our comprehension. The Incarnation is precisely about the union of the divine and the human in the condition of human flesh. Although the two natures remain distinct, what took place was not the indwelling of the divine in the human, but a real incarnation. This is the most mysterious event in the history of the universe known to God’s intelligent creatures and is beyond their intellectual capacity. It is a genuine singularity in the cosmos. This is probably why God has led the church to affirm only what the Bible unambiguously states, without attempting to speculate about the event itself and what took place at the moment the two natures were united in Mary’s womb.
3. Challenge to Study: The fact that the incarnation of the Son of God is a mystery should not discourage us from exploring it in order to gain a better understanding of it. Since the study of the subject will occupy eternity, it is desirable—even necessary—to start studying it now. However, the depth of this most sacred topic should lead us to recognize that our views are always limited and that our claims to understanding it must be characterized by humility. What is significant is that in that magnificent event God came to dwell among us, revealing to us His glory, grace, and truth (John 1:14); Jesus “is the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). The Incarnation did not take place in order to stimulate theological debate among believers, but to make it possible for the Son of God to die for us and to free “those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Heb. 2:15,NIV). The contemplation of the incarnation of the Savior should lead us to imitate His self-giving love in a spirit of humility (Phil. 2:1-5).
Any attempt to define Christ’s human nature is an exploration of the mystery of the Incarnation and should be done with reverence and the realization that there is no place for human pride and judgmental attitudes. The church has allowed diversity of views on this subject and encourages its study, but it rejects attempts to impose on others our personal views. Efforts to force on others a particular understanding of the human nature of Christ usually bring disruption, divisions, and unchristian attitudes in local congregations. The exploration of this theme should result in Christian unity, love, and faith.