|WHY SHOULD ADVENTISTS BE CONFUSED?
Years before there was a Seventh-day Adventist church, when the early believers studied seriously why Jesus had not returned in 1844, they were not confused about His nature. Ellen White portrays their sentiments: "After the great disappointment ... the truth was opened point by point, and entwined with their most hallowed recollections and sympathies. The searchers after truth felt that the identification of Christ with their nature and interest was complete."1
A few years later in 1858, the Lord's messenger expressed this theology to the early believers as she explained the plan of salvation: "Jesus [told the angels] that he should take man's fallen nature, and his strength would not be even equal to theirs. … [Satan] told his angels that when Jesus should take fallen man's nature, he could overpower him, and hinder the accomplishment of the plan of salvation."2
The early believers could understand that Christ took a fallen nature like His people. Ellen White preached and published it throughout that century without a shadow of turning. Never did she suggest that Christ came to this world with the nature of Adam before the Fall. Much research has been made available to the church in various publications by scholars and interested laypersons. The evidence is massive and convincing.3
No jury would fail to get the message in the following passages, which are but a fragment of many:
It would have been an almost infinite humiliation for the Son of God to take man's nature, even when Adam stood in his innocence in Eden. But Jesus accepted humanity when the race had been weakened by four thousand years of sin. Like every child of Adam He accepted the results of the working of the great law of heredity. What these results were is shown in the history of His earthly ancestors. He came with such a heredity to share our sorrows and temptations, and to give us the example of a sinless life. …
[God] permitted Him to meet life's peril in common with every human soul, to fight the battle as every child of humanity must fight it, at the risk of failure and eternal loss.4
These are simply the reasonable echoes of Scripture, and they do not stand alone in the theological world. The Bible references in English and Greek leave no doubt when read for what they say: "He took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren" (Hebrews 2:16, 17); He "was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15); "God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us" (Romans 8:3, 4); "God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law" (Galatians 4:4).
With this fragment of evidence from the vast amount available, no court could bring in a garbled, multiple-choice verdict about the nature of Christ. The Scriptures state, He was "made of a woman," like all humanity is "made." He was "the seed of Abraham," in the same lineage as Isaac and Jacob. Such a "child" can be none other than a member of the human race without equivocation, exception, or exemption. As a member of the human race His experiences must be those that the Scriptures verify—that is, "tempted like as we are." No human needs special training to know how temptations come. Jesus met the same kind.
The known history of many individuals in Christ's ancestry confirm that in His family tree there was every shade of fallen heredity. The above quotation states categorically, "Jesus accepted humanity when the race had been weakened by four thousand years of sin. Like every child of Adam He accepted the working of the great law of heredity. What these results were is shown in the history of His earthly ancestors."
The significance of this law of heredity is set out in the ten commandments: "I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation" (Exodus 20:5). By deleting from their catechisms the second commandment the church of Rome removes this statement, and paves the way for their dogma of "the immaculate conception" which denies the biblical law of heredity.
Paul testifies unequivocally that Christ came "in the likeness of sinful flesh" (Romans 8:3). This leaves no room for a Saviour who evaded the laws of heredity and came in the sinless nature of Adam before the Fall. There was no "sinful flesh" until after the Fall. "Sinful flesh" is the result of the Fall, thus an impossibility in a pre-Fall nature.
The concerted effort to tell the world church that "likeness" really means "unlikeness" creates an anomaly beyond explanation.5
When a child has the likeness of either parent, father or mother, the child is not called unlike the parents implying that it would be difficult to know who its parents were. On the contrary, the child is like the parents. If we read the Scriptures for what they say, there will be no need to rationalize. We will know that "likeness" means like, much more than similar. It means in the same image.
Scholars Other Than Adventists Understand
Extensive research published by Adventists in recent years confirms that Christ took fallen human nature and this research does not stand alone. Some scholars who have known nothing of our distinctive Seventh-day Adventist truths have come to the same understanding. Centuries before there was an Adventist, students of the Scriptures were clearly proclaiming this truth based upon their findings.
Going back to the third century, we see that already there was in the church contempt for the law, and the "falling away" spoken of by Paul and John had begun (2 Thessalonians 2:3; 1 John 2:18). A line was drawn between the true Christ and the antichrist, and champions of the gospel needed to take their stand.
One early stalwart was Gregory of Nyssa (331?—?396 A.D.) who, with his elder brother, Basil the Great, fought Arianism. Gregory is emphatic that Christ took the fullness of humanity and assumed human nature as it was after the Fall. He uses the Pauline text that Jesus was "made to be sin for us." "The word of the Apostle testifies that He became sin for us, who clothed Himself in our sinful nature."6 He was clear about this, but was tainted with the idea that there was some miracle of conception that cleansed the results of Adam's failure. This confusion exists to this day, but Gregory was certain that the Son of God assumed "fallen human nature."7
Harry Johnson supplies a line of notables in history who understood the scriptural record of Christ taking fallen human nature. They understood that this truth was imperative if redemption was to be effective. There were Felix of Urgel (c. A.D. 780) in Spain; Antoinette Bourignon (b. 1616) in France; Peter Poiret (b. 1646) in Germany; Johann Konrad Dippel (b. 1673) in Germany; Gottfried Menken (b. 1768) in Germany; Edward Irving (b. 1792) in Scotland; Thomas Erskine (b. 1788) in Scotland; Hermann Freidrich Kohlbrugge (b. 1803) in Holland; Johann Christian Konrad von Hofmann (b. 1810) in Germany; Eduard Bohl (b. 1836) in Germany; Hermann Bezzel (b. 1861) in Bavaria. Over the centuries these Bible students agreed that Christ took our "fallen human nature" and that this was vital to the redemption plan. The significance is clear when we sense that Christ could not have died had He not taken the flesh and nature of humanity after the Fall.8
Thinkers and scholars of past centuries do not stand alone. Men in our "time of the end" have also seen the importance of this truth. Karl Barth, the Swiss Protestant theologian, holds an important place in making this matter clear. He speaks concerning the human nature of Christ in relation to the Fall: "He is a man as we are, … equal to us in the state and condition into which our disobedience has brought us."9 Like the other scholars mentioned, Barth affirms Christ did not sin even though He took our nature. He says:
He was not a sinful man. But inwardly and outwardly His situation was that of a sinful man. …
There must be no weakening or obscuring of the saving truth that the nature which God assumed in Christ is identical with our nature as we see it in the light of the Fall. If it were otherwise, how could Christ be really like us? What concern would we have with Him? …
Therefore in our state and condition He does not do what underlies and produces that state and condition, or what we in that state and condition continually do. Our unholy human existence, assumed and adopted by the Word of God, is a hallowed and therefore a sinless existence; in our unholy human existence the eternal Word draws near to us. In the hallowing of our unholy human existence He draws supremely and helpfully near to us. …
Jesus did not run away from the state and situation of fallen man, but took it upon Himself, lived it and bore it Himself as the eternal Son of God. How could He have done so, if in His human existence He had not been exposed to real inward temptation and trial, if like other men He had not trodden an inner path, if He had not cried to God and wrestled with God in real inward need? It was in this wrestling, in which He was in solidarity with us to the uttermost, that there was done that which is not done by us, the will of God.10
Barth's deep insight comes very close to Adventist history. His theology makes Christ near to us. But his understanding is not unique. There are other modern theologians with similar understanding of the Scriptures. One such, J.A.T. Robinson said:
The first act in the drama of redemption is, self-identification of the Son of God to the limit, yet without sin, with the body of flesh in its fallen state. It is necessary to stress these words because the Christian theology has been extraordinarily reluctant to accept at their face value, the bold, almost barbarous phrases which Paul uses to bring home the offence of the Gospel.11
Harry Johnson suggests that this understanding of the nature of Christ is certain in the writings of Paul. He adds that it has not often been accepted because of doctrinal prejudice rather than "sound biblical exposition."12
Over the centuries these students have affirmed that the gospel requires a Christ who took fallen human nature. One such early theologian mentioned already is Felix of Urgel, who lived in Spain around A.D. 780. His understanding amplifies Adventist thinking. He stated that only as Christ took a human nature such as ours could there be a possibility of redemption. "Felix believed that if the atonement was to be real and valid and not a sham, Christ must have assumed the same human nature that was the common possession of mankind."13 He taught that this human nature possessed the full attributes of humanity. Christ had to take the nature that needed to be redeemed if redemption was to be effective.
In today's climate of women entering ever larger appointments, it is worthwhile to note Antoinette Bourignon. In France during the early 1600s, she made a place for herself as she proclaimed the fallen nature of Christ. As a young girl she sought to enter a Roman Catholic convent but was unable because she lacked money. After that she turned from the papacy and became a religious leader in her own right. Her study convinced her that "if Jesus Christ had not been pleased to take on him our Corrupt Will he could not have suffered, because in that Case all his Sufferings would have been insensible to him."14 She considered this doctrine had a redemptive significance and enabled Jesus to make the call, "Be ye followers of me."
In the time of Adventist pioneers there was Thomas Erskine. This Scottish advocate who later turned to theology wrote several works upholding the true gospel. His legal background led him to a clear scriptural understanding of the nature of Christ and in 1831, in support of his views, he published The Brazen Serpent. He assured his readers that if Christ had not taken our fallen nature, "he could not have tasted death for every man, and his resurrection could not necessarily have involved that of every other man."15
Other scholars bear the same testimony. In more recent times authors such as, T.F. Torrance, Nels F.S. Ferre, C.E.B. Cranfield, Harold Roberts, and Lesslie Newbigin, have written books presenting Christ as a Saviour who took upon Himself our sinful nature but lived a sinless human life. These scholars believe from their study of the Scriptures that Jesus lived as a man, and was subject to the fierce temptations of sin that we face. Their language shows clearly that in this human condition He lived a perfectly sinless life in the midst of sin, and that He met and overcame sin in our nature from within the enemy's territory.
None of this is to suggest that the theology of these scholars adds up to pure Seventh-day Adventist doctrine. Without an understanding of the sanctuary truth it is not possible to fit all the theological elements into a perfect temple of truth. Yet scholars knowing nothing of Adventist teachings have, from their study of the Scriptures, come to a conclusion that harmonizes with what the 1888 message has taught for the last hundred years regarding the human nature of Christ.
Many scholars might be found to support this understanding. Any number of references could be brought which are in harmony with the Scriptures, all confirming the 1888 Adventist teaching that Christ took upon Himself fallen human nature. But these would not suffice in the day of judgment, or settle the conflict that sin has brought to the universe. There is much more to be understood in this end-time.
|Read Chapter 3 — We Have Created Our Own Confusion|
|Home | Gospel Herald Articles Index|