Or What Did Jesus Know and How Did He Know It
A Dubious Test of Faith
In the previous post (click here), I noted that in on-line interactions with Young Earth Creationists (YECists) it is never long before the YECist questions my faith, often in a way that demonizes me, or on more than one occasion by suggesting that I am really an atheist in disguise (which for YECists amounts to pretty much the same thing). In their judgement, I am either deceived by the devil or a deceiver in league with the devil. There does not seem to be an available third option. Yet, what truly intrigues me is that these condemnations usually occur when I have asserted something in accord with orthodox Christian doctrine. Ironically, the counterclaim that YECists offer as a corrective rebuke to my orthodox asssertion is usually a blatantly heterodox or heretical statement.
The most frequent heretical assertion that I encounter in these exchanges is the assertion that Jesus was omnipotent during his earthly ministry. This assertion is similar to the Christological heresy known as Apollinarianism (or Apollinarism). Apollinaris of Laodicaea voiced his theory in the fourth century as he attempted to defend Jesus fully divinity against the Arian theory. It was condemned at the Council of Constantinople in 381 AD because it undermined the Nicene affirmation that Jesus was fully human.
Admittedly, the frequency of this assertion may be directly related to the points or questions that I raise when pushing back against YEC. For, in accord with North American Fundamentalism, YECists almost invariably hold to a view of inspiration that insists that the Christian Scriptures are inerrant with respect to every fact mentioned and where the Bible is silent “facts” are simply read into the gaps (i.e. Dinosaurs and humans co-existed).
This view is sometimes taken to the point where the Bible is treated as something akin to a comprehensive encyclopedia. Perhaps, it is this approach to the Bible which influenced our use of “Bible” in popular parlance to suggest comprehensiveness i.e. The Beer Bible, The Sex Bible, The Baker’s Bible, etc. Yet, the term Bible simply refers to a collection of writings or books. Because this version of the inerrantist view of Scripture is at the heart of YECism, I often raise questions about this hermeneutic and attempt to argue this point using Scripture itself. So, it is likely my pattern of argumentation that prompts the assertion that during his earthly ministry Jesus was omniscient.
The Word of God and the Word of God
While I cannot say for certain, it seems likely that this problematic view of the Christian Scriptures which glosses over the historical situation of the original authors carries over into their Christology rather than the other way around. In others words, in contrast to Apollinates, YECists are defending the full divinity of the Christian Scriptures against real and perceived threats that dismiss these writings as merely human in origin. For the defense of the Christian Scriptures as the authoritative Word of God is the rallying cry of the YECist and, in my opinion, the reason why many American Evangelicals feel compelled to defend people like Ken Ham and adopt his teaching and method. He is perceived as bravely defending the Bible in the face of an increasingly secular and anti-Christian culture.
Now, for an example of what I have described above, in the recent Twitter exchange that motivated me to write this series of posts, the discussion went as follows. When I suggest that we need to take the historical context of the biblical authors into account when reading Scripture and that this means taking seriously what the authors did and did not know, I am forcefully reminded that the Bible is inspired by God.
YECist: @panth_ian @CreationMuseum Gen 1, like the entire #Bible, was inspired by #God. #BiblicalTruth #SelfProving
Me: @YECist @CreationMuseum inspired never meant that Bible is an encyclopedia for all knowledge even Jesus said his knowledge was limited
YECist: @panth_ian @CreationMuseum Jesus’ [sic] knowledge was never limited
Me: @YECist @CreationMuseum You may want to read Matt 24:36 & Mk 13:32 Jesus was fully human & knew only what the Father gave him
YECist: @panth_ian @CreationMuseum You are attempting to take those verses out of context and interpret them with our limited understanding!
Now, wait a minute. I thought he was supposed to be the literalist. Jesus, literally says, I don’t know.
“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” (Matthew 24:36, ESV) For the context, go to Biblegateway.com
Yet, I am charged with taking the verse out of context. However, contrary to the YECists interpretive guidance the context does not seem to suggest that Jesus really means, “I know but I don’t want to tell you.” Or “Now, kids. I know but you’re just not ready to be trusted with that yet.” No, Jesus is recorded as saying, “No one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.”
The simple point that I was trying to make was that contrary to the YECists assumptions about Scripture as a nearly comprehensive encyclopedia of knowlege, the human authors are shaped and limited by their historical situation. If the Son limits himself in becoming a historically existing individual, then it should not be a controversial claim to admit that Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Paul, etc. were likewise limited in their understanding of things that are not essential to the good news of the Kingdom of God.
Jesus himself said that there is something he, the Son, does not know at least for the present time. Therefore, it is reasonable to concluded that Jesus’s knowledge was limited by at least this one piece of information. Yet, as Jesus was fully human and lived at a particular time and in a particular place, it is orthodox Christian doctrine that the Son emptied himself. As an existing individual, Jesus is clearly not omnipresent, for instance.
So What Did Jesus Know and How Did He Know It?
In my opinion, it would seem that for the most part Jesus acquired knowledge and wisdom in the mundane and ordinary ways. That is, he learned carpentry from Joseph and likely banged his thumb with his hammer on occasion. He learned to speak and read in his community. He knew Aramaic but not English or Mandarin. He would be as confused as I was watching American Football for the first time. If he was aware of astronomy at all, he would have insisted that there are only five planets (aka travelling stars). He would be ignorant of DNA and molecules. The list of what he did not know could be expanded indefinitely.
Yet, what about those times when the gospel writers record Jesus clearly displaying access to knowledge that is extraordinary. I would suggest that for all extraordinary knowledge Jesus, the obedient Son, the faithful servant, the Good King, who humbly and humanly submits to the the Father is wholly dependent on the Father. As Jesus himself states quite clearly to his disciples, the Father has not granted him to know all things during his earthly ministry. Indeed, good Trinitarian theology would suggest that it is the nature of the Son to be always and eternally dependent on the Father and to receive everything from the Father by the Holy Spirit.
How Defending Inerrancy Can Make Jesus Lose His Mind
So, like the fourth century Bishop of Laodicaea in Syria, Apollinaris*, in their eagerness to defend the full divinity of the Bible and subsequently of Christ, YECists often do so at the expense of the equally important affirmation that Christ Jesus is also fully human. To put it simply, while their hearts are in the right place, they have lost their minds and quite literally the human rational mind of Jesus. For as the Online Catholic Encyclopedia at New Advent so succinctly states, Apollonarianism is
A Christological theory, according to which Christ had a human body and a human sensitive soul, but no human rational mind, the Divine Logos taking the place of this last. (New Advent, Catholic Encyclopedia Online, last accessed March 1, 2017)
To insist unthinkingly as many YECists adamantly do that “Jesus’ [sic] knowledge was never limited” is not a defense of Christian orthodoxy but a resurgence of an early Christological heresy. Apollanaris’s proposed solution was explicitly and definitively rejected at the Council of Constantinople in 381.
IWP March 02, 2017 — The First Thursday of Lent
Related Posts: Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis Posts