A critique of the pre-Fall view by H.E. Douglass
It may seem to my colleague that Seventh-day Adventist theology presents two alternative views concerning the human nature of Christ. But the view that Jesus assumed Adam's pre-Fall nature appeared only recently within our church. This position emerged in the 1950s during a series of events that saw basic Adventist concepts reformulated. The consequences of these changes have had much to do with the trauma and theological divisions the church has experienced in the past thirty years.
Without question I agree that the study of our Lord's humanity is not "merely academic hairsplitting"; that when Christ's human nature is under stood we can better appreciate how "He alone can be our Saviour, . . . our example"; that "Christ's mission must determine the extent of His identity with our humanity"; that Jesus "plunged into sin's inoperative, terminal cancer to bring radical healing and did not become infected Himself; that Jesus "laid aside the use of His divine attributes, living as authentic man totally dependent upon His Father in heaven"; that "we are only righteous in Christ, never in ourselves"; that "the good news is more than 'Copy Me' "; that "only in this dependent union can Jesus be our model man"; and that "true Christology ends, not in debate, but in grateful worship and joyful obedience."
Yet I would like to know why so many strawmen, implicit and explicit, were devised and used as arguments. For instance: (1) My colleague claims his view provides "a Christ-centered, not man-centered, outlook," implying that any other viewpoint would not. (2) He says, "Who Jesus is determined the extent of His identity with our human nature." In saying this, he suggests that the miracle of His birth, in and of itself, compels one to accept his position, which posits certain constitutional differences between Christ and the sons and daughters of Adam. (3) He asks, "How was Baby Jesus different if born with a sinful nature?" He implies that Jesus would have to be born self-centered, et cetera, if He were born with man's fallen nature. But he has not differentiated between inherited human equipment and performance within the humanity degenerated by the consequences of sin. (4) He also states, "We need a Christological eschatology rather than an eschatological Christology," implying that his position alone begins with Christ.
I am not aware of any Adventist theologian who works back from his eschatology to determine the nature of Christ. I have consistently followed the approach my brother suggests. In 1975 I wrote: "Over the centuries great Biblical themes have become isolated from their connection with Jesus. The major reason for this unreality is that Christian thinkers became confused about Jesus. Misunderstanding who Jesus is, where He came from, what His mission was on earth, and how He has related to all men since His ascension seems to automatically warp and distort every other Biblical topic."1
I am puzzled by two references my colleague makes. He cites Hans La Rondelle's Christ Our Salvation as supporting his position, but it does not. And he refers to the "holy flesh movement" that afflicted the Indiana Conference at the turn of the century. His point here is that if Adventists had always believed what he proposes regarding the nature of our Lord's humanity, heresies such as the holy flesh movement would not have occurred. But the underlying doctrine of the holy flesh movement was the same theory of the Incarnation that my colleague now espouses. That is, that Jesus took Adam's pre-Fall nature. Members of that movement believed that Jesus received from Mary a sin-weakened physical nature. But they also believed that He received from the Holy Spirit the pre-Fall spiritual nature of Adam and thus was spared the full impact of the law of heredity.
Our Indiana leaders tried to wed this "new" theology (for Adventists) to the bedrock Adventist concept that God expects His people to be overcomers even as Jesus overcame. They reasoned that sincere Christians can have their sinful natures eradicated only by passing through the relatively instantaneous "Gethsemane experience." Then they too would possess sinless flesh like Jesus, and so overcome as He did.
Elder Stephen Haskell, Ellen White, and others met squarely the heart of the heresy. They objected to this new and alien doctrine that Christ took Adam's pre-Fall nature and that Jesus was exempt from the same law of heredity that affects every son and daughter of Adam. 2 An erroneous understanding of the Incarnation has very unfortunate practical results, especially when one tries to harmonize error with truth.
The following points need further consideration:
1. A basic inconsistency seems to permeate the study. On one hand, the author strives to maintain the principle that sin is "a broken relationship"—the product of doubting and then disobeying God. On the other, sin seems almost substantive. It's so closely involved in the genetic stream that Jesus could not have been "made like his brethren in every respect" (Heb. 2:17, R.S.V.). Nor could He have been born "like every child of Adam," accepting "the results of the working of the great law of heredity." 3 Perhaps further attention to the difference between basic human equipment (that with which every child is born) and each person's spiritual performance may help the author's dilemma. That is, Jesus is like us in basic human equipment but unlike us in spiritual performance, thus keeping separate the consequence of sin and sin itself.
2. I suspect that the author's atonement theory has influenced his Christology. Why Jesus became man, it seems to me, can be understood only from the standpoint of the great controversy—a perspective largely missing in "orthodox" Protestantism as well as in Catholicism. Jesus did not come to satisfy an offended God who needed blood before He would forgive or to prove that God could keep God's laws or even that Adam could have remained obedient. There were several issues, but none more important than Satan's charge that sons and daughters of Adam could not keep God's laws, that such laws were unrealistic and not in the best interest of created beings. Such primary issues determined the kind of humanity our Lord would assume in order to satisfy justice and silence Satan.
3. Space does not permit an examination of my friend's use of Biblical texts. But I question his treatment of homoioma in Romans 8:3 and other passages; his interpretation of Romans 5; his selection of The New International Version's translation of Psalm 51:5 when other versions translate it more accurately; his omission of other references in the Psalms, such as 22:10 and 77:6; his interpretation of monogenes; and his treatment of Hebrews 2:16 and Romans 1:3.
A Post-Fall View by N.R. Gulley
Space limitations allow only a partial evaluation. Douglass defines Christ's fallen nature, which He received at birth, as follows: "The term sinful flesh means the human condition in all of its aspects as affected by the fall of Adam and Eve." He says it includes "the same liabilities" and "like passions" as ours, and writes of "the clamor" from this "infected" nature. According to him Christ's human nature had no "moral advantages." However, Jesus was not a sinner in birth, because all men are sinless in birth. For one "born with sinful flesh need not be a sinner."
But the Bible opposes a sinless birth for all humans. It indicates that all men are "constituted sinners by Adam's transgression in a way similar to that by which they are constituted righteous by the obedience of Christ." 1 Precisely. Doug lass overlooks this parallel in Romans 5. We are sinners in birth and righteous in Christ.
Only the two Adams entered Planet Earth sinless. All others are born sinners. Adam and Eve separated from God—left their God-given status—and plunged into the far country as the first human prodigals. The entire human race is born in that land of estrangement from God. This is why they are born in Adam's image (Gen. 5:3), not God's (chap. 1:26). They are lost. Therefore, the first birth is into the family of men. The second birth is into the family of God (John 3:5-8; Rom. 8:14). This is why "being adopted" into God's family is such a cogent refrain in Scripture (Rom. 8:15, 16; Gal. 4:1-7).
In utter contrast Christ entered the far country not as a prodigal but as the God-man. He carried the lost sheep home, and He didn't need a shepherd to carry Him (Luke 15). Hence, as the second Adam, He came, not in the image of man, but in the exact image of God (Col. 1:15, Heb. 1:1-3). Ellen White warned, "Be careful, exceedingly careful as to how you dwell upon the human nature of Christ. Do not set Him before the people as a man with the propensities of sin. He is the second Adam. The first Adam was created a pure, sinless being, without a taint of sin upon him; he was in the image of God. He could fall, and he did fall through transgressing. Because of sin his posterity was born with inherent propensities of disobedience. But Jesus Christ was the only begotten Son of God. He took upon Himself human nature, and was tempted. ... He could have sinned; He could have fallen, but not for one moment was there in Him an evil propensity." 2
Here Ellen White says Jesus had no evil propensities because He was the second sinless Adam. She does not say, like Douglass, that He was without evil propensities because He did not sin. Douglass' view on propensities is simply too superficial. Propensities are within fallen nature, by definition, before any act of sin. But Jesus didn't have these propensities. No wonder Satan found no evil in Him (John 14:30).
Douglass asserts that Luke 1:35 isn't about Christ's human nature. But Ellen White would disagree. In the passage quoted above, she also speaks of Christ's birth. She says, "These words [Luke 1:31-35] do not refer to any human being, except to the Son of the infinite God. Never, in any way, leave the slightest impression upon human minds that a taint of, or inclination to, corruption rested upon Christ. . . . He is called 'that holy thing.'" 3 How else could He be an authentic revelation of God to man (John 1:18)? No fallen man can reveal God. Jesus, as the second Adam, came in the image of God and thus initiated the new beginning for mankind. In Christ, God was once again creatively at work for the race, as in Eden. The creative image of God has nothing to do with the Fall. That realm is confined to the image of man.
Douglass' article contains apparent contradictions. He argues that Christ took the post-Fall human nature, not a pre-Fall human nature with exemptions. Yet he ends up admitting four exemptions: Christ had no "taint of sin," "evil propensities," or sin-weakened will like ours. And He was exempt from the further depravity of our generation. These exemptions destroy His exact identity with us.
Douglass states that why Jesus became human is more important than how He became human. I agree. But all six reasons Douglass gives were fully satisfied by Jesus' coming as spiritually sinless in a sin-weakened physical nature.
Douglass' argument depends upon the why, yet, curiously, he never develops that question. He doesn't discuss the original issue in the great controversy. Satan charged that sinless angels and sinless men fell because God was unjust in requiring them to keep an impossibly high law. His original charge was not that fallen beings could not keep the law. Hence "Christ is called the second Adam. In purity and holiness, connected with God and beloved by God, He began where the first Adam began. Willingly He passed over the ground where Adam fell, and redeemed Adam's failure." 4
The great controversy is against Christ, so Satan flings his charge at Christ's creative work (sinless beings) and not against the result of his own destructive work (fallen man). The fact that the original charge has been extended to fallen man does not detract from this point. 5 All Christ needed to do to prove Satan's original charge false was to come in the same nature as Adam's, i.e., unfallen human nature. But, physically speaking, He plunged into a nature sin-weakened, and therefore at a great disadvantage compared to Adam's. While He began physically as a man in Bethlehem, spiritually He had eternity behind Him.
Although the why question is more important than the how question, the who question is even more important. Who Jesus is must qualify and inform every statement about why and how. We must never lose sight of the fact that Christ's identity as God is more important than His solidarity with humanity. He is not just another man, but God become man. As C. S. Lewis put it, when you are drowning you want someone to dive in who is in a different situation from you. Sinful nature is the cause of our drowning. A sinless human nature (spiritually) reached down to pull us out. Salvation is a work from beyond the stream of human history, even though worked out within it by Someone who became human (Phil. 2:5-7).
Douglass and I agree that Jesus was a real man, that He was really tempted and could have failed, and that His dependence upon God provides us an example. We agree that He remained sinless. Douglass attempts to be true to Christ's humanity, but isn't the prior claim to be true to His divinity? His full humanity is adequately fulfilled in His role as the second Adam. Isn't Douglass' Jesus too human? Does he give adequate and appropriate recognition of His divinity? The New Testament identifies Jesus with God, always using the Greek word isos ("same"). It never makes an exact identity of Jesus with man, always using the word homoioma ("similar"). (Even when Genesis 1:26 [Septuagint] says man was created in the "likeness" of God, it uses homoioma.)
Wasn't the first Christian heresy, Arianism, an overidentification of Jesus with man? Couldn't its bedfellow, Pelagianism, say, "If Jesus did it, so can I"? My friend Herbert Douglass, whom I appreciate and love as a Christian brother, is to be thanked for reminding us all that Jesus understands our struggles because He was a man. But I submit it was His uniqueness, not His exact identity with us, that caused His struggle to be infinitely worse. Ellen White urged, "Let every human being be warned from the ground of making Christ altogether human, such an one as ourselves; for it cannot be." 6 Douglass, on the other hand, assumes Christ faced every temptation we do.
The Biblical definition of sin is a broken relationship with God (Rom. 14:23). Jesus experienced this, not in nature, at His birth (John 1:1, 14; 14:10; Heb. 10:7-10), but only in mission, at His death (Matt. 27:46). In Gethsemane "Christ was . . . standing in a different attitude from that in which He had ever stood before." 7 Only then did He, who knew no sin, become "sin for us" (2 Cor. 5:21).
1 Perfection (Nashville: Southern Pub. Assn.;
1975), p. 13.
2 See Stephen Haskell to Ellen G. White, Sept.
25, 1900, and Ellen G. White, Selected Messages,
book 2, pp. 31-39.
3 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain
View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898), p.
1 The SDA Bible Commentary, on Rom. 5:19, p.
2 Ibid., Ellen G. White Comments, on John
1:1-3, 14, p. 1128. (Italics supplied.)
4 Ellen G. White, in Youth's Instructor, June 2,
1898. (Italics supplied.) See also N. R. Gulley, in
Adventist Review, June 30, 1983.
5 See Ellen G. White, in Signs of the Times, Jan.
6 The SDA Bible Commentary, Ellen G. White
Comments, on John 1:1-3, 14, p. 1129.
7 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain
View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898), p.