The Divine Attributes in The Incarnate Son of God

Posted: 21st February 2012 by Pastoral Musings in doctrine, Jesus
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 the divine nature of Christ, is the key-note of John’s Gospel, and of all his other writings. His main object is to convince men that Jesus is God manifest in the flesh, and that the acknowledgment of Him as such is necessary to salvation. This Apostle was, therefore, in the early Church called the Θελολόγος, because he taught so clearly and earnestly that the λόγος is God. In verse 18 of this chapter he says that the Son alone has the knowledge of God, and is the source of that knowledge to others. He showed Nathanael that He knew his character, being the searcher of hearts. In his discourse with Nicodemus, He spoke with divine authority; revealing the things of heaven, because He came from heaven and was even then in heaven.

Charles Hodge, vol. 1, Systematic Theology, 506-07 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).

While we think of Jesus as being flesh and fully human, we must not forget that He is God and is fully God.

Jesus, in the incarnation, did not become less than Divine. The kenosis did not leave Him empty of the Divine attributes. Hodge uses John 3:13 to establish that, though Jesus lived in a body on the earth, He was still omnipresent and was also in heaven while upon earth.

This being so, what should we think about the omniscience of Jesus? Did He lose that in the incarnation? No. It seems that He did not always exercise omniscience, but He obviously knew the hearts of men. He knew the future, because He told Peter what would happen to him during his last days. He did not know the day nor the hour of His return, but that does not negate the omniscience of Jesus.

Why is this important? It is important because, just because Jesus possessed omniscience, though He did not always use it. One of the mysteries of the incarnation is how that God the Son as man could actually be both omniscient and not know some things.

He is God, who knows all. He was man, who is limited in knowledge. He is both.

Let us not think that Jesus was lacking the ability to speak to us correctly concerning anything. He spoke the Words of God. He spoke truly. His humanity did not prevent Him from speaking without error.

The Divine is not sullied, tarnished, inhibited, or made less glorious by the union with flesh.

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  1. ScottL says:

    Jason -

    You said: It seems that He did not always exercise omniscience, but He obviously knew the hearts of men. He knew the future, because He told Peter what would happen to him during his last days.

    What if this is not ‘accessing’ his omniscience but rather examples of both prophecy and words of knowledge. The son of man relying fully upon the Father, to hear him, and speak those things.

    What does it mean for Jesus to grow in wisdom, Luke 2:52? Not that he had to access a bank of omniscience that was somewhere abstractly. But he had to do just that, grow in wisdom. What does this mean?

    And did Jesus really have omnipresence in his incarnation? Especially based on John 3:13? I know the old KJV seems to support such with its wording, “even the Son of Man which is [currently] in heaven”. But newer translations show this is not the best wording. So was Jesus, in his incarnation, omnipresent?

    Let’s recognise who Jesus is. But let’s also recognise what it meant for the eternal and divine Son to become fully human. He did not grasp at his divinity, but emptied himself, becoming fully dependent on the words of the Father and empowering of the Spirit.

    • Pastoral Musings says:

      ScottL,
      Thanks for reading and engaging the issue.
      Your comment troubles me for several reasons.
      1. You ask “what if…” The reality is that God is omniscient. Jesus is God. Therefore Jesus is omniscient. If you take away the Divine attributes, you take away Deity.
      2. I take it that Jesus grew in wisdom and knowledge. I don’t deny that. He was human. The natures were not mixed in the person of Jesus. That is the mystery of the incarnation. I think a person who has the amount of education that you have knows that. Perhaps you have forgotten. I feel sure that is the case, because I don’t think that you would intentionally go where this will lead you should you recognize what’s at stake.
      3. Yes, Jesus was omnipresent. Even the newer versions footnote this important variant. If this were not so, we still have John 1:18 stating that Jesus was in the bosom of the Father while on earth.
      4. For the eternal and Divine Son to become fully human means that He is still the eternal, Divine, omnipresent, omniscient Son.
      5. Kenosis does not mean that Jesus emptied himself of the Divine nature and attributes. It means that He took upon Himself the form of servant instead of remaining in Heaven as Lord and Master. He took upon Himself humanity and subjected Himself to death on the cross instead of remaining impassible and without death. He remains Divine, however. Your statement implies that Jesus became less than God in the incarnation (I have a feeling that you didn’t intend to say that quite the way that you did; but your Freudian slip is showing, I fear.), yet the fullness of Deity dwells in the incarnate Son (Colossians 2:10).
      I realize that we can go overboard. One can emphasize the Deity of Christ to the point of implicit Docetism. On the other hand, one can emphasize the humanity of Christ to the point of implicit (or explicit) Arianism. Balance is necessary. The two natures of Jesus were not mixed. Being human and Divine, Jesus could certainly be omniscient and yet lack knowledge of some things in some situations. That’s the mystery of it all.

  2. ScottL says:

    Jason -

    1. You ask “what if…” The reality is that God is omniscient. Jesus is God. Therefore Jesus is omniscient. If you take away the Divine attributes, you take away Deity.

    You are making a “leap” in your logic without connecting points. Of course I agree with the 2 statements of a) God is omniscient and b) Jesus is God. But where is the whole in-between grappling of what it means for God to become fully human? Statements A & B should have been A & F. There is a lot to think through between those 2 statements you have made.

    Here is another question: Can God be tempted?

    We read James 1:13, right? For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone.

    So, can God be tempted?

    But, wait. Jesus was tempted. But I thought he was God? And God cannot be tempted, right?

    The answer is that he is the divine, eternal Son. But the answer is ALSO about what it meant for the divine, eternal Son to be FULLY human. This means he was able to be tempted, since he was like us (even like “pre-fall” Adam), fully human.

    Why do we get to “lay aside” this statement in James 1:13 (that God CANNOT be tempted) when it comes to Jesus’ humanity. But then when it comes to his omniscience, we say something around the fact that, “Jesus was divine and omniscient. He knew everything because he was God. He just didn’t access it.” Or something similar. So we make exceptions with James 1:13. We allow God to be tempted in Christ, because he was fully human. But we INSIST that Jesus still functioned with omniscience and omnipresence. It was all still his even as a real and full human being. And we could go on to talk about Jesus being hungry and thirsty. Does God get hungry and thirsty? Or maybe we have the divine Son taking up what it meant to be fully human.

    So, again I agree: a) God is omniscient and b) Jesus is God. But where is the whole in-between grappling of what it means for God to become fully human?

    2. I take it that Jesus grew in wisdom and knowledge. I don’t deny that. He was human. The natures were not mixed in the person of Jesus. That is the mystery of the incarnation.

    But if he had to grow in wisdom, it means, as a real and full human, there was a time where ALL wisdom was NOT his. Now, we could argue that at some point ALL wisdom became his as a human. Or we could argue that ALL wisdom was his, he just didn’t “access” it. People can argue differently. But to GROW in wisdom points simply to the fact (yes, the fact) that he did not have ALL wisdom as a full human being like you and I. Just like the first Adam. Adam was sinlessly perfect at his creation, like the second Adam. But the first Adam did not have ALL wisdom. He had to look to God. The second Adam, fully human, had to grow in wisdom like the first.

    3. Yes, Jesus was omnipresent. Even the newer versions footnote this important variant. If this were not so, we still have John 1:18 stating that Jesus was in the bosom of the Father while on earth.

    There are a few things to grapple with here. 1) Are we saying that “being in the bosom of the Father” equals omnipresence? You would need to strengthen this argument if you believe that statement does mean so. I’m not sure the 2 are unequivocally equated. 2) Do we really believe that John 1:18 is communicating omnipresence, i.e., Jesus is “everywhere”? Remember that Paul says we are seated in the heavenly places even now – And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus (Eph 2:6). What does this mean for us to be seated with Christ? What did it mean for the Son to be at the Father’s side (since the Father has no “side”, so there is probably some kind of interesting language being utilised by John here)? Is it the divine part that was there, and then the earthly part was in the earth? But that splits the 2 natures. Or was it a statement about the closeness and connection of the Father & Son, their equality and togetherness, since that became a huge point later on in John’s Gospel?

    4. For the eternal and Divine Son to become fully human means that He is still the eternal, Divine, omnipresent, omniscient Son.

    How does one statement – For the eternal and Divine Son to become fully human – move to the next one – He is still the eternal, Divine, omnipresent, omniscient Son? You added in some words. Again, it comes down to what I said before. The answer is that he is the divine, eternal Son. But the answer is ALSO about what it meant for the divine, eternal Son to be fully human. Jesus, though divine, can actually be tempted as a real human. Jesus, though divine, would need to grow in wisdom as a real human. Jesus, though divine, laid aside what it meant to be equal with the Father so that he might be fully human.

    5. Kenosis does not mean that Jesus emptied himself of the Divine nature and attributes. It means that He took upon Himself the form of servant instead of remaining in Heaven as Lord and Master…. Your statement implies that Jesus became less than God in the incarnation (I have a feeling that you didn’t intend to say that quite the way that you did; but your Freudian slip is showing, I fear.), yet the fullness of Deity dwells in the incarnate Son (Colossians 2:9).

    What does the word, kenosis, actually mean? Emptied. I, by no means, think this is saying he was not divine for a time-span of some 30+ years. But what does the Greek word kenosis mean? Emptied. Not grasping at what it meant to be divine and equal to the Father. We could bash out some thoughts on Col 2:9, but I think this comment is already getting so long. He was divine, the fulness of deity dwelt in him. But he emptied himself of grasping at his divine equality with the Father. He rather relied on the Father & Spirit, had to grow in wisdom, could be tempted (which was not a possibility for God), did not function as omniscient, omnipresent, etc, but relied on the Father & Spirit to empower him to function as a full human relying fully on the Father & Spirit.

    Also, in forming biblical theology, we have to be careful to let ourselves deal with Phil 2:5-11 separately from Col 2:9ff. I am not saying there is disharmony. But forming systematic theology must be secondary to understanding a particular passage within its particular setting/context.

    Balance is necessary.

    Very much so. And this is why I keep bashing out the reality of what it meant for Jesus to be fully human. Out of our true desire to honour or Lord Jesus Christ, I think we have missed so very much about his humanity – his temptation, his not knowing everything, his sufferings, his not grasping at his equality with the Father, etc, etc, etc. No one talks much about these things. If you do it, lots of people freak out, and might even call you Arian of some sort. But in my own recent re-study of what it meant for Christ to be fully human, I have been so strengthened and encouraged about his high priestly function, that he does actually know what it is like, that he showed exactly what it was like for a real human to rely fully upon the Father & Spirit. This is not Arian and I will never receive that it is Arian. This is biblical christology.

  3. Pastoral Musings says:

    ScottL,
    Thanks for replying. I think you are misunderstanding my aim. I’m not denying the fully humanity of Jesus. I’m striving for a balance that remembers that He is fully Divine.
    My reply will be brief.
    I simply want to remind you that I’ve not denied Jesus’ growing in wisdom and knowledge. I think you’re overlooking that. Furthermore, to this point, James 1:13 has not arisen in the discussion. Sure, Jesus was tempted. Does that mean that God was tempted? The appeal was to Jesus’ humanity. It was an appeal to the flesh. You can neither mix the Divine and human natures in the person of Christ, nor can you separate them. We can only distinguish them by saying that somehow He was both a Divine and human person.
    I’m still calling for balance. I’m responding to your imbalance that presents Jesus as more human than Divine. If I saw someone else going to the point to a practical sort of Docetism, I think I would respond to that. I’m not freaking out, but am perfectly calm, cool, and collected 8-) I have much to learn, but I can assure you that for twenty plus years, I have preached and taught that Jesus was both human and Divine. I have preached that He was indeed tempted, and that the temptation was in the flesh. I have not denied His humanity. I refuse to accept a de facto denial of His Deity that claims to accept His Deity, however. One simply cannot empty Jesus of the Divine attributes and Him remain Divine. That’s the essence of the issue. It’s not about whether or not He relied upon the Father and the Spirit. There’s no doubt a sense in which that happened. That does not make Him less Divine. That does not make Him less omniscient, or make Him lack any of the attributes of God.
    It troubles me, ScottL, that somehow or another you can seemingly demand that I examine Scriptural texts apart from the whole of the biblical text. I understand biblical theology. I also understand that Scripture interprets Scripture. I cannot disallow one text and not let it help me understand another. I cannot try to understand Jesus’ being fully human without remembering that He is fully God. That is impossible, because Scripture doesn’t present Him to us in that manner.
    Balance, brother. Balance.