When the Incarnation Is Denied

The Book of Hebrews is clear that Jesus shared our full humanity, flesh and blood, in all its weakness (2:14ff). It’s an uncomfortable thought for some. The Docetists denied it completely and said he only appeared to be like us, when he really wasn’t. Others, including the Catholic Church, have done all they could to make his humanity as antiseptically pure as possible. Catholicism preserves his mother from original sin and even the ordinary pain of childbirth–suggesting that Jesus wasn’t really born of the virgin Mary, but that he transported out of her womb (like going through the locked door after his resurrection), without contracting the uterus or stretching the cervix and vagina. Catholicism further argues that his temptations were mere playacting, that it was metaphysically impossible for him to have given in.

Evangelicals have not been immune from this fear of Jesus’ real humanity. Consider the sermons by M. R. DeHaan (d. 1965) of the “Radio Bible Class” on the “Chemistry of the Blood,” in which he declared,

Jesus is called the Seed of the woman, because He was born of a woman without one drop of human blood in His veins, and thereby could avoid the sin of Adam which is only transmitted through the blood which the male contributes to his offspring. Jesus could have a human body, but one drop of Adam’s blood would have made Him a sinner just as you and I.

He was a prominent voice in Evangelicalism, but I can’t find any instances of Evangelical leaders calling him on the carpet for this bizarrely heretical statement.

4 thoughts on “When the Incarnation Is Denied

  1. If sin is defined as an offense against God (not the only definition, for sure, but a legitimate one), and if Jesus is God, how *could* he have sinned? That doesn’t deny the reality of the temptation nor the fact that his human nature may have resisted in some manner, but it’s difficult to see how an assertion that Jesus could sin can be squared with his divinity. Is there a way you can reconcile that, Bill? I’m not sure what you mean by your reference to the Catholic view as “antiseptically pure”, but I’m sure you don’t think that his humanity was *im*pure, correct?

    I am surprised that a tradition as sacramental (i.e. incarnational) as Catholicism could seriously be called Docetic. Just doesn’t really work.

  2. Your definition of God, as used here, could be said to assume a unitarian theology. If the one God subsists in three persons, and there are real relations between them (so that the Son can pray to the Father, and the Father can send the Son), and if the Son is during his incarnation to be obedient to the Father, then sin would be disobedience to the Father.

    Or it could be said that what you are arguing is a version of Monothelitism–the idea that Jesus had only a divine will. Orthodoxy held that he had both a divine will and a human will.

    Scripture is clear that Jesus was tempted–and that he suffered being tempted. Temptation must assume temptability, or it is no temptation. Only severe temptations could ever produce suffering in the act of temptation.

    Just because Catholicism has rituals and sacramentals, and devotions to all manner of statues, doesn’t mean that it can’t have a tendency to docetism. In fact, I think these can all be seen as symptoms of it. If your Jesus isn’t really fully human, if he can’t really sympathize with you, then you need other intermediaries who can. You need the saints to reach out and be the mediator with him, since they really did overcome.

  3. Bill, you might reconsider the trinitarian theology you’ve espoused here… orthodox Christianity has always held that the three divine persons share the same nature, and that the will and intellect are proper to the nature, not to the person, ergo in God there is one will, not three. The early councils refer to one power or will among the three persons. That’s not unitarianism… it’s monotheism. The divine persons are not distinguished by will or intellect, but rather share the same will & intellect.

    Re: monothelitism, I certainly agree that Jesus had two wills, but they were united in one person… I’m no more guilty of monthelitism than you are of Nestorianism.

    The only sense in which one could say that Jesus could’ve sinned is that in which the blessed in heaven can sin… while in some sense it’s possible, in another, more important sense, it’s simply impossible.

    Could you elaborate what you have in mind when you refer to Jesus suffering being tempted? He certainly suffered in the garden (referenced by Hebrews), but Scripture doesn’t refer to that as a temptation.

    The Catholic Church is (obviously) a big bunch of folk, and there certainly have been tendencies among some Catholics throughout history towards *every* exaggeration, including Docetism, but normative Catholicism recognizes fully the reality of Jesus’ humanity. Nor does the presence of intercessors (on earth or in heaven) deny that fact. CL does a great job on this, of stressing the centrality of the Incarnation and showing how this is the heart of everything else Catholic, i.e. that the in/distinctively Catholic flows from the Incarnation.

  4. First, you say the will is in the nature, not the person? Then all human persons who share the same human nature have only one will?

    Luke 22:42 says there is a distinction between the Son’s will and the Father’s–Jesus can pray, “Not my will, but thine, be done.”

    “The only sense in which one could say that Jesus could’ve sinned is that in which the blessed in heaven can sin.”

    And your scriptural evidence for that?

    “Could you elaborate what you have in mind when you refer to Jesus suffering being tempted?”

    Heb. 2:18: “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”

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