Recently a friend mentioned a controversy in her life caused by a few people who claim Jesus was born with a perfect knowledge of the Scriptures. They probably believe this because syllogistic logic seems to demand it. Christianity teaches that Jesus is “fully God,” and God is omniscient (all-knowing), therefore Jesus must have been omniscient at birth. They also claim Jesus was never tempted to sin. Again, they apparently base this on the syllogism that Jesus is fully God, and God hates sin, therefore Jesus could not have been tempted to sin. My friend told me these people also claim their ideas are “critical theology.” By that, I assume they mean these notions are essential doctrines, or First Things, which everyone must believe or else we’ll go to hell.
I beg to differ.
It’s dangerous to insist that anything other than a childlike faith in Jesus Christ is necessary for a right relationship with God. But that’s a topic for another post. Here, I want to examine this idea that Jesus must have been omniscient, even as a baby, and could not have been tempted by sin. It’s easy to debunk these ideas from the Scriptures, as we will shortly see, but it’s also vitally important to understand why they can’t be true. Far from being necessary for salvation, they tend to obscure who Jesus is, why Jesus came to earth as the child of Joseph and Mary, and why he died on a Roman cross.
First, let’s do away with the alleged omniscience of Jesus with three simple verses…
The Bible says Jesus “learned obedience” (Hebrews 5:8) The word “learned” is manthanó, used 25 times in the NT to mean exactly what “learned” means in English. Because its meaning is so consistent everywhere else, it’s unlikely manthanó means anything different when applied to Jesus by the author of Hebrews. So the Bible teaches us that Jesus learned. Therefore he did not know everything.
Jesus’ limited knowledge is also revealed in his comments about the end times. See Matthew 24:36. Jesus didn’t even know “the day or hour” of his own second coming.
And in Philippians 2:6-7 it says, “Though he [Jesus] was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.” Would a “slave” know the Scriptures perfectly from birth? Would any “human being”?
Moving on to the other notion that Jesus wasn’t really tempted by sin, the Bible could not be more clear: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who was tempted in every way that we are, yet was without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15) So Jesus was definitely tempted exactly “in every way as we are.” There simply is no reasonable way to interpret this verse differently.
Because of scriptures like these, Christianity doesn’t stop at teaching the Jesus was “fully God.” We also know Jesus was “fully man.” This doctrine of “fully God, fully man” is one of the most difficult in the Bible. But paradoxes like this are exactly what we should expect in a book which attempts to teach us about the Creator of the Universe. It isn’t logical to assume that syllogistic logic would apply to the One who created logic in the first place. Such a One exists outside of His Creation; He is not constrained by anything within it.
It isn’t logical to assume that syllogistic logic would apply to the One who created logic in the first place.
Still, we want to understand who Jesus is, and the existence of the Bible proves God also wants us to try. So while it helps me to remember that God, by definition, can never be fully understood, it also helps to think about the “fully God, fully man” paradox in terms of God’s fundamental nature, rather than in terms of more specific attributes of godliness or manhood. Jesus was fully God in his core way of being, his fundamental nature, but not in his attributes. That is the deeper meaning of the verses I quoted from Philippians, above. Put metaphorically: Jesus had God’s heart (God’s nature), but human hands and feet (human capabilities). This partial limitation may seem inconsistent with the Almighty Master and Creator of the Universe. but in fact, it’s how the Lord has always been.
Consider a couple of the many Biblical examples: In addition to being omniscient, God is eternal and omnipresent, but God is also capable of being in a specific time and place in a way which is different from other times and places. We see when God descends to the most holy place in the tabernacle. We see is when God places Moses in the cleft and passes back and forth before him. God is there, in those places, in a way that He is not elsewhere.
Jesus is a flesh and blood manifestation of that same thing: God constraining certain aspects of himself as He chooses. Jesus has always been that aspect of God which penetrates Creation, the “craftsman at God’s side” “through whom, by whom, and for whom all things were created.” Jesus has always been Jacob’s ladder, which attaches heaven and earth, that aspect of the Lord which connects with Creation. He’s the “man” who appears before Abraham at the Oaks of Mamre, who has feet that need washing, and a belly that needs filling, before continuing down to Sodom to decide if it should be destroyed. He’s the “man” who wrestles with Jacob until daylight by the river, of whom Jacob later says “I have seen God’s face and lived.” When the Bible says Adam was created in God’s likeness and image, it means the human race was originally created in the image of Jesus. So on one level, Jesus has always been “fully man” as well as “fully God.”
But after the Fall, when corruption entered Creation, Jesus came to Israel not as the Craftsman in whose perfect image Adam was created, but instead as Adam was in his post fallen, corruptible body. It was necessary for Jesus to come that way to balance the scales of justice, as the “second Adam” (see 1 Corinthians 15 and Romans 5) who was the life for Adam’s life, the eye for Adam’s eye, the tooth for Adam’s tooth. Deuteronomy 19:21 gives us that “life for life” definition of justice–God’s definition–and nothing in the Bible retracts it, therefore if justice was to be restored it had to be that way.
Had Jesus’s mind and body been something more perfect than yours or mine, his sacrifice would not have been truly just. He would have been too much; his sacrifice would have carried too much weight; it would have tipped the scales too far, and that would have added yet more injustice to the universe, instead of the cosmic balance our world so desperately needs.