Jesus, just ‘a man of his time’?1
Astonishingly, there are people in today’s churches who, while strongly proclaiming their evangelical credentials, actually teach that Jesus could have been mistaken about some of His teaching! Of course, since the earliest days of Christendom, people with heretical views have plagued the Church. This is why there are so many warnings in the New Testament against false teachers—to imbibe their ideas is to wander off into myths, with the serious risk of ‘faith-wreck’ (see From fables to truth). Unfortunately, the advocates of a fallible Jesus are not merely a fringe group. Rather, their ideas are becoming increasingly and worryingly influential.
In all the cases that I am aware of, it is the insistence of these church leaders and theologians upon the ‘fact’ of molecules-to-man evolution and millions of years that is driving their claim of Jesus being wrong about certain matters—for instance, in His teaching that people had existed from the foundation of the world, the very beginning of creation (Luke 11:50; Mark 10:6). Writers for the theistic evolutionary website Biologos are an example of this. This brief article is not the place to comprehensively unpack and critique these ideas and claims.2 Nevertheless, it is important to be aware of such insidious teaching, and worthwhile for Christians to consider just some of the ways in which we might respond.
Scripture’s testimony of Jesus’ words
That liberals deny the authority of the Bible is hardly news. However, those who profess to hold to the Bible as the very Word of God must be held to account using its own teaching. The number of verses which put the lie to these claims of Christ’s fallible knowledge is legion; here are just a few considerations. Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 3:22; 4:1), who is the “Spirit of Truth” (John 15:26; 16:13)—and that without limit (John 3:34). In Him “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). This makes sense, “For in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9). In view of these verses alone, it is both illogical and blasphemous to claim that Christ, the Son of God, could err in His teaching. Did these statements from Colossians only become true of Jesus after He had ascended to heaven?
Let us consider the testimony of the Lord Jesus Himself: “For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me” (John 12:49–50; my emphasis). Also, “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38). Esteemed British preacher Dr Martyn-Lloyd Jones (1899–1981) once stated,
“The Son of God did not hold on to His prerogatives; He humbled Himself, He became a servant, He set aside His own will, and all He said and all He did was determined by the will of the Father” (my emphasis).3
Thus, claims that Jesus erred are equivalent to saying that God erred. And since that is logically impossible—for He is all-knowing—such assertions actually amount to an accusation that God has lied. One is reminded of Satan’s words to Eve: “Did God actually say?” (Genesis 3:1).
Elsewhere, too, Lloyd-Jones has pertinent words for our subject. Talking of the various heresies concerning Christ during Church history, he says,
“They preach of Jesus Christ as God and Jesus Christ as man in isolation from each other. We must never do that. Jesus Christ is always the God-Man: so we must be very careful and wary about saying that He did certain things as God, and other things as man. No! He is the God-Man, indivisible. Christ cannot be divided in any sense. Thank God for this. He is always the same, He always will be the same. ‘Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today, and forever’ (Hebrews 13:8)”—my emphasis.4
Those ‘evangelicals’ who try to argue that Jesus erred during His earthly life (but obviously did not do so before His incarnation, or after his ascension into heaven) run aground on this rock of God’s Word.
Scripture’s testimony of Jesus’ works
One might think that any professing Christian, aware of the amazing miracles that Jesus wrought during His ministry, would refrain from any suggestion that He could be mistaken about anything at all. Think about it:
“At his [Jesus Christ’s] command the winds ceased and the troubled sea grew calm; the fish brought a silver coin in its belly; the stones shattered, bearing witness to him; the veil of the temple was torn in two; the sun was darkened, the tombs opened and many bodies rose to life. There was nothing in heaven or on earth which did not testify that Jesus Christ was its God, Lord and Master, and the ambassador sent to earth by the Father to obtain salvation for men. All these things are heralded, revealed, written and sealed in this testament, by which Jesus Christ makes us his heirs in the kingdom of God his Father.”
So wrote sixteenth century Reformer, John Calvin.5 Indeed, those disciples who witnessed His calming of the storm marveled—they knew this was no ordinary man (Matthew 8:27). Bearing in mind the obvious signs of Jesus’ Lordship over this world during His earthly ministry (His miracles), it is preposterous that a Christian could seriously conclude that Jesus was mistaken about matters relating to Earth’s creation or the age of the universe.6 Yet that is what’s at stake when people teach that Jesus was ‘just a man of his time’.
A true Christian’s response
Did the Lord Jesus voluntarily lay aside certain privileges in becoming man? Of course. He who was rich beyond imagination “became poor” (2 Corinthians 8:9). He who was fully God “emptied Himself” (Philippians 2:7) and was frequently subjected to the hostility and opposition of sinners (Hebrews 12:3)—some of the very reasons why Christians throughout the centuries have worshipped Him! Certainly, the extent to which Jesus may have laid aside aspects of His limitless knowledge is a great mystery—we do well to tread here with extreme care, limiting ourselves to what the Bible says and avoiding groundless speculation. Alexander Pope’s famous words seem very apt here:
“For fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”7
The Creator God who has condescended and stooped to our menial level to rescue lost sinners deserves our highest adoration and praise. In view of the growing compromise in today’s churches, we must redouble our efforts to uphold the truth and authority of the Bible from its first verse, including its testimony concerning Jesus’ infallible teachings.
References and notes
- This is a slightly modified version of an article that first appeared in Prayer News, CMI-UK/Europe, July 2016. Return to text.
- To do so requires a careful assessment of Christ’s two natures (divine and human) and much else besides. A detailed counter-challenge to these claims is covered in a chapter of my book, in preparation. Return to text.
- Lloyd-Jones, D.M., The unsearchable riches of Christ: An exposition of Ephesians 3:1 to 21, Banner of Truth Trust, 1979, p. 294. Return to text.
- Lloyd-Jones, D.M., Christian Unity: An exposition of Ephesians 4:1 to 16, Banner of Truth Trust, 1980, p. 98. Return to text.
- John Calvin, (transl. by Robert White), An epistle showing how our Lord Jesus Christ is the end of the law and the sum of all that must be sought in Scripture, Preface to the French Geneva Bible, 1534; revised 1543. Return to text.
- Wieland, C., Jesus on the age of the earth, Creation 34(2):51–54, 2012. Return to text.
- From his poem, An essay on criticism, 1711; available at poetryfoundation.org, accessed 16 December 2016. Return to text.