"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1:14)
Preachers worldwide try to find ways during advent season to help their congregations better grasp the incarnation. What was involved in the spectacular condescension of the eternal Son of God who limited himself to the confines of a human being? One answer is great risk.
John Sanders, well-known open theist, wrote a book in 1998, revised in 2007, and published by InterVarsity Press called The God Who Risks. In it he outlines his understanding of the logical limitations on divine omniscience. He believes it is logically impossible for any being, including God, to know the free, future actions of separate created entities. Thus God is like the master chess player, better even than anything artificial intelligence could create, who can always make moves in response to people’s choices that will keep them from outwitting him and thwarting his purposes. That is not what I have in mind with my title to this blog.
What I have in mind requires me to take sides on the debate over Jesus’s peccability. In other words, could he have sinned? Both sides agree that his divine nature could not have sinned, but one side argues that in his human nature he could have—that he was peccable. He simply didn’t sin. Had he not had the real possibility of sinning when he was tempted, he would not have been tempted in every way as all other human beings have been tempted (Hebrews 4:15b). The other side argues that even in his human nature he could not have sinned—that he was impeccable—believing that to say otherwise separates his divine and human natures too much. A mediating perspective sometimes argues that he could not have sinned even in his human nature, but that in the voluntarily adopted limitations of his divine attributes during the incarnation, he did not know that he could not have sinned and so his subjective experience was identical to all other humans who, when they reach an age of accountability, know they can sin.
Millard Erickson, in his magisterial Christian Theology, opts for peccability but adds, “while he could have sinned, it was certain that he would not.” In a sense, this too is a mediating position. But it does not require Jesus believing something in his human nature that was untrue (i.e., his peccability) as in the variation of impeccability noted above. It merely separates what God the Father always knew in his infinite state and what Jesus, as the Son of God incarnate, knew in the limitations on his omniscience. And as soon as we allow for Jesus of Nazareth to be unknowing of anything (Chinese language, state-of-the art Roman surgery, the genealogy of Cleopatra, etc.) in the limits on his divine omniscience required by the incarnation, we don’t need to unduly separate his divine and human natures in concluding that he most likely no longer knew what he once did in his eternal state, which the Father still did—namely, that “it was certain that he would not [sin].”
So, too, we don’t have to solve the probably insoluble questions about how much Jesus knew of his identity and mission and when he knew it. Only the apocryphal Gospels ever suggest he sprang from Mary’s womb able to speak and discourse about his deity! But even as he became more and more cognizant of his role on earth, there is no reason to conclude that it was ever revealed to him that he could not sin. In other words, at some point, he is likely to have known about his need for a sinless life, in order to atone for the sins of the world, without knowing for sure that he could fulfill that task. Now that is a God who risks! Or to put it more precisely, the Son of God who at least senses great risk. What if he failed? Had God no backup plan? His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane disclosed something of his inability to answer this question but his hope that there was one. No wonder he was in such agony—agony that went beyond his understandable horror at the physical suffering he would endure on the cross.
Such risk magnifies the glory of the incarnation and the inscrutability of our Triune God far more than simplistic affirmations that it was all certain, all known, all understood, by all persons of the Trinity at all points along the way. Jesus of Nazareth would have sensed enormous risk and felt that he might prove wholly inadequate for the task. What an encouragement to us about his ability to empathize with every kind of weakness and temptation we experience (Hebrews 4:14–15a), including when we do sin, which of course he didn’t.
Now that’s an amazing twist on typical Christmas reflections, the first part of which I owe to Joshua Dylan Peebles, in his Christmas Eve meditation at Scum of the Earth Church in Denver, reproduced here with his permission.
 Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998), 736.
Dr. Craig Blomberg
Dr. Craig Blomberg joined the faculty of Denver Seminary in 1986. He is currently a distinguished professor of New Testament. Dr. Blomberg completed his PhD in New Testament, and he received an MA from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and a BA from Augustana College. Before joining the faculty of Denver Seminary, he taught at Palm Beach Atlantic College and was a research fellow in Cambridge, England with Tyndale House.