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Jesus was truly human as well as divine

American theologian Bruce Ware is perhaps best known for his opposition to Open Theism, but here he tackles a different subject: the humanity—as distinct from deity—of Jesus Christ. The book is The Man Christ Jesus: Theological Reflections On The Humanity Of Christ by Bruce A. Ware (Crossway, 2013. ISBN: 978-1-4335-1307-7).  

In my experience, many evangelical Christians, paranoid in their fear of liberalism, have been so anxious to uphold the deity of Christ that they have all but lost hold of his full humanity. Ware’s book is a welcome attempt to bring back some biblical balance.

It looks at different aspects of the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus and shows how, far from falling back on his divine nature when things got tough, our Lord faced his challenges in the same way we ourselves do: as a human being dependent on the help of the Holy Spirit. It also grapples helpfully with the old dilemma of whether Jesus was ‘not able to sin’ or ‘able not to sin’.

There are a couple of diversions from the main topic. One is Ware’s including a section on whether maleness was essential for Christ’s fulfilment of his calling. In this he betrays his strong hierarchical view of male/female relationships and indulges in a bit of tub-thumping about it. I would have preferred to see this section left out. The other is a discussion of whether one aspect of the atonement (penal substitution) trumps another (the ‘Christus Victor’ model). This, too, I found neither germane to the book’s stated topic nor particularly helpful.

That apart, the author handles his main delicate subject with sensitivity and grace. Also, he grasps that a sound understanding of Christ’s humanity challenges us, his followers, to follow his example and live our own lives in dogged obedience to the Father in the power of the Spirit. Each section, then, ends with some discussion points of practical application to help us on our journey.

[Figure in brackets after the quotations are Kindle location numbers, not page numbers]

Christ being fully God, possessing the very nature of God and being fully equal to God in every respect, did not thereby insist on holding onto all the privileges and benefits of his position of equality with God (the Father) and thereby refuse to accept coming as a man. (212)

[Re Philippians 2:5-8]  In the self-emptying (ekenōsen) of the eternal Son, Paul does not say that he poured something “out of” himself. No, absolutely not! Rather, he poured out himself. All of who he is as the eternal Son of the Father, as the one who is the form (morphē) of the Father, is poured out fully. Here, then, is no subtraction, strictly speaking. It is a “subtraction” (i.e., a pouring out, an emptying) by adding human nature to his divine nature. (239)

Although he had obeyed the Father previously as he carried out the Father’s will as the agent of creation, or in coming to earth to become incarnate, never before had his obedience been rendered in a context of rejection and suffering. The kind of obedience he now rendered was new. He humbled himself to accept obedience of a kind he had not known previously. And the extent of his obedience is expressed as Paul continues, “to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (333)

The instinct in much evangelical theology, both popular and scholarly, is to stress the deity of Christ, but when it comes to the day-to-day obedience and ministry of Jesus, the New Testament instead puts greater stress, I believe, on his humanity. (425)

Jesus’s obedience was not automatic, as though his divine nature simply eliminated any real struggle to believe or effort to obey. No, in his human nature, Jesus fought for faith and struggled to obey; otherwise the reality that Hebrews 5:7 describes is turned into theatrics and rendered disingenuous. (962)

The common evangelical intuition seems to be this: if the reason Christ could not sin is that he is God, then the reason Christ did not sin must likewise be that he is God. My proposal denies this symmetry and insists that the questions of why Christ could not sin and why he did not sin require, instead, remarkably different answers. (1232)

Although Christ was fully God, and as fully God he could not sin, he deliberately did not appeal, as it were, to his divine nature in fighting the temptations that came to him. As a human, he not only could be tempted but was tempted in the greatest ways any human has been tempted in all of history. Yet for every temptation he faced, he fought and resisted fully and totally apart from any use of or appeal to his intrinsic divine nature. (1264)

Just as God as God cannot die, so God as God cannot be raised from the dead. But in Jesus, the God-man, we see that God as man has died for our sin, and likewise God as man has been raised from the dead. The atoning death of Christ requires his full humanity, and the resurrection of Christ does likewise. (2104)

Did not the divine Son create this world, and does he not have intrinsic authority over it as God and creator? Yet we find in Scripture over and over again language that indicates the “newness” of the position Jesus now has and of the authority that Jesus now exercises. Such “newness” has no appropriate “fit” with the deity of Christ, but it surely does with this human Son, this Messiah, this son of David, who is granted as his reward the rulership of the world he has won and conquered. (2126)

Jesus in his humanity—as the seed of Abraham, the son of David—announces that the nations are his. And to his disciples he commands, as it were, “Go get them! They’re mine.” (2226)

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