Today on Renewing Your Mind. We have a whole generation of professed Christian scholars who say we believe Jesus concerning heavenly things, but when He tells us about earthly things, how the canon came to pass and who wrote the Pentateuch and so on, we can't trust Him on that. And I say to them, if anybody ever strained out the gnat and swallowed the camel, there they are.
And Dr. R.C. Sproul is going to take on those scholars today. He's going to carefully examine their accusations and explore what Jesus really said about Scripture.
We'll learn that we have nothing to worry about. Jesus wasn't mistaken about anything, including the Word of God. In our last session, we noticed the somewhat extraordinary point of tension that modern scholars have agreed that Jesus taught a very high view of Scripture in which He accepted the prevailing theory of the Bible of His day, namely that it had been inspired by God.
It was the Word of God, the Word that was truth that could not be broken. And yet these scholars recognize that even though Jesus taught this view of Scripture, His teaching on the matter was incorrect. And they hasten to add, it's perfectly all right that Jesus was incorrect with reference to His speaking about the nature of Scripture, because touching His human nature, there was no way that He possibly could have known the actual reality of who wrote the Pentateuch and other historical questions of that sort. And what is argued here is the Christological case that Jesus in His humanity did not have the attribute of omniscience. And to attribute to the human nature of Christ the attribute of omniscience would be to violate Christian orthodoxy's view of the relationship of the two natures of Christ. Now this controversy is rooted in an earlier episode with respect to the church's understanding of Jesus' comments in the Gospel of Mark when His disciples ask Him about the day of His return. And He responds to His disciples by saying that He does not know the day or the hour. The only one who knows the day or the hour is the Father, not the Son, not the angels in heaven, and so on. And so in this text, Jesus unambiguously says there is something that He does not know.
Now in responding to that difficulty, St. Thomas Aquinas developed a theory that was called the accommodation theory. Because St. Thomas argued that the relationship between the divine nature of Jesus and the human nature of Jesus was such a perfect unity that Thomas is saying that anything that the divine nature knows, the human nature knows as well. And so Jesus had to have known the day and the hour, but for reasons known only to Himself, He was not free to communicate that knowledge to His disciples, and He more or less cut the Gordian knot and just accommodated them in their ignorance and said, I don't know.
Now the problem with that, of course, is that now you have Jesus saying that He doesn't know something that in fact He does know, which then raises the question of His trustworthiness as a prophet, because here He violates the truth and so on. Now Protestantism in response to St. Thomas' view and the Roman Catholic Church's view, which taught the communication of attributes, namely the Roman Catholic Church teaches that the attributes of the divine nature are communicated to the human nature. That's what makes it possible for the doctrine of the mass to affirm that Jesus, touching His body and blood, are in more than one place at the same time, because normally we think that a human person is limited spatially, and so that the body of a human being could not be in Boston and Detroit and San Francisco at the same time. And so in order for that to happen, some kind of deification of the human nature would have to take place, and the Roman Catholic Church teaches that indeed the divine nature of omnipresence, the divine attribute of omnipresence, is communicated to the human nature of Jesus so that He can be in more than one place at the same time.
And in like manner, the omniscience of the divine nature is communicated to the human nature. Now these scholars that I've mentioned who argue that Jesus is wrong with respect to His view of Scripture and that it's okay build their argument on the basis that classic Christian orthodoxy as found in the 5th Century Council of Chalcedon 451 declared with respect to the two natures that the two natures of Christ are without mixture, confusion, separation, or division, each nature retaining its own attributes, which would seem to speak clearly against any idea of mixing up the human and the divine nature so that the divine nature is communicating deity to the human nature. And historically, the heresy, one of the heresies that was attacked by the church for obscuring the true humanity of Jesus was the ancient heresy of Docetism. In its most crass form, the early Docetists were a subgroup of the Gnostics who influenced by Greek philosophy did not believe that God in His pure essence could ever take upon Himself a physical body because to do so in Greek categories would be to contaminate Himself. And so the Docetists argued that the Jesus who appears on the pages of the New Testament did not really have a physical body, that He only seemed or appeared as if He had a human body. The word docetist comes from the Greek word docao, which means to seem, to think, or to appear. And so this early sect believed that Jesus didn't really have a true physical body.
This is addressed in the Johannine letters where John says that this is the spirit of the Antichrist that denies that Jesus has come in the flesh. Now, that, as I said, is crass docetism that denies that Jesus had a physical body. But docetism has more than one cloak. It can be more subtle.
It can be more refined. And so more refined forms of docetism indicate any kind of theory of Jesus that subtly, in any way, denies the real limitations of His human nature. So Karl Barth, for example, argues that to assume that Jesus was omniscient, even by people who believed He had a real fleshy body, is still a rehash of the old heresy of docetism because it is failing to see the reality of the human nature.
Now, of course, Barth takes it beyond there in a way that we will see, hopefully, in a few moments. Now, to summarize this, historic Protestantism agrees that Jesus in His human nature was not omniscient, that the divine attribute of omniscience was not communicated to Jesus. Now, this may be difficult for laity because, on the one hand, you see Jesus manifesting what we would call supernatural knowledge. Before He meets Nathanael, He knows all about him.
He tells the woman of Sychar her whole life story. He has prophetic insight where He predicts the future with uncanny accuracy. But again, one does not have to be divine, biblically, to display that kind of knowledge because the Old Testament prophets, about whom there is no argument of their deity, also manifested supernatural knowledge. Now, historically, the church understands that the divine nature, or God, can communicate information to a human person without making that human person divine. And it's obvious that God and the deity communicated certain information to Jesus that Jesus could not have known in His natural humanity. He couldn't have known that the temple of Jerusalem was going to be destroyed in 70 AD, and yet He prophesied it with uncanny accuracy. But, being a prophet, He receives information from God without in any way disturbing or destroying the limits of His humanity.
So, let me summarize this. You can have a prophet in the Old Testament or a Jesus in the New Testament who displays information to Jesus, who displays extraordinary levels of knowledge, knowledge that only God could have, where God can only be the source of His information, without at the same time being omniscient. So, the critics, I believe, are right, theologically, when they say Jesus, touching His human nature, was not omniscient. But then they go to the next step and say, He's not omniscient. Therefore, it's okay that He taught error. And that's the point I want to challenge, that in His human nature, in order for Jesus to qualify to be the Lamb of God, to be the new Adam, and to offer Himself as a sacrifice to God, it was required that in His humanity that He achieve perfection and that He be sinless.
And now the simple question is, is it a sin to be mistaken if you have no way of knowing otherwise? Now, let me just back up a minute and explain my role as a teacher and as a professor in seminary, where I come into a classroom, and I don't come into the classroom saying that I'm infallible or anything like that. It's given, it's understood by the students that I am of the flesh, that I'm earthy, and that I am given to mistakes.
We know that. At the same time, we also know that in a very significant way, students are at the mercy of their professors. And we are warned in the New Testament that not many become teachers, because with teaching comes the greater judgment. And the warning is also given to teachers who, through false teaching, cause the little ones to be damaged.
It would be better for them that they not been born or that a millstone be hung around their neck than to do that, to mislead and misguide the sheep. Now, I feel a responsibility in my classroom, when I'm answering questions, never to fake it. If a student asks me a question, I don't know the answer. I believe it's my moral obligation to tell them I don't know the answer and not try to dazzle them with fancy footwork.
I also think it's important for me to do this. And all of the things that I teach in theology, obviously, I don't have the same level of assurance or conviction of the accuracy of my positions with respect to every view that I hold. If you ask me if I'm sure that regeneration precedes faith, I would say, yes, I'm as sure of that as I am of the air I breathe.
If you ask me if I have that kind of certainty about eschatology, no, I don't. And so, I think I have to explain to the students, I said, you know, I believe that this is the right way, but I'm not sure. And I think that this is a matter that still needs a lot of consideration. And what I'm saying is I think that that is the moral responsibility of anyone who's given pedagogical authority in a teaching situation. Now, on the other hand, here's Jesus, who comes on the scene of history, and He says to His disciples, I say nothing on My own authority, but what the Father reveals to Me, I declare to you. He makes a claim that no human teacher ought ever to make unless it's a true claim. Not only does He say, I bear witness to the truth, but He says, I am the truth, and My mission in this world is to bear witness to the truth, and all who are of the truth hear My voice.
Now, you talk about teachers claiming credentials for authority. That is as high a claim as any teacher could ever make as to say they are the veritable incarnation of truth itself. Now, if you hear somebody come in here and say, I only say what God tells me to say, and I am the truth, and then you can show that I have made error after error after error about real states of affairs, what does that do to the claim of being truth incarnate?
But even more seriously, what does that do to the sinlessness of Jesus, who misleads His people, misleads His church, claiming information He does not in fact possess, claiming things to be true that in fact are not true? And He criticized the Pharisees at one point. He said, you people, strain out the gnat and swallow the camel. And He went also on to say, if you can't believe Me concerning earthly things, how can you possibly believe Me concerning heavenly things?
And yet we have a whole generation of professed Christian scholars who say, we believe Jesus concerning heavenly things, but when He tells us about earthly things, how the canon came to pass and who wrote the Bible, and so on, and so on, who wrote the Pentateuch, and so on, we can't trust Him on that. And I say to them, if anybody ever strained out the gnat and swallowed the camel, there they are. I grant that there are difficulties harmonizing some of the details of the Bible, 99.9 of which I believe have been sufficiently harmonized, but there still are some pesky little problems that fly around, like gnats flying around my head. And it's one thing to deal with those gnats. It's another thing to say from an academic perspective, because of those gnats, I'm going to give up the view of Scripture that it is the veritable Word of God, but still believe in the truth claims of Jesus Christ.
This whole generation has strained out the gnat and swallowed the camel. If you convinced me, for example, that Jesus was wrong with respect to His teaching, His authoritative teaching of the nature of Scripture, I would not give another five minutes worth of my attention to Jesus of Nazareth. I simply wouldn't do it, because that would discredit Him and His qualifications to be and to do what the New Testament declares Him to be and to declare what He has done. So, I think that it's not a question of Jesus' omniscience.
It's a question of His sinlessness and His responsibility not to ever claim more authority or more truth than He actually possesses. And that's the point that was brought up again and again by those scholars assembled in Pennsylvania back in the early 70s. Now, also when we come to the idea of the inspiration of the Scripture, Karl Barth says that the doctrine of the divine inspiration of the Bible is what he calls biblical docetism. And the parallel that he's making is this, that just as in ancient heresies, the true nature of Jesus was compromised by over-deifying the human nature, so the doctrine of the inspiration of the Bible in church history is of the same ilk, of the same sort, because we know, if we don't know anything else, that the Bible was written by human beings. There's no question that there is an aspect of human authorship involved with the Scriptures.
We have the book of Jeremiah, we have the book of Ezekiel, we have the gospel according to John, the gospel according to Luke, the gospel according to Matthew. It's not like God wrote a book with His finger and then dropped it on a parachute from heaven where there was no human involvement in the production of that book. And Barth goes on to say that it is axiomatic in our understanding of human nature that this phrase, this common phrase, is true, erare humanem est, to err is human. And he says that the doctrine of inspiration is a docetic view of the human authors because it assumes that the human authors could produce something that is not in error, and at that point the humanity of the authors would be negotiated in a spiritual way. Now, we respond to Karl Barth very quickly this way, that though it is true, that it is customary and basic to humanity to err, it does not mean that in order for us to truly be human we must err. We see students in school making hundreds on spelling tests.
They write an inerrant spelling test, or I can write an inerrant grocery list without compromising the limits of my humanity. And of course, orthodoxy is always understood that it is true, erare humanem est, that it is the basic proclivity of human beings to make mistakes. That's why the Holy Ghost is involved here in the superintendents of Scripture and why the Scriptures labor the point that those books that were in fact written by the human authors were written not simply in the strength of those human authors' humanity, but the Holy Ghost came upon them and enabled them and preserved them from the human tendency to err, so that in the case of the Scripture, we have, just like we have if He wants to make the parallel with the two natures of Christ, we can speak of the dual nature of the Bible, the humanity of the human authors, which is real, but the deity of the supreme author, which is equally real, that the Bible is the Word of God. Now again, where this ends up with people in the church today is Barth, for example, would say the Bible is not the words of God.
They're the words of men. But under the impact of the Holy Spirit as we read it, it becomes the Word of God. It is not the werbum Dei inherently or objectively, but only when you're reading it and the Holy Ghost helps you and uses the text, then it becomes what in and of itself it isn't. But these guys still talk about the Bibles being the Word of God, but unfortunately, it is the Word of God which errs, which you talk about swallowing the camel. Now anybody sober can believe that a document that errs is in any way the Word of God is beyond me. If it is the Word of God, it doesn't err. If it errs, it is not the Word of God. Even if we haven't heard someone blatantly say that the Bible contains mistakes and inaccuracies, this thinking unfortunately has subtly crept into many pulpits today.
You're listening to Renewing Your Mind and another message from Dr. R.C. Sproul's series Defending Your Faith. As we learn the principles that Dr. Sproul teaches in this series, we're better able to recognize when we hear error. That's why we think this teaching is so important.
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Our number again is 800-435-4343 and our online address, renewingyourmind.org. You'll also find RefNet to be a rich source of biblical content, RefNet streams trustworthy teaching and preaching, Scripture reading, and audiobooks 24 hours a day. We've heard many listeners say that RefNet has become their go-to app for Christian internet radio. You can listen anytime at RefNet.fm or when you download the free RefNet app. Well, by design, Dr. Sproul left one question hanging in the air, and it's this, can we trust that the Bible is the very Word of God? I hope you'll join us next Saturday as we continue the series Defending Your Faith, here on Renewing Your Mind.
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