A Scriptural Basis
The Bible text most used by early Seventh-day Adventists in the study of the incarnation was Romans 8:3: "For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh." The phrase "in the likeness" (en omoiwmati - en homoiomati) means, to make like; to be like, or to resemble. We find the identical expression, en homoiomati, used in Philippians 2:7 where we read that Jesus was "made in the likeness [en homoiomati] of men." Our pioneers understood this to be a literal description of the incarnation of our Saviour. They understood this "likeness" to be more than a veneer coating, but rather the very nature of Christ.
The "New Theology" on the Incarnation
Elder William Johnsson, editor of the Adventist Review, defends a position exactly opposite of the pioneers using the same text. Johnsson writes:
We find the identical expression used in Romans 8:3, en homoiomati, earlier in this letter. Speaking of the pagans of his day, Paul says they "exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles" (Rom. 1:23 NIV). Obviously, here the Greek term cannot signify exact likeness. (Adventist Review, August 12, 1993, p. 4 - emphasis in the original)
Johnsson also states: "The silence of the New Testament on this specific point of debate is deafening." (Ibid.) Recently, the same view was given by Calvin Rock in the pages of the Adventist Review. Rock, a vice president of the General Conference, writes: "My research leads me to believe that Christ was born with the purity of Adam before he fell, ..." (Ibid., March 31, 1994, p. 15) This conclusion is exactly opposite to the research of the pioneers of this movement as well as this author.
The facts are: the Scriptures trumpet the incarnation of Christ with clear notes of reassurance for the believer that he has a Saviour that can be touched with the feelings of humanity. The scope of this book prevents an exhaustive study of this subject. However, we will examine the doctrine with emphasis being placed on the purpose and necessity of the incarnation.
The Scriptural View
"And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh." (1 Timothy 3:16) His name would be "Immanuel" - God with us. (Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23) When God delivered the Ten Commandments to Israel He said, "I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage." (Exodus 20:2) The deliverance of Israel from Egypt was a type of deliverance from sin. Before that emancipation, Christ had said to Moses, "And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians." (Exodus 3:8) Christ was not to bring deliverance from a throne in heaven, but would "come down" to where man was to give him freedom.
Like the word "millennium," the word "incarnation"is not used in the Scriptures. It is derived from two Latin words: in carnis, which translates "in flesh" or "in the flesh." Did Jesus come in the flesh and was it sinful flesh that He partook of? While some today differ with the pioneers' understanding of Romans 8:3, the seeker of truth finds in the Scriptures many precious gems relating to the nature of Christ. In the epistle to the Hebrews, Paul begins by stating Christ's likeness to God. This is then followed by Paul setting forth His likeness to men.
But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren. (Hebrews 2:9-11)
The Greek word for "became" isprepw - prepo. It is defined as "suitable," "proper," "it is fit or right." Matthew uses this word in describing the dialog between Christ and John at His baptism. "Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh [prepo] us to fulfill all righteousness." (Matthew 3:15) Paul also uses it in Hebrews: "For such an high priest was what we needed for (prepo) us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens." (Hebrews 7:26 margin) What then is Paul trying to tell us in verse 10? Simply that it is suitable, proper, fit, right, for God to make Christ "perfect through sufferings." (Hebrews 2:10) Paul continues:
Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. (Hebrews 2:14-16)
Christ partook of the seed of Abraham. Abraham was not immaculate with sinless flesh. While some claim the translation of verse 16 is not the best, those who decry the King James Version do not mention that Paul, in Romans 1:3, says that "... Jesus Christ our Lord, ... was made of the seed of David [not immaculate or sinless] according to the flesh." Yet Paul goes further so as to leave the reader with no doubt that he has a Saviour that comes close to us in our humanity.
Wherefore in all things it behooved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succor them that are tempted. (Hebrews 2:17, 18)
The word translated "behooved" in the Greek isofeilo - opheilo which means "to be bound to," "under obligation," "indebted," "owe." Commenting on this, Elder M. L. Andreasen wrote:
If Christ is to be a merciful and faithful high priest, Paul says it behooves Him "in all things" to be like His brethren. This is obligatory. It is a duty He owes and must not avoid. He cannot make reconciliation for men unless He takes His place with them and in all things becomes like them. It is not a question of choice. He should, He must, He ought to, He is under obligation to, He owes it. Unless He has to struggle with the same temptations men do, He cannot sympathize with them. One who has never been hungry, who has never been weak and sick, who has never struggled with temptations, is unable fully to sympathize with those who are thus afflicted. (Letters to the Churches, Series A, #1, p. 6 - emphasis in original)
One may ask, Is not God omniscient? Does God have to send His Son to our level to find out what we experience? Why would Christ have to take "upon His sinless nature our sinful nature, that He might know how to succor those that are tempted"? (Medical Ministry, p. 181) First, the Bible states that Christ "emptied Himself" at the incarnation. (See Philippians 2:7 Greek) To die for the sins of man, Christ must empty Himself and give up His immortality. "But he humbled himself, and took mortality upon him." (Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, July 5, 1887) Also, He "emptied Himself" of His omniscience because the Scripture states that "...Jesus increased in wisdom..." (Luke 2:52) This could not have been if in His humanity He was omniscient.
This truth is vital. Unless we struggle with the same temptations, problems, or trials of those we seek to help, we are of little use in understanding their trials. Also, the one in need must know that the sympathizer can relate by experience to his or her situation! How difficult it is to help those that look at you with a tear filled face saying, "You don't understand, you've never been in my situation!" The sinner who understands that Jesus has taken upon Himself our sinful nature can gain courage by the fact that his Saviour does know by experience the trial he is under and can relate by experience to our need. Therefore, Jesus can provide the help we must have when we are tempted because He "condemned sin in the flesh." (Romans 8:3) The Scriptures further state that Jesus was "touched with the feeling of our infirmities," and was "compassed with infirmity." (Hebrews 4:15; 5:2) "The Lord GOD hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back. I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting." (Isaiah 50:5, 6) He "Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses." (Matthew 8:17) God did not exempt Jesus, nor did Jesus ask to be exempted. Christ's experiences were all necessary if He was to help His brethren. Thus the Scriptures state: "Wherefore in all things it behooved Him to be made like unto His brethren..." (Hebrews 2:17) Christ, the Son of the eternal God, became Jesus, the Son of man, that we might become the "sons of God." (1 John 3:1) Christ became man so that He might redeem man. Jesus was made what man is:
We see that "in all things it behooved Him to be made like unto His brethren." (Hebrews 2:17) A. T. Jones noted:
Yet it must never be forgotten, it must be borne in mind and heart constantly and forever, that in none of this as to man, the flesh, sin, and the curse was Christ ever of Himself or of His own original nature or fault. All this He "was made." "He took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men." [Philippians 2:7]
And in all this Christ was "made" what, before, He was not in order that the man might be made now and forever what he is not. (The Consecrated Way to Christian Perfection, p. 47 - emphasis in the original)
Three of the gospel writers have references to the incarnation early in their accounts. Matthew and Luke both give genealogies with Luke adding great detail concerning the conception of Jesus. Luke, a physician, records the words of Gabriel to Mary: "And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God." (Luke 1:35) Further, John writes: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. ... And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth." (John 1:1, 2, 14) The One who was with the Father from the beginning, "emptied Himself" and became flesh, flesh such as Mary had. Yet Jesus was not degraded by this assumption of flesh, for as Luke records, He was "that holy thing."
"But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman." (Galatians 4:4) Christ must be born of a woman, for being made of a man would not bring Him close enough to mankind to be the complete Saviour. Christ must come all the way down to us or He fails to reach us. In Jacob's vision of the ladder, it reached all the way from heaven to earth. It did not stop one or two rungs short. That ladder represented Christ. (See Genesis 32:10-16) For Christ to be able to reach all the way to the bottom He must be "made of a woman." "...Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression." (1 Timothy 2:4) Had Christ been only of a man, He would have fallen short for the woman had sinned first; thus sin was already in the world before Adam sinned.
Mary could share no other nature with the divine embryo than that which she possessed, a fallen nature. Most Protestants would say they do not believe in the Catholic dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Yet, few know what the teaching is about. Most people think it has to do with the conception of Jesus. Rather, it has to do with the conception of Mary. The dogma teaches :
By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instant of her conception, by a special grace and privilege of Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of mankind, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, has been revealed by God, and therefore is to be firmly and steadfastly believed by all the faithful. (Catholic Belief, p. 214)
Thus this teaching states that Mary was born without sin and preserved so as to be able to be the mother of Christ without transmitting to Him a sinful, fallen nature. While most Protestants today reject this version of an immaculate conception, at the same time they believe another version of an immaculate conception. Most today believe that the conception of Jesus was in such a manner that Mary was nothing more than a surrogate mother. She passed on nothing to Christ. If this is so, then Jesus falls far short of being the Saviour I need to help me.
Bible Readings for the Home Circle
The earlier editions of the book Bible Readings for the Home Circle, a standard reference work among Seventh-day Adventists, reflected the views of the Adventist pioneers and correctly commented on the Bible teaching of the incarnation:
The idea that Christ was born of an immaculate or sinless mother, inherited no tendencies to sin, and for this reason did not sin, removes Him from the realm of a fallen world, and from the very place where help is needed. On His human side, Christ inherited just what every child of Adam inherits, - a sinful nature. On the divine side, from His very conception He was begotten and born of the Spirit. And all this was done to place mankind on vantage-ground, and to demonstrate that in the very same way every one who is 'born of the Spirit' may gain like victories over sin in his own sinful flesh." (Bible Readings for the Home Circle, p. 174, 1935 ed., also p. 115, 1915 ed. - emphasis in the original)
This statement was altered by Prof. D. E. Rebok when he was asked to revise the book in 1949 and today reads:
Jesus Christ is both the Son of God and the Son of man. As a member of the human family "it behoved him to be made like like unto his brethren"-"in the likeness of sinful flesh." Just how far that "likeness" goes is a mystery of the incarnation which men have never been able to solve. The Bible clearly teaches that Christ was tempted just as other men are tempted-"in all points. . . like as we are." Such temptation must necessarily include the possibility of sinning; but Christ was without sin. There is no Bible support for the teaching that the mother of Christ, by an immaculate conception, was cut off from the sinful inheritance of the race, and therefore her divine Son was incapable of sinning. (Bible Readings for the Home, 1962 edition, p. 117)
This watered down statement takes no clear position on the nature of Christ, neither pre-fall nor post-fall.
The Reformation Continues
The Reformation is not ended. Papal teaching abounds not only within the confines of Catholicism, but in much of Protestantism today. The Catholic dogma on the incarnation is that Jesus is not really human at all, but of a divine nature far separated from sinners. He is not in a place where He can feel the needs of men. Such is not the true Christ, but a false christ, a Tammuz we might weep for, yet receive no help from. This is not "the faith of Jesus." Elder A. T. Jones of 1888 said it powerfully:
The faith of Jesus is that God sent "His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh."
The faith of Jesus is that "in all things it behooved Him to be made like unto His brethren."
The faith of Jesus is that He "Himself took our infirmities" and was touched "with the feeling of our infirmities," being tempted in all points like as we are. If He was not as we are, He could not possibly be tempted "like as we are." But He was "in all points tempted like as we are." Therefore He was "in all points" "like as we are."
The faith of Rome as to the human nature of Christ and Mary and of ourselves springs from that idea of the natural mind that God is too pure and too holy to dwell with us and in us in our sinful human nature; that sinful as we are, we are too far off for Him in His purity and holiness to come to us just as we are.
The true faith-the faith of Jesus-is that, far off from God as we are in our sinfulness, in our human nature which He took, He has come to us just where we are; that, infinitely pure and holy as He is, and sinful, degraded, and lost as we are, He in Christ by His Holy Spirit will willingly dwell with us and in us to save us, to purify us, and to make us holy.
The faith of Rome is that we must be pure and holy in order that God shall dwell with us at all.
The faith of Jesus is that God must dwell with us and in us in order that we shall be holy or pure at all. (The Consecrated Way to Christian Perfection, pp. 38, 39 - emphasis in original)
Why would all men not want such a Saviour? Some read the implications very clearly. If Jesus overcame with the same liabilities that we have, then it is possible for man in fallen flesh to have total victory. If Jesus had come in some other nature, then how could He expect from us that which He was not able to do? The same victory that Jesus obtained in fallen, sinful flesh, He desires to produce in our sinful flesh by His indwelling presence! Jesus said, "I can of Mine own self do nothing." (John 5:30) "The words that I speak unto you I speak not of Myself: but the Father that dwelleth in Me, He doeth the works." (John 14:10) We may overcome as Christ overcame, totally depending upon divine help and guidance. Christ has promised us: "To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne." (Revelation 3:21)