October 20, 2009

The vicarious humanity of Jesus

One of our blog readers, Gerald McNaughton, wrote me wondering if by referring to Jesus' "vicarious humanity" we are saying that he participates in humanity only "vicariously."  Here is my reply to Gerald's question:

To speak of Jesus' "vicarious humanity" is NOT to say that Jesus is anything less than fully human. Scripture declares that the eternal Son of God became human through his incarnation, and remains human forever (see 1Tim. 2:5). The resurrected, ascended Jesus is fully God and fully human (now glorified in his humanity). And the one who will return in glory will be fully God and fully human.

Jesus is the permanent union of God and humanity in his own person: one person with two natures. Thus to say that Jesus is the "vicarious human" is not to suggest that he is anything less than fully human. Rather it is a statement concerning the meaning of his humanity for the benefit of all humanity. Because Jesus in his divinity, is humankind's  Creator and Sustainer, his humanity has profound import for all people everywhere in all times. In his humanity he is the unique representative of and substitute ("stand in") for all humanity. This is what we mean by referring to Jesus as the "vicarious human."

Here's what this means: what happened to Jesus in his humanity, happened to all of us. When Jesus (who became sin for us) died to sin, we all died to sin. When he rose victorious from the grave, we all experienced in him victory over death and sin. When the man (resurrected and glorified) Jesus ascended to heaven, we all ascended with and in him (Eph. 2:5-6).

Paul says that the lives of all humans are "hidden" in the life of Jesus (Col. 3:3) - we don't now fully see who we are in him, but one day we shall. And forever our lives will remain in him, because forever he remains human - the vicarious human - God with us and for us, as one of us - the one for the many, the many in the one.

9 comments:

  1. Thank you brother for that wonderful answer to that gentleman. The Lord Jesus Christ has been using people like you to progressively open my mind to the vastness, beauty, and grandeur of what happened in Bethlehem that Day! I know now how small my vision of our King was before. I thank the triune God for what happened that Day and for available vessels such as yourself!

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  2. 1Tim2
    1. First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone,
    2. for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.
    3. This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior,
    4. who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
    5. For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human,
    6. who gave himself a ransom for all-- this was attested at the right time.
    7. For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.
    8. I desire, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument;
    9. also that the women should dress themselves modestly and decently in suitable clothing, not with their hair braided, or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes,
    10. but with good works, as is proper for women who profess reverence for God.
    11. Let a woman learn in silence with full submission.
    12. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.

    In context, saying the single verse you have proof-texted "means" "Jesus is fully human and fully God" isn't even remotely what the original passage was about, isn't what it intended --- or what it even proscribes!

    Your interpretation of that single, solitary verse, yanked from the context of the complete narrative it is contained within, doesn't even make any sense. Jesus became a spirit being after he ascended, he was only "fully human" when he was alive, before he was crucified. At least according to the "Book" itself.....

    I will also note further that there are now "women's ministry" groups listed on the WCG website; and yet here you are proof-texting a verse that, in context, decrees the exact opposite as Holy Law!

    Care to explain the discrepancy?

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  3. While I agree with Purple Hymnal that proof-texting is always a danger in quoting a single verse, I respectfully disagree that my reference to 1Tim 2:5 is unwarranted.

    Indeed, the literal translation of that verse is, "for one is God, one also is mediator of God and of men, the man Christ Jesus" (YLT). The Greek word translated "man" is "anthropos" - which means "human" in a non-gender specific sense.

    Thus in a passage that speaks of God's good will for all humanity, Paul speaks of Jesus, who now is ascended to heaven, as being human (still). In fact, Jesus' mediatorial role, to which Paul here refers, is related directly and fundamentally to his (continuing) humanity. Jesus mediates between man and God as a man; and between God and man as God.

    Through the incarnation (which continues), Jesus is uniquely the union of God and man - one person; two natures.

    Thus Paul's urging to prayer for all men (everyone; v. 1) is grounded in the reality of the praying of Jesus the mediator - the God-man who mediates on behalf of all people with God. Thus our prayers are to be seen as participation in Jesus' praying with us and for us.

    As to Purple Hymnal's use of this passage as grounds to object to women in ministry, I recommend referring to the large body of literature addressing that topic on the GCI website.

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  4. Hi there,

    It is interesting to me that the issue of women and ministry came up in this discussion of the vicarious humanity of Jesus, specifically 1 Timothy 2.

    I feel that care must be taken in using this passage, which goes on to include verses 13-15:

    1 Timothy 2:13-15 (NIV)
    13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15 But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. (NIV)

    My past studies of this passage showed that Paul is addressing a particular heresy of the time in which women were being told that they were better than men and that, in order to be saved, they should not bear men's children.

    Paul is simply telling, through Timothy, the women of that particular area to, for the time being, quietly learn the basics of the faith. And he throws in verse 15 in the sense that, "Oh, by the way, women can be saved even if they have children as long as they embrace the faith, love, and holiness of the faith."

    Anyway, just a small particle of food for thought.

    J. Richard Parker

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  5. Clearly the reference to “there is one mediator between God and men, the "man" Christ Jesus” as it is translated in the English Standard Version (ESV), 2001, is to the humanity of Jesus Christ. (The ESV notes: “men and man render the same Greek word that is translated people in verses 1 and 4”.) What seems to get lost in the translation for our general understanding and our edification is the reality of who Jesus is now.
    Much is made of the two natures of Jesus Christ, without considering that Jesus is no longer bound by human limitation. Now He is the unbounded risen Redeemer, the King of all Creation. He is no longer flesh and blood bound. Flesh and blood simply cannot inherit the Kingdom. Jesus is now changed. Uniquely, the “soul” of a man is now a part of the reality of the Eternal, Ancient of Days. Great wonder is had here. It is not that He is human – because frankly He isn’t any longer by definition: Human; He is Spirit. Rather we are to keep it in our minds and hearts a fellowship with His sufferings; an awareness and an appreciation of Him stepping into flesh as promised. He came to serve us and to redeem us. The context of His being is that he took-on humanity, adding to His boundless being. Clearly it is for our sake, not His. It is so that we know that He is the One who was promised and that all of the Father’s promises are in Him. We are not trying to establish a system of belief, rather we are sharing and all growing in the grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. We should find great confidence in this and great joy! All the Best. Ivan J. Perrino

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  6. Thanks Scoop88 for your comments.

    I agree with you that we are not trying to establish a system of belief, but rather seeking to share in the grace and knowledge of Jesus. Indeed, Jesus is a living person, not a theological concept!

    Our hope is to relate to Jesus as the person he is. And the only way we know of this person is because he has revealed himself to us. Scripture is our principal means to gain understanding of this revelation, though we also have our personal encounter with him through the Spirit.

    The point I've tried to make in this post (and other similar ones), is that the risen, ascended Jesus remains what he became in the incarnation - fully God and fully human. Thus I respectfully disagree with your point that Jesus is no longer human, but "spirit."

    Your assertion seems to assume that Jesus cannot be both divine (Spirit) and human at the same time. But this is the mystery and the glory of the incarnation - God (who is Spirit) adds our humanity to his divinity. One person; two natures. That new reality did not end with Jesus death, resurrection and ascension.

    Clearly Jesus, in his continuing humanity, is a "glorified" human - he now experiences in his humanity, what we, one day, will experience. This is the basis of John's statement that "when Christ appears, we shall be like him" (1 John 3:2). We, like Jesus, will be glorified humans - still human, but having a resurrection body not subject to decay and corruption. Jesus, in his glorified humanity, is the forerunner of humanity glorified.

    You note that Jesus is no longer limited by being human. But I believe it would be more accurate to say that Jesus is unlimited in his divinity and experiences the fullness of human glory in his resurrected/glorified humanity. Indeed, to be resurrected and glorified in our humanity, like Jesus, is our hope. And that hope is sure and secure because Jesus, the man (human) is resurrected and glorified - going before us into the fullness of what awaits us in union with him.

    There are many more things to say about the continuing incarnation of Jesus, and we will, no doubt, speak often of this essential aspect of orthodox Christian doctrine.

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  7. Ted, there is much to say about your point on the "continual incarnation" of Jesus Christ. However, short quips on a blog cannot do this topic justice. Your limitation to 4096 characters are far too few to really have a conversation on such a controversial topic.
    Along the line of your comment to Purple Hymnal, regarding 1 Timothy 2:5. I looked at your position and then I randomly selected from out of my virtual bookshelf, five different commentaries. In my review I found that all of the commentaries I looked at unanimously responded to the context of 1Timothy 2:5, as Purple Hymnal observed. (I have listed those commentaries below for your review.) Only one commentary made an oblique reference to the hypostasis and this scripture, but only in passing and without offering any exegesis. Those randomly selected commentaries are:

    1.Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., Fausset, A. R., Brown, D., & Brown, D. (1997). A commentary, critical and explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments. On spine: Critical and explanatory commentary. (1 Ti 2:5). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
    2.Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1983-c1985). The Bible knowledge commentary : An exposition of the scriptures (2:734). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
    3.Hughes, R. B., & Laney, J. C. (2001). Tyndale concise Bible commentary. Rev. ed. of: New Bible companion. 1990.; Includes index. The Tyndale reference library (637). Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers.
    4.Lea, T. D., & Griffin, H. P. (2001, c1992). Vol. 34: 1, 2 Timothy, Titus (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (90 and 91). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
    5.Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary. "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire 'BE' series"--Jkt. (1 Ti 1:18). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.

    Taking into consideration your comment, “I respectfully disagree that my reference to 1Tim 2:5 is unwarranted”, allow me this response. I borrow a phrase from the National Football League, “Upon further review,” I would say, it is not that your reference to the scripture is unwarranted, it now appears inappropriate that you would stretch the scripture out of contextual shape to reach toward your predisposition /opinion.

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  8. Concerning the doctrine of the continuing/permanent humanity of Jesus, you might find helpful a blog post by John Piper at http://www.desiringgod.org/Blog/1548_Jesus_Is_Still_Human/

    For a more complete presentation of this aspect of orthodox Christian teaching, I highly recommend the book "Jesus Ascended" by Gerrit Scott Dawson. You can also watch You're Included interviews with Dawson (who touches on this issue) at http://www.youreincluded.org/

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  9. In my last comment I referenced a blog post from John Piper on the continuing incarnation of Jesus. There are two more part to his post series:

    Part 2: http://www.desiringgod.org/Blog/1551_jesus_humanity_throughout_history/

    Part 3:
    http://www.desiringgod.org/Blog/1552_jesus_humanity_now/

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