As Jesus was not Omniscient, he should not be regarded as God

As Jesus was not Omniscient, he should not be regarded as God

by Ibn Anwar, BHsc (Hons.), MCollT

Mark 13:32 (and Matthew 24:36) remains a huge conundrum for Trinitarians as it clearly negates Omniscience– an essential attribute of deity –in the person of Jesus. The text reads as follows:

“But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Mark 13:32; ESV)

All three so-called Abrahamic faiths (i.e., Judaism, Christianity and Islam) agree that one of the fundamental attributes of Almighty God is Omniscience (All-Knowing). The attributes of God are immutable and unchanging as He was, is and will be the same for all eternity and this is a doctrine that mainstream Muslims, Christians and Jews agree upon. And so Mark 13:32 presents an insurmountable stumbling block for the belief in Jesus’ divinity as it demonstrates Jesus’ evident lack of supreme and unconditional knowledge. The typical excuse that many conservative apologists offer to ameliorate the problem is that in the incarnation, Jesus gave up some of his divine attributes to fulfill his mission on earth as an obedient servant. To substantiate this proposal they appeal to the Pauline text of Philippians 2:7 which reads:

“Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form,” (NLT)

‘Emptied himself,’ ‘laid aisde,’ or ‘veiled himself’ are some of the phrases that are commonly used to forward this concept, which is technically called the ‘kenotic doctrine’ or the ‘doctrine of kenosis.’ In this doctrine, it is alleged that when Jesus, as the second person of the Triune Godhead, added the human nature to his being in the so-called hypostasis, he lowered himself to the level of an obedient human being and by doing so, he “emptied himself” of some of the attributes that he had prior to the incarnation. One of those attributes that was subtracted, according to theologians that subscribe to the kenotic doctrine, was Omniscience. James White is one of those apologists that favour the kenotic doctrine, appealing to it whenever faced with Mark 13:32 or Matthew 24:36. In a debate in 2012 with Dr. Shabir Ally on the topic ‘Did Jesus Claim Deity?,’ Dr. James White says the following in answer to a question posed to him on the Markan verse in question:

“Your question is about Jesus saying not knowing the day or the hour, right? In this particular text, Jesus is talking as the Son and he says, “of that hour, no man knows, not the Son nor the angels or anybody else.”… There are certain things of Jesus’ divine attributes that were veiled in the incarnation, for example, his glory was not seen. He didn’t glow when he walked down the streets of Jerusalem… Obviously, Omnipresence, things like that, there was a veiling and for some purpose it is not explained to us. For some purpose, Jesus, in that particular instance, that particular piece of knowledge has been veiled during the time of the incarnation.” [1]

The above, with some minor variations, is the typical argument or reconciliation that conservative evangelical Christians like White, McLatchie and others put forward whenever they come upon Jesus’ clear lack of Omniscience encapsulated in verses like Mark 13:32.. At a glance, the proposal may seem reasonable to some but further inspection exposes its inherent incoherence.

Orthodox Christian dogma (it is noteworthy that Miaphysites and Monophysites that hail from some of the non-Chalcedonian eastern churches reject the traditional wording of the hypostasis as envisioned by the western churches) requires believers to subscribe to the doctrine of the hypostatic union, which says that in the incarnation of the Son, he was fully God and fully man, i.e., two natures in one person. Taking into account the orthodox doctrine of hypostasis above, would that not necessitate the falsification of the kenotic doctrine favoured by White and company? In the orthodox doctrine of the hypostatic union, both Catholic and Protestant traditions concur that Jesus was fully God and fully man simultaneously during the incarnation. If that were so, then to claim any kind of subtraction from Jesus’ divine nature contradicts the belief that Jesus was fully God when he walked on earth. If any of his divine attributes, especially those primary and fundamental attributes of divinity such as Omniscience, were absent during the incarnation through some mysterious ’emptying’ or ‘veiling’ that would necessarily negate him as ‘fully God’ and the phrase should instead be amended to ‘partially God.’ And a partial God is a false God according to Saint Anslem’s theory of incomparable greatness.

Additionally, the Kenotic doctrine that is so often used to explain the Markan text above is an anachronism because it was first developed in the nineteenth century by liberal scholars as pointed out by the celebrated Calvinist theologian R. C. Sproul. The Lutheran theologian Gottfried Thomasius is usually credited for having first introduced the doctrine in the nineteenth century. Dr. James White often accuses Muslims of being inconsistent in their approach towards Christianity when they use liberal scholarship for their agenda, but where is his own consistency in appealing to a doctrine that was developed by liberals? As a matter of fact, Sproul dismisses the kenotic doctrine as a ‘stupid’ belief:

“In the nineteenth century, liberal scholars propounded a doctrine called the kenotic theory of the incarnation and you may have heard it. The idea being when Jesus came to this earth he laid aside his divine attributes so that the God-Man, at least touching his deity, no longer had the divine attributes of Omniscience, Omnipotence and all the rest. But, of course, that would totally deny the very nature of God Who is immutable. Even in the incarnation, the divine nature does not lose his divine attributes. He doesn’t communicate them to the human side. He doesn’t deify the human nature, but in the mystery of the union between the divine and the human natures of Jesus, the human nature is truly human. It’s not Omniscient. It’s not Omnipotent. It’s none of those things, but at the same time, the divine nature remains fully and completely divine. B. B. Warfield, the great scholar at Princeton in remarking on the kenotic theory of his day said, “The only kenosis that that theory proves is the kenosis of the brains of the theologians who were propagating it; that they’ve emptied themselves of their common sense.” [2]

In the above, it is evident that Sproul agrees with our assessment of the incoherence of putting the kenotic doctrine and hypostatic doctrine into one compartment. If Jesus ‘laid aside’ or ’emptied himself’ of any of the divine attributes during the incarnation, then it becomes fallacious to claim that he was actually ‘fully God’ at the time. As per Sproul’s judgment that corresponds to ours, one must agree that the doctrine of kenosis contradicts the orthodox belief regarding the hypostatic union and as a consequence, one must relegate the doctrine into the realm of heresy. The doctrine of kenosis that many evangelical apologists today cling to is demonstrably incompatible with their own fundamental belief (i.e. the hypostasis) and because it is clearly a late modern invention, apologists like White that insist on consistency should abandon it.

Though we truly appreciate Sproul’s words above, especially the wonderful reference that he makes to Warfield, we must adjudicate his claims concerning the hypostasis as equally erroneous. The manner by which he deals with the union of the two natures, human and divine, is such that there is a clear barrier and separation between the human nature of Jesus and his alleged divine nature, which seems to resemble Nestorianism– a belief that sought to separate the two natures into two persons and was deemed heretical by the Council of Ephesus in AD 431. The way he insists on having a clear distinction between the function, operation and nature of Jesus’ two natures seems to strongly suggest a Nestorian-like belief in two persons. But Sproul should not be castigated for apparently failing to present a clear and understandable explication of the doctrine. The doctrine, that we maintain was manufactured by men, is inherently problematic. It is no stretch to say that no theologian has been able to really unpack and make sense of the doctrine to the satisfactory of all. The difficulty in coherently maintaining Jesus’ two natures that is said to be united in one person in the hypostatic union is astutely noted by the eminent Christian historian and scholar E. P. Sanders:

“In practice people have to choose which heresy they commit (to overstate the matter only slightly), denial of true divinity or of true humanity.” [3]

In sum, our discussion has shown that despite the efforts of Trinitarian apologists to explain away Mark 13:32, the verse remains a viable proof text that seriously puts into question the divinity of Jesus.

Addendum:

The efficacy of Mark 13:32 in disproving Jesus’ alleged divinity is well noted by the leading unitarian biblical scholar Anthony Buzzard who is a professor at the Atlanta Bible College. In his commentary on the verse, he writes:

“This statement of Jesus that the Son of God does not know the time of the Parousia rules out any dogma about Jesus being God Himself. Orthodox authorities were reduced to hopeless evasion on this verse. Athanasius says that Jesus did not know as a human being! Augustine said that Jesus did not know in such a way as to impart the information! Lange is frank enough to admit that “dogmatic theology has not reached the point of being able to do perfect justice to the economic and dynamic import of the Son’s not knowing,” which is a confusing way of conceding that once one says “Jesus is GOD,” nonsense is made of Jesus’ plain and easy statement that he, the Son of God, did not know! Jesus also increased in wisdom (Lk. 2:52), again showing that he was a human being and not “God the Son.” [4]

Notes:

[1] [MuslimByChoice]. [2015, July 30]. Did Jesus know the day and the hour of his second coming? – James White’s Bad Arguments. [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aSoxpn1RmpE

[2] [Ligonier Ministries]. [ 2016, December 21]. What We Celebrate at Christmas. [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oejq25JYhLQ

[3] Sanders, E. P. (2009). Paul. New York: Sterling Publishing. p. 130

[4] Buzzard, A. F. (2014). The One God, the Father, One Man Messiah Translation: New Testament with Commentary. p. 149 fn. 77

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