The context of this post is an ongoing discussion concerning the identity of the human person. Previously, I’ve made a distinction between the substance of a thing and the accidental properties which accrue to that thing. This “thing,” in this case, is the human person, which I’ve described as the imago Dei in terms of substance, the accidents being those things which do not determine essential or substantive identity yet change from time to time, i.e. black hair turns to grey, skin becomes tan, etc.
If we consider human nature, in general, in terms of the individual man, the above seems somewhat easy to put together. A man can be the same man substantially even though some of his accidents may change. Easy enough, right? But, this simplicity dissolves whenever we consider gender, or the distinction between male and female. As Christians, we would obviously deny that a person would be the same person if they were able to switch from male to female. Gender, after all, is not only accidental, but seems substantially determinative of a person’s identity, more so than eye color, hair color, skin color, life circumstance, etc.
I believe Aquinas can help sort out this difficulty by making the proper distinctions. In ST, 93.4, Thomas “steel mans” (represents to the best of his ability) the following objection—
It would seem that the image of God is not found in every man. For the Apostle says that man is the image of God, but woman is the image (Vulg., glory) of man (1 Cor. xi. 7). Therefore, as woman is an individual of the human species, it is clear that every individual is not an image of God.
The image of God, in its principal signification, namely the intellectual nature, is found both in man and in woman. Hence after the words, To the image of God He created him, it is added, Male and female He created them (Gen. i. 27). Moreover it is said them in the plural, as Augustine (Gen. ad lit. iii. 22) remarks, lest it should be thought that both sexes were united in one individual. But in a secondary sense the image of God is found in man, and not in woman: for man is the beginning and end of woman: as God is the beginning and end of every creature. So when the Apostle had said that man is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man, he adds his reason for saying this: For man is not of woman, but woman of man; and man was not created for woman, but woman for man.
Therefore, we should consider both man and woman under human nature, while at the same time understanding that, individually, man and woman have more specific, individual natures, i.e. male and female. Man is substantially distinct from woman in that sense, and this is predominantly seen in the distinction between the final causes of either. Man’s end, in terms of the male nature, is God; woman’s end, in terms of female nature, is man (1 Cor. 11:9). But when both male and female are considered under, more generally, human nature, their combined end is God (cf. WSC, Q.1).
So, gender introduces more into the equation. Generally, there is one human nature. More specifically, however, human nature might be considered under male and/or female natures, each of which have distinct ends (purposes, roles, etc.). The same cannot be said with respect to skin color, height, etc. Man’s formal and final causes remain the same regardless of height, skin color, eye color, or any other accidental properties. This is not the case with gender.
In my previous article on the atonement, I offered the following argument:
PI. The atonement has a final cause.
PII. That final cause is redemption.
PIII. But all people are not redeemed.
C. Therefore, the atonement and the redemption it accomplishes are limited in scope.
No one will object to (P1), since all Christians everywhere agree that God does all things with purpose (1 Cor. 14:33; Ecc. 3:1; Is. 53). Some may take issue with (P2), instead understanding the final cause of the atonement of to be an offer to all people. In other words, the purpose of the atonement is to offer atonement or redemption, but is not redemption itself. If this were the case, then the atonement has achieved its goal even if the number of people atoned for is indefinite, since the atonement, it is thought, is only to be offered yet not definitely applied.
There are a few issues with this conception of the atonement. In Isaiah 53:4 we are told, “Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows…” Who’s sorrows? Who’s griefs? Does Christ’s coming have a purpose? Surely it does, and it is to carry our sorrows. This is not a mere offer, this is a definite action, born or carry (נָשָׂא) being in the perfect tense in v. 4a. In v. 4b, the same is true with the expression, “carried our sorrows.”
If this is something Christ has definitely achieved, has He achieved it for the whole world? If so, is the whole world saved? No. For we are told in Matthew 25:41 and elsewhere (Jn. 5:29) that those who are resurrected unto judgement will be thrown into the everlasting fire. Thus, (PIII) appears to hold true.
In Isaiah 53:5, things become clearer: “But He was wounded for our transgressions…” Was He really wounded for or because of transgressions? If so, who’s transgressions? The transgressions of the whole world? Again, this is not merely an offer of Jesus’ wounds to cover a person’s transgressions. This is a direct statement that tells us Jesus has performed a work for some purpose beyond a mere offer. Verse 5 ends, “And by His stripes we are healed.” Again, healed, as with bore and carried, is in the perfect tense which, in Hebrew, signifies something that has been completed or accomplished.
In Isaiah 53:8b, we learn, “For the transgressions of My people He was stricken.” This ought to be the nail in the coffin. Here is a direct statement, corroborated by others such as Ephesians 5:25, which declares the purpose of Christ’s Sacrificial, priestly work, and that purpose is confined to a people, not people in the abstract. Christ gave Himself for His church. The atonement, while offered to all in evangelism, does not have a final cause of atoning for all people, nor is its final cause to merely serve as an offer. It has achieved something, that is, to “make an offering for sin (Is. 53:10),” or to atone for the people of God (v. 8).
This all amounts to Christ coming for a purpose, that is, to bear our guilt and to bleed for our sins. The question, therefore, becomes, Did He really do this? The Bible declares that He has (Jn. 19:30).
Celebrating the incarnation is an every-Sunday-thing for our church. We don’t believe Christians ought to celebrate Christ’s incarnate work more during some parts of the year than others. This is largely because we believe the Bible directs our worship rather than a liturgical calendar. However, since the surrounding society does celebrate the incarnation more this time of year than anytime else (albeit in a nominal fashion), I’m happy to use it as an occasion to talk explicitly about God with us (Emmanuel).
How Did God Become Man?
The Baptist [Keach’s] Catechism reads:
Q. 25: How did Christ, being the Son of God become man?
A. Christ the Son of God became man by taking to himself a true body (Heb. 2:14, 17; 10:5), and a reasonable soul (Mt. 26:38); being conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and born of her (Luke 1:27, 31, 34, 35, 42; Gal. 4:4), yet without sin (Heb. 4:15; 7:26).
The question itself is paradoxical. God? Becoming man? This seems to run against every grain of our thought concerning who or what God is. God, after all, doesn’t change. He doesn’t move along with His creation. He’s not in a process of any kind. God is not a man. He is God. Right? The question above brazenly stares us in the face. It assumes this as fact: God has already become a man. More than this, Christ confronts us all as we read His own claims in the New Testament along with the testimony of the Old (Mic. 5:2; Jn. 8:58).
How should we understand this? Can we understand this? I am a firm believer that if God reveals something to us, we can understand it insofar as it’s revealed to us. In Scripture, God is presented to us and so is the incarnation of the Son of God. Scripture assumes these two doctrines “fit.” They’re not illogical or contradictory, but complementary—two pieces of the redemptive puzzle which make for a consistent and coherent whole. Yet, paradox will always remain.
Nothing about the above question is distinctly baptist. It’s mere orthodoxy—Nicene Christology at its core. The Son of God became man by taking to Himself a true body. This wasn’t a phantom body. It wasn’t only an apparent body. Everything about it was real—true flesh and blood. Hebrews 2:14a says, “Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same…” The Son of God was human in every way you and I are human, yet without sin. Matthew 26:38 says, “Then He said to them, ‘My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.’” The Son, therefore, took upon Himself a human body and a human soul. Everything about Him was man.
He became like us in every way, even being born of a woman, the virgin Mary, by the power of the Holy Spirit, yet without sin. Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.”
That is the way in which God the Son became man.
The Paradox Understood
True, everything about Him was man. But, everything about Him was also God. Hebrews 1:10 identifies Jesus with God by quoting Psalm 102:25—a Psalm addressed to Jehovah. So, what do we do with this? Do we have the luxury of just punting the question to mystery? Are we to believe a real contradiction exists, throw up our arms and say, “Well, God can do all things”? Absolutely not. Logical contradictions have no place in Christian theology, though paradoxes abound.
We need to review what an actual logical contradiction is. An example of a logical contradiction would be to say something like: “My red car is also blue at the same time and in the same sense.” This, of course, is ridiculous. A car is either red or blue, but it can’t be both. When Christians read of the incarnation, they may be tempted to think that God is God and man at the same time and in the same sense thereby producing a logical contradiction.
The orthodox doctrine of the incarnation, however, fails to produce a logical contradiction of any kind. This is because the doctrine stated is as follows: God the Son took into union with Himself the fullness of a human nature. There’s nothing contradictory about this statement. Difficult to understand? Sure. Contradictory? No. The Person of Christ is God in nature, and man in nature. The Son is God and man—the divine nature being eternal, the human nature being assumed in time.
So, the apparent contradiction may be put to sleep if we rightly understand the doctrine. It is God taking to Himself a human nature. Yes, God is God and man, but God is not God in the same sense He is man. Therefore, there’s nothing formally contradictory about the doctrine of the incarnation.
Of course there will always be questions and objections. Some may say we haven’t successfully escaped the paradox. And that’s okay, since it was never our mission to eliminate the paradox, but to point out how no contradiction actually exists. Part of the problem with the Western mindset is that it’s unable to appropriate paradox. Paradox, not formal contradiction, ought to be embraced by Christians. Paradox merely tells our minds, “You’ve reached the edge of your capacity!”
The glorious truth upon which our faith may rest is this: the Son of the Father took to Himself manhood and dwelt among us. Therefore, we ought to worship this Lord, the Savior, in season and out of season. The God-man ought to be so precious to us that we race to church on Sunday’s fully intending to fall down and worship Him.
— J. S.
Christ’s active obedience is His perfect obedience to the Law of God. Christ’s passive obedience is His taking our sins upon Himself, being nailed to the cross, and suffering the punishment of God’s wrath unto death—the wrath we deserved. Historically, the majority of Protestants have agreed that both Christ’s active and passive obedience is imputed to believers upon the exercise of saving faith. But, some have disagreed.
Some, particularly within the Federal Visionist and Arminian camps (cf. Berkhoff, Systematic Theology, 515), deny the imputation of the active obedience of Christ to the believer. They might claim that forgiveness of sins is all the Christian needs. Then, by virtue of his own righteousness or obedience, he will reach final justification (or something along those lines). The believer only need be rendered innocent of their sin.
This obviously denies the need for an imputed positive righteousness.
The problem, however, is that this denies very clear Scriptural data. For example, Romans 4:11 says:
And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also…
Those who deny the imputation of Christ’s righteousness need to at least admit, in light of Romans 4, that there is a righteousness imputed (counted to) those with faith. The question, then, is whose righteousness is it? It can’t be the original righteousness of the believer. This righteousness is coming from somewhere else and is counted to the believer. That’s what imputation is. It’s an alien righteousness coming to be possessed by someone without their own righteousness.
The objector may claim that v. 12 makes clear that which was lacking in v. 11. Verse 12 reads as follows:
… and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised.
“Ah,” our pretend objector might say, “you see, this righteousness is imputed because of faith plus walking according to that faith.” This is not what the text says. The person who walks faithfully walks because of faith, a faith which Paul has already claimed is the instrument of this imputed righteousness (vv. 9, 10).
Moreover, there is a distinction between faith on the one hand and the outworking of that faith on the other; otherwise, steps would not be the indirect object with faith being the direct object. If our interlocutor wanted to conflate the steps of faith with faith itself, they would simply need to explain why Paul doesn’t use the adjectival form pistos instead of the noun pistis. Pistos would describe someone who obeys from a heart of faith—a faithful person. It’s used of Epaphras in Colossians 1:7. In that case, verse 12 might read as follows: “… and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who are faithful…” But, as you can tell, not even the immediate context would allow for such a reading since Paul wants to describe the faith that was possessed by Abraham, antecedent to his obedience in circumcision. There is a necessary distinction between faith as something which is possessed, and obedience which is something that is performed as a result of the faith possessed.
Therefore, with Paul, we should conclude that Christ “became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption… (1 Cor. 1:30).”
We pay it lip service, but do we believe it?
Used as a doctrine to combat Roman Catholicism and every cult imaginable, the sufficiency of Scripture first and foremost must be seen as a doctrine intended to protect us from ourselves. When we preach on the sufficiency of the Scriptures, when we lecture on the sufficiency of the Scriptures, the polemical section is rightly aimed at our outside antagonists. But, lest we forget, our worst enemy is often times ourselves and our tendency to forget what kind of treasure we have in the Word of God.
It’s important we get this right. If we get it wrong, we could end up on one of two opposite sides of the spectrum. Either we will become biblicists who throw out any possibility of good and necessary consequence, thereby destroying systematic theology; or, we will become servants of another master, as the Roman Catholic Church has with its attribution of ultimate authority to church tradition rather than to God’s Word—a notion Dr. James White brilliantly coins sola ecclessia. Getting the sufficiency of Scripture right is not difficult if and only if we allow the Word of God to teach us what it says about itself.
The Doctrine Stated
The doctrine of sufficiency states that the Scripture is the sole ultimate authority for Christian faith and practice. Scripture itself teaches us that all Scripture is breathed out by God:
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
Now, this passage doesn’t exhaust a defense of the sufficiency of Scripture. But, let’s ask the question, “What good work could another source of authority give us?” It says Scripture equips us for every good work. Is it a good work to teach “Scripture + something else”? Is your discipling a person with your “wisdom” a good work? If so, where does Scripture teach that? After all, Scripture equips us for every good work! If your wisdom, if Rome’s tradition, isn’t grounded in the Bible, then it can’t possibly be a good work, and it can’t possibly, therefore, bind the Christian conscience. The Second London Baptist Confession puts it this way:
The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture… (1.6)
The whole counsel, that is, everything God wanted to reveal to us concerning His will for our lives is revealed in the Scripture. The Scriptures reveal all “necessary” things for His own glory, man’s reconciliation to a holy God, man’s doctrine (faith), and man’s living (practice). It reveals these things in a two-fold way. Either God’s will is revealed expressly, the primal example being, perhaps, the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, or it’s necessarily contained, meaning doctrine necessarily following from biblical data (e.g. the Trinity, church membership, the incarnation, etc). Later, in the same paragraph, we are told that those things concerning which the Scriptures fall silent, such as some facets of church government and the nuances of regular worship procedure, must be ordered by the light of nature and prudence. This doesn’t mean we do whatever we want. It means we proceed with minds bound by Scripture, having a primal concern to glorify God in all we do.
You may ask, “Where does Scripture teach ‘good and necessary consequence?’” Ah, I’m glad you asked. In Acts 2, beginning in v. 25, Peter quotes David. After he concludes the quotation, Peter interprets David using words not found directly in what David actually wrote. Peter says, “he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption.” David never said the word “Christ,” nor did he expressly use the word “resurrection.” Thus, Peter drew a conclusion which maintained the same substance but differed in language. This is what we do in order to formulate systematic theology. We uses extra-biblical language to express doctrines concluded from the Scripture. The doctrines, in substance, may be richly biblical, but the language we use to express them might be found nowhere in Scripture. This is the effect of good and necessary consequence. “Well, that’s an apostle! He’s allowed to do that!” you may object. Ah, but remember, the Scriptures are sufficient to equip us for every good work! Is interpreting the things of God rightly a good work? If it is, the Scriptures can and must teach us how to do it!
The Doctrine Defended
Chapter 1, paragraph 6 sounds really attractive to just about every orthodox Christian—I mean, it’s an orthodox statement, after all. But, stating something and actually applying it are two different things. In the most recent controversy, having to do with the “social justice” movement, Scriptures have taken a backseat and emotions have become the guiding principle. Even worse, when Scripture is employed, it’s not exegeted. The substance of sacred writ is traded for anachronistic readings of any and every verse that mentions graciousness, love, and especially justice. In other words, we’re no longer interpreting Scriptural terms on Scripture’s terms (so to speak), we are reading a 21st century, emotive, and even effeminate understanding into 1st century words.
So, while 1.6 of the Confession is parroted by just about any practicing Protestant, it’s certainly not consistently implemented, as can be seen in recent times. The sufficiency of Scripture is not Scripture + man’s wisdom, or man’s emotion, or whatever other predication we could make use of. Don’t get me wrong, man’s emotions are important, but man’s emotion is subject to the authority of Scripture and it’s to be brought into conformity with it. Because of this, man’s emotion alone cannot determine the legitimacy of any truth claim, nor can it adjudicate concerning the ethics of a particular angle of response. An example of the latter would be the almost-mind-blowing tapestry of emotional reactions to the recent Founders Ministries cinedoc.
Corporate outrage may be capable of demonstrating what group-think looks like, but it does not give us truth. God’s Word is the only authority that finally binds the conscience of the Christian. No believer can be forced by another believer to repent of something the Scriptures never speak on. Now, it’s precisely at this point that people begin quoting verses out of context which use the words “grace” or “love,” and then anachronistically make the claim that the cinedoc, for example, was “unloving.” This is nothing but a circular argument which smuggles in a definition of love closer to that of eros-love rather than agape-love. The former is sensual, emotional, touchy-feely love. The latter is divine love manifest in action, such as Jesus giving Himself up for His bride, flipping tables to protect His Father’s house, and making the Pharisees look like morons (the unpopular version of Jesus). Scripture never uses the term eros, and that should tell us something. Again, emotions are important, but they’re only helpful if conformed to the emotions of Christ Himself (Rom. 8:28-29).
In case you think I’m beating a dead horse, I’m only attempting to apply timeless doctrine to contemporary issues for further illumination. This is what the church has always done. We are in danger every hour and if our practical understanding of sufficiency continues to be “Scripture + (insert whatever you want here)” then we are in for a rude awakening. What’s going on now is nothing compared to what will happen if we lose sufficiency. Professing Christians joining Rome in droves is what we have in our future if we lose a rigorous understanding of the doctrine of sufficiency. A Baptist or Presbyterian in a church whose pastor preaches “Scripture + (insert whatever)” is only one word of specificity away from Rome, who says “Scripture + tradition.” Once the cracks are in the dam, it’s only a matter of time, folks.