There are increasing numbers of evangelical scholars who believe that because of Jesus’ human nature he was in error in some of his teaching regarding earthly things, such as creation. The problem with this theory is that it raises the question of Jesus’ reliability as a teacher and more importantly as our sinless Savior. These scholars go too far when they say that because of Jesus’ human nature he was wrong in what he taught regarding the Bible’s history.
Because of the impact that evolutionary ideology has had on the theological realm, some theologians are reasoning that Jesus’ teaching on things such as creation was simply wrong. It is argued that because of Jesus’ human nature and cultural context, he taught and believed erroneous ideas.1 For example, commenting on Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:4–5, evolutionary creationist Denis Lamoureux states:
Powerful evidence for a strict literal reading of the Genesis creation accounts comes from Jesus himself. . . . Therefore, if any Christian accepts a view of origins other than a six day creation, then they need to offer convincing reasons why the opening chapters of Genesis should not be read literally.2
The convincing reason Lamoureux offers as to why Genesis should not be read literally—or, rather, plainly—is the idea that Jesus accommodated the beliefs of his first century audience:
In Matthew 19:4–5, Jesus accommodated by employing the ancient science of the de novo creation of “male and female” in Genesis 1:27 to emphasize the inerrant spiritual truth that God is the Creator of human beings. . . . Therefore, Matthew 19:4–5 is not a revelation of scientific facts on how God actually made humans.3
Lamoureux has reasoned that Jesus in his humanity was limited by the opinions of his time and therefore has dismissed Jesus’ use of Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 in Matthew 19:4–5 as being relevant to the discussion over creation. Consequently, he believes that Jesus erred in what he taught because he was accommodating the erroneous Jewish traditions of the first century.
Obviously, this is a serious accusation that needs to be answered. This can be done by first looking at two aspects of the Jesus’ life: 1) His human nature, and 2) His relationship with the Father. Then we will consider the accommodation theory.
Because of his human nature, questions are raised about Jesus’ beliefs concerning certain events in Scripture, such as creation.
In the incarnation, not only did Jesus retain his divine nature, but he also took on a human nature.
It is important to understand that, in the incarnation, not only did Jesus retain his divine nature, but he also took on a human nature (see Philippians 2:5–8). The incarnation should be viewed as an act of addition and not as an act of subtraction of Jesus’ nature. With respect to his divine nature, Jesus was omniscient (John 1:47–51; 4:16–19, 29), having all the attributes of God. Yet, in his human nature he had the limitations of being human (Matthew 4:4; Luke 2:40, 52; John 4:6; 19:28). The question that needs to be asked is this: Was Jesus in his humanity capable of error in the things he taught?
The objection to the validity of Jesus’ belief in the reliability of the historicity of the creation account is too quick in downplaying the divine status of Jesus in relation to his knowledge of creation. This overlooks whether the divinity of Christ meant anything in terms of an epistemological4 relevance to his humanity, and it raises the question of how the divine nature relates to the human nature in the one person, Jesus Christ. We are told on several occasions, for example, that Jesus knew what people were thinking (Matthew 9:4; 12:25), clearly one of his divine abilities. In his incarnation, Jesus did not cease to be God or to have the authority and knowledge of God. Rather, his divine nature dwelt in a human body (see John 1:1–3, 14).
The fatal flaw in the idea that Jesus’ teaching contained error is that, if Jesus in his humanity claimed to know more or less than he actually did, then such a claim would have profound ethical and theological implications concerning Jesus’ claims of being the truth (John 14:6), speaking the truth (John 8:45), and bearing witness to the truth (John 18:37). The critical point in all of this is that, in order for Jesus to save us from our sins, he had to be sinless, which includes never telling a falsehood. Scripture is clear in that Jesus was sinless in the life he lived, keeping God’s law perfectly (Luke 4:13; John 8:29; 15:10; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 2:22; 1 John 3:5).
If Jesus in his teaching had pretended or proclaimed to have more knowledge than he actually had, then he would have been sinning. The Bible tells us that “we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1). Jesus made statements such as “The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works” (John 14:10) and “I am . . . the truth” (John 14:6). Now if Jesus claimed to teach these things but taught erroneous information, then his claims would be falsified, he would be sinning, and this would disqualify Him from being our Savior.
Once Jesus makes the astonishing claim to be speaking the truth, he had better not be teaching mistakes. If in his human nature, Jesus was sinless and the “fullness of the Deity” dwelt in Him (Colossians 2:9), then everything Jesus taught was true. One of the things that Jesus taught was that the Old Testament Scripture was truth (John 17:17) and, therefore, so was his teaching on creation.
The basis for the truthfulness of what Jesus taught does not have to be resolved by appealing to his divine knowledge (although it can be) but can be understood from his humanity through His unity with the Father, which is why his teaching is true.
Falsehood is rooted in the nature of the devil (John 8:44), not the nature of Jesus who speaks the truth (John 8:45–46). The Father is the only true God (John 7:28; 8:26; 17:3) and Jesus taught only what the Father had given to Him (John 3:32–33; 8:40; 18:37). Jesus testifies about the Father, who in turn testifies concerning the Son (John 8:18–19; 1 John 5:10–11). The gospel of John shows emphatically that Jesus’ teaching and words are the teaching and words of the Father (John 7:15–17; 8:37–38, 40; 12:49–50). In fact, the passage of Scripture in dispute, Matthew 19:4–5, is striking as Jesus attributes the words spoken as coming from the Creator.
To accuse Jesus of error or falsehood in what he knew or taught is to accuse God of the same thing.
Jesus is not only one with the Father but is also dependent upon Him. Since the Father cannot be in error or lie (Numbers 23:19; Titus 1:2), and because Jesus and the Father are one (John 10:30), to accuse Jesus of error or falsehood in what he knew or taught is to accuse God of the same thing.
Although the genuine humanity of Jesus did involve tiredness and hunger, it did not prevent Him from doing what pleased his Father (John 8:29) and speaking the truth he heard from God (John 8:40). Jesus did nothing on his own authority (John 5:19, 30; 6:38; 7:16, 28; 8:16). He had the absolute knowledge that everything he did was from God, including speaking what he had heard and had been taught by the Father. In John 8:28 Jesus said, “I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things.” New Testament scholar Andreas Kostenberger notes that,
Jesus as the sent Son, again affirms his dependence on the Father, in keeping with the Jewish maxim that “a man’s agent [šālîah] is like the man himself.”5
Just as God speaks the truth and no error can be found in Him, so it was with his sent Son. In John 12:49–50, “not only is what Jesus says just what the Father has told him to say, but he himself is the Word of God, God’s self-expression (1:1).”6 The authority behind Jesus words are the commands that are given to Him by the Father (and Jesus always obeyed the Father’s commands, John 14:31). Jesus’ teaching did not originate in human ideas but came from God the Father, which is why it is authoritative. His very own words were spoken in full authorization from the Father who sent Him. Jesus was not self-taught; rather his message came directly from God and, therefore, it was ultimately truth (John 7:16–17).
In order to deny Jesus’ teaching on creation as being authoritative, Lamoureux holds to the accommodation theory, which he defines as:
Yet, for the Lord to reveal himself to ancient people in the past, he came down to their intellectual level. In doing so, God used their understanding of nature (ancient science) and their writing techniques (ancient poetry) as vessels to deliver life-changing spiritual truths.7
But this is not what theologians mean by accommodation. The traditional understanding of accommodation means “that [God] speaks truth in such a way that we can understand it, insofar as it can be understood by human beings.”8 Lamoureux’s understanding of accommodation ultimately suggests that God lied to his people, not that he accommodated.
The belief that Jesus accommodated his teaching to the erroneous beliefs of his first century hearers does not square with the facts. New Testament scholar John Wenham in his book Christ and the Bible comments on the idea that Jesus accommodated His teaching to the beliefs of his first century hearers:
He is not slow to repudiate nationalist conceptions of Messiahship; He is prepared to face the cross for defying current misconceptions. . . . Surely he would have been prepared to explain clearly the mingling of divine truth and human error in the Bible, if he had known such to exist.9
Those who hold to an accommodation position like Lamoureux’s overlook the fact that Jesus never hesitated to correct erroneous views common in the culture (Matthew 7:6–13, 29). Jesus was never constrained by the culture of his day if it went against God’s Word. He opposed those who claimed to be experts on the Law of God, if they were teaching error. His numerous disputes with the Pharisees are testament to this (e.g., Matthew 15:1–9; 23:13–36). The truth of Christ’s teaching is not culturally bound, but transcends all cultures and remains unaltered by cultural beliefs (Matthew 24:35; 1 Peter 1:24–25). Those who claim that Jesus in his humanity was susceptible to error and therefore merely repeated the ignorant beliefs of his culture are claiming to have more authority and to be wiser and more truthful than Jesus.
If Christ is shown to be approving falsehood in some areas of his teaching, it opens a door for us to affirm falsehood in some areas as well.
Lamoureux’s accommodation approach to the teaching of Jesus in historical matters also raises the issue of whether he was mistaken on other issues such as eternal life and forgiveness of sin, since we cannot verify these things. It also leaves us with a Christological problem. Since Jesus clearly believed in the historicity of the creation account (Matthew 19:4–6; Mark 10:6), this creates a serious moral problem for Christians, because we are told to follow the example set by Christ (John 13:15; 1 Peter 2:21) and have his attitude (Philippians 2:5). If Christ is shown to be approving falsehood in some areas of his teaching, it opens a door for us to affirm falsehood in some areas as well.
The simple fact is that those who reject the Bible’s teaching on creation and embrace an accommodation approach like Lamoureux’s to the evidence of the New Testament are as unwilling as the Jewish leaders (John 5:40) in not wanting to listen to the words of Jesus on this subject (Matthew 19:4–6; 24:37–39; Mark 10:6).