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Understanding the Humanity of Jesus

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August 24, 2010 Tags: Christ & New Creation

Today's video features N.T. Wright. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of BioLogos. You can read more about what we believe here.

In this new addition to our Conversations series, BioLogos senior fellow Pete Enns asks N.T. Wright to respond to questions that have come to BioLogos via Twitter, email, and its blog. The first question for Wright is as follows:

Q: What do you think is the biggest misunderstanding that western 21st century evangelicals have about Jesus and how does it stunt their understanding and witness?

A: Wright offers that one of the most common misconceptions is the idea that because Jesus is divine therefore he couldn’t have had any questions about his life or his vocation—or he that couldn’t have meant it when he wondered if there could have been another way in Gethsemane. One of the key things to remember, says Wright, is that in the great formulations of faith in the early church, the humanity of Jesus is every bit as important as his divinity. That isn’t a “clever balancing act,” he notes, rather it is a very profound insight on the part of the early church. The divinity of Jesus isn’t an abstract thing—instead, it is very much entwined with his humanity. The lack of recognition of the human aspect of Jesus, however, is something that much of evangelical understanding has a hard time with and that ultimately prohibits one from actually engaging with what the Gospels are all about.

Commentary written by the BioLogos editorial team.

N.T. Wright is a leading biblical scholar, former Bishop of Durham in the Church of England, and current Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity, University of St Andrews. He studied for the ministry at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, and was ordained at Merton College, Oxford. Wright holds a Doctor of Divinity from Oxford University in addition to several honorary doctorates. Wright has also written over fifty books, including the multi-volume work Christian Origins and the Question of God and his two most recent books Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters and How God Became King.

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Bilbo - #26759

August 24th 2010

Why do I suspect that Biologos is going to argue that Jesus was mistaken about death being evil or mistaken about the reality of Satan?

Chris Massey - #26761

August 24th 2010

I’m looking forward to the rest of this series. One question that has arisen for me on this issue is how to handle the diversity of christologies within the NT. Johannine christology has become orthodoxy, but what do I do with the christology of Mark, for example? I can try to interpret Mark through a johannine lens, but is that being true to the text?
Keep up the great work, Biologos

Bilbo - #26771

August 24th 2010

Chris, what do you see as being the main differences between the Markan and Johanine christologies?

Bilbo - #26773

August 24th 2010

Meanwhile, it seems important to Biologos that we adopt their new-age interpretation of evolution.  And of Christianity, also?

HornSpiel - #26781

August 24th 2010

Since death comes through sin and Jesus was sinless,  that means if Jesus had not been crucified he would not have died. In fact that means Jesus would not have aged. Since animals age and die, they must sin too.

i know this sounds silly, but these are the conclusions of some people I know who do not take seriously the humanity of Jesus. People who knew him personally knew him as a man. He did get older. Our bodies all show signs of age—-show signs of our mortality—-once we pass our teen years. I believe Jesus’ did also, or his followers would have remarked on that in the earliest accounts.

Thanks for the new series.

Cal - #26793

August 24th 2010

BioLogos makes a good point, but I don’t see it as something that is really forgotten at all by any church today. Remembering Jesus was fully human and fully divine is important to understand the importance. He wasn’t just an apparition, which some gnostics promoted, He was flesh and blood. He hungered, thirsted and got tired.

Jesus became troubled and stressed as He is human, but not once did he ever think a single sinful thought or did a sinful deed. The way N.T. Wright phrases it seems you could conclude that Jesus had sinful doubts, but that’s just reading into what Mr. Wright said.

R Hampton - #26801

August 24th 2010


Jesus did have at least one documented ‘sinful doubt’, And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? That’s something a human being would say in a moment of great suffering, questioning the wisdom of their actions.

pds - #26803

August 24th 2010

Hi Bilbo,

What do you consider their “new-age interpretation of evolution”?

I don’t buy the entire Biologos party line, but I am not sure I would call it “new age.”

Cal - #26808

August 24th 2010

R Hampton:

It wasn’t sinful doubt at all, look at the context. In Jewish tradition, one would quote a passage by reading its first line. Jesus saying, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” is a direct line to Psalm 22.

The onlookers wept with tears, they saw prophecy fulfilled. Christ, the Afflicted and Holy One of God, was completely “poured out like water” (dehydrated and exhausted), they “pierced [his] hands and feet” (crucifixion) and as He was dying upon the cross, the Romans cast lots for his clothes (“they divide my clothing among them and cast lots for my clothing”)

But this is not the end of the Psalm! For in this agony, Christ is not abandoned but will be rescued from the “sword” (death) from the power of the “dogs” (Gentiles). No! God “has not despised or disdained the suffering of the Afflicted One, he has not hidden his face from him” It goes on and on, but hold on the best part and most powerful concludes in in the last verse:

“They will proclaim His righteousness to a people yet unborn- for He has done it”

Just reading those words bring chills to my bones. That is what makes us Christians, our ultimate hope in He would vanquished our separation from God.

He has done it!!

Cal - #26815

August 24th 2010

Also as an addition, to the question, “Why those words? Psalm 22 could have started out any other way” we must draw our attention to the Book of Ecclesiastes.

The Book begins: “Meaningless! Meaningless! All is meaningless!” yet the logical conclusion through the entire book ends with, in so many words, “No not all is meaningless, serving God is meaningful!”

Here is the same device used: In the darkest hour of a mans life, his body broken, his friends abandoning him, where even it seems God has abandoned him, Jesus states the question on everyone’s mind. Yet it is rhetorical, for God has not abandoned Him, there is always hope! And Christ knew this and spoke to the hearts of those onlooking.

R Hampton - #26817

August 24th 2010

You’ve lost sight of the humanity in Jesus. He really did have a moment of doubt.

Christ’s Last Words on the Cross
Pope John Paul II, December 7, 1988

...“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Lk 23:46). With these words Luke makes explicit the content of Jesus’ second cry shortly before he died (cf. Mk 13:37; Mt 27:50). In his first cry he exclaimed, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mk 15:34; cf. Mt 27:46). These words are completed by those others which are the fruit of interior reflection matured in prayer. If for a moment Jesus had experienced the terrible sensation of being abandoned by the Father, his soul reacted in the only way which, as he well knew, befits a man who at the same time is also the “beloved Son” of God, namely, by total abandonment into his hands.

...There was a moment of desolation when Jesus felt without support and defense on the part of everyone, even of God. It was a dreadful moment; but Jesus soon overcame it by entrusting himself into the hands of the Father. Jesus realized in the depths of his being the loving and immediate presence of the Father, since Jesus is in the Father as the Father is in him (cf. Jn 10:38; 14:10 f.), even on the cross!

Cal - #26819

August 24th 2010

R Hampton:

No I see Jesus’ humanity because He felt something that is only capable of being felt in Man, separation, despair and desolation. He had everything taken away from Him, and even before it happening had asked the Father “If this cup could pass”. This was real stress and this was real pain!

Yet the statement: “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani” was rhetorical and to bring attention to the prophecy of Psalm 22, which was the evolution of a tale that began with the feeling of abandonment and ended with the hope God promised. By merely stating the opening, He expressed the entirety of the Psalm.

Jesus never doubted that God would rescue Him, but rather, expressed the agony and pain that He felt. To say that Jesus never felt pain or sorrow is to deny His humanity. That is not what I’m proposing.

R Hampton - #26820

August 24th 2010

Jesus never doubted that God would rescue Him

We disagree.

Cal - #26821

August 24th 2010

R Hampton:

Fair enough! At the end of the day thought, we come together as brothers in Christ and sing praises to God always.

Hopefully our dialogue may jolt minds into discovering the truth of the matter, and that we follow which ever way it takes us!

Marshall - #26832

August 24th 2010

Hi Cal,

In Jewish tradition, one would quote a passage by reading its first line. Jesus saying, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” is a direct line to Psalm 22.

I’ve heard that before, and I’m open to the idea. However, I’m curious if this occurs anywhere else in the New Testament. Does Jesus or another New Testament author ever reference any other psalm by just mentioning its first line? Or, any other passage? I’m specifically looking for cases where the first line isn’t the key part that is being referred to, but is the only thing that is quoted.

By the way, I’m not implying it doesn’t ever happen. I’m honestly asking if it does happen, because I don’t know. If it does, it would add strength to that interpretation of these words from the cross.

Bilbo - #26833

August 24th 2010

Hi pds, 

If YEC is correct, then the story of the Fall in Eden is (and I believe it was meant to be) a good theodicy for natural evil.  If YEC is mistaken (and I believe it is), then natural evil has been around a lot longer than humanity.  Some other explanation is needed.  Either Dembski’s retroactive Fall — the Fall works backwards in time —or C.S. Lewis’s Satanic Fall have been offered as replacements.  If one rejects those, then one must deal with the problem of natural evil some other way.  One way is to deny that there is natural evil.  We had someone (was it Rachel?) offer this view earlier:  Death, predation, and pain are all part of God’s plan are good in their way.  This conflicts with the near eastern view and the Biblical view and even Jesus’s view, who wept at the tomb of Lazarus.


Bilbo - #26834

August 24th 2010

Further we have Jesus telling us that the old woman with the bent frame was bound by Satan, implying that illness is evil and due to Demonic agency.  But for someone who thinks there is no natural evil this is unacceptable.

How to deal with Jesus’s views?  Just write them off as human mistakes, caused by cultural conditioning.

Now what is the New Age all about?  Either it is a Buddhist view, that calls physical reality an illusion.  Or it is a Hindu view that says that all of reality is really good.  Either way, there is no real natural evil.  Welcome to Biologos.

Karl A - #26836

August 24th 2010

Bilbo, that’s not fair.  Biologos is helping us wrestle with difficult questions, questions many others are afraid to touch but do not go away by virtue of being ignored.  Theodicy and the human nature of Jesus are two of those issues.  Will they get “solved” here?  Probably not.  Will all the positions expressed during the wrestling be “right”?  That would approach a logical impossibility.

At the same time, it’s not out of bounds to point out similarities between a particular position and other (e.g. non-Christian) worldviews.  Just try to keep your brush fine rather than broad.

Ariel - #26840

August 25th 2010

How would N.T. Wright comment on Luke 24:44, where the resurrected and glorified Christ states:

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”

Christ after his glorification seems to still view the Pentateuch as written by Moses, despite the claims of some Evangelical scholars…it wouldn’t surprise me if the resurrected Lord had still believed in the historical Adam.

Scanman - #26859

August 25th 2010


You believe that are confusing the ‘Law’ of Moses with the Pentateuch.
The ‘Law’ is what Moses brought down from the mountain.
The Pentateuch is a compilation of five sacred books.
When Jesus refers to the ‘Law’, he is not referring to Genesis.

I will admit that there is a possibility that if the common perception/acceptance was that all five books were referred to as the ‘Law’, then Jesus may have used that term in keeping with the peoples understanding.

If Jesus was referring to the prophecy about crushing the serpents head (which we do not know specifically)...then I will go with my last statement about common usage/understanding.


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