By Contributor Dr. Karin Heller
Dear Dr. Heller,
You said it was due to Jesus’ human nature that we are saved, and not through some account of a “magic Jesus.” I disagree. It was due to Jesus’ divine nature that we are saved. In 1 Peter 3:18 it reads, “For Christ died for sins once and for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the spirit.” If a human were to die it would not pay for the sins of humanity; the covenant between God and man would still require sacrifices. Yes, God can forgive sins without the death of Jesus or an animal sacrifice, but in order to bring him the most glory he has chosen this system so we can recognize his justice and recognize the greatness of the gift of his son Jesus. Jesus had to be God in order to pay for all the sins. The only reason he had to be human is so he could die because God cannot be killed. As it says in 1 Peter his death was in the body but he was made alive again in the spirit. Jesus was fully God and fully man. He knew who he was and what he came to do from a very young age. He died because he was man, but paid the price for all sins because he is God. This is how I believe the scriptures tell the story.
Thank you for your quick feedback. Well, if we were saved by Jesus’ divinity only, then there was no need for Jesus to become man. He could have just saved us with one word out of heaven. However, you, yourself write, that Jesus’ human body was necessary for salvation because only Jesus’ body can die! In other words, you reduce Jesus’ body to a mere instrument of death in his work of salvation. In this case, Jesus could have died at the age five from disease or at the age of 12 in an accident! It was just a matter of death of his human body. The circumstances were secondary, although God willed, and just a matter of greater glory to be given to God. This hypothesis overlooks that Jesus did not save us merely by his death. He saved us through his personal salvation history. He came to accomplish all that was written about him (Luke 24:27). And what was written about him was a totally human history, starting with Jesus’ conception in his mother’s womb, his birth, his growing up, his earthly ministry, his death, his resurrection, his ascension into heaven and his gift of the Holy Spirit to his church! Sorry, you narrow down Jesus’ saving acts to his only death, which is contrary to scripture. You are, however, right when you write, “If any human were to die it would not pay for the sins of humanity, the covenant between God and man would still require sacrifices.” Yes, all human flesh fails to pay for the sins of humankind. There is only one exception —Jesus’ flesh! That’s what you fail to see and recognize.
What you do not grasp is the fact that Jesus’ human flesh is Adam’s, which means human flesh before the fall. Protestants, and also many Catholics, tend to think that Jesus’ flesh is the flesh of you and me with the exception that he did not sin in this flesh because he was God! That’s a very bad shortcut with disastrous theological consequences. When the theological statement of “soli Deo Gloria” (to God alone all glory) is pushed to an extreme, it tends to reduce the importance of the human body to a minimum and transforms Jesus into “a man above mankind.” It also leads to the rejection of a correct understanding of the Catholic and Orthodox doctrine of Jesus’ presence in bread and wine at the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, or Eucharist, and it progressively eliminates the belief in the resurrection of the body. If one does not believe God can create a truly human flesh that can save us, then one progressively drifts away from sound biblical teaching, especially Genesis 1 and 2. It’s precisely this belief that gives greater glory to God.
Dr. Karin Heller is a professor on the theology faculty at Whitworth University. Her blog, Table Talk with Dr. Karin Heller, features her responses to questions that students have asked her over the years. Check back each week to see new posts, and if you have a question leave it in the comment section below.