June 17th 2004, 12:52 PM #1
Would Christ have come if humanity hadn't sinned?
1st let me say that the title question is really meaningful only with the assumption that Jesus the Christ is a unique divine incarnation. That is a presupposition for this discussion & the purpose here is not to argue for or against it. Try another thread for that.
The question is rather, did the Incarnation take place only as God's solution to the problem of sin or would it have happened even if humanity had not sinned? Aquinas, & most of the Christian tradition, have given the first answer: The Incarnation was contingent upon human sin. (Summa Theologica, 3d Part, Question I, Article 3.) Some others (e.g., Albertus Magnus, Karl Barth) have thought that the Incarnation would have happened even without sin.
(1) What is at issue here isn't whether or not the Incarnation & its consequences (cross & resurrection) are "for us and for our salvation." It is. The question is whether that is its only purpose.
(2) Some reflection on what it means to say "if humanity had not sinned" may be in order. In a traditional scenario in which Gen.3 is seen as an historical account of the first sin, it means simply "if Adam & Eve hadn't disobeyed God & eaten of the Tree of Knowledge." In an evolutionary scenario, OTOH, in which humanity developed through a long process of natural selection, it's harder to see how humans could have had a realistic possibility of not sinning.
(3) One would think that if sin had not occurred, an Incarnation would have taken place under quite different conditions, & not in a state of humiliation. But the basic question is, would it have taken place at all?
My own answer - though not dogmatic - is in the 2d category: The Incarnation is the very purpose of creation. Eph.1:9-10 is 1 text that seems to point in that direction. I'd be glad to expand on this if anyone's interested. But what do you think?
June 17th 2004, 04:11 PM #2
Certainly, many of the church fathers made this suggestion, as did, for instance, the Scotists in a scholastic controversy over the primacy of the Incarnation versus the Atonement. (The latter group argued that God's greatest work was not contingent upon human sin, hence the Incarnation must be of greater import than the Atonement.) Perhaps a false dichotomy.
But as Stanley Grentz has pointed out, "imago Dei" is also a Christological term, and not merely anthropological. That is, we learn about Christ in the first three chapters of Genesis, not merely about man. Anthropology is determined by Christology, not the other way around. Christ is the image of God, (which is a prelapsarian concept,) so He is not merely the solution to sin, but the very fulfillment of what human life is supposed to be.
The goal is not forgiveness of sins, else the first two chapters of Genesis are pointless. The goal is communion between God and man, which is shown perfectly in Christ, in whom are two natures, divine and human, in perfect communion; thus our salvation is comprehended "in Christ."
An interesting consequence of this view is a distinctive emphasis on union with Christ via the Lord's supper--see Calvin, Nevin, et al., who spend a lot of time establishing that we receive not only the benefits of Christ's death, but also of His human nature. For instance, the Institutes of the Christian Religion 4:17:7: "I am not satisfied with the view of those who, while acknowledging that we have some kind of communion with Christ, only make us partakers of the Spirit, omitting all mention of flesh and blood."
However, I do think it is far more helpful (and far less speculative) to see the interplay between the Incarnation and the Atonement rather than trying to examine one without the other.
And let's not forget the Resurrection, without which our faith would be in vain.
June 18th 2004, 06:48 AM #3
Re: Would Christ have come if humanity hadn't sinned?Originally posted by smilax
I agree that speculation about Incarnation apart from Atonement isn't helpful. But trying to view things in a context in which the Incarnation wasn't simply God's "Plan B" can, I think, clarify some things. E.g., not only institutions like the state, which seem to be necessary because of sin, but also marriage, which precedes sin, are then to be seen as (in Bonhoeffer's phrase) "orders of preservation" rather than "orders of creation" - i.e., they help to preserve the world for Christ.
& I think that when we do theology in dialogue with modern science (which is one of my own concerns), the primacy of the Incarnation has interesting implications. E.g., the apparent "fine-tuning" of the universe for intelligent life can be seen not just as the basis for an "anthropic principle" but for a "theanthropic principle."
As a Lutheran I certainly have no problem in agreeing with your statement about the Lord's Supper!
June 18th 2004, 06:55 AM #4
Re: Would Christ have come if humanity hadn't sinned?
My knowledge of Barth is restricted to some of his smaller books (not Christ and Adam) and secondary literature (finally get a set of CD next month!), however, i think there is something in both views. Barth, I believe, stressed Christomonism (perhaps too far according to some) but on the basis that all things will be summed up in Him. He is the reason and agent of Creation. Man was not created in and for himself, but in relation to Christ. man was never going to be left to his own devices. Man sinned, but it was part of the plan, because then all things could be summed up in Christ, and man could claim nothing for himself. Would Christ have been incarnated without sin? A wholly academic question, because I believe sin to be included in God's plan, although he is not responsible for it. Technically, yes, since the same aim to sum up all in Christ would be there, but it's possibly an aspect of middle knowledge that the molinists here can spend their days arguing over...
As far as the imago dei is concerned, it is the dominion/servanthood aspect that is emphatic, and the failure of man to accomplish it, and the fact that Christ is the Second Adam, exalted to the right hand, ie, God's regent, that underpins God's action in the world, in atonement and redemption, creation and new creation.
The over all point is what James Jones (Bp of Liverpool) in Jesus and the Earth calls, the earthing of heaven. This is accomplished above all in the incarnation, the union of Divinity and human nature, which also requires the atonement. God dwells with man.
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