Wallace and the Hypostatic Union – Part I

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Daniel B. Wallace

            In a discussion of the NET’s translation of Matthew 12.25, found here, Daniel B. Wallace makes a strong case for the limited omniscience of Christ prior to the resurrection.  This seems immediately to be an attack upon the foundational tenets that support orthodox Christology.  The common understanding of patristic teaching and the embattled production of creeds in the fifth and sixth centuries has been to ascribe to Christ the fullness of deity.  While there is no contention with Christ possessing the fullness of his divine nature, even from Wallace, there seem to be biblical, philosophical, and practical reasons to question exactly how the divine nature of Christ interacted with his human nature.  Can Wallace, then, propagate the notion that Christ did not have full access to omniscience without doing irreparable damage to orthodox teaching?  Within the context of our Christology, do Daniel B. Wallace’s designations for God’s attributes bring us closer to understanding the hypostatic union of Christ?

Wallace’s Contention

            Wallace confronts the idea that certain biblical texts can be used to support the notion that Christ fully experienced omniscience prior to the resurrection.  He has made his real contention, though indirectly at first, with the Doctrine of the Hypostatic Union of Christ.  The Council of Chalcedon officially set into orthodoxy that in the incarnation, “a human nature was inseparably united forever with the divine nature in the one person of Jesus Christ, yet with the two natures remaining distinct, whole, and unchanged, without mixture or confusion, so that the one person, Jesus Christ, is truly God and truly man.”[1] Whether Wallace’s conclusion is unorthodox remains to be argued.  However, whatever the outcome of his argument, Wallace’s article is worthy of attention as it relates to our understanding of how the two natures function within the person of Christ.

            The immediate question underlying Wallace’s essay is whether or not there is valid biblical support, at least in Matthew 12.25, for the claim that Christ possessed free access to divine omniscience.  Concerning a deviation in translation in the NET of Matthew 12.25, Wallace proposes two questions: “First, is the NET more accurate than the other translations in this passage? And second, if so, what does this mean for Jesus’ omniscience?”[2]  While a prime facie treatment of his article reveals a kenotic undercurrent in the exegesis, the outcome has serious implications for the Hypostatic Union.  If there is Biblical support for the notion that Christ did not have free access to the incommunicable attributes, which Wallace prefers to re-label the ‘amoral’ attributes, then what can be made of the notorious adverbs of the Chalcedonian Creed?

            Wallace approaches his first question from a grammatical analysis of the Greek text.  He prefaces his evaluation of the Matthew passage by citing other passages that have classically been used to establish Christ’s humanity by displaying the limitations of his knowledge.  Wallace goes on to prove the validity of his claim that the aorist and perfect adverbial participles of perception are used regularly to communicate the notion of ‘growing in knowledge.’  He summarizes, stating that our translations are suspect of theological bias if grammatically similar texts are not all treated in the same fashion, even if they include Jesus as the subject.

            Wallace concludes his explanation of the problem presented in the Matthew passage with a theological approach.  He posits that, while few of the passages actually allude to omniscience, many of the passages concerning Christ’s knowledge as being greater than his contemporaries are questionable.  However, he does not deny that there are passages that speak clearly and directly of Christ’s supernatural knowledge (Matt 17.27; John 1.48).  He states succinctly that he believes that, “in some instances we can clearly see evidence of Jesus’ supernatural knowledge, knowledge that cannot be explained by any natural means.”[3] 

            Wallace is left trying to reconcile his position on the omniscience of Christ through his take on the attributes of deity.  He admits that while most theologians view God’s attributes as communicable and incommunicable his take on them is different.  He prefers to view God’s attributes as moral and amoral.  That is respectively those dealing with God’s justice, mercy, love, kindness, etc, and those dealing with God’s omnipotence, omnipresence, omniscience, etc.  In this kind of distinction, Wallace sees Christ as the complete embodiment of God’s moral attributes.  Christ is perfect in justice, mercy, love, kindness, etc.  Here, Wallace makes claims that are essential to the evaluation of the orthodoxy of his exegesis.  He does not deny Christ access to the ‘amoral’ attributes of God.  Rather, he places stipulation on the function and mode of access through which Christ utilized the ‘amoral’ attributes, preferring the empowering of the Spirit in such circumstances to classic divine, regulatory kenosis.

            It is certain that Wallace questions the validity of arguing for Christ’s free access to omniscience.  He affirms biblically that Christ grew in wisdom (Luke 2.52), and then asserts logically “an omniscient being never grows in wisdom.”[4]  He believes it is illogical to assume that Jesus grew into omniscience.  If he increased his knowledge and wisdom as a child, then he did so as an adult as well.  Because it would be difficult to contradict such a statement without conceding to an Ebionite Christology, Wallace has a strong argument here.  Additionally, Wallace reports that the biblical record testifies of Christ’s surprise and amazement, using terminology commonly associated with the emotional reaction of learning something new.  Grammatically, Wallace has a well-presented argument.  Without some internal indicator that the reader should receive the terms associated with Christ’s increase in knowledge with a different connotation than applies to the common usage of other passages, it is exegetically sound to assume that the author intended to communicate the same message about Christ.

            Wallace’s distinction between the well-versed communicable/incommunicable description of God’s attributes and his own moral/amoral description of God’s attributes is ingenious in at least one regard.  It allows him to have a fresh discussion about how we know God, and in that regard how God could reveal himself through the incarnation.  Problematic to the theory, though, is the proposition’s nagging resemblance to ideas that sought to divide the attributes of God.  An important question, both theologically and philosophically, is whether God’s attributes can be ‘divided’ or categorized in such a way.  A more charitable characterization may be to say that Wallace has categorized the attributes of God.  However, if both the moral and amoral attributes belong to God alone as tangible characterizations of his being, then how does one separate what becomes a manifestation of God’s being epistemologically and what becomes a component of God’s being ontologically?

 


[1] John H. Leith, ed. Creeds of the Churches: A Reader in Christian Doctrine from the Bible to the Present, 3rd ed. (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1982), 36.

[2] Daniel B. Wallace, “When Did Jesus Know? The Translation of Aorist and Perfect Participle for Verbs of Perception in the Gospels.” Available from http://www.bible.org/page.php?page_id=1223. Internet; accessed 24 July 2009.

 [3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

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27 Comments

  1. My take on the hypostatic union is that whatever can be ascribed to either nature can be ascribed to the person, but not necessarily to the other nature. So, for example, it is proper to say that Jesus Christ is omniscient, since the person Jesus Christ is omnisicient with respect to his divine nature. By the same logic, however, it is proper to say that Jesus Christ is not omniscient since the person Jesus Christ is not omniscient with respect to his human nature. This seems to avoid logical contradiction because any statement about the person must be qualified, as I have done above. So, in my opinion, Jesus Christ is both omniscient and not omniscient, which appears contradictory at first glance, isn’t as long as it’s properly qualified.

    I haven’t really worked through all the implications of this, so I’m not sure I’m willing to die on this hill, but maybe it’s a conversation starter?

    Reply

  2. I’ve often wondered how to reconcile my general assent to the Documentary Hypothesis’ and Jesus calling them “The Books of Moses”… I await the second part.

    Reply

  3. Wallace breaks down the attributes of Christ in categories of moral and amoral. He states that the moral attributes are “justice, mercy, love, goodness, kindness,” and those attributes that deal with morality. He states that the amoral attributes are “omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, infinity, eternity, immutability, etc.” Dr. Wallace sees a “clear line of demarcation” in the way Jesus functions in these two categories of attributes. He states that Jesus “never fails to function on the level of the moral attributes, but frequently does not display the amoral attributes.” I think Dr. Wallace does an excellent job of avoiding the pitfalls of the kenotic theory with the following statement:

    “In other words, the moral attributes seem to be “hard-wired” to his human consciousness, while the amoral attributes seem to be subject to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and come to the human conscious level at the Spirit’s choosing.”

    Please notice that Dr. Wallace does not say that Jesus gave up any divine attributes nor does he claim that Jesus gave up the use of any divine attributes. He merely views Christ as giving up the independent exercise of his divine attributes.
    If Jesus gave up His divine attributes then Jesus would cease to be God, changing from God into human. If Jesus surrendered any of His divine attributes then His essential character would have been changed because you cannot remove any attributes without changing the character of the person. Usually, those who believe that Jesus surrendered attributes claim that he surrendered the omni attributes (omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence), but Dr. Wallace is careful to point out that Christ had both the moral and amoral attributes of God and that He was both human and divine.

    Dr. Wallace gives a clear statement of the hypostatic union when he states: “Although Jesus Christ has both a human and divine nature, he is not two persons. He has one consciousness.”

    In Millard Erickson’s “Christian Theology” he lists five views of the humiliation of Christ in which Christ “emptied himself of equality with God by adding or taking on humanity.” Those five views are: 1) The Lord gave up all of his divine attributes. 2) The Lord gave up some of his divine attributes. 3) The Lord gave up the independent exercise of his divine attributes. 4) The Lord gave up the use of his divine attributes. 5) The Lord acted like he no longer had his divine attributes. Erickson states that the third view is most in keeping with the biblical data.

    Dr. Erickson uses an analogy of a safe-deposit box to illustrate the third view. Two keys, the bank’s key and the depositor’s key are required to open a safe-deposit box. Likewise, in the essay mentioned above by Shawn, Wallace states that Jesus used his divine attributes under the direction of the Holy Spirit. In this case, both wills, the will of Christ and the will of the Holy Spirit had to be in agreement for Christ to exercise his divine attributes. Thus, Christ was able to utilize his divine attributes but he was also able to experience and understand the finite limitations of humanity. Jesus was able to experience what it is like to be “amazed” or “surprised” while remaining infallible, inerrant, and never wrong.

    Erickson, Millard. Christian Theology. Second Edition; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998.

    Wallace, Daniel B. When Did Jesus Know. n.p., n.d. Book on-line. Available from http://www.bible.org/page.asp?page_id=1223; Internet.

    Reply

  4. Tony,

    Would Occam’s razor be helpful here?

    Roger,

    I’m not sure what to do with your post, I probably just don’t understand. It seems like you think I am advocating a kenotic theory (or at least that I think that Wallace is headed that direction), but here is my statement to the contrary from the above post (please forgive me if I misunderstand the intent of your post).

    “He does not deny Christ access to the ‘amoral’ attributes of God. Rather, he places stipulation on the function and mode of access through which Christ utilized the ‘amoral’ attributes, preferring the empowering of the Spirit in such circumstances to classic divine, regulatory kenosis.”

    Sabio,

    I’m with George (weirdly), I think that studying the “real” (whatever you mean by that since the pursuit of the historical figure has landed squarely back in the camp of orthodoxy) Jesus is going to ratify orthodoxy, not breed heterodoxy. I believe your statement is as ill informed as your attempt to bait us into a fight about the “historical Jesus” from the perspective of the redactionist camp.

    George,

    I do understand your theory, and it is attractive for a number of reasons, not least of which, it affirms the creeds without getting into protracted explanation. However, as far as the Chalcedonian Creed is concerned, how does your theory incorporate all of the language about how Christ’s two natures coincide (I do recognize that you said you are not willing to “die on this hill,” so it’s an honest question born of intrigue, not a fight)? Great discussion thus far –

    Shawn

    Reply

  5. Shawn,
    I did not detect the idea of Kenosis in your post, but I have heard it used so many times to explain this issue that I wanted to mention it in my post. My point is in the last paragraph.

    Roger

    Reply

  6. Shawn:

    I think it comports quite nicely with the Chalcedonian Definition. Here are a few relevant lines:

    “[O]f one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood”

    “[A]s regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten”

    “[t}he distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence”

    The gist of my position (which, if memory serves, is Calvin’s position) is this: “whatever can be ascribed to either nature can be ascribed to the person, but not necessarily to the other nature.”

    The statements I quoted above seem to follow this pattern. both Godhead and manhood, both unbegottenness and begottenness are ascribed to the person (“and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ”), but Godhead is not ascribed to that person’s human nature nor begottenness to that person’s divine nature.

    Perhaps the phrase in the Definition that’s causing you trouble is “recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation.”

    Again, I think my position (again, not mine, but Calvin’s, if memory serves) is that it preserves the unity of the person without confusing the ascription of attributes to the two natures, that it does not require a change in either of the natures (as kenotic theories require), that it does not irreparably divide the two natures from the one person (as if they were so incompatible that two natures required two persons), and that it does not separate the two natures from one another in the Person of Jesus Christ.

    George

    Reply

  7. George,

    Good eyes, those adverbs are what I was talking about. While the quotes you provided certainly correlate to your (Calvin’s) position, I am still a little uncertain of the adverbs (in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation)as being completely satisfied – for instance, how does one experience two natures indivisibly and inseparably without each nature being accesable to the other? I think your (Calvin’s) explanation can still stand, but I was mostly intrigued with Wallace’s article because he seems to open the door for God’s attributes to be viewed less rigidly – perhaps it is time to post “Part II” so that the conversation can continue?

    Shawn

    Reply

  8. @ Shawn
    Ouch, I guess you got me. I had to look up “Redactionist” and I guess you are correct. Could you tell me the other major camps of textual criticism and tell me yours and George’s. Below I list the two I found. No bait, I am curious. I am not a god-logian. I am curious of the modern categories for how theologians handle text. There has to be more than two. What are yours? I don’t want a long explanation, just the simple category with maybe a 2 sentence explanation. If you have time of course.

    Textual Analysis Methods

    1. Form Criticism: Tries to discover the original genre.
    2. Redaction Criticism: Regards the author of the text as the editor (redactor) of his source material. Focus on theological goals of the redactor.

    Reply

  9. Sabio,

    If you had to nail me down (some have said that nailing folks down on this blog is like trying to staple jell-o to the wall), I would say that my particular methods of biblical (higher) criticism are heavily influenced by narrative and rhetorical criticism (though I will be the first to admit that there is something to be taken from most forms of higher criticism), and that my preferred method of textual (lower) criticism is to avoid eclecticism at all costs.

    As usual, Wikipedia provides a place to start, though I wouldn’t receive it with any amount of authority in the field, per se.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_criticism

    Reply

  10. Shawn:

    My guess is that Christ’s two natures have an asymmetric access relationship. In other words, the divine nature has far greater access to the human nature than vice versa. I need to sit down and read Wallace’s essay to figure out your second post.

    GPW

    Reply

  11. Thanx Shawn.
    Yeah, I wonder as I read some of them (and I have read authors using the methods of course), I realize that most of the Biblical Criticism methods could be used by Christians and Nonbelievers alike — even the Redaction Criticism you felt I was “baiting” you into. It seems that the issue is not the criticism method (though all criticism was stifled in the past), but the presuppositions one goes in with. So I imagine that it is not the textual analysis methods of mine that you object to, but that I don’t hold your presuppositions of one or all of the following:

    1. The inerrancy of scripture
    2. The authority of scripture
    3. The final truth of scripture (even if little errors are found)
    4. The unity of Scripture (their god was behind it all)

    And I imagine the Unity of Scripture is the one that makes you uncomfortable with redactionist criticism.
    Thanx for your time.

    Reply

  12. @Sabio:
    Try these out if your are really interested in understanding the tools for textaul criticism:

    Old Testament Textual Criticism: A Practical Introduction (Paperback) by Brotzman, Ellis R

    Old Testament and Criticism (Paperback) by Armerding, Carl E.

    And especially:
    Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods by Bock, Darrell L.

    Reply

  13. Sabio,
    You wrote:

    “I realize that most of the Biblical Criticism methods could be used by Christians and Nonbelievers alike — even the Redaction Criticism you felt I was “baiting” you into. It seems that the issue is not the criticism method (though all criticism was stifled in the past), but the presuppositions one goes in with.”

    I apologize if my “shot across the bow” was unwarranted. Your first post looked like a classic case of baiting to me, so I wanted you to know up front that I was in for some fun. :0) I am sorry if it came across as distasteful or aggressive to you.

    Blessings,

    Shawn

    Reply

  14. @Sabio

    Both texts cover the various forms of criticism that are employed by scholars (secular, christian, jewish, etc). Another interesting book, perhaps more useful is Victor Matthews “Studying the Ancient Israelites”. His subtitle is A Guide to sources and methods. Thus he explains various approaches to the bible. For example, under types of criticism he explains: Textual, Literary, Source, Form, Tradition, Narrative, Structural, Rhetorical, Reader-Response, Canonical, Social-Scientific, Ideological, and Feminist Criticism.

    Hope that helps

    Reply

  15. @Sabio

    You write, “It seems that the issue is not the criticism method (though all criticism was stifled in the past), but the presuppositions one goes in with.”

    Both true and false. True, the issue is not criticism, they are tools by which to get perspective on the text. False, criticism was not stifled any more in the past than today. In fact, it was Christians who have lead and developed criticism from the earliest times. For example, Erasmus was the first to develop a critical Greek text of the New Testament in the sixteenth century.
    The real presupposition of criticism is that the Bible is worth the time and effort to rigorously study it since its God’s word to man.

    Reply

  16. I was wondering if anyone would understand how to bridge the gap between someone who has a textual understanding (criticism) of scripture and someone who has a narrative understanding (criticism) of scripture?

    And if someone is somewhat eclectic in nature, how do you help them to be more realistic in order to help them live in the real world? This eclectic person I am thinking of thinks she is a Christian. I really do covet your comments. If you have any suggested readings and/or blogs this may help. Thank you.

    Reply

  17. Cally,

    Let me mull your questions over for a little bit. I have a “knee-jerk” answer for you, but I want to make sure that what I say is actually helpful. So, please be patient with me (I haven’t had a full cup of coffee yet today) :0)

    Shawn

    Reply

  18. @Steve

    Both true and false (two can play with that rhetorical style).

    Vested Interests
    I work in medicine. The ways of discovering truth in medicine (my field) have improved drastically over even the last 30 years. We have tightened up on statistics, methodologies and more. Controlling for the human element has been large. Publication bias, the bias of journals to only publish positive results, is now checked to some degree. Likewise, consider the articles put out proving a drug works — the first ones come from the drug company that create the drug. Now, publications must list vested interests.

    True that criticism is a tool, but false concerning a real perspective depending on vested interests for Christian scholars rarely use them honestly (objectively). After all, if they are your type of Christian, they are committed to their scriptures. You may object saying that everyone has a bias, but I think it is weight of subjectiveness falls clearly against believers criticizing their texts. You would say the same of Muslim text criticism.

    Who came first
    Though I am not really interested in the “we came first, nah, nah” argument. Let me say, I was mainly referring to higher criticism. But let’s go back to the early Church fathers for “criticism” in general. Here is a good one: The Augustinian tradition had at its core the idea that if an error were found in Scripture, scriptural authority would be shaken. Augustine wrote, “For it seems to me that the most disastrous consequences must follow upon our believing that anything false is found in the sacred books….” (Augustine Letters 28. 3. See also Letters 40.1 and 4.)
    I think this is the key to your fear of criticism that remains. And to be honest, I think the fear is valid.

    Concerning Higher criticism, then, I was alluding to when Pope Leo XIII responded to it with a encyclical on Nov. 18, 1893 stating how scripture was to be taught in seminaries. Providentissimus Deus.

    Reply

  19. Cally,

    Allow me to ask a couple of questions

    “I was wondering if anyone would understand how to bridge the gap between someone who has a textual understanding (criticism) of scripture and someone who has a narrative understanding (criticism) of scripture?”

    Are we talking about having a dialogue with and understanding this person or winning an argument with them on the basis of proving one type of criticism to be preferable to another?

    “And if someone is somewhat eclectic in nature, how do you help them to be more realistic in order to help them live in the real world? This eclectic person I am thinking of thinks she is a Christian. I really do covet your comments. If you have any suggested readings and/or blogs this may help. Thank you.”

    I hope my answer does not disappoint you (remember I speak without knowing this person), but we desperately need people in our lives who can see beyond the “real world.” Now, I am not saying we all need to find friends that are mentally disturbed and try to view life through the eyes of psychosis, but I am saying that we are better people when we stretch ourselves to be in relationships with people who do not see things like we do. I have some rather “mystical” friends, and sometimes all I can do is stare at them, however, most of the time they are demonstrating truths about life and living that I missed in my narrow perspective.

    Shawn

    Reply

  20. Shawn,

    Are we talking about having a dialogue with and understanding this person or winning an argument with them on the basis of proving one type of criticism to be preferable to another?

    It’s personal on a couple of different levels therefore it would be to dialogue with someone else to understand them. In other words to bring unity into a situation that may be divided.

    Thanks, Cally

    Reply

  21. Cally,

    I feel like I am utterly failing you here (probably just my lack of expertise), but I don’t know of any quick fix to this kind of problem. It is going to require you primarily committing yourself to being good at building common ground in the relationship and only secondarily understanding both forms of criticism well enough to see where they overlap. If the two of you are able to be patient in explaining how the other person’s language defines the other person’s perspective (and not focusing on the meaning you place on the words), you’ll be able to have a much more fruitful conversation.

    I’m still puzzling the distinction you are drawing between “someone who has a textual understanding (criticism) of scripture and someone who has a narrative understanding (criticism) of scripture.” Perhaps you can explain in a little more detail what it means to be someone who has a “textual understanding?”

    Blessings,

    Shawn

    Reply

  22. Shawn,

    Perhaps you can explain in a little more detail what it means to be someone who has a “textual understanding?”

    Textual understanding is someone who sees the text from a very 2-D perspective, it’s black and white, very literal such as blogging. Everyone can have a textual understanding of scripture a perfect example in the Scriptures (meaning the Bible – I understand there are many different versions, but for simplicity sake let’s just write, NIV, KJV, etc.) of this is the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The layman at the time probably could not read therefore was not considered to have a textual understanding, but a more narrative understanding. Due to the fact that most Americans 80% of them are Christians anyone and everyone can probably have a textual understanding of scripture for the current day.

    Therefore the question at hand is who then is a Christian if the 2-D version is the only thing being used?

    Only answer that if you want. I understand I have completely diverged from the topic at hand and I do appreciate you allowing me to do so.

    Speaking of diverging, my mystic friend liked what you wrote and was glad you thought she might be a Christian even though you don’t know her, then she asked me to ask the audience, “Does anyone have a Bloggers Anonymous site, you know a 12 step program? I too just stared at her and then she said, “Oh wait that won’t work, everyone will be anonymous”. All I could say was, “Please just go take your drugs” And all she could say was, “I can’t until I talk to my therapist he has me on some medication I might be allergic too.”

    I really do hope that makes someone laugh, because I can’t stop smiling.

    Reply

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