Original Sin and the Incarnation
by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Thursday, September 3, 2009 at 10:07am
SOMEONE asked me this series of questions: How does an Augustinian (e.g., Calvinist) correlate original sin and the incarnation? Can Jesus be fully human and miss out on original sin? Can his work of redemption be complete if he is not like us in every way (except for sin, of course)?
HERE IS MY REPLY: The issues here are these: if all human beings are infected with original sin, and if Jesus is truly a human being, how can he himself AVOID being infected with original sin? And if he is NOT infected with original sin, can he truly be “one of us,” a truly human being? Finally, if he is not truly “one of us” in every way, can he actually REDEEM us? (I will affirm from the beginning that Jesus was NOT tainted with original sin. Also, I will use the abbreviation OS for original sin.)
ONE. How could Jesus avoid OS? Some think this is the rationale for the virgin birth. One writer said, because of Jesus’ miraculous conception, “this Child of Mary’s womb does not stand in the fallen sequence of Adam, sharing mankind’s guilt and sin,” or “man’s foul taint.” (James Taylor, “Born of a Virgin,” in Christianity Today, 12/18/64, p. 282.) There is no basis for this idea, however. Even if there were some sort of inherited “taint,” God could have miraculously preserved Jesus from it without the necessity of a virgin conception. The virgin conception (a more specific term than “virgin birth”) is connected with the DIVINE nature of Jesus, not with preserving his human nature from original sin. (See my book, Faith’s Fundamentals, pp. 65ff.) So, regarding the question of how Jesus could AVOID being born in OS, the answer is simple: by God’s miraculous or supernatural power, the same power that caused Jesus to be conceived in Mary without a human father. This is all the Augustinian has to say.
TWO. If everyone else has OS, and Jesus does not, is he then truly human like the rest of us? The problem here is assuming that sin (in any form) is part of our essential nature as human beings. Such an idea, of course, is false. If anything, as sinners, whether as the result of original sin or personal sin, we are LESS that truly human. For Jesus to be without sin of any kind means that he (and he alone) is the only one who is TRULY human in every way. Sin is not part of our humanness as such; it is a corruption of our humanness. Jesus was a complete human being, with a human body and a human spirit.
THREE. The concern here is a valid one, i.e., if Jesus does not have a fully authentic human nature, then his redemptive work cannot be fully applicable to the rest of us. In the early centuries of the church this issue came up in connection with the question of whether Jesus has a human spirit as well as a human body. Some suggested that he has the latter, but that the LOGOS took the place of the former. This was rejected as heresy, and the principle was affirmed, “What he has not taken upon himself, he has not redeemed.” We should still affirm this today, and thus we should affirm Jesus’ complete humanness. So if Jesus does not have OS, how can he redeem us? The answer is in the previous paragraph: sin is NOT a part of human nature as such, but a corruption of it. Jesus has a fully human nature, in that there are no “parts” missing, as it were; but his fully human nature is perfect in that it is not invaded and corrupted by any sort of sin. Indeed, it is because he is totally sinless that he is ABLE to save sinners. (By analogy, a doctor does not have to be inflicted with a disease such as cancer in order to cure it in other people who are so inflicted.)
I HAVE USED PRESENT TENSE about Jesus because, as the risen Savior seated at the Father’s right hand in the angelic heaven, he STILL has his fully human nature.