By Mike Willis
Whenever a subject becomes controversial, it is inevitable that some folks will complain when the subject is addressed. Some questions have arisen over the nature of Jesus in recent years. A word or two about such controversies is in order. This article is designed to ~weigh arguments and to point out their consequences as we see them, although some brethren do not embrace the consequences of their argument which are mentioned. My purpose is not to question the motives and intentions of people but to test their arguments. When names are mentioned, some people see “red” and jump to the conclusion that the speaker or writer assigns every one who disagrees with him on any point in any measure to the infernal regions. It is not out of order to warn that someone has departed from the faith (1 Tim. 1:19-20; 6:5,21; 2 John 9-li). Names may also be properly mentioned to identify more precisely certain views and their origins and in order to special the questions, issues, and problems to be addressed. While I find it disagreeable to have to disagree with my brethren in Christ on any occasion, it is imperative that we search the Scriptures, whether these things are so (Acts 17:11). Such study at times involves controversy but we are convinced that it can be conducted on a high plain and that good will result in spite of any pain we suffer in the process of controversy. Open study and controversy are not sectarian but help to stave off a sectarian spirit. Open discussion and debate do not create parties, but prevent parties from forming and growing. Open study and controversy constantly remind us that our loyalty is to the Lord and the truth, not to any man, paper, group, organization, school, or business (I Cor. 4:6).
The Nature of Jesus Controversy
Over the past several years, a controversy has raged over the nature of Jesus, The issue has focused on John Welchs (and a few others) teaching that, in becoming a man, Jesus divested himself of certain attributes of deity. Among those attributes of which he divested himself, brother Welch affirms, is his ability to work miracles by his own inherent power. Brother Welch affirms that Jesus worked miracles just as the apostles did through the Holy Spirit giving him this power.
The assertion has been made that Jesus gave up the “independent use” of his powers. If by this someone means that Jesus could not work a miracle without divine approval from the Father, I ask when did he ever do anything without divine approval from the Father? Jesus did not act outside the Fathers will before coming to earth, much less while appearing as a man. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have always acted as one.
The affirmation that Jesus is deity is an affirmation that Jesus has the attributes of deity. To affirm belief in the deity of Christ while denying that he has the attributes of deity is a contradiction. One shows the deity of Christ by showing that he possesses the attributes of deity. The denial that Jesus has the inherent power to work miracles is an assault against his deity, whether or not intentional.
I would like to examine the argument that Jesus gave up his omnipotence by looking at some of the passages used to defend the assertion. When the controversy first erupted, I was studying Johns gospel using Lenskis excellent commentary. As I read, I marked several comments which I think you will find worthwhile and pertinent to this discussion. Whereas I do not endorse every position which Len-ski holds, I think these comments regarding the Lords nature are useful.
Explanation of Passages Used to Defend the Position
1. Acts 10:38. Luke records, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him” (Acts 10:38). This passage is used to prove that Jesus could not work miracles until God anointed him with power by the sending of the Holy Spirit. This passage must be interpreted in harmony with those which affirm Jesus ability to work miracles, such as John 10:18 where Jesus said of his life on earth, “No man taketh it from me, but flay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and /have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.” In Matthew 8, a leper came to Jesus and said, “Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.” Jesus responded, “I will; be thou clean” (8:2-3). These passages show that Jesus had the inherent power to work miracles.
A better understanding of Acts 10:38 is to interpret it in the same manner as we interpret the creation account. Father, Son and Holy Spirit worked together in creation. Genesis 1:1-2 relates that God created the heavens and the earth; the activity of the Holy Spirit is also mentioned (cf. Gen. 1:1-2). Nevertheless, the New Testament clearly affirms that Jesus was the active agent of creation On. 1:3; Col. 1:16). In a similar way, all members of the God worked in redemption. If we can understand creation without denying the inherent omnipotence of each member of the Godhead, we should also be able to understand how the three worked together during Jesus earthly ministry without denying the omnipotence of any. The point is to understand that the Godhead works in perfect unity, never one member acting unilaterally or independently from the others.
The unity of the Godhead in the working of miracles is also seen in the working of miracles after Jesus ascended into heaven. Paul wrote, “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all” (I Cor. 12:4-6). In these verses, Paul affirms that the nine different spiritual gifts proceeded from the one Spirit, served the one Lord (Jesus), and were the workings of the one God. If we can understand the unity of the Godhead in the working of miracles through the apostles and prophets, we should also be able to comprehend that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were one in all that Jesus did. Jesus statements that he did not act alone in what he did are statements of his unity with the Father and Spirit, not proofs that he lacked omnipotence.
2. Acts 2:22. Luke said, “Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know” (Acts 2:22). This passage should be understood just like Acts 10:38, to be affirming the unity of the Godhead.
3. John 5:30-31. The context of this passage is. Jesus healing the impotent man at the pool of Bethesda. Not only did Jesus miraculously heal the man, he also knew his history (5:6, an evidence of his omniscience). The Jews charged Jesus with sin because he told the man to take up his bed and walk on the Sabbath day, which they considered to be a violation of the Sabbath law. Jesus responded by saying, “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work” (5:17). The Jews correctly understood this to be an affirmation of Jesus being equal with God (5:18). Jesus argued, “The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise. For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth…” (5:19). Notice these affirmations by Jesus: (a) He sees what the Father does; (b) He does what the Father does; (c) The Father shows the Son all that he does. In v. 21, the Son affirms his ability to raise the dead saying, “For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will.” The reference to Jesus will (“whom he will”) shows the inherent power of Christ. He asserted himself to be the judge of mankind (5:22). In verse 23, he stated that men should honor the Son just as they honor the Father, a bold assertion of his equality with the Father and his omnipotence. Whatever Jesus meant in vv. 30-31 must not be interpreted to conflict with these bold statements.
In vv. 30-31 Jesus said, “I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because 1 seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which bath sent me. If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true.” This passage has been interpreted by brother Welch and several others to mean that Jesus could not work miracles without God giving him the power. This is not what Jesus was affirming. What he was saying was this: Nothing he was doing emanated from his own will and initiative. He did not act outside of the divine will, like a David Koresh; rather, he did the Fathers will in all things. Lenski correctly explains this idea on John 5:19 saying, “The very relation of the Son to the Father makes it simply impossible (ou dunatay that Jesus should do (poiein, now or ever) anything of himself, aph heautou, so that the thing would emanate from him alone and be done by him alone, separate and apart from the Fathers will even as the Jews charged that Jesus was breaking Gods Sabbath law” (379). On vv. 30-31, he refers us to the comment on 5:19 (400) and adds, “Not a single word that Jesus utters in stating a judgment, whether it be on men, believers or unbelievers, or on matters or subjects of any kind, or on his own person and work, ever deviates from, or clashes with, the word of his Father” (401). The Godhead is perfectly united in all of its work.
Since this verse and several which follow are identical in nature, I need to add this note to mention the similarity of the words spoken by Jesus with reference to himself with those spoken about the Holy Spirit. If the words that “Jesus did not speak of himself” prove that he has given up his omnipotence, they must mean the same thing when spoken of the work of the Holy Spirit. In John 16:13, Jesus said, “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself, but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come.” Lenski observed, “As regards the source the Spirit will be exactly like Jesus, 12:49; 14:10; compare 7:16; 8:28; 14:24. Not from himself is, of course, an impossibility for the Spirit as it is for Jesus. It merely wards off a human notion that anything coming from the Spirit could be an invention of his own. A spirit who would speak from himself could not be the Spirit of truth but would be the spirit of falsehood, like him who spoke to Eve through the serpent, 8:44” (1091). If a person can under-stand that “he shall not speak of himself” is not a denial of the omnipotence of the Holy Spirit, but an affirmation of the unity of the Godhood on what is being revealed, he should be able to see that the same is true when spoken of Christ. There is perfect unity in all the actions and operations of the Godhead.
4. John 6:38. Jesus said, “For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.” The context of this passage is the feeding of the 5000 from five loaves and two fish and the subsequent miracle of walking on the water and miraculous transporting of the boat. All of these miracles were performed by Jesus as evidence that he is the Son of God. This passage is affirming the same idea as was mentioned in John 5:30-31. Jesus did not act without divine authority and on his own initiative, as a Joseph Smith did. Lenski again comments, “Only then is unbelief in Jesus justified when it is able to prove that Jesus is doing only his own will and not the Fathers will” (467). Quite the contrary, Jesus is affirming that the miracles which he performed and the words which he spoke were not the words of a man speaking without divine authority; he was affirming that he was doing the Fathers will. He was boldly affirming the perfect harmony between the Father and himself and thus the unity of the Godhead.
5. John 7:16-18, 28. This passage records Jesus visit to Jerusalem at the feast of the Tabernacles. The Jews were ready to put Jesus to death, but Jesus as omnipotent God was in total control of the situation. He said that his death would not occur at that hour because his time was not yet come (7:6,30). Jesus controls the world and its operations (Col. 1:16). He did not relinquish that control, to leave the world without a sustainer, when he became a man.
In these passages, Jesus said, “My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself. He that speaketh of himself seeketh his own glory: but he that seeketh his glory that sent him, the same is true, and no unrighteousness is in him” On. 7:16-18). In v. 28, he added, “Ye both know me, and ye know whence 1 am: and I am not come of myself, but he that sent me is true, whom ye know not.” Like the preceding two passages, this passage is not affirming that Jesus has de-rived authority and power, but affirming that he is only teaching that which is the will of the Father. Lenski explains, “The wonderful feature about the doctrine Jesus taught is that it is not his own at all, in the sense that he, like some human philosopher, had himself invented, had produced from his own human brain” (542). In teaching as in everything else, the Godhead is perfectly united, and Jesus proves himself to be God in the flesh.
6. John 8:28. Jesus said, “When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself, but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things.” Like the preceding passages, this passage affirms the unity of Jesus and the Father, not an inequality of the two. Notice the bold affirmations of this text: (a) The Son of man knew that he would be lifted up in crucifixion (an evidence of his omniscience); (b) He affirmed that he was the same “I am” as was mentioned in 8:24 (“ye know that I am he”); (c) He affirmed that he was taught of the Father.
This passage must not be separated from its context which affirms: (a) To know Jesus is to know the Father also (8:19); (b) His knowledge of his divine origin (8:23; brother Welch has written that in becoming a man Jesus also left behind his omniscience and that as he approached death he was uncertain about the existence of God, what lay beyond this earthly realm and such like things. This passage shows Jesus awareness of who he is.); (c) His assertion that he was the “I am” (8:24); (d) He had heard the Father speak (8:26). What Jesus was saying in his statement that “I do nothing of myself” is that he is not acting outside the will of the Father. While proving himself to be a person in the Godhead, Jesus teaches the perfect unity and harmony of the Godhead.
7. John 12:49-50. The context of this passage is the final week of Jesus life. He had entered Jerusalem on Sunday. He was aware of his hour having come (12:23). (Notice Jesus omniscience and total control [note his omnipotence] of the circumstances surrounding his death. The circumstances of his death were not happenstance; God the Son controlled the hour of his death.) Jesus quoted a passage regarding Jewish unbelief in spite of his miracles (12:40-41) and John adds that it was written by Isaiah “when he saw the Lords glory” (12:41). The passage is a quotation from Isaiah 6 when Isaiah saw the throne of God. John identified Jesus as the God whom he saw, a clear affirmation of Jesus deity. In v. 48, he affirmed that his words would judge men in the last day, a strong statement from a mere man!
In vv. 49-50, Jesus said, “For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. And I know that his commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak.” Like the previous passages, this passage is not denying Jesus inherent power, but denying that he is acting outside the divine will of his Father. The passage affirms Jesus deity: (a) He knows what the Father speaks; (b) He speaks what the Father speaks. Unlike the apostles and prophets whose words were the words of God only when they were speaking under inspiration, every word that Jesus spoke was the word of God, because he was God. In speaking, teaching, and commanding, the Godhead was perfectly united.
8. John 14:10. Let us not neglect the context of this passage. Jesus had assembled with the Twelve on the night of his betrayal. He instructed them to believe in him just as they believed in the Father (14:1). He announced that he was going away to prepare heaven for them (14:2). He affirmed that to see him was to see the Father (14:9). Then he added, “Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? The words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works” (Jn. 14:10). This passage plainly affirms that (a) Jesus is in the Father and (b) the Father is in Jesus. Again, he emphasized that his teachings were not the product of mere human reasoning and philosophy; his words were the divine will of God. Rather than denying Jesus inherent power, these words are affirming a total unity with the will of God. Lenski comments:
The very utterances (rhemata not logoi) by which Jesus ex-presses his thought (hence leg(i) he utters (hence talc) not “from himself,” as being devised like the utterances of men by their own minds. This negation implies the affirmation: My utterances are derived from the Father; they are really his. This is clear evidence of the oneness of Jesus with the Father. Every time Jesus opens his mouth (lalo, rhemata/ to say something (lego) it is the Father who speaks through his mouth. Not that Jesus is a phonograph or an automaton. Then he and the Father would be anything but one, he would be nothing. This oneness and identity of even the very utterance evidences a oneness of the two persons concerned. For Jesus is not like the prophets who must say, “Thus saith the Lord,” showing that God uses them only as instruments and messengers. Quite the opposite. When Jesus opens his lips, he, indeed, speaks (lald and (ego), every word and utterance is truly his; but what he says and the words he employs, every word and utterance, are the Fathers own thought and speech. The two speak as one because they are one, Jesus in the Father, the Father in Jesus (985).
It is evident that these passages which some brethren quote in claiming that Jesus utterly divested himself of the powers and prerogatives of deity actually affirm that Jesus is fully divine and the Godhead works in perfect harmony.
Guardian of Truth XXXVII: 14 p. 2
July 15, 1993