First Affirmative: Sharp-Needham Debate

By Keith Sharp

1. I appreciate brother Mike Willis for being willing to publish this discussion and brother James P. Needham for being willing to engage in it. I hope the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace will be the result. I am willing to extend the right hand of fellowship to those who believe that Jesus was fully God and fully man and was tempted to sin as a man. For those who believe Jesus sometimes used his own divine attributes while on earth, I think you are mistaken, but since we both agree on his deity and his humanity, our disagreement should not affect our fellowship.

2. Proposition: The Scriptures teach that the Son of God, in the days of his flesh, emptied himself of the use of his own peculiarly divine attributes.

3. Definitions: “The Son of God”: Jesus Christ, the di-vine, incarnate Word. “In the days of his flesh”: for the 33 years he lived as a man on earth. “Emptied”: to be defined in course of argument. “His own peculiarly divine attributes”: His characteristics that set him apart as deity. I neither affirm nor believe he emptied himself of the possession of these at-tributes but that he emptied himself of their use.

4. Questions for brother Needham:

a. Must one believe that Jesus used all his own di vine attributes while on earth to be saved?

b. Did Jesus have a human spirit?

c. Could Jesus have sinned?

d. If so, why didn’t he?

The Scriptures affirm that Jesus is God (e.g., John 1:1). While on this earth he was “God with us” (Matt. 1:23).

5. God has certain characteristics which he shares with none of his creatures (Isa. 46:9). They are peculiarly his and are the distinguishing attributes of deity, expressing his divine nature. God exists in “the form of God” (Phil. 2:5-6). He is eternal (Ps. 90:2), unchangeable (Mal. 3:6), perfectly free to do as he wills (Job 23:13), omnipresent (Ps. 139:7-12), omniscient (Ps. 147:5), omnipotent (Isa. 40:28), infinitely holy, i.e., cannot be tempted to sin (Rev. 4:8; Jas. 1:13), and glorious (Ps. 113:4). He is distinct from humans in that he is an invisible, immortal spirit (Col. 1:15; 1 Tim. 6:13-16; John 4:24).

6. Because God has perfect freedom, he can limit the use of his divine attributes without ceasing to be God, deity, or divine. He no longer creates worlds (Gen. 2:1-3), but he is still the Creator (Acts 17:24). He will never again destroy the world by water (Gen. 9:8-15), but he still retains the power to destroy the world (2 Pet. 3:10-12). He no longer imparts miracle working power to his people (1 Cor. 13:8-13), but he is still all powerful (Rev. 4:8). To deny this truth is to deny one of the peculiar attributes of God, his perfect freedom to do as he wills.

7. The Scriptures also affirm that Jesus was a man. Isaiah prophesied the Messiah would be a “man of sorrows” (Isa. 53:3). Jesus called himself a “man” (John 8:40) in the same conversation in which he claimed to be “I AM” (John 8:58). The apostles called him “a man” (e.g., Acts 2:22). The divine Word became a man by the miracle of the virgin birth (Matt. 1:18-23).

8. For God to become man, he had to empty him-self. The apostle Paul exhorted the Philippians to have the mind of Christ, the mind of humility. To both explain and illustrate his lesson, the inspired apostle explained how Jesus became a man.

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross (Phil. 2:5-8).

9. The term “form” means “the external appearance” (Thayer, 418) and further “signifies the form as it is the utterance of the inner life; not ‘being,’ but `mode of being,’ or better, ‘mode of existence”‘ (Trench, 262).

This form is something which can be changed (cf. Mark 16:12).

10. The phrase “made Himself of no reputation” is translated “emptied himself’ in both the American Standard and New American Standard versions. The verb means “to empty” (Vine 2:25), “to empty, make empty” (Thayer, 344; so Amdt & Gingrich, 429).

11. The term translated by the negative conjunction “but” (v. 7) is “an adversative participle indicating a difference with or contrast to what precedes” (Arndt & Gingrich 37). For example, in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, when Paul indicated the Corinthians had formerly been immoral, “but” were then “washed,” “sanctified,” and “justified,” he was indicating they were no longer one (immoral) but were the other (washed, sanctified, justified). The same grammatical construction is used in the same way in the immediate context to state the point that Jesus’ humility illustrates (Phil. 2:3).

12. So the apostle Paul teaches that Christ emptied him-self of the two things in the clause before the conjunction “but” (the form of God and equality with God) and, in contrast “took the form of a servant,” and being in that form he did something, “He humbled himself,” and that humility extended to the point that he was obedient, obedient to the point of death, “even the death of the cross,” that is, the most shameful death of all (cf. Gal. 3:13).

13. This does not mean that Jesus “in the days of His flesh” ceased being deity. But he did empty himself of the form of God and that which went with it, equality with God. (cf. 2 Cor. 8:9).

14. The longest passage in the Bible on the nature of Christ is Hebrews chapters one and two. Immediately after he had affirmed the deity of Jesus (Heb. 1), the inspired writer affirmed he became a “man … the son of man” (Heb. 2:6, 9). He who was “so much better than the angels” (Heb.1:4), “was made a little lower than the an-gels” (Heb. 2:9). He became one with us, becoming our brother (Heb. 2:11). As our brother, he worshiped and trusted God (Heb. 2:12-13). “Therefore, in all things he had to be made like his brethren” (Heb. 2:17).

15. Jesus did not just enter a fleshly body; he “became flesh” (John 1:14). “Flesh and blood” (Heb. 2:14) is a figurative expression for man with his human nature (Matt. 16:17; Gal. 1:16). Jesus fully shared our human nature (Heb. 2:14). To deny that Jesus became truly and fully human and was tempted to sin in the same ways we are is to deny him as Savior and High Priest (Heb. 2:10-11, 17-18). It is to be antichrist (1 John 4:2-3; 2 John 7).

16. Just as God has peculiar divine attributes, humans have characteristics that are in contrast with the divine at-tributes. It is a logical contradiction for both sets of at-tributes to be in use simultaneously. Just as it is a denial of the deity of Christ to deny he possesses the divine attributes, it is a denial of his humanity to deny he possessed human attributes.

17. Which characteristics did Jesus use in the days of his flesh, human or divine? He who existed “in the form of God” took “the form of a servant” (Phil. 2:7). He who is “from everlasting to everlasting” was “born of a woman” (Gal. 4:4). The unchangeable God became subject to change in both body and spirit (Luke 2:52). The perfectly free Word became the servant of God and men (Phil. 2:5-8). The one who is present everywhere was limited to a local presence (John 10:40; 11:1, 7, 17-21). The being whose “understanding is infinite” “increased in wisdom” (Luke 2:52). The one who “neither faints nor is weary” was “wearied” (John 4:6). He who “cannot be tempted by evil” “was in all points tempted as we are” (Heb. 4:15). He emptied himself of the divine glory (John 17:5). The invisible God was seen of men (1 John 1:1-3). The immortal God died (Heb. 2:14-15). He who was Spirit took on a fleshly existence (Luke 24:39). The attributes Jesus used while in the flesh were all human characteristics, not divine. They included attributes of the spirit as well as of the fleshly body. He did not cease to possess the divine attributes, but the attributes he used were human.

18. This formulated argument will demonstrate the humanity of Jesus of Nazareth. (1) It was the will of God that the Son of God, in the days of his flesh, act in the role of a servant (Isa. 52:13). (2) The Son of God, in his role as a servant, was a man (Isa. 53:3). (3) The Son of God, in the days of his flesh, always did his Father’s will (John 8:29). (4) Therefore, the Son of God, in the days of his flesh, acted in the capacity of a man (cf. Phil. 2:5-8).

19. This is not a denial of the deity of Christ; it is an affirmation of his humanity. Though we may never fully comprehend how Jesus could both be fully human and fully divine, we must not deny either.

20. Jesus Christ, in the days of his flesh, was God as he is and man as he ought to be. The Scriptures teach that to attain this dual nature he emptied himself of the use of his own peculiarly divine attributes to employ human attributes. Therefore, the Scriptures teach that the Son of God, in the days of his flesh, emptied himself of the use of his own peculiarly divine attributes.

List of Works Cited

Arndt, W.F. and F.W. Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament.

Thayer, J.H., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Trench, Richard C., Synonyms of the New Testament.

Vine, W.E., Repository Dictionary of New Testament Words.