Was Jesus wrong?

By Robin Schumacher

Originally posted at The Christian Post

An article in Christianpost summarized a recent Liturgists podcast where Christian music artist Michael Gungor, along with Mike McHargue and Lissa Paino, discussed the book of Genesis and Jesus' specific knowledge of history, creation and the world. Gungor suggested Jesus was either wrong about the Biblical creation account and the existence of certain persons Scripture portrays as historical (e.g. Adam, Noah) or that Christ deliberately accommodated Himself to the beliefs of the first century people to fit in and in essence chose not to be truthful about those topics.

How should Christians address these assertions? In my view, there are three key topics that, when properly understood, help us reach a reasonable conclusion on the claims made by Gungor and McHargue.

The Mystery of the Incarnation

Did the baby in the manger know that the earth is round?

There's no doubt that theologians down through Church history have wrestled with questions like the above and with the concept of God becoming man. There's also little debate among Christians that, in this life, we will not fully understand such a deep mystery as Christ's incarnation (1 Corinthians 13:12).

But that said, Scripture does provide us with enough information so that we are not left completely in the dark as to Christ's nature and the knowledge He had regarding history and reality in general.

In the podcast, McHargue presented the following argument on the topic: "The scripture seems to indicate, at least in some degree, that Christ is not as omniscient as God the Father; because if we just take Scripture at face value, it seems to indicate that the only being with knowledge of how and when things will end is God, the Father, and not even Jesus knows." [1]

Is this an accurate description of what the Bible teaches?

The answer is both yes and no. What McHargue is likely referencing in the latter part of his statement is a declaration from Christ in His Olivet Discourse that concerns His second coming, which says: "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone" (Matthew 24:36).

Regarding this, the Bible makes it clear that Jesus, during His incarnation, willingly limited the full use of His divine attributes. Paul describes it this way: "Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:5-8).

Theologians refer to Paul's description of Jesus' incarnation in this passage as the Kenosis, which comes from the Greek word kenos "to be or make empty". The voluntary divine limitation on Christ's part and His very real humanity necessitates that we be able to smartly distinguish between His two natures. [2]

As an example, does God ever get tired or hungry? No, but did Jesus in His humanity experience both? Yes.

With this as background, let's now ask how the Kenosis affected Christ's knowledge. As Matthew 24:36 points out, at that time, Jesus said He didn't know the exact hour of His return. Does that equate to Christ having a flawed understanding of history and Scripture as McHargue and Gungor assert?

The answer is no. First, we should understand that there is a distinction between not knowing a particular fact at a particular time and being so completely wrong in one's understanding of a topic that it leads to the communication of false information.

Second, the book of John alone demonstrates numerous times that Jesus relied fully on God the Father for His knowledge:

• "For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God" (John 3:34).

• "I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge" (John 5:30).

• "My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me" (John 7:16).

• "I have many things to speak...He who sent Me is true; and the things which I heard from Him, these I speak to the world" (John 8:26).

• "I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me" (John 8:28).

• "I speak the things which I have seen with My Father" (John 8:38).

• "For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak....I speak just as the Father has told Me" (John 12:49-50).

• "The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works" (John 14:10).

• "All things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you" (John 15:15).

In other words, whatever statements Jesus made were true and complete because they came straight from God the Father — the One who Jesus relied on in His earthly life. This being the case, we can rest assured that when Jesus spoke about persons such as Noah and Jonah, as well as the creation, whatever He said about them was accurate.

Or, put another way, Jesus many not be recorded in the Bible as saying He was omniscient at all times during His first coming, but He certainly claimed to be infallible (e.g. John 12:49).

This then leads us to Gungor's assertion about Jesus being deceptive where these Biblical characters and creation as a whole are concerned.

The Character of Christ

The idea that Christ was deliberately untruthful and accommodated Himself to the supposed flawed thinking of His listeners needs to be immediately corrected. Jesus said He came to fulfill the Law (Matthew 5:17), that He was truth embodied (John 14:6), with the Bible adding that no deceit was found in His mouth (1 Peter 2:21) and that He was sinless (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Gungor's idea that Jesus lied about the historicity of persons like Adam, Noah, Jonah, etc., is one that should be quickly dismissed from any Christian's thinking.

But what about the idea that Jesus knew these characters were fictional and never intended for His listeners to believe otherwise?

Understanding the Bible as Literature

In a previous Christianpost article, Gungor described how he does not take the Bible literally, which is a position every skeptic takes on Scripture. However, I maintain that the proper interpretative position to hold is that of the literal-historical-grammatical method, which aims to discover the meaning of a particular passage as the original author would have intended and what the original hearers would have understood. This stance necessitates understanding two important things.

The first is a realization that the Bible is a collection of literature, and as such will contain different genres and employ various literary techniques. Certain books of the Bible will be historical and be of the narrative genre, while others will be biography (e.g. the gospels [3]), didactic teaching (e.g. Romans), poetry (e.g. Psalms), prophecy (e.g. Revelation), and some may be a mixture (e.g. Daniel). Recognizing which books reflect which genre is one of the keys to understanding them.

Further, literary methods such as hyperbole, metaphors, personifications, symbolism, and more will be found throughout each work, however their usage does not negate the use of the literal-historical-grammatical system of Biblical interpretation.

Take, for example, one of John's visions chronicled in Revelation (a book that belongs to the prophecy genre) 12:1-6. He describes a woman with a crown of twelve stars who gives birth to a male child, along with a red dragon who wants to kill the baby.

No reader of that passage thinks that a literal woman with such a crown or a real red dragon exists. It takes little effort to understand that the woman represents Israel, the Child is Christ, and the dragon is Satan.

But here's an important point: the symbols point to literal people/things that are real. They are not something like what is found in fairy tales.

The second thing to understand about the literal-historical-grammatical method of Biblical interpretation is that a technique oftentimes referred to as the analogy of Scripture is relied upon. This practice says that Scripture should be used to interpret Scripture and that obscure passages should be interpreted in light of clear passages and not vice versa.

When examining the book of Genesis and both Old and New Testament references to events like the Flood and persons such as Adam, Noah, and Jonah, you will find: (1) While symbolism may be employed at times, the overall genre of Genesis is that of historical narrative; [4] (2) The events and people spoken about are always done so in a manner that conveys they actually occurred/existed.

On the latter point, if McHargue and Gungor are correct that either Jesus lied or was wrong about such people as Noah and Adam being fictitious, then so was Paul (Acts 17:26), Luke (Luke 3:38), Peter (1 Peter 3:20; 2 Peter 2:5), and the writer of Hebrews (Heb. 11:7).

If one chooses to embrace that conclusion, the troubling question is: if they were wrong about those things, what other errors are they passing along to us? Or, as Jesus put it: "If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?" (John 3:12).

The Heart of the Problem

The errors made by McHargue and Gungor do not seem to be put forward in a deliberately malicious way, however they do underscore a very real problem in the Church today: believers are woefully uneducated in systematic theology.[5]

Theology proper (the study of God), Christology, Soteriology (the study of salvation), Hermeneutics (the science of Biblical interpretation), and other related disciplines of the Christian faith are foreign words to Christians today and are not taught in churches, with the end result being a faith in many that is based more on emotion and preference rather than on fact.

Until Church leaders take doctrinal education seriously, and until mature believers assist and correct other believers who don't have their facts straight (much in the way Priscilla and Aquila did Apollos; see Acts 18:26), we will continue to have confused teaching and claims being made by Christians that only undermines Christianity's foundations and undercuts the Bible's credibility.

[1] Leonardo Blair; "Christian Musician Says Jesus Could Have Been Wrong About Creation Story or Lied About It; Calls Genesis 1 a 'Poem'"; Christian Post.
[2] For a general discussion of Christ's two natures, see R. C. Sproul's work, Discovering the God Who Is: His Character and Being. His Power and Personality, chapter six.
[3] For a thorough defense of the gospels being ancient biography, see Burridge's work, What Are the Gospels?
[4] For further discussion of Genesis being narrative and not myth, see Dr. Allen Ross's work Creation and Blessing, chapter 3, which discusses the nature of Genesis. Note also that reading Genesis as historical narrative does not automatically equate to the acceptance of a 6,000 year old earth and universe.
[5] For more on this topic, see my post here.

Published 9-17-14