Ignorance about the ignorance of the Son

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Carlton Wynne is assistant professor of systematic theology and apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary and, therefore, not surprisingly believes that “as the eternal Son of the Father, Jesus Christ possesses the fullness of deity, including the attribute of omniscience”. But how are we to reconcile this dogma, he asks, with Jesus’ claim to ignorance in Matthew 24:36 (cf. Mk. 13:32): “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only”? Jesus knows for a fact that he will judge the nations (cf. Matt. 25:31-34), but he hasn’t been told when.

Wynne’s solution is that “two completely different natures… are united in the one Son of God”—an immutable divine nature, which has no need to learn anything, and a mutable human nature, which was bound to grow and learn. So it can be said that, as a man, Jesus “increased in wisdom and in stature and in favour with God and man” (Lk. 2:52).

By seeing the genuine limitations and temporal changes in Jesus’s human nature, albeit with no limitations or changes in his divine identity, we can further see that when he says he didn’t know the timing of his return, the eternal Son of God was speaking with a human mouth, out of a human soul, with limited knowledge as a man, in perfect submission to his Father’s salvation plan.

Wynne then states: ‘Even if Jesus’s self-reference to “the Son” is short for “the Son of God” (a common name for the divine Logos) and not “the Son of Man,” this is not an insurmountable problem for the view presented here.’ Why not? Because scripture sometimes ascribes human attributes to “the person of the Son incarnate”. Therefore, we can say both that the Son was ignorant of the precise timing of his return and that the divine Son knows everything.

This is wrong. “Son of God” is not a “common name for the divine Logos” —not if by that Wynne means that “Son of God” is equivalent to “eternal divine Son” or “God the Son”. In the Synoptic Gospels “Son of God” is a reference to Jesus as the anointed servant of God who would be Israel’s king. The Son of God is as human as the Son of Man, in some ways more so. It is only because he was the Son of Man, brought with the clouds of heaven to be vindicated before the throne of YHWH, that Jesus would be the Son of God seated at YHWH’s right hand (Matt. 26:64; Mk. 14:62; Lk. 22:69).

Even in John’s Gospel, the “Son of God” is the servant who receives the Spirit (Jn. 1:32; cf. Is. 42:1), the king of Israel (Jn. 1:49), and the messianic agent of God’s purposes (Jn. 20:31).

Wynne’s apologetic-systematic attempt to square the circle sheds a confused and disorienting light on the passage. The narrative-historical method tells us all we need to know.

Zechariah foresaw a day of judgment against Israel when YHWH would purge the idols, false prophets and unclean spirits from the land, when he would smite the shepherds of his people, when the nations would be gathered against Jerusalem and would take the city, and the Lord himself would come and “all the holy ones with him” (Zech. 13:2-14:5 LXX).

He then says: “There will be one day, and that day is known to the Lord, and there will not be day and night, and towards evening there will be light” (Zech. 14:7 LXX, my translation). On that day, finally, “the Lord will be king over all the land”; the Lord “will been and his name one” (Zech. 14:9).

Wynne insisted at the outset that in Matthew 24 Jesus had in mind two judgments—one against Jerusalem and the temple in AD 70, and a second at the end of the age. The Zechariah passage gives us further reason to think that Jesus was speaking about a single event—the day of YHWH against Jerusalem, when the Son sent to the vineyard of Israel and his followers would be vindicated.

Jesus’ apocalyptic discourse, all the way through to the saying about the ignorance of the Son, is a remapping of Zechariah’s prophecy against Israel. By denying knowledge of the timing of the day and the hour, Jesus carefully delimited his own role: he was the Son who had been authorised to act as judge, but it is God who was sovereign and whose name would be hallowed through these events. Wynne’s theological interpretation of the passage simply misses the point.

peter wilkinson | Fri, 12/14/2018 - 19:37 | Permalink

Carlton Wynne is an example of highly dogmatic presuppositions colliding with letting the text speak for itself. But I wonder if he meant not that John or anyone else glosses divine logos as son of God, but that having been introduced as the divine logos in John 1, when he thereafter is identified and self-identifies as son (of God) in John’s gospel, it means rather more than the usual understanding of ‘messiah’, whatever that might have been. One could take John 10:33, 36 as a further example of the connection latent in the phrase, which sheds light on its other usage. 

Samuel Conner | Sat, 12/15/2018 - 02:30 | Permalink

Tom Wright’s “Jesus and the Victory of God” sensitized me to the possibility of thinking about the living man Jesus as a human being who had plans, intentions, etc — who thought like a human being. That led me to the (for me) shocking realization that Jn 9 and Jn 11 (Mark 9:29 strikes me as another instance) seem to imply that Jesus’ contemporaries and Jesus himself understood the healings as the work of YHWH in response to Jesus’ prayers, not Jesus acting with an innate god-like healing power. From there it was not far to embrace the possibility that the living man Jesus was simply human (though an extraordinary and unique human who [here I bend the knee to some of the concerns of orthodoxy] perfectly instantianted the image and likeness of YHWH). From this perspective, the not uncommon story details that suggest limited knowledge are not “acting” or “condescension” but simply the inescapable limitations of the humanity of the Word made flesh. 

  It was also surprising for me to notice that Jesus’ self-conception regarding authority changed after the resurrection. In Acts 2, Peter speaks of the Spirit as poured out by Jesus; Jesus, speaking prospectively in the Johannine Supper Discourse, promises to ask the Father to send the Spirit. In Mt 28, Jesus describes himself as having all authority in heaven and earth; in the garden arrest scene, Jesus asserts that if he wanted to be rescued, he could ask the Father, who would send legions of angels at his request.

 Jesus is “bigger” after the resurrection; he has more authority (or is aware of having more authority). 

 I suspect that it is a category error to speak of Jesus as “having a human nature”; I suspect that Jesus IS the human nature within the hypostatic union. But I’m just a heterodox (or worse) post-evangelical.

@Samuel Conner:

If Jesus was resurrected and his brain also,he would be thinking about things and learning new things and having new ideas…anything else is Appolynarianism.

Marc Taylor | Sat, 12/22/2018 - 15:45 | Permalink

Revelation 5:12

If the Lord Jesus were not omniscient (God) then He would never even once be worshiped for possessing wisdom.

@Marc Taylor:

I think you underestimate the power of human credulity,my friend.

@Bobby Havens:

 The BDAG (3rd Edition)

 Concerning Revelation 5:12 the Greek word for “wisdom” is sophia and it is used “of the exalted Christ” (page 935), but when defining “might” (ischys) which appears in the very same passage it is “used with dynamis and similar words as attributes of God” (page 484).