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Humanity of Christ

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

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HUMANITY OF CHRIST.—The simplest fact about Jesus Christ, as we see Him pictured in the Gospels, is that He was a man. Whatever there was peculiar about His person, it did not destroy the reality of His humanity or take Him out of the genus ‘man.’ But this simple fact, seen in all its relations, admits of varied consideration, and indeed demands it.

1. His human body.—Jesus had a body, visible to the eye, giving the natural impression, as other bodies do, of reality. It came into life by the natural channel of birth (Matthew 1:25; Matthew 2:1, Luke 2:7); it grew as others do (Luke 2:40); was nourished by food as others are (Luke 7:34-36; cf. Luke 24:41-43); slept (Luke 8:23); was restricted by space as ordinary men are, and thus laboriously travelled about (Luke 8:1, John 4:4); was weary (John 4:6); suffered under the inhumanities attending the Trial and Execution (John 19:28; John 19:33), although, in the restraint of the Gospel narrative, no express mention is made of this fact; and truly died (as is made evident by the peculiar character of the phenomenon related in John 19:34, an unconscious testimony, by one not acquainted with the principles of anatomy, as to the reality of His death). See Body.

With the reality of His body is closely associated the fact of the temptability of Jesus. The Epistle to the Hebrews lays emphasis upon this fact as a part of His qualification for the work of Saviour (Hebrews 2:18; Hebrews 4:15), The Gospel history contains a narrative of temptation (Matthew 4:1-11 ||) in which Jesus is assailed by solicitations addressed to His physical appetite, to His love of display, and to His ambition. As the reality of the human body is the presupposition of the reality of the temptation, so the character of the temptation confirms the proof of that body. Shrinking from physical pain may have been a part of the agony of the Garden (Luke 22:42; Luke 22:44, cf. the interpretation given in Hebrews 5:7, Hebrews 5:8). Naturally the sacred history, which is engaged with things done rather than with inner processes which are concealed from human observation, and which finds no occasion to trace the course of inner temptations which never result in outward sin, makes no mention of the appeal which alluring objects must have made to the sensibilities of the man Jesus Christ. But the Epistle to the Hebrews (‘in all points tempted like as we are,’ Hebrews 4:15) sustains the inference which must necessarily follow from the possession of a human nature, that there were such appeals to the humanity of Jesus. See Temptation.

2. His human soul.—Had Jesus a true human soul? The answer to such a question is to be obtained only by observing the phenomena of His recorded life, and drawing the necessary inferences from what we see. The statement of fact is, fortunately, very clear and copious. The moment we study the account of His independent life we find the evidences accumulating that in its inward, as well as its outward, processes it is a truly human life. In the temple we find the exercise of a desire—curiosity—and the acknowledgment of mental processes both like those of other men and commanding their respect (His ‘understanding,’ Luke 2:46-47). In His home in Nazareth He followed a life of obedience (Luke 2:51 ‘subject’). As He grew in stature, so He did in ‘wisdom’ (Luke 2:52 σαφία, ‘varied knowledge of things human and Divine,’ Grimm-Thayer). At His temptation He showed an intellectual knowledge of the Scriptures (Matthew 4:4; Matthew 4:7; Matthew 4:10). His discourses moved along according to the laws of human address, idea suggesting idea according to the laws of natural association. The lower ranges of reasoning are pursued by Him as by others, and once He even expresses His thought syllogistically (John 8:47). But the higher ranges of reason, the intuitive knowledge of the meaning of great truths, were peculiarly His, as is seen in the wider interpretation of the OT (Matthew 5:17; Matthew 5:21-48), and in the lofty ethical standard which He sets up, itself another instance of the larger interpretation of the OT, forming the still unsurpassed ideal of human conduct, more and more insisted upon in the social struggles for progress in our own time, the binding force and universal validity of the law of love (Matthew 22:37-40). To this standard He held Himself (John 10:30; John 17:21, Matthew 15:32; Matthew 20:34). Thus He manifested at every essential point the possession of an intellect characterized by the same faculties and working by the same laws as our own. The same was no less true of the sensibilities, even those which we are inclined to view as trivial, the undue indulgence of which we stigmatize as weakness. Traces may be found of the operation of every one of the distinct emotions. Thus, for example, He had a love for esteem, manifested in His notice of the omission of certain acts of courtesy in Luke 7:44-46; He displayed the natural affections, such as love of friends (John 15:15), of family (John 19:26), of country (Matthew 23:37-39); He exercised complacent love (Mark 14:8), moral indignation (Luke 11:46, John 8:44); His spiritual background was that of joy and peace (John 14:27, Luke 10:21). The will was moved by appropriate considerations as ours is (John 7:1; John 7:10), and displays the same sort of activities, being sustained by the operation of the same forces as in ordinary men. Thus the struggle in time of temptation is to maintain His spiritual ideals (Matthew 4:1-11, John 12:27), and Jesus concentrates His attention, as men who will be victorious in time of temptation must, upon the proper object of human attention, upon the great purpose for which He has come into the world (John 18:37; John 19:11). The virtues which may be particularly called the virtues of the will arc exemplified, such as persistence, shown in His repeated healing upon the Sabbath (John 5:16, Mark 3:2-3), in His teaching sustained amid the constant evidence that the Jews were inclined decisively to reject Him (cf. the discourses in John 5 and foll. chapters). Even the more mysterious operations of the sub-conscious, or better of the supra-conscious, self are to be noted in Him, not merely in the displays of genius which He, as no other man, possessed, but in the manifestations of a power the operations of which first brought it to His empirical consciousness (Mark 5:30 Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885). In fact, the better psychologist a man is, the more clearly he can see, in the simple narratives of the Gospels, the operations of every fundamental faculty and law of the human soul.

3. The necessity of Christ’s humanity.—To one who sees no Divinity in Christ, the question of the necessity of His humanity is meaningless, not to say impertinent. Of course, He must be human, says such a one, since this is the only path to leadership. God has committed His work for men in the world to men. Apart from those mysterious communications of revelation which selected teachers of men have had, the only possible teacher of men is a man who can approach them with messages which they can understand, in words appropriate to their nature. However true these general principles are, the standpoint here assumed is not that of the Gospels. To them, Christ’ came’ to the earth (see Divinity of Christ); and the question arises why this is so, why He took upon Himself humanity and ‘became flesh’ (John 1:14). Did this question arise in the minds of the Apostles? and is there trace of speculation, or of interest as to it, in the Gospels? There are indisputable traces of both in the Epistles, especially in that to the Hebrews. It is represented in this Epistle that the object of Christ’s coming in the flesh was particularly to offer His body a sacrifice (John 10:5; John 10:10, cf. John 2:9; John 2:14); but not merely this, for the possession of humanity itself affords Him a spiritual qualification for His priestly work, in that He shares the lot of men, and learns thereby how to sympathize with them in their temptations and their failures (John 2:17-18, John 4:15-16, John 5:2). There is also the suggestion of an idea which is brought out more clearly in the Fourth Gospel,—the same as that suggested above,—that the humanity was the necessary medium of the revelation of God, since it is through Jesus that God ‘speaks’ (John 1:1; John 3:11). This form of presentation covers the point why the humanity was a necessity when once God had determined to enter upon the stage of human history as Redeemer. But St. John pushes the matter a little farther back. He begins with the eternal ‘Word,’ which was in the beginning with God and was God, and sets forth His appearing in the world under the figure of light shining into darkness (John 1:9, John 3:19, John 8:12), and needed because of the darkness. The ground of the Incarnation is found in this need, in the existence of sin, and the necessity of salvation through faith (John 3:16). It is to produce ‘children of God’ (John 1:12) that Christ comes. The coming is the manifestation of the glory of God (John 1:14), but that glory is the moral glory of ‘grace and truth.’ The culmination of the whole work of redemption is, however, the cross (John 3:14, John 10:17-18, John 15:13, cf. Hebrews 10:5; Hebrews 10:10), and it is the human body and soul of Christ that suffered there (John 19:28). This is the central idea of the Fourth Gospel; but other elements are not lacking, as the necessity of the humanity to the work of instruction, which was a main element of Jesus’ work (John 3:11; John 3:19; John 3:31-32), and which culminated in the revelation of the Father, which needed humanity as the medium of communication to human beings (John 14:9, John 12:45, John 16:15). Union with the Father was also essential to Christ’s work (John 14:11 etc.), because this consisted in the manifestation of God’s name (John 17:6). The necessary spiritual sustenance, finally, was gained through the body and blood of Christ (John 6:35; John 6:50-51), that is, through what His humanity alone was capable of doing for man.

4. Unique elements of this humanity.—The humanity of Christ, in order to satisfy the conditions now before us, must be a reality. No ‘phantom,’ or merely phenomenal body, could perform the offices required in these Scripture passages of the humanity. But other elements also appear which give a new aspect to the human nature. Among these need not be reckoned the origin of the body of Jesus by miraculous conception, as related in the First and Third Gospels; for however the process of development from the first cell might be initiated, the resulting development must be in any case that of a human body. Side by side with evident human limitations, such as ignorance (as of the day and hour of His own return to the earth, Matthew 24:36), there exist phenomena of a like nature altogether transcending humanity, such as the knowledge by which He not only ‘knew what was in man’ (John 2:25), read the thoughts of men often as an open book (Matthew 9:4; Matthew 12:25, Luke 6:8; Luke 9:47), but, above all, knew perfectly the will of the Father and the mysteries of Divine truth. He walked laboriously from Judaea to Galilee (John 4:4), but He could suddenly appear upon the surface of the sea in the storm, walking upon the water (Matthew 14:25 ||). These and other such considerations (see Divinity of Christ) raise the question how these things could consist in Him, that is, the question of the nature of the Person of Christ, a question belonging to dogmatics, and thus lying outside of the scope of this article. But—this is the main point—whatever more than humanity there was in Christ, the evidence already cited is decisive as to the reality of His humanity.

5. The unity of Jesus’ consciousness.—Christ was, then, a man. Does this word comprehensively express the Gospel teaching as to His person? He had a personality as men are persons. He had a consciousness which expressed itself by the pronoun ‘I.’ Was this a human consciousness, so that when asked as to Himself Jesus would have replied: ‘I am a man’? There are two elements in the answer to this question. (a) Jesus’ consciousness was a unity. He passes easily from the consideration of earthly to heavenly things, from walking upon the water to sitting quietly in the boat, as if both of these things belonged to Him equally. The impression made upon the unsophisticated reader of the Gospels is that of a single consciousness. In fact, in order to be explicable at all, the Gospels must convey such an impression. But pivotal passages, even those which have seemed to give a basis for the idea that He spoke now ‘as God’ and now ‘as man,’ do not justify such an inference when carefully considered. He did not mean in Matthew 4:10 ‘Thou (Satan) shalt worship the Lord thy God (me),’ and not I thee. He meant that the law of worship for any one, and for Him as bound to fulfil all righteousness (Matthew 3:15), was the worship of the Lord only. In Matthew 8:23-27 and parallels He was not in one capacity asleep in the boat and in another watching over the disciples in that storm, but He was totally asleep as He appeared. He did not chide them for lack of faith in such a waking providence of His own, of which they had no knowledge, but for their lack of faith in God (cf. Mark 4:40), whose messenger Christ was, and who would care for both Him and them. In Mark 5:30 and parallels it is not Jesus in one personality healing the woman and in another inquiring what had happened, that is brought before us; but God the Father made use of Him to answer the petition, unknown to Him but known to God, and He became conscious in this use of Himself that He was so used (‘having come to perceive that the power which [often, on other occasions] went forth from him had [on this occasion] gone forth,’ cf. Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885).

(b) The centre of this personality, the Ego of this undivided consciousness, is God. Whenever He speaks of His coming into the world, it is always God that speaks, not less in Mark 10:45 and parallels than in John 3:13; John 10:10. This fact stands side by side with such facts as the confession of ignorance. They are never allowed to get far apart. When we have the passage Matthew 24:36 confessing ignorance, it is preceded by the glorious description of the return of the Son of Man in Divine majesty (Matthew 24:30), and followed by the Judgment scene of Matthew 25:31-46. There is no trace of a sense of transition or of shock in passing from one form of consciousness to the other, because there is no such shock, no transition (see Kenosis). The solution of this problem, of the unity of the consciousness in the midst of such apparent contradictions in the contents of consciousness, is, again, a problem of dogmatics.

6. The significance of the humanity of Christ for religion.—The interest of dogmatics in the humanity of Christ lies in the doctrine of a true Incarnation, which is the foundation of the doctrines of Atonement and Forgiveness. The interest of religion in Christ’s humanity is the interest of believers in the forgiveness of sins, who need to feel the identification of their Redeemer with themselves. It is not without profound significance that it is said that judgment is committed to the Son of Man (John 5:22). Whatever else of deepest truth there may be in it, there is this, that the sinner needs to feel the identification of his Judge with himself by the possession of a common human nature. When the Judge knows both the persistency and depth of sin on the one hand, and the weakness and temptations of man on the other,—then only will the sinner be assured that the proffered forgiveness is for him. It is, again, the interest of believers in God, who get higher ideas of God’s goodness from the greatness of the condescension involved in His ‘becoming flesh.’ It is, further, the interest of believers in Jesus, who, when they understand that Jesus is identified with us by the possession of our common humanity, feel a new confidence; are stimulated to more frequent prayer; become conscious that He truly draws near to them; regard their varied lot in life, which He has shared, as sanctified thereby; bear with greater equanimity their sorrows, which He also bore; find in Him their pattern of life (see Obedience, § ii.); and thus see in Him not an abstraction, but a real, objective, and personal Redeemer and object of faith, a Captain, and the Head of the Church. See, further, Incarnation, Son of Man.

Literature.—Dale, Christian Doctrine, 45–73; Stalker, Imago Christi, passim; Ullmann, Sinlessness of Jesus, 52 ff.; Wendt, Teaching of Jesus, ii. 136 ff.; Fairbairn, Christ in Modern Theology, 347 ff.; F. W. Robertson, Sermons, i. 99 ff.; |Expositor, v. iv. [1896] 388 ff. On the union of the human with the Divine in the Person of Christ see the Christological sections of standard works on Christian Doctrine.

Frank Hugh Foster.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Humanity of Christ'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​h/humanity-of-christ.html. 1906-1918.
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