27. Is it true that the SDA Church teach the heretical view that Jesus Christ was sinful?
No. This charge is often given as another ‘proof’ that the
is a cult. However, the question is technically irrelevant, because the SDA Church actually has no official position on the subject, with individual Adventists holding a variety of views, consistent with the broad debate found within ‘orthodox’ Christianity itself. SDA Church
By way of background, this issue relates to the complex theological question over just how ‘human’ Jesus really was, in the hypostatic union of his divine and human nature(s). In particular, it concerns a text in Rom 8:3, which says:
“For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh” (emphasis added).
First, even within the boundaries of ‘orthodox’ Trinitarian Christianity, the question of Christ’s nature(s) espouses a wide variety of very complicated (and arguably pedantic) views. For example, there is Monophysitism, Miaphysitism, Docetism and Nestorianism to name just a few theories. Moreover, many branches of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, such as Syrian Orthodoxy, Assyrian Church, Coptic Orthodoxy, Ethiopian Orthodoxy, and Armenian Apostolicism, reject the Chalcedon Creed, which formulated the ‘traditional’ doctrine of hypostatic union:
Second, this topic also relates to the interrelated question of whether there is such thing as ‘original sin’, a doctrine largely formulated by Augustine of Hippo (b.354 – d.430 AD). Augustine taught that Adam’s fall resulted in his actual guilt being collectively transferred to future generations (i.e. sin as a state), as distinct from an inherited mere inclination to sin (i.e. sin as an act and mere inclination to sin). This debate in turn often centres on whether Jesus had the nature of Adam before the fall (i.e. necessary if there is ancestral guilt, otherwise Jesus would have been a sinner) or after the fall (i.e. if sin is merely an act or inclination to act in a sinful way, but for the avoidance of doubt affirming Christ was sinless).
Most Roman Catholics and Protestants believe in original sin. However, Judaism and much of the Eastern Orthodox Christianity (who were not greatly influenced by the Latin writings of Augustine), reject any notion of hereditary guilt and ‘Total Depravity’. It should be remembered that these latter views are arguably just as ‘orthodox’ and pre-date Roman Catholic doctrines:
Third, for those individual Adventists who argue Christ had the corrupt nature of post-fall Adam (but for the avoidance of doubt remained without sin), such views can hardly be described as heretical, given similar opinions have been raised by a number notable theologians. These include Edward Irving, Thomas Erskine, Herman Kohlbrugge, Eduard Bohl, Karl Barth, T. F. Torrance, Nels Ferre, C. E. B. Cranfield, Harold Roberts, Lesslie Newbigin, E. Stauffer, Anders Nygren, C. K. Barrett, and Eric Baker. As prominent Lutheran theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg in Jesus—God and Man (1964) wrote:
“The conception that at the Incarnation God did not assume human nature in its corrupt sinful state but only joined Himself with a humanity absolutely purified from all sin contradicts not only the anthropological radicality of sin, but also the testimony of the New Testament and of early Christian theology that the Son of God assumed sinful flesh and in sinful flesh itself overcame sin.” (emphasis added)
Fourth, the limits of Christ’s human nature might also be related to the extent of His knowledge. For example, did the infant or childhood Jesus know everything, and if not, does this somehow undermine Jesus divinity given God’s purported omniscience? Again, even within ‘mainstream’ Trinitarian Christianity, there is a wide variety of opinions, with Roman Catholic and Calvinist views differing widely.
Fifth, it is true that historically many Adventists rejected original sin; today many Adventists support the doctrine. Likewise, historically many Adventists believed Jesus had a post-fall nature; today many uphold a pre-fall nature.
Finally and most importantly, the
holds no official position in relation to the nature of Christ. A quick search of the SDA General Conference’s Biblical Research Institute will demonstrate the Church very fairly provides articles from scholars advocating both positions. For example, see: SDA Church
In fact, the
’s official position is actually to stay out of the debate: SDA Church
“However, the church has wisely not elucidated in a doctrinal statement the specific nature of Jesus' human nature.”
Thus, in conclusion, given the SDA Church actually holds no official view on this subject, and given there is a wide divergence of views within Adventism as there is within ‘orthodox’ or ‘mainstream’ Christianity itself, this question is entirely a red herring.
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