Was Jesus Planning on Coming [Incarnating] Even Without the ‘Fall’?

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Do you think Jesus would have come, and was originally planning on coming to earth, and incarnating, even without the ‘fall’ of humanity into sin? Here is how Myk Habets (friend, mentor, soon to be doctoral supervisor, co-editor, brother in Christ) has asked this question with more elaboration:

[A]ccording to Christian tradition Jesus Christ is pre-eminent over all creation as the Alpha and the Omega, the ‘beginning and the end’ (Rev 1.8, 21.6; 22.13). This belief, when theologically considered, is known as the primacy of Christ.1 The specific issue this doctrine addresses is the question: Was sin the efficient or the primary cause of the incarnation? This essay seeks to model the practice of modal logic in relation to the primacy of Christ, not to satisfy the cravings of speculative theologians but to reverently penetrate the evangelical mystery of the incarnation, specifically, the two alternatives: either ‘God became man independently of sin,’ or its contradiction, ‘God became man because of sin’. Examining historical responses to the primacy of Christ will lead to a consideration of how some recent theologians have taken up these themes and sought to develop them. This in turn provides resources that contribute towards an understanding of the incarnation assuming that the efficient cause was human sin. Finally, an argument will be presented defending the primacy of Christ and a justification for the hypothesis that there would have been an incarnation of the Son irrespective of the fall. [Myk Habets,  The author 2008. Journal compilation C  The Dominican Council/Blackwell Publishing Ltd. 2008, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK, and 350 Main Street, Malden MA 02148, USA DOI:10.1111/j.1741-2005.2008.00240.x, p. 343.]

So what do you think? Do you think that if sin was the primary reason for Jesus becoming human, that this would mean that creation determined something for God, that God did not first determine for himself? Thomas Aquinas, Habets argues throughout the rest of his essay, would answer in the affirmative; i.e. that the primary reason Jesus came to earth as a human being was to deal with the consequences and fall out provided by the Fall. It is understandable why Aquinas and the classical Tradition have taken this view, but is the traditional view consistent with the theo-logic required by a doctrine of God that sees Jesus as primary over all of creation?

Here is how Myk breaks this down in even more pointed fashion:

[T]wo views on the primacy of Christ dominate the discussion within medieval theology, those of the Franciscans, led by John Duns Scotus, and those of the Dominicans, led by Thomas Aquinas. According to the first view humanity was created for glory, and sin is merely an episode along the way. The incarnation would have occurred  irrespective of the fall since humanity’s ultimate destiny is participation in the being of God and the incarnation guarantees that this will be realized. This Franciscan position is known as the Scotistic thesis. It is what one scholar terms ‘elevation-line’ theology which sees the incarnation as the way to the elevation or consummation of creation.5 The second major view considers the deliverance of creation as secondary to the question of sin. This is the Dominican position known as the Thomistic thesis. It may be characterised as a ‘restitution-line’ theology, in which the incarnation occurred solely as a remedy for humanity’s sin, with the restitution of creation as a corollary. Both ‘school’s’ of thought deserve some articulation before examining some recent contributions to the issue. [pp. 344-45]

Something to consider for you then. Are you an ‘elevation’ theologian or an ‘restitution’? Or maybe you are both?

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7 comments

  1. I love that you have brought up this question and a chance to think along with you regarding it. I, personally, find that I am becoming more and more of a “both/and” thinking theologian, rather than an “either/or” thinking theologian 🙂

    That being said, I think that according to the scripture, especially Ephesians 1:3ff, the plan for humanity in Christ is Adoption IN CHRIST, or inclusion into the Love and Life of the Triune God. Foreseeing the potential disaster of our lapse back into nothingness and considering our distinction in the image of God, it was proclaimed that Christ was slain from the foundation of the world – Rev 13:8. This means, to me, that the one and only plan was Inclusion into the Love and Life of God IN the literal Person and being of Christ, but that if and when something disastrous should take place to interrupt that (a lapse back into the nothingness), Plan A for “Adoption” would still stay in effect and prevent the lapse because the Son would also undo the potential damage in His permanent Incarnation!

    As your article hints at, there is no getting to the right hand of the Father, Son and Spirit and full Inclusion without a Person of the Trinity coming to us as we are and getting us there. Adoption IN CHRIST means there is no other way to get into that relationship and therefore, One of the Trinity must become Incarnate, regardless of sin to pull that off!

    I think the Nicene Creed has it right when it says that Jesus came “for us and for our salvation”. I believe this means He was coming for us, to adopt and include us, into His relationship with His Father, the Spirit, humanity and all creation, but that if we needed saving, the Incarnation was so creative an act that it could accomplish that too!

    I find Athanasius very helpful in helping us to think this out according to God’s Goodness and Grace, and especially in the light of his involvement in the development of the Nicene Creed in Light of the Arian heresy. For those who have never read “On The Incarnation of the Word of God” by Athanasius, here are paragraphs 6-8:

    “We saw in the last chapter that, because death and corruption were gaining ever firmer hold on them, the human race was in process of destruction. Man, who was created in God’s image and in his possession of reason reflected the very Word Himself, was disappearing, and the work of God was being undone. The law of death, which followed from the Transgression, prevailed upon us, and from it there was no escape. The thing that was happening was in truth both monstrous and unfitting. It would, of course, have been unthinkable that God should go back upon His word and that man, having transgressed, should not die; but it was equally monstrous that beings which once had shared the nature of the Word should perish and turn back again into non-existence through corruption. It was unworthy of the goodness of God that creatures made by Him should be brought to nothing through the deceit wrought upon man by the devil; and it was supremely unfitting that the work of God in mankind should disappear, either through their own negligence or through the deceit of evil spirits. As, then, the creatures whom He had created reasonable, like the Word, were in fact perishing, and such noble works were on the road to ruin, what then was God, being Good, to do? Was He to let corruption and death have their way with them? In that case, what was the use of having made them in the beginning? Surely it would have been better never to have been created at all than, having been created, to be neglected and perish; and, besides that, such indifference to the ruin of His own work before His very eyes would argue not goodness in God but limitation, and that far more than if He had never created men at all. It was impossible, therefore, that God should leave man to be carried off by corruption, because it would be unfitting and unworthy of Himself.
    (7) Yet, true though this is, it is not the whole matter. As we have already noted, it was unthinkable that God, the Father of Truth, should go back upon His word regarding death in order to ensure our continued existence. He could not falsify Himself; what, then, was God to do? Was He to demand repentance from men for their transgression? You might say that that was worthy of God, and argue further that, as through the Transgression they became subject to corruption, so through repentance they might return to incorruption again. But repentance would not guard the Divine consistency, for, if death did not hold dominion over men, God would still remain untrue. Nor does repentance recall men from what is according to their nature; all that it does is to make them cease from sinning. Had it been a case of a trespass only, and not of a subsequent corruption, repentance would have been well enough; but when once transgression had begun men came under the power of the corruption proper to their nature and were bereft of the grace which belonged to them as creatures in the Image of God. No, repentance could not meet the case. What—or rather Who was it that was needed for such grace and such recall as we required? Who, save the Word of God Himself, Who also in the beginning had made all things out of nothing? His part it was, and His alone, both to bring again the corruptible to incorruption and to maintain for the Father His consistency of character with all. For He alone, being Word of the Father and above all, was in consequence both able to recreate all, and worthy to suffer on behalf of all and to be an ambassador for all with the Father.
    (8) For this purpose, then, the incorporeal and incorruptible and immaterial Word of God entered our world. In one sense, indeed, He was not far from it before, for no part of creation had ever been without Him Who, while ever abiding in union with the Father, yet fills all things that are. But now He entered the world in a new way, stooping to our level in His love and Self-revealing to us. He saw the reasonable race, the race of men that, like Himself, expressed the Father’s Mind, wasting out of existence, and death reigning over all in corruption. He saw that corruption held us all the closer, because it was the penalty for the Transgression; He saw, too, how unthinkable it would be for the law to be repealed before it was fulfilled. He saw how unseemly it was that the very things of which He Himself was the Artificer should be disappearing. He saw how the surpassing wickedness of men was mounting up against them; He saw also their universal liability to death. All this He saw and, pitying our race, moved with compassion for our limitation, unable to endure that death should have the mastery, rather than that His creatures should perish and the work of His Father for us men come to nought, He took to Himself a body, a human body even as our own. Nor did He will merely to become embodied or merely to appear; had that been so, He could have revealed His divine majesty in some other and better way. No, He took our body, and not only so, but He took it directly from a spotless, stainless virgin, without the agency of human father—a pure body, untainted by intercourse with man. He, the Mighty One, the Artificer of all, Himself prepared this body in the virgin as a temple for Himself, and took it for His very own, as the instrument through which He was known and in which He dwelt. Thus, taking a body like our own, because all our bodies were liable to the corruption of death, He surrendered His body to death instead of all, and offered it to the Father. This He did out of sheer love for us, so that in His death all might die, and the law of death thereby be abolished because, having fulfilled in His body that for which it was appointed, it was thereafter voided of its power for men. This He did that He might turn again to incorruption men who had turned back to corruption, and make them alive through death by the appropriation of His body and by the grace of His resurrection. Thus He would make death to disappear from them as utterly as straw from fire.”

    Peace and Blessings,

    Timothy

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  2. I’m stuck being committed to the restitution line, but. And this is why I have lately taken to saying that the incarnation in time is a free act of the God who is as he is in Jesus Christ, in a self-consistent way, in eternity. John 1 can be read in this way without positing the pre-existence of a distinct person of the Son. In the best of our Trinitarian thought, we never make the claim that the persons of the Trinity are either substantially distinct or agentically distinguishable, except in terms of their internal interrelations and as they act upon one another. From an ad extra perspective it makes no difference. The incarnation is not a change in the being of God, only in its relation to itself. It is not a change in God’s nature, only a new action consistent with the eternal will. It is not another in God, or God being another, but God being the same in a new way.

    This is, of course, a line of thought with unorthodox implications. On the one hand, to say no to subordinationism, one is required to really and seriously deny the monarchy of the Father, and relegate his personhood to mere equality with the Son and Spirit. This was not actually done in the conciliar strand, any more than legislation that asserts the equality of women with men actually dethrones patriarchy. The monarch must actually be deposed and made equal to his “subjects.” On the other, to say no to modalism, it requires the assertion that God is eternally faithful to God’s becomings. And the gripping hand, the most problematic thing, is that it requires that we say that God has in fact become in eternity, in relation to time—that God became Father, became Son, became Spirit, and is these three and no other than these three, but at no time has ever been substantially different or self-discontinuous for the fact of these becomings in relationship to creation. That God is in fact this one at all times and in all places, and has the character shown in the self-revealing of these becomings in relationship with creation, and is and will never be other than this one who is these three.

    Non-orthodox phrasing makes you really work for orthodox compliance. 🙂 But the point is to stress the self-consistency of the divine, eternal will and its freedom, rather than to stress any this-side term such as immutability or impassivity.

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  3. @Matt,

    Nice, Barthian explanation! TF Torrance does similar work, but instead of doing so in the ad extra he locates divine equality in the in se antecedent (relative to the ad extra), through his thinking which he calls onto-relations. So of course, Torrance is still more classic here, and has this kind of metaphysic at work in his articulation; but it terminates, in many ways, where you, and your constructive appropriation of Barth do.

    @Timothy,

    Hi. I am curious why you believe the passage from Revelation would align with the Scotist thesis? To me the idea that he was slain before the foundation of the world would fit better with the Thomist restitution theology noted in my post. If sin had not entered the world, and Jesus was going to incarnate anyway, I am curious why he would have had to be slain; what are your thoughts?

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  4. Hi Bobby,
    Another good post of yours. Van Driel is indeed excellent on this topic. At my blog I wrote yesterday a post about Hans Lassen Martensen, only known as Kierkegaard’s opponent usually. He endorses the thesis of the primacy of Christ and develops a supralapsarian Christology.
    Arjen

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  5. Arjen, thank you. I am going to have to read van Driel some time :-)!

    I’ll have to come check out your post, thanks for the heads up. Great to hear from you again too!!

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