Oversimplification and the Omniscience of Jesus
January 07, 2003
The assault against our Lord’s holy incarnation continues. We are witnessing both the denigration and defamation of His honor and integrity. Men of varying religious backgrounds and philosophies perceive and portray Jesus as a God, who lost all of His knowledge, including His God-consciousness, when He came into the world. Their descriptions of the incarnate Christ portray Him as an amnesiac.
The very notion of such a view of our divine Messiah repulses most of us, but there are those, even some who call themselves “gospel preachers,” who so perceive Jesus. This article is devoted to an examination and refutation of the primary arguments that are used to teach that Jesus surrendered His sure and certain knowledge when He became flesh.
The word "oversimplify" means:
Though relatively inconsequential in many areas of life, oversimplification is quite dangerous in the realm of biblical hermeneutics. By oversimplifying a passage, one misses the true meaning of the passage, generally creating friction with other passages on the same subject. Jesus said, “The scripture cannot be broken” (Jn. 10:35). This means all scripture is in agreement. One passage cannot be interpreted or applied in such a way so as to contradict the meaning of any other passage. Truth always harmonizes with truth.
The common misconception about John 3:16 is a classic example of biblical oversimplification. It is alleged that since John 3:16 says, “Whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life,” then people are saved on the basis of that faith "alone,” before and without any acts of obedience. Of course there is a serious problem with this view. It places John 3:16 in direct contradiction with other passages that demand obedience (Matt. 7:21; Heb. 5:9; Acts 2:38).
The same mistake is made in the misuse of certain biblical statements relating to the deity and humanity of Christ. Some verses appear to teach that Jesus gave up His divine knowledge while in the flesh. However, honest evaluation of these verses will clearly show that they have been oversimplified to the point of misrepresentation and contradiction with other passages on the subject of Christ's earthly knowledge.
Things the Bible Says Jesus Did Know while In Flesh:
Before examining the frequently oversimplified passages, we would do well to consider passages plainly telling us of things that Jesus did know. Remember that we are not at liberty to ignore any Bible truth. We must accept everything God has told us on the given subject. If certain statements appear to be contradictory, then we must reconsider our premises and rethink our conclusions.
How Much Did Jesus Know?
1. At the age of 12, Jesus was aware of His special and unique relationship with the Father (Lk. 2:49). He referred to God as “MY FATHER.” (This is quite significant seeing that, in John 5:17-18, the Jews attempted to kill Jesus for using this kind of personal language to describe His relationship with the Father.)
2. Jesus was able to know a person's character before He had ever spoken with, or even met him (John 1:47).
3. Jesus knew the thoughts of others before those thoughts were uttered (Mark 2:8).
4. Jesus knew the attitudes of others before those attitudes were openly manifested (Mark 3:1-5).
5. Jesus "knew all men" and "knew what was in man" (John 2:24-25).
6. Jesus knew "where He came from, and where he was going" (John 8:14).
7. Jesus "knew from the beginning, who would not believe on Him and who would betray Him" (John 6:64).
8. Jesus knew that the Father had "given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God, and was going back to God"(John 13:3).
9. Jesus "knew all things that would come upon Him" from His arrest and forward (John 18:4).
10. Quite simply, the apostles twice stated that Jesus "knew all things" (John 16:30; 21:17).
In light of the above statements, we obviously aren’t at liberty to believe and teach that Jesus lost His certain knowledge as a result of His earthly mission. Any passage that appears to teach that He did must be carefully considered and must be ultimately interpreted in a way that harmonizes with the above plain passages. Let us now consider some of the commonly oversimplified passages relating to this aspect of the incarnation.
Hebrews 5:8 - "Jesus Learned Obedience…"
"Though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered" (Hebrews 5:8). This verse is often used to suggest that Jesus lost His sure and certain knowledge in coming to the earth, and that He had to "learn" in the sense of acquiring information. This is an obvious oversimplification of the verse, for it contradicts the teaching of the several passages that we have already examined.
Rather than consider the biblical definition and usage of the word, those who make this argument apply their own definition. The consequence of their position is that Jesus began His life absolutely ignorant of all facts, then acquired information in the same way all normal humans do. According to this position, the incarnation made Jesus ignorant of, who He was, what He was doing on the earth, and what the will of God was for Him while He was on the earth! Furthermore, since we are told that He learned “obedience" itself, one would even have to conclude that Jesus had to be taught the very concept of obedience. This notion suggests that Jesus learned the basic mechanics and very essentials of how obedience worked. Who can believe this? Who can believe that the Jesus who said, "I am come down from heaven… to do the will of Him that sent me" (John 6:38), and “Lo, I come to do thy will, O God” (Heb. 10:7,9), is the same Jesus who had to learn what obedience was!
The word “learned” in Hebrews 5:8 does not mean that Jesus acquired information about obedience; it means He practiced and demonstrated obedience. Paul uses this same Greek word in Titus 3:14. The verse says, “And let ours also learn to maintain good works for necessary uses, that they be not unfruitful.” Notice the type of learning this word conveys. Paul wanted saints to “maintain” or practice good works. These saints were not learning what the good works were; they were putting the works into practice.
Inspired commentary on this verse was offered in verse 8 of this chapter. Paul had urged the saints to “be careful to maintain good works.” This expression is used interchangeably with the expression of verse 14 – “learn to maintain good works.” Further commentary is offered in Philippians 2:8 where Paul said Jesus “became obedient” when He was “found in fashion as a man.” “Becoming” obedient is not the same as finding out what obedience is.
Hebrews 5:8 does not deny the earthly omniscience of Christ. It does not teach that God became dumb, then had to relearn what He had known before. It does not teach that Jesus had to come to the earth to discover what obedience was! Neither does it teach that Jesus acquired information about divine commands and instructions. Hebrews 5:8 is telling us that even though Jesus was the creator and sustainer of the universe, yet for our sakes He assumed the “form of a slave” and as such, He “became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:7,8). Practicing obedience was simply one aspect of our Lord’s humble work of atonement.
Luke 2:52 - "Jesus Increased in Wisdom”
This verse is also frequently oversimplified. Let us remember what it means to oversimplify a thing - “To simplify to the point of causing misrepresentation, misconception, or error.” Let us see how this has been done with Luke 2:52.
Luke 2:52 says:
"Jesus grew in wisdom (sophia) and stature, and in favor with God and men."
Some use this verse to contend that Jesus increased in "knowledge." Of course, that is not what the verse says. It says He increased in "wisdom." Wisdom is the application of knowledge; it is not the knowledge itself. The Bible tells us that God possesses both "wisdom and knowledge" (Rom. 11:33). Literally dozens of Bible passages list "wisdom" and "knowledge" separately, indicating that there is a difference between the two. The fact of this distinction has been generally accepted by Bible students, but for some reason, it is not recognized by some brethren when they comment upon Luke 2:52. I wonder why not?
"Full of Truth" or "Increased in Truth?"
If the wisdom of Luke 2:52 is truth itself, then how did Jesus increase in it? Did Jesus, who was both "the Word" and "the Truth" personified (Jn. 1:1 and 14:6), have to study the word in order to know it! Does Luke 2:52 mean that Jesus started out His life as "ignorant" as all normal humans, then increased in knowledge? Obviously, the incarnation did not diminish the Lord's sure and certain knowledge, for John tells us that even after "the Word was made flesh," he and others were able to behold Christ’s glory. This was "the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14).
"Full of Grace" or "Increased in Grace?"
Luke 2:52 included "favor" or grace as one of the things that Jesus "grew" in. I remind you of John 1:14 again. Jesus was said to have been "full of grace and truth" from the time of His incarnation. How did Jesus "increase" in something that He was full of?
By oversimplifying Luke 2:52, some teach that Jesus either lost, or lost access to, His own divine knowledge. Actually, Luke tells us that Jesus had sure and certain knowledge of His special relationship with His Father and what His mission was upon the earth (Lk. 2:49). Luke also tells us that Jewish doctors and lawyers were amazed and astonished at Jesus' questions and answers (Lk. 2:47-48).
Harmonizing Luke 2:40 with Luke 2:52
Luke 2:52 tells us that Jesus "grew in wisdom," but just a few verses earlier in Luke chapter 2, we are told that Jesus was "full" of wisdom (sophia) (Luke 2:40). How can one be "full" of something while "increasing" in it? There is only one way. Luke 2:52 teaches that Jesus' "wisdom" was conjoined with the progression of His "stature" (physical development). As Jesus advanced from one stage of physical development to the next, He had all of the wisdom necessary to do His work. As Jesus grew physically, he grew in applying His knowledge. He did not "grow" or "increase" in the sense of acquiring more of a thing that He formerly lacked. Jesus "advanced" in that He "cut forward a way" (Vine on “increased”). 2 Timothy 2:16; 3:9,13 translates "prokopto" in the sense of "proceeding further." Galatians 1:14 tells us that Paul "advanced" in the Jew's religion, i.e., he "struck forward" in his religious practices.
By combining verses 40 and 52 of Luke 2, we learn that in the incarnation, Jesus accepted the physical limitations of the human body, yet His spirit remained immutably divine. Though He possessed sure and certain divine knowledge, He did not use that knowledge until a time and circumstance commensurate with His physical development, and in keeping with His mission. Luke 2:42-49 records the first such time. By the physical age 12, Jesus made reference to His Father as being in His words, "My Father." It is certain that Jesus had sure knowledge of His unique relationship with His Father, even by this early age. Did Jesus possess divine knowledge while He was a baby in the manger? Absolutely! Jesus was fully God in that manger (Matt. 1:23). Though He possessed a newly formed human body, His spirit was infinitely old and immutably divine (Ps. 90:2; Mal. 3:6; Heb. 13:8).
Luke 2:52 does not mean that Jesus started out His life "ignorant" as some brethren have taught, then increased in knowledge. Such an explanation defies both scripture and the very nature of God.
Luke 2:46 – “Jesus Asked Questions”
While in the midst of the Temple teachers, Jesus both “listened to them and asked them questions.” By oversimplifying this biblical statement, men hope to depict the incarnate Christ as being as potentially ignorant as the other teachers He associated with. (Actually, arguments that strip Jesus of His omniscience make Him, at least potentially, the dumbest man alive!)
People do not always ask questions for the purpose of obtaining information, yet those who believe the incarnate Christ was confined to only ordinary human attributes insist that this was the case with Jesus! They ignore passages like Genesis 3:9, where God asked Adam, "Where art thou?" Did God not know where Adam was? Did God ask this question to obtain information or to satisfy His own curiosity? Of course NOT! Nonetheless, some opine that every time Jesus asked a question it must have been for His own benefit. They grant Jesus less intelligence than they claim for themselves! It is fine for them to ask questions for the purpose of stimulating thought and response, but when Jesus does it, they say He is dumb! Such reasoning is worse than hypocritical; it is a blasphemous denigration of the incarnate Christ and an attack against His holy integrity.
Jesus did not ask questions for the purpose of acquiring information! He asked questions for the purpose of provoking thought and eliciting response. John 4:16-18 contains a classic example of this. Jesus told the Samaritan woman to “call her husband.” She responded, “I have no husband.” Was Jesus ignorant of the facts in this case? No. He was perfectly familiar with the facts. He accurately described her marital history along with her present marital status. He knew all of the facts, but used language that would invite a response from the woman. His method was more than just appropriate; it was perfect, for this exchange caused the woman to later defend Christ as being one who told her “all things that ever I did” (John 4:29).
In Matthew 8:26 Jesus asked the Apostles, "Why are you afraid?", then He gave the answer to the very question He had just asked. In Matthew 9:4 Jesus asked His enemies, "Why are you thinking evil in your hearts?", yet the same verse says He knew their thoughts. In Matthew 9:5 Jesus asked the question, "Which is easier to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say 'Rise, and walk,'?" Of course, Jesus went on to give the answer in the very next verse. Jesus' questions to the Jewish elders served exactly the same purpose; Jesus raised questions, not for information, but to stimulate thought.
Mark 13:32 - Concerning the Last Day
"But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father" (Mk. 13:32) (KJV).
In Matthew's account Jesus emphasized the fact that no one knew but His "Father only" (Matt. 24:36). This means that whatever argument one wishes to make about Christ from this verse, must also be made about the Holy Spirit. If Mark 13:32 means the incarnation stripped Jesus of His sure and certain knowledge, then it also means that the incarnation stripped the Holy Spirit of knowledge! Did Christ’s coming to the earth strip the Holy Spirit of His omniscience? Will my opponents accept this consequence of their doctrine?
Let us remember that this verse must harmonize with all else the Bible says on this subject. It is far more reasonable to view this verse as a role passage. That is, the determination of “the times and the seasons” was not within the scope of Christ’s work or province – such was the Father’s work (Acts 1:7). The decision about the time of the last day was the Father’s decision. Jesus merely emphasizes this fact in Mark 13:32.
I find it strange and a bit inconsistent that some affirm that Mark 13:32 denies the earthly omniscience of Christ, yet they remain unwilling to apply their argument to the Father. For example, regardless of what Genesis 22:12 truly means, it does appear to teach that God chose not to know what choice Abraham would make when he was told to offer up Isaac. After the test God said, "Now I know that you fear me" (Gen. 22:12). Are there some who will argue that Genesis 22:12 denies the Father’s omniscience? In my personal opinion, Genesis 22:12 is a clearer statement of God’s not knowing a thing than is Mark 13:32.
Another example of this is found in Genesis 18:21 where God said He was going down to Sodom to see if the sin was as bad as the cry. He said, "If not, I shall know." Do these verses deny the omniscience of God the Father? Do we have to say that God gives up His divine knowledge just because He chooses not to know a certain thing?
Jeremiah 7:31; 19:5 and 32:35 tell us that the practice of the Jews offering their children, in the fire to Molech, was a thing that had never “come into God’s mind.” This language is every bit as clear, if not clearer, than the language in Mark 13:32, that God was unaware of something. Why the prejudice in interpretation? Why do men charge Jesus with having lost His omniscience on the basis of the teaching of Mark 13:32, yet they do not charge the Father with such on the basis of similar passages?
Men should view Mark 13:32 no differently than they do Genesis 22:12; 18:21 or Jeremiah 7:31. It makes no difference whether God is in heaven or on the earth. If Mark 13:32 means Jesus lost His omniscience in coming to the earth, then these other passages mean the Father lost His omniscience before Christ ever made it to the earth!
I am constantly amazed at the vastly different approaches to passages like those we have considered in this article. Some brethren look for a modernistic, naturalistic explanation, while others among us look for an explanation that exalts Christ as our Divine Messiah, our Lord and God. To some, it may appear as a harmless thing to say that Jesus either surrendered, or surrendered access to His sure and certain knowledge. However, millions of cultists hold this very view and look where they are! Not one Bible passage can be produced saying Jesus acquired information from man. In fact, the Bible says Jesus never learned one thing either about man (Jn. 2:24-25), or from man (Jn. 16:30; 21:17). I am comfortable speaking where the Bible speaks on this matter. During His days in the flesh, Jesus remained omniscient God.