Yesterday, we began to look at an AiG post from 2012 about Peter Enns and his book, The Evolution of Adam. Today, we will conclude our look at AiG’s post. We are now at the point in the post where AiG finally gets around to fleshing out the title: “Was Jesus Wrong? Peter Enns says ‘Yes.’” You see, one of the points Peter Enns makes in his book is that Jesus of Nazareth was…truly human…with human limitations. Therefore, AiG interprets that as Peter Enns accusing Jesus of being wrong. Let’s flesh this out.
And Then, Enns Attacks Jesus! (Not really…but AiG would have you think so)
At one point in The Evolution of Adam, Enns briefly addresses the argument that says, “Since Jesus refers to Moses writing about him in John 5:46-47, that must mean Moses wrote all of the Torah, because Jesus can’t be wrong.” It is thus assumed by some that if Jesus mentions something, it must be a historical statement; and since Jesus is God, he must be all-knowing and truthful, so therefore he wouldn’t say anything that could be deemed unhistorical. If he did, he’d be lying, and therefore wouldn’t be God.
Enns’ answer is quite logical: just because Jesus is the incarnate Son of God, that doesn’t mean he wasn’t also fully human with human limitations. When referring to Moses writing the Torah, Enns writes, “Jesus here reflects the tradition that he himself inherited as a first-century Jew and that his hearers assumed to be the case.“ Simply put, that’s how first century Jews referred to the Torah, and Jesus, as a first-century Jew, referred to it that way as well. Jesus wasn’t making a definitive statement regarding authorship—he was simply speaking as any first-century Jew would. This doesn’t mean he’s not the Son of God.
…well, apparently it does according to AiG.
To explain exactly why they feel Enns’ comments are so heinous, AiG claims that the view Enns is putting forth is something called “the accommodation theory,” which basically states that when God revealed His Word, He used the language, culture, imagery, assumptions of that time. In other words, He spoke to them using language they would be familiar with, and thus “accommodated” His revelation to the level of their understanding at the time. This would hold true for both the Old and New Testaments.
For example, in the ancient world, they thought the sun went around the earth, and so throughout the Bible (think Joshua commanding the sun to stand still), that concept is used, even though we know now that, in fact, the sun doesn’t go around the earth. Technically, you could say the Bible “got it wrong” in a scientific sense, but no one makes a big deal about that, because we realize the ancients had no way of knowing about the heliocentric universe—so we won’t hold that point against them, and we’re not going to throw up our hands and say, “Well! We know the earth goes around the sun now! We have to throw the whole Bible out!”
We understand that back then, from their point of view (quite literally!), it seemed the sun went around the earth, so they simply described things given what they knew at the time. We don’t hold their lack of knowledge concerning astronomy against them, and deny the validity of God’s inspired Word because of that.
The same holds true regarding the authorship of the Torah. Jesus referred to Moses as the writer of the Torah because that was the way all Jews of his day viewed the Torah. Jesus’ clear point in John 5:46-47 was that the Torah speaks about him. Whether or not Moses actually wrote the entire Torah is irrelevant and incidental. Sure, Jesus probably assumed Mosaic authorship, just like he probably assumed the sun went around the earth—that lack of factual or scientific knowledge doesn’t mean he’s not God.
…but AiG insists that if Jesus wasn’t omniscient in matters of all historical and scientific facts, then he wouldn’t be truly God. I’ll let them explain:
“The accommodation theory is very popular among liberal theologians and basically asserts that Jesus accommodated (accepted and taught) the various ideas of His day, even if they were wrong. Allegedly, since Jesus was primarily concerned with spiritual matters, He didn’t bother to correct some of their false historical or scientific beliefs because doing so might have distracted from His real message.”
For the record, the idea of accommodation is not an 18th century “liberal” idea. It was acknowledged by men like John Calvin, Martin Luther, and (I believe) St. Augustine. It’s an idea that has been known throughout Church history. But notice what it implied in that quote. Apparently, AiG believes that part of Jesus ministry of the Gospel was to correct any “false historical or scientific beliefs” first century Jews may have had!
AiG’s Biblical “Proof” that Jesus Never Got a Fact Wrong (and a little bit of Biology to boot)
Amazingly, AiG proceeds to give supposed Scriptural support for this notion. They cite Matthew 22:29, when Jesus tells the Sadducees “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God,” in order to show that Jesus often rebuked people for holding to beliefs that were contrary to Scripture. They then cite John 2:15-16 (Jesus driving out the money changers in the Temple) and Matthew 23:16-23 (Jesus condemning the scribes and Pharisees), in order to show that Jesus “often reacted strongly to accepted practices” contrary to God’s Word, and therefore, clearly would never “accommodate the errors of His time.”
All of this is problematic at best. First, in Matthew 22:29, Jesus was rebuking the Sadducees’ bad theology regarding a future resurrection; he wasn’t rebuking them for not getting their facts straight. For clarity’s sake, in that very passage, the Sadducees put forth the scenario of a woman being married to seven brothers, and then ask Jesus whose wife she would be in the resurrection. They ask this question as a way of mocking the idea of a resurrection. But in the scenario itself, the reason why the woman is married to each brother over time is because the previous one has died. And in that culture it was expected that if a man dies without leaving behind any offspring, then his brother was obligated to marry his brother’s widow and “raise up offspring” for his brother.
Now, in the ancient world, they had no scientific concept of sperm and eggs. The assumption was that a man “planted his seed” in the woman’s “soil,” much like you plant any seed in the soil. It was assumed that the woman contributed nothing, other than fertile soil in which the man’s seed could grow.
Therefore, if AiG is correct in its claim that Jesus was about the business of correcting the false historical and scientific beliefs of his day, then why didn’t Jesus correct the Sadducees for their faulty idea regarding procreation? Why didn’t he say, “Your premise regarding raising up offspring for the brother is wrong, because in reality the man sperm has to break through the woman’s egg in order for conception to occur”?
The answer should be obvious. And no, it’s not, “Jesus really knew about sperm and eggs and chose not to go into all that with the Sadducees.” Rather, it’s “Being a first century Jew, Jesus probably assumed the same thing as everybody else at the time did regarding conception, and therefore didn’t know the scientific facts regarding sperm and eggs himself. And that’s okay, because nowhere in the New Testament does it suggest that since Jesus was divine, that he possessed all historical and scientific knowledge for all time.”
Secondly, in regards to driving out the money-changers and condemning the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus was reacting against hypocrisy, greed, and the oppression of the poor, not about mistaken claims about authorship, or other factual mistakes. He wasn’t condemning people for factual errors—he was condemning them for sin. Therefore, for AiG to use those verses to somehow “prove” that Jesus would have never put up with people getting their facts wrong is worse than ludicrous…it is purposely manipulative and deceptive.
Sin = …Not Having All the Right Facts?
Amazingly, though, AiG wasn’t done trying to make its case. It pointed out that some people point to Matthew 24:36 (where Jesus says he doesn’t know the timing of his coming) in order to show that Jesus wasn’t omniscient and therefore had limited understanding. Well, AiG said, Jesus may have had limits to his understanding, but that’s not the same as misunderstanding. From that point on, AiG hammered home their claim that if Jesus was truly God, then he could not have ever stated anything to be factually wrong:
“We can be certain that when Jesus affirmed something to be true, He knew it was true, and He spoke with absolute authority. Jesus never accommodated the erroneous thinking of His day. He always spoke the truth, the full truth, and nothing but the truth.”
“If Jesus taught error, then He would have lied to His listeners, in which case He would have been a sinner. If He unwittingly taught error, then He would have misled His followers, making Him a false teacher. Either option leaves us with a Jesus who is sinful and less than God.”
“Since Jesus only spoke the words the Father taught Him, then to say that Jesus accommodated the errors of His day is to also claim that God the Father made these same mistakes.”
“God cannot lie! To assert that Jesus knowingly told His hearers falsehoods or affirmed something that He knew was false can only be called a lie. To rightly understand the nature of the Scriptures and their inerrancy and infallibility, we must clearly connect these ideas with the character of God. Since God cannot lie, neither can His Scriptures. As the incarnate Son of God, Jesus would not mislead anyone, even though He was a first-century Jew. To suggest that Jesus would lie, even if you try to call it an ‘accommodation,’ is to deny the deity of Christ.”
In other words, Jesus could never had said a factual thing wrong, because even though he looked human and didn’t know everything, he was God, and therefore knew perfectly everything that he did know. Therefore, if he ever taught anything that turned out to be historically or scientifically not true, then he would be a sinner, a false teacher, and less than God. Does that make sense to you?
Let’s look back to his rebuking of the Sadducees regarding the question of the woman and the seven brothers. By not correcting them of their obvious scientific factual error regarding conception, that would imply that he also misunderstood what conception actually entailed, right? And if he did know the modern scientific understanding about conception, but chose not to correct the Sadducees on that point, then that would mean he was “accommodating the erroneous thinking of His day,” right?
It should be obvious that AiG is speaking out of both sides of their mouth. But more importantly, it should be even more obvious that their whole line of argumentation is ludicrous and irrelevant. Admitting that Jesus was both divine and yet fully human and subject to normal human limitations is not an attack on Jesus, or God the Father, or the Gospel—it’s an acknowledgment of the traditional Christian teaching about Jesus.
Hate to Say it…but That’s Actually Heresy in the Historical Christian Sense of the Word
If you know anything about Church history and the early heresies that threatened it, you should be able to realize that this notion that Jesus was somehow “God in a human costume” was, in fact, a heresy known as Apollinarianism. This heresy taught that Jesus may have had a human body, but had a purely divine nature, possessing all the power and omniscience of God.
The early Church councils were quick to condemn any kind of teaching that downplayed Jesus’ humanness in any way. Jesus was not “God in a human body.” Jesus was God. Jesus was a human being. No, we cannot fully grasp how that works, but neither can we afford to deny the fact that Jesus had normal human limitations. To do so is to flirt with heresies that have long been rejected by the Church.
Ironically, at one point in the AiG article, they actually state that the notion of accommodation that Peter Enns makes reference to is actually…you guessed it…heresy. In their minds, saying that Jesus was a first-century Jew with normal human limitations is to “charge our precious Savior with error” and to “accuse the Father of instructing the Son to teach error.” That’s right, in the world of AiG, if you don’t believe that Jesus spoke with factual and scientific perfection at all times, then you are a heretic.
Nowhere in Church history is “heresy” ever defined in those terms. But it is defined in terms of any teaching that goes against the traditional teachings of Christ that were passed down by his apostles and clarified in the Church councils. And it was in those very early Church councils where they condemned teachings like Docetism and Apollinarianism for being heresies because they denied Jesus’ full humanity.
Can You Hear Me Now? No? Maybe I Need to Accommodate your Human Limitations…Let’s Let the Word Become Flesh
The post ends with a final condemnation of accommodationism: “To accept accommodationism means that God is not able to use language in a way that perfectly communicates the meaning without embracing falsehoods.”
Think about that sentence. Does that make sense? Or let me put it another way: is it possible for human language to “perfectly communicate” at all times? What does “perfectly communicate” even look like? A linguist would have a field day with the absurdity of this notion. Here’s why: communication involves both a “communicator” and a “communicatee,” if you will: someone who sends a message and someone who receives that message. In order for “perfect communication” to occur, that would require both the “sender” and “receiver” to be perfect. But even if you start with “God the sender” being perfect, the fact is that “human beings the receivers” aren’t perfect—we aren’t omniscient, we aren’t all-knowing, and therefore, we are limited in our knowledge and understanding.
Therefore, this notion of “perfect communication” is an absurdity right from the jump. In order for God to communicate to us at all, He has to become human, get down on our level, and put up with our limitedness and limited understanding. Simply put, He has to accommodate our weaknesses and short-comings in order to communicate at all.
And isn’t that the point of the incarnation? The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. If you demand some sort of “perfect communication” and deny that God accommodates our limited knowledge in any way, then the fact is, you are denying the incarnation. You are denying that Jesus is fully human.
Let’s be clear: the Bible testifies that Jesus was sinless. It doesn’t claim he never got a fact wrong, and it certainly doesn’t define “sin” as being “getting certain facts wrong” about science or the authorship of the Torah.
Everything in AiG’s article is wrong, from its false claims regarding the Documentary Hypothesis, to its misuse of Scripture and its denial of the Traditional Church teaching about the divine and human natures of Christ. Once again, in their attempts to label Peter Enns a heretic, AiG successfully puts on display a modern form of Apollinarianism.