Jesus was fully man and fully God. That is a concept that is affirmed both in the Scripture and the early church, but impossible for us mere mortals to fully grasp. There are many challenges in understanding this dual nature of Christ. One of them concerns how much he knew during the 33 or so years that he lived on earth. I have run into a surprising number of people who claim that, during that time, Jesus had all knowledge. But I believe that is really contrary to the teachings of the Scripture.
Yes, Jesus was God
The primary argument for Jesus having all knowledge is that he is God, even during his life on earth. And I fully agree with that. Jesus was fully God before, during, and after his incarnation. And I understand the appeal to attribute all the attributes of divinity to Jesus during his sojourn on earth. It almost sounds sacrilegious to deny that he did.
But Jesus got hungry (Matt. 4:2), thirsty (John 19:28), and tired (John 4:6). These would all seem to be at odds with divinity. He was tested and tempted in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1). Yet God cannot be tempted by evil (Jam. 1:13). And he died on the cross; something that would not seem possible for God.
Yet He Was Also Human
In Hebrews 2:17 we read these words. “For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.“
Jesus was made like us in every way, fully and completely human. The passages in the previous section illustrate some of the human limitations that he experienced. But what else is involved in becoming fully human? Would it not also include a limitation on his knowledge?
Philippians 2:7 expresses something similar when Paul says that “he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” While exactly what Paul meant by this has been debated through the ages, it does seem clear that Jesus in some fashion restricted the use of his divine attributes and took on the nature of humanity. While Jesus was living on earth, he was living with a fully formed human nature and subject to the limitations of that nature.
Demonstrations of Limited Knowledge
There are several passages that illustrate Jesus’ limited knowledge. In Luke 2:52 we find that “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” At least during his formative years he did not have all knowledge since he was growing in wisdom. This passage expresses a normal human development in both in physical and intellectual development.
Another passage that is frequently used to demonstrate the limitations of Jesus knowledge is Matthew 24:26 where Jesus expresses that concerning who knows the time of his return, “not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” So there was at least one thing that Jesus explicitly did not know while he was on earth.
Another passage that seems to indicate a lack of knowledge is John 11:34 where Jesus asks where Lazarus body has been put. It could be that he knew and was just involving the sisters. But the easiest reading is that he did not know where the family tomb was.
Demonstrations of Supernatural Knowledge
Yet there are times when Jesus demonstrates what appears to be something more akin to a supernatural, or divine, knowledge. In Mark 2:1-12 is the story of the man whose friends brought him to Jesus on a mat, lowering him through a hole in the roof. Jesus responded by forgiving his sins. The teachers of the law who were present were thinking to themselves that Jesus was blaspheming. And Jesus knew in his spirit what they were thinking.
In John 2:24-25, in response to people seeing his miracles and believing in him John says “Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.” Jesus knew what was in each person. That sure sounds like divine knowledge.
But is this any different than the story in Acts 5:1-11. Here Ananias and Sapphira sell a piece of property, hold back some of the selling price, and bring the rest to the apostles, claiming it to be the whole amount. But Peter knows what they have done and confronts them over it.
How did Peter know? Most likely because the Holy Spirit revealed it to him. And could that not be the same with Jesus understanding of people and their thoughts? The Holy Spirit revealed to him what he needed to know.
Dependance on the Father
In the gospels we find Jesus expressing a dependence on the Father. In John 8:28, John 12:49 and John 14:10 Jesus expresses that he says nothing on his own authority. But he speaks only what the Father has given him to say. Would not this also include his expressed insight into people’s thoughts?
The gospels record several times when Jesus withdraws by himself and spends an extended time in prayer. One of these occurrences was in the garden on the night he was betrayed. In Matthew 26:29 we have recorded these words: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” This clearly expresses Jesus’ desire to obey the will of the Father. But it also would seem to express that Jesus, in his humanity, was uncertain that this was the only way. He lacked all knowledge.
In Luke 6:12-16, Jesus spent the night in prayer on the mountainside. Then, in the morning, he choose twelve of his disciples to be apostles. Why did Jesus first spend the night in prayer? It seems likely that he was, at least in part, seeking guidance concerning who he should pick.
The incarnate Jesus was fully God and fully man. The full scope of that is incomprehensible to me. But the Scripture clearly teaches that Jesus was human, in all respects like me, except without sin. That would include having all the limitations of humanity, even while still being God.
While it is appealing to view Jesus has knowing all things, even while living among us, that is contrary to what the Scripture says about him. A person with infinite knowledge would not be human like I am. Nor would they have to grow in knowledge during their childhood. Or be dependant on the Father for what they would say.
Seeing Jesus as limited in his knowledge does not detract from his divine nature. But it does amplify his humanity. And makes the example he set for us to follow more realistic. We cannot excuse our failure by saying “But Jesus was God.” Yes he was. But he was also fully human, not availing himself of his divinity while living among us.
The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.
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