Written by 300 scholars. Known as the most effective book in leading people to Christ and His truth. For public and private studies. Answered twenty-eight hundred questions. Originally published in 1888.
Revised and Enlarged Edition with Nearly 300 Illustrations
The below passage has been derived from the book Touched With Our Feelings by the late Prof. Jean R. Zurcher, French-speaking Swiss scholar and church administrator:
In 1949 the Review and Herald Publishing Association requested Professor D. E. Rebok, president of the Adventist Theological Seminary, Washington, D.C., to review the text of the book Bible Readings for the Home Circle, in preparation for a new edition.
This book, which had appeared in numerous editions, was widely used by Adventist families in the systematic study of the Bible. It presented the official teaching of the church in great detail. As we have shown earlier, the 1915 edition, reprinted in 1936 and in 1945, stipulated unequivocally, “In His humanity Christ partook of our sinful, fallen nature. If not, then He was not ‘made like unto his brethren,’ was not ‘in all points tempted like as we are,’ did not overcome as we have to overcome, and is not, therefore, the complete and perfect Saviour that man needs and must have to be saved.”
Froom remarks about Rebok: “Coming upon this unfortunate note on page 174, in the study about the ‘Sinless Life,’ he recognized that this was not true. So the inaccurate note was deleted, and has remained out in all subsequent printings.” As a result, the new edition of Bible Readings gives a new answer to the question: “How fully did Christ share our common humanity?” The answer cites Hebrews 2:17, with the following explanatory remark: “Jesus Christ is both Son of God and Son of man. As a member of the human family ‘it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren’ – ‘in the likeness of sinful flesh.’ Just how far that ‘likeness’ goes is a mystery of the Incarnation which men have never been able to solve. The Bible clearly teaches that Christ was tempted just as other men are tempted—’in all points . . . like as we are.’ Such temptation must necessarily include the possibility of sinning; but Christ was without sin. There is no Bible support for the teaching that the mother of Christ, by an immaculate conception, was cut off from the sinful inheritance of race, and therefore her divine Son was incapable of sinning.”
This is a significant difference from the 1946 edition. While the older version underlines the participation of Christ in “man’s sinful nature,” in “his fallen nature,” the latter strongly affirms that “Christ was without sin.” Obviously, the affirmation is perfectly correct. No one has ever claimed otherwise. But that is not the question. The question is about Christ’s humanity, about His “sinful flesh,” as Paul puts it.
As has been pointed out, by rejecting the dogma of the immaculate conception and stating that Mary had naturally inherited the blemishes inherent in humanity, Rebok leaves unexplained how Jesus did not Himself inherit sinful flesh, like all the descendants of Adam. Does not Paul expressly say that He was born “of the seed of David, according to the flesh”?
Rebok, in his editing of Bible Readings, also altered a second explanatory note, in answer to the question “Where did God, in Christ, condemn sin, and gain the victory for us over temptation and sin?” The two explanatory notes, from two different editions, are placed in parallel for comparison below:
“God, in Christ, condemned sin, not by pronouncing against it merely as a judge sitting on the judgment-seat, but by coming and living in in the flesh, in sinful flesh, and yet without sinning. In Christ, He demonstrated that it is possible, by His grace and power, to resist temptation, overcome sin, and live a sinless life in sinful flesh.”
Rebok’s Revised Text
“God, in Christ, condemned sin, not by pronouncing against it merely as a judge sitting on the judgment-seat, but by coming and living in the flesh, (omission) and yet without sinning. In Christ, He demonstrated that it is possible, by His grace and power, to resist temptation, overcome sin, and live a sinless life in (omission) the flesh.”
The differences between the two notes are small yet significant. Paul’s expression “sinful flesh” (KJV) is omitted. This revised edition of Bible Readings did not appear, however, until 1958, after the new interpretation had been nurtured by a series of articles in the Ministry, a magazine published specifically for the ministers.
Rejection of the “Erroneous” Ideas of the Past
The events that led to the new interpretation of Christ’s human nature are well known. A strong proponent, LeRoy Edwin Froom, has recorded the circumstances down to the smallest details. It all began in January 1955, when a statement appeared in the evangelical periodical Our Hope declaring that the Seventh-day Adventist Church “disparages the Person and work of Christ,” in teaching that Christ in His humanity “partook of our sinful, fallen nature.” The point of view of Schuyler English, editor of the periodical, was that Christ did not partake of the fallen nature of other men. According to Froom, English had been misled by the old edition of Bible Readings for the Home Circle.
Froom immediately wrote English, noting that he was mistaken as to the Adventist position on Christ’s human nature. “The old minority-view note in Bible Readings—contending for an inherent sinful, fallen nature for Christ—had years before been expunged because of its error.”
At the close of this correspondence, English was convinced that he had been mistaken. He issued a correction in the magazine Our Hope on the subject. Some months later he published an article by Walter R. Martin, a Baptist theologian, who, after a seven-year study of Adventists, had concluded: “To charge the majority of Adventists today with holding these heretical views is unfair, inaccurate, and decidedly unchristian.
After his initial contacts with English, Froom was introduced to Donald Grey Barnhouse, a Presbyterian pastor and editor of the periodical Eternity, of Philadelphia, and to Walter Martin, who was eager for information about Adventists to wrap up his book The Truth About Seventh-day Adventists. From 1955 to 1956 a series of 18 conferences took place between evangelicals and Adventists for the purpose of discussing the doctrine of the Incarnation.
When the topic of Christ’s human nature was presented, the Adventist representatives affirmed, according to Barnhouse’s report, that “the majority of the denomination has always held [the humanity assumed by Christ] to be sinless, holy, and perfect despite the fact that certain of their writers have occasionally gotten into print with contrary views completely repugnant to the church at large.”
According to this report, the Adventist representatives disclosed to Walter Martin that “they had among their number certain members of their ‘lunatic fringe‘, even as there are similar wild-eyed irresponsibles in every field of fundamental Christianity.” Obviously the Adventist representatives gave the impression that there were some irresponsible lunatics who had written that Christ had taken upon Himself fallen human nature.
In reading Froom’s report of these meetings, one is stuck by his strong desire to see Adventists portrayed as authentic Christians. The subtitles of his report alone are revealing: “Walter Martin Affirms SDAs Are Brothers in Christ”; “Adventists Are ‘Most Decidedly’ Christians.” He even said that the evangelicals now view this change of attitude as the result of “Early Faulty Views ‘Totally Repudiated.” (SOURCE)
Adventism may never have had an officially defined position on the human nature of Christ, but a careful look at our history shows that the general teaching of the church in periodicals, books, and Sabbath School lessons published prior to the 1950s, was that Christ took on His sinless divine nature our sinful human nature in order to be the Saviour of the world. The Anglican theologian, Geoffrey Paxton, documented this some years ago, in his book The Shaking of Adventism.
But, clearly, there has come a change in thinking on this topic within Adventism. What brought it about?
Beginning in the early 1950s, dialogue with non-Adventist theologians gradually began to bring about a shift in our position on the humanity of Christ. This was first noticeable in articles published in The Ministry magazine, followed by such books as Questions on Doctrine and Movement of Destiny. Older books, such as Bible Readings for the Home Circle and Answers to Objections, were revised to present the modified view on the human nature of Christ. What motivated this change?
Only the judgment will reveal the secrets of men’s minds, but many feel that the change was an attempt to gain acceptance with popular evangelical scholars and churches and to remove the stigma of being called a “sect” or a “cult.”
But not all in our midst surrendered to this theological shift on Christ’s humanity. Foremost in opposition was M. L. Andreasen. Others followed, until the church was forced, at the Palmdale Conference in 1976, to declare both views acceptable within Adventism—even if one view was more “acceptable” than the other. But Palmdale was not the final word on this debate. Most of the independent ministries have taken up the cause of the post-Fall view on Christ’s human nature. As a result, this controversy continues and is fragmenting the church.
The Adventist Church is presently divided into two major camps on this issue. On the one hand is the popular view that Christ’s humanity was like ours only in the physical sense. That is, He was prone to fatigue, hunger, aging, etc., but His spiritual nature was like that of Adam before the Fall. This camp holds to the pre-Fall view. On the other hand are those who believe and teach that Christ assumed our total sinful nature, the same nature we are born with, but that He never sinned—not even by a thought. This camp holds the post-Fall view.
Unfortunately, most Adventists who hold the popular pre-Fall view of Christ’s human nature lump all post-Fall proponents into a single class— when actually there are presently three groups within Adventism who believe and teach the post-Fall view of Christ’s human nature.
- The vocal group. This is the “more insistent group” as the editor of the Adventist Review has called it. This group consists mainly of independent ministries. Those in this group teach the post-Fall view of Christ’s human nature in the context of His being our example and vicariously substituting Himself for us.
- The silent group. These are mainly liberals who believe the post-Fall view but who don’t make an issue of it. As a result, it is difficult to evaluate where their emphasis lies in this matter.
- The minority group. This group also hold to the post-Fall view of Christ’s human nature and are presenting it as it was taught in the 1888 message—with Christ as the perfect and complete Saviour from every aspect of sin. The One who actually—not vicariously—substituted Himself and His humanity for the whole human race, the One who assumed our corporate, sinful humanity at the incarnation in order to be the Saviour of the world.