Had Jesus forgotten how the universe was created?

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A Bible college student asked, “I have been told that the New Testament states that Christ emptied Himself when he came to earth. Does this mean that as a man he forgot all He knew when He was in heaven? If so could He have been wrong when He spoke about the beginning of Genesis being a true record of history?”

The passage referred to is in Philippians 3, where verses 5 to 7 read in the Authorised Version:

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:

The phrase being questioned is “made himself of no reputation” which in the Revised Standard Version reads, “emptied himself”. Some Christians claim this to mean that in becoming human Christ gave up all memory of His divine pre-existence and therefore had to learn from His human peers, thereby adopting the thinking of that time. In particular it is said that having no retained knowledge of creation, He assumed that the start of Genesis was a historical record of the origin of the mankind and the universe. This, it is claimed, is why He taught these things as fact and not as story to illustrate spiritual truths.

Is it possible therefore that Jesus, who often used parables in His teaching, failed to recognise the opening chapters of the Bible as nothing more than a parable devised by His Father? If Jesus did not teach the truth in this respect, what are the implications for our understanding of both Him and His Father in Heaven?

Mysteries in the Scriptures

The New Testament often speaks of mysteries. Jesus spoke of the mysteries of the kingdom, whilst the apostle Paul wrote of the mysteries of God. Both agree that these mysteries are spiritual truths which cannot be understood by human wisdom alone. Jesus told His disciples, “To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that ‘Seeing they may not see, And hearing they may not understand.’” (Luke 8:10)

Fully understanding the nature of the Godhead (Romans 1:20 & Colossians 2:9) is something which is impossible for human wisdom alone. That The LORD is three persons and yet one is a concept which most Christians struggle to understand. Even though light, the very first thing which He spoke into existence, is a working example of a trinity, many cannot understand how the God of the Bible can be three different persons but just one God. (It is only relatively recently that humans have appreciated that white light does not exist in itself, but is the expression of three different colours of light in harmony. This visual trinity matches exactly the design of the human eye, which has three types of cone cells each of which recognises a different colour of light.)

If human wisdom finds the essential nature of the Godhead a mystery, it is not surprising that we also struggle to know how the incarnate Son could be fully divine and fully human at the same time. Because we consider God to be supernatural whilst we are merely natural, then it seems logical to many that the Jesus who lived on earth was in some ways inferior to the Son who was from the beginning. No matter how much we try to understand it, this is a Biblical mystery and every human attempt at explanation proves only partially satisfactory. When Job complained that he could not understand The LORD’s dealings with him, that same God reminded Job of the limitations of his humanity, especially when put alongside his Creator’s wisdom and power. We do well to remember that in this life we “see in a mirror dimly” and that there are some things we will not understand fully until we with Job see our Redeemer face to face!

The importance of relationships

The opposite of thinking that as humans we can know everything is to give up on understanding anything significant about our Creator-Redeemer. But in the Scriptures we have the essentials of all we need to know in this life. When it comes to the nature of the Godhead, one of the key truths often overlooked is the relationships which exist between the three persons who together are the one true God. The names with which we identify two of them, Father and Son, are not titles but describe the relationship between these two persons. It is a relationship of which every person has some experience, even though many fathers fail to fulfil their responsibilities in this fallen world. It is their relationship with each other which is the model for our family relationships; it also has relevance to the current question.

John’s Gospel tells us most about Christ’s relationship with His Heavenly Father during His ministry on earth. John wrote his gospel many years after the other three and it is generally accepted that he did so to combat various false teachings about Christ which had developed in the early Church. Not only did he open his account of Christ’s ministry with an authoritative statement about the relationship between Father and Son, but throughout his gospel he regularly quotes Jesus describing His relationship with His Father. “I and My Father are one” is one of Christ’s best known statements in this respect, but there are many more.

How close was Jesus to His Father?

John’s record starts with a statement which parallels the opening words of Genesis, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.” It describes “the Word’s” status and His work “in the beginning”. His status was His relationship with God – He was both God and with God – and John develops this theme as he continues. Describing Christ’s incarnation, he wrote “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (v14) Then he added, “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him” (v18). In these two statements we are told that the incarnated Word of God lived amongst people who recognised a glory in Him, and realised that this glory belonged to the Father, because this man expressed the whole character of the Father to them.

I recommend that you read through this gospel looking for each occasion John records what Jesus says about His relationship with His Father. They leave the reader in no doubt He was convinced that He was working in close partnership with the Father He had left in Heaven. Consider these four claims He made in John 5.

v17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.”
v19 Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.”
v30 “I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgement is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.”
v36 “But I have a greater witness than John’s; for the works which the Father has given Me to finish - the very works that I do - bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me.”

In this argument with His opponents, central to Jesus’ defence was the claim that He was basing all He did on what He witnessed His Father (in Heaven) doing. These He claimed were works which His Father had given Him to do. This hand-in-glove relationship with God which He professed infuriated those religious leaders even more because they knew that by claiming “God was His Father,” He made “Himself equal with God.” (v18).

The reason we need to consider this is that whilst we may not be able to get our minds around what it means for God who is the Son to also be human, we can understand that His humanity did not break or change their relationship in any way. Very relevant to the question being answered is a further statement He made about His ministry on earth. Passing over some relevant passages, we reach these words in John 8:28-29 (emphasis mine):

Then Jesus said to them, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things. And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him.”

Here is a statement which refutes the argument that whilst on earth Jesus taught in accordance with human knowledge. We have seen that a key theme of John’s argument against the lies which were being taught about Jesus a few decades after His death was the quality of the relationship between Father and Son during Christ’s incarnation. Here John records two key facts: that Jesus always did what pleased the Father (to do otherwise would have been to sin and therefore negate His redemptive ministry), and that He claimed to speak only that which the Father taught Him!

Do they believe the words of Jesus?

Back in John 5, Jesus concluded His argument with the religious leaders with the question, “But if you do not believe his [Moses] writings, how will you believe My words?” At Creation Research we are accused by some of quoting this verses too often, but we make no apology because they contain an important truth. Today there are many who say they believe in Jesus, whilst at the same time trying to excuse themselves from believing the historic account concerning Christ’s work as Creator provided by Moses. This is one reason which motivates some to claim that Jesus quoted Genesis out of ignorance during His ministry. It is not uncommon for people to demonstrate their hardness of heart further by making false claims as they seek to justify their unbelief. Their argument in this regard provides a clear illustration of how questioning Moses results in denying what Christ taught.

According to Christ’s own words, when He quoted events from Genesis 1 to 11 as real history, He was repeating what His Father had taught Him. If these words were misguided therefore, then it was His Father in Heaven’s knowledge that was lacking. The Father had not “emptied” Himself in any way, so He could not have forgotten what happened in the beginning. Consequently, those who argue that Christ was mistaken when He accepted Genesis as truth must believe that either the Son was lying when He claimed He only spoke what His Father had taught Him, or that the Father was being dishonest when He told the Son to speak of Adam and Noah as historic characters as described in Genesis. Jesus rebuked a group of Sadducees who sought to justify their unbelief with the words “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Mat. 22:29). Their pride caused them to question parts of the Old Testament and to fail to appreciate the authority of the Godhead. Arguments like the one raised by this question make it clear that people today continue to make the same mistakes for the same reason. Their rejection of what Moses wrote highlights that they do not take the words of Jesus seriously.

Relationships are at the heart of the Gospel

Answering this pernicious argument made by some as they seek to justify themselves has highlighted that the relationship of Jesus Christ with His Father is central to the Gospel. This relationship has always been extremely close far closer than we can appreciate. It was broken briefly when Christ took our sin upon Himself at Calvary, but His Father quickly restored it when the Son’s redemptive work was finished.

When Christ stated “I can of Myself do nothing” He was not speaking only of His ministry on earth. Paul, when reasoning about a very different matter in 1 Cor. 8, expressed a wonderful truth about the partnership between these two divine persons: “there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live” (v6). All things, the Holy Spirit says, exist because of the will of the Father, and all things exist through the work of the Son. This makes clear that the Son has always been committed to doing the will of His Father. In the beginning the Word expressed the will of the Father; He did not speak into existence anything less or more than His Father willed.

This is the attitude He brought to earth with Him. Speaking of Christ, the author of Hebrews attributes to Him words from Ps. 40, “then He said, ‘Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God.’” (10:9). His commitment to the will of His Father is why from the beginning of Creation He was willing to become the sacrificial Lamb of God (Eph 1:41, Peter 1:20, Rev. 13:8). Why was He willing? When the Godhead together created man in their image, they were creating others with whom they could have friendship, friendship very similar to the one they enjoyed amongst themselves. Together they enjoyed conversations with Adam before he broke that bond by loving a created being more than he loved the One who had created him. Father, Son and Holy Spirit did not need to draw up a rescue plan when this happened - the Son had already committed Himself to becoming the Redeemer. He did so in order that His Father may look forward to having unbroken fellowship once again with the people they had created. This is why Jesus knew that the greatest commandment was that we should love The LORD our God with all that we are (Mat 22:38 & Mark 12:29).

The Gospel provides us with the opportunity to be restored to friendship with our Creator, but it does not end there. Once rescued, believers enter into the Holy Spirit’s school of learning to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. We constantly have to recommit ourselves to staying on that course, choosing to love Him over and above the things of the world. In John 5 (quoted above) Jesus accused those who rejected His testimony about the Father of being unbelievers because they “receive honour from one another, and do not seek the honour that comes from the only God?” (v44). Could it be that those who claim today that the man Christ Jesus had forgotten all He knew about creation, have similar attitudes to the religious leaders of that day? I encourage you to value your relationship with the Father as much as Christ did His.

© Randall Hardy – May 2012

This paper was first published on Creation Research’s Ask John Mackay website.
Further copies are available on my website here.
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