Thursday, June 07, 2012

Question: Do Mistakes Need Atonement?

One of the issues that came up at the Wesleyan General Conference is whether unintentional sin needed Christ's atonement.  The orthodox answer is yes.

Here's a question for the day.  Do mistakes of the mind qualify as unintentional sin and therefore need atoned?  Since Jesus was fully human and did not practice "omniscience" on earth, did he make mental mistakes?  If so, did they need atoned?

What do you think?


superrustyfly said...

I would wonder if this is a yes since unintentional sins required sacrifice in the Old Testament. Also, New testament requires us to reconcile all wrongs towards our brothers with even unintended offenses. I would say yes.I would also cite Jesus as saying, "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing."

Nathaniel said...

I don't know what the WGC resolution says, but your questions display a confusion between limits and order.

Christ had limited, but not disordered knowledge. We on the other hand have both limited and disordered knowledge. It is the disorder which is partaking of the sinful condition of man and which is healed in Christ. However, there is nothing inherently disordered in limited knowledge.

In short, I call "category error." Although it may be unrelated here, I often find such category errors present in those who claim to support "kenotic Christology." If it is a mark of such Christology to suggest that Christ's knowledge was disordered, then I would have to reject it.

John C. Gardner said...

This seems like a question of his humanity. However, if Christ was the perfect human(one perfected by the Holy Spirit in his humanity) this should not be an issue. Additionally, this seems like the proverbial(or mythical question) of how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. What does Chris Bounds say about this issue?

JohnM said...

I think agree with Nathaniel and John C. Gardner. I might agree with Nathaniel more if I knew what "kenotic Christology" is. I might comment on mistakes of the mind more if I knew what kind mistakes your'e thinking of. If my not knowing the correct answer constitutes a mental mistake then no, I don't think I'm sinning :)

davey said...

I would suppose Jesus (and I am treating of him as Son of God etc in a Christian sense) would nevertheless have some disordered knowledge. I suppose he thought the Earth went round the Sun. If asked on the matter, are we to imagine he would come out with the modern idea, or even some exposition of a 'theory of science' idea to the effect that it all depends on what model is being used. I would suppose he also had some mistaken historical ideas, and why not some mistaken ideas, given his historical social situation, about moral issues, and why not even some mistaken ideas about exactly what he was doing salvation-wise - just so long as this didn't affect that he managed to effect sufficiently what needed to be done, of course.

davey said...

Oh, sorry, and on the question of whether such needed atoning, I would suppose not. No more than illnesses need to be atoned for, rather than simply to be not part of the coming kingdom. I would suppose, though, that mistaken ideas about things might be still present in the kingdom, just so long as they didn't affect the 'bliss' to be found there, and there were endless possibilities for learning to take place. But, then, why not also that some people might not ever quite cotton onto correct notions about some things in the eternal kingdom!

Nathaniel said...

Davey, you are describing limited knowledge, not disordered knowledge.

Nathaniel said...

Oh, and illness does need atonement: by your stripes we are healed.

Lee Jack said...

Oh, and the Earth DOES go around the sun, Davey ;)

davey said...

Thanks Lee Jack for pointing out my slip!

Nathaniel: Jesus didn't atone for illnesses, but brought about the conditions where they would eventually be ended.

How do you see the difference between disordered and limited knowledge? Concrete examples would be appreciated.

Nathaniel said...


Classic Christology views atonement as a another term for the incarnation, death and resurrection of Christ. In fact, the very question of illness was brought up in the aphthartodocetist controversy ( Your assertion that Christ brings about the end of something without atoning for it is entirely foreign to ancient Christianity. For traditional Christian theology, the way that Christ brings about the end of something is precisely by atoning for it. To paraphrase Athanasius "Whatever has not been [atoned for] has not been healed."

You are of course perfectly free to state that Christ did not atone for illness. But in doing so you are rapidly departing from traditional Christian theology.

Limited knowledge is simply "not knowing." If Jesus is missing facts such as heliocentrism, this is clearly limited knowledge. Limited knowledge is not the result of sin, but rather God designed the human condition to be one of limited knowledge.

Disordered knowledge is something different however. One example of disordered knowledge could be a person who is confronted with facts but he rejects them due to bias, emotional attachments, conflict of interest, or other various passions. Here we have not simply the lacking of facts, so to speak, but an inability to process and reconcile truth. Another example might be forgetfulness, or perhaps even medical conditions such as dementia or Alzheimer's. In these cases, knowledge is not simply lacking information, but it is unable to be processed correctly. We don't see this in Christ at all. In fact, all the gospels and epistles give us a clear picture of Christ as having great perspicuity. People are admired at his teaching, he can discern the motives of his interlocutors and he can predict the future. All of these are things that well functioning humans can do. Think for instance of the "Render unto Caesar" answer that Christ gives. It is a remarkably precise, yet imprecise answer that stumps those trying to trap him. Such an answer is clearly not the work of a disordered mind.

Hence, we can clearly describe Christ has having limited, but not disordered knowledge. The former does not need to be healed, because it is not an imperfection introduced due to sin. The later however is clearly the mind not functioning as it was intended. And as such, it is atoned by Christ's incarnation, death and resurrection.