Several weeks ago Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle preached a message in his series on Acts during which he raised the question, “Did Jesus ever make a mistake?” Continue reading . . .
Several weeks ago Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle preached a message in his series on Acts during which he raised the question, “Did Jesus ever make a mistake?” Driscoll was careful to draw an important distinction from the start. He isn’t asking, “Did Jesus ever commit a sin?” The answer he gave to that question was an energetic No. Jesus was altogether sinless. He never violated the will of God. He never broke a law. He never lied. He was never guilty of sexual immorality. He never gossiped. At no time did he fail to trust God. At no time did he steal. Jesus was altogether pure in motive, thought, word, and deed. He at all times obeyed the Scriptures and perfectly fulfilled the purpose for which his Father sent him into this world.
But did he ever make a “mistake”? For example, let’s suppose that Mary sent the teen-aged Jesus to the grocery store (!) to pick up several items for dinner that night. If Jesus were to inadvertently and unintentionally forget to purchase a loaf of bread, as many of us do when our spouses send us on a similar errand, he would not be guilty of a moral transgression. He did not consciously and willfully violate a moral law of God. On the other hand, if when Mary made this request he defiantly refused to go, or once at the store deliberately chose not to purchase the bread in order to annoy his mother for asking that he carry out this errand in the first place, that would be a sin.
Let’s consider a few other examples. When his mother was teaching him the multiplication tables (whether or not she ever did isn’t relevant), did Jesus ever “mistakenly” think that 5x5=30? When asked to write down from memory some OT text, did he ever misspell a word or make a grammatical error? While working in Joseph’s carpentry business (assuming Joseph was that kind of carpenter), might he ever have missed a nail and smashed his thumb? Might he have received something less than straight “A’s” on his report card or scored less than a perfect 36 on his ACT exam? When, as a young boy, he looked up at the sky, did he ever wonder whether the sun might orbit the earth?
Driscoll’s answer to such questions was: Probably. My answer is: Certainly! So, in case you hadn’t figured it out, my “response” to Mark Driscoll on this point is whole-hearted and unapologetic agreement. What shocked me about Driscoll’s message isn’t what he affirmed concerning Jesus but how the broader evangelical world reacted. So let’s explore this a bit.
Now, the fact is that we know very little about the early life of Jesus. We learn from Matthew 13:55-56 that he grew up with at least four half-brothers and at least two half-sisters in his family. We also know from Luke 2:21-40 that he would have been raised and educated as was any average Jewish child. His mother would have taken on this responsibility, focusing on the history of Israel and the tribe of Judah, as well as extensive Scriptural memorization.
Contrary to what some may imagine, I don’t believe that Jesus sat quietly with a feigned look of curiosity and inquisitive pretense all the while thinking to himself: “Mom, you’re so naïve. Do you actually think I don’t know Israel’s history in exhaustive detail? Hey, I’m God! I know every jot and tittle of the Old Testament text! But go on with your teaching and I’ll make it appear that I’m learning what I’ve known for eternity” No!
Jesus did not pretend to learn. He learned! His mind functioned just as yours would have. His senses engaged with the surrounding space-time world in which he lived. He gained knowledge by reading and remembering information from whatever manuscripts his parents provided. He reasoned from fact to inference. He deduced. He employed the fundamental principles of logic to draw conclusions about what he experienced. He grew in knowledge as we all do: by trial and error and repetition and study.
Luke 2:40 says that he was increasingly “filled with wisdom.” I take this to mean that he got smarter and wiser and more insightful as his exposure to life and the world expanded. And it wasn’t a charade, for fear that he might freak out his family and friends with his omniscience.
But if he was God, wasn’t he all-knowing? How could someone who has exhaustive and infinite knowledge from all eternity “learn” or increase in the storehouse of facts in his brain? Yes, he was God, always and forever. And in becoming man he never ceased to be eternally divine. But when he “emptied himself by taking the form of a servant” and “being found in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:7-8) he voluntarily suspended the use or exercise of those divine attributes that would have made it impossible for him to live a genuinely human life. He didn’t forsake such attributes as omniscience and omnipotence, but for the time of his earthly sojourn chose not to avail himself of their power or to conduct himself on the basis of their conscious operation in his life.
Thus, in becoming a man, notes Gerald Hawthorne, “the Son of God willed to renounce the exercise of his divine powers, attributes, prerogatives, so that he might live fully within those limitations which inhere in being truly human” (The Presence & the Power: The significance of the Holy Spirit in the life and ministry of Jesus [Dallas: Word Publishing, 1991], 208). That which he had (namely, all the divine attributes), by virtue of what he was (God), he willingly chose not to use. Thus we see a human being doing super-human things and ask “How?” The answer is: Not from the power of his own divine nature, but through the power of the Holy Spirit who indwelt him (see, among other texts, John 3:34-35; Luke 2:40; 3:22 [cf. Acts 10:38]; 4:1, 14, 16-19; 5:17; 10:21; Matt. 12:28; Acts 1:1-2; Hebrews 9:14).
In other words, the Son chose to experience the world through the limitations imposed by human consciousness and an authentic human nature. The attributes of omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience were not lost or laid aside, but became latent and potential within the confines of his human nature. They are “present in Jesus in all their fullness, but no longer in exercise” (208). The incarnation thus means that Jesus “actually thought and acted, viewed the world, and experienced time and space events strictly within the confines of a normally developing human person” (210).
Now, let’s return briefly to what we might conjecture concerning his years of growth and maturity into manhood. Beginning at age six and extending for five years, Jesus would have studied the Pentateuch, beginning with Leviticus. At the age of twelve he was taken, according to Jewish custom, to Jerusalem (probably at the time of Passover; see Luke 2:41-52). His recognition that it was his Father's work in his Father's house is significant. The discussions with the Rabbis probably centered in the Passover and its meaning.
In all likelihood, Jesus had to grow up fast. Most believe that Joseph died early, thus forcing Jesus into the role of principal bread-winner and the responsible head of the family. Whereas we read often of Mary during the ministry of Jesus, Joseph is nowhere to be found. The reference to Jesus as “the son of Mary” in Mark 6:3 is difficult to understand if Joseph was still alive. The most we can say, therefore, is that Joseph probably died sometime between the incident of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the temple and the inauguration of his public ministry.
Here is where things get sticky, largely due to the fact that evangelicals have often struggled with the reality of Christ’s human nature. They have often conceded the reality of it but without thinking through its implications. Bible-believing Christians are typically far more comfortable defending the deity of Jesus against liberal denials than they are at embracing what it means when John says, “The Word became flesh” (John 1:14).
So let’s not forget that Jesus had a true physical body. The NT tells us that he hungered (Matt. 4:2; his stomach would have growled and he would have felt profound discomfort when he fasted); he thirsted (John 19:28); he grew weary (John 4:6; often needing to stop and catch his breath and wipe sweat from his face); he wept and cried aloud (John 11:35; Luke 19:41; Hebrews 5:7-8); he sighed (Mark 7:34; at times, probably from frustration with others), sighed deeply (or “groaned” as some translations render it; Mark 8:12), glared or looked angrily at the crowd (Mark 3:5; yes, he got angry, but was always justified in doing so), and was indignant (Mark 10:14).
This raises the question: Did Jesus ever get sick? When he hit his thumb with a hammer while working in his father's carpenter shop (assuming he did!), would he have been susceptible to getting an infection? Did Jesus ever get headaches from prolonged exposure to the hot Palestinian sun? Could Jesus have caught the flu from one of his family members? Could Jesus have suffered from a 24-hour stomach virus (with all its unpleasant symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diahhrea) caused by drinking dirty water from the Jordan River? My answer to each of these questions is, “Yes, most likely.”
We also know that Jesus had a true immaterial soul. His soul was "overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death" (Matt. 26:38); it was to the divine purpose that he subjected his will (Luke 22:42), and it was into the Father's hands that he committed his spirit (Luke 23:46).
Jesus also experienced the full range of human emotions and affections: he felt compassion (Matt. 9:36; 20:34; Mark 1:41; 6:34; 8:2; Luke 7:13); love (John 11:3; 15:8-12; Mark 10:21); anger (Mark 3:5; John 2:13-17); joy (Luke 7:34; 10:21; John 15:11; 17:13); and gratitude (Matt. 11:25).
During his teen-aged years Jesus probably had pimples and body odor and bad breath. The God-man went through puberty! His voice changed; he had to shave; girls probably had a crush on him and boys probably teased him. There were probably some foods he didn't like (Squash!). Could he sing? Maybe he couldn't carry a tune in a bucket?
Some think it irreverent to speak of Jesus this way. As Max Lucado has said,
"it's not something we like to do; it's uncomfortable. It is much easier to keep the humanity out of the incarnation. Clean the manure from around the manger. Wipe the sweat out of his eyes. Pretend he never snored or blew his nose or hit his thumb with a hammer. He's easier to stomach that way. There is something about keeping him divine that keeps him distant, packaged, predictable. But don't do it. For heaven's sake, don't. Let him be as human as he intended to be. Let him into the mire and muck of our world. For only if we let him in can he pull us out" (26-7).
Yet, through all his growth and learning and trial and error and the many physical and mental mistakes he made along the way, he remained sinless and altogether righteous. He was truly God yet truly man, the God-man, and thus was fully qualified to serve as our Great High Priest (Heb. 4:14-5:10) and to obtain for us “eternal salvation” (Heb. 5:9).
So, did Jesus make mistakes? Yes, I believe he did. And yet without sin!