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Ellen White on the Humanity of Christ

A Chronological Study by Woodrow W. Whidden II



Chapter Four

The Humanity of Christ Before1888:
Part 2

Ellen White's Most Profound Statement of "Identity" id-1874 witnessed the most comprehensive and foundational statement that Ellen White would ever make on the deep identity of Christ with sinful humanity. Appearing in the Review of July 28, it would be paraphrased or directly quoted in numerous successive works over the next 28 years (see especially DA 117).

Clearly contrasting Christ's condition during His earthly life with Adam's before the Fall, she declared Him not to be "in as favorable a position in the desolate wilderness to endure the temptations of Satan as was Adam when he was tempted in Eden." Jesus "humbled Himself and took man's nature after the race had wandered four thousand years from Eden, and from their original state of purity and uprightness." "Man's nature" that Christ took at this time she declared to be terribly marked with "physical, mental, and moral degeneracy."

In succeeding paragraphs she gave further details:

"The human family had been departing every successive generation, farther from the original purity, wisdom, and knowledge which Adam Possessed in Eden." She saw Christ as having to bear "the sins and infirmities of the race as they existed when He came to the earth" so that with "the weaknesses of fallen man upon Him, He was to stand the temptations of Satan upon all points wherewith man would be assailed.... Adam ...


the perfection of manhood" was contrasted with "the second Adam," who had entered the human race after it "had been decreasing in size and physical strength, and sinking lower in the scale of moral worth.... He took human nature, and bore the infirmities and degeneracy of the race."

The most striking expressions in this pathbreaking article had to do with the very strong implication that Christ took human nature without the "original state of purity and uprightness" of Adam before the Fall, and that His human nature was marked by "moral degeneracy" and beset with "infirmities and degeneracy" that had sunk "lower in the scale of moral worth."

The meaning of Ellen White's rather startling expressions is somewhat elusive, but the essence of it seems to be something like this: Christ had a human nature with a lessened capacity (He was affected by sin), yet it was a capacity that still was not infected with natural tendencies or propensities to sin.

An illustration from the world of sports might prove helpful. In 1993 basketball superstar Michael Jordan "retired" for almost two years. Near the end of the 1995 NBA season he came back to play. But great as Jordan was (and still is), it was evident that the retirement period had caused some "degeneracy" to his prodigious skills. I think one could safely say that the athletic propensities or natural instincts were still there, but the energy and timing (by Jordan's own admittance) had been eroded. And even though he has made a spectacular comeback in the 1996 season, there will certainly come a time when even the great Jordan will fall "lower" in the scale of athletic "worth." The old "propensities," "tendencies," and instincts will still be there, but he will simply not have the energy, strength, and timing that enabled him to dominate his sport. If for no other reason, age alone will ultimately affect Jordan's performance, but it will never erode his basic basketball "propensities."

I suggest this initial (and tentative) interpretation on the basis of all that Ellen White had to say on Christ's humanity. Although I realize that my conclusions might be a bit premature, I do ask that the readers (especially those with post-Fall sympathies) patiently hear me out on all of the evidence yet to be presented.


Was Christ "Infected With" or "Affected by" Sin?

We need to pause here to make a further crucial point about interpretative terminology. I am here employing infected in the sense of a degenerative disease and consciously use it in contrast to affected, which I use to denote the sense of an inflicted injury. Quite a difference exists between having AIDS and being afflicted with ("affected by") a broken arm. Christ was broken by sin (ours only), but "His spiritual nature" was never infected with its viral "taint" (7BC 449).

The Significance of the Review Article of 1874

Whatever these striking expressions of the Review article of 1874 meant, they certainly heightened Ellen White's profoundly balanced tension between Christ's redemptive necessity to retain both a fallen nature and sinlessness. It certainly tipped the balance toward the fallen side, and the fact that she often reached back in succeeding years to draw on this statement in other important writings on Christ's humanity accents the foundational importance of this commentary on Christ's identity with sinful humanity.

Developments During the Rest of the Pre-1888 Era 
No Dependence on His Own Divine Power

Early in 1875 Ellen White gave the first of many declarations that Christ, in His battle with temptation, did not depend on His innately divine power, an important expression of His identity with us: "If Christ ...had exercised His miraculous power to relieve Himself from difficulty, He would have broken the contract made with His Father, to be a probationer in behalf of the race" (RH, Apr. 1, 1875).

This concept of Christ not resorting to His deity to resist Satan's temptations became one of the great themes of her reflections and appeals concerning the meaning of Christ's human nature.

She further developed this theme in the same article with the following stunning statement: "It was as difficult for Him to keep the level of humanity as it is for men to rise above the low level of their depraved natures, and be partakers of the divine nature."


Temptation Heightened by the Superiority of His Character

The year 1877 saw the publication of volume 2 of The Spirit of Prophecy, which contained a most significant statement. While Ellen White spoke of Christ taking "upon Himself the form and nature of fallen man" (39), she emphasized Christ's uniqueness in comparison with "man" by stating that "every enticement to evil, which men find so difficult to resist, was brought to bear upon the Son of God in as much greater degree as His character was superior to that of fallen man" (88).

She would often repeat the essence of this thought. She expressed it usually in terms of "character," but at least twice in terms of "nature." Note her usage in 1888:

"Christ was not insensible to ignominy and disgrace.... He felt it as much more deeply and acutely than we can feel suffering, as His nature was more exalted, and pure, and holy than that of the sinful race for whom He suffered" (RH, Sept. 11, 1888).

Here she clearly declared Christ to have had a more exalted nature than the race for which He suffered. As pointed out previously, whether expressed in terms of His character or His nature, she declared Him to be "more exalted, and pure, and holy than ... the sinful race for whom He suffered." Thus the "greater degree" of His purity of character and nature made sin and temptation that much more "difficult to resist."

This concept of the power and suffering of temptation being in proportion to the purity and holiness of character and nature is a bit elusive. But the gist of it seems to be along the following lines: Though Christ had a sinless and pure nature (in contrast to "fallen man"), His sinlessness was of no advantage to Him in His struggles with the temptations and enticements of the devil, but only made His contact with sin more "unspeakably painful."

"There Was No Sin in Him"

In the Review of May 27, 1884, Ellen White made an interesting contrast between Christ and humanity: "There was no sin in Him that Satan could triumph over, no weakness or defect that he could use to his advantage. But we are sinful by nature, and we have a work to do to cleanse 


the soul-temple of every defilement." The expression "no sin in Him" strongly implies a sinless nature, especially when seen in contrast to humans, whom she understood to be "sinful by nature."

The Pre-1888 Summation

By October of the critical year 1888, Ellen White had clearly stated her understanding of the humanity of Christ in a powerfully balanced tension that emphasized the profound identity of His full and real humanity with "fallen man" and His unique sinlessness as "fallen man's" fully effective, saving sacrifice. While she mainly focused on the meaning of Christ's humanity to sanctification and character change, she also referred to the implications of His sinless nature and life for pardon through the justifying merits of His substitutionary death.

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