The Humanity of Christ Before1888:
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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,
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
"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.