An earlier version of this article was posted at The Christian Post in 2009.
Yesterday I was at the dinner table with my wife and daughter eating a tasty meal. As I crunched the crispy romaine lettuce dressed with croutons, parmesan cheese, lemon juice and the rest, I exclaimed to my daughter, “Nobody can make a better Caesar salad than your mom!” to which she replied: “Jesus can!”
Well I admit, according to Christian beliefs Jesus presently exists in a glorified state and as such can indeed now make a better Caesar salad than my wife. But her comment raises an interesting question: was Jesus able to make a better Caesar salad than my wife? Note the past tense of the verb. I don’t doubt that he can do so now. But could he do so two thousand years ago, prior to his glorification?
Perhaps you find the question to be silly, even irreverent. But it actually pinpoints a very important issue: what does it mean to say that Jesus was God incarnate? What does that imply for his knowledge and abilities whilst walking the dusty roads of Palestine? Was Jesus, that very average looking son of a carpenter in the backwoods of the Roman Empire, the smartest, wisest, most logical man ever to walk the face of the earth? Was he the greatest mathematician, poet, scientist, pianist, Olympic marathon runner, cook? And what would it mean to say that he was not?
Dallas Willard address the topic in his intriguing essay “Jesus the Logician” (Christian Scholar’s Review, summer 1999) when he argues that Jesus was (was, not just is) a great logician. But it is not merely a pious platitude. Willard provides ample evidence for this claim by analyzing the logical structure of Jesus’ arguments. (Douglas Groothuis does something similar in his book On Jesus.) But it is not simply the claim that Jesus was a great logical thinker that captures our attention. Rather, it is the claim that he was, is, and indeed must have been not only the greatest logician, but the greatest mind in history. Here’s how Willard puts it:
“Now when we speak of ‘Jesus the logician’ we do not, of course, mean that he developed theories of logic, as did, for example, Aristotle and Frege. No doubt he could have, if he is who Christians have taken him to be. He could have provided a Begriffsschrift, or a Principia Mathematica, or alternative axiomatizations of Modal Logic, or various completeness or incompleteness proofs for various ‘lanaguages’.”
Really? He could have written his own Principia Mathematica? According to Willard, yes he could have. Willard continues:
“He could have. Just as he could have handed Peter or John the formulas of Relativity Physics or the Plate Tectonic theory of the earth’s crust, etc. He certaily could, that is, if he is indeed the one Christians have traditionally taken him to be.”
In one of my earlier posts I asked, “Did Baby Jesus know more physics than Einstein?” I am not sure what Willard would say about the infant, but his comments imply that Jesus as an adult could out-argue Einstein on relativity any day of the week. But is this what Christians are committed to? Did Jesus, even as he shared parables with his disciples, know how to fix a computer, and did he know the best route to scale El Capitain, and did he know the best way to carve a turkey, did he know how to make Einstein blush, and did he have the ability to make the world’s best Caesar salad?
I’m not so sure about that. Such questions make me think of Raymond Brown’s observation:
“believing Christians are far more sensitive about limitations placed on the divinity than they are about limitations placed on the humanity. Realistically, it may well be that most Christians tolerate only as much humanity as they deem consonant with their view of the divinity.” (An Introduction to New Testament Christology, 27)
As Brown points out, we must always remember that orthodox Christology requires Christians to affirm the full humanity of Christ as much as the full divinity. Or conversely, to undermine his humanity is as much a danger as undermining his divinity. And so the concern: does the claim that Jesus in his humanity had the most knowledge and ability potentially undermine his humanity? To put it another way, do we buy a scientific and culinary genius at the expense of the full humanity of our savior?