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Dennis Priebe

In Every Way But One

In the previous article, we noted that Norman Gulley will allow Jesus in His humanity to be like us in every way except sin. Because he defines sin as fallen nature, he must insist that Christ did not take our fallen nature, or at least those aspects of our fallen nature which constitute sin. This leads to some very interesting ideas, as he expressed them in his articles in the Adventist Review.

Immaculate (Miraculous) Conception

Norman Gulley believes that Jesus took both a fallen and an unfallen nature. "It was fallen in being deprived like ours, but unfallen in not being depraved like ours." (AR, April 26, 1990) Now, since the normal laws of heredity do not allow for the inheritance of "deprived" but not "depraved" characteristics, Gulley has come up with a solution to this problem. He does not favor the solution devised by Catholicism, known as the immaculate conception. "Rather than this immaculate conception, it is the miraculous conception that is designated by Scripture." (AR, Jan. 25, 1990) In other words, Mary's genetic deficiencies were altered by the Holy Spirit so that she would pass on a totally unique heredity to Christ, completely unlike the heredity we receive from our parents.

This sounds like a reasonable explanation of a difficult problem. The question we must ask is, Is it in harmony with inspiration? Paul says in Rom. 1:3, "Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh." Gulley's solution is that Christ was made partially but not completely of the seed of David. The clearest statement on the subject in the Spirit of Prophecy is in DA 49. "Like every child of Adam He accepted the results of the working of the great law of heredity. What these results were is shown in the history of His earthly ancestors. He came with such a heredity." Is there even a hint here that Jesus' heredity was similar to, but not exactly like other men? Ellen White emphatically states just the opposite, that His heredity was just the same as His ancestors. One of Christ's ancestors was Seth, and Ellen White says of Seth, "Seth, like Cain, inherited the fallen nature of his parents." (PP 80) Whatever Seth received through heredity, Jesus received through heredity. This is the only possible conclusion that can be reached from these passages, and it is due only to a preconceived assumption about the nature of sin that these statements are not accepted at face value.

Harry Johnson, in his book The Humanity of the Saviour, says it most simply and pointedly, "There is no evidence to suggest that the chain of heredity was broken between Mary and Jesus." (London: The Epworth Press, 1962, p. 44) This is the crucial point. Gulley asserts that the chain of heredity was partially broken. Where is the evidence for this, outside of a theological assumption?

One of the reasons that the doctrine of the immaculate conception was developed in the Catholic Church was to protect Jesus from any taint of sin. If Mary did not have a fallen nature, then of course Jesus could not inherit a fallen nature from her. Now Protestants rejected the doctrine of the immaculate conception on the basis that it was not found in Scripture, but was based on a theological assumption about the nature of sin. But Protestants had the same problem to solve as Catholics. Because they shared the view that the fallen nature is sin, Protestants also had to protect Jesus from any taint of sin. They did this in the way that Gulley suggests, that Mary's fallen nature was only partially passed on to Jesus. In the womb of Mary a special miracle was performed so that no sinful tendencies or drives would be passed from Mary to Jesus. Gulley calls this the "miraculous conception."

The real question is, Are we going to accept the simple, straightforward statements of inspiration or the involved theological reasoning we have just surveyed? We as a church profess to repudiate the doctrine of the immaculate conception, but at the most critical point we fall back on its explanation for Jesus' birth. While we reject Mary's sinlessness, and we reject the teaching that Mary passed nothing on to Jesus through heredity, we eagerly accept a partial blockage of the hereditary line when it comes to desires and tendencies. This is simply a modified and more subtle version of the immaculate conception. Are we really sure that we are out of the Church of Rome? Gulley's "miraculous conception" is really a direct descendant in the theological line of the immaculate conception.

Gulley's reasoning here leads to a very strange idea just a few sentences later. "He must be one with us in nature, but not one with us in sin (nature or acts)." (AR, Jan. 25, 1990) This comes out saying that Christ must be one with us in nature but not one with us in nature or acts. Strange reasoning, indeed!

How Was Jesus Tempted?

Gulley asserts that there was nothing sinful within Jesus to respond to Satan's temptations. He says that Jesus could only be tempted to use His sinless passions and drives in an unlawful way. "Nowhere do inspired sources speak of Satan appealing to some fallen inclination within Jesus, for He was sinless by nature." (AR, Feb. 1, 1990)

Let us look at a few inspired sources. "The victory gained was designed, not only to set an example to those who have fallen under the power of appetite, but to qualify the Redeemer for His special work of reaching to the very depths of human woe. By experiencing in Himself the strength of Satan's temptation, and of human sufferings and infirmities, He would know how to succor those who should put forth efforts to help themselves." (RH, Mar. 18, 1875) Now just where does the strength of Satan's temptations reside? Inspiration tells us that "his (our) strongest temptations will come from within, for he must battle against the inclinations of the natural heart." (Christ Tempted As We Are, p. 11) If our strongest temptations come from our battle against the inclinations of the natural heart, and if Christ experienced within Himself the strength of Satan' s temptations, then obviously those inclinations were within Christ also. 1f we had to bear anything which Jesus did not endure, then upon this point Satan would represent the power of God as insufficient for us....He endured every trial to which we are subject." (DA 24) Our trials are clearly daily trials, from the cradle to the grave, and if Jesus would have been exempted from these daily, inward trials, Satan would declare the insufficiency of the power of God on that point.

Because of his presuppositions about the nature of sin, Gulley has a very interesting theory regarding Jesus' temptations. "Because His humanity was sinless, Jesus could not experience the inner sinful urgings of sinful humans. But it was necessary that He, as our example, experience an equivalency in intensity while remaining a sinless human.... But through a 40 day intensification, His gnawing hunger became equivalent to the worst sinful drives ever experienced by humans… The human became so emaciated and stressed out, through a nearly six week fast, that His consuming passion to eat became equivalent to sinful passions of men." (AR, Feb. 1, 1990) This theory, that the sinless nature of Jesus was augmented supernaturally during the forty day fast, that His sinless passions were intensified until they were as strong as the passions of the worst sinner, is just that--a theory unsupported by any evidence from the Bible or Spirit of Prophecy. It is difficult to know how to respond to this theory, since it is so bereft of inspired statements to support it, and it lies in the realm of speculation and supposition. To suggest that gnawing hunger can be intensified so that it can somehow be equivalent to our tendencies to selfishness, pride, jealousy, anger, despair, etc.; and to imply that Christ's victory over hunger teaches us how to deal with our sinful tendencies, is surely reaching to the limit to concoct a theory, unsupported by any evidence, in order to maintain a cherished presupposition. The evidence is far more persuasive for another point of view. Rather than Jesus' sinless appetite being intensified to be like our sinful appetites, Jesus was bringing His inherited sinful appetite under the absolute control of the Spirit during the fast so that forever after, He and fallen man could have total victory over sinful appetite.

In his footnotes, Norman Gulley gives credit to Steve Wallace for developing this "insight" about Christ's temptations. It should be noted here that the viewpoints expressed by Gulley and Wallace on the nature of sin and the nature of Christ are remarkably similar, so much so that there is no important difference between their viewpoints.


Gulley believes that Jesus being made "in the likeness of sinful flesh" in Rom. 8:3 should be compared to the brazen serpent Moses lifted up in the wilderness. "Just as that brazen serpent only looked like a serpent, so the sinless Jesus only took the 'likeness of sinful flesh.'" (AR, Feb. 8, 1990) It is of some importance that the same word, in exactly the same form in Greek, is used in Phil. 2:7 in the phrase, "in the likeness of men." Would Gulley want to say that Jesus only looked like a man, but He wasn't a real human being? It would seem far more logical and contextual to interpret Rom. 8:3 by the parallel expression in Phil. 2:7, rather than reaching to a completely different Scriptural author and context for an explanation. "Likeness" simply does not mean "unlikeness," no matter how much our presuppositions would like it to be so.

Perfect Obedience?

The theological rubber hits the practical road at the point where all of this is applied to our personal experience. Can the born-again Christian, with Christ dwelling within, perfectly obey the law of God? Can a justified and sanctified Christian live without sinning? Gulley's answer to these questions is clearly, Not before glorification. "Sinless in nature, sinless in life--both were demanded by the law." (AR, Feb. 8, 1990) Since we can never be sinless in nature, then it follows that we cannot perfectly obey the law. "Clearly man is still corrupt, in spite of Christ's life and death. And this corruption in nature continues until the Second Advent." (AR, Feb. 15, 1990) Notice that man is corrupt because of having a corrupt nature. In spite of victory over temptation, reflecting Christ's image, and being willing to die rather than commit a wrong act, the whole man is still corrupt and sinning and guilty, needing "substitutionary intercession" all the way to the second coming. "Christians never obey as did the perfect Adam.... Even our best works of obedience and worship are tainted by our corruption....This is because of the carnal nature, which taints even our best works." (AR, Feb. 15, 1990)

Gulley believes that if Christ would have had a sinful nature, He could not have perfectly obeyed the law. The only way He could have a perfect character to keep a perfect law was by His taking a perfectly sinless nature. Thus perfect obedience is tied tightly to perfect nature. No one with a sinful nature can perfectly obey the law or be sinless.

Is this Seventh-day Adventist righteousness by faith? Let us check the words of inspiration. "We are to place our will on the side of the Lord's will, and firmly determine that by His grace we will be free from sin." (RH, Aug. 1, 1893) "To everyone who surrenders fully to God is given the privilege of living without sin." (RH, Sept. 27, 1906) Please remember that all these statements describe those who have no choice but to live in a sinful nature until the second coming. "He (Christ) showed that it is possible for man perfectly to obey the law." (FLB 114) "Christ took humanity... that He might show men and women that they could live without sin." (UL 303) "Christ came to this earth and lived a life of perfect obedience, that men and women, through His grace, might also live lives of perfect obedience." (RH, Mar. 15, 1906) "Christ died to make it possible for you to cease to sin." (RH, Aug. 28, 1894) "Those who are truly sanctified by a knowledge of God will render perfect obedience to God's requirements." (RH, Sept. 3, 1901) "...proving that its precepts could be perfectly obeyed through His grace by every son and daughter of Adam." (RH, Mar. 1L4, 1895) Clearly inspiration teaches that fallen men and women can perfectly obey the law. There is no hint of the necessity of a sinless nature before perfect obedience is possible.

Norman Gulley places great emphasis on Ellen White's statement that our "religious services" are so defiled by ''passing through the corrupt channels of humanity'' that they cannot be of value with God "unless purified by blood." (6BC 1078) Could it be that the assumption that the corrupt channel is fallen nature, is not valid? Ellen White says that "Christ took our nature, fallen but not corrupted, and would not be corrupted unless He received the words of Satan in the place of the words of God." (Ms. 57, 1890; Ms. Release 1211) Could corruption be related to disobedience rather than to hereditary equipment? In other words, what corrupts our fallen channels is chosen disloyalty. Ellen White says that the true Christian "is without a spot of guilt upon the conscience, or a taint of corruption upon the soul." (7BC 909) Even though we must live constantly within the restrictions of a fallen nature, we may be free from even a taint of corruption. If the corrupt channels of our humanity refer to our corrupted channels rather than our fallen nature, then her statement makes perfect sense.

Please reread the statements by Gulley at the beginning of this section and compare them carefully with the inspired statements. The discrepancy is so obvious that further comment would be redundant.

Our Sinless Substitute

Heb. 2:14,15 tells us that "through death" Jesus would "destroy him that had the power of death" and would "deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage." Verse 17 tells us that the only way Christ could do this was "to be made like unto his brethren," not in some things but "in all things." Inspiration further tells us, "The great work of redemption could be carried out only by the Redeemer taking the place of fallen Adam." (RH, Feb. 24, 1874) It could not be accomplished if Christ took unfallen Adam's place, or if He took no one's place (partially like Adam and partially like us). To be our sinless Substitute, He had to overcome the liabilities of our fallen nature. What had become an irresistible force to man, Christ must make a conquered power. Even though this statement from the SDA Bible Commentary is not inspired, it shows a deep understanding of Christ's redemptive act. "Christ met, overcame, and condemned sin in the sphere in which it had previously exercised its dominion and mastery. The flesh, the scene of sin's former triumphs, now became the scene of its defeat and expulsion." (Vol. 6, p. 562)

The issue of the Incarnation was, Could God really overcome sin in Satan's ultimate stronghold, the fallen human heart? If human weaknesses and tendencies and desires could be subject to God's law, then Satan would lose his greatest battle, and the great controversy would be truly decided. But if God would exempt His Son from some human tendencies, then would the great controversy be any closer to its conclusion than when Satan was expelled from heaven?

When Jesus prevailed, a loud voice was heard in heaven proclaiming, "Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of 'Our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down." (Rev. 12:10) Do we really want to rob Jesus of His great victory under the guise of making Him our "sinless Substitute"? Will we continue to deny Him the full salvation that He wrought not only over acts of sin but over fallen, weak, sinful human nature, in which Satan thought he reigned supreme since the fall of Adam? Let us allow Christ to be truly our sinless Substitute as well as our holy Example. Let us be very careful to keep the hub of our faith in dead center, or we will be in jeopardy of losing everything that Adventism stands for. Only the real Christ, providing a real atonement, can lead His church through to final victory.