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The Humanity of Christ: John Calvin's Understanding of Christ's Vicarious Humanity

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 March 2012

Ho-Jin Ahn*
Affiliation:
Korean Central Presbyterian Church of Queens, Bayside, NY 11364, USAho-jin.ahn@alum.ptsem.edu

Abstract

There are two different hermeneutical principles between the views of the fallen and unfallen humanity of Christ. Scholars who deny Christ's assumption of corrupted human nature emphasise that, due to a fallen humanity, Christ would have inevitably committed sin in the context of the original sin. However, theologians who are in favour of Christ's fallen humanity explain the issue in the person and work of Christ himself. Here, I present John Calvin's biblical views on the body of Christ as the vicarious humanity for all of us. With regard to the biblical truth that the Word became flesh without ceasing to be the eternal of God, Calvin describes the paradoxical character of the event in scripture. Although Calvin never supports the fallen nature of Christ at a literal level, he is inclined to accept the view of Christ's fallen nature at the level of interpretation, because Calvin has no hesitation in saying that Christ assumed a mortal body like us. Calvin is in line with the views of Christ's fallen human nature, for he uses the biblical concept of Christ's mortal body and the principle of sanctification in his own body through the Holy Spirit, except in that Calvin denies Christ's assumption of the sinful nature of Adam after the Fall. Calvin's opinions not only provide us with the common biblical ground with which the two theological camps would agree, but also demonstrate that Christ assumed fallen humanity for us. In this article, I will explain how the view of Christ's unfallen humanity has logical errors and how it distorts the integrity of the Gospel. Next, in order to demonstrate how Christ's assumption of fallen humanity accords with the orthodox faith in Reformed theology, I examine Calvin's biblical arguments of Christ's assumption of our true humanity. Then, I explain that without assumption of our mortal body by Christ there is no vicarious humanity of Christ in Calvin's christology. Particularly, in order to understand the original and biblical arguments for the humanity of Christ, I will use a dialectical approach to both the Institutes of Christian Religion (1559) and Calvin's commentaries, as the best way to grasp the essence of Calvin's theology.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Scottish Journal of Theology Ltd 2012

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References

1 Allen, R. Michael, ‘Calvin's Christ: A Dogmatic Matrix for Discussion of Christ's Human Nature’, International Journal of Systematic Theology 9 (2007), p. 382CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

2 Torrance, T. F., Space, Time, and Resurrection (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976), p. 45Google Scholar.

3 Neuser, Wilhelm H., Calvinus Ecclesiae Doctor: Die Referate Des Congrès International De Recherches Calviniennes . . . Vom 25. Bis 28. September 1978 in Amsterdam (Kampen: J. H. Kok, 1980)Google Scholar. J. B. Torrance, in his article, ‘The Vicarious Humanity and Priesthood of Christ in the Theology of John Calvin’, in Neuser, op. cit., pp. 69–84, correctly asserts that it is through the true humanity of Christ that we participate in worship of the Trinity, emphasising that we are priests in Christ. Nonetheless, his focus is not so much Christ's vicarious humanity pro nobis as our new identity in Christ.

4 McCormack, Bruce Lindley, For us and our Salvation: Incarnation and Atonement in the Reformed Tradition, Studies in Reformed Theology and History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Theological Seminary, 1993), p. 6Google Scholar.

5 Crisp, Oliver, ‘Did Christ have a Fallen Human Nature?’, International Journal of Systematic Theology 6/3 (2004), pp. 270–88CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

7 Ibid., p. 274.

8 Ibid., p. 279.

9 Ibid., p. 282.

10 Ibid., p. 287.

12 Torrance, T. F., Theology in Reconciliation: Essays towards Evangelical and Catholic Unity in East and West, The Torrance Collection (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1996)Google Scholar. For an excellent summary of Apollinarianism see ‘The Mind of Christ in Worship: Problems of Apollinarianism in the Liturgy’, Ibid., pp. 139–214.

13 Calvin, Jean, Institutes of the Christian Religion, tr. Battles, Ford Lewis, The Library of Christian Classics (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006), II.xii.1Google Scholar.

15 McCormack, For us and our Salvation, p. 18.

17 Calvin, Institutes, II.xiii.3.

18 Ibid., II.xiii.4.

19 McCormack, For us and our Salvation, p. 20.

20 Calvin, Institutes, II.xii. 3.

21 Ibid., II.xvi.12.

22 Ibid., II.xii.2.

23 McCormack, For us and our Salvation, p. 6.

25 Calvin, Jean, The First Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians, tr. Fraser, J. W., Torrance, D. W., and Torrance, T. F., Calvin's Commentaries (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1960), p. 395Google Scholar.

26 Calvin, Jean, Commentary on the Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1949), p. 45Google Scholar.

27 Calvin, Jean, Commentaries on the First Book of Moses, Called Genesis, 2 vols (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1948), p. 151Google Scholar.

28 Calvin, Jean, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, ed. Owen, John, 1st American from the last London edn (Des Moines, Iowa: LBS Archival Products), p. 281Google Scholar.

29 Calvin, Jean, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans 1949), p. 191Google Scholar.

30 Calvin, Jean, Commentaries on the Epistle to the Hebrews, tr. Owen, John (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1949), p. 90Google Scholar.

32 Weinandy, Thomas G., In the Likeness of Sinful Flesh: An Essay on the Humanity of Christ (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1993), p. 18Google Scholar.

33 Barth, Karl, Church Dogmatics (New York: Harper, 1962), I/2, p. 155Google Scholar.

34 Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistle to the Hebrews, p. 95.

35 Calvin, Jean, The Second Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians and the Epistles to Timothy, Titus and Philemon, Calvin's Commentaries (Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, 1964), p. 93Google Scholar.

36 Hart, Trevor, ‘Humankind in Christ and Christ in Humankind: Salvation as Participation in our Substitute in the Theology of John Calvin’, Scottish Journal of Theology 42 (1989), p. 83CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

38 Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistle to the Hebrews, p. 202.

39 Torrance, Space, Time, and Resurrection, p. 69.

40 Calvin, Jean, Commentaries on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans, tr. Owen, John (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1948), p. 200Google Scholar.

41 Calvin, Institutes, II.xvi.5.

42 Ibid., II.xvi.5.

43 Ibid., II.xvi.5.

44 Jean Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistle to the Hebrews, p. 124.

45 Jean Calvin, Commentary on the Gospel According to John, p. 181.

46 McCormack, For us and our Salvation, p. 6.

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