Here’s a follow-up on my series of posts on “Compromising the Full Humanity of Christ” which dealt with the “heavenly flesh of Christ” heresy. In my reading through Calvin’s Institutes in commemoration of his quincentenary, I recently got to a passage in which he deals with this very issue, which he indicates that it predates Anabaptism, tying it to Manichaeism. Let’s read Calvin himself on this . . .
Indeed, the genuineness of his human nature was impugned long ago by both the Manichees and the Marcionites. The Marcionites fancied Christ’s body a mere appearance, while the Manichees dreamed that he was endowed with heavenly flesh. But many strong testimonies of Scripture stand against both (Book 2, chapter 13, section 1)…Marcion imagines that Christ put on a phantasm instead of a body because Paul elsewhere says that Christ was “made in the likeness of man . . . . being found in fashion as a man” (Phil. 2:7-8)…Mani forged him a body of air, because Christ is called “the Second Adam of heaven, heavenly” (1 Cor. 15:47) (Book 2, chapter 13, section 2).
You can read summaries of both of these sections at “Blogging the Institutes” from Reformation21.org, just follow the links in the two parenthetical references in the excerpt above.
Finally, in section 4, Calvin concludes his defense of the biblically orthodox view of Christ’s full humanity (which accords with the Definition of Chalcedon), explaining how it is that Christ’s human nature could be identical to our human nature without original sin–for Calvin, it’s simple, the Holy Spirit sanctified his human nature:
The absurdities with which they wish to weigh us down are stuffed with childish calumnies. They consider it shameful and dishonorable to Christ if he were to derive his origin from men, for he could not be exempted from the common rule, which includes under sin all of Adam’s offspring without exception. But the comparison that we read in Paul readily disposes of this difficulty: “As sin came in . . . through one man, and death through sin . . . so through the righteousness of one man grace abounded” (Rom. 5:12, 18). Another comparison of Paul’s agrees with this: “The first Adam was of the earth, and earthly and natural man, the Second of the heaven, heavenly” (1 Cor. 15:47). The apostle teaches the same thing in another passage, that Christ was sent “in the likeness of sinful flesh” to satisfy the law (Rom. 8:3-4). Thus, so skillfully does he distinguish Christ from the common lot that he is true man but without fault and corruption. But they babble childishly: if Christ is free from all spot, and through the secret working of the Spirit was begotten of the seed of Mary, then woman’s seed is not unclean, but only man’s (you can hear that from many independent Baptist fundamentalists in the 21st century–I heard it all my life.) For we make Christ free of all stain not just because he was begotten of his mother without copulation with man, but because he was sanctified by the Spirit that the generation might be pure and undefiled as would have been true before Adam’s fall. And this remains for us an established fact: whenever Scripture calls our attention to the purity of Christ, it is to be understood of his true human nature, for it would have been superfluous to say that God is pure. Also, the sanctification of which John, ch. 17, speaks would have no place in divine nature (John 17:19). Nor do we imagine that Adam’s seed is twofold, even though no infection came to Christ. For the generation of man is not unclean and vicious of itself, but is so as an accidental quality arising from the Fall. No wonder, then, that Christ, through whom integrity was to be restored, was exempted from common corruption! They thrust upon us as something absurd the fact that if the Word of God became flesh, then he was confined within the narrow prison of an earthly body. This is mere impudence! For even if the Word in his immeasurable essence united with the nature of man into one person, we do not imagine that he was confined therein. Here is something marvelous: the Son of God descended from heaven in such a way that, without leaving heaven, he willed to be borne in the virgin’s womb, to go about the earth, and to hang upon the cross; yet he continuously filled the world even as he had done from the beginning!
That Christ’s human nature is equally sinless and at the same time the product of Mary’s reproductive system is easily seen in Scripture. The Spirit illumined this to my understanding by a simple reading of Luke 1:35 once I came to realize the modern fundamentalist heavenly flesh view with which I was raised had to be wrong:
And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.”
See the word “therefore” in this verse? The former activity is the reason for the latter condition; the Holy Spirit’s overshadowing Mary in Jesus’ conception is the reason for his holiness. It’s as simple as that! Long ago, I got a grasp of the fact that names in Scripture usually reflect something of the nature or behavior of the people who bear them. In this case, the Spirit’s name is “Holy Spirit.” In short, he’s the Spirit who makes people holy. The human nature of Jesus was holy because of his conception via the Holy Spirit. And believers today are being sanctified (being made holy) by the Holy Spirit through the ordinary means of the preaching of Law and Gospel, signified and sealed to them in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.