Does “Fallenness” Equal “Sinfulness?”

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
2 Corinthians 5:21

Does fallenness equal sinfulness? Dr. Luke Stamps wrote a post for the Gospel Coalition entitled “You Asked: Did Jesus Assume a Fallen Human Nature?” In this article, he states that the fallen human nature view “assumes that one can be in a state of fallenness and not be sinful. But this assumption is far from self-evident.” Dr. Oliver Crisp also says that even if you could make sense of the transference of original sin from Adam to Christ where only corruption was transferred and not guilt, Christ would still be damnable “merely because, in virtue of having a fallen human nature (original corruption), he is loathsome to God and must have the blessings of heaven withheld from him” (Crisp, “Did Christ Have a Fallen Human Nature?” International Journal of Systematic Theology, 6 no 3 (2004), 279.) Because of these reasons, and others I could not mention here, those that land in the same line of thinking as Crisp and Stamps reject the idea that Christ assumed a fallen human nature for, according to them, fallenness would make Jesus sinful and Scripture is overwhelmingly clear that Jesus was sinless (2 Cor 5:21 “who knew no sin.”) I agree with them that
Because of these reasons, and others I could not mention here, those that land in the same line of thinking as Crisp and Stamps reject the idea that Christ assumed a fallen human nature for, according to them, fallenness would make Jesus sinful and Scripture is overwhelmingly clear that Jesus was sinless (2 Cor 5:21 “who knew no sin.”) I agree with them that if fallenness is able to be equated with sinfulness then the fallen human nature view should be called into question. However, I believe that fallenness should not be equated with sinfulness for this anthropological reason.
Nature vs. Person, Fallen vs. Sinful.
In this post, I want to discuss an anthropological reason for rejecting their line of thought. There must be a distinction made between nature and person. Nature is where our corruption/fallenness is located and it is out of our nature that our person (our desires are located in person) acts. Far too often sin has come to be thought of as simply man committing a moral crime by deviating from God’s will. Thus, it is not surprising that there are those who reject the fallenness view. In other words, if fallenness is symptomatic of sinfulness then, of course, it makes sense to reject that Christ was fallen since, on this logic, for Christ to be fallen means that sinfulness came before. But if our willing follows our desire then the reason that humans sin is because their desire is corrupt or perverse.  Thus, the will is a feature of nature where our status as persons is revealed “discloses a limit to my ability to account for my being solely in terms of my whatness” (Ian McFarland, Fallen or Unfallen? Christ’s Human Nature and the Ontology of Sinfulness.” International Journal of Systematic Theology, 10 no 4 (2008), 411).
The council of Chalcedon (451 AD) defined the whole being of Christ as true God and true man united, without confusion, division, separation, and without change in the one hypostasis of the second person of the Trinity (The Son of God). He is consubstantial with the Father and also with us. And if we were to apply the logic in the above paragraph to Christ rather than us we see that, because his person is the second person of the Trinity (Christ is two natures and one person) and fully divine this means that things turn out differently for him. In order for Christ to be our Savior, there must be a point of discontinuity with us as well as point of continuity. The discontinuity is that while we are sinners (our nature is fallen and our persons act out of that fallenness), Christ does not commit acts of sin because he is the divine Word of God, the second person of the Trinity. To speak of Christ’s will as deified is to speak in terms of his operation as a person in human nature. For instance, where our wills are sinful and thus turned away from God, Christ’s will is continually and in every way turned toward the will of God (“I came to do the will of him who sent me.” John 6:38). While this is a point of discontinuity with us, it is only discontinuity in relationship toward God and not in basic ontology of will. Thus we can say based on this logic that sin is characteristic of hypostasis rather than nature. Thus, Christ can assume a fallen human nature and remain sinless.
Ian McFarland summarizes well,
“Because Christ’s sinlessness is in this way a function of hypostasis and not of his human nature, the fact that his will was deified says nothing about the character of the rest of his nature and does not constitute a conceptual obstacle to the idea that he assumed a fallen human nature. Nor, contrariwise, does the assumption that the human nature he assumed was fallen imply that he was sinful-even on an Augustinian understanding of original sin. This is because sinfulness- as a perversion of the created will-is properly attributed to hypostasis rather than to nature. For while the will is formally a property of human nature, its material content as fallen is a function of the disposition of the I- and thus of hypostasis” (McFarland, “Fallen or Unfallen.” 412).
Humans can and should be, understood in terms of whoness (person) and whatness (nature). For us, our whoness cannot operate apart from, and out of, our whatness. But in the case of Christ, since his whoness is the second person of the Trinity, his assumption of our fallen whatness into union with his divine whatness and whoness (remember he is two natures, one person) is an atoning union in which he aligns our fallen whatness to the divine will of the Father and thus his divine whoness never succumbs to the fallenness like our whoness does.

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3 thoughts on “Does “Fallenness” Equal “Sinfulness?”

  1. Excellent article. But I have one question, if our nature is fallen before sinning, then where does the fallenness come from?
    Thanks so much!

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    1. I would argue, along with St. Augustine, that it comes from our union with Adam (see Romans 5). We are fallen/our nature is corrupt, therefore we sin. For Adam it was the other way around. He sinned, therefore he gained a fallen nature which is passed on to all of us.

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  2. Oh interesting! I have not heard it argued that the cause and effect is switched for Adam and post-Adamic humanity. Thanks so much for your reply.

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