You Asked: Did Jesus Assume a Fallen Human Nature?

Editors’ Note: Send your theological, biblical, and practical ministry questions to along with your full name, city, and state. We’ll pass them along to The Gospel Coalition’s Council members and other friends for an answer we can share.

Alex B. from Lynchburg, Virginia, asks:

The tradition of the Western church has been that Jesus had a sinless human nature. I have held this position without ever thinking twice about it. But recently I’ve read T. F. Torrance, where he asks, “If our sin nature condemns us a believers, and Jesus did not have a sin nature, then how is the payment for my sin nature covered at the cross?” I have also come across scriptures like Hebrews 2:17 that says he is like us in “every respect” and James 2:14-15, which teaches that if Jesus was “tempted like we are” then the sin had to be alluring to some part of his being. So what is the nature of Jesus’ nature?

We posed the question to Luke Stamps, assistant professor of Christian studies at California Baptist University in the online and professional studies division.


This question is highly relevant for a couple of reasons. First, it represents a pressing concern for any Christian who wants to affirm the genuine humanity of Jesus Christ. If Christ was not “made like his brothers in every respect,” then how can he serve as our merciful and faithful high priest (Heb. 2:17)? So the question is, was it necessary for him to assume a fallen human nature in order to redeem those with fallen human natures?


Second, this question is a live issue among contemporary theologians. Following in the steps of 20th-century theological giants Karl Barth and T. F. Torrance, some contemporary scholars maintain that, in the incarnation, the Son of God took to himself a human nature that was fallen but not sinful. This assumption of our concrete, fallen existence was necessary for Christ’s redeeming work. Barth’s argument is typical of this approach:

There must be no weakening or obscuring of the saving truth that the nature which God assumed in Christ is identical with our nature as we see it in the light of Fall. If it were otherwise, how could Christ be really like us? What concern would we have with him? We stand before God characterized by the Fall. God’s Son not only assumed our nature but he entered the concrete form of our nature, under which we stand before God as men damned and lost. (Church Dogmatics I.2, p. 153)

However, in assuming a fallen human nature, the Son of God did not thereby commit sin, nor did he ever act in a sinful way through his fallen nature. Instead, his life of sinless obedience in and through a fallen human nature is precisely the means by which fallen humanity is both judged and reconciled to God. As Torrance argues,

His taking of our flesh of sin was a sinless action, which means that Jesus does not do in the flesh of sin what we do, namely, sin, but it also means that by remaining holy and sinless in our flesh, he condemned sin in the flesh he assumed and judged it by his very sinlessness. (Incarnation, p. 63)

So it seems that there are two complementary motivations for the fallen-human-nature (FHN) view. First, proponents of this view believe it to be necessary for a meaningful incarnation. As Barth argued, how could Christ really be like us except he assume, not some abstract human condition, but the concrete (and therefore fallen) condition in which we find ourselves? Second and closely related, proponents of the FHN view espouse this position because they believe that it is a necessary prerequisite for Christ’s reconciling work. The logic is similar to that of Gregory of Nazianzus in his argument against the ancient Apollinarian heresy: “That which is unassumed is unhealed.” In other words, if there is a part of our human nature that is not assumed by the Son in his incarnation, then that part of our natures cannot be healed by his saving work.

What to Make?

So what should we make of this FHN position? There is much to commend here, at least in terms of the position’s motivation. Certainly all orthodox Christians want to maintain the real and meaningful incarnation of the Son of God. He was indeed “made like his brothers in every respect.” He assumed a concrete human nature—body and soul—so that we might have a genuine “concern” with him, to echo Barth. Likewise, we also want to affirm that the divine Son assumed all that it means to be human so that he might heal and redeem all of our nature—body and soul. Gregory’s maxim holds true: if Christ only assumed, say, a human body, then our fallen human souls would be left to perish.

Nevertheless, there are several significant problems with the FHN view.

First, it tends to neglect the fact that fallenness is not intrinsic to humanity. Fallenness is a not a “part” of humanity that must be healed. It is a condition of moral corruption and a propensity toward sin. All that is required for the Son’s genuine incarnation and his representative work on our behalf is the assumption of a full human nature (body and soul), not a fallen human nature. Adam was fully human prior to his fall into sin. And Christ is fully human even though he does not possess the corruption of other human beings.

Second, the FHN view assumes that one can be in a state of fallenness and not be sinful. But this assumption is far from self-evident. Indeed, the mainstream Reformed understanding of original sin argues precisely the opposite: to possess a fallen nature is to be guilty before God. Indeed, humanity’s guilt in Adam is logically prior to the corruption they inherit from him. In other words, no one possesses a fallen human nature who is not also guilty before God. Even if we could conceive of a scenario in which someone could be fallen but not guilty, it is difficult to see how even this state of fallenness is not morally repugnant to God. Presumably “fallenness” in this context means possessing a propensity toward sin, even if no actual sin is committed. But how could a human being in this state not be condemnable in the eyes of a holy God? (For more along these lines, see Oliver Crisp’s excellent essay on this topic in Divinity and Humanity, chapter 4.)

Third, the FHN would seem to pose serious challenges to the historic understanding of the person of Christ. According to the “Definition” issued at the Council of Chalcedon, there are two distinct but inseparable natures (divine and human) hypostatically (that is, personally) united in the one person of the Son. But how could the infallible Son of God be joined to a morally fallen human nature? Would this not call into question the divine Son’s impeccability, that is, his inability to commit sin? Or would one need to posit two persons in Christ, and hence the heresy of Nestorianism, in order to preserve both the impeccability of the Son and the fallenness of Jesus Christ? These Christological conundrums can be avoided if we also avoid the FHN view (again, see Crisp’s essay for more reflections in this vein).

Finally, the FHN view seems to ignore the fact that we can affirm what might be called the fallen experience of Jesus without positing a fallen nature in him. To put it another way, Christ experienced the effects of the Fall even though his nature was not complicit in it. We are not to imagine that Christ blissfully waltzed through life untrammeled by the suffering, sorrows, and pains of fallen human experience. The Gospels present Jesus as one who was hungry, tired, thirsty, grief-stricken, and even morally tempted and vulnerable to conflicting desires (besides his wilderness temptations, we might also think of his struggle in Gethsemane).

But none of this requires his assumption of a fallen nature. No, Christ is in possession of an unfallen human nature, but during his state of humiliation he lived and moved and had his being in a fallen world. So even the incarnate God was not immune from the horrors of fallen existence. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). Furthermore, in his atoning death, the Son of God was legally reckoned “to be sin”—even though he himself was sinless—and thus died as our substitute and representative. “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 Cor. 5:21). So in the end, none of the Savior’s glorious work is surrendered by rejecting the FHN view.

  • Mark B.

    “Presumably “fallenness” in this context means possessing a propensity toward sin, even if no actual sin is committed. But how could a human being in this state not be condemnable in the eyes of a holy God?”

    The question should be, how could a human being in this state BE condemnable in the eyes of a holy God?

    The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.

    • D.

      This is exactly what crossed my mind while reading this post. I see how original sin leads to the propensity to sin inherent in the fallen nature, but I struggle to understand how sin has been imputed to all people from birth via original sin. Piper said we’re not sinners because we sin, we sin because we’re sinners. I struggle with that thinking. Any thoughts would be welcomed. Thanks.

      • Mark G

        I think the easiest way to understand this is to recognize that in the same way believers are accounted righteous based upon the person and work of Christ, the second Adam, we were accounted condemned based upon the person and work of the first Adam. There’s a lot to unpack here but that is the basic starting point. People are in either one of two states. You are either in the first Adam (i.e., dead) or in the second Adam (alive in Christ).

        • Chris Roberts

          Indeed, and the root of both is birth: born in Adam, receive his fallen nature and participate with him in the guilt of the fall. Born in Christ, receive his righteousness and participate with him in crucifixion, burial, and resurrection (Galatians 2:20 and several other passages).

      • Thomas

        Answer this question to clear up any confusion about Christ’s inherent human nature. Why was a virgin birth necessary?

        • Mark G

          Because only a righteous uncorrupt man could serve as the penal substitute for fallen man; a second Adam to succeed where the first Adam failed. Christ had to be a lamb without blemish.

    • Chris Roberts

      This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me (Isaiah 29:13). There are many, many similar examples in Scripture.

      One question to ask is, what is human nature? We tend to speak of it as the part of us which is in some way responsible for our actions, our volition – it is our will, our heart, not some abstract separate entity lodged within us. We speak of our nature the way the Bible speaks of our heart, so I equate the two.

      With this in mind, external action is only part of the equation. A heart inclined away from God – a heart with a propensity toward sin and away from God – is a sinful heart. It is hard to see how it could be otherwise, particularly given all that the Bible says about our hearts. Jesus came to give us a new heart, not new actions. From the new heart comes right action. From regeneration, the new birth, comes obedience, not the other way around. The problem of sin is rooted in our hearts and that being the case I cannot see how a sinful heart would lead us to be anything other than guilty. If the nature is the heart, and we have sinful natures, then we have sinful hearts and stand condemned and in need of the saving grace of Christ.

  • Brandon Jones

    I enjoy this series of posts, and it is refreshing to see a bit of deep theology every now and then. I appreciated how Luke explained the motivation for both sides in the piece. However, one thing missing in this post is how Jesus could not have a “fallen” sin nature in the sense of having a corrupted propensity to sin but did take on a human nature affected (corrupted?) by sin’s curse in some ways, given that he could die.

    Thanks to TGC for the forum, Alex for a fine question, Luke for a stimulating read.

    • Chris Roberts

      Death is the penalty/wage of sin. Jesus took our sin upon himself bringing the wage upon himself. Thus it’s not about a corrupt nature but about his being our substitute.

    • Joe Wisnieski

      Regarding the curse of sin and death, I think there is a distinction to be made in the manner that fallen man dies, and the manner that Christ died.

      Fallen man has no choice in death, it is part of the curse and it takes us freely. We have no power over it.

      In contrast, Christ voluntarily laid down His life:

      (John 10:18 ESV) No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

      Even on the cross, notice that Jesus gave up His spirit at the time of His choosing. Death did not take Him, He gave up His spirit.

      (John 19:30 ESV) When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

      • Chris Roberts

        Good point – the reminder that all Christ endured was voluntary.

        • Mark G

          Agreed. It would also seem significant that the Bible says Christ’s body did not see corruption since this is the natural progression of all fallen human bodies.

          • Joe Wisnieski

            Mark G – Excellent point.

          • Tony Robledo

            Certainly it did. It died when murdered, didn’t it? Here we see the wrongful death sentencing executed by fallen humans result in a body (Christ’s) which died upon crucifixion just as any other body would. Brokenness yielding brokenness. That verse pertains to post-death, not prior, alluding to the fact that Christ would be raised and resurrected, not left to rot.

  • Mark G

    In reformed theology “fallenness” is more than propensity toward sin, i.e., actual corruption of nature or “original sin” resulting in all actual sins (guilt).

    It seems to me that I Cor 15:35ff where Paul discusses Christ’s resurrection (i.e., Spiritual) body in contrast to the natural body of the first Adam is relevant here. The contrast is not with Adam’s fallen body. See for example Thomas Goodwin’s sermon on Eph 1:5-6 (I think on Google) or an article by Richard Gaffin in which he discussed I Cor 15 (

  • Pingback: Did Jesus Assume a Fallen Human Nature?- Credo Magazine()

  • Mark G
  • Daniel

    Here is a small excerpt from a larger section on original sin from the Book of Concord. (Solid Declaration, Original Sin).

    “Also, as Augustine writes concerning the Manicheans, as though it were not the corrupt man himself that sins by reason of inborn original sin, but something different and foreign in man, and that God, accordingly, accuses and condemns by the Law, not the nature as corrupt by sin, but only the original sin therein. For, as stated above in thesi, that is, in the explanation of the pure doctrine concerning original sin, the entire nature of man, which is born in the natural way of father and mother, is entirely and to the farthest extent corrupted and perverted by original sin, in body and soul, in all its powers, as regards and concerns the goodness, truth, holiness, and righteousness concreated with it in Paradise. Non tamen in aliam substantiam genere aut specie diversam, priori abolita, transmutata est, that is: Nevertheless the nature is not entirely exterminated or changed into another substance, which, according to its essence, could not be said to be like our nature [but is diverse in genus or species], and therefore cannot be of one essence with us.”

    Essentially, human nature does not have the attribute of sin. However, original sin now inhabits and is so pervasive within human nature in such a way that human nature cannot be distinguished from it except by a miraculous intervention. Consequently, when it comes to Christ, His entry into human form is a miracle insofar as He came in the proper sense of what “humanness” is. We are to judge what is the complete and proper nature of man by Christ and not judge whether Christ has the proper nature of man based upon the marred human nature.

  • Daniel

    Another good excerpt (Solid Declaration, Original Sin)

    “But although original sin, like a spiritual poison and leprosy (as Luther says), has poisoned and corrupted the whole human nature, so that we cannot show and point out to the eye the nature apart by itself, and original sin apart by itself, nevertheless the corrupt nature, or essence of the corrupt man, body and soul, or the man himself whom God has created (and in whom dwells original sin, which also corrupts the nature, essence, or the entire man), and original sin, which dwells in man’s nature or essence, and corrupts it, are not one thing; as also in external leprosy the body which is leprous, and the leprosy on or in the body, are not, properly speaking, one thing. But a distinction must be maintained also between our nature as created and preserved by God, in which sin is indwelling, and original sin, which dwells in the nature. These two must and also can be considered, taught, and believed separately according to Holy Scripture.”

    • Nate

      Great call posting this Daniel. The Lutheran confessions have much to offer this discussion due to their early efforts at combating the Flacian error.

  • Alex B.

    Thank you TGC for taking the time to answer my question. I appreciate all of Luke’s research and thoughtfulness on the topic.

    I have 4 thoughts I would like to share after reading the post and all of the comments. 3 of them are in support of FHN and one is in opposition to FHN.

    1. My first thought is that the Incarnation is a mystery. As a reformed man who enjoys theology, it is easy for me to “figure everything out.” But I must admit that the incarnation is a mystery. How is someone conceived by the Holy Spirit? That’s mysterious. In the same way a fallen human nature could be involved in the hypostatic union without compromising the sinlessness and divinity of Jesus Christ. It is possible for this to take place within the many mysteries of God.

    2. The way we think about Jesus taking our sin is kind of odd! We talk about the atonement as if the heavenly father loaded all of the sins on a spiritual dump truck, backed it up to the cross, dumped it on Jesus’ shoulders, and ta-da… now Jesus is carrying our sins! It’s a bit dramatic, but you get the point. This cannot be the way in which Christ carried our sin. Jesus’ life AND death were a part of his atoning work. It seems as though Jesus’ life is where he wrestled our sinful nature into submission to the will of the Father.

    3. Somewhat connected to the point above… When Jesus did take our sins upon himself, how did that NOT blemish or taint his divine nature? Many argue that a sinful nature (even if Jesus never sinned personally) is enough to condemn him in the sight of the father, but somehow carrying our sin did not. How is that possible?

    4. James says that temptation rises from within a man and gives birth to sin. The FHN position assumes that you must have a fallen nature in order for you to be tempted. That cannot be true because Adam and Eve were tempted and then they sinned. The temptation came before the fall.

    I’m really loving this discussion! I hope it continues.

    • Mark G

      Certainly the incarnation is a mystery but I don’t think one of the mysteries is how the divine Person (Son) can assume a fallen (corrupt) human nature. The Bible conceives of nature not in the abstract but as connected with the person; fallen persons have fallen natures. Jesus was not a fallen person. He was the divine person (the Son) who assumed a human nature. A pure person cannot have a corrupt nature. In Psalms it says that God’s holy one will not see corruption and then this is fulfilled in the NT when it says that Jesus body did not see corruption.

      2. Hmmm? The more common metaphore in reformed circles is the court room. I heard the dump truck or similar metaphors in the holiness churces I grew up in. This is the first I’ve heard the metaphore of the divine nature wrestling the sinful human nature into submission. Problem is, a sinful nature wrestled into submission is still a sinful nature that cannot stand before God.

      • Alex B.

        lol… I know it is a weird metaphor. People don’t actually use the dump truck analogy to support their theological view of atonement. I was overstating it a bit. Primarily I was trying to point out that we think of the atonement as something that happened only at the cross. If that is the case… what was the point of Jesus’ life? N.T. Wright’s “How God became King” and “Simply Jesus” touch on this. Also T.F. Torrence’s books “Incarnation” and “Atonement” really dive into the topic. All of them are good reads no matter which side of the FHN discussion you are on. Essentially the question they pose is “If the incarnate Jesus was already perfect in every way, then why was it also important for him to live a perfect life on earth?” I would suggest that he had to live a perfect life because his life actually accomplished a part of the atoning work.

        As for the wrestling metaphor… You are right. The perfection of the sin nature still would need to completed at the cross.

        • Mark G

          I would hold to the importance of Christ’s active obedience. Again, I would point to Paul’s two-Adams motiff. Just as Christ, the second Adam kept the law to fulfill all righteousness, God required obedience of the first Adam as created in original righteousness. Although Christ was sinless, through his obedience he received a resurrection body and BECAME a life giving Spirit. By his resurrection he was vindicated/justified & glorified being seated at the right hand of the Father in the heavenly holy of holies. Christ’s pre-resurrection state does not require a fallen nature any more than Adam’s prelapsarian state requires a fallen nature.

          • Tony Robledo

            Perhaps a misunderstanding. It was not by Jesus’ resurrection he was justified/vindicated. His resurrection was proof of his justification/vindication.

      • Tony Robledo

        Mark — referring to “The Bible conceives of nature not in the abstract but as connected with the person; fallen persons have fallen natures.”

        It’s important to remember that the Bible is written to fallen humans, and there had been no possibility of any other kind of humanity till Christ or since. While Scripture may consistently pair fallen natures with fallen persons, it is merely because there was no other option. There have only been fallen natures and fallen persons since Adam. Christ comes to rescue us from our fallenness by finding us in our actual fallen condition, binding us to himself in the incarnation to turn us (repentance) back to the Father via his active and passive obedience. Because we were bound up “in him” as Paul writes over and over, the Father’s judgment and justification of Jesus is not legal fiction. Otherwise, it is.

    • Chris Roberts


      On your point two, people often make a distinction between Jesus’ active and passive righteousness or obedience.

      In his life, Jesus satisfied all righteousness. He did what we could not do: he perfectly obeyed every command of the Father. He lived a perfectly righteous life. When we are clothed (imputed) with the righteousness of Christ, we receive this active righteousness. We must be perfect as our Father is perfect but we are only made perfect because Jesus lived a perfect life.

      In his crucifixion, Jesus satisfied the wrath of God. Our sins merit punishment. We deserve judgment because of disobedience. The price we owe is a price we can never pay in full, so we will pay on it forever (eternal punishment). Jesus, the infinite, eternal, righteous Son of God, is able to pay the price in full and he does so at the cross when the full weight of God’s wrath for the sins of God’s people is placed upon the Son. He “took our sins upon himself” not in committing sin but in bearing the weight of our guilt – which means he, though not corrupt, pled guilty to our corruption and though innocent took our punishment upon himself, satisfying the requirements of justice.

      • Tony Robledo

        How do we reconcile Jesus’ suggestion in the high priestly prayer that he, too, is undergoing sanctification, and that, for us? “For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.” (John 17:19)

        What room is there for Jesus to be sanctified if he has nothing in his person or nature to be sanctified?

        • Chris Roberts

          That would come down to understanding the meaning behind sanctify. We think of sanctification as making holy that which was not holy, but we think of sanctification in terms of our own lives: becoming more like Christ, becoming what God wants us to be, moving away from our sin and toward the will of God.

          But that restricts the word sanctify. The more literal meaning of the Greek word is to set apart, devote to a particular service. In our case, it means setting our lives apart from the world, being devoted to the work of God. This is not different in the case of Christ – he is still set apart, devoted to this work appointed to him by the Father, but not as a new thing. He devotes himself to the work of his Father, a work he has always devoted himself to.

          If Greek verb tenses play a factor in interpretation of this verse, Jesus says, “I am continuing to be set apart for the work of God so that in the future my disciples might be set apart for the work of God.” There was never a time that Jesus was not being sanctified in this way – fully sanctified, fully devoted, fully set apart. But the sanctification of his disciples was something yet to come through his work on the cross.

          • Tony Robledo

            Thanks! Hadn’t thought of the “set apart” angle.

      • Tony Robledo

        Also (sorry for two comments in a row), you wrote that “he, though not corrupt, pled guilty to our corruption and though innocent took our punishment upon himself, satisfying the requirements of justice.”

        Justice may be blind, but justice is not justice if it is misappropriated (even voluntarily). Here we find the crossing over into legal fiction, and we must avoid that. It is not just for God to punish an objectively innocent person and free an objectively guilty person. That is not justice, that is misappropriation. Justice includes two halves: right sentence and right person. If God is at all just (or if our definition of justice is to mean anything so as to be transferable), he must do both.

        This is why it is widely agreed that union with Christ must always be the grounds for substitutionary atonement. We are found IN CHRIST. And in order for our sins and sin nature to be truly crucified and paid for in the death of Jesus, they must be present there in him. Somehow, we were present in Christ in our union with him.

        • Chris Roberts

          I agree in part, but I think the biblical language of substitution speaks of one fully in place of another. We are crucified with Christ, but our justification is not because of our being crucified with him, but because of his being crucified. Our punishment was laid on him. He bore our stripes. He is the lamb of God who takes away our sin.

          • Tony Robledo

            Thanks again for the response! Yes, I agree — substitution, even by definition, is to replace one for another. In one sense, that’s exactly what Jesus did. And that, “fully” as you said. But it’s one metaphor among many, and all of them must be utilized, and none dominating the atonement landscape in such a way that our theology becomes, as in Sherwood Anderson’s work, “grotesque”.

            I just think we ride the law-court metaphor and the debt-payment metaphor like they’re the only ones scripture gives.

            Question for you, then: where might I find affirmation in scripture that my justification is not because of my being crucified with Jesus? If it’s his crucifixion, somehow completely apart from mine in him, for what reason was he even crucified?

            It is, indeed, because of his crucifixion — ours were one and the same event — mine within his, as utterly insufficient alone, clinging to his sufficiency.

    • Tony Robledo

      Great second point, Alex.

      In harmony with it, let’s consider some of the questions it raises: how is it that the Reformed position speaks of our sin being given to Jesus, in order to crucify them there? What I mean is, there’s talk of imputation. But on a TIMELINE, when does that happen? Did that happen at the cross? If so, then what of the value of my personal faith, 2000 years later, which they say transfers my guilt to him? Conversely, does imputation happen now, in my conversion experience? Then what of the value of the cross? How do we avoid an empty, naked cross?

      In essence, we preach a “faith” that is teleporting and history-altering, not relying upon the perfect human faith/faithfulness of Christ on our behalf. Would any person confess that by believing well enough, we could make any historically fixed event like, say, the bombing of Pearl Harbor end differently? How is the cross any different? Has God not acted decisively within history? Should we not confess that whatever God has done in Jesus there on that cross ripples out from that event, not the other way around? How does my faith, like a flatbed truck, carry my sin/shame/guilt/debt/fallen nature and load it onto a cross 2000 years in the past and across the Atlantic?

  • Tony Robledo

    I think perhaps the objections are simply misunderstandings, in short. And the Western church’s propensity to think of God as immutable because of borrowed Stoic value. Additionally, we have a problem separating the events into past, present, and future realities. Mostly, this issue touches the past and present, which must be carefully distinct but connected. In each, we must keep in mind that union with Christ is the grounds for our saving. As Calvin writes, “we must understand that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value to us. Therefore, to share in what he has received from the Father, he had to become ours and to dwell within us…” (Institutes 3.1.1). Now make it past tense: to share in what he has received from the Father we had to become his and dwell within him. The unassumed is the unredeemed.

    The fallenness of Jesus’ human nature would not pose a problem, for a few reasons.

    In the first objection, TGC writes, “Fallenness is a not a ‘part’ of humanity that must be healed. It is a condition of moral corruption and a propensity toward sin. All that is required for the Son’s genuine incarnation and his representative work on our behalf is the assumption of a full human nature (body and soul), not a fallen human nature. Adam was fully human prior to his fall into sin.” First, this assumes that Jesus’ work on our behalf is purely or at least primarily representational. Sadly, we do not thoroughly flesh out (pun intended) our actual union with Christ in the incarnation as a saving historical reality as the proper grounds for his representation. He may be our High Priest and King, but no matter how you slice it, substitutionary atonement is only misappropriated justice, not good news, if union with Christ is not its grounds. Second, it is not pre-fall humanity that Jesus came to save. That humanity is lost and will only be restored at the restoration of all things. Full humanity, as intended pre-fall, would not need saving. While fallenness, itself, is a part of original humanity, our humanity is fallen, and it’s the only humanity we have. Maybe think of it as broken, like a plate. It is a full plate, in that it has all its parts, but terribly broken and still in need of restoring.

    The second objection is negligible. You’re right — such a human being is condemnable in the eyes of God. But isn’t this precisely what we see on the cross — Jesus, assuming our condemnation to the full? He cannot bear it in part and so must bear it wholly or we are still damned, and we affirm that our humanity is wholly, but for the grace of God, damnable. If he is to redeem us, as the old hymn goes, “far as the curse is found” he must assume our humanity to the full, not excluding its brokenness. He takes the form and likeness of something broken and remakes it before our very eyes.

    Additionally, the Reformed view proves unsubstantial in this area when it simultaneously affirms that Jesus “himself bore our sins in his body” (1 Pet. 2:24) on the cross — even “became sin for us” — and so was condemnable. How is he able to bear our sins and remain sinless, but is unable to bear our sin natures and remain sinless? Here we see a failure to acknowledge paradox: a simultaneously guilty and righteous Jesus. He bears both sentences: the former on our behalf, the latter for our benefit.

    This is perfectly exemplified in the third objection, where it’s asked: “But how could the infallible Son of God be joined to a morally fallen human nature? Would this not call into question the divine Son’s impeccability, that is, his inability to commit sin? Or would one need to posit two persons in Christ, and hence the heresy of Nestorianism, in order to preserve both the impeccability of the Son and the fallenness of Jesus Christ?” How to respond? Simply this: Is Jesus not truly joined to you now, today? You, who have a fallen human nature? Are we not indwelt with the Holy Spirit? Would we not affirm that Jesus, despite being joined to presently fallen persons such as ourselves, has NOT sinned through our sinning or our propensity toward sin? Still we must maintain that he is truly joined to us. The perfect Son of God, untainted by our sin and sin nature, was truly made one with us — “united to Christ.”

    So how can we maintain that Jesus was capable of bearing our sins without himself becoming sinful, but could not bear our sin nature without doing so? He had to actually crucify our sins on the cross — not as some fiction, but actually. And he did so in his body.

    We would also maintain he is truly joined to us — sinful, unclean, broken, fallen, depraved — today, and that we are united to Christ, not because of his death and resurrection but in his very death and resurrection. We died with Christ (Rom. 6:8). We were buried and baptized into his death (Rom. 6:4). And we were raised with him (Col. 3:1). And so we already affirm that Jesus is capable of being united to fallen nature humans today without himself being sinful. We cannot diminish his union with us as less than actual/intimate and we cannot diminish the fallenness of our nature. Why, again, can’t we affirm that he bore in himself not only our sin but our sin nature?

    • Wayne

      Excellent comments, Tony. My only note would be that some have spoken as though this were “the” Reformed position. That simply isn’t the case. I would like to see a quote from our standards stating otherwise. To my knowledge there is nothing in our Confessions and Catechisms which claim that Christ somehow assumed a pre-lapsarian nature. The speculations and teaching of certain theologians within our tradition do not constitute the opinion of our tradition.

      • Alex B.

        I would be interested in seeing something about that as well because T.F. Torrance did significant work with the reformed creeds and confessions. He wrote a book on it called “The School of Faith, Catechisms of the Reformed Church.”

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  • Matt Svoboda

    Prof. Stamps,

    This was very helpful. Thank you.

    I have one question- isnt the “perishable” body that Jesus had not an indicator of a fallen body?

    It seems he received a perishable body like all fallen humans and was raised from the dead in an imperishable body. How does Jesus having a full, but not fallen nature fit with the fact that he had a “perishable” body?

    • Mark G

      In I Cor 15:35ff Paul compares Christ’s pre-resurrection body with Adam’s pre-fall body.

      Also, since Adam finally died, even before the fall he did not have a body that was irreversibly imperishable.

  • Kevin Morgan

    Thanks for a great post, Luke!

  • Nick

    Dr Cross has posted his reflections on this matter on his blog, in case anyone was interested:

    [A]ccording to a Catholic anthropology, human nature is distinguished from the four preternatural gifts (i.e. integrity, infused knowledge, impassibility, and immortality), and from the supernatural gifts of faith, hope, agape and sanctifying grace. When Adam sinned, he retained human nature intact, but he lost all four preternatural gifts, and he lost all the supernatural gifts. Because he lost the supernatural gifts, he was without the life of God, and dead in sin, living for himself in the curved-inwardness of Godless narcissism. Because he lost the preternatural gift of integrity, he acquired the disorder to concupiscence. Because he lost the preternatural gift of infused knowledge, he acquired the condition of ignorance. Because he lost the preternatural gift of impassibility, he became subject to suffering. And because he lost the preternatural gift of immortality he became subject to death. All his offspring likewise were born in this condition, i.e. with human nature intact, but without these preternatural and supernatural gifts. To be conceived and born without the supernatural gifts is to be conceived and born in what is called “original sin.”

    Protestant anthropology does not distinguish between human nature, preternatural gifts, and supernatural gifts. Protestant anthropology distinguishes only between original human nature (which is righteous), and fallen human nature which is disposed to sin. According to Protestant anthropology, Adam and Eve were created with original human nature, but when they freely sinned, their nature fell. So all their children are born with fallen human nature, which is intrinsically subject to disordered desires, to ignorance, suffering and death. Because Adam and Eve lost their created nature, they were a different kind of creature before their fall, than they were after their fall. When they sinned, they changed species, not necessarily by a change in their DNA, but because of the change in their nature, i.e. the kind of being they were. What we call ‘human’ is what Adam and Eve became only after the fall; before the fall they were a higher kind of being, because they had a higher nature than the nature we now have.

    Given Protestant anthropology, and given the patristic principle that what is not assumed is not redeemed, it is not difficult to see the motivation for claiming that Jesus must have assumed a fallen human nature, for if He assumed only an original human nature, he would have not have assumed our fallen nature, but only that of the original pre-fall couple who, while they had that pristine nature did not [according to Protestant theology] need saving. (See “Pelagian Westminster?“) Moreover, if one does not distinguish between human nature and the preternatural gifts, then since we see clearly in Scripture that Jesus suffered and died, then it will seem that Jesus must have possessed a fallen human nature. At His resurrection He changed species, back to the original human nature of Adam. Salvation for us also will, at our glorification/resurrection, involve a species change, back to Adam’s original nature. If Jesus came “in the likeness of sinful flesh,” and suffered the curse from Genesis 3, and our only two options to choose from are Adam’s “original human nature” or Adam’s “fallen human nature,” then Jesus must have had Adam’s “fallen human nature.” And if Jesus received His humanity from Mary, then it is difficult to see how He could have received “original human nature” from Mary, unless she was immaculately conceived and never sinned (at least did not sin until after Jesus was conceived); that’s not really an option for Protestants. Either she was immaculately conceived or at the moment of Jesus’s conception, God took Mary’s [fallen] human nature and transformed it to a different nature, namely, Adam’s original human nature. But then Jesus’s human nature would have been a different created species than was Mary’s. And that runs against the meaning of Theotokos, which is not that Jesus merely used the womb of the Virgin, but that He took His flesh from her, and was truly her Son, bone of her bones, and flesh of her flesh, homousious with her according to His humanity, and homousious with God the Father according to His divinity. (See the Athanasian Creed, which says that as man He was born of the substance of His mother (et homo est ex substantia matris in saeculo natus.)

    In the Catholic understanding there is no ‘fallen human nature.’ God did not make two species of human. There is either human nature accompanied by preternatural and/or supernatural gifts, and human nature unaccompanied by preternatural and/or supernatural gifts. Every human being who has ever lived has had the same human nature possessed by Adam before Adam’s fall. Otherwise we wouldn’t all be human, because either the pre-fall Adam wouldn’t be human, or the post-fall Adam wouldn’t be human. Jesus was conceived having two of the preternatural gifts (i.e. integrity and infused knowledge), but He purposefully gave up the other two preternatural gifts (i.e. impassibility and immortality), because He came into the world to suffer and die, as I explained in comment #12 above. This is the meaning of the verse teaching that Jesus came in the likeness of sinful flesh. By forgoing the preternatural gifts of impassibility and immortality, He made Himself subject to the suffering and death that was the result of the curse of Genesis 3, yet without sinning or being subject to the concupiscence resulting from original sin. He was conceived with the supernatural gifts (excepting faith and hope, because already He possessed the beatific vision), and thus without original sin. So the Catholic answer to the question “Did Jesus Assume a Fallen Human Nature?” is “It depends on what one means by “fallen human nature.” If one means a lower nature than that possessed by the pre-fall Adam, then no, because there is no such thing. And if one means “a human nature having concupiscence,” then no. Jesus did not have concupiscence, because he never had original sin. But if one means “a human nature subject to suffering and death,” then yes, not because He received a different human nature than that had by the pre-fall Adam and Eve, but because He chose not to receive the preternatural gifts of impassibility and immortality, so that He could fulfill the mission for which He came into the world, to suffer and die for our salvation.

    This position does not suffer from the problems I described above. Everything we are in our human nature, Christ assumed. For example, He did not have to forgo the preternatural gift of integrity in order to become fully human. Adam prior to his fall was not less human than Adam after his fall. Moreover, on this anthropology, Christ’s passibility and mortality do not entail that He also possessed concupiscence, since these are each conditions due to the absence of preternatural gifts, not essential properties of a singular fallen human nature. Nor do His passibility and mortality indicate that He was internally at enmity with God, since the latter is the result of the absence of the supernatural gift of agape, not something intrinsic to a particular kind of human nature that Christ would have had to assume in order to redeem us. And given Catholic anthropology, Jesus could receive from Mary the same human nature she had received from Adam, since there is only one human nature. What is known as “the sinful nature” is not a second human nature, but rather concupiscience, i.e. the absence of the preternatural gift of integrity. This “sin nature” is not redeemed and retained in the saints in heaven; it is removed, by the restoration of the preternatural gift of integrity. Salvation does not involve becoming a different species of human, but becoming a partaker of the divine nature, through the infusion of the supernatural gifts of sanctifying grace and agape, and at Christ’s return, the restoration of all the preternatural gifts.

  • Emmanuel Hatzidakis

    Dear Editor,

    I just came across your blog post and I would like to make a comment.

    Luke Stamps fell short of an explanation as to how Christ could exhibit the consequences of fallen humanity (hunger, tiredness, thirst, grief, sorrow, suffering, even death) yet not be sinful, since these experiences are consequences of the fall (sin). It is impossible to have a fallen nature and yet be sinless (it’s like saying, I smoked but I didn’t inhale), which would mean that one is not subject to the consequences of the fall. If that were true Christ should not have suffered and died, as these, though blameless, are still consequences of the fall. But He did suffer and die. So He should be sinful in some way. But that’s unacceptable for the incarnate Son of God.

    Where then does the answer to the unsolved (by Stamps or Crisp) puzzle lie? Christ, as the Holy Son of God, could not be possibly united with fallen humanity, which means sinful, corrupt and mortal. But in order to die for our salvation and redeem us He voluntarily assumed the innocent or blameless consequences of the fall mentioned above (innocent because although they were introduced in our nature after the fall, the persons carrying them are not responsible for them), but not its sinful consequences (inner temptations, alienation from God). Christ lives by choice under the conditions of fallenness without being intrinsically fallen. Death is not inescapable for Him. He is in total control of the passions He voluntarily assumed.

    Western Christianity is preoccupied with sin, as if living a sinless life is everything. Corruption, suffering and death inescapably bring to an end our existence. Death, bodily and spiritual, is the great tragedy. All the righteous of the Old Testament suffered and died and so did all the saints of the New Testament. Living a perfectly sinless life, as humanly possible, would not, and apparently did not, exonerate Christ from the necessity of death. Proof: He died! So “Fallen but sinless” does not hold. It’s a contradiction in terms. If Christ necessarily died, as fallen, where is the redemption going to come from? If He rose from the dead He must have risen through a miracle, not because death had no holding on Him. If so, how could He grant us life eternal, something He did not Himself possess in His own right?

    Unfortunately, in his study God Incarnate: Explorations in Christology Crisp has reversed his earlier prelapsarian position arguing that Christ had a peccable human nature.

    Now some scriptural backing.

    The Lord said clearly, “No one takes [My life] from Me, but I lay it down on My own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.” (John 10:18) He surrendered Himself and died of His own free will, not out of compulsion, because He was not necessarily subject to the consequences of the fall.

    God sent “His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom. 8:3). He resembled a sinful (corrupt and fallen) flesh, because in total freedom He assumed its corruptibility and mortality, consequences of sin, but not its sinful tendencies and passions. “Which of you convicts me of sin?” (John 8:46)

    He “partook of the same nature” (Heb. 2:14), was “made like His brethren in every respect” (v. 17), for “He Himself has suffered and was tempted” (v. 18), and is not “unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted [tried, tested] as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). He assumed our humanity (body and soul) in its totality, and He submitted to our suffering and trials (same meaning as in Mt. 6:13)—all voluntarily, in total freedom out of love for us.

    Much more can be found in my book, Jesus: Fallen? The Human Nature of Christ Examined from an Eastern Orthodox Perspective (Orthodox Witness: Clearwater, FL, 2013)(see