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John W. McGarvey’s Comments regarding Modern Criticism, The Kenosis,
 and Jesus Christ Not Knowing the Time of His Second Return


 The following was taken from John W. McGarvey's commentary on the Authorship of the book of Deuteronomy. pp. 266-270. The book is available for free from Google Books. Gary Butner, Th.D..


2. Did Jesus Know? To the question, Did Jesus know who wrote the books of the Old Testament, the great lights of modern criticism, such as Wellhausen and Kuenen, together with all the lesser lights of the radical school, answer with an emphatic “No.” Denying as they do, his miraculous power, they also deny his miraculous knowledge, and claim that he knew, on such subjects, only what he learned from his teachers. They limit the knowledge of the apostles in the same way. As a necessary consequence, the testimony of Jesus on such subjects, no matter how explicit and positive it may be, has, with them no weight whatsoever."
When believing scholars began to favor the Old Testament criticism of these unbelievers, they soon perceived that the testimony of Jesus and the apostles would have to be reckoned with, and so they put their ingenuity to work in the search for some method of evading the the apparent force of this testimony. The first effort in this direction that came under my own observation was an essay in the Expositor for July 1891, from the pen of Dr. Alfred Plummer, under the heading, “The Advance of Christ in Sophia.” Starting from the statement of Luke, that Jesus, when a child, “increased in stature and in wisdom” (Sophia in the Greek), he argued that this increase in wisdom may have continued throughout the life of Jesus, and that, consequently, at every period of his life, even to the last, there may have been some things which he did not know, and among these the matters involved in Old Testament criticism. Add to the conclusion thus reached the fact that, according to his own statement, he did not know the day or the hour of his own second coming and there remains but a short step to the conclusion that he may have been ignorant the authorship of the so-called book of Moses, and the reality of the facts recorded in it. A little later, Canon Gore introduced us to the doctrine of the kenosis, as it is called, arguing the possibility of our Lord’s ignorance on critical subjects from the statement of Paul that though he was in the form of God, and thought it not a prize to be equal with God, he emptied himself, and took the form of a servant (Phil. ii. 6-8). This emptying included the laying aside of divine knowledge, so that he did not possess the latter while he was in the flesh. By this ingenious method of reasoning these gentlemen thought themselves justifiable in laying aside the testimony of him who had previously been regarded by all believers as the most important witness who could testify in the case. This they do “very reverently,” and not with the irreverence with which infidel critics had already reached the same result. The accepted title of this process is “reverent criticism.” Reverent it is in manner and tone, but not more so than the approach of Judas in the garden to kiss his Lord, and we are to see whether it is less deceptive.


I suppose there is no intelligent person who now doubts that the knowledge of Jesus, during his infancy and his boyhood, was limited. But, after he received, at his baptism, the Holy Spirit without measure (John iii. 34), that Spirit which, in the words of Paul, knoweth all things, even the deep things of God (1. Cor. ii. 10), who shall care assign any limit to his knowledge additional to that which he has himself assigned? Who but himself can now, or could then, have knowledge, as when he detected the unexpressed the unexpressed thoughts of men, when he gave directions to Peter with reference to the fish which he would catch with a stater in its mouth, and when he directed him and John about preparing the paschal supper. He also showed a conscious knowledge of his own pre-existence when he said to the Jews, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day, and he saw it and was glad. Before Abraham was, I am.” (John viii. 56, 58); and when he prayed to his Father, “I have glorified thee on the earth. I have finished the work thou gavest me to do. And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory that I had with thee before the world was” (John xvii. 4,5). If he had miraculous knowledge, as there facts demonstrate who shall dare to set a limit to his exercise of it? Can a “reverent” critic do so?


Our Lord’s own statement that he knew not the day or the hour of his second coming is one of the most astonishing utterances that ever fell from his lips. Its singularity is not realized until it is considered in its connection with the other things belonging to the second coming, which he did not know. He knew that it would occur after the destruction of Jerusalem, and after Jerusalem shall cease to be trodden under foot by the gentiles; he knew by whom he will be accomplished—by all the angels of God; he knew that men will be doing when he comes—that they will be engaged in all the avocations of life, a s when the flood came upon the world, and when the firestorm came down on Sodom; he knew what he will do when he comes—that he will awake all the dead, sit on a throne of glory, assemble all the descendants of Adam before him, dividing them as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; he knew that he will call those on his right hand into his eternal kingdom, and expel those on his left into eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. He even knew that two men would be in the same bed, that two women would be grinding at the same handmill, and that in each instance one would be taken and the other left. If he knew all this respecting his second coming, how is it possible that he did not know the precise time of it? This question no man on earth can answer, and I presume that the same is true of the angels in heaven. It would be an absolutely incredible statement, had it not come from lips that cannot speak falsely. And are we not here justifiable in saying that he who assigns any other limit to the knowledge of Jesus is guilty of presumption that is near kin to blasphemy? I think so. And I think that the soul of every man who worships Jesus as Lord must shudder at the thought of charging him with ignorance respecting the Holy Scriptures, which were written by holy men guided by his own Holy Spirit.

John W. McGarvey