Jesus, the Smartest Man Who Ever Lived (Pt 1)

Today i have started combing through a journal article written by Dallas Willard. Willard is a Christian who is a professor of philosophy at USC and a reknown author and speaker. The journal article is called “Jesus the Logician.” To read a printable version of the article click here.

Willard asserts that:

In understanding how discipleship to Jesus Christ works, a major issue is how he automatically presents himself to our minds. It is characteristic of most 20th century Christians that he does not automatically come to mind as one of great intellectual power . . .

As can be surmised from me labeling this post Pt 1, i have several different thoughts on this. However, for the sake of clarity (and getting some sleep) let me pose two basic questions tonight: One, when you think of Jesus, do you think of Him as someone of intelligence? I assume that we would all agree He is now in his risen state, unfettered by our temporary bodies, but what about when He was here now, in one of our bodies? Second, what was the extent of Jesus’ knowledge? Did His brain, roughly the same size as yours, contain the knowledge of psyics, logical theory, oil painting, economic theories, and what the Grand Canyon looked like? Did He simply know what He had learned during His human life time? Did He even have to study?

I ask this question for two reasons. 1) It reveals one’s picture of God, which has implications for how we “do” our faith, and 2) it reveals a key aspect of one’s theology. What say you?


11 responses to “Jesus, the Smartest Man Who Ever Lived (Pt 1)

  1. Those are good questions. #1 — yes, I do, but only in the last 5 years or so. #2 — I would say that Jesus didn’t know everything — being intelligent is something different. If Newton had traveled back in time and hung out with Jesus, I’ll bet Jesus would have picked up physics pretty quick, but it was unknown in the 1st cent. He had to learn, like us. He was just better at it, and more (completely) open to God’s voice in spiritual matters.

  2. Hey Chris, good to hear from you. At this point i would have to agree with you on both counts. Regarding #2 though, i think that our view only makes sense if we hold that Jesus relinquished some of His divine attributes (eg omniscience, omnipresense, omnipotence). This is what is known in theological discourse today as the “kenotic” theory. This is all well and good with me.

    However, Chris, the problem i see here is that church tradition, when all the voices are taken together, speak against this view. In fact, though the view that somehow Jesus was fully God(He retained His omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence) while also fully man was ratified as orthodox doctrine at the council of Chalcedon (451 AD), it has been the dominant view of the church all along.

    I am not sure how you can go against this tradition, as much weight as you have given it in our past discussions. It seems to me that consistency on your part requires you to hold the classical view, where Jesus never “had to learn, just like us.” The only ways out of this i can see is if a) i misunderstood what you said, b) i misunderstood the tradition,
    c) i misunderstand the views.

    Which, if any, is it?

    Please take me holding your feet to the fire on this in the loving spirit in which i wrote it.



  3. I never had the impression that the kenotic (sp?) view was inconsistent with the Chalcedonian view. The kenosis is a bit of a mystery — how does one lay aside divine attributes? But, this seems consistent with retaining the essence of deity — being fully God. Jesus’ essence (divinity) cannot change. His experience of his divinity can change. Ontologically/metaphysically, his divinity remains unaltered, but epistemologically, his awareness of it is different. This distinction helps explain why he could say on the cross, “why have you forsaken me?” It seemed to him that he was forsaken, even though it is impossible for him to separated from the trinity.

  4. Wow. So many big words 🙂

    I enjoy the discussions and thoughts here derek – you really are a gifted writer/thinker. Thought I’d post so you have a link to my blog thingy too. Hope your wedding singing went well.

  5. Yes I agree with the first post that Jesus had to learn, and to support my reasoning is that if he didn’t then at what point did he not have to learn? As a baby he would have already known how to speak, all the different languages. He could have begun his ministry early. People would have seen that as miracles.

    But his purpose was to come down under the same limitations that we have. Learning is one of them. Now I do believe he was intelligent, but still needing to ponder and learn from what was written or taught before just like other great minds.

    I think he revealed to himself through scripture that he was the son just like he reveals himself to us and was open to the Father in prayer. So Mary and Joseph taught him who he was. His spirit was receptive to the Fathers spirit to what is true. He as a man was tempted and like Adam before he fell didn’t have the desire to do evil being able to hear directly from the Father.

  6. Jason, i appreciate your thoughts here. It seems like you are pointing out that the lack of need for learning serves to severely undermine His humanity. I completely agree.

    I am not sure what you mean by “he revealed to himself through scripture that he was the son.” Do you mean that there was a wall dividing his human and divine natures, so to speak? I would need to think about this some more. I guess i am wondering if his “dual nature” could remain distinct while also being integrated in a sense; i do not think Jesus was a sprirtual schizophrenic. however, maybe this is where the mysterious nature of the Trinity begins.

  7. Jesus is still alive. As such, regarding intelligence, he is surely our race’s fair haired boy The learned intelligence in his incarnation prior to glorification is a topic for argument, but it seems to me that this is much better than him not even being in the game.

  8. The intelligence of Jesus is pure speculation. He was clearly a man of great charisma and didactic ability, perhaps a great orator. That we know so little of him and in considering the reliability of our source, in a historical context, precludes any definitive answer. There is nothing recorded in the gospels to suggest that he was more intelligent than, say, Von Neumann or Tesla or Shakespeare.

  9. Frank, thanks for the reply. I think that what is happening here is that you and i are arguing from different starting places.

    For me, Jesus is the Christ, a “member”of the Trinity. Due to that, i have obvious theological reasons for thinking that he was indeed very intelligent. If he indeed was the one through whom “the whole world was created,” than i bet he knew quite a bit about it.

    I do believe the NT to be extremely reliable, especially when we compare that set of documents with anything else from antiquity. So since i accept the historical reliability (but not inerrancy) of the Bible, i can assume that the words recorded there were Jesus’. Thus, i conclude that Willard is right in pointing out how deftly Jesus used logic, reasoning, and debating skills. Maybe whether or not He was smarter than Shakespeare depends on whether you prefer prose or parables!

    However, i gather from your reply that you don’t affirm at least a couple of the points that i do; this is fine! I hope that we can chat over some of the broader issues you rose (particularly regarding epistemology) so that we can learn from each other.

    At the risk of “ticking you off,” i would encourage you to read my newest link/post. I don’t know if you are an atheist or not, but saying something is “pure speculation” b/c we are precluded from a “definitve answer” sounds pretty shaky to me b/c of its lack of evidential grounding. What can we be “definitive” about anyway? Can we prove anything to be “pure speculation?” I hope that this post doesn’t offend you, but rather point out a possible hole in your argument regarding Jesus’ intelligence.

    Brain of Dtrain

  10. How much IQ do you think Jesus has?
    And how is this to do with his sermon on the mount, the eigh beatitudes?

    Apprecaite your reply ASAP greatly

  11. Man, you guys are very analytical and articulate as well. I’m almost ashame to be in this format with all of you. However, here’s my take on the subject. If Jesus’ is the Alpha and the Omega. If he is all knowing and knew the ending at the beginning, how could He not be the smartest man to ever live?

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