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Edward Irving’s Incarnational Christology, Part 2

The soteriological concern of Irving’s argument was not merely a focus on the death of Christ on the cross but primarily upon the salvific intension of the Incarnation to save that which is assumed – that being fallen humanity. This argument invokes a principle of the classic Patristic teaching that ‘what Christ does not assume, he does not heal.’ Gregory of Nazianzus argued that our whole flesh needed to be assumed by Christ in order to be healed (i.e. Body, mind and soul), for whatever was not assumed by Christ in the Incarnation was unredeemed and unhealed.[22] Irving’s opponents’ alternative lay in the position that on the cross, all the sins of mankind were imputed to Christ. Colin Gunton comments regarding the weakness of this approach: “It is undoubtedly true that theologies centred on a legal or commercial metaphor can degenerate into what appears to be a kind of mathematical balancing of evils: Jesus bears so much evil as a counterweight, so to speak, to ours.”[23] Irving rejected this purely legal understanding of the atonement, stating that the problem that the Atonement solved “was is not the accumulation of the sins of all the elect; but the simple, single, common power of sin diffused throughout, and present in, the substance of the flesh of fallen human nature.”[24]




Coming in Part 3 (Winter 2019):

Assessing Irving’s Orthodoxy



[1] Romans 8:3-4 (NRSV)

[2] Cole, A Letter to the Rev. Edward Irving, 7-8

[3] H. Cole, The True Signification of the English Adjective Mortal, and the Awfully Erroneous Consequences of the Application of that term of the Ever Mortal Body of Jesus Christ, Briefly Considered, London: J. Eedes, 1827

[4] H. Cole, True Signification, 10, cited in Dorries, Edward Irving’s Incarnational Christology, 298

[5] G. Carlyle, (ed) The Collected Writings of Edward Irving (5 volumes), Vol. V, London: Alexander Strahan & Co. 1864:157. [Hereafter listed by abbreviated title, volume (in Roman numerals) & page. E.g. C.W. V, 157]

[6] C.W. I, 359

[7] Cole, A Letter to the Rev. Edward Irving, 12

[8] J.A. Haldane, A Refutation of the Heretical Doctrine Promulgated by the Rev. Edward Irving, Respecting the Person and Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, Edinburgh: William Oliphant, 1829:36

[9] See CW II, (Lectures 1 – 5 on ‘The Temptation’)

[10] Haldane, A Refutation of the Heretical Doctrine, 15

[11] Ibid., 16

[12] Cole, A Letter to the Rev. Edward Irving, 8

[13] Ibid., 9

[14] R. Meek, The Sinless Humanity of Christ, vindicated against the Irving heresy: in a letter to a clerical friend, London: J. Hatchard & Son, 1833

[15] Ibid., 13-14

[16] Irving, Christ’s Holiness in Flesh, 1

[17] C.W. V, 115

[18] Haldane, A Refutation of the Heretical Doctrine, 45 [Italics mine]

[19] Cited in Dorries, Edward Irving’s Incarnational Christology, 352-3

[20] Irving, The Orthodox and Catholic Doctrine of Our Lord’s Human Nature, xi

[21] Meek, The Sinless Humanity of Christ, 12-13

[22] For more on Nazianzen’s argument and the patristic debate and its implications, see T.F. Torrance, The Trinitarian Faith, Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1988:161-68; T.F. Torrance, Theology in Reconciliation, London: Goeffrey Chapman, 1975:146-7

[23] C.E. Gunton, The Actuality of Atonement: A Study of Metaphor, Rationality and the Christian Tradition, Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1988:128

[24] Ibid., 131

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Category: Fall 2018, In Depth

About the Author: Trevor W. Martindale has been involved in supporting church-planting ministries in South Africa, where he grew up, and in England and in Scotland, where he now lives. Currently, he is a graduate student at the University of Aberdeen.

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