One of the most controversial doctrines within Seventh-Day Adventist theology is their internal disagreement and arguments over whether or not the Adventist Jesus has a sinful nature. This ultimately stems from their division over their erroneous understanding of original sin and because of contradictory statements made by Ellen G. White that all three sides utilize to support their position. That is to say that, within Adventism, you have three views on this as SDA theologian Denis Fortin recognizes.
Some SDA pastors and apologists, such as Kevin Paulson, think they have the answer to these issues where he states:
The collective witness of Ellen White’s writings regarding the incarnate Christ and the passions and propensities of fallen human nature, is found to speak harmoniously once the Biblical distinction between lower and higher forces in human nature is understood (Matthew 26:41; 1 Corinthians 9:27) and recognized in her description of the human experience. When Jesus is depicted by the inspired pen as having fallen human urges, these represent urges resisted. When, by contrast, it is denied that He had these urges, the description is one of urges exhibited.Kevin Paulson, A Possible Game-Changing Statement in Ellen White Christology Studies
This entire dilemma stems from the SDA Church not properly understanding the two natures of Christ (hypostatic union), seeking to mingle a sinful, fallen human nature with a sinless divine nature, not understanding that Christ was not born dead in sins and trespasses like the rest of humanity.
The Bible very clearly teaches that Jesus was fully human and fully divine (two natures, one person) and, by incarnating and adding unto His divine nature a human one, He is able to be the founder of salvation for humanity (Hebrews 2:10-6). We’re also plainly told that, because He took on human flesh, He is able to sympathize with us in our weaknesses, being tempted like we are, but without sin (Hebrews 4:15). It is because of this that scripture calls believers to approach Jesus as their high priest knowing that He understands our weaknesses and struggles—imploring us to bring those things to Him.
However, while He became truly human, it doesn’t mean that He had to take on a sinful nature. He was not born dead in trespasses and sins like the rest of humanity is (Ephesians 2:1), by nature a child of wrath (Ephesians 2:3). He was born spiritually alive.
When talking about the sinful nature of humanity, it is in reference to the internal desire for sin that all humans experience due to being fallen sons and daughters of Adam (Romans 5:12, 1 Corinthians 15:22). Experiencing temptation is different from the desire to do something sinful.
Jesus had no sinful desires, as even desires not acted upon can be sinful (Matthew 5:28, Colossians 3:5). He did not have a desire to lie, steal, lust, etc. This doesn’t mean He can’t sympathize with us, though, because we see that in His human life He was tempted like we are. He was tempted with power and with food (Matthew 4:1-11). He experienced suffering like we do. He was hungry and thirsty like we are (Luke 4:2, John 19:28). He experienced the death of a loved one (John 11:11-3). He experienced excruciating physical pain on the cross. All of these sorts of things allow Jesus to be able to sympathize with us in our sufferings, hardships and weaknesses, yet be without a dead, fallen sinful nature like the rest of humanity that needs born again.
Because the SDA Church esteems Ellen G. White as divinely inspired and that her writings correct inaccurate interpretations of scripture, their theology is ultimately beholden to what she said on the subject. Romans 8:3 is their favorite verse to cite to try and support that Jesus came in sinful flesh but didn’t have a sinful nature, trying to delineate between the two. The Ellen G. White Estate claims that “the humanity of Jesus was subject to all the effects of sin’s rampage on this world, but they do not impute to Jesus any moral weakness. Someone said he was affected by sin, but not infected by it.”
The SDA Church teaches that Jesus was peccable, meaning he could have sinned, was affected by it, but never gave in. This was at the risk of eternal loss, according to Ellen White. Which means they think that Jesus could have failed in His mission and doing the Father’s will. There was no risk of Jesus sinning and failing as He is the fullness of the Godhead bodily (Colossians 2:9) and God is holy and cannot sin (1 Samuel 2:2, Psalm 99:9). To sin would be for God to cease to be who He is ontologically by nature, becoming a sinner, yet God is unchanging (Psalm 102:27, Malachi 3:6, Hebrews 13:8).
This belief is ultimately coming downstream from their extra-biblical Great Controversy Worldview which posits that part of why Jesus incarnated was to demonstrate that God’s Law can be kept by a fallen human, silencing the accusations of Satan in the Great Controversy regarding God’s Law not being fair. Because of this, Jesus has to be seen as ontologically no different than we are—which is why they also teach that He set his divine nature aside when He incarnated (Kenosis heresy).
In the March 22, 1927 issue of Signs of the Times, an official publication of the SDA Church, editor of the paper, L.A. Wilcox wrote:
He [Christ] came where I was. He stood in my place. In His veins was the incubus of a tainted heredity like a caged lion ever seeking to break forth and destroy. For four thousand years the race had been deteriorating in physical strength, in mental power, and in moral worth; and Christ took upon Him the infirmities of humanity at its worst. Only thus could He rescue man from the lowest depths of his degradation.Signs of the Times, March 22, 1927, pg. 5
Jesus was not born with Adam as His representative after 4000 years of degradation on the human line. He was the Second Adam (1 Corinthians 15:22)—the unfallen Head and new representative of a new line. He did not inherit the fallen Adamic nature. This is why the Virgin Birth is such a vital doctrine.
Mr. Wilcox also wrote in the December 18, 1928 issue of the same publication that:
Jesus took humanity with all its liabilities, with all its dreadful risks of yielding to temptation.Signs of the Times, December 18, 1928, pg. 9
James 1:13 is clear—God cannot be tempted with evil, meaning, he cannot be enticed to commit evil. Jesus Christ is indeed God (Colossians 2:9) and was not tempted with evil like the rest of mankind showing Mr. Wilcox’s statement to contradict scripture. Jesus was never tempted with evil such that He ran the risk of yielding to it.
He experienced pain, suffering, heartache, etc. which is why He can sympathize with us, but was not tempted with evil like humanity experiences inwardly. His temptation happened externally by Satan (Matthew 4:1, Luke 4:2). James explains humanity is tempted inwardly by our own fallen hearts (James 1:14-5), of which Jesus did not have.
Furthermore, in the 1914 Bible Reading for the Home Circle, a Seventh-Day Adventist catechetical tool, we find what the SDA Church’s position, after filtering it through the Great Controversy Theme, looks like:
In His humanity Christ partook of our sinful, fallen nature. If not, then He was not “made like unto His brethren,” was not “in all points tempted like as we are,” did not overcome as we have to overcome, and is not, therefore, the complete and perfect Saviour man needs and must have to be saved. The idea that Christ was born of an immaculate or sinless mother, inherited no tendencies to sin, and for this reason did not sin, removes Him from the realm of a fallen world, and from the very place where help is needed. On His human side, Christ inherited just what every child of Adam inherits, a sinful nature. On the divine side, from His very conception He was begotten and born of the Spirit. And all this was done to place mankind on vantage-ground, and to demonstrate that in the same way every one who is “born of the Spirit” may gain like victories over sin in his own sinful flesh. Thus each one is to overcome as Christ overcame. Revelation 3:21. Without this birth there can be no victory over temptation, and no salvation from sin. John 3:3-7.1914 Bible Reading for the Home Circle, pg. 174
Take that for what you will. The SDA Church has never repudiated this statement, even if there may be divisions amongst the modern day SDA as to whether or not Jesus had a sinful nature. This is coming from an officially published book with the SDA Church’s official stamp of approval and gives us insight into how they understand Ellen White’s statements regarding Jesus’s nature. Namely statements like that Jesus took upon himself our fallen nature.
Amidst all of this, the SDA Bible commentary states that Jesus took on a sinless human nature which only further shows the division around this within SDA theology.