How did Christ learn obedience through suffering when he was already perfect?

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Puritan Board Professor
"Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered."
-Hebrews 5:8

"For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering."
-Hebrews 2:10

This may seem like a childish question, but exactly how did Christ learn obedience through suffering when he was already perfect?

I approach it with all of these premises. 1) Christ was human and "tempted in all points as we are and yet perfect and without sin," and thus Christ was sinless.

The Bible makes very clear Christ's humanity: he was susceptible to hunger (Matthew 21:18), anger and grief (Mark 3:5); and pain (Matthew 17:12). "He committed no sin, neither was their deceit found in his mouth" (1 Peter 2:22).

In every believers' life, God uses the twists and turns, and hardships to mold and make us, and train us in the way or righteousness... it can often be a painful experience. So learning obedience through suffering is neccessary for us as well.

What are some articulate means of expounding upon how Christ was made perfect through suffering, while not neglecting affirmation of his deity, sinlessness, and humanity?


Puritan Board Sophomore
From John Owen on Hebrews 5:8 -

This obedience in Christ was twofold: "” (1.) General , in the whole course of his holy life in this world; every thing he did was not only materially holy, but formally obediential. He did all things because it was the will and law of God that so he should do. And this obedience to God was the life and beauty of the holiness of Christ himself; yea, obedience unto God in any creature is the formal reason constituting any act or duty to be good or holy. Where that consideration is excluded, whatever the matter of any work or duty may be, it is neither holy nor accepted with God. Wherefore the whole course of the life of Christ was a course of obedience unto God; whereon he so often professed that he kept the commands and did the will of him that sent him, thereby "œfulfilling all righteousness." But yet this is not the obedience here peculiarly intended, although no part of it can be absolutely excluded from the present consideration; for whereas this obedience hath respect unto suffering, he "œlearned it from the things which he suffered," his whole life was a life of suffering. One way or other he suffered in all that he did, at least when and whilst he did it. His state in this world was a state of humiliation and exinanition; which things have suffering in their nature. His outward condition in the world was mean, low, and contemptible; from which sufferings are inseparable. And he was in all things continually exposed unto temptations, and all sorts of oppositions, from Satan and the world; this also added to his sufferings. (2.) But yet, moreover, there was a peculiar obedience of Christ, which is intended here in an especial manner. This was his obedience in dying, and in all things that tended immediately thereunto. "œHe became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross;" for this commandment had he of his Father, that he should lay down his life, and therefore he did it in a way of obedience. And this especial obedience to the command of God for suffering and dying the apostle here respects. With regard hereunto he said of old, "œLo, I come: in the volume of thy book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God," Psalm 40:7,8; which was in the offering up of himself a sacrifice for us, as our apostle declares, Hebrews 10:9,10. And concerning the things which befell him herein, he says, "œhe was not rebellious," but "œgave his back to the smiters, and his cheeks to them.that plucked off the hair," Isaiah 50:5,6. 2. Concerning this obedience, it is said that e]maqe , he "œlearned" it.

Manqa>nw is to learn as a disciple, with a humble, willing subjection unto, and a ready reception of the instructions given. But of the Lord Christ it is said here, "œhe learned obedience," not that he learned to obey; which will give us light into the meaning of the whole. For, to learn obedience may have a threefold sense: "” (1.) To learn it materially , by coming to know that to be our duty, to be required of us, which before we knew not, or at least did not consider as we ought So speaks the psalmist, "œBefore I was afflicted I went astray; but now have I learned thy commandments." God by his chastisements, and under them, taught him the duties he required of him, and what diligent attendance unto them was necessary for him. But thus our Lord Jesus learned not obedience, nor could so do; for he knew beforehand all that he was to do, or undergo, "” what was proposed unto him, what was to come upon him, in the discharge of his office and performance of the work he had undertaken. And the law of the whole of it was in his heart; no command of God was new to him, nor ever forgotten by him. (2.) To learn it formally ; that is, to be guided, instructed, directed, helped, in the acts and acting of the obedience required of him. This is properly to learn to obey; so is it with us, who are rude and unskilful in holy obedience, and are by supplies of light and grace gradually instructed in the knowledge and practice of it. This wisdom do we learn, partly by the word, partly by afflictions, as God is pleased to make them effectual. But thus the Lord Christ neither did nor could learn obedience. He had a fullness of grace always in him and with him, inclining, directing, guiding, and enabling him unto all acts of obedience that were required of him.

Being full of grace, truth, and wisdom, he was never at a loss for what he had to do, nor wanted any thing of a perfect readiness of will or mind for its performance. Wherefore, (3.) He can be said to learn obedience only on the account of having an experience of it in its exercise. So a man knoweth the taste and savor of meat by eating it; as our Savior is said to "œtaste of death," or to experience what was in it, by undergoing of it. And it was one especial kind of obedience that is here intended, as was declared before, namely, a submission to undergo great, hard, and terrible things, accompanied with patience and quiet endurance under them, and faith for deliverance from them. This he could have no experience of, but by suffering the things he was to undergo, and the exercise of the graces mentioned therein. Thus learned he obedience, or experienced in himself what difficulty it is attended withal, especially in cases like his own. And this way of his learning obedience it is that is so useful unto us, and so full of consolation.

For if he had only known obedience, though never so perfectly, in the notion of it, what relief could have accrued unto us thereby? how could it have been a spring of pity or compassion towards us? But now, whereas he himself took in his own person a full experience of the nature of that especial obedience which is yielded to God in a suffering condition, what difficulty it is attended withal, what opposition is made unto it, how great an exercise of grace is required in it, he is constantly ready to give us relief, as the matter doth require. 3. The way or means of his learning obedience is lastly expressed: jAf j w=n e]]paqe , "” "œFrom the things which he suffered." It is a usual saying, Paqh>mata , maqh>mata , "” "œ Sufferings" (or "œcorrections "œ) are instructions." And we cannot exclude from hence any thing that Christ suffered, from first to last, in the days of his flesh. He suffered in his whole course, and that in great variety, as hath been showed elsewhere.

And he had experience of obedience from them all, in the sense declared.

But seeing the apostle treats concerning him as a high priest, and with especial respect to the offering himself unto God, the suffering of death, and those things which immediately led thereunto, are principally intended: "œHe became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross," Philippians 2:8.

Now we may be said to learn from sufferings objectively and occasionally.

In their own nature and formally they are not instructive. All things that outwardly come upon us are ejk tw~n me>swn , and may be abused, or improved unto a good end. But in them that believe, they give a necessity and especial occasion unto the exercise of those graces wherein our obedience in that season doth consist. So from them, or by them, did the Lord Christ himself learn obedience; for by reason of them he had occasion to exercise those graces of humility, self-denial, meekness, patience, faith, which were habitually resident in his holy nature, but were not capable of the peculiar exercise intended but by reason of his sufferings. But, moreover, there was still somewhat peculiar in that obedience which the Son of God is said to learn from his own sufferings, namely, what it is for a sinless person to suffer for sinners, "œthe just for the unjust." The obedience herein was peculiar unto him, nor do we know, nor can we have an experience of the ways and paths of it.

The Lord Christ, undertaking the work of our redemption, was not on the account of the dignity of his person to be spared in any thing that was necessary thereunto. He was enabled by it to undertake and perform his work; but he was not for it spared any part of it. It is all one for that; "œalthough he were a Son," he must now "œlearn obedience." And this we have sufficiently cleared on the former verse. And we may hence observe, that, "” Obs. 1. Infinite love prevailed with the Son of God to lay aside the privilege of his infinite dignity, that he might suffer for us and our redemption. "œAlthough he were a Son, yet he learned," etc. 1. The name of "œSon" carrieth with it infinite dignity, as our apostle proves at large, Hebrews 1:3,4, etc. The Son; "” that is, "œthe Son of the living God," Matthew 16:16; "œthe only-begotten of the Father," John 1:14; he who "œin the beginning was with God, and was God," John 1:1,2. Foras he was "œGod´s own Son," Romans 8:3; he was"in the form of God, equal with him," Philippians 2:5,6; one with him, John 10:30.

So that infinite glory and dignity were inseparable from him. And so long as he would make use of this privilege, it was impossible he should be exposed to the least suffering, nor could the whole creation divest him of the least appurtenance of it. But, 2. He voluntarily laid aside the consideration, advantage, and exercise of it, that he might suffer for us. This our apostle fully expresseth, Philippians 2:5-8, "œLet this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the "˜form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross."

Steve Owen

Puritan Board Sophomore
All of us who are married make the promise, 'In sickness and in health' and we all intend to keep it when we say it. But we don't really know the significance of it until a time of testing comes.

The wife of a friend of mine was grievously ill for many years until her death recently. My friend was steadfast in caring for her all the way through. He learned by experience what obedience to that promise really means. The Lord Jesus Christ said on coming into the world, "I delight to do Your will, O My God, and Your law is within My heart" (Psalm 40:8 ). It could be said that He learned (in the sense of experiential knowledge) the true meaning of obedience to God's law in His temptations and in His suffering on the Cross. Thus it is said, 'For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tested as we are, yet without sin' (Heb 4:15 ).

He knows what bodilly weakness and suffering are, not just by His omniscience, but by His personal experience of them.

I hope that helps.


Scott Bushey

Puritanboard Commissioner
The distinction needs to be made between perfection and obedience. Christ was perfect/sinless, yet he was fully human. The scriptures state that as he grew, He grew in knowledge; how could that be? He is God and omniscient! In His flesh, he forsook His onmniscience. In the same way, Christ, in the divided senses, needed obedience, needed suffering. In the compound, He was fully God, fully able, fully omnipotent, in the divided, fully man and in this needed to suffer as to relate with us.

[Edited on 3-15-2006 by Scott Bushey]
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