The Xristian.org articles, The Deity of Christ and The Humanity of Christ, biblically demonstrated the two natures of Christ and affirmed that Christ was fully God and fully man. However, given that the divine nature is infinite and the human finite, the two articles left open several questions about the union of these two natures in one Christ. For example, if Christ was God, was he ruling over creation while in a crib in Bethlehem; or, if Jesus suffered on the cross, did God die or suffer? These questions and many others naturally arise given that Jesus was both God and man.
While it will be the intent of this article to explore the vexing questions surrounding the union of the two natures in the one person of Christ, it must first be noted that the Bible does not give an explicit or formal answer to the relationship of the two natures in Christ. As such, care must be taken to remain within the boundaries of scripture (where the scriptures are silent, so too must man be). The incarnation1 is in fact very much a mystery to be awed and enjoyed. Full understanding should not be expected2, at least not on this side of the resurrection. However, there are many sound inferences (which are loyal to the scriptures) that can be made based on the actions of Jesus himself and the statements made about him in the Bible.
A Statement of the Teaching
The basic points to the doctrine of the person of Christ are:
The "nature" of something is the essence of what it is. It is the "sum-total of all the essential qualities of a thing" (Berkhof, Systematic Theology. p. 321). The divine nature is that which God is (some of which is discussed in Xristian.org's "The Character of God," Parts I and II). The human nature is that which man is. A nature or essence does not include necessarily "personality," although the latter does the former.
A "person" used herein, is that which is given individuality (reason, responsibility, and accountability) and existence. A person may be of either a divine or human nature. As Berkhof states, "a person is a nature with something added, namely, independent subsistence, individuality" (p. 321).
In short, nature or essence is the what, while personality is the who.
Scriptural Basis of Christ's Unity of Person
No dual personality
While within the Trinity, there is an "I-Thou" relationship (Gen. 1:3; Ps. 2:7), there is no such thing within the person of Christ. Christ is always referred to in the third person as "He" or "Him" and never "They" or "Them." In the first person Jesus never exclaims of himself, "we" or "our," but instead "I" and "me" (John 17). Jesus is referred to as the Son of God, the Righteous One, the Chief Shepherd, and the Savior - all in the singular.
Unity within Christ
The scriptures present Christ as one person with two natures:
Christ's work is presented as that of one person
In addition to the bible's direct teaching that Christ was one person with two natures, it also teaches that the work of Christ is that of a single person. Of His reconciliatory work between the circumcised and the uncircumcised (plural), Paul wrote that He (singular) put to death the enmity, that He (singular) came and preached peace, and that by Him (singular) access is granted to the Father by One Spirit (Eph. 2:16-18). Even in His ongoing priestly work, Christ singularly advocates His people's cause before the Father (1 John 2:1-2). This singularity of Jesus is significant, since the atoning and reconciliatory work scripturally presupposes the involvement of both humanity and deity.
The early Christological errors of history denied either the deity (dynamic monarchianism, Arianism, and modalistic monarchianism) or humanity (docetism, and Apollinarianism) of Christ. The Church confronted them as it formulated the Nicene Creed and conducted the Niceno-Contantinopolitan Councils (AD 325-381), declaring that God was Triune and that Christ was both God and Man. The next set of controversies dealt with the nature of the union of these two natures in Christ, which the Church confronted up through the ecumenical Council of Chalcedon (451). These latter heresies incorrectly:
The Reformers of the 16th century rightly reaffirmed the Chalcedonian Creed, but added the harmonious teaching, the Communicatio Idiomatum, which meant that there was a communication of attributes from either of Christ's natures to the person. In other words, it is right to state that Christ died on the cross, even though the divine nature of Christ certainly never died. Similarly, it is acceptable to state that Christ created all things, even though the humanity of Christ was not involved in creation (in fact, Christ was not even united with a human nature at that point in time). Most do not have a problem with the Communicatio Idiomatum, as its truthfulness is obvious and affirmed by the bible. Errors occur, however, when statements about Christ are automatically applied to both natures (a reverse communication of attributes from person to both natures). Some (e.g., the Arians) have insisted, for example, that Christ could not have been God, because he did not know certain things while on earth. Others (the Kenoticists) taught that Christ's weaknesses were due to the fact that he emptied himself of all divinity while on earth. While it is true that in His humanity, Christ was ignorant of things as he grew in wisdom, it is not true that the omniscient divine nature of Christ was ignorant of the same. This is where the mystery of the beautiful incarnation begins and the limitations of the understanding of the flesh become obvious. One would better conclude that Christ gave up the independent exercise of his divine attributes while on earth, although all attributes of his two natures were nonetheless fully retained within his Person. Analogies of this type of interaction are plentiful, such as the fast runner being constrained by the slow in a three legged race. The fast runner is still a fast runner, yet he might voluntarily choose to run the three legged race with the slow. In the case of the Son of God, Christ was as much a man as if He had never been God and as much God as if He had never been man. Yet, he voluntarily chose to be made flesh.
Importance of the Hypostatic Union
The hypostatic union is critical to God's creative and redemptive plan, in that:
While there are limitations in what God has revealed concerning the person of Christ, the scriptures are absolutely certain that Jesus was God and Man and that he had one center of consciousness. The Eternal Son of God did not change when He became Man, but instead added to His person a human nature. By this union, God Almighty thereby entered into something new and was able to officiate redemption on behalf of man and God: for man by the fact that He was then able to call them brethren and relate by experience; for God, by the fact that He was still the Son, forever Lord over all creation.
1Some would object to using the term, "incarnation," as it cannot be found in the bible. As with the word, "Trinity," however, the word need not be in the bible to be an accurate word summarizing teaching that is in the bible. In fact, a strong argument could be made that the word, incarnation, is actually in the bible. The Latin roots of the word, "in" and "carn," mean "in-flesh," and John teaches clearly in his gospel that God was made flesh in John 1:1 and John 1:14. Just because the English word is not built off of the Greek root for flesh (sarx), does not mean that the word incarnation is not found in the bible. Perhaps changing the English word to have more of a Greek flavor ("insarxation") would satisfy those that make such ignorant and rather shallow objections?
2One need only consider how complex the average individual is to understand. Marriages demonstrate this fact, that finite beings are complex creatures and that even after decades of peaceful and intimate relationships, the depths of individuals remain partially mysterious. How much more complex would God incarnate be?
3Exceptions to the creed are only made today by the Ethiopian Orthodox, the Coptic Orthodox, and the Syrian Jacobite churches. The council was attended by some 520 bishops from October 8 through November 1 of 451 AD.
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