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Jesus Christ: Truly Human, Truly God

27 Aug

Jesus ChristAfter the extraordinary events of historical Jesus took place, gospels were written, first churches were founded and the dust settled down for a while, new wave of commotion arouse to take its place. Under the influence of Greek philosophy there began to be a demand for explanations of these texts through logical processes that would offer answers worthy of certain rational categories. At this time Christianity was on the rampage and its wide expansion was evident, when a number of scholars put their effort in making sense of a seeming issue around the bifurcation of the person of Christ throughout the gospel narratives. Professor Craig neatly summarized this contradiction in his Defenders class stating the essential assumption for the doctrine of incarnation: “The same person is both omnipotent and limited in power. He is both omnipresent and living in Palestine. He is both eternal and yet confined to a life of about thirty years. He is omniscient and yet he does not know the date of his second coming.” Many well-meaning attempts to offer a fitting model and solve this Christological paradox, under the name “hypostatic union”, were introduced out of which many where later considered punishable heresies or at least misguided hypothesis.

The word hypostatic originates from the Greek “hypostasis” which means: substance, nature or essence . Thus hypostatic union is simply referring to the unity of two natures of the incarnate God the Son or Logos.  Now, most of the concepts regarding the incarnate personhood of Christ could be placed somewhere on a line between his divine and human nature.

Ebionitism

This group of Jews perceived Christ solely as a human being, who was yet firmly connected with God. Thereby he could perform powerful miracles and rise from the dead. However, he was only a man whose existence began in his birth.

Docetism

Docetists make another crowd that encompasses a wide range of heresies in the history of Christology, which held that Jesus never really became a human, but only appeared to us to be so.

Appoliarianism

This stream of thoughts originated from a bishop of Laodicea called Appolinaris in 361 A.D. Not being as marginal as the previous two, this concept at first appeared possibly credible nevertheless it was condemned a year later by the Council of Alexandria. Appolinaris suggested that Jesus had two natures, in the sense that his body was human but his mind or spirit was divine.

Monophysitism

After Appolinarias’ effort it was agreed that Christ’s redemptive influence is needed for both our body and mind, therefore his true humanity must also be represented in both. Eutyches (378-454) seems to consider this demand, for he propounds that Christ was initially truly human and truly God yet these two merged to one. An analogy of an ink drop in an ocean is often used to express the scale to which human nature was absorbed by the divine one. Unfortunately even this attempt was rejected for while it addressed the demand for both mind and body it ended in an unacceptable conclusion that Christ in fact had only one nature that was neither divine nor human, but a modification of both. Such a mutation could not effectively represent any human and could not be considered divine either for it was stained by a human finitude.

Nestorianism

Almost concurrently with Eutyches, there were some who took a completely different route in explaining this phenomenon. They thought that there are two natures, but also two persons (or at least personalities) which are connected in physical body of Jesus Christ. While this once again might appear as a potential solution, we have no reason to incline to such a conclusion as nowhere in the Bible we read about an inner conflict of these two persons and a plural way of speech is not employed either.  Even though it isn’t known whether Nestorius, a bishop of Constantinople, held this view; he was eventually taken responsible for this heresy and removed from his office.

Councils
Church

While these contemplations did not help to find an appropriate explanation of Christ’ incarnation they served to form boundaries that would guide succeeding theologians and philosophers  in their endeavour to explain these metaphysical questions. These boundaries are better known as creeds of various councils that gathered to compare any offered theory with a rigorous study of biblical data that described the incarnation. There are particularly three significant councils that stood up to major heresies regarding the Person of Christ in the Early Church. First was the Council of Nicea (325)  that rejected Adoptionism, Arianism and Ebionitism . Then the Council of Chalcedon (451)  declared that “in Christ the two natures, each retaining its own properties, are united in one subsistence and one person” , denouncing Appoliarianism, Nestorianism, Monophysitism and Docetism. Finally at Constantinople III was condemned the major heresy called Monothelitism.  There are surely other concepts and their variations that could be mentioned, yet these go beyond the scope of this paper.

Treatise over Kenoticism

Christ voluntarily emptied himself” is the main sentence of a view based on Philippians 2:6-7  and 2. Corinthians 8:9 . Today, there are generally recognized two forms of Kenotic theory. Widely rejected version assumes that God had emptied himself by laying aside his divine nature. This must be wrong since God logically cannot commit a sort of “Deociedy” and cease to be God.  The second form of kenotic view holds the conviction that while He had a divine nature God laid aside only his power that was yet always available to Him; however he chose not to draw upon it.  Many contemporary theologians as Bloesch, lean towards this second explanation even though it faces several somewhat subtle challenges regarding the contingency and essentiality of these attributes to Gods deity. William Lane Craig, Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology in California, shows that if attributes like omnipresence, omnipotence or omniscience etc. are only contingent and do not belong to divine essence or nature than “it implies that there is a possible world in which God is weak, ignorant, limited in space and time and would hardly therefore seem to be a being that is worth calling God”, thus while this view is coherent it presents a very weak concept of God to be theologically acceptable. Secondly, some attributes as omnipotence belong to modal properties (what one can/is able to do) and if Christ supposedly laid his omnipotence aside, but still was able to pick it up again at any time, then he never really surrender it because if he could get omnipotence, then he was omnipotent at all time. Thus this is not something that can be simply temporarily given up and then retrieved. Moreover, divine attributes as necessity or eternity by their very nature cannot be laid aside, for if one has these properties he will have them always. Now, how could Christ die without these properties being given up? One could say: “He only died in his human nature, but in his divine nature he remained eternal and necessary.” However at this point we are back at the traditional doctrine of Chalcedon and there is no need for kenosis since all this can be said about omnipotence, omnipresence and omniscience as well. Namely, that He was omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient in his divine nature, but in his human nature he was weak, limited in knowledge and limited in space.  At this point Kenoticism fails to offer an advance in theology, but only redirects us back to already known boundaries and guidelines. John Calvin said that: “…To rob the divine nature of God of a single attribute would destroy His deity, and to rob man of a single human attribute would result in destruction of a true humanity. It is for this reason that the two natures of Christ cannot lose or transfer a single attribute.

God

So, why does it matter?

The understanding we have of the person of Christ will ultimately determine everything else about his ministry on the Earth, God himself and most importantly his perceived relevance for us today. Namely, if one holds the view that Christ was only a man who had a great connection with God, then for him Christ will be at best a moral superhero while God the Father will remain distant and impersonal deity. If on the other hand a person thinks that God walked among us and only appeared to be one of us, playing this grand show, then He could not ever really understand what we are going through as human beings, which would make Him personal but still distant and now even fake. If he should have two persons we must accept a sort of schizophrenic being which is now excessively “personal”, yet disturbed, shaken by inner conflict and almost grievous. More than that, any Christology that differs from the Chalcedonian one either fails to show Christ as a true human representative or robs God of His divinity, which makes His atoning sacrifice on the cross less significant if not completely meaningless. Only when we accept that Son of God came to us in one person, being both truly man and truly God, it is possible for us to see Him as our personal Saviour who is worth all glory and praise in the heaven and earth from eternity to eternity.

Bibliography
Bloesch, D. G. (1997). Jesus Christ: Savior & Lord. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Craig. W. (2011). Section 6 : Doctrine of Christ (part 5). Retrieved from http://www.rfmedia.org/RF_audio_video/Defender_podcast/Defenders2_DoctrineofChrist05.mp3 (26th August  2012). [20min 45sec]
Elwel, W.A. (1984). Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Michigan: Baker Books.
Enns, P. (2008). The Moody Handbook of Theology. Chicago: Moody Publishers.
Grudem, W (1994). Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. England: InterVarsity Press.
Herbermann, Ch.G.(2003). The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume 7: Gregory XII-Infallability.
Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament) (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
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3 Comments

Posted by on August 27, 2012 in Reasonable Faith, Theology

 

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3 responses to “Jesus Christ: Truly Human, Truly God

  1. Prayson Daniel

    August 28, 2012 at 8:36 am

    Wonderful post Pierce. It is worth reading and rereading. You successively packed the two natures of Christ in a clear and simple form. Thank you Pierce.

     

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