The Two Natures of Christ

Below is a little study I presented to a study-group a while back. Since the subject is one which is often not well understood, I thought this short paper would be profitable to some readers.

When one asks the question as to how the Lord Jesus could be both man and God, that is, the Theos-aner, one is asking one of the most difficult, as well as perhaps the most argued about doctrinal questions of all. Before attempting a formulation of the doctrine the first thing to do is to examine the Bible’s own teaching regarding the Person of Christ.


I. The Deity of Christ.

Put in simple terms, this doctrine teaches that Jesus is “God manifest in the flesh” (1 Tim. 3:16 MT), that is, He is Eternal God, the Second Person of the Trinity, but incarnated in human form. Jesus is truly “Immanuel” – God with us!

Ÿ The NT speaks of Christ as God in Romans 9:5; Titus 2:13; 1 Timothy 3:16; 1 John 5:20; Hebrews 1:8; John 1:1-3; 20:28.

Ÿ The OT speaks of His deity – Isaiah 9:6; Psalm 45:6-7.

Ÿ The Bible implies His deity in many other places: Matthew 1:23; 1 Timothy 2:5; Revelation 1:8; 22:13; Hebrews 1:2-3; Colossians 1:16-19; Matthew 28:18; Zechariah 11:12-13; Colossians 2:9; Mark 2:5-12; 1 Timothy 6:14-15; Revelation 19:16; Philippians 2:9-11. Compare also Isaiah 6:1 with John 12:41; Isaiah 40:3 with Matthew 3:3.

Ÿ Moreover, Christ displayed the attributes of deity:

Matthew 8:26-27 Omnipotence

Matthew 14:19-20

John 2:7-11

 

 

John 1:48 Omniscience

John 6:64

John 2:25

 

 

Matthew 18:20 Omnipresence

Matthew 28:20

Ÿ The Word “Lord” (kyrios) Is Applied To Jesus. This Greek word is often employed in the NT as the equivalent of the Hebrew “Jehovah” (YHWH). The next set of verses show the use of “Lord” in this way: Luke 2:11; Matthew 3:3; Luke 23:42 (AV). This is the way Paul uses the word throughout his epistles.


2. The Claims of Jesus

The Lord made many claims which, if He were merely a man, would have been utterly preposterous.

Ÿ He forgave sin – Mark 2:5-7.

Ÿ He said He is the “I Am” – John 8:58-59; 6:35; 8:12; 10:7; 10:11; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1 (cf. Exod. 3:14).

Ÿ He alone knows and reveals the things of the Father – Matthew 11:25-27.

Ÿ He lays down and takes up His life – John 2:19; 10:17-18.

Ÿ He will raise us up on the last day – John 6:39-40, 44, 54.

Ÿ He accepts and is worshipped – Matthew 28:17; John 9:35-38 (AV); Revelation 5:12-13, 19:10; Hebrews 1:6.

There is absolutely no doubt that the Bible does teach the deity of Jesus. He is not only the Savior, He is God. That fact helps us to understand just what was involved in His taking upon Himself the likeness of sinful flesh. This leads to the doctrine of His Humanity.


3. The Humanity of Christ

Christians have often felt the need to emphasize the divinity of Jesus because of the stream of heresy and false notions regarding that aspect of His Person. However, occasionally they have fallen into the opposing error of not emphasizing Christ’s human nature. That Jesus was wholly God is proved above, but we lay just as much stress on His humanity. When Pilate famously cried, “Behold the Man” – he referred, not to an apparition of God in temporary human form. He spoke of the man Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5: cf. Matt. 13:53-58; Mk. 6:3; Jn. 7:5).

Jesus’ Body Was Fully Human (Lk. 2:40, 52)

He was fatigued – John 4:6

Ÿ He thirsted – John 19:28

Ÿ He hungered – Matthew 4:2

Ÿ He died physically – Luke 23:46

Ÿ He had human emotions – Matthew 8:10; 26:38; John 11:35; 12:27;

Hebrews 4:15; 5:7-9

The NT uses other terms to refer to His humanity: Romans 1:3; Galatians 4:4. In Romans 8:3, He is said to have been made “in the likeness of sinful man.” By likeness Paul is not implying anything unreal about Jesus’ body. He is calling attention to the fact that even though Jesus was fully human, He was without sin. A key passage is the so-called kenosis passage in Philippians 2:5-11. In this portion of his epistle Paul is setting forth the Lord Jesus as the supreme example of “lowliness of mind” and humility. Yet in so doing he makes one of the grandest statements about the Person of Christ in all of Scripture. Christ was in the very form (en morphe), or essence of God (Phil. 2:6). That is, His nature and God’s nature were the same. This is why He “thought it not robbery to be equal (essentially) with God.” Notwithstanding this, He became a man and, “manifested the form of God in the form of a servant.” – FF Bruce, Jesus: Lord and Savior, p.164. In the seventh verse the key theological term is ekenosen (from the verb kenoo meaning, literally, “emptied.”). But there is good reason to believe that the Apostle has a more figurative function in mind here, just as it carries a figurative sense in the rest of its NT usages (e.g. Rom. 4:4; 1 Cor. 9:15; 2 Cor. 9:3; Jam. 4:5). A major reason is that the context (the rest of v. 7), requires such a function. So, as B. B. Warfield so convincingly argued, the expanded “made Himself of no reputation” more accurately conveys Paul’s meaning to an English speaking audience.

Nevertheless, even if “emptied” is one’s preferred translation, it clearly has to be figurative, otherwise one will reproduce the heretical kenotic-theory whereby Jesus divested Himself of His deific attributes such as omnipresence, omnipotence, and omnipotence. As we have seen, Jesus was fully God, even in “the days of His flesh.” Thus, when people looked at the man Jesus, they were also looking at God.


4. The Dual Natures of Christ

In the Christian religion there are two questions above all others which are difficult. The first concerns the unity of the three persons in the one essence in the Trinity; the other concerns the union of the two natures in the one person in the Incarnation. – Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Vol. 3.10.

The words above warn us that we are not entering upon an easy subject. Perhaps it would be beneficial to first look at some Scriptures:

Ÿ John 1:1. “In the beginning was the Word (Logos), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

In the opening verse of John’s Gospel the Logos is said to be both with God and actually God. Note that although one could translate the last clause “God was the Word,” for theological reasons this would not be as good as “the Word was God.” This is because John uses “God” to describe the Father, and the Father is not the Word/Logos.

Ÿ John 1:14. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

Here we have the incarnation. He who “was God” became flesh.

 

Ÿ 1 Timothy 3:16. “God was manifest in the flesh.”

Other passages include Isa. 9:6; Rom. 1:3-4;9:5; Gal. 4:4-5; Heb. 2:14;9:14;1 Pet. 3:18; Acts 20:28.

 

The Second Person of the Trinity took human form. In doing this He did not change. He remained the same while assuming flesh and blood. Thus, the doctrine can be expressed as Christ possessing two natures in one Person. By the word “nature” is not meant “substance” or, “person” (which in common parlance it is usually synonymous with), but rather a sum of attributes. Therefore, when we speak of Christ’s two natures we mean the sum of His human attributes (His human nature), and the sum of His divine attributes (His divine nature). These two natures are perfectly united in the one Person: Jesus Christ.

It is important to realize that Christ’s divine attributes cannot be transferred to His human nature. To do so would be to change His human attributes, thus making Him more than human. In like manner Christ’s human nature cannot be mixed with His divine nature. To do this would be to make Him less than God. Also, any mingling of the two natures destroys the doctrine by fusing them into one new nature. The two natures are distinct from one another, yet find perfect unity in one Person. Sometimes, as in our redemption, the two natures act together. At other times, like when Jesus is said to have “increased in wisdom and stature”, or when He felt weary, or hungered, or died, only His human attributes were involved; though we are not to think that only half of His Person acted. Clearly, the whole Person was involved (otherwise Jesus would have acted schizophrenically and the harmony of His dual natures would have been upset).

The Saviour always acted as a simple person because that is what He was, He was not acting sometimes as man and at other times as God, although at various times His words or actions highlighted His humanity or His deity. – Robert Lightner, Sin, The Savior, And Salvation, 74-75.

 

When we consider His infinity in eternity past, we are to think of His divine nature as the pre-incarnate Word (Jn. 1:1-3). Obviously, as “the Word became flesh” in time (Jn. 1:14), His human nature was not infinite (cf. Lk. 3:23), – although He now has a human nature for all future eternity.


5. False Notions of the Dual Natures

In the history of the Church there have been those who have taught inadequate views of the Person of Christ. Arius denied that Jesus was fully divine. Apollinarius taught That Jesus simply took upon Himself a human body. Nestorianism (falsely attributed to Nestorius) taught that there were two separate persons (not natures) in Christ. Finally, Eutyches held that the two natures combined to produce a completely new but single nature.

The Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451) provided the classic formulation by stating that Jesus was essentially one with the Father according to the Godhead, and one with us according to His manhood. Moreover, Christ possessed two natures, “inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by [their] union, but rather, the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son…”

The great Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck once said that in every doctrine one studies, one will eventually come up against mystery. Not irrational paradox and contradiction, but areas where God has not vouchsafed to us the answers to certain deep questions. The doctrine of the hypostatic union of the two natures of Christ is one of those doctrines where one runs into mystery rather quickly. But, as I have said, there is nothing irrational about it. In fact, its marvelous facticity is found to be essential to the comprehension of our meaning as well as our hope. For if human history cannot be made sense out of without the imposition of the Cross of Calvary. If it remains just a prolonged succession of events lacking either purpose or consummation without the code-breaker that is the Crucifixion, then Christ’s incarnation, and so His becoming the Theos-aner, the wholly divine taking upon Himself “the form of a man,” is to be seen as the event, which interprets every other event at its most rudimentary level.

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4 comments

  1. Jesus should be taken as a symbol of the double nature of the human condition, both finite and infinite, perishable and Eternal. Jesus is the crossing of two natures, two dimensions, thus the real potency of the Christian symbol. Only Christians make the mistake of reserving this special condition for one person. Even though they posit an Eternal Soul for each of us, when it comes to Jesus they act as if they where merely rotting flesh. But what we honor in Jesus is our own contradictory and paradoxical doubleness. You know you have a body that passes away but don’t forget your own infinite imagination, only made possible because you have a material body. See William Blake.

  2. Yeh! Our consuming bio-gravity surpasses anything that can be predicated of the assuming persona. Complete amelioration of the polar extremes of symbolic ascription in the supra-human condition only placates what is latent within the universal triad that engulfs contingency. See Barnett Newman.

    We honor Jesus first by humbly listening to Him!

    1. The orthodox and biblical position is that Jesus possesses equal Lordship attributes with the Father and the Spirit. Matt. 28:18 refers to His right as the Theos-Aner to authority. While His Divine nature possesses this authority inherently, His condescension and humiliation as God-Man meant that He subordinated Himself to the Father’s rule and served in order to earn the right of which He speaks in this text.

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