The Hypostatic Union

by Vijay Chandra

 

The Bible teaches that the Christ is both God and man. Proving the deity and the genuine humanity of the Mediator is not difficult. Therefore, we should not be surprised to find that the church has always dogmatically affirmed that Jesus is both truly God and truly man. The major difficulty in defining the Mediator has been how God and man exist together in the one Person. Not only are there several heresies [false teaching about the Person and work of Christ propagated by Islamic scholars, Hindu scholars, SDA, Jehovah Witnesses, etc.] regarding the person of Christ, but the orthodox definitions of the two natures in one Person is a very difficult doctrine for our small minds to fathom. Therefore, we will examine the orthodox confessional statement regarding the two natures in one person and then explain it in the simplest language possible.

 

The most complete statement of Christological orthodoxy that to this day has not been supplanted or improved upon, even by the reformed symbols, is the Creed of Chalcedon [A.D. 451]. It declares “We, then, following the holy [Nicene] fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in godhead and also perfect in manhood, truly man, of a reasonable [i.e. rational] soul, body; consubstantial with the Father according to the godhead, and consubstantial with us according to manhood; in all things like unto us, yet without sin; eternally begotten of the Father according to the godhead, and in the latter days, for us and our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary the mother of God, according to the manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only-begotten to be acknowledged in two natures, without mixture, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one person and one subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but, one and the same Son, and only begotten, and only begotten God the Word (John 1:1-18, Phil 2:1-10), the Lord Jesus Christ, as prophets from the beginning have declared concerning him, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has taught us, and the creed of the holy fathers has handed down to us.”

 

Before we define and analyze terms such as nature, person and consubstantial, it will be helpful to guard the church against a wide variety of heresies. In God’s providence, the council of Chalcedon was the brilliant orthodox capstone to generations of conflict over the person of Christ. Note how virtually every perversion of Christology under the sun is refuted by the Creed of Chalcedon.

 

Chalcedon refutes everyone who teaches that the Messiah was not truly God, or, was not consubstantial [i.e., of the same substance, or, identity of essence] with the Father. The denial that Jesus was really God in every way was a common problem that had to be dealt with by the early church as it still does today. There were second-century Jewish heretics, the Ebionites [this group was zealous for ceremonial law; refused to fellowship with Gentile believers and denied the divinity of Christ] and Eikasites [i.e., ascites versions of Ebionites] who taught that the Messiah was only a man.

There were the Arians [A.D. 320] [the modern Jehovah’s Witnesses] who plagued the 4th century and beyond. They believed that the Son was the first created being [same as the Koran]. He was the highest or greatest of created beings [Mormons hold this view as well]. However, he was not God and “there was a time when He was not.” They also believed that this great creature simply inhabited the flesh of Jesus; the Messiah did not have a real human soul. The modern Jehovah’s Witnesses have a heretical Christology almost identical to the early Arians.

Then there were semi-Arians who taught a mediating position between the orthodox and the Arians. The Arians taught that Jesus was dissimilar or different substance [anomoios] with the Father. In other words, Jesus is not just a man but he is not the same as God either. Such a compromise is really no better than Arianism. It is a damnable heresy. The Orthodox said that the Son was of the same substance [homousios] with the Father.

Against all men who taught that Christ did not have a genuine human soul, Chalcedon declared that Jesus had a rational soul. This statement refutes Apollinaris [A.D. 310-390] who applied platonic psychology to the person of Christ. Instead of following the biblical concept of dual nature of man as spirit and body, he combined the Greek concept of man having an animal or irrational soul, a spirit and a body. He believed that if the Logos assumed a true and complete human nature which included a human spirit, then Jesus would have been corrupted with human sin. Therefore, Logos took the place of the human spirit. Such a view does not really recognize the true humanity of the mediator and thus needs to be condemned.

Chalcedon preserves the truth against all forms of Monarchianism that caused problems in the real church. One form developed by Paul of Samosata called Dynamic Monarchianism asserted that although the Logos was consubstantial or of the same essence with the Father, it was only because the Logos was an impersonal force or power from God. In other words, they rejected the apostolic teaching of the Son as the second, distinct person in the Godhead.

Another form of this heresy is called Modalistic Monarchianism [or Patripasianism because it asserts the Father suffered in the form of the Son]. This view was first propagated by Sabellius [early 3rd century] who asserted that God is one person who sometimes exhibits himself as the Father, sometimes as the Son, and sometimes as the Holy Spirit. Once again the distinct personhood of the Son, as well as the Spirit, is denied. All modalistic theories are essentially Unitarian in their concept of the Godhead. Such views are still quite popular today and can be found in cults such as the Jesus-only and Oneness Pentecostals.

When Chalcedon asserts that the Son is truly God of the same essence with the Father and at the same time asserts that the Logos is eternally begotten of the Father, it recognizes that although Jesus is God of very God, He also is a distinct person in the Godhead. He is not an impersonal force or simply the Father appearing as the Son.

Chalcedon condemned the idea that Jesus was two distinct persons by declaring that there are two natures in one person and one subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons. This statement is a rejection of the heresy of Nestorianism [Nestorius died c. A.D 451] which held that Christ was two persons, that there was not a unity of the one person. According to this view, one should not think of Jesus as the God-man but as a man controlled by God. Nestorianism destroys the undivided [hypostatic] union of the two natures and the universality of the Messiah.

The Chalcedon creed refutes all forms of Docetism by teaching the real undivided union of the two natures in one person and by declaring that Mary was the mother of God [God-bearer].

Docetism is a heresy which redefines the true humanity of Christ. Its Christology was not derived directly from Scripture but from Greek philosophy. In the first centuries of the Christian era, platonic and non-platonic philosophies were quite popular. According to the Platonic worldview, there were traditions of reality and ethical quality in the world. Spirit or mind is far superior to that which is material or matter. Physical things [according to this view] such as flesh, blood, and bones were inherently defective and evil. Men who accepted these pagan Greek presuppositions argued that Jesus could not have developed inside of Mary or have had a real human body. Therefore, Jesus only appeared or seemed to have a body; thus, the name ‘Docetism’ comes from the Greek verb dokeo—‘ to seem or appear.’ The rejection of the true humanity of our Lord was a serious problem in the early church and was advocated by other heretics such as the Gnostics (John the apostle dealt with an early form of Gnosticism in 1 John) and the Marcionites.

In order to combat such thinking, Chalcedon affirmed that “Christ was ‘perfect in manhood,’ ‘truly man’ with a rational soul and body consubstantial with us according to the manhood. Further, Mary was a God-bearer.” Jesus derived his human nature directly from her and was truly of the seed of Abraham and David.

Chalcedon condemns all varieties of kenoticism. This theory [which became quite popular in the nineteenth century] asserts that when God the Son became man he voluntarily laid aside all or some of the divine attributes. This view is based on an erroneous interpretation of Philippians 2:7, which in some translations says that our Lord ‘emptied Himself.’ The Chalcedon creed refutes kenoticism by saying that “the distinction of nature being [is] by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved.” The union does not alter the divine nature in any way. Further [as noted above], the idea that God could somehow cease to be God is unbiblical and absurd.

The Chalcedon creed refutes the Lutheran doctrine of the communication of attributes between the divine and human natures. Luther and some early Lutherans occasionally spoke of a communication in both directions — In the subsequent development of the doctrine, however, the communication from human nature to the divine nature soon receded from sight, and only from the divine to the human nature was stressed. Chalcedon says that the two natures are united “without mixture, without change.” The hypostatic union preserves the property of each nature. If, as Lutheran theologians assert, the divine attributes are communicated to Jesus’ human nature, then the Messiah ceases to be truly human. Further, the gospel accounts make it perfectly clear our Lord’s human nature was truly human in every conceivable manner [e.g., intellectual growth, limitations of knowledge, physical weakness, etc.]. The Lutheran view probably came into being to explain their bizarre understanding of the Lord’s supper [i.e. consubstantiation: Jesus’ real flesh and blood is in, with, and through the elements of the bread and wine all over the world at the same time]. Lutheran theology virtually destroys the incarnation.

Chalcedon condemns all forms of adoption. Adoptionists hold to the view that the Messiah was born a regular man. Then, at some time during His life [most Adoptionists choose Jesus’ baptism, while some prefer the resurrection] God adopts our Lord’s body. In other words, Christ exists independently for a lengthy period of time before God enters His body.

The Chalcedon creed rejects this heresy when it refers to Mary as the “God-bearer” [theotokos]. The orthodox view is that there never was a time when the human nature of the Savior existed independently of the divine nature. From the very moment of conception, Jesus was both God and man in one person. The orthodox teaching is clearly supported by the conception and birth narratives in the gospels, the meeting between the pregnant women, Elizabeth and Mary, the virgin birth as well as the worship that the baby Jesus received by men and holy angels.

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