Call To Die

Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

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Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of Kosmosdale Baptist Church, and tutor/staff member at Sayers Classical Academy.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

True God and True Man: Reflections on the Hypostatic Union

[The following was originally posted on this blog in July 2014.]

I. Basic Definition

The divine nature of God the Son (the second Person of the Trinity) subsists in a hypostatic (personal) union with a human nature. The hypostatic union has existed from the moment that the Word became flesh (John 1:14), being conceived in the virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit (Matt 1:18; Luke 1:35). The hypostatic union continues on everlastingly: For in Christ all the fullness of deity dwells [present tense] in bodily form (Col 2:9 emphasis added). As the second Person of the Trinity existed before the Incarnation (John 1:1; John 17:5), what the hypostatic union means is that in the Incarnation, the Word of God (a divine Person) took upon Himself a human nature. On the other hand, the humanity of Christ consists in a nature, which derives its personhood from the eternal Word. (The idea that the Word took on a distinct, non-divine human person is the heresy called "adoptionism.")

II. One Nature?

In order to be faithful to the doctrine of the hypostatic union (and thus, I would argue, faithful to Christ Himself), one CANNOT speak of Jesus as if He has only one nature following the Incarnation: as if He were divine without being fully human (body and soul) or as if He has a nature that is some kind of synthesis between divinity and humanity. The idea that Christ, following the Incarnation, has one nature is the heresy called "monophysitism" (from mono, meaning "one," and phusis, meaning "nature").

Monophysitism and Gospel Matters

Monophysitism is a serious heresy for a number of reasons:

1. It misrepresents the clear biblical record. While there are Bible passages that speak of Christ as God (for example, Titus 2:13) and passages that speak of Christ as Man (for example, 1 Timothy 2:5). There are no passages that speak of Christ of having a nature that  is some kind of hybrid.

2. It misrepresents the divine nature of Christ. In the orthodox view, the divine Word takes on a human nature. The divine nature does not become human in the sense of changing or being synthesized into something that it was not. Such an activity (if possible) would imply a change in God's nature. God, however, is immutable (unchangeable), as the Bible declares in passages such as Psalm 102:25-27; Malachi 3:6; James 1:17.

3. It misrepresents the human nature of Christ. Scripture declares in Hebrews 2:17 that Jesus was "made like His brethren in every respect." From several passages (including Heb 4:15; 7:26; 1 Peter 2:22) we know that the humanity of Christ did not include sin. But in every respect necessary for Christ to experience a true (yet sinless) humanity, Jesus was just like us. This would not be the case if His human soul was replaced by a divine soul or if His soul was some sort of human/divine mixture.

4. It undermines the gospel:

a.   The good news of salvation is based on the immutable nature of God. As Scripture declares in Malachi 3:6, “Because I—the LORD—do not change, therefore you—the sons of Jacob—are not consumed.” By asserting change in the divine nature, monophysitism erodes the basis of our hope for salvation. If God can change as to His very nature, how can we be sure that He will not change His mind concerning the salvation of His elect?
b.   The good news of salvation is based on the true, full humanity of Christ. As Scripture declares in Hebrews 2:17, "Therefore, [Christ] had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people" (NASB emphasis added). Christ our great high priest had to become like us and He had to be chosen out from among men (Heb 5:1). One reason that "it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins" (Heb 10:4) is because these animals are fundamentally NOT like us, and so they are improper as substitutes. But in the monophysite view, Jesus in His humanity is fundamentally NOT like us in that He lacks a human soul. As Gregory of Nazianzus righly asserted:
If anyone has put his trust in [Christ] as a Man without a [fully] human mind, he is really bereft of mind, and quite unworthy of salvation. For that which He has not assumed He has not healed.
Christ HAD to take on a fully human nature, body and soul (with a mind) in order to be a substitute for human beings: making propitiation, bearing our penalty for sins that we have committed in body and soul, and bringing healing to our souls (and eventually to our bodies as well, in the resurrection). 

III. Two Persons? 

In order to be faithful to the doctrine of the hypostatic union (and thus, I would argue, faithful to Christ Himself), one CANNOT speak of Jesus as if He is two people: as if there were a human person Jesus who can be divided out from the divine person of Christ. The idea that Christ is two persons is the heresy called "Nestorianism" (named after Nestorius, a fifth century archbishop, who apparently taught some version of this heresy). This heresy destroys the unity of Christ, which is expressed in Bible passages such as 1 Timothy 2:5, "For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus" (emphasis added).

Theotokos 

In order to combat Nestorianism, the Council of Ephesus (431)—following Gregory of Nazianzus and other great theologians—affirmed the practice of calling Mary theotokos (meaning: "God-bearer" or "mother of God"). In using this term, the Council of Ephesus was NOT suggesting that Mary was/is the "God-bearer" or "mother of God" in the sense of being a source for Christ's divine nature, but they WERE strongly affirming that the baby in Mary's womb was more than a mere human person: Mary bore a person who was and is fully God.

Theanthropic Personhood

We know that in the incarnation Christ assumed a human nature just like ours (except without sin). However, His personal origin is different than ours, for He is an uncreated person, eternally begotten of the Father, whereas we were created by God in time. Christ, therefore, is a person who is truly a human being, but He is not merely a human person. Rather, He is an eternally divine person, who—in His incarnation—has become a uniquely theanthropic person.

Communicatio idiomatum 

The affirmation of Mary as theotokos also raises the issue of Communicatio idiomatum, meaning, “the communication of attributes.” Though there are some denominational differences concerning how we should understand Communicatio idiomatum, at its most basic level, Christians agree that—due to the hypostatic union from the Incarnation—when we speak about Christ, we should not be hesitant to speak of Him as a single Person, who has attributes from both His divine and human natures.  Due to the Communicatio idiomatum, the NT authors can even speak of the Lord of glory as having been crucified (1 Cor 2:8) and the Church as purchased with God’s own blood (Acts 20:28). Jesus certainly suffered and died on behalf of sinners according to His human (rather than His divine) nature, yet because it was Jesus who died, it is proper to speak of God shedding His blood and the Lord of glory having been crucified for our salvation. Because it was Jesus who died—one with a human nature, but who is also fully God—it was impossible that death should hold Him (Acts 2:24).

Dear reader, if You call out to Christ to save you from sin, death, and Hell, you will find one Person—one Mediator between God and men—who is fully God and fully Man: compassionate and mighty to save.


Dyothelitism

For since one of the Holy Trinity has been made man, viz.:  God the Word, the Holy Trinity has not been increased by the addition of another person or hypostasis. (From: the Second Council of Constantinople, Capitulum V.)

Summarizing the findings of the Second Council of Constantinople (553), Fred Sanders writes in Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective [page 31]: “The human nature of Christ, therefore, is both anhypostatic (not personal in itself) and enhypostatic (personalized by union with the eternal person of the Son).”

Sanders notes: “The fifth council has always been suspected of being a covert return to the Apollinarian error [the heresy stating that Christ’s humanity only consists of a human body, with a divine—but not a human—soul], because it seems that the human nature is missing something that it takes to be fully human: human personhood” [page 34].


Obviously, an affirmation that Christ has both human personhood and divine personhood is the very definition of the Nestorian heresy, but is a denial that Christ has human personhood a form of Apollinarianism? Sanders denies this conclusion, but gives little detail as to how this conclusion is to be avoided.


The key to understanding how Constantinople II avoids Apollinarianism lies in a robust understanding of nature. As the person of Christ IS the eternal, divine second person of the Trinity, and as Christ, in order to accomplish our salvation, must must have assumed every facet of true humanity—for “what is not assumed is not healed”—then human nature must include a soul. The soul, likewise, must have faculties including a will. This is why dyothelitism [the teaching that Christ, according to His two natures, had both a divine and human will] is so important, and why modern affirmations of monothelitism [see, for example, J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, page 611] are so troubling. Monothelitism and related errors do make the affirmation of Constantinople II into a kind of Apollinarianism. And these kinds of errors have direct consequences for us and our salvation. If Christ had no human will, then the human willwhich is certainly fallenhas not been redeemed.


IV. Conclusions from the above consideration:

Texts to Consider

"But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone" (Mark 13:32 NASB).

The Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him. (Luke 2:40 NASB)

And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men. (Luke 2:52 NASB) 

Gospel Foundation

Each Christian must personally confess with Thomas that Jesus Christ is "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28), that Jesus—the Word—was God (John 1:1), that Jesus—God the Son—shared in the glory of the Father before the world began (John 17:5). This divine person—the second person of the Trinity—is the person who took on a human nature (Phil 2:7) in order to fulfill the Law (Matt 5:17; Gal 4:4) and to die for our sins (1 Cor 15:3). Having been raised from the dead on the third day (1 Cor 15:4), Jesus freely offers eternal life to all who will believe in Him (John 3:16), and He is now present with believers always, even to the end of the age (Matt 28:20).

Questions Raised

In considering the truths just mentioned, along with the biblical texts cited above, certain questions arise. How can a divine person—a person who is fully God—be said to increase in wisdom? How can such a person indicate that He did not know something that the Father knows?

In considering these questions, we must more fully explore what we MUST CONFESS about the Person of Christ and what we CANNOT KNOW.

What We MUST CONFESS About the Person of Christ

The second person of the Trinity is immutable according to His divine nature (Psalm 102:25-27; Malachi 3:6; James 1:17). "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Heb 13:8 NASB). Thus, as to His divinity, Jesus cannot grow in wisdom or knowledge.

According to the eternal plan in the divine will—from before the world began (Eph 1:3-12; Rev 13:8)—the second person of the Trinity was predestined to become incarnate—taking on a human nature—in the fullness of time (Gal 4:4). The human nature of Christ had all the necessary attributes of humanity. Christ became like us in all ways, sin excepting (Heb 2:17; 4:15). In His human nature, Christ experienced physicality, limitation, change, humility, temptation, and the need to grow in wisdom and knowledge (as expressed in the verses above, along with others, such as: Matt 4:2; John 4:6; Phil 2:7; Heb 4:15).

The incarnate Christ (before His glorification) normally related to people through His human nature. Except at His transfiguration (Matt 17:1-2; Mark 9:2-3; Luke 9:28-29), those looking upon the human Christ would have considered Him physically unremarkable. As the Prophet Isaiah declared, "He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him and no beauty that we should desire Him" (Isa 53:2b ESV).

Even so, the second person of the Trinity is the divine subsistency through whom creation is sustained (Col 1:17; Heb 1:3). This consideration—along with the confession of divine immutability—means it is impossible that Christ, in taking a human nature, surrendered His divine being or His divine activity when becoming incarnate.

Moreover, though some theologians have claimed that Christ, during the entirety of His incarnate earthly ministry, only acted as a Spirit-empowered human being, the Gospel writers certainly record instances in which Jesus manifestly exercised divine power. Matthew 9:1-8 (paralleled by Mark 2:1-12 and Luke 5:18-26) provides two examples. First, Jesus forgives sins, an activity that His enemies rightly understand as indicative of deity. Second, Jesus knows the thoughts of the scribes and Pharisees, exercising a feature of divine omniscience (1 Cor 2:11; Psa 44:21; 139:2). While having a human nature and experiencing true humanity, Jesus still consciously exercised divine power at least on occasion.

What We CANNOT KNOW About the Person of Christ

Though we may sometimes think that marriage would be easier if we could just read our spouse's thoughts, it is a fact that no mere human can listen in on what someone else is thinking. Much less can we discern the uncommunicated thoughts of God. As the Apostle Paul notes, "For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God" (1 Cor 2:11 ESV). Therefore, we cannot possibly imagine the inner thought-life of a Person who is both God and Man.

What parents have not gazed into their baby's eyes wondering what manner of thoughts an infant might have? Christ—at one time—was an infant, normal in all ways that do not involve sin, yet He was also—at the same time—the eternal second person of the Trinity, sustaining the universe. How could Mary and Joseph ever have guessed at the thoughts of their child?

We know the thoughts of Jesus Christ as the Holy Spirit has revealed them in Scripture. We who love the Lord should seek to know Him better through searching Scripture, praying for the illumination of the Holy Spirit. We should seek to deepen our understanding of Christ through careful comparison of Scripture with Scripture. We should NOT be too quick to throw up our hands and say "mystery!" or otherwise give up in seeking to understand the fullness of Christ as presented in divine revelation simply because it takes sustained mental effort.

Yet there is certainly a limit to what our finite minds can comprehend concerning Christ. There are "secret things" that belong to the LORD (Deut 29:29). His thoughts are immeasurably higher than ours (Isa 55:9). So we must praise Christ, giving Him glory BOTH for what we can know about Him through divine revelation AND for being greater than we can ever fully know.

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Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Trinity

[The following is edited from material that I originally put together for a devotional group that met before our shift, when I worked at UPS. The meeting where we were focused on the Trinity took place in June 2010. Some of the guys who met for that group were from Muslim backgrounds, so I thought consideration of the Trinity was especially important.]

Summary of the biblical doctrine of the Trinity:

Within the one being that is God, there exists eternally three co-equal and co-eternal Persons: namely, the Father (Matt 6:9), the Word or Son (John 1:1-2; 17:5; Col 2:9), and the Holy Spirit (John 14:26; 15:26; Acts 8:29; 13:2), each with distinct personal attributes (Isa 48:16; Matt 3:16-17; Rom 8:26-27; Heb 9:13-14), but without division of nature, essence or being (John 10:30; 14:9; Acts 5:39).

Examples of Triadic passages:

Matt. 28:18-19
II Cor. 13:14

Origin of the doctrine of the Trinity:

C.S. Lewis notes that the Church’s understanding of the Trinity first started to become clear due to the experiences of Jesus’ early followers: The disciples knew of God in a vague way, they met Jesus Christ, and they found God living in them (i.e., the Holy Spirit).

Similarly, Bruce Ware notes that the Church’s understanding of the Trinity first started to become clear due to the Person and Work of the Lord Jesus Christ: The nature of Jesus’ claims and His actions verifying those claims drives us to the inevitable conclusion of His deity [see Mark 2:1-12], yet He is shown as distinct from the Father by His prayers and human nature.

Biblical evidence of the Trinity:

Our knowledge of God comes from what He has revealed about Himself in Scripture.
We know that the Father and the Son [also called God and the Word] are two distinct Persons, yet one God, due to Bible passages such as John 1:1. In John 1:1, we see:
  1. The Word was with God: language describing a face-to-face relationship (indicating intimacy and distinction).
  2. The Word was God: language indicating identity.
The Old Testament focuses on the LORD as one in His being, as we see from passages like Deuteronomy 6:4, though the Old Testament also points forward to Jesus Christ by prophesies and types. The New Testament focuses on the Person of Jesus Christ. Therefore, we have less direct information about the Holy Spirit. But we do see that the Holy Spirit is considered a distinct Person– in Matt. 28:18-19 and II Cor. 13:4 as already noted, and in passages such as John 14:26 and 16:7, which are extremely important for other theological reasons as well– and He is considered to be God, as we see, for example, in a comparison between passages such as I Cor. 2:11 and Rom. 11:33-34.

The importance of the doctrine of the Trinity:

We must believe in God as He has revealed Himself to us, not inventing a God from our own imaginations, for that would be idolatry. Though non-Trinitarian presentations of God sometimes seem to make sense considered in themselves, the doctrine of the Trinity is the only understanding of God that reflects all the Bible has to say concerning the nature of God. The doctrine of the Trinity is not something that could have arisen based on human reasoning alone; we only know God as Triune based on what He has revealed. And so the doctrine of the Trinity, properly understood, drives us to faith in His Word.

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Friday, January 04, 2019

Systematic Theology: God is the Sovereign Creator and Sustainer of All Things [6], and Hints of Plurality


In context, Elohim in Genesis 1 (and in other passages where Elohim refers to YHWH) must beunderstood as singular rather than plural. However, Elohim is indeed a plural noun form. Also, Genesis records God using plural pronouns when it reveals divine internal speech (that is, God says “us/our/let us” in verses like Genesis 1:26; 3:22; 11:7 although God also often uses first person singular verbs to describe divine action [as in Genesis 1:29-30; 3:11, 15-17]). Given the teaching of God’s self-revelation as a whole, we must always affirm that there is only one God. However, God’s use of a plural noun and plural pronouns in the early chapters of the Bible should begin to raise questions about what the one true God is like. With subsequent revelation, the faithful reader begins to see there is a specific sense in which our relationship to God (and God’s internal relations) involve more than one divine person.

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Thursday, January 03, 2019

Systematic Theology: God is the Sovereign Creator and Sustainer of All Things [5], and God is One


“God” in Genesis 1 is a translation of the Hebrew word Elohim. The –im ending is the usual way that Hebrew makes masculine nouns plural. In some contexts, elohim is properly translated as “gods” (see, for example, Psalm 82:6). However, in Genesis 1 Elohim takes singular verbs, demonstrating that in that passage the term is to be understood as “God” in the singular. Also, beginning in Genesis 2:4 Elohim is identified with the personal [singular] name YHWH. Explicitly, in Deuteronomy 6:4 we read that “YHWH [is] our Elohim, [and] YHWH is one.” Also, in Isaiah 45:5 YHWH strongly declares, “I am YHWH and there is no other; there is no Elohim besides Me.” (See also: Isaiah 46:9.)

The New Testament is consistently clear in passages like John 17:3, Romans 3:30, 1 Corinthians 8:6, 1 Timothy 2:5, and James 2:19 that whereas there may be many false “gods”—demonic entities or people trying to assume the place of God—there is only one true God.

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