JESUS AS BOTH GOD AND MAN
Jesus Christ was both fully God and fully man in his time on Earth. This unique nature of Jesus is known as the hypostatic union. He was “not half God and half man,” but fully each. The hypostatic union is supported by history, scripture and the implications of this theology to Christianity. The purpose of this work is to explore this controversial nature of Jesus which had never occurred before his life on Earth and has never existed since that time.
INTRODUCTION AND OUTLINE
The hypostatic union, the joining of both God and man in the person of Jesus is “one of the most important truths” of the Christian faith. To seek to understand Jesus is to seek to understand his nature. In the dual nature of Jesus presented by the Bible “are two mysteries for the price on one—the plurality of persons within the unity of God, and the union of the Godhead and manhood in the person of Jesus! Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is this truth of the Incarnation.” To fully understand and embrace our Christian faith we must seek to understand “the core things that we need to believe in an orthodox Christian faith.” The dual nature of Jesus is one of these core things.
This nature has been the focus of believers and theologians for centuries. Men such as Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Paul wrote of it in the New Testament. Men such as “W.G.T. Shedd, B.B. Warfield, Wayne Gruden, Charles Lee Feinberg, Norman Geisler and John F. Wavoord” have studied it and written of it in modern times. It is a subject worthy of attention based on the list of those who have studied it historically.
It is also a subject worthy of attention based on its fundamental impact on Christian beliefs. Many theological ideas are to be accepted or rejected by believers based on their individual perceptions. This is not such an idea. Jesus had to be fully God and fully man to fulfil the salvation promise presented in the New Testament. There is no alternative position for the Christian on this theology. To understand and believe it are necessary components to Christian belief and faith.
This work will approach define the subject, and then approach it from three perspectives. Each perspective will be presented and discussed in detail. These are the historical and biblical perspectives of the hypostatic union and the implications of this theology to modern believers. A conclusion will then be presented. A good first step to understanding any topic is a good definition of the topic.
Hypostatic comes from the Greek word hypostasis meaning beneath-standing, underpinning or understood. The Council of Alexandria in A.D. 362 defined it as synonymous with the person of Jesus. In other words, the hypostatic union is one understood to be part of the personality or characteristics of Jesus.
The hypostatic union is not a characteristic of the virgin birth. The virgin birth is the medium through which the hypostatic union, sometimes called the incarnation, came to be. The two events are interdependent but in some ways independent of each other. The hypostatic union is also not a form of theophany, or an appearance of God to a human. The many appearances of God to man such as with Abraham, Lot, Moses and others, were temporary. The Hypostatic union is eternal.
The hypostatic union is the concept of God in man in the form or Jesus. John spoke to it at the beginning of his writing that “the word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14) “Jesus is not merely a man who had god within Him nor is he a man who manifested the God principle.” The two natures are not mixed together in Him. They are each separate but complete in Him. “Jesus is God in human flesh.”
This union did not exist before his time on earth, it was created. St. Thomas of Aquinas wrote that the human nature of man taken on by Jesus was like a garment worn. When put on, it does not change the nature of the being it covers; it just changes the appearance and characteristics of that being. Jesus took on the nature of man while still God so he could interact with us and fulfill the prophecies of the Messiah detailed in the Old Testament.
The thesis of this work identified and the key element now defined, the focus moves to the historical and scriptural support of this thesis as well as its theological implications. The historical support is the first of these three topics to be explored.
The history of the church evolved to support the concept of man and God as one in Jesus in its “first 600 years” as described by Jonathan Alexander in his work on the subject. The concept evolved from completely accepted by those who knew Jesus personally, to be completely challenged by those who led the church after the death of the disciples. It was then again accepted through the theological process of discussion and examination.
In the time of the Apostles (AD 33-100), Jesus was completely accepted by those who lived with and ministered with him as both God and man. Those who knew him personally had no doubt about this concept. Matthew, Mark, Luke, Paul and John all wrote of his dual nature. That would begin to change as the original followers died.
In the time of the Church Fathers (AD 100-150) the original followers were gone and the leaders of the early church now began to take their writings and teachings and help the next generation of believers truly understand what it means to be a follower of Christ. John was the last of the original followers to die around 94 AD. The dual nature of Jesus was likely still completely accepted at this point, but may have been hard for new converts to Christianity to accept or understand. Indications are that the early church did operate as one unified body during this phase of church history. That would soon change.
In the time of the Apologists (AD 150-300), the church began to rapidly spread across the Roman Empire. The Roman government became less tolerant and early Christian persecution began in this period. The Romans “accused Christians of being a-theist because they worship only one god instead of the pantheon of Roman gods.” Early apologists began writing materials in addition to the original New Testament writings to help spread and support the faith. It may have been at this time that the hypostatic concept of both man and God in the body of Jesus began to be questioned by some in the church. Many believers were writing and spreading Christianity without the benefit of more experienced or learned believers.
The time of the Theologians (AD 300-600) would come along next and change everything in the life of early Christians. Constantine, the Roman Emperor, converted to Christianity in AD 313. Christian persecution would stop and a time of peace would begin in the early church under his authority. Church theology began to be openly discussed in the churches and marketplaces and at this time many teachings about Jesus would be circulated that were contrary to the writings of his original followers. Major schools of theology began to appear. One of the most prominent was the Bible School of Alexandria, led by Arius. Arius would become the originator of “one of Christianity’s most troublesome schisms.”
Arius taught that Jesus was created by God, not God himself. He was created to bridge the gap between God and man. The school of Arius was respected and so was its leader. His teachings about Jesus spread over the empire. Tension grew in the church as many of his teachings were directly contrary to the original writings. This would lead to the first of several important meetings of the Christian world leaders.
Called the Council of Nicaea and held in modern day Turkey in 325 AD, this meeting of church leaders saw debate between Arius and Athanasius, a leader of those supporting the traditional belief of Jesus as both God and man. Although Council of Nicaea did not affirm that Jesus was fully God and man, it “affirmed and clarified what was taught in the scriptures by Jesus.” In the fourth century, believers affirmed the teachings of the first century Christians. An official version of the findings, the Nicene Creed affirmed the first century’s writings and beliefs.
Arius and his supporters were not happy with this outcome and continued to teach that Jesus was not fully God, but created by God. He now taught that the God created Jesus, and then Jesus created the Holy Spirit. His followers grew and his teachings began to become known as Arianism. He became so well-known and followed by so many that Constantine met with Arius personally to discuss the subject. Constantine suggested that the church once again reopen discussion of the subject.
This request from Constantine resulted in the Council of Constantinople in 381 AD. Arius had already died by this time, but the issue was still alive and well in circles of Christian theology. In this meeting the Nicene Creed was once again confirmed and another document, the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed was created, acknowledging Jesus as God as well as the role of the Trinity and the Holy Spirit. The “personal identity (hypostasis) of Christ” was also affirmed. It was also “emphasized that the Holy Spirit was not subordinate to the Son nor the Father but was of the same substance as Father and Son,” the clear concept of the Trinity.
There were other councils to follow but the findings of the Council of Constantinople on the subject of Jesus as God and man would stand in church theology from that point forward, sometimes questioned but largely kept intact as accepted theology. It took the church until 381 AD, almost four hundred years after the death of Jesus to affirm what his original disciples and followers had written about his status as both God and man. Now a discussion of the scriptural support for the hypostatic union will be presented.
The scriptural support for the hypostatic union, Jesus as both God and man, is extensive. It can be seen by examining places in the Bible where he is called or claims to be each of these things. Paul, Matthew, Mark, and Peter all declared Jesus as God. Paul wrote that we are “looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus.” (Titus 2:13) There are several other Paulian examples as well.
In describing the death of Stephen, Paul wrote that Stephen called on Jesus to receive him into Heaven, crying as he died “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” (Acts 7:59) Paul wrote that the body of Jesus held the power of God when he wrote “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form.” (Colossians 2:9)
Matthew declared Jesus as God all throughout the story of the nativity. “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?” (Matthew 2:2) Jesus was worshiped as the visitors “fell down and worshipped him.” (Matthew 2:11) Matthew declared him God in the story of Jesus walking on the water when the disciples “worshiped him saying “You are certainly God’s Son!”” (Matthew 14:33)
Mark declared him God in the first verse of the first chapter of his New Testament book, declaring the book a story of “the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (Mark 1:1) Peter described him as God in that he “committed no sin.” (1 Peter 2:22) These references all describe the person or behavior of Jesus as God.
In his work on the subject Matt Slick summarized the God-like nature of Jesus in these reverences in this way. Jesus was God because he was worshipped (Matthew 2:2, 11; 14:33), he was called God (John 20:28; Hebrews 1:8), he was called the Son of God (Mark 1:1), he was prayed to as God (Acts 7:59), he was sinless (1 Peter 2:22; Hebrews 4:15), he knew all things (John 21:17), he gave eternal life (John 10:28) and all the fullness of God is found in him (Colossians 2:9).
Jesus was “not merely someone who is a lot like God, or someone who has a very close walk with God. Rather, Jesus is the Most High God Himself.”  He continued to be declared as God long after the original disciples had left the scene. Ignatius “affirms Jesus’ divinity”, affirming the teaching of his mentor John the Baptist, long after John’s death. The scriptural support for the concept of Jesus as God easily evolved from the historical support already discussed.
There are two sides to the union, God and man. Jesus was also declared man many times in scripture. As a man, he worshipped the Father (John 17), he was called a man by other men (Mark 15:39; John 19:5), he was called the Son of Man (John 9:5-37), he prayed to Father God (John 17), he was tempted like a man (Matthew 4:1), he grew in knowledge and wisdom like a man (Luke 2:52), he died like a man (Romans 5:8) and he had a body of flesh and bone (Luke 24:39).
While Jesus has always been God, “Jesus has not always been man.” Like other men, his time as a man had a beginning and an end. He was born as a baby (Luke 2:7) and died as a man (Romans 5:8). In birth and death, he displayed the ultimate of human characteristics. While God, Jesus was also “fully human.” He had a human body (Luke 24:39), a human mind (Luke 2:52), and a human soul (Matthew 26:38). He not only looked like a man, he was a man fully.
Jesus was also both man and God not just in his behavior or appearance, but also in how he was described biblically. He was the “very God of God” (Philippians 2:6). He was begotten not created. (John 3:16) He was the “one substance with the Father by whom all things were made.” (Colossians 1:15-16) The scriptural support for the concept of Jesus as both God and man is exhaustive and conclusive.
Both historical and scriptural support for Jesus as both God and man has been presented. There are many implications of this theology. Some of the most commonly accepted ones will now be discussed.
There is much at stake in this issue. The most significant implication of the theology is the truth of the Bible, often called the inerrancy of scripture. If the Bible is true, it is completely true. If it is false in some part, it may be false in all parts. The scriptural support of this theology has been discussed and established. If the Bible is without error, the theology of the hypostatic union is correct. The authority of the Bible is at the heart of this question. If the Bible is to be believed as the true word of God upon which lives can be based, it must be known to be true. Inerrancy is the “central and crucial property of the Bible,” a fundamental part of “its utter truthfulness.” We must know that “God speaks the truth” in his book. If the Bible is not free of error, as the actual word of God it has no real authority. If we cannot trust all of it we cannot trust any of it. A proof of and belief in this doctrine is necessary for any Christian wishing to follow the Bible, basing their life on the teachings of Christ.
The importance of this topic is not unique to contemporary Christians. “Each generation of Christian believers must deal afresh” with this issue.The modern believer “demands” a proof of inerrancy. It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of this issue.
Inerrancy has been an issue of importance since the distribution of the first scriptures. It was a question from the beginning. Every reader should understand the truth and authority of any book of knowledge seeking to influence life whether it is a scroll of papyrus or a leather-bound Bible. This issue existed long before the existence of the United States. It first came to America through the works of the two theologians examined in this work. The issue of inerrancy “broke on the American scene in the late 1800’s with the work of A.A. Hodge and B.B. Warfield.” Its discussion continues through modern America, a central issue of the Southern Baptist Convention as recently as 1987.
Inerrancy is important to all believers regardless of national origin or denomination. It is the question of “whether or not God utters only the truth.” The truth of the Bible in its biggest, most dramatic stories as well as in its “smallest part” is the question of inerrancy. In summary, from Thomas Aquinas in 405 to Southern Baptists in 1987, biblical inerrancy has been an important doctrine to be understood by any believer. If the Bible is true and without error, the theology of the hypostatic union is equally true. The implication of any other conclusion is to question the inerrancy of the entire Bible.
There are many other implications of the acceptance or rejection of this theology. One is the Christian approach to those of the Muslim faith. Islam clearly teaches that Jesus is not God, “against the Christian belief in the divinity of Christ.” To reject the concept of the hypostatic union is to align with the teachings of Islam, as well as non-Christian teachings from Hindus, Buddhists and Zoroastrians. In these belief systems, “Jesus was merely a human being chosen by God and sent for the guidance of the people of Israel.” We can only help others reach salvation by a clear declaration of who Jesus was and is, since “God so loved the world, that he sent his only begotten Son, so that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) We can only help others find him by clearly communicating who was and is. The scriptural support of the hypostatic union requires the communication of this theology.
The implications of this theology are numerous and important. It is difficult to understand how one could truly accept and embrace Jesus as Savior without embracing this theology. To ignore this theology is to ignore scripture.
The concept of Jesus as both God and man is supported by many scriptural references as well as the history of the Church. It has been discussed and debated since the earliest days of the Church and has been withheld by Christianity’s most respected theologians time after time. Jesus himself declared himself both God and man. As a theology it is fundamental to the Christian faith and necessary for complete personal salvation.
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Bourassa, Francois, “Adoptive Sonship: Our Union with the Divine Persons”, Journal of Theological Studies, September 1952, 309-335.
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Matt Perman, “Jesus is God and Man”, Desiring God Website, (October 5, 2006, Accessed March 30, 2014), http://desiringgod.org/articles/how-can-jesus-be-god-and-man.
 J.I. Packer, Knowing God, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993, 53.
Jonathan Alexander, “Jesus Christ: Controversy, Part 1 (Early Church to Nicea)”, Northshore Baptist Church Theology Website (September 2013. Accessed March 24, 2014), http://blogs.nsb.org/jonathanalexander/the-story-of-god/christ/jesus-christ-controversypart-1-early-church-to-nicaea/.
Feinberg, Charles Lee, “The Hypostatic Union”, Bibliotheca Sacra, July 1935, 261.
 Ibid, 262.
 Matt Slick, Christian Apologetics and Ministry Website.
 Malachi J. Donnelly, “The Theory of R.P. Maurice on the Hypostatic Union”, Journal of Theological Studies, December 1941, 518.
 Ibid, 519.
 Jonathan Alexander, Northshore Baptist Church Theology Website.
 Walter A. Elwell, Editor, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2001, 95.
 Jonathan Alexander, Northshore Baptist Church Website.
 Paul Enns, Editor, The Moody Handbook of Theology, Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2008 , 448.
 Walter A. Elwell, Editor, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 95.
 S.J. Gamberini,, “The Concept of Person”, Irish Theological Quarterly, June 2011, 262.
 Paul Enns, The Moody Handdbook of Theology, 449.
 Matt Slick, Christian Apologetics and Ministry Website.
 Matt Perman, “Jesus is God and Man”, Desiring God Website, (October 5, 2006, Accessed March 30, 2014), http://desiringgod.org/articles/how-can-jesus-be-god-and-man.
 Larry W. Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 2003, 637.
 Matt Slick, Christian Apologetics and Ministry Website.
 Matt Perman, Desiring God Website.
Norman L. Geisler, William C. Roach, Defending Inerrancy: Affirming the Accuracy of Scripture for a New Generation, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011), p133.
 John Warwick Montgomery, God’s Inerrant Word: In International Symposium on the Trustworthiness of Scripture, (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1974), p9.
 Ibid, p242.
 Norman L. Geisler, Inerrancy, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1980), p23
 Ibid, p36.
 Josh McDowell, The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999), p345.
 Geisler, 62
 Ibid, 63