God Made Man (Part II)

major-roman-cities-mapBetween the Council of Nicaea (325 AD) and the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD), many controversies erupted from the Alexandrian and Antiochene positions on the person of Christ.[16] The Council of Constantinople (381 AD) condemned the belief of Apollinarius that Christ only had one will, that of the divine.[17] While the Church believed that Christ had a divine will, there was too much scriptural and philosophical support for the position that Christ had a human will as well. How else can one explain Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane, “Not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42), and other verses that seem to indicate that Christ had a human will? For God to be the redeemer of man, He needed to include full humanity as Irenaeus and Tertullian had emphasized years before.[18]

The Council of Ephesus (431 AD) condemned an opposite belief, that held by Nestorius: the denial of the divine will of Christ.[19] Nestorius held to the beliefs professed by his teacher, Theodore of Mopsuestia, who will holding to the divinity of Christ, placed special emphasis on the capacity of the human will.[20] As Athanasius had feared, Theodore and Nestorius took the full humanity of Christ to mean that instead of being fully God, He had received something along the lines of ‘inspiration’ from God much like a prophet or saint would, though to a greater degree.[21] Nestorius was refuted by Cyril of Alexandria, who used the words of Christ to convict him. How does a Christ who is not fully divine say to his disciples that “I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father” (John 16:28)? Historically, both the Alexandrian and Antiochene positions were shown to have weaknesses in their views of the incarnation of Christ. What then is the answer concerning the incarnation?

gregory-of-nazianzusGregory the Theologian’s maxim, “What is not assumed is not healed” became the focal point for Christian thinking concerning the Incarnation. As Wiles writes, “The important thing about Christ therefore was not that the Word had become a man but that the Word had assumed humanity in order to save” man.[22] While the Alexandrian and Antiochene positions could not themselves be formed into a single coherent picture, they could agree on common ground as they did in the “Chalcedon Definition.” This definition reads that Christ is “truly God and truly man, the same rational soul and body… acknowledged in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation.”[23]  While this philosophically and soteriologically derived definition seems to be a clear compromise, it emphasized the boundaries concerning the person of Christ for the Orthodox Christian faith, outlawing Nestorian and Apollinarian heresy.[24]

Thus the Church did not find an actual answer to the question regarding the incarnation of Christ; the Fathers only set boundaries concerning the terms which may be found orthodox concerning the belief in the full humanity and full divinity of Jesus Christ. Wiles ends his chapter on the incarnation in The Christian Fathers with a question: “How can this Jesus, with all the marks of manhood upon him, be the one in whom God saves the world?” The Fathers wrestled with the philosophical answer to this question and their reasoning is helpful. It seems unwise to rid ourselves of the conclusions of the Fathers who have gone before us, as Wiles himself later suggested in The Making of Christian Doctrine.[25] To what then can we appeal for guidance?

Early ChurchWiles appeals to three disciplines for forming a proper understanding of Christ: Scripture, Worship, and Soteriology. From Scripture, we can see that the view of Christ as God and man is a bit ambiguous at times.[26] Yet it is clear that the scriptural Jesus is a man –He was born (Luke 2), eats (John 4), weeps (John 11), and walks like a normal human being. Similarly, Jesus is clearly not just a man –He performs miracles (Mark 9), raises the dead (John 11), and does not rebuke Peter when he calls Him the Son of God (Matthew 16). Scripture seems to indicate that Jesus of Nazareth was both God and Man. Concerning worship, evidence exists that the man Jesus was worshiped as God in the earliest Christian Churches.[27] Regarding soteriology, throughout the various debates concerning the specifics of Christ’s divinity, the earliest and most formative belief concerning Christ is that He is God and Man.[28]

While there has never been any fully conclusive confession demonstrating how God and Man where joined in the person of Jesus, within the Christian tradition there seems to have always been a belief in Jesus as the God-Man sent into the world to save people from their sins. Therefore, the Christian belief regarding the incarnation may be summed in the following way: Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man, though we know not precisely how.

[16] Roger E. Olson. The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition and Reform. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999. 161-235. See also Henry Chadwick (The Early Church. Revised ed. London: Penguin Books, 1993. 125-36.), Dairmaid McCulloch (A History of Christianity. London: Penguin Books, 2010. 189-222.), and J.W.C. Wand (A History of the Early Church to A.D. 500. London: Routledge, 1994. 143-178.) on this period. [17] Wiles, Fathers, 67-71. [18] Ibid., 70-71. [19] Ibid., 72-77. [20] Ibid., 72-73. [21] Ibid., 74. [22] Ibid., 76. [23] Ibid., 79. [24] Ibid., 80-81. [25] Maurice Wiles. The Making of Christian Doctrine. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008. 152. [26]. Ibid., 162-164. [27] Ibid., 164. [28] Ibid., 164-166.


Published by Jacob J. Prahlow

Husband of Hayley. Dad of Bree and Judah. Lead pastor at Arise Church. MATS from Saint Louis University, MA from Wake Forest University, BA from Valparaiso University. Theologian and writer here and at Conciliar Post. Find me on social at @pastorjakestl

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