Jesus Christ: Fully Man and Fully God

At the end of the 19th century, a school of liberal theologians arose in Germany. They were called the higher critics. Their proclaimed goal was to isolate the “true historical Jesus” from the “God-man” who has been worshipped and adored by the Church for two millennia. The effect of these apostates has grown to the current day as they have stripped layer upon layer from the “historic Jesus.” The divinity of Jesus Christ is presumed to be a myth. His many miraculous works are deemed to be legend. The circumstances of His life, His teachings and works were brought into doubt. Further examinations of the higher critics’ claims by archaeologists and historians revealed ample evidence that the Gospel accounts are accurate records. But these men were undaunted by facts. Even today, the skeptics continue to spread the error of a “historical Jesus” in the Church.

The claims of the higher critics are nothing new. In the first and second centuries, early Christians had to deal with ridicule and abuse from Jewish Rabbis and intellectual skepticism of Greek scholars and philosophers.

Christology is defined simply as theology related to Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as the second person of the Trinity. For the first five centuries, the Church debated the nature of Jesus Christ. True Christianity teaches that Jesus Christ is fully man and fully God. In this chapter, we will look at the abundant evidence that Jesus Christ lived and died as the Gospel accounts testify; that He was incarnate as a man; and that as a man He was also fully divine.

History confirms that the man Jesus really lived

All major world religions claim that Jesus was a great religious figure: Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, many smaller cults and sects. Yet no other “Savior” of mankind is a historical person who claimed to be God — only Jesus. Therefore, Christianity makes a unique claim. Many other religions have man trying to become like God; only Christianity has God becoming Man in order to atone for man’s sin.

No other founder of a world religion claimed to be the one true God — not Moses, Mohammed, nor Buddha. In the eastern religions, we find “god-kings” who claim to be divine — but something different is meant here. They believe that there is a divine facet of the individual. But these are polytheists; they are not claiming that any one individual man is the One true God. If you are looking for an actual historical person, who claimed to be the Messiah — and who claimed the be One with the true God — look no further than Jesus Christ.

The difference between Jesus and other god-man figures of pagan myths is that Jesus was a real person who lived in the first century. The others are merely mythological figures — or at best they are shadowy figures of legend. And the pagans knew this. Most primitive religions understood that their myths were not, in fact, historically true, but stories designed to illustrate a point.

These mythological figures — such as the Norse god Balder, who died on a tree and rose from the dead after three days; the Greek hero Hercules who descended into Hades; Virishina, the crucified Hindu god; the Celtic hero upon which the King Arthur legend is based, etc. — are similar to Christ. Cultures as far reaching as the Chinese and the Native Americans have stories and myths which are similar to the Bible. This shows us that almost universally mankind has been looking for a Savior — a God-Man who would save us from our fallen state and appease the wrath of God against us. Many cultures have assigned a mythological figure with the attributes of Christ.

Throughout the world, the Bible is accepted as divine Scripture. Every world religion accepts the Bible (or at least some portions) as a divinely inspired book. The Apostle Paul made reference to this fact in his preaching and writings (see Romans 1:20). In theology, this phenomenon is known as “natural revelation” — i.e., pagan cultures which do not have the Bible have some revealed truth in their myths. However, only in the Biblical account of Jesus do we find exact historical records which can be corroborated through archaeology and extant histories.

In Luke 2:1, we see that Jesus was born in the days when Quirinius was governor of Syria; and when Caesar Augustus was Emperor. In Luke 3:1, we are given the exact year of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry: “in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar; when Pontius Pilate was the governor of Judea; when Herod was the tetrarch of Galilee; his brother Phillip the tetrarch of Iturea and the region of Trachonitis; and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene.” These were surrounding countries of Judea in the first century. These are all true persons and places which may be corroborated in other recorded histories.

We have the record that Joseph and Mary answered a census in Bethlehem when Augustus took a census of the whole world. That was an actual historical event — which can be proven through other sources. In Luke 3:23, we are given an exact genealogy of Jesus. All the Jews were supposed to know their exact lineage. The Church fathers said that the Gospel of Luke contains the genealogy of Mary and that Matthew has Joseph’s genealogy. (Both Mary and Joseph were descendants of King David — a historical figure.) We are also given exact accounts of historical events which took place at Jesus’ death and at the formation of the Christian church.

The most reliable witnesses to Christ’s existence, would have been His disciples — who wrote some books in addition to the New Testament canon — but there are pagan references to Christ as well. There are comparatively few pagan writings of contemporaries of Jesus who mention him by name — but that testifies to the fact that many of the witnesses of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection became Christians.

The following pagan historians mention Jesus:

  • The correspondence between the Emperor Trajan (98 – 117) and Pliny the younger corroborates the New Testament history including the persecution of the Christians under the Emperor Nero.
  • Tacitus in his Annals (c.115 A.D.) mentions that Christ was crucified under Pontius Pilate and gives detailed descriptions of Nero’s persecutions — also alluded to in the New Testament.
  • Flavius Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, makes mention of Jesus, his brother James and John the Baptist.

Although some have claimed that Josephus’ passage is a forgery by later Christian scribes, there is no real evidence for this claim. In fact, most Josephus scholars agree that the two Jesus passages are either genuine or partially genuine with some interpolations. The theory that it is an outright forgery is held by a small minority of scholars and is the product of mere speculation. There is no other passage in Josephus that is attacked by the skeptics — only this one.

In fact, there is good evidence to prove that Josephus’ passage on Jesus Christ is reliable and authentic, because the New Testament corroborates Josephus in minutest detail in other places in his History. Keep in mind that Josephus wrote his history after the time of the New Testament. Thus Josephus testifies to the reliability of the New Testament. Both sources corroborate one another. In a court of law, that is proof enough that both documents are reliable.

We do not know of any more references to Christ by pagan writers, but there are thousands of manuscripts from the first and early second centuries written by Christians. Christianity is not a religion which has its origin in shadowy legend, but has definite historical roots and a tremendous amount of source documents to prove it.

Other first century writers who mention Jesus are Barnabas (A.D. 70); Hermas (A.D. 95); Polycarp (A.D. 70-156), a student of the Apostle John, mentions Jesus; Ignatius (A.D. 70-110), the Bishop of Antioch, quotes from 16 New Testament books; Irenaeus, the second century Bishop of Lyons, makes 1,819 references to New Testament scriptures; Tertullian (A.D. 160 -220) quotes from the New Testament 7,258 times. So we have first and second century apologists who wrote extensively about Jesus and Christianity.

A recent book based on new research, The Rise of Christianity by Rodney Stark, cites historical evidence on the make-up of the church in the first four centuries. According to the author, the early church was made up of mainly converted Jews in the first century. The Christian movement at the time of 100 A.D. was comparatively small; church historians estimate that there were churches in about three dozen urban church centers and less than 30,000 Christians in the whole world. It is no surprise, therefore, that there are not a lot of pagan historians from the first century who noticed Christians. They were regarded as a sect of Judaism.

By the second century, however, Christianity began to make inroads into the pagan intelligentsia. By the early second century, we find a lot of Christian philosophy being developed and we find more references to Christianity in pagan writings. The works of the Church fathers (c. 90 – 200 A.D.) are massive considering the early Church’s size. These apologists wrote a lot of books defending the Christian faith. And there is much evidence from these writers, some of whom were contemporaries of the Apostles, which corroborates Jesus existed. In fact, there is more historical evidence from this era that Jesus existed than to prove that William Shakespeare or George Washington lived.

In addition to many quotations of the Gospels from the first and second centuries which agree with the versions of later manuscripts, archaeologists have, in recent years, uncovered many manuscript fragments. These fragments were originally complete copies of the original manuscripts of the New Testament. Manuscript fragments are scraps of papyrus leaves that have survived throughout the centuries in rubbish heaps or have lain forgotten in monasteries. Many of these fragments have been dated from the second and third centuries. The oldest known fragment is a tiny scrap of papyrus, 3-1/2” by 2-1/2” containing John 18:31-33, which scholars have assigned to the early part of the second century.

Eusebius, the 4th century historian, tells us that Mark was Peter’s interpreter and traveled with him to Rome in 60 A.D. During the reign of the Roman emperor Nero, the Roman authorities used a copy of Mark’s Gospel as evidence to implicate the Christians as the cause of a large fire which had burned much of the city. On a papyrus scroll appeared the title: “The Gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.” In the ensuing period, Christians were persecuted as scapegoats. Evidently the title of Mark’s Gospel was misconstrued as treasonous.

Some higher critics suggested that writers pretending to be Matthew and Luke made up a fictitious person, Jesus, and invented a genealogy and added historical references as time went by thus “improving” the historicity and authenticity of their “gospel.” The science of “textual criticism” flatly contradicts any claim that historical references were added as time went by. There is no evidence that the earliest manuscripts of the Bible were altered to be more “historic” as time went on.

In fact, there is good proof that little of the Bible has been altered. The Jews recorded exact historical references (the best of the ancients) because they believed that God was trying to teach them something through history.

William Foxwell Albright, one of the world’s foremost biblical archaeologists, said: “In my opinion, every book in the New Testament was written by a baptized Jew between the 40s and 80s of the first century A.D. (very probably sometime between about A.D. 50-75).”

The New Testament was written by the eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ministry — His own disciples — Peter, John, and Matthew— and by apostles that later arose in the first century Church — Paul, Luke, Mark, James and Jude. Although 19th century higher critics once tried to assign later dates to New Testament books, modern scholars regard the New Testament as a primary source document from the first century.

In the 20th century, there have been thousands of archaeological discoveries of Greek manuscripts of the New Testament which are hundreds of years older than the manuscripts available prior to this century. There are now more than 5,300 known Greek manuscripts of the New Testament and 24,000 manuscript portions available for study. In other words, there are more reliable New Testament manuscripts in the original Greek language available for direct translation into modern English today than ever before.

Sir Frederic Kenyon, who was the director and principal librarian of the British Museum, states, “The last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed. Both the authenticity and general integrity of the books in the New Testament may be regarded as finally established.”

According to the Apostle Paul, writing in 1 Corinthians 15:5-8, there were over 500 eyewitnesses, including all the Apostles of the New Testament, who saw Jesus after the resurrection. But not that many of them recorded this in writing. Many preached the Gospel and a few of them wrote books. The vast majority of Jews in those days could read Scripture, but few were taught to write.

Saul of Tarsus was one of the greatest contemporary minds of Jesus. This was, of course, the terrible Saul of Tarsus, who was doing all of the persecuting in the book of Acts, and later became known as the Apostle Paul. Even if Saul had not been converted as the Apostle Paul, he would have been known as a great Rabbi. He was one of the few Apostles, with the notable exception of Matthew, a tax collector, who could write.

Saul of Tarsus lived during the time of Jesus. In fact, Saul was born at least within ten years of Christ. Tarsus is in modern day southern Turkey. Saul came to Jerusalem to study under the Rabbi Gamaliel while still in his twenties, so he may have been in Jerusalem during the time of the crucifixion of Christ. There is no evidence that Saul met Jesus; except that he preached the Gospel at first without having been instructed by the Apostles. That indicates that he knew about Jesus from the time of Christ’s ministry in Galilee and Judea. Or he may have been instructed by Barnabas. The Apostle Paul later met with the other Apostles at Jerusalem who confirmed his version of the Gospel. Luke’s Gospel is thought to be the Gospel of Paul, or a very similar account using Paul as a primary source, since Luke traveled with Paul.

Although most of the 500 witnesses did not write accounts of Jesus, there is strong testimony of Jesus Christ in the deaths of martyrs in the first and early second century. Many of the eyewitnesses to Christ’s resurrection died as martyrs for their faith. It would be hard to imagine people dying for a fraudulent claim.

We also have several other “gospels” and apostolic writings (such as the Shepherd of Hermas; and the Epistle of Barnabas) from the first century. However, only the existing New Testament canon was decided to be authoritative by the early Church.

There is tremendous evidence from the first and second century which corroborates the New Testament scriptures. Most of these writings were by Christians of the New Testament era. Because new writings have been discovered frequently in modern history, we can imagine that many other such writings are irretrievably lost.

There are thousands of extant manuscripts of the New Testament and thousands of extant manuscripts of Christian writings from the first and early second century by people who claimed to have seen Jesus or who knew one or more of the Apostles.

The Didache — a collection of Christian teachings from the late first century contains the Lord’s Prayer which is identical with Matthew 6:9-13, and also prayers spoken during baptism and communion services of the early church.

The Epistle of Barnabas (late first century) — Written possibly by the same Barnabas (though many have disputed this) mentioned in Acts and thought to be one of the 500 witnesses:

“Behold again: Jesus who was manifested, both by type and in the flesh, is not the Son of man, but the Son of God. Since, therefore, they were to say that Christ was the son of David, fearing and understanding the error of the wicked, he saith, ‘The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit at My right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool.’ And again, thus saith Isaiah, ‘The Lord said to Christ, my Lord, whose right hand I have holden, that the nations should yield obedience before Him; and I will break in pieces the strength of kings.’ Behold how David calleth Him Lord and the Son of God.”

Polycarp (late first century) — A disciple of John and Bishop of Smyrna and possibly one of the 500 witnesses:

“These things, brethren, I write to you concerning righteousness, not because I take anything upon myself, but because ye have invited me to do so. For neither I, nor any other such one, can come up to the wisdom” of the blessed and glorified Paul. He, when among you, accurately and steadfastly taught the word of truth in the presence of those who were then alive. And when absent from you, he wrote you a letter, which, if you carefully study, you will find to be the means of building you up in that faith which has been given you, and which, being followed by hope, and preceded by love towards God, and Christ, and our neighbor, ‘is the mother of us all.’ For if any one be inwardly possessed of these graces, he hath fulfilled the command of righteousness, since he that hath love is far from all sin.” (Epistle of Polycarp 3:21-23)

“But may the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ Himself, who is the Son of God, and our everlasting High Priest, build you up in faith and truth, and in all meekness, gentleness, patience, long-suffering, forbearance, and purity; and may He bestow on you a lot and portion among His saints, and on us with you, and on all that are under heaven, who shall believe in our Lord Jesus Christ, and in His Father, who raised Him from the dead” (Polycarp 12:2).

Papias (late first century) — a bishop ordained by John and a friend of Polycarp:

“Mark having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately whatsoever he remembered. It was not, however, in exact order that he related the sayings or deeds of Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied Him. But afterwards, as I said, he accompanied Peter, who accommodated his instructions to the necessities [of his hearers], but with no intention of giving a regular narrative of the Lord’s sayings. Wherefore Mark made no mistake in thus writing some things as he remembered them. For of one thing he took especial care, not to omit anything he had heard, and not to put anything fictitious into the statements” (Fragments of Papias).

“Matthew put together the oracles [of the Lord] in the Hebrew language, and each one interpreted them as best he could” (Fragments of Papias).

Clement of Rome (96 AD) — a bishop ordained by Peter:

“But not to dwell upon ancient examples, let us come to the most recent spiritual heroes. Let us take the noble examples furnished in our own generation. Through envy and jealousy, the greatest and most righteous pillars [of the Church] have been persecuted and put to death. Let us set before our eyes the illustrious apostles. Peter, through unrighteous envy, endured not one or two, but numerous labors and when he had at length suffered martyrdom, departed to the place of glory due to him. Owing to envy, Paul also obtained the reward of patient endurance, after being seven times thrown into captivity, compelled to flee, and stoned. After preaching both in the east and west, he gained the illustrious reputation due to his faith, having taught righteousness to the whole world, and come to the extreme limit of the west, and suffered martyrdom under the prefects. Thus was he removed from the world, and went into the holy place, having proved himself a striking example of patience” (Epistle of Clement 5:10-17).

“The apostles have preached the Gospel to us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ [has done so] from God. Christ therefore was sent forth by God, and the apostles by Christ. Both these appointments, then, were made in an orderly way, according to the will of God. Having therefore received their orders, and being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and established in the word of God, with full assurance of the Holy Ghost, they went forth proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand. And thus preaching through countries and cities, they appointed the first-fruits [of their labors], having first proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons of those who should afterwards believe. Nor was this any new thing, since indeed many ages before it was written concerning bishops and deacons. For thus saith the Scripture a certain place, ‘I will appoint their bishops in righteousness, and their deacons in faith’” (Clement 42:3-9).

Ignatius of Antioch (110-117 AD) — A bishop ordained by the Apostle John:

“But our Physician is the only true God, the unbegotten and unapproachable, the Lord of all, the Father and Begetter of the only-begotten Son. We have also as a Physician the Lord our God, Jesus the Christ, the only-begotten Son and Word, before time began, but who afterwards became also man, of Mary the virgin. For ‘the Word was made flesh.’” (Ignatius to the Ephesians 7:6-8).

“For our God, Jesus Christ, was, according to the appointment of God, conceived in the womb by Mary, of the seed of David, but by the Holy Ghost” (Ignatius to the Ephesians 18:2,3).

“… in one faith, and in Jesus Christ, who was of the seed of David according to the flesh, being both the Son of man and the Son of God …” (Ignatius to the Ephesians 20:2).

“I commend the Churches, in which I pray for a union both of the flesh and spirit of Jesus Christ, the constant source of our life, and of faith and love, to which nothing is to be preferred, but especially of Jesus and the Father, in whom, if we endure all the assaults of the prince of this world, and escape them, we shall enjoy God.” (Ignatius to the Magnesians 1:2).

“He, being begotten by the Father before the beginning of time, was God the Word, the only-begotten Son, and remains the same for ever; for ‘of His kingdom there shall be no end,’ says Daniel the prophet.” (Ignatius to the Magnesians 6:4-6).

“On this account also they were persecuted, being inspired by grace to fully convince the unbelieving that there is one God, the Almighty, who has manifested Himself by Jesus Christ His Son, who is His Word, not spoken, but essential. For He is not the voice of an articulate utterance, but a substance begotten by divine power, who has in all things pleased Him that sent Him” (Ignatius to the Magnesians 8:4,5).

Mathetes — an early second century apologist:

“For, as I said, this was no mere earthly invention which was delivered to them, nor is it a mere human system of opinion, which they judge it right to preserve so carefully, nor has a dispensation of mere human mysteries been committed to them, but truly God Himself, who is almighty, the Creator of all things, and invisible, has sent from heaven, and placed among men, [Him who is] the truth, and the holy and incomprehensible Word, and has firmly established Him in their hearts…. As a king sends his son, who is also a king, so sent He Him; as God He sent Him; as to men He sent Him; as a Savior He sent Him, and as seeking to persuade, not to compel us; for violence has no place in the character of God. As calling us He sent Him, not as vengefully pursuing us; as loving us He sent Him, not as judging us” (Epistle to Diognetus).

Justin Martyr (second century apologist) — A letter written in defense of the Christian faith to Emperor Marcus Aurelius (c. 155 AD):

“And when we say also that the Word, who is the first-birth of God, was produced without sexual union, and that He, Jesus Christ, our Teacher, was crucified and died, and rose again, and ascended into heaven, we propound nothing different from what you believe regarding those whom you esteem sons of Jupiter…. But, as we said above, wicked devils perpetrated these things. And we have learned that those only are deified who have lived near to God in holiness and virtue; and we believe that those who live wickedly and do not repent are punished in everlasting fire.

“Moreover, the Son of God called Jesus, even if only a man by ordinary generation, yet, on account of His wisdom, is worthy to be called the Son of God; for all writers call God the Father of men and gods. And if we assert that the Word of God was born of God in a peculiar manner, different from ordinary generation, let this, as said above, be no extraordinary thing to you, who say that Mercury is the angelic word of God. But if any one objects that He was crucified, in this also He is on a par with those reputed sons of Jupiter of yours, who suffered as we have now enumerated. For their sufferings at death are recorded to have been not all alike, but diverse; so that not even by the peculiarity of His sufferings does He seem to be inferior to them; but, on the contrary, as we promised in the preceding part of this discourse, we will now prove Him superior — or rather have already proved Him to be so — for the superior is revealed by His actions. And if we even affirm that He was born of a virgin, accept this in common with what you accept of Ferseus. And in that we say that He made whole the lame, the paralytic, and those born blind, we seem to say what is very similar to the deeds said to have been done by Aesculapius.

“And hear again how Isaiah in express words foretold that He should be born of a virgin; for he spoke thus: ‘Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bring forth a son, and they shall say for His name, “God with us.”’ For things which were incredible and seemed impossible with men, these God predicted by the Spirit of prophecy as about to come to pass, in order that, when they came to pass, there might be no unbelief, but faith, because of their prediction. But lest some, not understanding the prophecy now cited, should charge us with the very things we have been laying to the charge of the poets who say that Jupiter went in to women through lust, let us try to explain the words.

“This, then, ‘Behold, a virgin shall conceive,’ signifies that a virgin should conceive without intercourse. For if she had had intercourse with any one whatever, she was no longer a virgin; but the power of God having come upon the virgin, overshadowed her, and caused her while yet a virgin to conceive. And the angel of God who was sent to the same virgin at that time brought her good news, saying, ‘Behold, thou shalt conceive of the Holy Ghost, and shalt bear a Son, and He shall be called the Son of the Highest, and thou shalt call His name Jesus; for He shall save His people from their sins,’ — as they who have recorded all that concerns our Savior Jesus Christ have taught, whom we believed, since by Isaiah also, whom we have now adduced, the Spirit of prophecy declared that He should be born as we intimated before.

“It is wrong, therefore, to understand the Spirit and the power of God as anything else than the Word, who is also the first-born of God, as the foresaid prophet Moses declared; and it was this which, when it came upon the virgin and overshadowed her, caused her to conceive, not by intercourse, but by power. And the name ‘Jesus’ in the Hebrew language means ‘Savior’ in the Greek tongue. Wherefore, too, the angel said to the virgin, ‘Thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.’ And that the prophets are inspired by no other than the Divine Word, even you, as I fancy, will grant.

“And hear what part of earth He was to be born in, as another prophet, Micah, foretold. He spoke thus: ‘And thou, Bethlehem, the land of Judah, art not the least among the princes of Judah; for out of thee shall come forth a Governor, who shall feed My people.’ Now there is a village in the land of the Jews, thirty-five stadia from Jerusalem, in which Jesus Christ was born, as you can ascertain also from the registers of the taxing made under Cyrenius, your first procurator in Judea.” (From the first Apology of Justin)


There is even more evidence when we take into account the writings of Athenagoras, Irenaeus, Tertullian and other apologists, who wrote volumes of material in the second century. These writers did not discuss church history and practice as much as they debated biblical theology with pagan philosophers and heretics. Thus we know more about the history of the Church of the apostolic era (33 to 96 A.D.) than we do of the Church of the second century, but we are certain that there was a continuous thread of evidence that Jesus of Nazareth was a historical figure.

There are thousands of extant manuscripts of the extra-biblical writings by early Christians which testify the truth of the Gospel. Today, we can reconstruct all of the body of Christian doctrine and much of New Testament Scripture from writings of first and second century Christians. These writings are not considered to be on the same level as Scripture by the Church. Nevertheless, they are fascinating historical documents which prove the New Testament to be authentic, reliable and accurate.

There is a strong literary tradition which links those who lived during the Apostolic era through the second century up to the time of Tertullian. Around the time of the Council of Nicea when Christianity became a state religion of Rome, there is another explosion of writings and records.

In summary, we know that Jesus Christ was certainly a historical person because documents exist in abundance and trace a tradition consistent with the writings of the Apostles found in the New Testament:

  • Josephus, Pliny, and Tacitus mention that Christ lived in the first century.
  • Church Fathers who knew the Apostles record the circumstances of Christ’s birth.
  • Second century apologists confirm the writings of the Apostles and the Church Fathers.
  • The written creeds of the early church also record the circumstances of Christ’s birth.

God left mainly three things on earth to testify of Jesus: the Holy Spirit, the Scriptures and the Church. Or as the Apostle John put it: “There are three that testify on earth: the Spirit, the Water and the Blood” (1 John 5:8). According to some interpreters, the “water” is thought to symbolize the written Word of God; and the “blood” is thought to symbolize the blood of the martyrs (or literally: “witnesses”). This passage seems to indicate that in addition to the Word of God in written form, we have living testimonies of those within the Church and the leading of the Holy Spirit to convince us of God’s salvation.

Jesus Christ was God incarnate as a man

The great third century Christian apologist, Athanasius, compiled a simple, clear and concise argument in favor of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. His work, On the Incarnation was essentially the first systematic attempt at a Christology — a set of teachings on the birth, life, death, resurrection, heavenly reign and second coming of Jesus Christ. The work was profound enough to compel scholars of his day, and also lucid enough to serve as a set of teachings for the common people. Athanasius’ work was directed primarily at skeptics who denied the deity of Jesus Christ.

The basic outline of Christology since the time of Athanasius has included the following seven points of teaching:

1. Incarnation — Two natures — full deity and full humanity — are inseparably united in the one person of Christ. His full humanity is supported by Scripture: (Jn. 8:40; 1 Tim. 2:5; Heb. 2:14,17). His full deity is likewise supported: (Jn. 1:1-3; 10; 30; Heb. 1:10-12; Rom. 9:5; Col. 2:9). Because man brought sin and death into the world (Rom. 5:12-19), Christ the only begotten Son of God became man in order to die for our sins and become a true mediator-priest (Heb. 2:17,18). Further, Christ vicariously lived a perfect life for us (Lk. 4:1,2; Jas. 1:13) that He might reveal God to us (Jn. 1:18; Heb. 1:1-3) and so that righteousness could be imputed to man through His sinless life (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 1 Jn. 3:5).

2. Kenosis — When discussing the full deity and full humanity of Jesus, it is important to distinguish the divine nature of Christ from his human nature. At the incarnation, Jesus in his human nature gave up not only the environment of the Godhead and his position as Ruler, but also the use of his divine attributes. Jesus temporarily demonstrated non-use of His own omniscience (Mt. 24:36), omnipotence (Mk. 6:5), omnipresence (Jn. 4:4), righteousness (Heb. 4:15; 9:14), justice (Jn. 5:30), and immortality (1 Cor. 15:3) in his human nature. The key scripture for kenosis is Philippians 2:6,7. Jesus did not hold onto His equality with God, but rather “emptied” (Greek: kenoo) Himself of His divine privileges. Jesus could “do nothing of Himself” (Jn. 5:19), but “the Father abiding in Him does His works” (Jn. 14:28). Jesus was made like us in all things. Jesus lived a holy life by the same means given to us — by dependence on God and the power of the Holy Spirit (Jn. 14:10-17). (It is important to distinguish this view from a heretical view of kenosis that would insist that Jesus Christ emptied himself of his divine nature or his divine attributes.)

3. Descent — Between his death and resurrection, Jesus visited the waiting place of the dead (Hades, Sheol, or Hell). There Christ announced his victory and their salvation to Old Testament believers (1 Pet. 4:6). He proclaimed defeat and judgment to either Noahic demons or the unbelievers of Noah’s day. (1 Pet. 3:l9). “Descent” (Eph. 4:9) may refer either to the incarnation, Christ’s burial, or the underworld. The meaning of the above passages have been disputed by some modern scholars, but the Church Fathers unanimously taught that at His death Jesus really died and went to hell in our place. In the words of the Apostles’ Creed, “He descended into hell.”

4. Resurrection — Christ rose bodily from the dead, resulting in an empty tomb. Theories that the resurrection was spiritual or in the minds of the apostles are excluded. This testifies to the authority and truthfulness of Jesus and His message (Mt. 12:39,40; Jn. 2:19; 1 Cor. 15:l4). It objectively demonstrates our forgiveness: that Christ’s death was effective for forgiving sins (Rom. 4:25; 1 Cor. 15:17; 1 Pet. l:3). The image of the Old Testament priest re-emerging from the Holy of Holies is alluded to in the book of Hebrews and elsewhere. The fact that the priest survived was evidence that the sacrifice had been accepted by God. It affirms the fact of the believer’s future resurrection and eternal life (1 Cor. 15:18-23). It assures the believer’s position in Christ (Rom. 6:4,5; Eph. 2:6) and the power to live the Christian life (Eph. 1:19,20).

5. Ascension — Christ’s resurrected body was literally taken up into the sky, and He is seated at the right hand of God in heaven. He presented His body as a living and eternal sacrifice to the Father (Heb. 9:14). He went to prepare a place for believers (Jn. 14:2,3). He went to be glorified and to allow the Holy Spirit to be sent to the church (Jn. 7:38,39).

6. Session — Christ sits at the right hand of God, interceding for believers and guiding the church as its head during the present age. He mediates between us and the Father (1 Jn. 2:1,2; Heb. 7:25). He rules and guides the Church (Eph. 1:20,23). He rules over the nations with all authority (Psalm 110)

7. Second Advent — Christ will physically return to earth to rule, descending bodily from the sky (Acts 1:9-11). He will rule the resurrected saints as king (Rev. 21:1-4). He will reward the members of the church for their deeds done in the body (2 Cor. 5:10; 2 Cor. 3:10-15).

Questions on Christology

More than any other area of orthodoxy, modern Christians are most often ignorant of Christology. The following questions are designed to make you realize the importance of understanding the true nature of Jesus Christ. Try to answer the questions using your own knowledge before consulting the scriptures above for the answers.

1. Could Christ sin or couldn’t He?

2. Where did Christ go between His death and resurrection?

3. At the Incarnation, why did Christ empty himself of His divine attributes?

4. Why is the resurrection of Christ important?

5. What is Christ doing now?

6. Are any of these issues are non-essential? Which are not? Why?

If you had trouble answering any of these questions, you need a better understanding of Christology!

Jesus Christ while being fully incarnate as man is also fully the Son of God

All Christological heresies can be divided into two broad categories: Adoptionism (or Ebionism) and Docetism. The first heresy overemphasized Jesus’ human nature; the second emphasized His divine nature while denying the full importance of His human incarnation. Here we will examine the chief heresies of early Church history and we will see a pendulating between two extremes. Churches in the West (centered around Alexandria) tended to overemphasize the divine nature of Christ, while the churches in the East (centered around Antioch) taught the humanity of Jesus often at the expense of His full divine nature.

What is a Christological heresy? The plain meaning of the word heretic from the New Testament is a “divisive man.” This implies a number of things, but essentially it is someone who introduces doctrine into the Church which divides the church and leads some away from the truth. In fact, all doctrine divides. That is why we have doctrine in the first place, to divide the true from the false. But in order for a man to be a “heretic,” his doctrine must not only be false, but bad enough that it could result in damnation.

On a primary level, there are the Apostles and Nicene Creeds, which define the bare minimum standard for orthodoxy. A person who does not hold to all these tenets is not a Christian. On a secondary level, there are Christological heresies and other doctrinal errors. This is where it gets sticky. One may believe Jesus is Lord and still hold to Christological error. We cannot judge whether a man is saved on the basis of what he believes about Jesus Christ. Since it is our faith that justifies us in the sight of God, a person could have saving faith without being self-conscious about what that faith actually means.

There were a number of Christological heresies which appeared in the early centuries of the Church. Some doctrinal errors were held by men who sincerely sought to uphold truth. Some heretics sought to defend the truth against a more serious error. By taking an aspect of truth to an extreme, they committed an error. These heretics actually proved to be useful because they provoked a series of Church councils which further defined the scriptural teaching on the person of Jesus Christ through written creeds and canons. “Creeds” are short statements describing the object of our faith. “Canons” and “confessions” are longer documents which attempt to systematize the Christian faith on a variety of topics.

An orthodox belief system does not save us, it merely explains what our belief system is. But a thoughtful study of these heresies today will increase our faith by giving us a deeper understanding of the question: “Who is Jesus Christ?”

The following are some brief descriptions of the major Christological heresies of the early Church.

Docetism — A first century Gnostic belief that Christ was a spirit being only. According to this view, Christ appeared to have a real human body, but actually was an ethereal being much like an angel. It derives its name from the Greek, dokein, “to seem, to appear.” Docetism is the basis for many other heresies emphasizing the divine nature of Christ.

Adoptionism — This heresy is seen among with the dynamic monarchians of the early second century who taught that the man Jesus was adopted into the Sonship by an act of God. In general, adoptionism is any belief that Jesus was a man who was elevated to divinity at some point in his life. Like Docetism, there are many different versions of Adoptionist heresies.

Ebionism — Adoptionism is sometimes called Ebionism, from the word, ebion, which means poor. A first century heresy originating with Jewish Christians, the Ebionites rejected the teachings of Paul and emphasized the importance of the law of Moses. Generally, they regarded Jesus as a divinely inspired prophet but not as God. The Ebionites taught hat Jesus was the Messiah, the first born of God. However, they taught that He was born as a mere man and achieved perfection through perfect obedience to God. Thus Christ is our example rather than our God and Savior

Gnosticism — A term covering a wide range of religious thought in the first few centuries after Christ. It originated in paganism, but adopted many Christian elements, and became a major threat to Christianity. In general, Gnosticism held that spirit is good, matter is evil, salvation consists in deliverance of the spirit from matter, and salvation is achieved by means of a secret or higher knowledge (Greek, gnosis). Gnosticism as applied to the Godhead and to Christology held the following: The Supreme God was transcendent and unapproachable, but from Him came a series of progressively more inferior emanations (called aeons). The lowest of these aeons was Jehovah. Christ is one of the highest aeons. Since all matter is evil, Christ was a spirit being only and had only an apparent body (the doctrine of Docetism). Or, some taught that Christ was a spirit being temporarily associated with a man Jesus who died (the doctrine of Cerinthianism). These Gnostic views on the Godhead were opposed by John in his writings and by Paul in Colossians.

Marcionism — Is popularly known as the “two-Gods” heresy. Marcion, was the son the bishop of Sinope. His teachings appeared in the early second century and was opposed by Irenaeus and Tertullian. Marcion opposed the Jewish scriptures. He claimed that the God of the Hebrew scriptures was an evil, creator God and not the Father of Jesus Christ. He held a Docetic view of Christ, claiming that Jesus could not be human, since the evil Jewish God created the flesh. He taught that Jesus liberated Christians from the power of the creator God (the power of the flesh). He thought that only Paul understood the true teachings of Jesus Christ and formed the first canonical list of Christian scriptures. It consisted of the ten letters of Paul and the Gospel of Luke, which Marcion believed to have been written by Paul. He taught that grace is the opposite of law; love is the opposite of justice; Jesus is a loving God and cannot condemn anyone to hell. Marcion provided a false New Testament canon and forced the Church to establish the true canon. Marcion succeeded in building his own church, and his teachings survived in the East until the fifth century.

Manichaeism — Much more than simply a heresy, Manichaeism was the largest and most organized Gnostic religion. Founded by Mani, a third century Persian mystic, it spread over most of the known world. Manichaean teaching is a dualistic, extreme separation between the spiritual and natural world. Good and evil spiritual powers are equal and independent from each other. Good and evil were originally separate realms, but evil invaded good and physical matter was the result. The good forces had to create the world, as a wall between the two realms. Thus creation was a cosmic catastrophe. The world is now caught in a battle between good and evil. Manichaeism also teaches a dualism in human beings. In everyone there is a divine light of the soul, which needs to be released from the dark material of the body. The meaning of life is to participate on the divine side of this battle. Every man carries inside him a seed of light. By Gnosis (or hidden knowledge) this piece of light can be brought back to the divine world after death. This Gnosis can be discovered by man’s intellect, but is also something that is revealed, through messengers like Zoroaster, Buddha, Jesus and, of course, Mani. During the Roman Empire, Manichaeism was strongest in North Africa. St. Augustine of Hippo was a Manichaean for nine years before his conversion to Christianity. Its teachings had lasting effects on various Docetic Christian sects, such as the Cathari and Albigensians.

Arianism — The Christological views of Arius, a fourth century priest at Alexandria. Arius held that there is only one God, and that the Son or Logos is a divine being like God, but created by God. Thus, Jesus was a “lesser god.” This view came very close to sweeping Christendom in the fourth century, but was condemned at the Council of Nicea in 325 and again at the Council of Constantinople in 381.

Macedonianism — Is not really a Christological heresy, but rather a Pneumatalogical heresy, a heresy about the relationship of the Holy Spirit to the Father and the Son. Macedonius, a fourth century bishop of Constantinople, did to the Holy Spirit what Arius had done to Jesus. He taught that the Holy Spirit is subordinate to the Father and Son. Those holding this heresy are also called Pneumata-machoi (i.e., those who fight against the Spirit). The Council of Constantinople (381) was called to deal with this heresy. The Church reaffirmed the Nicene Creed and denounced Macedonianism. Thirty-six Macedonianist bishops walked of the council out when this doctrine was condemned.

Apollinarianism — The Apollinarians are named for Apollinarius, the fourth century bishop of Laodicea. Apollinarius opposed the two natures in Christ. Apollinarianism is the heresy addressed by the Council of Chalcedon in 451. It is also called the Monophysite heresy, because the Monophysites held that Christ had only one dominant nature, and it was the divine nature. Monophysitism, explains the one nature in Christ in one of four ways: the human nature is absorbed by the divine; the divine Word (Logos) disappears in the humanity of Christ; a unique third nature is created from the combination of the divine and human natures; or there is a composition (a natural whole) of humanity and divinity, without confusion.

Nestorianism — Nestorius, the fifth century bishop of Constantinople, taught that Christ had two complete natures — human and divine. He taught that one could not call Mary the “Mother of God” because she was the mother of the human nature only. The Council of Ephesus in 431 condemned Nestorius for dividing Christ into two persons, but Nestorius denied the charge. Possibly, he taught that the two natures of Christ were united morally or in purpose only rather than essentially or physically. However, many historians conclude that Nestorius actually taught two natures in one person, but became the victim of misunderstanding and opposition because he emphasized the distinctions between the two natures and refused to call Mary the mother of God.

Eutychianism — Monophysitism later reappeared in modified form as Eutychianism, after Eutyches, a fifth century leader of a Constantinople monastery. Eutyches taught that in Jesus Christ the humanity was absorbed by the divinity, “dissolved like a drop of honey in the sea.” Eutyches fought against the Nestorian doctrine that the two natures of Christ represented two distinct persons. His doctrine was too reactionary, however, and was condemned as heretical at the Council of Chalcedon in 451.

The Christology of the Church Fathers

Irenaeus, Tertullian and Athanasius were the Church Fathers most responsible for checking the advance of Christological heresies in the first four centuries of Church history. They wrote masterful works against Docetism, Ebionism, Gnosticism, Marcionism, Arianism and many other heresies. In refuting false doctrines with the truth about Jesus Christ, they formed the basis for the Christology of the early Church.

During the fourth and early part of the fifth centuries, theological speculation in the Church revolved around two great centers, Alexandria in Egypt and Antioch in Syria. The tendency of the Alexandrian school was mystical. With this school the divinity of Christ was everything, and His humanity was de-emphasized. The tendency of the school of Antioch was to rationalism, an emphasis on moral duties and independence of the human will. The Alexandrian party generated Eutychianism, which absorbed the humanity in the divinity; while the Antiochian party generated Nestorianism, in which the unity of the Person is maintained, but overemphasized the separation of the two natures, especially the human nature.

Nestorianism was condemned by the ecumenical council held at Ephesus, A.D. 431, and Eutychianism was condemned by the council which met at Chalcedon, A.D. 451.

The Chalcedonian Creed

Christological heresy divided the Church in the fifth century. Some stressed the humanity of Christ; while others stressed His divine nature. The Nicene and Athanasian Creeds defined Christ as being both God and man, however, there arose some further confusion over whether He was a fully integrated God-man; or a half-God, half-man having different natures at different times.

The Council of Chalcedon was called to define the nature of Christ as both fully God and fully man diminished in neither aspect. Christ alone is both God and man, He is the unique mediator between God and man. He is our only priest. The Chalcedonian Creed implies that all power and authority is invested in Christ by the Father. All human authority derives from the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Christ alone can proclaim: “All power is given to Me on heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). In Chalcedon, we find the union of the heavenly and the earthly. Christ was both God and man. As God, He brings the power of heaven to earth. As man, He links the eternal power of God with the temporal power on earth.

This is of great importance because, in a certain sense, this idea has become the foundation of Western culture. This principle defines true liberty under the law of God because it acknowledges the only valid claim of Lordship of the One who is the source of true human freedom. This would lead us to conclude that there are limits of authority in all human institutions. By implication, this creed directly challenges every false claim of Lordship by any form of government: state, church, family or individual.

Definition of Chalcedon

Following, then, the holy fathers, we unite in teaching all men to confess the one and only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. This selfsame one is perfect both in deity and in humanness; this selfsame one is also actually God and actually man, with a rational soul [meaning human soul] and a body. He is of the same reality as God as far as his deity is concerned and of the same reality as we ourselves as far as his humanness is concerned; thus like us in all respects, sin only excepted. Before time began he was begotten of the Father, in respect of his deity, and now in these “last days,” for us and behalf of our salvation, this selfsame one was born of Mary the virgin, who is God-bearer in respect of his humanness.

We also teach that we apprehend this one and only Christ-Son, Lord, only-begotten — in two natures; and we do this without confusing the two natures, without transmuting one nature into the other, without dividing them into two separate categories, without contrasting them according to area or function. The distinctiveness of each nature is not nullified by the union. Instead, the “properties” of each nature are conserved and both natures concur in one “person” and in one reality [hypostasis]. They are not divided or cut into two persons, but are together the one and only and only-begotten Word [Logos] of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus have the prophets of old testified; thus the Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us; thus the Symbol of Fathers [the Nicene Creed] has handed down to us.

The Second Council of Constantinople (553 AD)

The Second Council of Constantinople was called to resolve certain questions that were raised by the Definition of Chalcedon, the most important of which had to do with the unity of the two natures, God and man, is Jesus Christ. The Second Council of Constantinople confirmed the Definition of Chalcedon, while emphasizing that Jesus Christ does not just embody God the Son, He is God the Son.

The Anathemas of the Second Council of Constantinople

I. If anyone does not confess that the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are one nature or essence, one power or authority, worshipped as a trinity of the same essence, one deity in three hypostases or persons, let him be anathema. For there is one God and Father, of whom are all things, and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and one Holy Spirit, in whom are all things.

II. If anyone does not confess that God the Word was twice begotten, the first before all time from the Father, non- temporal and bodiless, the other in the last days when he came down from the heavens and was incarnate by the holy, glorious, God-bearer, ever-virgin Mary, and born of her, let him be anathema.

III. If anyone says that God the Word who performed miracles is one and Christ who suffered is another, or says that God the Word was together with Christ who came from woman, or that the Word was in him as one person is in another, but is not one and the same, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Word of God, incarnate and become human, and that the wonders and the suffering which he voluntarily endured in flesh were not of the same person, let him be anathema.

IV. If anyone says that the union of the Word of God with man was only according to grace or function or dignity or equality of honor or authority or relation or effect or power or according to his good pleasure, as though God the Word was pleased with man, or approved of him, as the raving Theodosius says; or that the union exists according to similarity of name, by which the Nestorians call God the Word Jesus and Christ, designating the man separately as Christ and as Son, speaking thus clearly of two persons, but when it comes to his honor, dignity, and worship, pretend to say that there is one person, one Son and one Christ, by a single designation; and if he does not acknowledge, as the holy Fathers have taught, that the union of God is made with the flesh animated by a reasonable and intelligent soul, and that such union is according to synthesis or hypostasis, and that therefore there is only one person, the Lord Jesus Christ one of the holy Trinity – let him be anathema. As the word “union” has many meanings, the followers of the impiety of Apollinarius and Eutyches, assuming the disappearance of the natures, affirm a union by confusion. On the other hand the followers of Theodore and of Nestorius rejoicing in the division of the natures, introduce only a union of relation. But the holy Church of God, rejecting equally the impiety of both heresies, recognizes the union of God the Word with the flesh according to synthesis, that is according to hypostasis. For in the mystery of Christ the union according to synthesis preserves the two natures which have combined without confusion and without separation.

V. If anyone understands the expression — one hypostasis of our Lord Jesus Christ — so that it means the union of many hypostases, and if he attempts thus to introduce into the mystery of Christ two hypostases, or two persons, and, after having introduced two persons, speaks of one person according to dignity, honor or worship, as Theodore and Nestorius insanely have written; and if anyone slanders the holy synod of Chalcedon, as though it had used this expression [one hypostasis] in this impious sense, and does not confess that the Word of God is united with the flesh hypostatically, and that therefore there is but one hypostasis or one person, and that the holy synod of Chalcedon has professed in this sense the one hypostasis of our Lord Jesus Christ; let him be anathema. For the Holy Trinity, when God the Word was incarnate, was not increased by the addition of a person or hypostasis.

VI. If anyone says that the holy, glorious, and ever-virgin Mary is called God-bearer by misuse of language and not truly, or by analogy, believing that only a mere man was born of her and that God the Word was not incarnate of her, but that the incarnation of God the Word resulted only from the fact that he united himself to that man who was born of her; if anyone slanders the Holy Synod of Chalcedon as though it had asserted the Virgin to be God-bearer according to the impious sense of Theodore; or if anyone shall call her man-bearer or Christ-bearer, as if Christ were not God, and shall not confess that she is truly God-bearer, because God the Word who before all time was begotten of the Father was in these last days incarnate of her, and if anyone shall not confess that in this pious sense the holy Synod of Chalcedon confessed her to be God-bearer: let him be anathema.

VII. If anyone using the expression, “in two natures,” does not confess that our one Lord Jesus Christ is made known in the deity and in the manhood, in order to indicate by that expression a difference of the natures of which the ineffable union took place without confusion, a union in which neither the nature of the Word has changed into that of the flesh, nor that of the flesh into that of the Word (for each remained what it was by nature, even when the union by hypostasis had taken place); but shall take the expression with regard to the mystery of Christ in a sense so as to divide the parties, let him be anathema. Or if anyone recognizing the number of natures in the same our one Lord Jesus Christ, God the Word incarnate, does not take in contemplation only the difference of the natures which compose him, which difference is not destroyed by the union between them – for one is composed of the two and the two are in one – but shall make use of the number two to divide the natures or to make of them persons properly so called, let him be anathema.

VIII. If anyone confesses that the union took place out of two natures or speaks of the one incarnate nature of God the Word and does not understand those expressions as the holy Fathers have taught, that out of the divine and human natures, when union by hypostasis took place, one Christ was formed; but from these expressions tries to introduce one nature or essence of the Godhead and manhood of Christ; let him be anathema. For in saying that the only-begotten Word was united by hypostasis personally we do not mean that there was a mutual confusion of natures, but rather we understand that the Word was united to the flesh, each nature remaining what it was. Therefore there is one Christ, God and man, of the same essence with the Father as touching his Godhead, and of the same essence with us as touching his manhood. Therefore the Church of God equally rejects and anathematizes those who divide or cut apart or who introduce confusion into the mystery of the divine dispensation of Christ.

IX. If anyone says that Christ ought to be worshipped in his two natures, in the sense that he introduces two adorations, the one peculiar to God the Word and the other peculiar to the man; or if anyone by destroying the flesh, or by confusing the Godhead and the humanity, or by contriving one nature or essence of those which were united and so worships Christ, and does not with one adoration worship God the Word incarnate with his own flesh, as the Church of God has received from the beginning; let him be anathema.

X. If anyone does not confess that our Lord Jesus Christ who was crucified in the flesh is true God and the Lord of Glory and one of the Holy Trinity; let him be anathema.

XI. If anyone does not anathematize Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, Apollinarius, Nestorius, Eutyches and Origen, together with their impious, godless writings, and all the other heretics already condemned and anathematized by the holy catholic and apostolic Church, and by the aforementioned four Holy Synods and all those who have held and hold or who in their godlessness persist in holding to the end the same opinion as those heretics just mentioned; let him be anathema.

Third Council of Constantinople (681 AD, Sixth Ecumenical)

The whole Church, East and West, agreed on the definitions of Jesus Christ offered by Chalcedon and Second Constantinople. But the advocates of Eutychianism still endeavored to maintain, as a compromise position, that although the two natures in Christ remain entire and distinct, they coalesce in Christ in one single Person, so that Person can possess but one will, divine-human, and not a divine and a human will combined in one personality.

This party was then known as the Monothelite, or the “one-will” party. This heresy was condemned at the sixth ecumenical council, held in Constantinople in 681, the controversy was closed, and the faith of the Church remained as represented by the old definitions until the time of the Reformation.

Third Council of Constantinople (Sixth Ecumenical) further clarified the Definition of Chalcedon, dealing with the question of whether the two natures of Jesus Christ (God and man) had two separate wills as well. The issue was important because of the existence of the Monophysite (one nature) heresy, which maintained that Jesus Christ has only one nature, truncating to some degree His humanity in favor of His divinity. Some taught that even though Jesus’ two natures, He had only one will. The Third Council of Constantinople rejected this view as being too close to the teaching of the Monophysites. The statement is an effort to tread the line between the Monophysite and the Nestorian heresies:

The Statement of Faith of the Third Council of Constantinople

We also proclaim two natural willings or wills in him and two natural operations, without separation, without change, without partition, without confusion, according to the teaching of the holy Fathers — and two natural wills not contrary to each other, God forbid, as the impious heretics have said they would be, but his human will following, and not resisting or opposing, but rather subject to his divine and all-powerful will. For it was proper for the will of the flesh to be moved naturally, yet to be subject to the divine will, according to the all-wise Athanasius. For as his flesh is called and is the flesh of God the Word, so also the natural will of his flesh is called and is God the Word’s own will, as he himself says: “I came down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of the Father who sent me,” calling the will of the flesh his own, as also the flesh had become his own. For in the same manner that his all-holy and spotless ensouled flesh, though divinized, was not destroyed, but remained in its own law and principle also his human will, divinized, was not destroyed, but rather preserved, as Gregory the divine says: “His will, as conceived of in his character as the Saviour, is not contrary to God, being wholly divinized.” We also glorify two natural operations in the same our Lord Jesus Christ, our true God, without separation, without change, without partition, without confusion, that is, a divine operation and a human operation, as the divine preacher Leo most clearly says: “For each form does what is proper to it, in communion with the other; the Word, that is, performing what belongs to the Word, and the flesh carrying out what belongs to the flesh.” We will not therefore grant the existence of one natural operation of God and the creature, lest we should either raise up into the divine nature what is created, or bring down the preeminence of the divine nature into the place suitable for things that are made. For we recognize the wonders and the sufferings as of one and the same person], according to the difference of the natures of which he is and in which he has his being, as the eloquent Cyril said.

Preserving therefore in every way the unconfused and undivided, we set forth the whole confession in brief; believing our Lord Jesus Christ, our true God, to be one of the holy Trinity even after the taking of flesh, we declare that his two natures shine forth in his one hypostasis, in which he displayed both the wonders and the sufferings through the whole course of his dispensation, not in phantasm but truly, the difference of nature being recognized in the same one hypostasis by the fact that each nature wills and works what is proper to it, in communion with the other. On this principle we glorify two natural wills and operations combining with each other for the salvation of the human race.

Church Councils which condemned Christological heresies

Council of Nicea (AD 324) — was called by Constantine to consider and, if possible, settle the ARIAN heresy. It gave the church the first great ecumenical creed.

First Council of Constantinople (AD 381) — called by Emperor Theodosius the Great to correct errors of APOLLINARIANISM and MACEDONIANISM.

The Council of Ephesus (AD 431) — was presided over by Cyril, Bishop of Alexandria, and was called to deal with NESTORIANISM.

The Council of Chalcedon (AD 451) — three bishops and two presbyters presided. They were representatives of Leo of Rome. The Council condemned EUTYCHIANISM.

Second Council of Constantinople (AD 680) — was called by the Emperor Constantine Pogonatus, and was directed against MONOTHELITISM.

* Editor’s note: I have made use of the writings of R.J. Rushdoony whose material has been edited and paraphrased in the section: “The Chalcedonian Creed.”

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