Theology Corner

Addressing commonly asked questions about Christianity from the perspective of a non-theologian

31. THE TWO NATURES OF CHRIST

One of the core beliefs of Christianity can be expressed as:

Jesus Christ is God the Son. Jesus Christ is man. Jesus Christ is one person whose divine and human natures cannot be changed, divided, separated or mixed. Jesus Christ was resurrected bodily from the dead. Jesus Christ was born of a virgin.

  • Jesus Christ is God the Son (Isa 7:14 cf Mat 1:23, 44:6; John 1:1-14, 5:18, 10:30, 20:28, 8:58 cf Ex 3:14; Rom 9:5; Phil 2:5-11; Col 1:15-18; Titus 2:13, Heb 1:8; 1 John 5:20; Rev 22:13-18).
  • Jesus Christ is man (Mark 2:27,28; John 1:14; Rom 1:3; Phil 2:5-11; 1 Tim 2:5; 1 John 4:1-4).
  • Jesus Christ is one person whose divine and human natures cannot be changed, divided, separated or mixed (John 1:14; Rom 1:3,4, 8:3, 9:5; Gal 4:4,5; Phil 2:5-7; 1 Tim 3:16; Heb 2:11-14; 1 John 4:2,3).
  • Jesus Christ was resurrected bodily from the dead (Luke 24:36-47; John 2:19-21; Rom 8:11; 1 Cor 15:3-7; 1 John 3:2).
  • Jesus Christ was born of a virgin (Isa 7:14; Mat 1:23).

The belief that ‘Jesus Christ is one person’ is documented in Scripture but the remainder of the sentence, ‘whose divine and human natures cannot be changed, divided, separated or mixed' was developed over a period of 125 years in response to heresies introduced into the church by well-meaning Christian leaders.

For the purpose of discussion, it is useful to consider Jesus Christ as one person with two natures: divine and human. A nature can be thought of as a complex collection of attributes and not a substantive entity. A divine nature is a complex collection of attributes associated with God (e.g. transcendence, immanence, infinitude, eternality, immutability, etc.) while a human nature is a complex collection of attributes associated with humans (e.g. a physical body).

In the fourth century, the Arians taught that Jesus Christ was one person with two natures. One nature was human but the other nature was not divine. Jesus was viewed as a creation of God and, therefore, not God himself. Jesus was, more or less, the physical incarnation of an angel. Arianism was condemned by the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD but was resurrected in the nineteenth century by Charles Taze Russell and the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Also, in the fourth century, the Apollinarians reacted strongly to the Arians and flipped to the other extreme. They taught that Jesus Christ was one person with two natures. One nature was divine but the other nature was not human. They based this teaching on the belief that man consists of body, soul and spirit making the trichotomous assumption that soul and spirit are distinguishable substantive entities. Jesus was thought to have the body and soul of a man but the spirit of the pre-existing Logos. Apollinarianism was condemned by the Council of Constantinople in 381 AD.

In the fifth century, the Nestorians taught that Jesus Christ was two persons, one the divine Jesus and one the human Jesus. Mary gave birth to the human Jesus but not the divine Jesus. Nestorianism was condemned by the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD.

Also in the fifth century, the Eutychians perpetuated the monophysite heresy. They taught that Jesus Christ was one person with one nature. That nature was neither fully divine nor fully human but a mixture of the two. Eutychianism was condemned by the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD.

Thus, Jesus Christ is one person whose divine and human natures cannot be changed, divided, separated or mixed. These are the four great Chalcedonian Adverbs.