The natures of Christ: Chalcedon and dyophysitism or two-nature theory.
The Chalcedonian Creed maintains that when the Word of God became man, he did not divest himself of his divine nature but retained it so that he was fully divine and human at one and the same time. Though many writers have not been happy with the notion of hypostatic union or of two natures united “unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably” in one person, they nonetheless accept it because they cannot think of anything better. However, on the face of it, to suggest that Jesus had two natures simultaneously rather than successively implies that his incarnation was incomplete and that he never truly became man. Expressed alternatively, Jesus was Docetic and not really our kinsman redeemer (Heb. 2:9,14,17) but a kind of hybrid or third entity. In consequence, this raises questions regarding the veracity of our redemption which required the atoning death of a fully representative man on behalf of his people.
Historically, it has been maintained that if the Word divested himself of his divine nature at his incarnation, he ceased to be God. This would appear to be the prime argument against kenoticism or the self-emptying of the Word (Phil. 2:7). (1* See, for example, the comments of Griffith Thomas, pp.44f. who claims that “The theory seems to demand the unthinkable metamorphosis of God into man.” Cf. Baillie, p.96.) But the mere fact that the Word confessedly divested himself of his divine glory (John 17:5,24) would surely call this into question. The inference would appear to be that the theologians of the past have held to a static, impassible, immutably transcendent Greek rather than to a dynamic Hebrew conception of God. Since God is a Trinity and nothing is impossible with him (e.g. Luke 1:37), there seems to be no intrinsic reason why the Word, without losing his personal identity and ontology, should not become man made in the divine image like all other human beings (Gen. 1:27) with the express intention of being perfected in that image in order to achieve their salvation. So the question is: does Scripture allow this?
(1) John 1:14 (cf. 20:28; 1 John 1:1-4) tells us bluntly that the Word became flesh, specifically man. The apostle also tells us, “we have seen his glory” (cf. 1 John 1:1) suggesting at first sight that he did not set aside his glory as implied above. In reply it must be stated that glory is used in two senses: (1) majesty, splendour, (2) praise-worthiness. Clearly the Word did not display his splendour while he was on earth where for a little while he was naturally flesh (Heb. 2:7,9), weak (2 Cor. 13:4), mortal, perishable (1 Cor. 15:42-44) and wholly dependent on his Father (Heb. 5:7). (2* His transfiguration, 2 Pet. 1:16-18, like that of Moses, Ex. 34:29-35; 2 Cor. 3:7, was surely his Father’s testimony to and acknowledgement of him.)
(2) In Philippians 2, Paul states explicitly that Jesus did not retain his equality in/by nature (or natural equality) with God but emptied himself (that is, replaced his divine nature) by assuming the nature, that is, the flesh, blood and other attributes of man. In this way he humbled himself so as to be in a position to be obedient even to the point of death on a cross (Phil. 2:6-8). In other words, as the author of Hebrews makes clear (see espec. Heb. 2:9,14,17), he did this in order to die in atonement for human sins as God made man. Almost needless to say, Paul adds that all this results in the exaltation (cf. Mt. 23:12; Luke 14:11; James 4:10; 1 Pet. 5:6) of Jesus Christ as Lord to the glory of God (Phil. 2:9-11, cf. 1 Pet. 1:21).
If this is a reasonable interpretation, Paul would appear to be saying in somewhat different terminology exactly what John is saying, that is, that the Word of God abased himself (cf. 2 Cor. 8:9) to become fully human in order to redeem his people. It is only when we argue that he of necessity retained his divine nature that we run into difficulty, and it is a matter of history that this has proved a major stumbling-block. However, the Bible nowhere teaches what Chalcedon seems to teach, that is, that he had the natures of both God and man at one and the same time. Not only is this an unconvincing inference lacking adequate supporting evidence but it seems to make redundant Jesus the man’s objective of attaining the complete image and likeness of God which is the most basic human vocation (Gen. 1:26, cf. Mt. 5:48; 19:21). If he already had it before he began his attempt, there was no point in pursuing it. Yet both Paul (Rom. 8:3) and the author of Hebrews (Heb. 2:14f.) stress that this is precisely what he did by, first, keeping the law in the flesh and, second, by fulfilling all righteousness (Mt. 3:15) and being crowned with glory and honour (Heb. 2:9) as one who had met not only the condition of eternal life (Lev. 18:5) but also of being perfected in the likeness of God. In line with this, as we shall see below, there is a good deal of evidence supporting the view that the incarnation was genuine and that the Word in love and humility really did become a man of flesh and blood in order to achieve for man what all other men on account of sin had failed to achieve. Furthermore, it is difficult to see how he humbled himself if he retained his divine nature as opposed to his identity as the Word who had become the Son of God through Mary. (3* According to Morris, p.114 n.121, Augustine claimed that “Man was added to Him, God was not lost to Him”. Depending on our interpretation, this can be accepted. When, however, he further says, “He emptied Himself not by losing what He was, but by taking to Him what He was not” (Homilies on the Gospel of John, V111.3; XV11.16), Augustine is virtually denying Paul’s assertion that Jesus abased himself. See further below. Carson, p.135, helpfully notes the parallels between John 1:1 and 1:18.)
With John 1 and Philippians 2 in mind, it should be noted that there is no other evidence in the NT that Jesus retained his divine nature (NIV) or form (ESV) as opposed to his sinless and holy character. Two examples of this immediately spring to mind: John 14:9 and 20:28. It is surely unreasonable to argue that Doubting Thomas meticulously examined Christ’s divine as opposed to his human nature of flesh and blood to conclude that Jesus was God. He arrived at his conclusion on the basis of the physical evidence of the resurrection at his disposal without any reference to his putative divine nature.
(4* We encounter a problem at this point. Historically, many have argued that Jesus was glorified at his resurrection, even that he was “glorified flesh”. This, I contend, is a contradiction in terms, since there is no such thing, 1 Corinthians 15:50-53. See further, for example, my John Stott on the Putative Resurrection Transformation of Jesus.)
If we assume that the Word really did become man, evidence like the following surely supports this:
(1) Jesus, the Son of God was, like all men born of woman (Gal. 4:4, etc.), made in the image of God and a true son of Adam (cf. Gen. 5:1-3; Luke 3:38).
(2) Jesus was flesh only for a little while during which time he was like all other men lower than the angels (Heb. 2:7,9). In the Garden of Gethsemane he was strengthened by an angel (Luke 22:43), a rather odd situation if he retained his divine nature. Later, after his exaltation, the latter were subjected to him (Heb. 1:4-7; 1 Pet. 3:22) as they doubtless had been before his incarnation.
(3) Jesus’ miracles indicated that God was at work in him (Luke 8:39; 9:43; 17:15-18; 18:43; 19:37; John 5:19,30; 6:38; 8:28; 10:37f., etc.). As truly human Jesus relied totally on his Father (Heb. 5:7). (5* See my Did Jesus Perform Miracles?) He did not use his own putative divine power (cf. Jud. 6:31; Luke 8:39; 18:43; John 3:2, etc.). (6* As writers like A.J.Thompson in his The Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus, have pointed out, it is as the ascended and empowered Lord, cf. Rom. 1:4, that Jesus performed miracles. On earth his miracles were testament to the activity of his Father, cf. John 3:2; 5:36; 6:29; etc., to whom he constantly prayed and expected a positive answer, 11:41f., cf. 11:22.)
(4) Jesus’ preferred designation was ‘the Son of Man’. Of course, this did not nullify his ‘natural’ divinity as the Word of God who had changed his nature to become the Son of God.
(5) As has already been asserted, it was as man that he sought to achieve the complete image and likeness of God (Heb. 1:3).
(6) After he had successfully completed his work (John 17:4; 19:30) and was seated at his Father’s right hand, he remained the perfect image of God (2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15) and as his human Son had his (i.e. God’s) generic nature (Heb. 1:3).
Donald Baillie in his God Was In Christ rightly rejected the idea that Jesus was originally God then became man only to become God again (pp.96f.). However, he (Baillie) sadly failed to see that after his kenosis or self-emptying he remained human, perfected and transformed in accordance with man’s basic calling. Surely what Scripture teaches is that the Word at his incarnation humbly divested himself of his divine nature along with its attributes of omnipotence and the like, but obviously not his identity. He became man as the Son of God born of woman in order to eventually gain the fullness of the generic nature of God in whose image as man he was made. Thus it is as man perfected in the image and likeness of God that he became Lord, Acts 2:36, and as such exercised the delegated power of God (Mt. 11:27; 28:18, etc.). Surely it was not until then, that is, after his ascension transformation, that all the fullness of God indwelt him (Col. 1:19; 2:9).
In contrast with Philippians 2:6f. (cf. John 1:1) where he says that Jesus was equal with God, Paul goes so far as to say in 1 Corinthians 15:28 that the Son himself (though Lord) is subjected to God. Unless this means that it is as man that Jesus is subjected, it is unintelligible. In other words, Jesus’ humanity was always subordinate to his divinity. (7* Of course, on the assumption that he was the eternal Son of God, the Word was inherently subordinate. This view I reject not least since it derogates from the love of God and the humiliation of the Son. See further my Eternal Son?; Notes on the Eternal Son.)
The nearest comparison I can think of is that of Joseph who is said to have become the lord of all Egypt but remained nonetheless subordinate to Pharaoh himself (Gen. 41:40) who was a god. So just as Joseph as an ordinary or natural man could not take the place of a god, so Jesus as a man could not take the place of God. But there is a difference. Jesus as the eternal Word was God and so retained his identity. What he had changed was his nature, that is, his attributes, and it is as the Lamb (who was also Lord) that he sits on the throne of God sharing the glory of God (Rev. 5:11-14). Otherwise expressed, while God in love could freely humble himself and become man, man cannot exalt himself and become God, only his image (2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15), at best his exact or complete image (Heb. 1:3). As Isaiah informs us, God will not share his glory with another (Isa. 42:8; 48:11.), and, as Paul well recognises, the humiliation and consequent exaltation of Jesus are for the glory of God (Phil. 2:9-11).
(7) If the temple could not contain the nature of God (1 K. 8:27; Acts 7:49; 17:24), neither could Jesus’ fleshly body in contrast with his spiritual or transformed body of glory (Phil. 3:21), as has already been noted. Needless to say, I reject the theotokos. Mary gave birth to the earthly Jesus (Gen. 3:20; Luke 2:7; 1 Cor. 11:12) who was fathered (procreated) by God himself just as Adam was created by him (Luke 3:38). The eternal Word had indestructible life (Heb. 7:16) and like Melchizedek (Heb. 5:10) had neither father nor mother (Heb. 7:3). (8* The Word is referred to as the Son of God at this point, but the author’s language is surely projectionist and used for identification purposes. If not, it is a contradiction in terms, since sons by definition have parents. See further my The Fatherhood of God). In Hebrews 7:28 the Son must be man by nature since he has achieved perfection.
On further reflection I have arguably misunderstood the author of Hebrews’ point here. In contrast with the Levitical priests who depended on physical descent as required by the law (and so had a physical genealogy), Jesus was appointed on the basis of an indestructible life (7:16, cf. verse 24) and an oath (7:20-22). Assuming the truth of this, my point regarding the Son still holds: a son must have parents and in eternity the Word who was God had none, neither father nor mother.)
(8) It should be noted that God was regarded as Creator at the beginning (Gen. 1) and later Father of Israel considered collectively (Ex. 4:22; Hos. 11:1). He only became Father in the NT sense when the Word underwent incarnation and was born of Mary. Thus God himself changed his relationship and became a father, ultimately the Father of all his children not just Jesus (John 1:13; Heb. 2:10-13; 1 John 3:1-3). (9* See further my article Understanding God . I am fully aware that God is regarded in the Bible as the Father of all human beings including Adam, Luke 3:38; Acts 17:28, cf. Gen. 6:2., but the sense here is that of Creator not of re-Creator.)
(9) The immanent or essential Trinity comprising the Creator God, Word and Spirit is somewhat recondite in the OT. In the NT the economic Trinity is clearly revealed as Father, Son and Holy Spirit (e.g. Mt. 28:19). Again, a change in relationship, though impossible for a remote, utterly transcendent and static Greek or Islamic God, is fundamental to the dynamic Hebrew God who does as he pleases (Dan. 4:34f.; Eph. 1:11) in accordance with his purposes. (10* Michael Green, pp.113f. like Brian Hebblethwaite, pp.104f., deny that it is possible to place restrictions on what God can or cannot do.) Not without reason is he characterised as love (1 John 4:8; John 3:16). Love without relationships is impossible even in eternity, hence God is unsurprisingly a Trinity. Even in human relationships lovers can be satisfied with each other, but usually, like God himself, they freely choose to share their love with children. And we Christian believers are the children of God (Rom. 8:16f.; 1 John 3:1-3) and the new Jerusalem (Gal. 4:26, cf. Rev. 21:2).
(10) The mainspring of the gospel is to be found in the love and humility of God (John 3:16). Both are demonstrated in the Word’s change of nature (he was born of woman) and relationship (he became the Son of God who became his Father (1 John 4:14f.). As such they together became our Saviour in the power of the Spirit (John 1:12f.; 14-16, etc.) thereby accomplishing a truly Trinitarian salvation (Mt. 28:19, cf. John 17:3).
- How could Jesus possibly uphold the universe while he was gestating in his mother’s womb and being upheld himself by his heavenly Father? (11* Cf. Baillie, p.96.) The situation was different once he had ascended, been transformed, been seated at his Father’s side and had received delegated power (Col. 1:17; Mt. 28:18, cf. Col. 1:19; 2:9; Heb. 1:3). One suspects that an inadequate view of both the Trinity and of biblical anthropology requires the retention of Jesus’ divine nature by Chalcedon (cf. Baillie, p.96).
- Why did he have to be rescued from Herod by his stepfather Joseph and go to Egypt if he still retained his divine nature?
- The death of Jesus is more than a little difficult to understand if he retained his divine nature on the cross. Was he schizophrenic?
- Scripture teaches that man is made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26, etc.). Yet in the NT the apostle tells us that we should be conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18). This makes sense when we realise that the Son is still the Word by identity but who has freely changed his nature and achieved his full potential, or perfection, as man (Heb. 1:3).
- To argue that Jesus impoverished himself (2 Cor. 8:9) yet retained his (rich) divine nature is plainly contradictory. It is like arguing that you are poverty-stricken when you have a million dollars in your pocket.
- If we as ordinary humans are granted promises through which we become partakers of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:3f.), how much more Jesus our pioneer. (We may have the generic nature of God but neither we nor Jesus as human become God, only his children, Rom. 8:17; 1 John 3:1-3!)
- Devoid of his divine nature Jesus could not have saved himself even if he had wanted to (Luke 23:35,39). He depended on his heavenly Father even in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mt. 26:53, cf. Luke 22:43).
- Since according to Scripture there is yawning gap between the Creator and the creature, it would seem impossible for the incarnate Jesus to have the natures of both God and man at the same time. Chalcedon’s two-nature theory fails to bridge the gap between the two. (Ottley, p.611, writing 100 years ago admitted frankly that there is a real difficulty in forming a conception of a single personality occupying a double sphere of consciousness, at once divine and human, omniscient and nescient.)
(a) In order to become man at his incarnation, Jesus necessarily divested himself of his divine nature and was made in the image of God (capacity) with a view to perfecting it (Gen. 1:26f.; 5:1-3). To do so he placed himself wholly in the hands of his heavenly Father (cf. Heb. 5:7). (11* It is at this point that the opera Trinitatis ad extra sunt indivisa or the mutual inclusiveness of the persons of the immanent Trinity is important. While noted and accepted as a sound principle by Baillie, p.96, it is not exploited as it should be doubtless because of his false presuppositions.)
(b) Like all other human beings who were the offspring of Adam, he was born of woman who typified the (mother) earth (Gen. 3:20).
(c) He was made in the image of God (capacity) with a view to gaining his complete likeness (cf. Gen. 3:5,22; 5:1,3).
(d) He alone of all men avoided sin (John 8:46, etc.), overcame the world (John 16:33) achieved the complete image and likeness of God (Heb. 1:3) in holiness and righteousness to become Lord.
(e) Though perfected, transformed and glorified (cf. Rom. 8:30; 1 Cor. 15:50-56), he retained the image of God permanently (2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3, cf. 1 Cor. 15:28). He did not regain his divine nature as Baillie wrongly surmised.
(f) All believers in Christ are their kinsman redeemer’s brothers and sisters (Heb. 2:10-13) and constitute the transformed children of God (1 John 3:1-4) who are conformed to his image (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18).
(g) At his Father’s right hand, Jesus as the eternal Word of God recovers his former divine glory (John 17:5,24; 1 Pet. 1:21, cf. Mt. 24:30; Luke 9:26), and exercises his power as man who has been perfected and granted the generic nature (i.e. the complete image and likeness) of God (Mt. 11:27; 28:18).
(h) In light of this, he did not become God in nature again. In his love and compassion he freely and permanently humbled himself (cf. 1 Cor. 15:28; Rev. 5:13; 21:22; 22:1). Such was the price of human salvation.
In brief, God the Word saved his people by becoming one of us. He was the second Adam who embraced all believers (Heb. 11; 1 John 2:2; Rev. 7:9). Just as all natural men and women are made in the image of the first Adam (Gen. 5:1-3), so all believers are ultimately conformed to the image of the second Adam (Rom. 8:29, cf. 5:12-21; 1 Cor. 15:42-57).
What love! What humility! What a Saviour!
What Jesus, the man, is granted or given is testament to his change of nature. After all, he cannot be given what he already has as the Word:
(1) He is given life (John 5:26, cf. 1:4).
(2) Authority and power. As the Son of Man he has the authority to forgive sins (Mark 2:10). He has the God-given authority to freely lay down his life and take it up again (John 10:17f.).
(3) Exaltation, the name and worship (Phil. 2:9-11, cf. Isa. 45:23).
(4) Judgement (John 9:39; Rom. 14:11f.; 1 Cor. 4:5; 2 Cor. 5:10, cf. Isa. 45:23).
(5) Resurrection and a seat at God’s right hand (Eph. 1:20).
(6) The name (Eph. 1:21).
(7) Headship (Eph. 1:22) and a kingdom (Luke 22:29).
(8) Works (10:37f.; 15:24).
(9) Words (John 7:16; 8:28, etc.).
(10) Glory (John 17:5; 1 Pet. 1:21). Etc.
Three Prime Indicators
- Jesus as man was made in the image of God and according to clear NT teaching remains in that image forever: 2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3, cf. Rom. 8:29.
- Once incarnated as man and the Son of God, he remains Son forever both of God and man. (Note the collocation in Luke 22:69f. Though it is open to more than one interpretation, the Jews thought that in calling God his Father, he was claiming equality with God, John 5:18.)
- John the Baptist refers to Jesus as a man who is the Lamb of God (John 1:29f.), and it as the Lamb, the Lion of the tribe of Judah (man) and the Root of David (that is, God, David’s Lord, cf. Mark 12:37) that he appears in heaven and sits forever on the throne of God (Rev. 5:6,8,12,13; 7:9f.,14; 12:11 15:3; 17:14; 19:7,9; 21:9,14,22f.,27; 22:1,3, cf. 1 Pet. 1:19-21). Nevertheless, he is, in the words of Carson (p.135), “differentiable from God”. (12* See also the hymn “Thou art the everlasting Word” by Josiah Condor (1789-1855) quoted by Carson, p.136.)
The one (obviously a man) sitting on the white horse wearing a robe dipped in blood is called the Word of God (Rev. 19:13). (13* At this point Wilcock, p.182, says that his divinity is ‘placarded’ before our eyes. Earlier, p.70, however, Wilcock himself referred to a crowned conqueror, that is, Jesus Christ. Later, pp.183,185, Wilcock again rightly stresses that it is Christ who is involved as Captain of the armies of heaven. In light of my own reasoning then I would argue that the Evangelist is placarding not so much divinity as the perfected human Jesus who has gained the perfected likeness of God in all his goodness in salvation and severity in judgement.) This is proof positive that he who was God and had the nature of God (John 1, Phil. 2) has retained his divine identity or personhood, if not his nature (attributes), as man (cf. John 1:18). It is he who is now as the Righteous One (Acts 3:14, etc.) crowned King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev.19:16) in his perfected humanity. As Paul affirms, Jesus (the man) is Lord (1 Cor. 12:3).
Bluntly expressed, in John 1:1 the Word is God; in Revelation 19:13 the Word is a man perfected in the image and likeness of God.
(Note that in John 1:18, Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1 Jesus is still God in identity or person, if not in nature.)
The Glorified Jesus
Scripture teaches emphatically that in addition to his sovereignty, omniscience and so forth God is a consuming fire (e.g. Dt. 4:24; 9:3; Heb. 12:29). Apart from noting that Jesus is not so while he is on earth, he is so after his transformation, as Paul was well aware (2 Thes. 1:8; 2:8). In any case, flesh is combustible (James 5:3, cf. Dt. 5:24-26) and Jesus as flesh would have been just as vulnerable as anyone else (cf. 1 Cor. 3:15b). Even for him, sinless though he was, dwelling with everlasting flames (Isa. 33:14) would have been impossible. Flesh and blood like all created things, as Romans 1:20 and Hebrews 12:27 indicate, are by nature excluded from the spiritual kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:50). Even Jesus had of necessity to be born again and transformed as the Greek ‘dei’ in both John 3:7 and 1 Corinthians 15:53 makes plain.
There is another point. If as Anglicans teach Jesus was glorified at his resurrection, how come that he was mistaken for the gardener (John 20:15)? Or again why did Jesus pray that his disciples should see his glory in heaven (John 17:5,24)? If they had already seen him as glorified on earth, there was no point. It would have truly been an anti-climax!
The perfected Jesus (Mt. 5:48; 19:21; Heb. 2:10; 5:9; 7:28) has the generic nature (i.e. the image and likeness) of God and exercises by delegation the powers of God (Mt. 11:27; 28:18). Thus Thompson is right to suggest that the acts of the apostles are really the acts of the ascended Jesus.
See further my:
Concerning Identity and Nature
Baillie and Packer on Kenosis
On Seeing, Hearing And Touching.
D.M.Baillie, God Was In Christ, repr. London, 1963 and 1968.
D.Carson, The Gospel According to John, Leicester/Michigan, 1991.
Michael Green, ed., The Truth of God Incarnate, London, 1977.
L.L.Morris, The Gospel According to John, Michigan, 1977.
R.L.Ottley, The Doctrine of the Incarnation, 4th ed. rev., 1908.
W.H.Griffith Thomas, The Principles of Theology, London/New York, 1930.
A.J.Thompson, The Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus, Nottingham/Downers Grove, 2011.
Michael Wilcock, The Message of Revelation, Leicester, 1975.
Additional Note on Baillie
Baillie’s section on kenosis is unsatisfactory and disappointing. It reflects his uncritical commitment to tradition and failure to understand the plan of salvation, biblical anthropology and the basic theological prerequisite for a real man to meet salvation’s precondition which was sinlessness (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5). His quotation from The Shorter Catechism (Ans. to Qu. 21) betrays prior allegiance and misunderstanding. If in his pre-existence Jesus was God and equal with God, he simply could not have been the eternal Son. Baillie’s thinking, or lack of it, is governed by his preconceptions. He fails to appreciate the difficulties inherent in Chalcedon. Just how the Word could be God and man in two distinct natures (cf. Nestorius) and one person is beyond rational comprehension, as Ottley for one realised. Chalcedon itself and not kenosis is the real reductio ad absurdum. It is safer to stick to what Scripture actually says, that is, that Christ Jesus (i.e. the Word) emptied himself and became a man (Phil. 2:7; 2 Cor. 8:9; Mt. 20:28), and that forever.
Baillie’s stance reflects category confusion. The Word is a divine person who has the attributes of deity. The incarnation was not as Baillie implies an act of self-obliteration but of self-impoverishment (2 Cor. 8:9), self-emptying (kenosis, Phil. 2:7) and self-denial (Mark 8:34). Furthermore, the Word’s self-humiliation paved the way for his exaltation as man (Mt. 23:12; Mark 9:35; Luke 14:11; Acts 2:36; Eph. 1:20-23; James 4:10). It bears repeating that to be deprived of his divine nature (attributes of omniscience, etc.) does not mean that Jesus has ceased to be God the Word in person, as Baillie and others suggest. After all, man is still man even after he has been transformed and has shed his human nature as flesh and blood (1 Cor. 15:50). According to Jesus, God is the God of the living, even of Abraham long since physically dead and decayed (Luke 22:29ff.) like David (Acts 2:29).
Traditional thinking harbours a ‘flat earth’, uniform or static conception of both God and man. Man is in fact inherently, that is, by divine design, subject to change. He begins at the beginning and finishes at the end. He moves from immaturity (infant imperfection) to maturity (adult perfection) both as an individual and as a race (Eph. 4:11-16, etc.). He has a fourfold nature as (animal) flesh, slave, servant and son (cf. my Man’s Fourfold State). In contrast with the animals, he is subject to regeneration and transformation and so has potentiality. (14* See my Two ‘Natural’ Necessities). Even regenerate man both as individual and race is expected to grow and be perfected (Eph. 4:11-16; Phil. 3:12-14). As for the Creator God himself who has changed his relationship and become a father (Heb. 1:5), he is, as Jesus says, still working (John 5:17), if not creating (Gen. 2:3). He does not merely exist, he is dynamically active, both proactive and pre-emptive accomplishing his chosen purposes for his glory and for his children’s eternal benefit and blessing. Again, it is worth stressing that the plan of salvation was for the glory of God (Phil. 3:21; Rev. 4:11; 5:13).
The Word remains God in person but has freely adopted human attributes (nature) which themselves are subject to transformation (1 Cor. 15:50-57) and enhancement (Rev. 19:11-16). Even while Jesus is in the flesh, he is recognizable as God (John 14:9; 20:28) and ever remains so in character (Heb. 13:8). He began as the holy one (Luke 1:35) and finished as the Holy and Righteous One (Acts 3:14, etc.). Thus God and man become one (John 17:11-25, espec. vv. 11,21f.,25). Just as man and woman become one flesh in marriage on earth, so Christ and his bride, the church, become spiritually and corporeally one in heaven (1 Cor. 6:17). Together they occupy the heavenly throne (Rev. 3:21) and form part of the household of God (cf. Eph. 5:22-33). Together in paradise they eat of the tree of life (Rev. 2:7), and God who lives for ever and ever (Rev. 4:9-11) becomes all in all (1 Cor. 15:28). (If we believe that paradise was lost and regained, we need to recognize that the first paradise, the womb of the race, was earthly; the second one is heavenly, the bosom of the Father.)
Gloria Soli Deo!
On Baillie see also my Baillie and Packer on Kenosis.
There is little doubt in my view that the basic reason why fundamental mistakes were made in Christological debates in the early church was that many theologians were Greek and held a Greek conception of God. The Greeks regarded this world, the phenomenal world, as bad because it was subject to change and corruption. By contrast the noumenal world was considered superior because it was fixed, static and ruled by an unchangeable (immutable) God. So if the Word was God, he was bound by his immutable nature. Thus at his incarnation he of necessity had to retain his divine nature or cease to be God. On the other hand, because he was immutably transcendent, the Greeks held that God could have no direct contact with this world of change and corruption which was evil. He, God, therefore needed a mediator who was his inferior, that is, his Son who was not divine. This of course was unacceptable to Christians. The early church’s solution to the problem was ultimately Chalcedon (451 A.D.) and the dual nature of Jesus. This I maintain was and is absurd. In effect it is a denial of the incarnation. My view is that Jesus at his incarnation retained his identity as the Word of God but fulfilled his, that is, man’s full potential as the image and likeness of God (Heb. 1:3). Thus it is to his image that we, his disciples, must conform (Rom. 8:29, cf. Rom. 12:2). This, I hold, is much more realistic and in accord with what the Bible teaches.
As we saw earlier, it is still widely held that once Jesus is divested of his divine attributes, he ceases to be God. This argument is not upheld by Scripture where as we have already noted man does not cease to be man once he is divested of his flesh and blood (cf. 1 Cor. 15:50-53). The Word in his essence or essential character can never be anything other than what he was. He cannot deny himself. His incarnation was intrinsic to the plan of salvation freely devised before the foundation of the earth. And, though motivated by love (John 3:16, etc.), it was with a view to the ultimate glory of God.
Finally, if Jesus retained his divine nature as opposed to his identity as the Son of God, it is impossible to see how he bridged the gap between the Creator God and the creature man. If however, he remained God in person (i.e. the Word), but took on man’s inherently perfectible nature, once he achieved perfection (Heb. 1:3), he (the man) became the ideal mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5). And it perhaps needs to be added that he would never have achieved perfection if his relationship with his heavenly Father had not remained constant (Heb. 5:7, cf. John 17:11,22).
Briefly the dualistic Greek worldview was conditioned by the belief in the noumenal and the phenomenal. While the former was fixed, immutable and static, the real world, the latter, the phenomenal which included the body of flesh, was changeable and corruptible and therefore evil. Of course, this clashed with the Jewish outlook which embraced the idea of a dynamic, living God who was the Creator of the ‘good’ world and to which he came himself in the person of his Son. And he like the Jews believed in two ages (Luke 20:34-38; Eph. 1:21), and so, needless to say, he aspired to the resurrection and the life (John 11:24-26).
Jesus’ nature as man was flesh, blood and the usual human attributes. As such, in order to enter the kingdom of God he had first to be spiritually born again (John 3:7) and, second, to be bodily transformed (1 Cor. 15:53). The Greek word ‘dei’ is used in both cases indicating that the necessity is ‘natural’ and does not relate to sin. (See again my Two ‘Natural’ Necessities.)
Man loses his flesh and blood at death but remains human in heaven. In other words, I expect to remain me for eternity not in the flesh (1 Cor. 15:50) which sees corruption but in a glorified or spiritual body. This is the clear teaching of Scripture (1 Cor. 15:42-57; Heb. 10:9b, cf. 8:13).
- A useful book touching on Greek thinking and kenosis is Tony Lane, The Lion Concise Book of Christian Thought, 2nd ed., Tring, 1986.
I have omitted to mention above verses like Romans 9:5 which seem to speak of Christ as God.
Jesus was a son in three senses: (1) he was the ‘natural’ or procreated Son of God who became his Father at his incarnation; (2) he was also the Son of Man (Adam) through Mary his mother (Luke 3:38); (3) he was the Son of God by re-creation at his baptism (John 3:7).