4. Two Natures in One Person: Tough Questions

This post answers a series of tough questions about this vital and indispensable doctrine.

Jesus Christ the person has two natures, God and man, divine and human. Two natures united in one person is called the hypostatic union, or one-person union of two natures. This definition creates all sorts of questions.

As noted in the other posts in this series, theologians have to work out how these verses (and many others) fit together.

These key verses refer to Christ Jesus:

Philippians 2:6-8

ὃς ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ ὑπάρχων οὐχ ἁρπαγμὸν ἡγήσατο τὸ εἶναι ἴσα θεῷ,

ἀλλὰ ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσεν μορφὴν δούλου λαβών, ἐν ὁμοιώματι ἀνθρώπων γενόμενος, καὶ σχήματι εὑρεθεὶς ὡς ἄνθρωπος

ἐταπείνωσεν ἑαυτὸν γενόμενος ὑπήκοος μέχρι θανάτου, θανάτου δὲ σταυροῦ·

[Christ Jesus] who, though being in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,

7 but emptied himself by taking the form of a servant, coming into existence in the likeness of men; and when he was found in the appearance as a man,

8 he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, that is, death on a cross.

That is my translation. HT: Lidija Novakovic, Philippians: A Handbook of the Greek Text [Baylor UP, 2020]. If you would like to see the verses in many translations and in context, please go to biblegateway.com.

For more exegesis of the Greek words, please click on this post:

4. Do I Really Know Jesus? He Took the Form of a Servant

And Col. 2:9 indicates the fullness of Deity lives in bodily form, now in heaven and while he was on earth:

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.

John 1:14 says that the Word became flesh.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

What does his emptying look like?

As I write in every post in this series, professional theologians use biblical logic to sort out this proposition:

Jesus = True God and True Man

How exactly was he the God-man at his incarnation and during his ministry?

Don’t feel frustrated if you don’t get this at first and you have to read it several times. Sooner or later, things will “click.” It’s a profound mystery, after all!

If you would like to see the following verses in many translations and in their contexts, please go to biblegateway.com.

Let’s begin.

1.. When Jesus calmed the storm, did his divine nature do that?

Miracles are proper to the divine nature, but a nature in this context is a collection of attributes, and they don’t act or do anything. The person of Jesus performed that miracle.

However, some theologians say that one nature does one thing that the other nature does not. So the miracles were performed by the divine nature, not his human nature.

He was also anointed by the Spirit, and worked miracles through the Spirit. So now we see the Trinity working through Jesus. The Father took the lead. Jesus surrendered and submitted his divine attributes to him, and they were hidden behind his humanity. This idea is expressed in verses like these:

He does only what he sees his Father doing (John 5:19). He lives because of the Father (John 6:57). He stands with the Father (John 8:16). The Father knows him, and he knows the Father who sent him (John 8:16). He speaks only what the Father taught him (John 8:28). The Father knows him, and he knows the Father (John 10:15). The Father loves him because he lays down his life (John 10:17). He and his Father are one. He does what he sees the Father does (John 10:37). “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30). What Jesus says is just what the Father told him to say (John 12:49-50, John 12:57).

Perhaps the most important verse about miracles and surrender: “I have shown you many miracles from the Father” (John 10:32).

Jesus never lost his divine attributes, nor did he set or lay them aside. Rather, he kept them, but surrendered and submitted them to the Father. So the Spirit anointed him to do miracles. Jesus surrendered to and obeyed the Father, who hid his Son’s divine attributed behind Jesus’s humanity. So through the Son Jesus, the Triunity worked the miracle: Father, Son, and Spirit.

2.. When Jesus hungered or thirsted, did his human nature do that?

It was his human nature who hungered and thirsted. One nature does one thing that the other does not. So it was not his divine nature that hungered and thirsted, but his human nature did.

3.. Does that mean when he died, only his human nature died, and not his divine nature?

Yes, only his human nature died, but not his divine nature. But it is better to say that it was the person of Christ who experienced death. Nevertheless, by virtue of the union of Christ’s two natures, his divine nature tasted something of death (it’s impossible to say how in detail), but his divine nature did not change or die.

4.. Does this mean that when he said he did not know the time of his return, his human nature did not know, but his divine nature did?

Yes. The two centers of consciousness explain how that can happen. He had limited knowledge and had to learn and grow in knowledge in his human nature, but he also had limitless knowledge in his divine nature.

See this post for more information:

Why Didn’t Jesus Know the Day or the Hour of His Return?

5.. Does this mean that when Jesus was lying in the cradle, he was still true God and was the Creator too?

Yes, and he was true God and true human. Two natures in one person! Awesome and wonderful!

6.. Did Christ turn on his human nature and divine nature like two light switches?

No, but he lived through the time of humiliation as a man and for our benefit and in obedience to the Father’s will he self-limited, so he can experience what we do, even death. People who saw him mostly saw his human nature and his physical body and missed his full divinity.

His human nature covered over his divine nature, but only from the limited points of view from the humans who observed him and could not see his divinity, except when he made a mighty display of a miracle.

Once again, if we understand that Jesus surrendered and submitted his divine attributes to the Father, and the Father hid them behind his humanity, until he willed to shine forth a glimpse of Jesus’s divine attributes, as Peter, James and John did on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17:1-13), then we can have clarity.

7.. But his divine nature shone through, right?

Right, and this explains why the apostles and disciples all affirmed his deity throughout their writings, the New Testament. They were also inspired by the Holy Spirit to write what they did.

8.. But don’t two centers of consciousness and will require two persons?

No. Wayne Grudem answers:

At this point someone may object that if we say that Jesus had two centers of consciousness and two wills, that requires that he was two distinct persons, and we have really fallen into the error of “Nestorianism.” But in response, it must simply be affirmed that two wills and two centers of consciousness do not require that Jesus be two distinct persons. It is mere assertion without proof to say that they do. If someone responds that he or she does not understand how Jesus could have two centers of consciousness and still be one person, then that fact may certainly be admitted by all. But failing to understand something does not mean that it is impossible, only that our understanding is limited. The great majority of the church throughout its history has said that Jesus had two wills and centers of consciousness, yet remained one person. Such a formulation is not impossible, merely a mystery that we do not now fully understand. To adopt any other solution would create a far greater problem: it would require that we give up either the full deity or full humanity of Christ, and that we cannot do (p. 561, emphasis original)

Charles C. Ryrie said he sees two wills, one responding to his divine nature, the other to his human nature (if I understood him correctly).

Look at it this way: You are born again. Now God’s Spirit lives in you, and you have your own spirit. Now you have the mind of Christ and your own mind. So you have two minds and two spirits, but you are still one person.

Now let’s turn to some Scriptural problems.

9.. How does John 20:28 pose any problems?

Thomas sees the risen Christ and cries out, “My Lord and my God!” Some say it is an oath, moderate cussing, when he was caught by surprise: My God! Dios mio! O mon Deux! Those words simply mean that Thomas acknowledged Christ’s deity.

Reply:

In context, John intends us to see the proper reaction of the witnesses who have seen the resurrection (v. 21). Thomas believes Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. In the larger Gospel of John the deity is affirmed everywhere, especially in John 1 and the I Am statements (John 8:58, and 6:35; 8:12 [9:5]; 10:7, 9; 10:11, 14; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1, 5). So we should see Thomas’s surprise as of a piece with the flow of John’s Gospel.

10.. How does Col. 1:15 pose any problems?

This verse says that Jesus is the “firstborn over all creation.” What does firstborn mean? Does it mean God created the Son, and then the Son created all the rest? Could it be the Son had a beginning? After all, first must be chronological in birth order.

Reply:

The verse goes on to say along with vv. 16-17 that in him all things were created, so his creator role is affirmed, and already this places him high above any notion that he was a mere prophet or Islamic messiah.

Further, a closer look at the entire Bible reveals that the word firstborn has multiple meanings.

In Old Testament culture, the emphasis was on the firstborn son. He had a double portion of inheritance (Deut. 21:17), privileges over other family members (Gen. 27:1-4, 35-37), preferential treatment (Gen. 43:33), and respect from others (Gen. 37:22) (Moody, p. 209).

Figuratively, moreover, it denotes supremacy (Ex. 4:22; Jer. 31:9).

Therefore, when Christ is said to be the firstborn, he has rights and privileges to be the ruler and authority over all creation. He is the head of the church and preeminent in everything. Nowhere does Col. 1:15 say that Jesus had a beginning, nor does the entire Bible say this.

Moreover, Col. 1:18 says that he is the “firstborn from the dead.” During his earthly ministry he himself raised people from the dead, including Lazarus (Matt. 9:18-19, 23-5; Luke 7:11-15; John 11:1-44), so the term cannot be chronologically first, but preeminently and substantially first. His resurrection is qualitatively different than those other ones. He alone now has the right to rule and triumph over death.

Rom. 8:29 says, “Those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of the Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sister.” Here firstborn has nothing to do with birth order or chronology, but preeminence or supremacy or first in leadership.

Thus in Col. 1:15 the NIV translates firstborn right: “firstborn over all creation.”

11.. How does Eph. 1:3 pose any problems?

It says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (cf. 2 Cor. 1:3 and 1 Pet. 1:3). It seems that Jesus has a God, so how can he be a true God on the same plane as the Father?

Reply:

It is vital to understand the persons and the essence in the Trinity and to keep them distinct. Three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are within the one God and all share his one essence. The three persons have different roles, and in these roles, particularly during and after the Incarnation. the Son is submissive to the Father. Some call this the economical Triunity—how the three persons relate to his creation, redemption and to us in their roles. All three are equal in one essence, but the Son is submissive to the Father in the Son’s roles. Paul’s verses confirm these distinctions (and so does Peter’s).

Also, the Son has God as his Father in the Son’s human nature. Father God is the Father and God of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Son’s human nature.

12.. Did Jesus lose or give up his divine attributes when he was incarnated?

No. Instead, there is divine cooperation between the Father and the Son—and I add the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the Messiah or Anointed One. He was anointed by the Spirit (Acts 10:38). His miracles were done by his divine nature through the power of the Spirit, by the Father’s and the Son’s will. So the Triunity (Trinity) was working together during the Son’s humiliation.

To say that Jesus was true God while a true human yet he lost or set aside or lay aside or gave up these powerful omni-attributes or other ones does not work. God cannot lose attributes and still remain God. It is best to say that Jesus took them with him at his incarnation, but they were hidden behind his humanity–yes, even when he was a baby lying in a manger. So, for example, if the Father had willed, the divine attribute of omnipotence could have manifested in the baby Jesus and flattened the soldiers whom Herod sent to kill him. Since the baby did not have a fully developed will accompanied by knowledge, the Father alone could have done this through his Son. But the Father wanted Jesus to experience his full humanity and Joseph and Mary to learn how to be good parents and take care of his Son, who was on loan to them. Instead, the Father sent an angel in a dream, who told him to flee to Egypt (Matt. 2:13).

It is a bad idea for a teacher in a church or on TV or radio to tinker with Christi’s deity and proclaim and broadcast confusion. It would be better for the pastor-teacher to admit he does not know and then study to find the solution.

In any case, I hope these answers to the questions help the Body of Christ to enjoy clarity.

Christ is King!

RELATED

Definition or Creed of Chalcedon

Athanasian Creed + Commentary

Why Didn’t Jesus Know the Day or the Hour of His Return?

ARTICLES IN THE “TWO NATURES IN ONE PERSON” SERIES

1. Two Natures in One Person: Key Terms and Concepts

2. Two Natures in One Person: He Was Human and God (Scriptures in Part 2)

3. Two Natures in One Person: Basic Questions and Answers

4. Two Natures in One Person: Tough Questions

5. Two Natures in One Person: If Jesus Got Hungry, Did God?

6. Two Natures in One Person: Definition or Creed of Chalcedon + Commentary

7. Two Natures in One Person: Review and Conclusion

SOURCES

Works Cited

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