A Doctrinal Statement on Jesus: His Essence and Divinity

Today, we look at the second member of the Trinity, Jesus Christ. The early church fathers wrestled with several issues concerning Jesus, mainly his eternality, essence, divinity, and nature. While there were many different camps and arguments that occurred during those early years, there were two main theologians who wrestled with the divine nature and essence of Christ; they were Arius and Athanasius (from whom we get the Athanasian creed). Later on history, there were several main councils that were formed to further discuss the divinity of Christ, including the first council of Nicae and the council of Chalcedon.

This doctrinal statement will look mainly at two important issues, kenosis and the hypostatic union. Remember, the New Testament canon wasn’t agreed upon until the fifth century, so all these issues concerning Christ were important topics. It is something modern day believers take for granted but since these early church fathers were so close in time to the life of Christ and the apostles, there was a lot of discussion about what the right type of thinking was. All sort of different variations of belief in Christ and who He was started appear (these will be further examined in the post to come). Also, we will look further into the topic of “eternally begotten of God” in later posts as well since the origin and eternalness of Christ has been contested by different religions. But for now, we look at our Savior. Remember, this is not an all-encompassing statement on all the many things Jesus does. This focusing on who He was, is, His humanity, His divinity, and His relation to God

I believe in the One and Only Son of God, Jesus Christ our Lord, eternally begotten of God the Father, being God from God and of the same Being as the Father, not created.[i] I believe that through Him all things were created and are sustained.[ii] I believe that Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary through the power of the Holy Spirit, became incarnate[iii] and received a sinless human nature.[iv] I believe that He was at the same time truly God[v] and truly man[vi], being at once in two natures fully human and fully God with the essences of each being preserved.[vii] I believe that the eternal Son of God came into this world fulfilling Scriptures that He might manifest God and redeem fallen humanity as a ransom for all.[viii] I believe that Jesus Christ is the Savior and Sacrificial Lamb that took away the sin of the world saving all those who believe in Him from the righteous judgments that God must execute to satisfy His wrath.[ix] I believe Jesus was crucified, dead and buried and on third day rose from the grave in accordance with Scripture; He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father.[x] I believe that He is the Christians’ Mediator to God and will come again to judge all mankind.[xi]

[i] Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, John 1:1-18; John 10:30. Jesus states that He has every right to the claim of oneness with the God because the Father has sent him into the world (10:36) and “the Father is in me and I am in the Father” (10:38). Also, “If the Word [Jesus] were a created being, then he would have had to create himself for any and all creation came into existence through him: ‘without him was not any thing made that was made’ (1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2)” – cf Dr. J. Scott Horrell, Chapter 4: God Made Flesh, ST102OL Class Notes, DTS, 11.

[ii] One role of Jesus Christ was His involvement in creation. Col 1:16-17 summarizes that Christ is the creator, sustainer, and the purpose of all created existence. John 1:3, “Through him all things were made.” “He was the Father’s agent in every act of making that the Father has ever performed.” – cf J.I. Packer, Knowing God, 56. “In him was life…” (John 1:4) speaks of Jesus animating, that is all things exist in and through Him, or are sustained in him.

[iii] Incarnate means to become flesh. This is God himself becoming human as Jesus entered physically into the world and became human like us. It is only God who could pay for our sins, therefore God the Son became man to provide atonement for mankind’s sins. “He [Jesus] had not ceased to be God; he was no less God than before; but he had begun to be man. He was not now God minus some elements of his deity, but God plus all that he had made his own by taking manhood to himself” J.I. Packer, Knowing God, 57. Heb 2:17; John 1:1, 14; 1 Pet 2:24.

[iv] Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, Luke 1:30-35; Luke 2:40; John 1:18; Phil 2:5-8.

[v] Phil 2:6-7: “who though he was in the form of God… made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant” (Italics mine). Of special note is the term “form” (morphē) which “denotes outward appearance that reveals an inward reality…. The ‘morphē of God’ denotes the heavenly glory… that reveals Christ’s innate deity.” – cf Dr. J. Scott Horrell, Chapter 4: God Made Flesh, ST102OL Class Notes, 17. Douglas McCready states, the only one who can enjoy the status of God is God Himself.” – cf Douglas McCready, He Came Down from Heaven: The Preexistence of Christ and the Christian Faith (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 77.

[vi] A major argument is also found in Phil 2:7 over the term “emptied” (himself), which the theological term kenosis (the “self-emptying” of Christ) is derived. Some have argued that because Christ “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,” then He could not have been God. Instead this shows the example of Jesus that because He was “in the form of God” and already existed as God, He “made himself nothing,” becoming a humble human. Kenosis says that “in order to be fully human, the Son had to renounce some of his divine qualities, otherwise he could not have shared the experience of being limited in space, time, knowledge and consciousness which is essential to truly human life.” J.I. Packer, Knowing God, 59. Packer argues why this theory is wrong by showing that when Paul spoke of the Son having emptied himself and became poor, it was not about Jesus laying aside his divine powers and attributes but of his divine glory and dignity citing John 17:5, “the glory I had with you before the world began.” Packer states that there “is no Scripture support for the idea of the Son’s shedding any aspects of his deity” (60). Regarding the controversial text of Mark 13:32 where Jesus says He does not know the time of His return, Packer insists that Jesus lived not as an independently divine person, but as a dependent one. While Jesus was on earth it was not a new relationship with the Father occasioned by the Incarnation, “but the continuation in time of the eternal relationship between the Son and Father in heaven…. The Son was utterly dependent on the Father’s will…. His knowing, like the rest of his activity, was bounded by his Father’s will. And therefore the reason why he was ignorant of (for instance) the date of his return was not that he had given up the power to know all things at the Incarnation, but that the Father had not willed that he should have this particular piece of knowledge while on earth, prior to his passion” (62). Matt 28:18, 20; John 21:17; Eph 4:10.

[vii] Chalcedonian Definition states, “the Same perfect in Godhead, the Same perfect in manhood, truly God and truly man, the Same [consisting] of a rational soul and a body; one essence [homoousios] with the Father as to his Godhead, and one essence [homoousios] with us as to his manhood; in all things like unto us, sin only excepted…. One and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, made known in two natures [which exist] without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the difference of the natures having been in no wise taken away by reason of the union, but rather the properties of each being preserved, and [both] concurring into one Person (prosopon) and one hypostasis— not parted or divided into two Persons (prosopa), but one and the same Son and Only-begotten….” The hypostatic (meaning personal) union is the personal union of Jesus’ two natures. This doctrine of the hypostatic union teaches that these two natures are united in one person. Jesus is not two persons, but one. It is the joining of the divine and the human in the one person of Jesus. This means that Jesus is not half God and half man. He is fully and completely God and man. He never lost His divinity. Athanasian Creed formulates it as, “Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man… perfect God, and perfect man…who, although He is God and man, yet He is not two, but one Christ; one, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of that manhood into God.” Col 2:9; Heb 1:3. For more on hypostatic union see J.I. Packer, Knowing God; Matt Perman, “How can Jesus be God and Man,”desiringgod.org, October 5, 2006 (accessed October 8, 2014).

[viii] John 3:16; Phil 3:20-21.

[ix] John 1:29; Rom 3:25-26; 2 Cor 5:14; 1 Pet 3:18

[x] Acts 2:22-24; 1 Tim 2:6; John 20:20.

[xi] Athanasian Creed, line 40. Apostles Creed, line 7. Jesus as Mediator: 2 Cor 5:21; 1 Tim 2:5; Heb 9:15.

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