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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Jesus Christ, God and Man: How Can a Man Be God?

imagesReformed theology has consistently affirmed both the full humanity and full divinity of Jesus. Traditionally, this has been called the doctrine of the hypostatic union, a doctrine that expresses the perfect union between Jesus' divine and human natures in his one person In this union, the second person of the Trinity (see theological article "The Trinity: One God or Three?"), namely, God the Son, became fully human (see theological article "The Full Humanity of Jesus: What Kind of Man Was Jesus?t") without losing any of his divine attributes.

That the Jewish followers of Jesus believed that Jesus was both God and man is amazing. Jesus' apostles and most of the New Testament writers were Jews who strongly believed that there is only one God and that no human is divine. Nevertheless, they all taught that Jesus the Messiah should be worshiped and trusted as God. This idea is especially observable in the writings of John, Paul, Peter and the author of Hebrews.

John reveals Jesus as the eternal divine Word, agent of creation and source of all life and light (John 1:1-5,9), who, in becoming "flesh," was revealed as the Son of God, the source of grace and truth-and, indeed, as "God the One and Only" (John 1:14,18). John's Gospel is punctuated with Jesus' "I am" statements-these are especially significant because "I am" (see notes on John 8:24,28,58) was used to render God's name in the Greek translation (Septuagint) of Exodus 3:14. Examples also appear in the seven declarations of Jesus' grace as (1) the bread of life, giving spiritual food (John 6:35, 48, 51); (2) the light of the world, banishing darkness (John 8:12; 9:5); (3) the gate for the sheep, giving access to God (John 10:7,9); (4) the good shepherd, protecting from peril (John 10:11,14); (5) the resurrection and life, overcoming our death (John 11:25); (6) the way, truth and life, guiding to fellowship with the Father (John 14:6); and (7) the true vine, nurturing for fruitfulness (John 15:1,5). Climactically, Thomas worships Jesus, saying, "My Lord and my God" (John 20:28). Jesus then pronounces a blessing on all who share Thomas' faith, and John urges his readers to join their number (John 20:29-31).

Paul quotes from an apparent hymn that declares Jesus' personal deity (Phil. 2:6-11). He states that "in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form" (Col. 2:9; cf. Col. 1:19). He hails Jesus as the Son as the Father's image and as his agent in creating and upholding everything (Col. 1:15-17). He declares him to be "Lord" (a title with divine overtones), to whom one must pray for salvation according to the exhortation to call on God in Joel 2:32 (Rom. 10:9-13). He calls him "God over all" (Rom. 9:5) and "God and Savior" (Tit. 2:13), and he prays to him personally (2 Cor. 12:8-9), looking to him as a source of divine grace (2 Cor. 13:14). The testimony is explicit: Faith in Jesus' deity is central to Paul's theology.

In explaining Christ's perfect high priesthood, the author of Hebrews declares the full deity and resulting unique dignity of the Son of God (Heb. 1:3,6,8-12), whose full humanity he then celebrates in chapter 2. The perfection, and indeed the very possibility, of the high priesthood he ascribes to Christ depends on an endless, unfailing divine life in combination with a full human experience of temptation, pressure and pain (Heb. 2:14-18; 4:14-5:2; 7:13-28; 12:2-3).

No less significant is Peter's use of Isaiah 8:12-13 (1 Pet. 3:14). He cites the Greek (Septuagint) version, urging the churches not to fear what others fear, but to set apart the Lord as holy. But where the Septuagint text of Isaiah says "Set apart the Lord himself," Peter writes, "Set apart Christ as Lord" (1 Pet. 3:15). Peter offered the adoring fear due to the Almighty to Jesus of Nazareth, his Master and Lord.

A crucial time for the church's affirmation of the hypostatic union came at the Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451). At that time, the church countered two errors: (1) the Nestorian idea that Jesus had two "persons" (divine and human), as well as two natures, as if he were two people bound together in one body; and (2) the Eutychian idea that Jesus had only one nature, his divinity having absorbed his humanity. Rejecting both, the Council affirmed that Jesus is one divine-human person with two natures (i.e., two sets of capacities for experience, expression, reaction and action) and that the two natures are united in his personal being without mixture, confusion, separation or division, such that each nature retains its own attributes.

The New Testament reveals the great mystery that Jesus is both fully God and fully human. All that God made us to be, as well as all that is in God himself, was, is and forever will be really and distinguishably present in the one person of Jesus. The New Testament commands the worship of Jesus and focuses consistently on the divine-human Savior and Lord as the proper object of faith, hope and love.


Richard Pratt, General Editor. Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 2003.

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