OBJECTIONS TO THE HYPOSTATIC UNION OF CHRIST

Within the debate of the hypostatic union of Christ, there are mainly three primary objections that emerge in opposition to this doctrinal view. The first objection deals with the apparent contradiction of the two natures, while the second and third objections deal with the infinite will and finite will of Christ.

First Objection: It is contradictory for Jesus to be both God and man.

A kenotic theorist argues that Christ was fully divine prior to the incarnation, but divested Himself of exercising certain divine powers or prerogatives because they were principally incompatible within a human being. This movement known as Kenoticism originated from Gottfried Thomasius (1802-1875), a German theologian that set out to modify Christology by reflecting on the self-limitation of Christ and His historic revelation of the dialectic of the Godhead.

One of the foremost interpretations of the self-limitation of Christ is taken from the crucial passage of Philippians 2:6-11, which states in verse seven that Christ “emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant.” The term “emptied Himself (NAS)” or “made himself nothing (NIV),” is taken as direct proof that the kenosis of Jesus means He removed Himself of any capacity to exercise divine powers while in the form of a human being.

Unfortunately, the kenotic theorists’ interpretation of the kenosis of Jesus is theologically inadequate and exegetically misguided from the standpoint of the Bible. Their attempt to undermine the nature of Christ’s deity and humanity by compromising the God-man is a complete disparagement of the totality of Christ’s life, teaching, atonement, resurrection, ascension, and His eternal state in heaven.

In light of this, a proper exegesis of this section of Paul’s letter to the Philippians will provide a more accurate explanation of the kenosis theory. First, in Philippians 2:6, Paul distinctively affirms the full deity of Christ by expressing, “[Jesus] being in the very form of God, and did not consider it equality with God.”  Paul’s use of the word “being” (ὑπαρχων [huparchōn]) is in the present active participle implying that Christ not only is the eternal God (prior to the incarnation), but also continues to be God during and after the incarnation.

Moreover, the word “form” or “nature” (ἐνμορφῃθεου [en morphēitheou]) used by Paul in verse six means “intrinsic” or “essential” form or attributes of God.  Walvoord offers this critique of morphēi, “As it related to the eternal deity of Christ, it refers to the fact that Christ in eternity past in outer appearance manifested His divine attributes.  It was not mere form or appearance, but that which corresponded to what He was eternally.”[1]  Thus, Christ has always been the eternal God and has always possessed the essential deity of God from all eternity, even while holding the status of humanity.

Second, Paul uses various unambiguous idioms, such as: “form of a bondservant,” “likeness of man,” “appearance of man,” and “point of death,” to convey the addition of humanity without the subtraction of Christ’s deity. In response to Paul’s discourse of the deity and humanity of Christ, Erickson writes, “it appears that there are both a positive parallelism with “equality with God,” thus making “the form of God” a strong statement of deity, and an adversative parallelism with “the form of a servant,” thus forming a contrast.”[2]

Third, the word “kenosis,” literally means, “to empty.” Therefore, the critical question that begs to be answered is: What exactly did Christ empty of Himself? Based on the argument of Paul in Philippians 2:5-11, it is clear that Paul meant that Christ temporarily surrendered the independent exercise or limitation of certain divine attributes while occupied in the human compass on earth.  Walvoord issues this statement, “The act of kenosis…may be properly understood to mean that Christ surrendered no attribute of Deity, but that He did voluntarily restrict their independent use in keeping with His purpose of living among men and their limitations.”[3]

Similarly, Peter Lewis in his exceptional book, The Glory of Christ, explains that the incarnation in no means altered or denigrated the divine nature of Christ.  He writes:

What was new was that this same divine being became personally united with human nature at its earliest stage:  He took it as His own.  In this way the second person of the blessed Trinity truly and personally “became” a pinpoint fetus in the body of a young Hebrew woman.  But though He became what He was not, He did not cease to be what He was.  He who continued to fill all things and to sustain all things, also became contained in a virgin’s womb, and was sustained by a human mother; living simultaneously the massive life of Godhead and the creaturely and painful life of humanity.”[4]

Hence, the incarnation added a new manifestation of humanity, but preserved the eternal divinity without change or defect. Christ was not at any given point limited in His deity, but rather, freely chose to limit His free exercise of some divine attributes over others more frequently. For example, it would have been entirely impossible for Christ to claim He was God, if (in fact), He had completely emptied Himself of His omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotence (Matthew 12:25; Matthew 17:1-3; John 10:30-33; 12:44-46).

Fourth, at one point Christ transfigures partially into His preincarnate glory to the inner circle (Matthew 17), and yet, prays in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began (John 17:5).” This is proof of Christ possessing His full heavenly glory, while still veiling enough of it in order to function properly as a mere human.  Paul wrote to the Corinthians the relinquishing of some of Christ’s divine attributes by pointing out that “though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor (2 Corinthians 8:9).”

Fifth, and finally, the “emptying’ of Christ’s deity was necessary in order for Him to sacrifice His life on the cross to pay for the sins of the whole world.  And yet, after three days Christ exercised His divine powers by rising from the dead (Luke 24:46; Acts 17:3; Romans 1:4; 1 Corinthians 1:17; Philippians 3:10). Thus, Christ in His perfect splendor of both divinity and humanity perfectly displays the theoanthropic without the depletion, limitation or removal of any transitive or relative attributes of either nature (John 10:30; 19:28).

Second Objection: It is contradictory to say Jesus has two wills.

This objection fails to understand the correct meaning and understanding of Christian orthodoxy, and therefore, I will counter this objection by listing four lines of evidence in support of Jesus possessing two wills.

First, just as the body of Christ consists of both divine and human natures, so to does the mind of Christ contain a divinely inspired will (John 2:19) as well as a humanly felt will (Matthew 26:39). Thiessen writes, “Though there are two natures, there is but one person.  And though the attributes of one nature are not to be attributed to the other nature, the two natures are attributed to the one person.”[5] Therefore, Christ’s two wills are distinctively different in origin and function, but are freely attributed only to Him.

Second, it is the person of Christ that is theanthropic, not the nature of Christ. Specifically put, the God-man is made up of the person of Jesus Christ, not out of each of His unique natures. It was through the incarnation that the union of the two natures was inseparably consummated in the personal union of Christ (God-man). This is evident from the fact that Jesus’ divine and infinite intelligence was never mixed or transferred over into His finite and human intelligence as witnessed in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:42). Thus, every time Christ employed a divine or human attribute, it was because He first willed it from either His divine nature or human nature.

Third, by willing to become man, Jesus exercised His divine will(as the Son of God)by relinquishing His glorious estate, and freely chose to live and die for the sins of the world in accordance with His human will (2 Corinthians 8:9; Galatians 4:4; Romans 1:3; 8:3; 1 Timothy 3:16).

Fourth, and finally, the Council of Constantinople resolved the issue of the two wills in response to Nestorianism and Monothelitism. Donald Macleod deals with this historic resolution in his book, The Person of Christ, “This Council augmented the Chalcedonian Definition of the Faith (of which more later) by affirming that in Christ there were two natural wills (duo physicathelemata) and two natural energizings (duo physicaenergeiai).  These wills were distinct, yet inseparable; they always worked in harmony; and the human was invariably subordinate to the divine.”[6]

In conclusion, by offering clarification of certain terms, and providing sufficient implications to the two natures, as well as providing a thorough explanation of the theanthropic unity of the person of Jesus Christ, it is quite clear that Jesus has both a divine will and human will.

Third Objection: It is impossible for Jesus Christ to be infinite, and yet, finite at the same time.

The attribution of a finite nature and an infinite nature in one person is often misunderstood, and therefore, usually leads people to false conclusions about the divine and human qualities possessed in Christ. Thus, an honest evaluation of the philosophical workings of Jesus’ two natures according to Christianity will be my final assessment.

First, this objection assumes that Christianity is a form of Eutychianism, which is a heretical teaching that accepts the notion that Jesus had only one nature comprised of both infinite and finite faculties.  Christianity, on the other hand, teaches that Jesus has two unique natures comprised of infinite faculties (divine nature) and finite faculties (human nature).

Second, it would be a contradiction if certain distinctions of either the divine or human natures were mixed up between the two or applied to the other nature. For example, it is impossible for Jesus to say (according to His human nature) that He was born before Abraham (John 8:58), or that His divine nature was tired or hungry (John 4:6; Mark 11:12).

Third, Jesus’ human nature is limited to finite qualities, while His divine nature is unlimited to infinite qualities. The Bible makes certain distinctions when referring only to His divine nature (John 8:12) or when referring to His human nature (John 19:28). However, there are also many occurrences when Christ acted on a certain attribute, but it was predicated on both His divine and human natures.  For example, when Christ cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me (Matthew 27:46),” it was His humanity that was suffering, while His divine nature fulfilled the Messianic prophecy of Psalm twenty-two.

Fourth, though both natures are simultaneously active in the person of Jesus, they nonetheless, are consistent in their proper infinitude and finitude without mixture, confusion or division. The pure essence of the divine nature is pure actuality (unchangeability), while the essence of the human nature is pure potency (changeability) because it is made up of matter.

Therefore, Jesus (who has an eternally divine nature) was begotten in a humanly finite and limited nature, which was and forever will be perfectly displayed in His resurrected body. Essentially, despite the various opposing objections that attempt to criticize or disprove Jesus Christ, the evidence overwhelming points to the Jesus of the Bible to be the pure and unadulterated God of the heavens and the earth.

As in the words of the infamous Athanasius, “Nor, as man from man has the Son been begotten, so as to be later than his Father’s existence, but he is God’s offspring, and, as being proper Son of God, who is ever, he exists eternally.”[7]

[1]. Walvoord, Jesus Christ Our Lord, 139.

[2]. Erickson, The Word Became Flesh: A Contemporary Incarnational Christology, 477-78.

[3]. Walvoord, Jesus Christ Our Lord, 144.

[4]. Lewis, The Glory of Christ, 133-34.

[5]. Henry C. Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology, comp. Vernon D. Doerksen (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1949), 223.

[6]. Macleod, The Person of Christ: Contours of Christian Theology, 188-89.

[7]. Athanasius, Against the Arians, trans. John Newman and Archibald Robertson, http://www.newadvent.org/fathers (accessed July 5, 2011).