THE HYPOSTATIC UNION OF CHRIST

It is in this article that I will offer a thorough examination of the communication idiomatum (“communication of attributes”), which seeks to logically explain and intelligently resolve how the divine and human natures maintain separate properties, and yet, coexist in the perfect unification of the hypostatic union of Christ. The veracity of the hypostatic union can be found in at least seven passages of Scripture in the New Testament (Philippians 2:6-11; John 1:1-14; Romans 1:2-5; 9:5; 1 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 2:14; 1 John 1:1-3).

Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451)

The phrase, kathhypostasin enosis (hypostatic union), originated from Cyril’s Second Letter to Nestorius, where he wrote, “the Logos united flesh to Himself.”  It also appears in Five Tomes Against the Blasphemies of Nestorius, as well as in the Westminster Confession (VIII.II): “two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion.”[1]

However, the most historic and doctrinally sound creedal of the incarnation of Christ was constructed at the Council of Chalcedon. The matter was to resolve the relationship between the two natures and offer a theologically sound counter against the heretical attacks of Nestorianism and Eutychianism. Hence, it was not until the Council of Chalcedon that the official orthodox position of the full divinity and full humanity of Christ was formulated.

Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the fathers has handed down to us.[2]

Therefore, the Council of Chalcedon was successful in formulating scrupulous wording that translated Scripture consistently, as well as clarifying the subsistence of Jesus as a theoanthropic person, who possessed two distinct, and yet, unified natures with complete perfection in His humanity and deity, and therefore, is comprised in hypostasis forever.[3]

Both Boyd and Eddy provide a resourceful list of the unified natures of Christ mentioned throughout the Word of God:

For example, the Gospels portray Jesus as the omnipotent Creator, even while also admitting that as a man he was limited in power.  As God, Jesus was able to control the behavior of the wind as well as the biting of fish (Luke 8:23-25; John 21:5-6).  As a man, he could do nothing on his own (John 5:19).  As God, his essence was and is unchangeable (Heb. 13:8; cf. Ps. 102:26-27; Mal. 3:6; James 1:17).  As a man, he had to grow and be made perfect (Heb. 2:10).”[4]

In observing the outer workings of the divinity and humanity of Christ, Dr. Walvoord remarks, “Though Christ sometimes operated in the sphere of His humanity and in other cases in the sphere of His deity, in all cases what He did and what He was could be attributed to His one Person. Even though it is evident that there were two natures in Christ, He is never considered a dual personality.”[5] Additionally, Dr. Geisler makes this central claim, “Jesus Christ, the Eternal Son of God, retaining all His divine attributes, took to Himself a human volitional behavior pattern when He took to Himself all the essential attributes of human nature.”[6]

On both accounts, neither Drs. Walvoord nor Geisler believe the incarnation consisted of Jesus subtracting from His deity, but rather, they affirm it was the addition of humanity to the equation. Furthermore, they also deny that the incarnation transfigured (in anyway) the infinite God into a finite god, but more accurately believe that Jesus took all the essential attributes of humanity and united them to His divine nature, and through it, came into the world without distortion or partiality of form.

As such, the two natures of Christ are indissolubly united without mixture or loss of separate identity, or the elimination of any essential attribute possessed within each of the two distinct natures in the unity of the one person. That is, Jesus’ two natures did not mix or transfer over one to the other, but are transferred from one to the other without improperly expressing or manipulating that particular nature as a perfect representation of itself. For if both natures crossed into the other, then humanity would become eternal and deity would become non-eternal, which would be a contradiction because God cannot be transported to man, or vice versa.

The ancient church father, St. Athanasius (ca. 296-373), in his remarkable writings, The Incarnation of the Word of God, sec. 17., penned these words,

“The Word was not hedged in by His body, nor did His presence in the body prevent His being present elsewhere as well…at one and the same time—this is the wonder—as Man He was living a human life, and as Word He was sustaining the life of the Universe, and as Son He was in constant union with the Father.”[7]

As indicated by St. Athanasius, there was no mixing of the two natures, but rather, they complete the wholeness and perfection of the person of Jesus Christ who contains these two unique natures in perfect unison, expressing all qualities contained in each nature with absolute consistency and revelation.  Thus, Jesus is, and will forever remain the God-man, perfectly in the fullness of God and in the fullness of man.

In summary, there are four notable facts of the hypostatic union:

(1) Christ has two distinct natures: humanity and deity;

(2) There is no mixture or intermingling of the two natures;

(3) He will forever be the Second Person of the Godhead with two natures perfectly expressed in His eternal being; and

(4) Both natures are necessary for redemption because as man, Jesus acts as our perfect sacrifice, and yet as God, His Melchizedekan priesthood establishes Him as mediator over all creation.[8]

[1]. Ibid., 188-89.

[2]. Theopedia: An Encyclopedia of Biblical Chrisitianity, Chalcedonian Creed, http://www.theopedia.com/Chalcedonian_Creed (accessed July 3, 2011).

[3]. Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth, 288.

[4]. Boyd and Eddy, Across the Spectrum: Understanding Issues in Evangelical Theology, 104.

[5]. Walvoord, Jesus Christ Our Lord, 112.

[6]. Norman Geisler and Peter Bocchino, Unshakable Foundations (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2001), 295-96.

[7]. Lewis, The Glory of Christ, 134.

[8]. Paul P. Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago: Moody Press, 1997), 227.