2b Christ’s Humanity, the hypostatic union

Perhaps the most overlooked central doctrine of the Christian faith is the humanity of Christ. Indeed, far too often it is forgotten as the fight of this day is to convince the culture that Jesus was more than some moral teacher and is, in fact, God. But he is human! And it is only because he his human that Jesus can connect with humanity in a way that both allows him to know the fullness of our suffering and also work to redeem us from our fallen condition. I’d like to address the humanity of Christ in three ways, our failure of perception, the necessity and nature of his humanity, and the effects of his humanity on the remainder of the human race.

I’d first like to say that Jesus is not some random White guy with perfect flowing hair and a countenance of seeming perfection. No, he was human, likely afflicted with the same things we were from things such as sickness to things such as the mundane need for hygiene. Christianity claims that Jesus is fully human in addition to fully God, and his divinity in no way diminishes some of the more messy parts of our humanity. This fact has been deeply noted by Johnnie Moore, vice-president of a leading evangelical university [1]. Indeed, Popular Mechanics once did a reconstruction of Jesus and their reconstruction reveals nothing except the mundane normality of how Jesus most likely appeared [2]. I personally would say that our treatment of the humanity of Jesus lessens the magnitude of what he has done for humanity. Paul tells Christians,

[Jesus,] who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
Philippians 2.6-8

He emptied himself, he gave up what was rightfully his, omnipotence of the highest degree in a transcendent existence, so that he could become something infinitely lower, humans who have such little power, who are so frail and weak, and who have mundane problems not directly related to sin as a part of a corruption of what was good. Any limiting of the fullness of his humanity is an insult to the level of humility that Christ had in his accomplishment of the means of our salvation.

So I have said and deeply affirmed that Jesus is human. How then is he human? I say that he is fully human. I would like to encourage you to take a moment to read the historical summery of what it means for Jesus to be both human and God, the Chalcedonian definition [3]. Importantly, it affirms that Jesus is

[…] 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.

However, also note that Jesus is not merely God in man with his divinity being merely contained in a human body (docetism),  for that would deny that people’s bodies are made in the image of God and of great intrinsic worth and worthy of respect. Neither was he or a man taken by God to be savior (adoptionism), for that would deny his deity and thus his ability to act as our one mediator between God and man. And he was also not a divine being with a similar nature as God (Arianism) because such an assertion denies the unity of God and the singular work of the Godhead and makes Jesus into a mere, though exalted creation. And finally Jesus was did not have a human nature that was not united with the divine nature (nestoriansm) because such a Christ would weaken the nature of the Cross by calling into question which person it was that died on the cross. It must therefore be said that Jesus Christ is fully God, and yet also fully man. He had two natures, the divine and  human that are distinct yet are also united in one person, Jesus Christ. This is the Christian mystery of the hypostatic union, the central pilar of a biblical understanding of the nature of Christ, and a pillar that has been historically worth fighting about [4]

The effect of the humanity of Christ is ultimately the potential for humanity to find redemption in his shed blood on the cross, the propitiation for our sins [5]. This is because he can thus become a man who has been tried in every way we have, and yet be without sin [6]. Because of his humanity we can find in Christ a person that can understand us totally and completely. He has been where we are, tried as we are, and because of his humanity we can rest firmly in his ability to carry us through where we ourselves fail. Additionally, within the framework of the satisfaction theory of atonement, it was a man that was required to die on the cross, for a man dies for the recompense of the sins of men. It is us that too often forgets that Jesus was once human, and that we can find in him the perfection of humanity — the fullness of the vision of the image of God that we were created in and that we should strive to be. Indeed, because he is human we can find in Christ the model for our lives as Christian in word and deed, through his Word, the Bible.

The humanity of Christ is a central doctrine of Christianity. It is central to salvation, but not only that it is central to our ability to find a mediator that can fully empathize with us [7]. And perhaps the greatest reminder of this humanity is that, although Christ was once not human (before he became man through his birth by the Virgin Mary), he remains today fully human and fully God, ascending bodily into heaven and not giving up human form for a return to his previous existence. It is in this humanity that he has become the firstborn from the dead, shattering the dominion of sin and ensuring that death shall have no more dominion. And Christians hope that he shall one day come again bodily in glory to judge the quick and the dead, and whose kingdom shall have no end.

Post 5 in a series on basic Christianity

References

[1]Moore, Johnnie. Jesus Was a Dirty God
[2] Popular Mechanics, The Real Face of Jesus
[3] Hypostatic Union, Chalcedonian Definition A.D. 451
[4] I say worth fighting about because at the council of Nicea the fight was over whether or not Christ was of the same substance as God or a similar substance. [homoousia (ὁμοούσιος) and homoiousia (ὁμοιούσιος)] A difference of one iota (ι) in Greek. That is thus to say that, while I may not give one iota about what you’re talking about, the early Church Fathers certainly did.
I note that while I can give reference after reference, it is also of note that because these were intrachristian debates in developing a biblical Christology, both sides had their own prooftexts. I generally find it easier to refer to the logic behind what is believed as opposed to delving into verse slinging. This remains in similar debates in today’s theology such as the arminian/calvinist one where its generally far easier to delve into what people are saying as opposed to what pooftexts they’re using and arguing over hermeneutics. That is not to say I dont value verses because I firmly base my own convictions on my understanding of the Bible. But in a world where God is one, truth must also be one, there should be no contradiction between true logic and the truth of the bible.
[5] I note that propitiation is a specific theological term which no real alternative, especially in evangelical protestant theology which tends to use the penal substitutionary theory of atonement, an extension of Anslem’s satisfaction theory, as opposed to other theories such as the moral influence theory. It is a noun that, when used in reference to Christ, implies that his act on the cross satisfies the just wrath of God and carries with it the implication that we have been absolved of our sin through the blood of Christ. It is a noun that focuses on God, and not humanity.
[6] Hebrews 4.15 
[7] 1 Timothy 2.5

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One thought on “2b Christ’s Humanity, the hypostatic union

  1. Fair and balanced. I like your approach touching on the the early heresies as well as handling doctrinal differences like Arminianisn and differing atonement theories. Nice explanation of Chalcedonian Christology.

    Like

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