The Hypostatic Union

When a proper doctrine of Christ is understood, the obvious question arises how can Jesus be both fully human and fully God? A plethora of biblical texts, stated above, confirm both the humanity and deity of Christ. In addition, the Chalcedonian Definition also emerged to protect the presence of these texts. In order to articulate the dual natures of Christ, the doctrine of the hypostatic union emerged to rectify these two seemingly contrasting doctrines.

The Hypostatic Union

The hypostatic union is a singular hypostasis of two natures in one person, Christ’s divinity and humanity joined together. One may ask the question, how can one person have two distinct natures? Nature refers to an individual’s distinguishing attributes, while personhood concerns self-identity, will, intelligence, and the capacity to exercise said will. Scripture always describes Jesus as a singular person with two unified natures, humanity and deity.

Biblical Evidence

Biblical evidence for this union of natures comes from John’s assertion that Christ, the eternal divine logos, becomes incarnate (John 1:1-11). Matthew 1:23 affirms the birth of Jesus, a human baby, who will be assigned the divine title “Emmanuel.” How can God, who is spirit (John 4:24), and whom no one has seen (John 1:28), have his name attributed to a human baby? The answer lies in the Hypostatic Union or the person of Jesus Christ combining two natures within the personhood of one body.

What is the significance of the hypostatic union? 

One may ask the question, what is the significance of the hypostatic union? The doctrine of the hypostatic union is essential to the Christian faith because to deny the union of the humanity and deity of Jesus is to remove Jesus as savior. In order to provide a perfect sacrifice, Jesus was God in the flesh and died for us (1 John 2:2). In order to be the proper propitiation for mankind, a perfect sacrifice needed to be human but also needed to be God, in order to atone for sin that curses all of humanity (Romans 3:23). Implications of denying this doctrine are strong enough for John to say “you are the spirit of the Antichrist” (1 John 4:2-3).

Did Christ empty himself of his divinity?

However, if Jesus is God in the flesh, did he empty himself of some of his divine attributes due to the limitations of humanity placed upon him? This question often arises in connection to Philippians 2:7, the Greek translating “emptying himself” in reference to Jesus. When Jesus “emptied himself” he did not empty himself of some or any of his attributes. The “emptying” phrase used by Paul simply refers to Christ’s becoming human. The context surrounding Paul’s letter to the Philippians is that of a comparison of Christ’s servanthood and the call to do likewise. Jesus “emptied” himself as Paul explains, giving up equality to God for the form of a servant, “Being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7). In other words, Christ’s “emptying” refers to his release of divine privileges and status as God for the frailty and limitations of humanity, “though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). Grudem affirms a lack of extensive church history associating the phrase “emptied himself” with a limitation of Christ’s divine attributes.[1]

Was Christ able to sin or no? 

Further development of the hypostatic union must answer the question of Christ’s ability to sin or not to sin. Tension regarding this question lies in the confusion due to seeming contradictory statements such as “God cannot be tempted with evil” (James 1:13) and Scripture’s assertions concerning Christ “in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). The answer lies in removing the term “contradictory” and accepting Scripture’s affirmations concerning the distinct human and divine natures of Christ. In conjunction, these two natures prove capable of both experiencing all of humanity and yet rejecting that which is sinful humanity due to the divine nature of Jesus. God cannot be tempted according to James, so Christ’s divinity was not tempted, and yet Christ’s humanity was temped according to Hebrews. Thus, Christ experienced human temptation in his human nature but did not experience temptation in his divine nature, and because of his divinity, He did not sin in either nature.

 

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One Comment Add yours

  1. This is an interesting summary of an important concept, Derek, but I wasn’t totally convinced by your arguments against adopting a kenotic Christology. Whatever its pedigree within Christian history, a well-developed doctrine of kenosis seems to effectively account for the apparent incompatibility between some of the divine attributes (e.g. omnipresence) and the human limitations associated with the incarnation that you alluded to in your article. Moreover, such a doctrine would seem to explain those texts beyond Phil 2:7 in which the Son appears to be voluntarily restricting the exercise of his divine attributes (e.g. Luke 8:43-48). This is not necessarily to say that we should accept a kenotic Christology, just that we should perhaps exercise care not to reject this approach too readily.

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