(5-Minute Read)

Our starting point is indeed a complex one when we reflect upon the unique Lord, Jesus Christ. All concepts are but hush assimilations of the wonderful Lord we contemplate, and, in the end, we are simply bound by the limits of human logic. That being said, what does it mean when we speak about Jesus as “person.” Brian E. Daley writes.

“When Greek theologians in the early church speak of the ‘hypostasis’ of Christ, or of the three ‘hypostases’ of the Trinity, it is clear that they are not referring to what we moderns might call a ‘person’… a hypostasis [person] was essentially a particular individual within a universal species, identifiable as such or such a thing by the qualities it (or he or she) shared with similar individuals, yet marked off as unique by a set of characteristics all its own. It was the kind of thing so unique and unrepeatable you could call it by name—not just ‘horse’, but ‘Silver’; not just ‘man’, but Peter or Paul or John, or even Jesus.[1]

When it is said that the Word was made flesh (Joh.1:14), we must not understand it as if the Eternal Christ were either changed into flesh, or confusedly intermingled with flesh, but that the Eternal Divine Logos made a choice to occupy the Virgin’s womb as a temple in which he might dwell. He who was the Son of God became the Son of man, not by confusion of either the divine, or human substance, but by unity of the One Person, Jesus Christ. What we are getting to is that Jesus is counted like us in every respect— assuming a human body, heart, mind, and will—except for sin (Hebrews 2:17; 4:15).[2] Both the Church Fathers in the Conciliar Councils and the Author of the Biblical Scriptures show that Divinity was so conjoined and united with humanity, that the entire properties of each nature remain entire, and yet the two natures constitute only one Christ. Dr. Donald Macleod writes.

“The term ‘hypostatic union’ encapsulates three truths: that Christ is one person; that the union between his two natures arises from the fact that they both belong to one and the same person; and that this one person, the son of God, is the Agent behind all of the Lord’s actions, the Speaker of all his utterances and the Subject of all his experiences.”[3]

Everything we try to give some proximity to needs to be written with the clear realization that everything is unique when we try to speak about the complete reality of Jesus Christ. We sometimes fall into certain snares when we try to communicate the mystery of Godliness” (1 Tim 3:16) as St.Paul has said. In human affairs, therefore, nothing analogous to this great mystery can be found, nevertheless, the notion of the hypostatic union is paradoxical, yet not contradictory. Greg Boyd noted:

“it’s important to distinguish between a paradox and a contradiction. When we can’t understand how two things can be conjoined, it is a paradox. A contradiction, however, is when two things that logically contradict each other are nevertheless conjoined. We are simultaneously asserting “A” and “not-A.”  A “married bachelor” is a contradiction, for to be “married” means one is no longer a “bachelor.” By contrast, there is nothing in the meaning of having “wave properties” that logically rules out also having “particle properties.” We just can’t conceive of how these properties can be conjoined in one and the same reality (light), which is why light-wave duality is called a “paradox.”[4]

The Heretics

Without going into extensive detail, in the History of the Church, there were some individuals and groups that struggled to articulate the distinctions of the God-Man. There were some notable heresies formulated in their attempts to describe this reality. One of the earliest influences on some of the communities was ancient Gnosticism which held that some can receive enlightenment when they know certain secret realities. They were clear dualists and assumed that the temporal world in some sense should be ridiculed and the Spiritual reality is pre-eminent. One of the earliest heresies called Docetism assumed that Jesus was Divine but He only appeared to be a man like us. Another problematic perspective called Adoptionism, believed Jesus only became the Son of God at His Baptism. Another group called the Nestorians held that Jesus was two persons that assumed one reality and the Apollinarians believed that Christ’s Divine Will consumed and overshadowed His human will. The Monophysites believed Jesus only had one nature and that was Divine. Another early heresy was called Cerinthianism, influenced by Gnostic and Jewish metaphysics they held that Christ inhabited Jesus the Man, but left him just before the Crucifixion.

The last two perspectives I want to mention have been revised in the last few years through various discussions. Subordinationism was the idea the Son was less than the Father in essence and attributes, that being said, some contemporary scholars debated the notion and opted for the Son being only ‘lesser’ in His divine task during His assumed incarnation. Another perspective that has received some discussion is what was known as the Kenotic heresy. They held that Jesus gave up and emptied Himself of certain Divine attributes while assuming His body during His incarnation.

The Fathers

These are but some of the most noticeable perspectives that missed in one way or another the reality of what is described in Scripture. John of Damascus describes what is held dear to Christians amongst all of these problematic perspectives in his Exposition of the Orthodox faith and remarks.

“For the flesh of God, the Word did not subsist as an independent subsistence, nor did there arise another subsistence besides that of God the Word, but as it existed in that it became rather a subsistence which subsisted in another, than one which was an independent subsistence. Wherefore, neither does it lack subsistence altogether, nor yet is there thus introduced into the Trinity another subsistence.”[5]

In other words, we note that the properties of the soul of Christ seem to be transferred to the body Christ assumes, and the properties of the body to the soul. Yet this reality describes only one man, not more than one. The mode of the man Jesus Christ finds its fullest expression intimate in One reality explicated in two compounds, and these two different natures constitute one Person, the man Christ Jesus. There might be some help when we look at some of the figures of speech which the ancients termed “idiomaton koinonia”, (a communication of properties). Donald Macleod notes:

“the relation between the two natures in the person of Christ is entirely different from that between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in the eternal Trinity. This latter relationship is inter-personal: I-Thou and face-to-face… the human nature of Christ certainly did not stand in an I-Thou relationship to his divine. Equally, the union between divine and human in Christ does not correspond to that between soul does not take a body.”[6]

In the “Tome of Leo” – A very influential text in the development of the understanding of the affirmations on the person of Christ. Leo the First writes in the third paragraph.

“therefore to the properties of either nature and substance which then came together in one person, majesty took on humility, strength weakness, eternity mortality: and for the paying off of the debt belonging to our condition inviolable nature was united with passible nature, so that, as suited the needs of our case, one and the same Mediator between GOD and men, the Man Christ Jesus, could both die with the one and not die with the other. Thus, in the whole and perfect nature of true man was true GOD born, complete in what was His own, complete in what was ours.”[7] 

The quest of the Church Father was to negotiate the terms of this union. Even though it is the Scriptures and not the councils that give us some proximity we can still maintain and navigate an understanding from what they said. Unfortunately, some Christians have not read outside of the context of the Scriptures, this seems to be a discipline left to scholars and professionals. But, Christians need to give some account for what they believe when they speak of this combination of the twofold nature in Christ they profess. They obviously need to do so carefully, and can with the guidance of the earlier Church Fathers grounded in the Scriptures.

In Conclusion 

In the next few weeks, I will try to unpack what exactly we mean when we speak about the God-Man, Jesus Christ. In doing so, I will use the Biblical Scriptures as the foundation of these truths, and we can see what the Church Fathers and contemporary Scholars tried to say.


Pastor Rudolph. 



[1] The Incarnation: An Interdisciplinary Symposium on the Incarnation of the Son of God Edited By Stephen T. Davis, Daniel Kendall, SJ, Gerald O’Collins, SJ.

[2] https://earlychurchtexts.com/public/gregoryofnaz_critique_of_apolliniarianism.htm Gregory of Nazianzus writes. “That which he has not assumed he has not healed.”

[3] The Person of Christ: Contours of Christian Theology. Pg.189.

[4] https://reknew.org/2014/01/the-incarnation-paradox-or-contradiction/


[5] https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/33043.htm

[6] Ibid, Pg.190.

[7] https://earlychurchtexts.com/public/leo_tome.htm