Post Author: Bill Pratt
If Jesus is God, and God is uncaused, immaterial, omniscient, omnipotent, and eternal (and lots of other things), then don’t we have a problem with Jesus being a real man who lived in 1st century Palestine? After all, Jesus grew tired, but God doesn’t get tired; Jesus sometimes didn’t know things, but God knows everything; Jesus died, but God can’t die; Jesus has a human body, but God doesn’t have a body. I think you get the point. How does the Christian church deal with this problem?
Well, before we get to the Christian church, one approach that has been taken by some religious groups over the last two millennia is just to give up on the idea that Jesus is God. If he is less than God, then all these questions go away. Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses are two groups that took this approach, but they are just the latest in a long line. The problem with this approach is that it contradicts the Bible’s clear teaching that Jesus is God (see the series of posts on how we know Jesus is God). So this approach fails to take seriously the biblical data.
The approach that the Christian church has taken is to accept the fact that the Bible teaches that Jesus is both God and man. In the early church, there was a couple centuries of debate about how this works, until the Council of Chalcedon came together in AD 451 to settle the issue. Here is the creed that resulted from the Council:
We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a rational soul and body; consubstantial with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ, as the prophets from the beginning have declared concerning him, and the Lord Jesus Christ himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.
What does all that mean? It means, among other things, that Jesus is one person composed of two natures: human and divine. The creed repeats the words Godhead and Manhood several times to hammer the point home. So, whenever we ask any question about Jesus, we have to specify whether we are asking about his divine nature or his human nature. In his divine nature, he is omniscient, eternal, and uncaused. In his human nature, he was tired, he needed food, he didn’t know everything, and he even died. Two natures, two sets of questions about Jesus.
The church never went so far as to try and explain how exactly Jesus’ two natures interacted; they set boundaries around what was acceptable, based on Scripture, and captured it in the above creed. Many theologians have attempted to go further with this doctrine and explain in more detail how this is possible, but these details, to my knowledge, have never been formally adopted into creeds of the church.