#274

July 15, 2012

Was Christ a Divine-Human Person?

Dear Dr. Craig

I have read many of your books, regularly listen to your podcasts, and have heard you speak in-person. I am trying to untangle a question, and I need your help.

I need clarification about the person of Christ, so I can effectively answer unitarian theists such as Moslems and resolve my own confusion.

In Christ, we find a unique person who is fully God and fully man. So we might represent this in an equation as follows: God + man = Christ.

We know from the Bible that we are to worship God alone, yet the person of Christ accepts worship from Thomas and is addressed in prayer by Stephen.

But how can this be, since Christ is not God alone but forever the God-man? As a Christian, I am not worshiping Christ's human body, but I am worshiping his person. And that person is not solely God but also man. Does this not violate the scriptural principle of worshiping God alone?

Please help me untangle my thinking, so I can effectively communicate to others. Thank you.

Kerry

United States

Your question raises subtle but important issues in Christology, Kerry. The orthodox doctrine promulgated at the Council of Chalcedon (451) is that Christ is one person with two complete natures, human and divine. So rather than say that Christ is “fully God and fully man,” which sounds like a contradiction, we should rather say with the Council that Christ is truly God and truly man (vere Deus, vere homo).

You are right that worship is to be directed to God alone and that worship is properly directed toward Jesus Christ in the New Testament. It follows that Christ is God. Moreover, you are correct in saying that we worship the person of Christ, that is, the person Christ is.

Where you err is in thinking that “that person is not solely God but also man.” That is a mistake. Christ is the second person of the Trinity, who pre-existed his incarnation. He is God, pure and simple. He is a divine person, not a divine-human person. For that reason medieval theologians were always careful never to refer to Jesus as a human person. He is a divine person who has assumed a human nature in addition to the divine nature that he already had. In virtue of having a complete human nature as well as a divine nature Christ is both God and man, human and divine. But he is not a human person. He is a divine person who possesses a human nature as well as a divine nature.

That this is the proper way of understanding the person of Christ is evident from some of the early Christological debates. For example, Nestorius, Archbishop of Constantinople, objected to Mary’s being called “the mother of God” (theotokos) because what she begat and bore in her womb was not the divine nature of Christ but his human nature. But the Council of Chalcedon ratified calling Mary “the mother of God” because the person she bore and gave birth to was divine. True, she did not beget his divine nature but his human nature; but the person she bore was the divine second person of the Trinity. So she is properly called the mother of God. Unfortunately, this expression was utterly (though understandably) misunderstood by Mohammed centuries later, to the lasting detriment of the religion he helped to found.

Moreover, the Council of Chalcedon and all theologians afterward were careful to deny that the individual human nature of Christ (that body/soul compound that walked the hills and shores of Galilee) was a person. That would be to postulate two persons in Christ, one human and one divine. The Church Fathers were insistent that there is only one person who Christ is, and that person is divine. The rule that all orthodox Christology must follow was this: neither divide the person nor confuse the natures.

Now obviously this doesn’t answer all the questions! Indeed, perhaps the hardest remains: How can one person have two natures, human and divine? In particular, if Christ had a complete human nature, then why wasn’t there a human person? These questions I’ve attempted to tackle in our Defenders podcasts on Doctrine of Christ, as well as in Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview.