The Doctrine of Christ (part 8)

May 05, 2008     Time: 00:43:18


Craig continues on the Doctrine of Christ (Christology). Christ is one person with two natures. Possible model of Christ's Deity and Humanity. Apolinarius. Rational soul and the body.

I was so impressed with the large crowd of students that came that night. I gave a talk on “Why Christianity?” We opened it up for questions. I was there for a couple of hours just dialoguing with students and answering questions. It was really exciting because not all of these students were believers. That was very obvious. In fact, afterwards I was talking with a certain group of students, and I thought, “Why aren’t these kids getting it?” They seemed to have so little understanding. I was told later that this was a Mormon student that I was talking with. So of course he had a totally different conception of what God is like and what being a Christian is. Another student there was an agnostic. It was really a very good ministry and really exciting to see what is happening at those 3D meetings.

In connection with this, I read an article in World Magazine this week on what American teenagers generally believe. This is by Gene Edward Veith.[1] I wanted to read some of this to you. He has reference to a book by Melinda Denton and Christian Smith published by Oxford University Press called Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. These authors are researches at the National Study of Youth and Religion at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. What their research reveals about what American teenagers believe is very interesting, so I wanted to read this to you.

They write:

After interviewing over 3,000 teenagers, the social scientists summed up their beliefs:

Here are what the typical belief structures of an American teenager is like. I want you to ask yourself as you listen to these: is this what you as a Christian believe? Does this represent your beliefs as a Christian?

(1) “A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.”

(2) “God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.”

(3) “The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.”

(4) “God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.”

(5) “Good people go to heaven when they die.”

If you are Joel Osteen, that represents pretty closely the kind of gospel that you preach. Choose to be happy. Look at each day as a gift from the Lord, from God. Look on the bright side. This belief system of American teenagers sadly is what a lot of preachers speak from our pulpits today. This is what teenagers have absorbed. Well, Veith goes on to say:

Even these secular researchers recognized that this creed is a far cry from Christianity, with no place for sin, judgment, salvation, or Christ.

Did you notice all of that was missing from that creed? Sin, judgment, Christ, salvation. None of that was part of that creed.

Instead, most teenagers believe in a combination of works righteousness, religion as psychological well-being, and a distant non-interfering god. Or, to use a technical term, “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.”

That is the term that they used to describe the beliefs of American teenagers. Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Veith says,

Ironically, many of these young deists are active in their churches.

I wondered how many of our JFBC teenagers would subscribe to this sort of a creed? He says,

“Most religious teenagers either do not really comprehend what their own religious traditions say they are supposed to believe,” conclude Mr. Smith and Ms. Denton, “or they do understand it and simply do not care to believe it.”

Another possibility is that they have learned what their churches are teaching all too well. It is not just teenagers who are moralistic therapeutic deists. This describes the beliefs of many adults too, and even what is taught in many supposedly evangelical churches.[2]

Mr. Smith and Ms. Denton recognize this. MTD has become the “dominant civil religion.” And it is “colonizing” American Christianity. To the point, these secular scholars conclude, “a significant part of Christianity in the United States is actually tenuously Christian in any sense that is seriously connected to the actual historical Christian tradition, but is rather substantially morphed into Christianity's misbegotten step-cousin, Christian Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.”

Consider how many Christian publications, sermons, and teachings are nothing but moralism. Sometimes morality is reduced to the simplistic MTD commandment "be nice," though often real morals are inculcated. But the common assumption is that being good is easy, just a matter of knowing what one should do and trying harder. The biblical truth that bad behavior is a manifestation of sin, a depravity that inheres in our fallen nature, is skimmed over. And so is the solution to sin: a life-changing faith in Jesus Christ.

Consider how many Christian publications, sermons, and teachings are primarily therapeutic. It is true that Christ can solve many of our problems. But much that passes for Christian teaching says nothing about Christ. Instead, it consists of pop psychology, self-help platitudes, and the power of positive thinking.

Consider how many Christian publications, sermons, and teachings talk about God in a generic way, but say nothing about the Father, who created and still sustains the world; the Son, who became Incarnate in this world to win our salvation; and the Holy Spirit, who works through the Word of God to bring us to faith.

Christianity is about grace, not moralism; changing lives, not making people feel better about themselves; the God made flesh, not an uninvolved deity. And that is better news than Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.

To which I say amen and amen. I just wanted to share that editorial with you. If you don’t know World Magazine by the way I would really encourage you to subscribe to it. It is a kind of Christian Time magazine, or Christian Newsweek, where it reports the news of the day from a Christian perspective. You will also find included in here articles on many aspects of religious news that the secular magazines won’t carry. For example, the persecution in Darfur in the Sudan, or what is happening in China, for example, in the crackdown on religious freedoms there. World Magazine is a tremendous resource for you, if you don’t know it yet. I would encourage you to have a look at a copy and get the subscription address.

[Opening prayer][3]

Let me say for those of you who are visitors or first timers here today, we are in the midst of a series talking about the doctrine of Christ, or Christology (that branch of Christian theology that deals with the person and the work of Christ). We have been talking for several weeks on the person of Christ. The central question that we are asking is: how can Christ be both God and man? If anything appears to be a contradiction, this is surely it. Yet, as we saw, the Bible affirms clearly both the deity and the humanity of Christ. So if you are joining us for the first time today, you are jumping in at the deep end, so to speak. You’ve not been able to wade in with the rest of us, so now you are called upon to swim in the deep end all of a sudden. I just want to say don’t be discouraged if you don’t understand everything that is going on here. We are not going to let you sink. Rather, stick with it. Stay with the class. I think you will enjoy the fellowship, food, and the rest of the class, and gradually as you learn to swim you will become more accustomed and your thinking will deepen and you will begin to understand the things we are talking about, though for a newcomer some of this may seem very new and strange.

[Dr. Craig discusses the outline for the students in his class.]

Remember we’ve come to the point in our class of trying to formulate a coherent doctrine of the person of Christ. I said as my point number one that we should agree with the Council of Chalcedon that Christ is one person having two natures: one human and one divine. This human nature and this divine nature that Christ possesses are full and complete natures, unattenuated and undiminished. The doctrine of the incarnation is not the doctrine that the second person of the Trinity somehow turned himself into a human being, as in ancient mythology. Zeus could turn himself into a bull or a swan to disguise himself. Rather the doctrine is that the second person of the Trinity – the Logos, the Word as John calls him – took on in addition to his divine nature another nature (a human nature) and so became incarnate in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

That much is uncontroversial. When we come to point two we now enter into areas that I want to explicitly say are controversial and speculative. So I am not presenting this as Bible truth. Rather, what I am presenting is a model or a possible way of understanding Christ’s deity and humanity. I think this is a biblical consistent model. I think it is logically coherent. But I am presenting it merely as a proposal; as a possibility. So if you disagree with me, that is just fine. I welcome that. But I am laying it out here as a possible way of understanding the deity and the humanity of Christ.

My second point is: I think we should agree with Apollinaris (who you will recall is one of the early Logos theologians) that the Logos was the rational soul of Jesus.[4] You will recall that Apollinaris was an early church father who held that human beings are made up of three parts: a body, an animal soul (which vivifies the body – makes it alive), and then a rational soul (or the mind). Apollinaris held that in the incarnation the mind of Jesus of Nazareth was replaced by the Logos – the second person of the Trinity. So Jesus of Nazareth had a human body, he had a human animal soul, then he had the mind of the Logos – the second person of the Trinity. I think in saying this what Apollinaris correctly perceived was that if we are to avoid a duality of two persons in Christ there needs to be some sort of a common constituent that links the two natures together in Christ.

On the orthodox view, if we think of God as the Father, the Holy Spirit, and the Son (the second person of the Trinity), the Son is a self-conscious person. He is the second person of the Trinity. Then we think of the man Jesus of Nazareth who was the individual who lived in Palestine during the first century. He was also a self-conscious individual. The difficulty is how do you get a genuine incarnation here of the second person of the Trinity into Jesus of Nazareth unless there is some common constituent there. What Apollinaris did was to say that the mind of Jesus of Nazareth was in fact the Logos, the second person of the Trinity. Thereby you have a genuine incarnation.

So on the orthodox view according to Chalcedon you will remember there is one hypostasis – one individual who bears these natures. One person, if you will. This one person, or hypostasis, has two natures – a human nature and a divine nature. The question is how can that be possible? If you have these separate natures and each one has its own individual self-consciousness and mind, how do you not have two persons? Well, Apollinaris proposed that by replacing the rational mind of Jesus of Nazareth with the Logos (the second person of the Trinity) you have the Logos united with a human being in the same way that the soul is united with the body. So just as in each of us our soul is united with our body so in the incarnation the second person of the Trinity is united with the body of Jesus of Nazareth. On Apollinaris’ view I think it is very easy to see how one person could exemplify two natures. One person has a divine nature, and he has a human nature, and he is just one person.

Unfortunately, Apollinaris’ view was radically defective as it stood in his day. You will remember there were two objections that were primarily lodged against Apollinaris’ view. The first one was that a complete human nature involves more than just an animal body. We have animal bodies that are very similar to other primates like chimpanzees or the other great apes. If all the Logos assumed was this primate, hominid body then you don’t really have a complete nature in Christ. All you have is the second person of the Trinity assuming animality – an animal nature, not a human nature. That was the first objection.[5]

The second objection that was made to Apollinaris’ view was that it not only undercut Christ’s person but it undercut Christ’s work as well. Because if Christ didn’t truly have a human nature then he could not redeem human nature. His sacrifice from the cross would be inefficacious because he didn’t really share humanity. All he had was an animal nature, not a human nature, and therefore he couldn’t redeem humanity.

The question I want to raise is: are these defects of Apollinaris’ view irremediable? Or is it possible to rehabilitate Apollinaris’ view to make it acceptable? I didn't think these defects are irremediable. I think we can understand Apollinaris’ view in such a way that it becomes acceptable.

Apollinaris thought that the Logos – the second person of the Trinity – was the archetypal man. That is to say, he was the archetype of humanity. The Logos was all that a human being should be. In that sense, in his preexistent form even before he created the universe, the Logos already contained within himself human nature, Apollinaris thought, as being the archetype of humanity. Apollinaris’ opponents like Gregory Nazianzen (that we looked at before) thought that Apollinaris meant that the flesh of Christ was therefore somehow preexistent; that prior to his incarnation in Mary’s womb the Logos already had human flesh. That is obviously unbiblical. But Apollinaris needn’t be understood in that way, I don’t think. What Apollinaris may have meant was that prior to assuming human flesh (prior to the incarnation) the Logos had every property sufficient to make up a human person or a human self. The only thing that he lacked for a complete human nature would be a hominid body – an animal body. So by assuming this hominid body in the incarnation the Logos takes on everything that will complete a human nature by virtue of the union of the Logos with the flesh. So as a result of his union with the flesh, Christ did have a complete human nature because the Logos brought to the flesh those qualities that are necessary for human personhood like self-consciousness, intellect, freedom of the will, and so forth. The Logos already had those prior to the incarnation. He brought to the flesh all of the properties that were necessary to constitute a full human nature. So by virtue of its union with the flesh you do have a complete human nature in Christ.

I think we can understand this even more fully in light of the biblical doctrine of the image of God. According to Scripture and Christian theology, human beings are made in the image of God, or in the Latin imago dei. Clearly, human beings are not made in God’s image in virtue of our physical bodies because God doesn’t have a physical body. God is an unembodied person or persons. Therefore the image of God doesn’t mean that God is like a man with a body and a long white beard sitting in heaven. Rather, God as we’ve seen is spirit, God is personal. Therefore, insofar as we are persons, we bear his image. We, like God, are persons and are therefore able to relate to God on a personal level. So God already possesses the properties sufficient for personhood even prior to the incarnation in Christ. The only thing that the Logos lacks for a complete human nature is the body – the flesh or animality. He already possessed in his pre-incarnate state the properties sufficient for personhood.[6] In assuming a human body the Logos brings to the flesh just those properties which will serve to constitute a full human nature of body and soul – rational soul conjoined with a physical animal body.

Therefore, I think we can say that on this understanding Christ does have a complete divine nature (which he had before the incarnation) and he has a complete human nature (composed of rational soul and body subsequent to the incarnation).

So that nullifies the first objection which says that in the incarnation Christ didn’t have a complete human nature but merely a truncated human nature. On the contrary, he does. Because he has a complete human nature that also nullifies the second objection which says that he cannot die on behalf of humanity because he doesn’t have a complete human nature, because now we see that he does and therefore his work on the cross is efficacious for humanity.


Student: In the Kenotic Christology, you talked about the properties and the predicate. My understanding of what this predicate thing was is that it is what you aren’t. I am just wondering if you have the nature of God? I always think of a human nature is – if you are omniscient and all-powerful then you are not human. So how do you resolve the predicate from the property?

Dr. Craig: This is a very good and very deep question. What I want to say in response to that is this. Being omniscient is not incompatible with being human. It is incompatible with being merely human. A merely human being would not be omniscient. But for a person who has two natures, one divine and one human, that is not incompatible for him to be human and yet also to be an omniscient person because he is not merely human, he has a divine nature as well as a human nature.

Student: Would there be a difference between the mind of the unfallen Adam and Christ?

Dr. Craig: I think the answer to that is certainly because Adam’s mind was not one of the persons of the Trinity. So it is not divine. Adam is merely human. He has only one nature. But Christ has two natures. In that sense there is a difference. But I think that Christ has a complete human nature in the sense that he has a body and a rational soul. That is what is necessary to have a human nature.

Student: So Adam would have something more like perhaps what the resurrected Christian might have but something missing?

Dr. Craig: Right. That is right. It would be an unfallen but nevertheless merely human nature. That is what Adam had.

Student: Every time I get to Christology, I wonder. There are two ways to think about it; how do you practically work through it? I see how you can practically work through it in Jesus and his ministry. But how about Jesus at five years old?

Dr. Craig: This is a very, very good question because one of the deficits with this view as explained thus far is that if the rational mind of Jesus of Nazareth is the Logos then doesn’t that imply that the baby Jesus lying in the manger is contemplating Newton’s infinitesimal calculus and knows quantum mechanics and could instruct you about quantum chemistry if you were to ask him?[7] That would seem so because the Logos is omniscient. Yet that clearly is wrong. That would create a monstrosity, not a genuine baby. We know that Jesus increased in wisdom and knowledge as he grew older. So we are going to need to modify this Apollinarian view. I will modify it next week. But you are right in saying that. So far this view doesn’t solve all the problems. What it does so far, I think, is it gets us a genuine incarnation of one person with two natures. But now we need to face the question: how can this be a faithful portrait of the Jesus in the Gospels? I will deal with that in my third point.

Student: This notion of an animalistic nature I find kind of bothersome. How do you relate that to the way we view humans?

Dr. Craig: I think we have an animal nature in that we have a body that is a biological organism. We are biological organisms. But we are not just a biological organism because I agree with Apollinaris that we have an immaterial soul. In other words, I am not a materialist. I was talking to someone before class about a Christian theologian I know who is a materialist. She doesn’t believe there is such a thing as an immaterial soul. She thinks all we are are animals. But I would disagree with that. I say we do have an animal body. I understand from biologists that our DNA is about 99% identical to the DNA of a chimpanzee. There are huge phenotypical differences between a chimpanzee and a human being in virtue of that 1% that is not shared, but nevertheless we have bodies that are primate type bodies. But what makes us persons – what make us in the imago dei – is not our body; it is our rational soul. God is spirit, and we, too, have an immaterial component to our being – our soul or spirit – which makes us like him. So I don’t think you need to be disturbed when I talk about our or Jesus having an animal body. If you don’t like the word animal then just say biological. That is all I mean.

Student: I guess my problem is that I see humans as distinct creations from animals. That is we are not just hominids, for example. I think we were created distinctly as human beings apart from the animal kingdom.

Dr. Craig: All right. I don’t see how that speaks to what I just said. After all, God could create a cat and a dog. They would be distinct from each other. Say you believe in special creationism where you don’t think there is any evolutionary continuity between types or species. That means everything is a special creation of God. But clearly there are biological similarities and types of animals. Insofar as one speaks of our bodies we are biological organisms even if special creations of God. What makes us in the image of God, I think, is that we are persons. That is in virtue of our souls. So I don’t think I am saying anything here that is radical or sub-orthodox.

Student: What do you mean by animal soul?

Dr. Craig: In ancient Greek philosophy, it was believed that even animals have souls. The difference between a dead cat and a live cat is that the live cat has an animating soul that makes it alive, and the dead cat doesn’t. My colleague, J. P. Moreland, who works a lot in this area, believes in this as well. He thinks that souls come with a variety of faculties and capacities. So he thinks animals have souls, but they are much more poorly endowed with their faculties and capacities than our human souls which are endowed with faculties of intellect, volition, and so forth sufficient for freedom and personhood. So I am not committing us to the belief in an animal soul, but that is what Apollinaris held, and it is a view that some people hold today.[8] The key thing I want to differentiate is between the rational soul and the body. That is the key distinction I want to stick with.

Student: In the first diagram that you had, it almost indicates that part of Christ – the Son part of the Trinity – was in heaven while there was the incarnate Son that was on Earth. To me the second diagram would indicate that that third part of the Trinity – the Scripture don’t seem to me to indicate that the Father shared a fellowship with his Son in heaven while the 33 years he was on Earth; he just shared fellowship with him in the garden and his prayer life. It doesn’t seem there were two dichotomous examples of the Son.

Dr. Craig: Well, in saying that you would disagree with a lot of Christian orthodox theologians. I think, for example, the theologian Huldrych Zwingli, the great Swiss Reformer. Zwingli held that the Logos, even during the incarnate state, continued in heaven to be there. He didn’t vacate heaven. He continued to have fellowship with the Father. He had a quite independent consciousness from the consciousness of Jesus of Nazareth. This is the view that a lot of theologians have held down through history. The individual Jesus of Nazareth had this kind of human consciousness and then you had the divine Logos which has a quite distinct self-consciousness but that somehow these two are one person. That is a very, very difficult conception, I think. I think that is the strength of Apollinaris’ view – he puts these together so that there is a single self-consciousness in the incarnate Christ.

Student: When Christ was resurrected, was his body merged then with his spirit, with his God nature?

Dr. Craig: No, the orthodox doctrine of the resurrection is that while Christ’s humanity is glorified he retains his human nature even in his exalted and ascended state. That is the lesson of the resurrection and ascension. Christ didn’t abandon his body and go off to heaven, nor was the body dissolved. Rather, the body is glorified. Paul talks about this in 1 Corinthians 15 when he talks about how the resurrection body will be a supernatural, glorious, incorruptible, and powerful body such as Christ had in the post-resurrection state and with which he ascended to heaven. As I said last week, one of the marvels of the incarnation and one of the affirmations of the value of bodily existence is that the second person of the Trinity takes his incarnate state into eternity, into glory, and doesn’t discard it. The incarnation was not a temporary state of 30 years for Jesus. It is a permanent state that the second person of the Trinity takes on. But it is a glorified state obviously after the resurrection.

Student: That brings up another question – his crucifixion and death. Were the two natures then separated temporarily?

Dr. Craig: On this view they would be separated in the sense that the soul and the body would be separated. That is what death is. Death is the separation of the soul from the body. In that sense, there would be a sort of separation. But the Logos would still have his rational soul – that is the soul properly belonging to Jesus of Nazareth. In that sense it would still continue. But there would be death. There would be the separation of the soul and body in that sense.

Student: I am a little confused about this idea that the Logos had all the necessary traits to be a human rational soul except for the body, and this happens in the incarnation. Let me ask a question to try to get at that a little bit.[9] Is that unique to the Logos, or would the Father and the Holy Spirit also have the necessary pieces to be human except for a body?

Dr. Craig: The latter. The Father and the Holy Spirit also being personal would also have those properties to constitute a complete human nature were they to become incarnate. Because the doctrine is that we are created in the image of God, not just the image of the Logos or the image of the Son.

Student: I don’t know if I am jumping ahead here or not but, was Christ actually capable of sinning while he was on the Earth? Or was he incapable of doing that?

Dr. Craig: You are getting ahead. We will deal with that issue because like the problem of omniscience that was raised, we can ask ourselves how could Jesus of Nazareth possibly sin if his mind is the Logos? God cannot be tempted with sin, the Scripture says. Nor can God sin. He is what the theologians call impeccable. Impeccable means incapable of sin. If the Logos is impeccable then how can Christ sin? If he cannot sin, how can he be tempted to sin? That is a further objection to this Apollinarian view that we are going to need to deal with, and that I plan to talk about next week when we get to this subject of the problem of Christ’s omniscience.

Obviously this doesn’t solve everything. But we are doing this in a stepwise procedure. I think what we get from Apollinaris is that we avoid Nestorianism. Remember Nestorianism was the view that there were two persons – one human and one divine. And if you have two complete natures each with a self-consciousness, it is very, very difficult to see how you can avoid having two persons. Why don’t you have Nestorianism? I think Apollinaris avoids Nestorianism very neatly by saying that the rational soul of Jesus of Nazareth was in fact the divine Logos. By being united with the flesh, the Logos brings into being a complete human nature which was the man Jesus of Nazareth.


Next week we will say a little bit more about point 2, then we will move on to our third point in light of the serious questions that you’ve raised. So keep thinking about these things. You are obviously on the right track. These are great questions. We will try to deal with them next time.[10]

[1] Gene Edward Veith, “A nation of deists” World Magazine, June 25, 2005. See (accessed February 20, 2015).

[2] 5:08

[3] 10:15

[4] 15:20

[5] 20:06

[6] 25:03

[7] 30:20

[8] 35:14

[9] 40:08

[10] Total Running Time: 43:19 (Copyright © 2008 William Lane Craig)