A. The Biblical View
- The Two Natures
- Definition of ‘Nature’ and ‘Person’
- The Meaning of ‘Unipersonality’
- The Nature of the Incarnation and Hypostatic Union
- Communication of Properties
- Kenotic Theories
- The Necessity of the Hypostatic Union
- Christological Errors
- Historic Christian Creeds and Confessions
One of the great failures of Muslims in terms of their apologetic stance against Christianity, both with regard to the Qur’an and modern Islamic polemics is the absence of any detailed examination of the Christian doctrine of the Hypostatic Union – the dogma that Jesus is simultaneously divine and human whilst yet one person. The Qur’an, it will be seen, never addresses this issue. Among modern Islamic polemicists, there appears to be a definite shyness about investigating the topic. For example, Baagil in his supposed discourse with a Christian presents the latter as stating that Jesus ‘…is both God and man’, whilst the Muslim respondent merely limits himself to rhetorically querying if Jesus actually claimed that? 1 Ahmed Deedat has published a booklet entitled The God that never was, that essentially examines texts dealing with the human nature of Jesus, and presents this as ‘God’ doing human physical functions. 2 Yet Deedat could not have been unaware that the historical Christian position is that Christ was both divine and human.
Of course, the doctrine of the Hypostatic Union is a supernatural paradox – that Jesus could be simultaneously finite and infinite, etc., but then, God’s dealings with humanity are not subject to human patterns of thought. Human beings are finite, and liable both to sin and err. The finite mind cannot fathom the mysteries of God. Ultimately, God can only be known through His own self-revelation. Only the infinite can express the infinite. Yet the infinite must be expressed in terms of the finite because it is revealed to the finite. Hence, the Incarnation is a necessary action because of revelation alone – God, taking human nature alongside His divine nature, expresses the infinite in terms of the finite. Thus, Jesus reveals the divine nature in terms of His holiness, His love, His power, and His revelatory action. For this reason Jesus is the supreme revelation of God – He reveals the Father, John 1:18; whoever has seen Him has seen the Father. He who is God is also the Word of God. He is the climax of revelation, Hebrews 1:1-2. To encounter Him is to encounter God Himself, and thus experience the infallible revelation.
Islam agrees with Christianity that God can only be fully known through His self-revelation, since the finite reason of Man cannot comprehend the infinitude of deity. Left to fallible native reason, human beings would always conceive God in terms with which they could understand, with respect to features with which they were familiar. That is, men always seek for analogy. Analogy has its limits with regard to God, precisely because He is unlimited, and, moreover, incomparable, since there is only one, unique deity – a tenet of faith common to Islam and the Bible. Clearly, the concept of the Hypostatic Union has no consistent analogy in nature.
Another point of commonality between Islam and Christianity is belief in the incomprehensibility of God. This is a consequence of the unique, transcendent nature of deity, and of human finitude. All human attempts to comprehend Him apart from revelation are inadequate and doomed to failure. Berkhof notes that this was the teaching of the Protestant Reformers:
To Calvin, God in the depths of His being is past finding out. ‘His essence’, he says, ‘is incomprehensible; so that His divinity escapes all human senses.’ The Reformers do not deny that man can learn something of the nature of God from His creation, but maintain that he can acquire true knowledge of Him only from special revelation, under the illuminating influence of the Holy Spirit. 3
This is a position with which Muslims are bound to agree. For example, one Muslim writer observes the following about the incomprehensibility of God:
‘But to have complete knowledge of God is beyond man’s ability. Man is finite and Allah is infinite…The creature cannot comprehend the Creator; “They (mankind) cannot encompass Him (Allah) with their knowledge”. Ta-ha, 20:110. Islam preaches that mankind should only refer to Allah as He has referred to Himself. There is no scope what-so-ever for inventing new ideas about Him or thinking of Him in a manner that suits us.’ 4
Similarly, Yusuf Ali comments on S. 112:
The nature of Allah is here indicated to us in a few words, such as we can understand.
The qualities of Allah are described in numerous places elsewhere, e.g., in lix. 22-24, lxii. 1, and ii. 255. Here we are specially taught to avoid the pitfalls into which men and nations have fallen at various times in trying to understand Allah. The first thing we have to note is that His nature is so sublime, so far beyond our limited conceptions, that the best way in which we can realise Him is to feel that He is a Personality, ‘He’, and not a mere abstract conception of philosophy. He is near us; He cares for us; we owe our existence to Him. Secondly, He is the One and Only God, the Only One to Whom worship is due; all Other things or beings that we can think of are His creatures and in no way comparable to Him. Thirdly, He is Eternal, without beginning or end, Absolute, not limited by time or place or circumstance, the Reality. Fourthly, we must not think of Him as having a son or a father, for that would be to import animal qualities into our conception of Him. Fifthly, He is not like any other person or thing that we know or can imagine: His qualities and nature are unique.
The divergence between Islam and Christianity begins when we consider the identity of divine self-revelation. Islam claims it is the Qur’an; Christianity holds that it is found in the Bible and supremely in Jesus Christ as the Word of God. Hence, Muslims can scarcely object to the doctrine of the Hypostatic Union because it is paradoxical and does not conform to their ideas of human reason, for the very reason that finite human reason is incapable of comprehending the divine essence, and thus fully understanding the Hypostatic Union. The great Princeton theologian A. A. Hodge observed that the very nature of the Incarnation does not allow for adequate analogy or comprehensibility:
The Person of the incarnate God is unique. His birth has had no precedents and his existence no analogy. He cannot be explained by being referred to a class, nor can he be illustrated by an example… This unique personality, as it surpasses all analogy, also transcends all understanding. The proud intellect of man is constantly aspiring to remove all mysteries and to subject the whole sphere of existence to the daylight of rational explanation. Such attempts are constantly ending in the most grotesque failure. Even in the material world it is true that omnia exeunt in mysterium. If we cannot explain the relation which the immaterial soul sustains to the organized body in the person of man, why should We be surprised to find that all attempts to explain the intimate relations which the eternal Word and the human soul and body sustain to each other in the Person of Christ have miserably failed? 5
This paper will attempt to explain the doctrine of the Hypostatic Union to Muslims, illustrating how Jesus is concurrently divine and human. It will also study what the Qur’an has to say on the subject, and consider the implications of Qur’anic Christology, both in terms of what it denies, and what it presents as Christian doctrine.
A. The Biblical view
Although this is not the place for an extended treatment of either the humanity or deity of Christ, it is as well to give a short overview of some of the evidence for both these doctrines.
(a) Humanity of Christ
Today, this doctrine is rarely questioned, though we shall see that this was not always the case. We should firstly observe that whilst the conception of Jesus was supernatural, He had a normal human birth, Matthew 1:25, Luke 2:7, Galatians 4:4. Also, He experienced a normal human development – Luke 2:40-52, Hebrews 5:8. He ‘grew’ in wisdom. His Messianic consciousness begins to find expression at the age of twelve, and is perfected at the Baptism – Luke 3:22.
Jesus spoke of Himself as a Man, John 8:40, and is so termed by others – Acts 2:22, 1 Corinthians 15:21. He had a body and soul – Matthew 26:26, 38, Luke 24:39. He was subject to human wants and sufferings – Matthew 4:2, 8:24: hunger – Matthew 21:18; thirst – Matthew 11:19; weariness – John 4:6. He experienced true agony – Mark 14:33-36. Also, He genuinely knew the emotions of love – John 1:5, sorrow, Matthew 26:37, and anger Mark 3:5. In order to be the antitype of Adam, ‘bearer of destiny’ Romans 5:17ff, He must be true Man.
As a true man He worships the Father – Luke 4:16, and prays – 3:21, 6:12. He had, as a man, limited knowledge – Mark 6:38, Luke 2:46, Mark 13:32. However, it must be noted that He was sinless – Hebrews 4:15 – John 8:46, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Hebrews 9:14, 1 Peter 2:22, 1 John 3:5. He resisted temptation. He was not a superman, but a true man filled with the Holy Spirit; His miracles are performed in the power of the Spirit.
(b) Deity of Christ
This is explicitly taught in John 1:1 – ‘the Word was God'; Greek scholars unanimously reject the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New World Translation perversion. Michael Bremmer’s article The Deity of Jesus Christ explores the magisterial work of Walter Martin on the Watchtower cult, and their distortion of this verse, a mistranslation that is beginning to be employed by Muslim apologists. 6 The Word was God. The syntax of John 1:1 is instructive in this regard, by virtue of placing the definite predicate before the verb but without the definite article (‘Colwell’s rule’):
‘En arxh ‘hn ‘o logos, kai ‘o logos’hn pros ton qeon, kai qeos’hn ‘o logos.
Not only does it affirm that Jesus (the Word) is God, it also demonstrates that the Godhead is not exhausted in Jesus, that is, that Jesus is not alone God, but rather there are more persons than the Son in the Godhead. Jesus is called ‘Lord’ – kurios – Jews used this to render ‘YHWH’, and we find it employed in Romans 10:9 – ‘confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord’. John 8:58 presents Him as claiming the personal name of God, ‘I am’ (YHWH). Cf. also Colossians 1:15; 2:9; Philippians 2:6-11; 2 Thessalonians 1:12; Hebrews 1:8-10; 1 John 5:20. Jesus, in John 5:22-23, states that all men may give Him equal honour as to the Father, and since the honour we give to God is worship, Jesus must be God. It is clear from John 5:18-19 that the Jews recognised Jesus as claiming deity.
YHWH is Shepherd of Israel – Psalm 23:1; Jesus is God Shepherd – John 10:11-16. Other texts pointing to the deity of Christ include John 20:28 – ‘My Lord and My God'; Acts 20:28 – ‘the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.’ It is likely that John 1:18 affirms the deity of Christ – ‘No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has revealed Him.’ The Greek makes this more explicit
yeon‘oudeiv‘ewrakenpwpote monogenhvyeov ‘o
‘wn‘eivton kolpontou patrov‘ekeinov‘exhghsato.
Romans 9:5 presents Jesus as ‘God over all’ – the context of sorrow over Israel’s fall precludes a doxology, and such does not usually appear in the middle of a passage. Doxologies usually refer to someone mentioned in the preceding sentence – Romans 1:25; 11:26; 2 Corinthians 11:31; Galatians 1:5; 2 Timothy 4:18. Whenever ‘euloghtov (‘blessed’) is used in an independent doxology, it always stands at the beginning of a sentence, e.g. 2 Corinthians 1:3; Ephesians 1:1; 1 Peter 1:3. As it stands, ‘God over all’ balances ‘concerning the flesh’. Christ is God over all.
Romans 14:10 refers to the Judgment Seat of God, and 2 Corinthians 5:10 ascribes it to Christ. Titus 2:13 speaks of the ‘great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, as does 2 Peter 1:1. If God and Jesus were distinguished, there would normally need to be a definite article before ‘Saviour’, but it is absent, so the texts affirm Christ’s deity. Revelation 1:17, 18; 2:8; 22:12, 13, 16 all refer to Jesus as Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End – used of God in Isaiah 41:4; 44:6; 48:12.
The Greek word hypostasis ‘upostasiv essentially means ‘substance’, hence its employment in Hebrews 11:1. The Christological controversies of the Early Church were often reducible to semantics, rather than concrete issues. Often it was because one word was used in a certain way in one area (e.g. Antioch) whilst a different area employed it otherwise (e.g. Alexandria) that problems arose. Nonetheless, the formula that was eventually accepted essentially made hypostasis equivalent to ‘person’, hence it is said that there are three hypostases in one divine essence – ousia ‘ousia. Probably the best definition is that of ‘the essence of an individual in virtue of which it is itself’. Thus, equivalent to ‘person’.
The Greek word translated as ‘nature’ is fusiv phusis (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:14; James 3:7). This is best understood as a substance (essence, being) possessed in common. Berkhof gives a helpful aid to definition:
The term ‘nature’ denotes the sum-total of all the essential qualities of a thing, that which makes it what it is. A nature is a substance possessed in common, with all the essential qualities of such a substance. The term “person” denotes a complete substance endowed with reason, and, consequently, a responsible subject of its own actions. Personality is not an essential and integral part of a nature but is, as it were, the terminus to which it tends. A person is a nature with something added, namely, independent subsistence, individuality. Now the Logos assumed a human nature that was not personalized, that did not exist by itself. 7
a) Not Adoptionism
The Second Person of the Trinity does not in a charismatic way endue a distinct human person. There is perfect identity between Jesus of Nazareth and God the Son. Rather, the eternal Word came as flesh on the human scene – John 1:14.
b) Not Bi-Personality
As implied above, there are not two beings i.e. ‘persons.’ in the Mediator; only two natures. Berkhof points out that there is no ‘distinction of ‘I’ and ‘Thou’ in the inner life of the Mediator, such as we find in the triune Being of God, where one person addresses the other… Jesus never uses the plural in referring to Himself.’ 8
c) Not Docetism/Impersonality
The humanity of Christ is genuine, so docetism is untenable; and in order to be truly human, Jesus as a man must possess all that is native to human nature, He had a human mind, spirit, tastes, needs, will and all else that corresponds to the inner and exterior life of a normal man. Thus, the humanity of Christ may be said to be ‘personal’ without being a person – i.e. it does not possess an independent subsistence. We will examine this further later.
d) Not Metamorphosis
We are not presented with a case of metamorphosis whereby God the Son changes into a man, in the same manner as humans change into animals or vice versa in legends or fairy tales, Rather, the integrity of the deity is preserved. Without ceasing to be divine, God the Son assumes another (i.e. human) nature alongside His deity. John Murray observes in relation to John 1:14 ‘…lest we should interpret the incarnation in terms of transmutation or divestiture, John hastens to inform us that, in beholding the incarnate Word, they beheld his glory as the glory of the only-begotten from the Father (John 1:14)… he proceeds to identify the only-begotten in his unabridged character as “God only-begotten who is in the bosom of the Father (v. 18).’ 9
The Second Person of the Trinity, whilst remaining God, assumed a human nature alongside His divine nature. This means we are dealing with the same Person who appeared to Moses and Joshua, the same Person who created the Cosmos. Deity being immutable and impassible, no change occurs in the Divine Logos. He remains the Creator and Maintainer of all things. We thus are presented with a Jesus who is at one point designated by the divine title, Acts 20:28; 1 Corinthians 2:8; Colossians 1:13, 14, and likewise with regard to the human title – John 3:13; 6:62; Romans 9:5. Berkhof clearly presents the Evangelical position on this complex issue:
There is but one person in the Mediator, the unchangeable Logos. The Logos furnishes the basis for the personality of Christ… The human nature of Christ as such does not constitute a human person. The Logos did not adopt a human person, so that we have two persons in the Mediator, but simply assumed a human nature… At the same time it is not correct to speak of the human nature of Christ as impersonal. This is true only in the sense that this nature has no independent subsistence of its own. Strictly speaking, however, the human nature of Christ was not for a moment impersonal. The Logos assumed that nature into personal subsistence with Himself. The human nature has its personal existence in the person of the Logos. It is in-personal rather than impersonal. For that very reason we are not warranted to speak of the human nature of Christ as imperfect or incomplete. His human nature is not lacking in any of the essential qualities belonging to that nature, and also has individuality, that is, personal subsistence, in the person of the Son of God. 10
A. A. Hodge presents a similar picture, emphasising that what has occurred is that the eternal Second Person of the Trinity has assumed another nature, not adopted another person, whilst retaining His deity:
Again: the Scriptures teach us that this amazing personality does not centre in his humanity, and that it is not a composite one originated by the power of the Spirit when he brought the two natures together in the womb of the Virgin Mary. It was not made by adding manhood to Godhead. The Trinity is eternal and unchangeable. A new Person is not substituted for the second Person of the Trinity, neither is a fourth Person added to the Trinity But the Person of Christ is just the one eternal Word, the second Person of the Trinity, which in time, by the power of the Holy Ghost, through the instrumentality of the womb of the Virgin, took a human nature (not a man, but the seed of man, humanity in the germ) into personal union with himself. The Person is eternal and divine. The humanity is introduced into it. The centre of the personality always continues in the eternal personal Word or Son of God. 11
Against all adoptionist positions, this position must be emphasised – that the eternal Son of God assumed an individual human person. Neither was it simply a human body that He assumed, but rather human nature in its entirety – John 1:14 means this. It is usually presented that the human nature of Christ is in-personal, rather than impersonal – i.e. the human nature has no independent entity. It is important to note that this does not mean that the humanity possesses no free will or consciousness. This view is termed Enhypostasia; another view is Anhypostasia – view that the humanity of Christ was impersonal – He assumed ‘Man’, rather than becoming a man. The modern and very able theologian Bruce Milne explains these terms:
This terminology was coined in the 6th century by Leontius during discussions of the identity of the personal centre, the self-conscious ‘I’, of Jesus Christ. If this self-conscious ‘I’ was the divine Word, the human nature assumed lacked a human self-consciousness; this looked dangerously like the Apollinarian denial of Christ’s true humanity and hence of his fitness to act as our redeemer. The contrary theory, of a full human self-consciousness in Christ independent of and alongside the Logos, threatened the integrity of the incarnation as an act by which the pre-existent Son of God became man, and also gave rise to another person alongside and independent of the Logos, i.e. Jesus of Nazareth, who is then not the eternal Son of God and can neither reveal God nor bring God’s salvation to us.
Leontius proposed that, negatively, the human self-conscious ‘I’ had no existence of its own; it existed only within the hypostatic union with the Logos (Gk. an = without, hence anhypostasia).
Positively, he proposed that it is present and real only in (Gk. en) the divine ‘I’ (hence enhypostasia). This permits the assertion of full manhood but retains the biblical recognition that the essential self-hood of the God-man is that of the eternal Son and Word of God who effectually reveals God and brings divine salvation to mankind. 12
A. N. S. Lane has described the difference succinctly, in noting how the Chalcedonian Definition met the challenges of both Nestorianism and Monophysitism: ‘the human nature of Christ is not merely anhypostasic (without a hypostasis), but enhypostasic in the Logos – i.e. the hypostasis of Christ’s human nature is that of God the Logos.’ 13
The obvious question that arises at this point is ‘what effect has the Hypostatic Union on the distinct natures of Christ?’ An extremely helpful answer to the query and exposition of the relationship of the two natures has been supplied by Stuart Olyott’s book Son of Mary, Son of God, in which he discusses the effects of the union on both natures:
His divine nature, being a divine nature, was of course eternal, immutable and incapable of addition, and therefore remained essentially unchanged. The whole immutable divine essence continued to exist as the person of the eternal Word, but now embraced a perfect human nature in the unity of his person. That human nature became the instrument of his will. In this way the relation of the divine nature to creation changed, although the nature itself remained unaltered. The eternal Son of God was now ‘God with us’ (Matthew 1:23), God ‘manifest in the flesh’ (1 Timothy 3:16). Of course, the divine nature of Christ remained incapable of suffering and death, free from ignorance, and insusceptible to weakness and temptation. It was not a divine nature which had assumed flesh, but the Son of God as person who had become incarnate. He could be ignorant and weak, and could suffer and die. This was because he had assumed an additional nature capable of these things, and not because there had been any change in his divine nature…
The human nature of Christ …never had any existence apart from him, and therefore was exalted from its very inception … its exaltation did not stop it being an unmixed and essentially unchanged human nature. It was not deified by the hypostatical union, but remained pure and separate humanity… Not only so, but his human nature is included in the worship due to him. The grounds upon which we worship him are that he is the eternal Son of God, possessed of divine attributes. But the object of our worship is not the divine excellences in the abstract, but the divine person. That person has two natures. We bow before a man, not because any man as man is to be adored, but because this particular man is God manifest in the flesh. He is the God-Man, at whose feet we fall unashamed. 14
A. A. Hodge makes the important observation of the Unipersonality of Jesus concerning His two natures, emphasising that we are not dealing with a hybrid individual, but rather One in whom the natures retain their integrity, yet what can be postulated of one nature can be ascribed to the Person:
Pointing to that unique phenomenon exhibited biographically in the four Gospels, the Scriptures affirm – (a) ‘He is God.’ Then we would naturally say, if he is God, he cannot be man; if he is infinite, he cannot be finite. But the Scriptures proceed to affirm, pointing to the same historical subject, ‘He is man.’ Then, again, we would naturally say, if that phenomenon is both God and man, he must be two Persons in reality, and one Person only in appearance. But yet again the Scriptures prevent us, In every possible way they set him before us as one Person. His divinity is never objective to his humanity, nor his humanity to his divinity. His divinity never loves, speaks to, nor sends his humanity, but both divinity and humanity act together as the common energies of one Person. All the attributes and all the acts of both natures are referred to the one Person. The same ‘I’ possessed glory with the Father before the world was, and laid down his life for his sheep. Sometimes in a single proposition the title is taken from the divine side of his Person, while the predicate is true only of his human side, as when it is said, ‘The Church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.’ The same Person is called God because of his divinity, while it is affirmed that he shed his human blood for his Church. Again: while standing among his disciples on the earth, he says, ‘The Son of man, which is in heaven.’ Here the same Person, who is called Son of man because of his humanity, is declared to be omnipresent — that is, at the same time on earth and in heaven — as to his divine nature. This, of course, implies absolute singleness of Person, including at once divine and human attributes. 15
It is vital to note that there is never any communication from one nature to the other, only to the Person. Olyott’s treatment of the subject is extremely helpful in regard to this issue:
We must be clear that the properties of both the human and the divine natures of Christ are the properties of the person that he is. The person can be said to be almighty, omnisicient, omnipresent, and so on. He can also be called a man of sorrows, of limited knowledge and power, and subject to human want and miseries. But we must be careful to guard against thinking that anything belonging to his divine nature was communicated or transferred to the human nature, or vice versa. Christ shared in human weaknesses, although the Deity cannot. Christ participates in the essential perfections of the Godhead, although humanity cannot. This is possible because he is one person, the God-Man. We do not have to postulate any change in either of his natures, although we are admitting that their union did not leave them unaffected. 16
Christian Systematic Theology has historically explained the relationship of the two natures to the One Person by employing the following grid:
a) Communicatio Idiomatum
The properties of either nature are now ascribed to the Person. Hence Jesus is both finite and infinite, omnipotent and limited in power, etc. – hence Jesus could amaze (and outrage) His hearers by claiming pre-existence and deity – e.g. John 8:58; cf. Romans 9:5; Hebrews 1:3.
b) Communicatio Charismatum
Gratia habitualis – Christ as a man is filled with the Holy Spirit (N.B. this is without limit – John 3:34). He lives and ministers as such – a man of faith, endowed with the gifts of the Spirit. Many theologians speak of a gratia unionis – the ‘grace and glory of being united to the divine Logos’. A. A. Hodge stated ‘The God-man…. is to be worshipped in the perfection of his entire person, because only of his divine attributes’. 17
c) Communicatio Operantium
The One, undivided Person acts continually in all His actions. His work is divine-human. The two natures co-operate, working parallel – indeed act as one, within the qualification of operating in the sphere of its own energeia. There is no conflict between the two natures.
The last word on this subject belongs to the great systematic theologian T. C. Hammond:
…while the two natures were united, they were not inter-mingled and altered in their individual properties, so that there resulted a third type of substance which was neither divine nor human… there were not transfers of attributes from one to the other, such as a human characteristic transferred to the divine, nor was our Lord’s deity reduced to human limitations… the union was not an indwelling such as the indwelling of the Christian by the Spirit of God, but a personal union such that the resulting being was a unit, who thought and acted as a unit. While each nature retained its own properties they were not held together merely as though the hypostatic union was a ring thrown around two incompatible elements. There was a real harmony. 18
Philippians 2:6ff, especially v7, speaks of Christ ’emptying’ Himself. What did this involve? Of what did He empty Himself? That question has exercised scholars, particularly Lutherans:
(a) Thomasius, Delitzsch, and Crosby
These scholars distinguished between the absolute and essential attributes of God, e.g. absolute power, holiness, love and truth; and relative attributes – omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience. The latter are laid aside – the argument is that doing so is essential to human nature.
(b) Gess and Beecher
They held that the Logos divested Himself of divine attributes – that He ceased from cosmic functions and emptied Himself of eternal consciousness during His time of earthly sojourn. The depotentiated Logos took the place of His human soul.
As with Gess, Ebrard held that the Incarnate Logos took the place of the human soul in Christ. His life-centre is human, but He continued the exercise of His divine qualities in the Trinitarian sphere.
(d) Martensen and Gore
They proposed that Jesus had two non-communicating life-centres; He continued to function in Trinitarian sphere, and as Creator/Sustainer; but the depotentiated Logos was unaware of His cosmic functions.
i) It is based on a misunderstanding of Philippians2:7 – ‘ekenwsen ekenosen, aorist of kenoo, is best rendered ‘to make oneself of no account'; other texts employing the verb, Romans 4:14; 1 Corinthians 1:17; 9:15; 2 Corinthians 9:3 clarify its meaning as ‘no account’, ‘no effect’ or ‘no reputation’.
ii) Proper exegesis of Philippians2 displays that the import of the passage is not the elucidation of either the Incarnation or the deity of Christ, but rather Paul’s admonition to believers to as humble-minded as Christ was, cf. v5. There is an obvious allusion to the First Sin, where Adam ‘grasped’ at equality with God, Genesis 3:5, seeking a place which higher than his own, and not his by right, so that far from being the servant of God, he would be His equal, and rather than being an entity that was dependent upon God for his existence, he would be possessed of aseity. Jesus was divine by right, and was subject of angelic adoration and heavenly glory, yet He voluntarily relinquished such a position in order to take the place of a servant, and for from sinning, He was totally obedient; far from grasping at life, He suffered ignominious death. In this, He was the perfect example to believers.
iii) God is eternal and immutable, so it is impossible for Him to be divested of His attributes. Jesus therefore did not relinquish His divine attributes. We find the disciples in Acts performing many of the same miracles as Jesus, yet unlike them, Jesus accepts worship; thus He remains God even in the State of Humiliation; this is the mystery of God Incarnate.
Why was it necessary for God to take human nature? What is the necessity of Christ having two natures? Firstly, it was necessary because the Covenant demanded it. The Covenant promise to the Patriarchs was ‘I will be their God, they will be my People, and I will dwell in their midst’ – Genesis 17:7-8 ‘And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto you and to your seed after you. 8 And I will give to you, and to your seed offspring you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.’ Exodus 29:45 ‘And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will be their God.'; Leviticus 26:12 ‘And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and you shall be My people.’ 2 Corinthians 6:16 ‘for we are a temple of the living God; even as God said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.'; Revelation 21:3 ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He shall dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God’.
Ultimately, for the covenant promise to be realised, God must dwell in the midst of His people. In the Old Testament, the typological manifestation of this was the Tabernacle and later the Temple, the latter essentially being a concrete, permanent version of the former. The Tabernacle/Temple was the place of divine indwelling, and also the place where God revealed Himself to Man, where sacrifice and thus reconciliation took place, and where the worship of God was effected. When John 1:14 states that ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’, the Greek word used for ‘dwell’ is eskénósen ‘eskhnwsen, which actually means ‘tabernacled’. So, in a further development from the dwelling-place of God in earlier times, God no longer dwells by His Name on the earth in something made by human hands, but dwells physically by virtue of the Incarnation. Thus, the eternal Word, as flesh, entered the human scene and tabernacled among us. Christ came specifically to redeem Man by the Cross, and His death is the means of the New Covenant, Luke 22:20.
Secondly, as we suggested earlier, only God can ultimately reveal God. Every other means has its limitations, since God alone is infinite, and everything else is finite. Therefore, the ultimate self-revelation of God can only result from His ontological auto-disclosure. However, it is impossible for Man to see the divine glory and remain alive, as God revealed to Moses, Exodus 33:20 ‘You cannot see my face; for man shall not see me and live.’ In some way, this divine self-revelation must be veiled; the Incarnation allows for this. In this sense, Jesus is the ultimate Revelation of God to Man – John 1:18 ‘No man has seen God at any time; God the only begotten, who is in the bosom of the Father, has made Him known'; Hebrews 1:1-2 ‘God, who in previous times spoke to the fathers by the prophets in many portions and in various ways, has in these last days spoken unto us by His Son…’ As Olyott states:
It is because of his divine nature that he is a perfect Prophet. Other prophets could do no more than reflect his light, or pass on what they had received from him. All their knowledge was second hand. But the Lord Jesus Christ is God himself. His incarnation has meant that human eyes and ears have seen and heard the one who has been sent by God, who is God. We have received a perfect revelation of God, perfectly suited to our humanity. But we would have had no such Prophet, and no such revelation, if the one person had not been possessed of two distinct natures. 19
For redemptive purposes it was essential that the Redeemer be simultaneously God and Man. Only a sinless, perfect Man could render the perfect active and passive obedience essential for redemption, and since every man in born subject to original sin, a divine miracle was essential – God assuming human nature. Berkhof writes:
It was necessary that Christ should assume human nature, not only with all its essential properties, but also with all the infirmities to which it is liable after the fall, and should thus descend to the depths of degradation to which man had fallen, Heb. 2:7, 18. At the same time, He had to be a sinless man, for a man who was himself a sinner and who had forfeited his own life, certainly could not atone for others, Heb. 7:26. 20
It is actually at the point of redemption that the necessity for the simultaneous divine and human natures of Christ becomes most apparent. Both natures were essential for the activity of appeasing the wrath of God against sin, and paying the price of divine retribution against human rebellion. To quote Berkhof again:
In the divine plan of salvation it was absolutely essential that the Mediator should also be very God. This was necessary, in order that (1) He might bring a sacrifice of infinite value and render perfect obedience to the law of God; (2) He might hear the wrath of God redemptively, that is, so as to free others from the curse of the law; and (3) He ‘might be able to apply the fruits of His accomplished work to those who accepted Him by faith. Man with his bankrupt life can neither pay the penalty of sin, nor render perfect obedience to God. He can bear the wrath of God and, except for the redeeming grace of God, will have to bear it eternally, but he cannot bear it so as to open a way of escape, Ps. 49:740; 130:3…Since man sinned, it was necessary that the penalty should be borne by man. Moreover, the paying of the penalty involved suffering of body and soul, such as only man is capable of bearing, John 12:27; Acts 3:18; Heb. 2:14; 9:22. 21
Likewise Olyott writes about the effect of the two natures upon the redemptive activity of Christ:
The human nature of Christ was necessary for him to keep God’s law on our behalf, to die in our place, and to be our representative Priest and sympathetic Intercessor in heaven. At the same time it is only the supreme dignity of his divine person which ensures that his obedience was of sufficient merit to justify sinners, and that his finite death was of infinite value, and therefore a sufficient satisfaction for divine justice. We would never have had the Priest that we need if the one person had not been possessed of two distinct natures. 22
The Incarnation and the Hypostatic Union also reveal the Love of God in a way the Islamic view of God fails to do. Christ’s two natures means that we have a Lord who knows the innermost depths of agony and despair, of hunger, of loneliness and abandonment, of fear (at the prospect of the cross – Gethsemane). He knows what it is to have friends desert you, and a companion betray you. Every conceivable pain, temptation and fear human beings can undergo has been experienced by the God-Man Jesus: Hebrews 2:17 ‘Therefore in all things he had to be made like His brothers, that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For since He Himself suffered being tempted, he is able to aid those that are tempted.’ Hebrews 4:15 ‘For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathise with our infirmities; but One who has been in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.’ To quote Berkhof again:
Only such a truly human Mediator, who had experimental knowledge of the woes of mankind and rose superior to all temptations, could enter sympathetically into all the experiences, the trials, and the temptations of man, Heb. 2:17-18; 4:15-5:2, and be a perfect human example for His followers, Matt. 11:29; Mk. 10:39; John 13:13.15; Phil. 2:5.8; Heb. 12:2.4; 1 Pet. 2:21. 23
It is in this respect the contrast between the God of the Bible and the God of Islam becomes so glaring. The God of the Bible may expect His worshippers to suffer and die for Him, but He has done so already Himself in the person of Jesus Christ. Everything God demands of us in terms of obedience, even unto death, He has Himself performed. He demands nothing from us other than what He has Himself effected. It is different with the God of Islam. He may offer a sumptuous reward of silks, fruits and maidens to His martyrs, but He commands of them something He has never done Himself. In Islam, God expects Man to die for Him; in the Bible, God, in the person of Jesus, dies for Man. Further, we know and see in Jesus – in the incarnate God – the expression and character of divine love, not just for those who love Him, as in Islam, but for those who hate Him – Christ died for His enemies, Romans 5:8 ‘But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ Because of the Hypostatic Union, we have a God who can enter experientially, rather than just empirically, into human psychology and emotion – He has been there Himself. How very different is the God of Islam.
It is probably partly because of this lack in Islam that the concept of the Sunnah and the excessive love of Muhammad have emerged. The God of Islam is so transcendent and removed from Man, so failing in terms of revealing His love that there is nothing to stimulate genuine love in return. Nothing suggests an experimental acquaintance with human fears and emotions. Hence the import of Muhammad in Islam. However, this is a poor substitute for a God who actually assumes human nature. This is where the import of John 3:16 becomes so revealing – ‘God loved the world thus, He sent His unique Son…’ – He sent Him to die for us, the ultimate focus of human emotional concern. He triumphed over death, so now we have a man in fact, as our Representative, we have Man – at the throne of grace. This is something with which Islam cannot adequately compete.
Apollinarius was Bishop of (Syrian) Laodicea. Apollinarius himself saw his Christology as a continuation of Alexandrian ‘Word-flesh’ tradition – i.e. the refusal to admit or give weight to human mind or soul in the God-man. In particular he saw his theology as continuing the teaching of the fathers who in 268 condemned the adoptionist dynamic Monarchianism of Paul of Samosata, who distinguished the eternal Word from Jesus Christ. 24 Partly as a result of semantic differences, he condemned the Antiochene ‘Dyophysite’ strain (emphasis on two natures) as implying the adoptionist heresy – God enduing a man or at least indicating a purely moral union between deity and humanity.
Scripture presents Christ as a unity.
To Apollinarius, the term ‘Nature’ was equivalent to ‘Person’. Thus if two natures are conjoined, then we have two persons. We can see that Apollinarius was denying a double personality in Christ. Hence, Christ has only one nature – phusis, a ‘simple, undivided Prosopon‘ (another Greek word for ‘person’). He also employed hypostasis – self-determining reality. However, we must be cautious in our understanding of his usage of ‘nature’ and ‘person'; he did not mean that Christ is only divine and not human – rather, he affirms the humanity of Christ. What he believes is that the Logos took the place of the soul in the Incarnate Jesus, so that it truly is the same Person, not two, it remains the Logos, and his flesh is truly human.
He held Man to be a trichotomy – Body, Soul, and Spirit. In Christ the Logos took the place of the human spirit – the higher rational principle. Apollinarius was able to do this because he followed Platonic anthropology – the idea that Man is Tri-partite; Body, Soul and Spirit. The Soul or Mind is the ruling element in human nature; freedom of choice rests therein. It is this that differentiates one man from another – the power of self-determination – thus the seat of independent personality.
The human soul is finite. Moreover, to Apollinarius, humanity was equivalent to iniquity – the human mind is ‘fallible and enslaved to filthy thoughts’, but the Logos is immutable. It is vital to recognise that for Apollinarius, the human soul is the seat of sin. Since only the pure may redeem the impure, the salvation of humanity is imperilled if Christ possessed a human mind like ours. Hence we can understand the stress of Apollinarius upon the need for Christ to have no ordinary human rational element; Apollinarius was governed by zeal for the deity and sinlessness of Christ.
If the incarnate Christ possessed no ordinary human soul, then he would not possess the opportunity (i.e. danger) of free choice – and thus be free from sin and enabled to redeem us. This is made possible by the Logos taking the place of the soul in Christ; so, rather than being Soma (body), Psuche (soul), Pneuma (spirit), Christ was Soma, Logos, Pneuma. This did not undermine the true humanity of Christ, inasmuch as every soul was part of the Logos, so the distinction between Christ and other men was qualitative in nature. The same functions of the Mind are fulfilled by the Logos re. intellect and will – ‘the divine energy fulfils the role of the animating spirit (psuches) and of the human mind (Nous)’. 25
Strongly anti-Arian, he held tenaciously to the true Deity of Christ. But he regarded the human spirit as the seat of sin and true human nature as sinful, and he was concerned to defend the sinlessness of Christ. (It is clear that this position had affinities with docetism.) The emphasis of the hated Arian heresy was – in terms of defining the character of the humanity of Christ – that the Logos had free will in regard to sin. Apollinarius regarded the ability to sin as the distinctive property of finite nature. If Jesus had a finite spirit, He could not redeem. Thus, He would not be divine.
Apollinarius did not say that the flesh was a cloak with which the Logos clothed Himself, but rather that Logos and flesh ‘blended’ – thus an absolute union with Deity. The Incarnate is ‘compound unity in human form’ – ‘one nature composed of impassible divinity and passible flesh’. The body could not exist as an independent nature but rather required an animating force – in the case of ordinary men, the soul; in the case of Christ, the Logos. Hence, the Logos affects not only the psychology of Christ, but also his flesh; the biological life of Christ was also governed by the Logos. This meant that he was free from ordinary psychic and carnal passions, immune to death and thus enabled to destroy Death.
Following from this, just as an ordinary man is a compound of body and soul and is thus a unity, so the body of Christ and the Logos are a unity. Moreover, the flesh of Christ is thereby glorified. (Contrary to his critics, he did not hold to the pre-existence of the flesh of Christ, nor to its consubstantiality with God.) If the flesh is so-fused, it may be worshipped, and with regard to the communicatio idomatum, what is predicated of the flesh may be so of the Logos and vice versa, and in the Eucharist, the faithful receive the divinised flesh of Christ and are thereby deified. N.B. Apollinarius held that in the virgin birth, the divine spirit replaced the spermatic matter which gives life to ordinary men. One can see the advantages for the traditional conception of deity as impassible, indivisible and immutable in this presentation.
Apollinarius had the principal concern of defending the unity of the Person of Christ, for which he was willing to discard the importance of the distinction of natures and his true humanity. Apollinarianism was controverted by the Cappadocian Fathers – Basil Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Nazianus. (N.B. Their theological point of departure was soteriology rather than Christology.) For Christ to be our Redeemer, He had to be true man as well as true God. ‘What He has not assumed He has not healed… We assert the unity of the person… the Godhead and Manhood are two natures not two Sons or two Gods’.
Apollinarius was a strong defender of the title Theotokos for Mary and thus opposed Nestorianism. After leaving the orthodox Church in 375, Apollinarius saw his position condemned at the Council of Constantinople, 381.
This term is perhaps a misnomer, for Nestorius was not guilty of holding to the heresy that bears his name. 26 He used unfortunate expressions, but his opponent Cyril, was also guilty of that. It seems to many modern observers that Nestorius was a victim of ecclesiastical politics and personal rivalry. Cyril was Bishop of Alexandria, Nestorius was Bishop of Constantinople, and the former wished to raise the prominence of his See at the expense of the latter. N.B. Nestorius was influenced by Antiochene theology, and the rivalry between Constantinople and Alexandria is today reflected in the separate existence and doctrines of the Greek Orthodox and Coptic Churches, headquartered in Istanbul and Alexandria respectively.
Nestorius was Bishop 428-431. He objected to Theotokos –’God-Bearer’ (unless balanced by anthropotokos) – being applied to Mary, as it suggested that the Deity of Christ was derived from Mary and thus similar to Arian and Apollinarian constructions – not the same Deity as the Father, or incomplete humanity. He preferred the term Christokos ‘Christ-bearer’. 27 Alexandria held to Theotokos – it was a consequence of communicatio idiomatum; and the Person was constituted by the Logos, so the Incarnate is rightly termed God. To Nestorius, the term implied that a creature could have been the cause of Deity, which was impossible: moreover, it implied that the deity of the Son was of inferior sort – and thus Arian view of Son as a creature, or Apollinarian view of incomplete humanity.
Formerly, it was held that Nestorius believed in dual personality of Christ, but the discovery of ‘Book of Heraclides’, where he accepts the Chalcedonian Definition, has undermined this. His position was that the two natures remain distinct in the union. The Godhead exists in the man mind and vice versa, without mixture or confusion. The Incarnation cannot affect the impassible Logos in change or suffering. Christ experienced genuine human emotional development. Such is impossible if deity and humanity fused. Thus the two natures were parallel and undiminished as to their respective properties and economy.
For Nestorius, the term ‘nature’ was equivalent to the concrete character of a thing. – the quality of being human or divine; e.g., humanity is circumscribed by finiteness. Prosopon was equivalent to the external form as an individual; nature is not an abstract concept – human nature demands a real, external body & soul to exist. This also demands hypostasis (equivalent to concrete subsistence), thus the human nature of Christ was not a cloak, pace ‘Word-flesh’, but was objectively real – without dichotomising Christ, His human nature had real personality – as did His deity of course, though there was only one Person. Nestorius rejected Paul of Samosata’s dogma of the two Sons: the Incarnate was a unity – God the Logos and the man are not numerically two. Never divided in purpose or will. Thus there are not two Persons, but one prosopon, with two ousiai – divine and human. Nestorius preferred to use ‘conjunction’, rather than ‘union’, as the latter could imply confusion of natures.
The man was the temple in which God dwelt: it was a voluntary conjunction – gracious condescension on the part of the divine, willing submission with regard to the human. Christ was a single being with a single will and intelligence -inseparable and indivisible. ‘Christ’ is the prosopon of union – the prosopon is not identified with the eternal Logos or the man, but is the consequence of the ‘coalescence’. With regard to the communicatio idiomatum, the human actions of Christ should be predicated of the human nature, the divine of the deity, but both could be predicated of the Person. The trouble occurred because either party had differing starting-points, one stressing the distinction of natures, the other the unity of the Person.
The actual teaching originated with Diodore, Bishop of Tarsus, 378. In opposition to Apollinarianism, he sharply contrasted ‘the word’ and ‘the flesh’ (not ‘the man’) in the God-man Thus he distinguished tile Son of God and the son of David – ‘the two Sons’. He seems to understate the humanity and the Union, but the evidence is uncertain. His theology was developed by Theodore of Mopsuestia (Cilicia, modern Turkey) 350-628. Nowadays he is seen as generally orthodox, despite some unfortunate language, hut he was perceived by the Cyrillian party as teaching a purely moral Union (e.g. as husband and wife form one flesh’) and thus two persons.
As well as Cyril, Nestorius had to cope with the antagonism of monks devoted to Mary. Together they accused him of Sabellian tendencies (i.e. that the Father, Son and Spirit were simply successive modes of office of a unipersonal God), or of teaching two persons. He was condemned at Ephesus in 43l, exiled and died 451 just after the Council of Chalcedon, where he felt his position was vindicated because of emphasis of the two natures. A large part of the Syrian as well as the Persian Church followed Nestorianism, and performed great pioneering mission – including to China, 635. The Church is called ‘Assyrian Church of the East’, and it does not seem to he guilty of Nestorianism, (but note its rejection of Theotokos). Two early synod statements of faith seems to indicate that the ‘Nestorians’ were not actually guilty of ‘Nestorianism':
Synod of Mar Aqaq, AD 486
But our faith in the dispensation of Christ should also be in a confession of two natures of Godhead and manhood, none of us venturing to introduce mixture, commingling, or confusion into the distinctions of those two natures. Instead, while Godhead remains and is preserved in that which belongs to it, and manhood in that which belongs to it, we combine the copies of their natures in one Lordship and one worship because of the perfect and inseparable conjunction which the Godhead had with the manhood. If anyone thinks or teaches others that suffering and change adhere to the Godhead of our Lord, not preserving – in regard to the union of the parsopa of our Savior – the confession of perfect God and perfect man, the same shall be anathema. (Synod of Mar Aqaq, AD 486)
Synod of Mar Sabris, AD 596
It seemed good to his fatherhood and to all the metropolitans and bishops to write this composition of the faith… which accurately and plainly teaches us the confession …the same by which … all heresy is convicted and condemned which denies the Godhead and manhood of our Life-giver, Jesus Christ, accepting it with the exact meaning of the holy fathers, which the illustrious among the orthodox, the blessed Theodore the Antiochian, bishop of the city of Mopsuestia, ‘the Interpreter of the Divine Scriptures,’ explained, with which all the orthodox in all regions have agreed and do agree, as also all the venerable fathers who have governed this apostolic and patriarchal see of our administration have held, while we anathematize and alienate from all contact with us everyone who denies the nature of the Godhead and the nature of the manhood of our Lord Jesus Christ, whether through mixture and commingling, or compounding or confusing, introducing, with regard to the union of the Son of God, either suffering, or death, or any of the mean circumstances of humanity in any way, to the glorious nature of his Godhead, or considering as a mere man the Lordly temple of God the Word, which, in an inexplicable mystery and an incomprehensible union, he joined to himself in the womb of the holy Virgin in an eternal, indestructible, and indivisible union.Again, we also reject… one who calls the one Christ, the Son of God, two sons or two Christs, or one who does not say that the Word of God fulfilled the suffering of our salvation in the body of his manhood. Though he was in him, with him, and toward him in the belly, on the cross, in suffering, and for ever, inseparably, while the glorious nature of his Godhead did not participate in any sufferings, yet we strongly believe, according to the word and intent of the writings and traditions of the holy fathers, in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only-begotten Son of God, who was begotten before the foundations of the world in his Godhead, spiritually, without a mother, and in the last times was born from the holy Virgin in a fleshly manner without the intercourse of a man through the power of the Holy Spirit. He is, in his eternal Godhead and in his manhood from Mary, one true Son of God, who in the nature of his manhood accepted suffering and death for us, and by the power of his Godhead raised up his uncorrupted body after three days, and promised resurrection from the dead, ascension to heaven, and a new and indestructible and abiding world for ever. (Synod of Mar Sabris, AD 596) 28
This upholds the idea of one nature in Christ; the converse of Nestorianism. It developed out of the teaching of Cyril of Alexandria, the adversary of Nestorius.
It should be noted that in traditional Alexandrine theology Theotokos was a favourite term. Nestorius, who has reservations about the phrase, seemed to Cyril propose a purely external association between the Logos and a man. Thus the Passion was not that of God incarnate, but of a mere man. Hence, the implication of Nestorius’ teaching was that the Eucharist was cannibalism, since the flesh thereof was unvivified by Logos, so was that of a mere man.
The problem was accentuated by differences of language. For Antioch, Phusis was equivalent to ‘concrete assemblage of attributes’ – the quality of being something. For Alexandria, Phusis was equivalent to ‘concrete individual, or independent existent’ – approximating to hypostasis, thus virtually ‘person’. For Cyril, the incarnation was purely a matter of phases – Jesus was the Logos before and after incarnation – but same Logos, the only difference being that now He had flesh. As Cyril stated, ‘He remains what he was’. Hence his renowned formula, ‘one nature and that incarnate, of the divine Word’. Phusis here should be understood as in Alexandrine terminology.
Cyril was intent on guarding against division in the Incarnate. ‘Flesh’ meant humanity in toto, including the rational soul. Thus, Jesus had a true, concrete humanity. Hence, He was as truly man as He was God. The centre of this person was the divine Logos. Thus ‘conjunction’, as favoured by Nestorius, did not do justice to the evidence. The humanity of Christ became an hypostasis in the hypostasis of the Logos. The body was the body of the Logos, and the union of Logos and flesh produced a single concrete being. Thus, whilst there was no confusion of manhood and deity, Immanuel was not bi-personal.
It is important to safeguard Cyril against the idea that he believed that ‘one nature’ meant the union of deity with manhood; rather, the term expresses the singleness of the Person of Christ. Cyril did affirm the unity. The Jesus of History was God Himself in human flesh – thus what was born of Mary was God, because the humanity in her womb belonged to the divine Logos. Hence, it was inaccurate to speak of ‘the man’ being ‘co-adored'; Immanuel was the Lord ‘enfleshed’, who must be worshipped in a single adoration.
Cyril used the doctrine of the communicatio idiomatum to propose that the Logos suffered in the flesh, and that a measure of the properties of either nature were conferred to the other; thus, the humanity being infused with life-giving energy of Logos, became itself life-giving. However, it is vital to uphold the impassibility of the Logos – He took on a flesh that could suffer, so the suffering He experienced was His own. Thus, as a result of the incarnation, two distinct natures have fused into one. The Incarnation involved ‘condescension’ (kenosis). No change takes place in the Logos, but He deliberately limits Himself to extent which He takes our nature upon Himself, whilst yet upholding the universe.
Kelly states that there is evidence that his later Christology, on the basis of acknowledging the role played by the rational soul in Christ’s sufferings, accepted the existence of ‘a second nature’ in respect to the humanity, which made possible his compronise with moderate Antiochenes. His great concern was to guard against the ‘separation’ of natures. 29
However, the concept particularly developed under the monk Eutyches of Constantinople. The essence of the teaching of Eutyches is the avoidance of distinguishing ‘nature’ from personality. It is the opposite of Nestorianism – if the personality is not dual, there can only be a single nature. This heresy is a denial of the reality and permanence of the Lord’s humanity; rather, it is transmuted into deity – ‘Monophysitism’. The Deity swallows-up the humanity – not annihilating, but transforming it. After the Incarnation, there is only one nature, God made flesh. [Before it, Christ had two]. It is a complete incarnation – perfect man. However, His flesh was not consubstantial with ours Christ’s body is the body of God, but he seems to mean that it did not possess independent existence i.e. he was denying that the Eternal Son assumed a Man rather than human nature. Nonetheless he insisted on the formula ‘one nature after the Incarnation’. Bray argues that ‘Eutyches eventually got to the point where he almost denied any real humanity in Christ, saying that this had been absorbed by God at the incarnation…’ 30 His theories were denounced at Constantinople, 448.
Others developed this idea – Monophysitism – to teach either the fusion of natures, the ‘swallowing up’ of the humanity by the Deity, and even the deification of the humanity. There were three main forms.
i) Theopaschitists – ‘God suffered’.
ii) Phthartolatrists – the human nature of Christ was, like ours, capable of suffering, and thus worshipped what was corruptible (i.e. subject to material corruption).
iii) Aphthartodocetists – the opposite view of the preceding position – the divinising of the flesh of Christ. 31
Monophysitism (one nature) was condemned by the Tome of Leo, and at the Council of Chalcedon 451. The Coptic Church of Egypt, Eritrea and Ethiopia, the Armenian Gregorian Church, and the Syrian Jacobite Church remain to a degree Monophysite. However, a recent paper by a U.S. Coptic priest suggests that the actual differences may have been principally semantic, a point we have noted earlier. 32Given that semantics caused confusion even among Christians, we should not be surprised if Muhammad and early Muslims misunderstood the Christian position, especially if the dominant theology they encountered was Monophysite in some form.
Thelein –’will’. N.B. – At the time, ‘will’ meant more than volition; it included instincts, appetites, desires and affections. Thus was Christ capable of fear? Either it was held that the human will merged in the divine, or that they fused. This became the official position of the Maronite Church of Lebanon and Syria until its later union with Rome. Pope Honorius I, 625-638, was guilty
of this heresy. 33 It was condemned at the Sixth Ecumenical Council of Constantinople 680. Christ has both a divine and a human will, the two in perfect harmony.
N.B. The Chalcedonian definition condemned Apollinarianism, Nestorianism, and Eutychianism, upholding the doctrine of Christ as ‘two natures in One Person’.
The Historic Christian position, resulting from the systematising of Biblical data is that Jesus is One Person with two natures – divine and human. This has been the position emphasised by the historic councils and creeds of the Church:
Creed of the Council of Nicaea (325)
We believe in …one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten of his Father, of the substance of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father. By whom all things were made, both which be in heaven and in earth. Who for us men and for our salvation came down and was incarnate and was made man…
The Nicene Creed (a later creed)
We believe in …one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten of his Father, of the substance of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father. By whom all things were made, both which be in heaven and in earth. Who for us men and for our salvation came down [from heaven] and was incarnate and was made man… And whosoever shall say that there was a time when the Son of God was not or that before he was begotten he was not, or that he was made of things that were not, or that he is of a different substance or essence [from the Father] or that he is a creature, or subject to change or conversion all that so say, the Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematizes them.
Council of Chalcedon, Actio V. Mansi, vii.116 f.
Therefore, following the holy Fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance [‘omoiousiov] with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer [Feotokov]; one and the same Christ, Son, Only-begotten, recognized IN TWO NATURES, WITHOUT CONFUSION, WITHOUT CHANGE, WITHOUT DIVISION, WITHOUT SEPARATION; the distinction of natures being no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence [‘upostasiv], not as parted or separated into two but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the Fathers has handed down to us. 34
The Tome of Leo
For it was the Holy Ghost who gave fecundity to the Virgin, but it was from a body that a real body was derived; and “when Wisdom was building herself a house,” the “Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, that is, in that flesh which he assumed from a human being, and which he animated with the spirit of rational life. Accordingly while the distinctness of both natures and substances was preserved, and both met in one Person, lowliness was assumed by majesty, weakness by power, mortality by eternity; and, in order to pay the debt of our condition, the inviolable nature was united to the passible, so that as the appropriate remedy for our ills, one and the same “Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus,” might from one element be capable of dying and also from the other be incapable. Therefore in the entire and perfect nature of very man was born very God, whole in what was his, whole in what was ours. By “ours” we mean what the Creator formed in us at the beginning and what he assumed in order to restore; for of that which the deceiver brought in, and man, thus deceived, admitted, there was not a trace in the Saviour; and the fact that he took on himself a share in our infirmities did not make him a par-taker in our transgressions. He assumed “the form of a servant” without the defilement of sin, enriching what was human, not impairing what was divine: because that “emptying of himself,” whereby the Invisible made himself visible, and the Creator and Lord of all things willed to be one among mortals, was a stooping down in compassion, not a failure of power. Accordingly, the same who, remaining in the form of God, made man, was made man in the form of a servant. For each of the natures retains its proper character without defect; and as the form of God does not take away the form of a servant, so the form of a servant does not impair the form of God…Accordingly, the Son of God, descending from his seat in heaven, and not departing from the glory of the Father, enters this lower world, born after a new order, by a new mode of birth. After a new order; because he who in his own sphere is invisible, became visible in ours; He who could not be enclosed in space, willed to be enclosed; continuing to be before times, he began to exist in time; the Lord of the universe allowed his infinite majesty to be overshadowed, and took upon him the form of a servant; the impassible God did not disdain to be passible Man and the immortal One to be subjected to the laws of death. And born by a new mode of birth; because inviolate virginity, while ignorant of concupiscence, supplied the matter of his flesh. What was assumed from the Lord’s mother was nature, not fault; nor does the wondrousness of the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, as born of a Virgin’s womb, imply that his nature is unlike ours. For the selfsame who is very God, is also very man; and there is no illusion in this union, while the lowliness of man and the loftiness of Godhead meet together. For as “God” is not changed by the compassion [exhibited], so “Man” is not consumed by the dignity [bestowed]. For each “form” does the acts which belong to it, in communion with the other; the Word, that is, performing what belongs to the Word, and the flesh carrying out what belongs to the flesh; the one of these shines out in miracles, the other succumbs’ to injuries. And as the Word does not withdraw from equality with the Father in glory, so the flesh does not abandon the nature of our kind. For, as we must often be saying, he is one and the same, truly Son of God, and truly Son of Man. God, inasmuch as “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Man, inasmuch as “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” God, inasmuch as “all things were made by him, and without him nothing was made.” Man, inasmuch as he was “made of a woman, made under the law.” The nativity of the flesh is a manifestation of human nature; the Virgin’s child-bearing is an indication of Divine power. The infancy of the Babe is exhibited by the humiliation of swaddling clothes: the greatness of the Highest is declared by the voices of angels. He whom Herod impiously designs to slay is like humanity in its beginnings; but he whom the Magi rejoice to adore on their knees is Lord of all….For although in the Lord Jesus Christ there is one Person of God and man, yet that whereby contumely attaches to both is one thing, and that whereby glory attaches to both is another; for from what belongs to us he has that manhood which is inferior to the Father; while from the Father he has equal Godhead with the Father. Accordingly, on account of this unity of Person which is to be understood as existing in both the natures, we read, on the one hand, that “the Son of Man came down from heaven,” inasmuch as the Son of God took flesh from that Virgin of whom he was born; and on the other hand, the Son of God is said to have been crucified and buried, inasmuch as he underwent this, not in his actual Godhead; wherein the Only-begotten is coeternal and consubstantial with the Father, but in the weakness of human nature. Wherefore we all, in the very Creed, confess that “the only-begotten Son of God was crucified and buried,” …because one of these truths, accepted without the other, would not profit unto salvation, and it was equally dangerous to believe the Lord Jesus Christ to be merely God and not man, or merely man and not God.
The Capitula of the Fifth Ecumenical Council (Second Synod of Constantinople, A.D. 553)
I. If anyone shall not confess that the nature or essence of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost is one, as also the force and the power; [if anyone does not confess] a consubstantial Trinity, one Godhead to be worshipped in three subsistences or Persons: let him be anathema. For there is but one God even the Father of whom are all things, and one Lord Jesus Christ through whom are all things, and one Holy Spirit in whom are all things.
II. If anyone shall not confess that the Word of God has two nativities, the one from all eternity of the Father, without time and without body; the other in these last days, coming down from heaven and being made flesh of the holy and glorious Mary, Mother of God and always a virgin, and born of her: let him be anathema.
III. IF anyone shall say that the wonder-working Word of God is one [Person] and the Christ that suffered another; or shall say that God the Word was with the woman-born Christ, or was in him as one person in another, but that he was not one and the same our Lord Jesus Christ, the Word of God, incarnate and made man, and that his miracles and the sufferings which of his own will he endured in the flesh were not of the same [Person]: let him be anathema.
IV. If anyone shall say that the union of the Word of God to man was only according to grace or energy, or dignity, or equality of honour, or authority, or relation, or effect, or power, or according to good pleasure in this sense that God the Word was pleased with a man, that is to say, that he loved him for his own sake, as says the senseless Theodorus, or [if anyone pretends that this union exists only] so far as likeness of name is concerned, as the Nestorians understand, who call also the Word of God Jesus and Christ, and even accord to the man the names of Christ and of Son, speaking thus clearly of two persons, and only designating disingenuously one Person and one Christ when the reference is to his honour, or his dignity, or his worship; if anyone shall not acknowledge as the Holy Fathers teach, that the union of God the Word is made with the flesh animated by a reasonable and living soul, and that such union is made synthetically and hypostatically, and that therefore there is only one Person, to wit: our Lord Jesus Christ, one of the Holy Trinity: let him be anathema. As a matter of fact the word “union” has many meanings, and the partisans of Apollinarius and Eutyches have affirmed that these natures are confounded inter se, and have asserted a union produced by the mixture of both. On the other hand the followers of Theodorus and of Nestorius rejoicing in the division of the natures, have taught only a relative union. Meanwhile the Holy Church of God, condemning equally the impiety of both sorts of heresies, recognises the union of God the Word with the flesh synthetically, that is to say, hypostatically. For in the mystery of Christ the synthetical union not only preserves unconfusedly the natures which are united, but also allows no separation.
V. If anyone understands the expression “one only Person of our Lord Jesus Christ” in this sense, that it is the union of many hypostases, and if he attempts thus to introduce into the mystery of Christ two hypostases, or two Persons, and, after having introduced two persons, speaks of one Person only out of dignity, honour or worship, as both Theodorus and Nestorius insanely have written; if anyone shall calumniate the holy Council of Chalcedon, pretending that it made use of this expression [one hypostasis] in this impious sense, and if he will not recognize rather that the Word of God is united with the flesh hypostatically, and that therefore there is but one hypostasis or one only Person, and that the holy Council of Chalcedon has professed in this sense the one Person of our Lord Jesus Christ: let him be anathema. For since one of the Holy Trinity has been made man, viz.: God the Word, the Holy Trinity has not been increased by the addition of another person or hypostasis.
VI. IF anyone shall not call in a true acceptation, but only in a false acceptation, the holy, glorious, and ever-virgin Mary, the Mother of God, or shall call her so only in a relative sense, believing that she bare only a simple man and that God the word was not incarnate of her, but that the incarnation of God the Word resulted only from the fact that he united himself to that man who was born [of her]; if he shall calumniate the Holy Synod of Chalcedon as though it had asserted the Virgin to be Mother of God according to the impious sense of Theodore; or if anyone shall call her the mother of a man or the Mother of Christ as if Christ were not God, and shall not confess that she is exactly and truly the Mother of God, because that God the Word who before all ages was begotten of the Father was in these last days made flesh and born of her, and if anyone shall not confess that in this sense the holy Synod of Chalcedon acknowledged her to be the Mother of God: let him be anathema.
VII. IF anyone using the expression, “in two natures,” does not confess that our one Lord Jesus Christ has been revealed in the divinity and in the humanity, so as to designate by that expression a difference of the natures of which an ineffable union is unconfusedly made, [a union] in which neither the nature of the Word was changed into that of the flesh, nor that of the flesh into that of the Word, for each remained that it was by nature, the union being hypostatic; but shall take the expression with regard to the mystery of Christ in a sense so as to divide the parties, or recognising the two natures in the only Lord Jesus, God the Word made man, does not content himself with taking in a theoretical manner the difference of the natures which compose him, which difference is not destroyed by the union between them, for one is composed of the two and the two are in one, but shall make use of the number [two] to divide the natures or to make of them Persons properly so called: let him be anathema.
VIII. IF anyone uses the expression “of two natures,” confessing that a union was made of the Godhead and of the humanity, or the expression “the one nature made flesh of God the Word,” and shall not so understand those expressions as the holy Fathers have taught, to wit: that of the divine and human nature there was made an hypostatic union, whereof is one Christ; but from these expressions shall try to introduce one nature or substance [made by a mixture] of the Godhead and manhood of Christ; let him be anathema. For in teaching that the only-begotten Word was united hypostatically [to humanity] we do not mean to say that there was made a mutual confusion of natures, but rather each [nature] remaining what it was, we understand that the Word was united to the flesh. Wherefore there is one Christ, both God and man, consubstantial with the Father as touching his Godhead, and consubstantial with us as touching his manhood. Therefore they are equally condemned and anathematized by the Church of God, who divide or part the mystery of the divine dispensation of Christ, or who introduce confusion into that mystery.
IX. IF anyone shall take the expression, Christ ought to be worshipped in his two natures, in the sense that he wishes to introduce thus two adorations, the one in special relation to God the Word and the other as pertaining to the man; or if anyone to get rid of the flesh, [that is of the humanity of Christ,] or to mix together the divinity and the humanity, shall speak monstrously of one only nature or essence of the united (natures), and so worship Christ, and does not venerate, by one adoration, God the Word made man, together with his flesh, as the Holy Church has taught from the beginning: let him be anathema.
X. IF anyone does not confess that our Lord Jesus Christ who was crucified in the flesh is true God and the Lord of Glory and one of the Holy Trinity: let him be anathema.
It can be understood from this definition that the term ‘Mother of God’, which equally scandalises Muslims and Protestants, was not a step in the direction of Mariolatry, nor even a statement about Mary herself in the first analysis, but primarily a declaration that the babe to whom she gave birth was not only human, but was also God. This does not mean that Jesus derived His deity from Mary, or imparted His divine nature to her; rather, the rather unfortunate term merely affirmed the deity of Christ. Nonetheless, it is a term best avoided. The belief in the Hypostatic Union of Christ, His simultaneous two natures, is also affirmed in later Protestant confessions of faith:
Article II of the 39 Articles of the Church of England
Of the Word, or Son of God, which was made very man
The Son, which is the Word of the Father, begotten from everlasting of the Father, the very and eternal God, and of one substance with the Father, took man’s nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin, of her substance: so that two whole and perfect natures, that is to say, the Godhead and manhood, were joined together in one person, never to be divided, whereof is one Christ, very God and very man, who truly suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried, to reconcile His Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for all actual sins of men.
Chapter 11 of the Second Helvetic Confession
Of Jesus Christ, True God and Man, the Only Saviour of the World
Two Natures in Christ. We therefore acknowledge two natures or substances, the divine and the human, in one and the same Jesus Christ our Lord (Heb. ch. 2). And we way that these are bound and united with one another in such a way that they are not absorbed, or confused, or mixed, but are united or joined together in one person–the properties of the natures being unimpaired and permanent.
Not Two but One Christ. Thus we worship not two but one Christ the Lord. We repeat: one true God and man. With respect to his divine nature he is consubstantial with the Father, and with respect to the human nature he is consubstantial with us men, and like us in all things, sin excepted (Heb. 4:15).
The Sects. And indeed we detest the dogma of the Nestorians who make two of the one Christ and dissolve the unity of the Person. Likewise we thoroughly execrate the madness of Eutyches and the Monothelites or Monophysites who destroy the property of the human nature.
The Divine Nature of Christ Is Not Passible, and the Human Nature Is Not Everywhere. Therefore, we do not in any way teach that the divine nature in Christ has suffered or that Christ according to his human nature is still in the world and thus everywhere. For neither do we think or teach that the body of Christ ceased to be a true body after his glorification, or was deified, and deified in such a way that it laid aside its properties as regards body and soul, and changed entirely into a divine nature and began to be merely one substance.
Article 19 of the Belgic Confession
The Two Natures of Christ
We believe that by being thus conceived the person of the Son has been inseparably united and joined together with human nature, in such a way that there are not two Sons of God, nor two persons, but two natures united in a single person, with each nature retaining its own distinct properties.
Thus his divine nature has always remained uncreated, without beginning of days or end of life, [Heb. 7:3] filling heaven and earth.
His human nature has not lost its properties but continues to have those of a creature– it has a beginning of days; it is of a finite nature and retains all that belongs to a real body. And even though he, by his resurrection, gave it immortality, that nonetheless did not change the reality of his human nature; for our salvation and resurrection depend also on the reality of his body.
But these two natures are so united together in one person that they are not even separated by his death.
So then, what he committed to his Father when he died was a real human spirit which left his body. But meanwhile his divine nature remained united with his human nature even when he was lying in the grave; and his deity never ceased to be in him, just as it was in him when he was a little child, though for a while it did not show itself as such.
These are the reasons why we confess him to be true God and true man – true God in order to conquer death by his power, and true man that he might die for us in the weakness of his flesh.
Chapter VIII of the Westminster Confession of Faith
Of Christ the Mediator
II. The Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance and equal with the Father, did, when the fullness of time was come, take upon Him man’s nature, with all the essential properties, and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin; being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the virgin Mary, of her substance. So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion. Which person is very God, and very man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man.
III. The Lord Jesus, in His human nature thus united to the divine, was sanctified, and anointed with the Holy Spirit, above measure, having in Him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge; in whom it pleased the Father that all fullness should dwell; to the end that, being holy, harmless, undefiled, and full of grace and truth, He might be thoroughly furnished to execute the office of a Mediator and Surety. Which office He took not unto Himself, but was thereunto called by His Father, who put all power and judgment into His hand, and gave Him commandment to execute the same.
V. The Lord Jesus, by His perfect obedience, and sacrifice of Himself, which He through the eternal Spirit, once offered up unto God, has fully satisfied the justice of His Father; and purchased, not only reconciliation, but an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven, for those whom the Father has given unto Him.
VII. Christ, in the work of mediation, acts according to both natures, by each nature doing that which is proper to itself; yet, by reason of the unity of the person, that which is proper to one nature is sometimes in Scripture attributed to the person denominated by the other nature.
The first thing we notice when we study the Qur’an and investigate its assertions about Christian Christology is that what it presents as Christian dogma is something other than what the Bible and the Historic Creeds affirm. It misrepresents the dogma of the eternal Sonship of Christ as the equivalent of pagan gods carousing with human females and producing semi-divine offspring, a totally false picture of what Christians believe. The Muslim writer Suzanne Haneef makes exactly this point is her exposition on the subject, referring to S. 2:116-117:
If Jesus were indeed God’s Son, he would be a sharer in the Godhead and of Divine nature himself and in that case God would have simultaneously begotten, been begotten, been born, lived as a human being, and died. Such a notion does not merit any comment, It has much more in common with pagan mythologies, in which ‘gods’ fathered semi-divine children by human women, than with a true religion coming from God and based on the relationship between the Creator and the created. Hence the claim that Jesus is God’s Son cannot be, by its very nature, other than a false one because it contradicts the very nature and attributes of the Creator, bringing Him down to the level of the beings He has created. 35
As I stated in my paper An Explanation of the Trinity for Muslims, ‘Islam accuses Christians with promoting a mere human being – Jesus, viewed simply as a prophet – to the status of deity. However, the Christian position is actually the opposite to some degree: Man did not become God, God took human nature alongside His divine nature without ceasing to be God. Deity and humanity are not confused in the One Person of Christ. Deity is not diluted, nor humanity elevated.’ This accusation against the Christians is clear from a perusal of some of the ayat in question:
Surah An-Nisaa 4:171
171. O people of the Book! commit no excesses in your religion: nor say of Allah aught but truth. Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) an Apostle of Allah and His Word which He bestowed on Mary and a Spirit proceeding from Him: so believe in Allah and His Apostles. Say not ‘Trinity': desist: it will be better for you: for Allah is One Allah: glory be to him: (for Exalted is He) above having a son. To Him belong all things in the heavens and on earth And enough is Allah as a Disposer of affairs.
172. Christ disdaineth not to serve and worship Allah nor do the angels those nearest (to Allah): those who disdain His worship and are arrogant He will gather them all together unto himself to (answer).
Surah 43 Az-Zukhruf
57 When (Jesus) the son of Mary is held up as an example behold thy people raise a clamor thereat (in ridicule)!
58 And they say ” Are Our gods best or He?” This they set forth to thee only by way of disputation: yea they are a contentious people.
59 He was no more than a servant: We granted Our favour to him and We made him an example to the Children of Israel.
Surah Maryam 19:35
35. It is not befitting to (the majesty of) Allah that He should beget a son. Glory be to Him! When He determines a matter He only says to it ‘Be’ and it is.
Surah Maidah 5:72
72. They do blaspheme who say: ‘Allah is Christ the son of Mary.’ But said Christ: ‘O children of Israel! worship Allah my Lord and your Lord.’ Whoever joins Other gods with Allah Allah will forbid him the garden and the Fire will be his abode…
73. They do blaspheme who say: Allah is one of three in a Trinity: for there is no god except One Allah. If they desist not from their word (of blasphemy) verily a grievous penalty will befall the blasphemers among them.
75 Christ the son of Mary was no more than an Apostle; many were the Apostles that passed away before him. His mother was a woman of truth. They had both to eat their (daily) food. See how Allah doth makes His Signs clear to them; yet see in what ways they are deluded away from the truth!
Surah Al-Maida 5:116
116 And behold! Allah will say “O Jesus the son of Mary! didst thou say unto men ‘worship me and my mother as gods in derogation of Allah'”? He will say: “Glory to Thee! never could I say what I had no right (to say). Had I said such a thing Thou wouldst indeed have known it. Thou knowest what is in my heart though I know not what is in Thine. For Thou knowest in full all that is hidden.
117 “Never said I to them aught except what Thou didst command me to say to wit ‘Worship Allah my Lord and your Lord'; and I was a witness over them whilst I dwelt amongst them; when Thou didst take me up thou wast the Watcher over them and Thou art a Witness to all things.
S. Maryam 19:88
88 They say: “(Allah) Most Gracious has begotten a son!”
92 For it is not consonant with the majesty of (Allah) Most Gracious that He should beget a son.’
Surah Al-i’Imran 3:79
79 It is not (possible) that a man to whom is given the Book and Wisdom and the prophetic office should say to people: “Be ye my worshippers rather than Allah’s; on the contrary (he would say): “Be ye worshippers of Him Who is truly the Cherisher of all for ye have taught the Book and ye have studied it earnestly.”
80 Nor would he instruct you to take angels and prophets for Lords and Patrons. What! Would he bid you to unbelief after ye have bowed your will (to Allah in Islam)?
Surah Tauba 9:30
30 …the Christians call Christ the son of Allah. …Allah’s curse be on them: how they are deluded away from the truth!
31 They take their priests and their anchorites to be their lords in derogation of Allah and (they take as their Lord) Christ the son of Mary; Yet they were commanded to worship but one Allah: there is no god but He. Praise and glory to him: (far is He) from having the parents they associate (with him).’
To continue quoting from my earlier paper, ‘what the Qur’an attacks is Tritheism, belief in three Gods. Such a dogma is completely absent from the Christian Scriptures and from orthodox Christian tradition such as that stated at the Councils of Nicæa (325 A.D.) and Chalcedon (451), which professed belief in the Triune nature of the Godhead, as opposed to any tritheistic ideas.’ This is relevant to the Christological issue since what Islam attacks is an ontological position whereby Christ is a distinct deity from Allah, and even, according to S, 5:72 that Jesus alone is God, both positions completely at variance with the Bible and Historic Creeds. What is absent from all the ayat relating to Jesus is any denial of the essential, fundamental doctrine of Christianity that Christ had two natures. We have seen from the councils and creeds that this was indeed a crucial dogma of Christianity, yet the Qur’an never attacks this belief. It never assaults the Christian concept that Christ was both God and Man. Instead, it merely attacks belief in His deity. As Watt observes, Islam’s presentation of Christian Christology is that the latter believes that
…Jesus is a deity apart from God… What is denied here is the assertion of complete identity between Jesus and God… generally regarded as the heresy of confusing the hypostases… In the light of the Qur’anic attack on tritheism, it seems certain that the denial that the Messiah was the son of God was a denial that he was a deity separate from God; and this is confirmed by the later part of 9:30 which identifies what is denied with the views of ‘former unbelievers’… that is presumably of the pagans. 36
Watt comments on S. 5:73, 77 and S. 4:171-69 that ‘…if these passages are examined without parti pris, it is clear that they are not attacking the orthodox Christian doctrine of the Trinity, but the misinterpretation of that doctrine sometimes called “tritheism”. The great body of Christians officially deny that they believe in three gods, and in their creeds profess their belief in God who is one.‘ 37 If we were to employ the ‘mirror’ argument with the Qur’an, i.e. assessing what an individual or group believe on the basis of what its critics say about their beliefs, we would emerge with the understanding that Christians believe that Christ is God – but only that Christ is God. We would never encounter the tenet for which there was such conflict and passion, even as Islam was emerging, that Christians believe Jesus had a human nature as well as a divine nature. Since the Qur’an’s attack on the Cross is essentially a disputation with Jewish polemics, rather than a denial of Christian soteriology, we would never encounter the centrality of the crucifixion as the crucial salvific event for Christians, one that would necessitate His humanity. This omission is not just surprising, it raises the important question: why?
The answer may lie in the Christian sect Muhammad encountered. The principal Christian centre in Arabia was Najran, and the Encyclopaedia of Islam holds that the prevailing Christological tendency in the area were the Monophysites. 38 Trimingham believes that the Najran Christians were Monophysites, influenced from Abyssinia. 39 The likelihood is that Najran received its Christian influence from Ethiopia. Yusuf Ali suggests in his commentary on S. 27:24 that Abyssinia was the centre of origin for Christianity in Najran:
Yemen had easy access to Mesopotamia and the Persian Gulf by way of the sea, as well as with Abyssinia. That accounts for the Christians of Najran and the Jewish dynasty of kings (e.g. Zu-Nuwas, d. 525 A.D.) who persecuted them in the century before Islam, – also for the Christian Abyssinian Governor Abraha and his discomfiture in the year of the Prophet’s birth (S.cv.), say 570 A.D. Jewish-Christian influences were powerful in Arabia in the sixth century of the Christian era.
Mawdudi’s introduction to S. 105 notes the Abyssinian-Byzantine alliance against Dhu Nuwas, the fanatical anti-Christian Jewish King of Yemen, and which seems to support the idea of Abyssinian – and thus Monophysite – influence in the area. The fact that Abyssinia intervened because of the persecution would suggest it had a particular interest in defending these Christians. If they were Monophysites, we can understand why they would have been so-motivated:
… in retaliation for the persecution of the followers of the Prophet Jesus Christ (peace be on him) in Najran by the Jewish ruler Dhu-Nuwas of Yaman, the Christian kingdom of Abyssinia invaded Yaman and put an end to the Himyarite rule there, and in 525 A.D. this whole land passed under Abyssinian control… Abyssinia sent 70,000 of its troops by it across the Red Sea to Yaman.
Of course, according to the Sira, Muhammad met a delegation from Najran, and the first Hijra was to Abyssinia, so taking all these things into account, we can say that it is likely that the Christian theological influence Muhammad and the early Muslims encountered was some form of Monophysitism. Whether this was the more orthodox form that Copts today state they believe, or whether it was indeed full-blown Eutychianism does not matter. It is quite understandable that either Muhammad and/or the early Muslim redactors of the Qur’an would misunderstand the Monophysite position as involving the diminishing of Christ’s humanity such that He was only divine; after all, this was how many Christians perceived their position! It would indeed explain why the Qur’an never attacks the Hypostatic Union, or says to Christians ‘they do disbelieve who say that Christ is both God and Man’.
Of course, the problem for Muslims, is that if the Qur’an misunderstands the Biblical and Historic Christian position, this must mean that it is fallible, and thus not genuine revelation. It also means that Muhammad and the Qur’an were ignorant of the Biblical position on Christ’s two natures, which again implies that the Qur’an is not divine inspiration. Most of the Qur’anic assaults on suggested Christian Christology are more easily comprehensible if the holy book of Islam is controverting some form of Monophysitism, in the sense that Christ had only one nature, the divine. Interestingly, Bray suggests in regard to Monophysites that ‘it was their brand of Christianity which in a popular form had influenced the Prophet Muhammad. Muhammad rejected he divinity of Christ, but he retained the Monophysite emphasis on the Virgin Birth…’ 40 It follows from this that what the Qur’an controverts is not the Christology of the Bible, or for that matter of the Historic Creeds of the Church, but rather a Christological error, of which most Christians were not guilty. The fact that the Qur’an fails to recognise this undermines its claims to divine inspiration.
The touchstone of orthodoxy is ‘what think ye of Christ?’ In one way or another, practically all error results from a failure to understand the nature and work of Christ. It is absolutely crucial to the message and work of Jesus that He is simultaneously God and Man, without confusion, mixture or bi-personal separation. To perform the great work of salvation, He had to be both. No one argues that the concept of the Hypostatic Union is a difficult one to understand, not least because we have nothing in nature that is analogous to it. However, this should not be surprising, since we are dealing with God, who is, as both Islam and Christianity confess, incomparable and incomprehensible. The fact that finite human minds are incapable of fully comprehending a divine miracle such as the Hypostatic Union in no way diminishes its truth. All that this indicates is that the finite cannot comprehend the infinite.
It is one of the clearest indications that the Qur’an is not divinely inspired in that it fails to address what is clear Biblical doctrine – that Christ had two natures. Christians faithful to the Biblical picture of Christ never claimed he was a separate God from the Father, that He alone was God, or that He was only divine, not human. The Qur’an, however, never gets to grip with what is a crucial Christian dogma – the two natures of Christ. It never examines it, nor condemns it. It appears ignorant of it. Yet if God is omniscient, how could His ‘direct speech’ be unaware of it? The likelihood is that Muhammad and/or early Qur’anic redactors misunderstood Monophysitism, and wrongly assumed that this was Biblical Christian belief. As with the teaching about the deity of Mary, the divine sonship of Ezra, etc., the Qur’an made a mistake. The Christ it criticises is not the Jesus Christians worship.
- Baagil, H. M., Christian-Muslim Dialogue (Revival of Islamic Heritage Society, Kuwait, 1984), p. 23. ↩
- Deedat, Ahmed, The God that never was, http://www.ais.org/~maftab/neverwas.htm ↩
- Berkhof, Louis, Systematic Theology, (Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh, 1958, 1981 reprint), p. 29. ↩
- Rasheed, Asra, A Simple Call to the Worship of One God, (Jam’iat Ihyaa’ Minhaaj al-Sunnah, Ipswich, 1994), p. 10. ↩
- Hodge, A. A., Evangelical Theology: A Course of Popular Lectures, (First published 1860; Banner of Truth Trust edition, Edinburgh, 1976), pp. 185-186. ↩
- Bremmer, Michael The Deity of Jesus Christ, http://members.tripod.com/~Michael_Bremmer/deity.htm …View rest of footnote text ↩
- Berkhof, Systematic Theology, pp. 321-322. ↩
- Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p. 323. ↩
- Murray, John, ‘The Person of Christ’, in Collected Writings, Vol. 2, Systematic Theology, (Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh, 1977), p. 136. ↩
- Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p. 322. ↩
- Hodge, Evangelical Theology, (1890, Banner of Truth edition 1976, Edinburgh), p. 189. ↩
- Milne, Bruce, Know the Truth, (IVP, Leicester, 1982), p. 145. ↩
- Lane, A. N. S. ‘Christology beyond Chalcedon’, in Christ the Lord: Studies in Christology presented to Donald Guthrie, edited by H. H. Rowdon, (IVP, Leicester, 1982), p. 272. ↩
- Olyott, Stuart, Son of Mary, Son of God: What the Bible teaches about the person of Christ, (Evangelical Press, Welwyn, 1984), pp. 111-112. ↩
- Hodge, A. A., Outlines of Theology, (1860, 1879 enlarged edition, Banner of Truth edition 1972, Edinburgh), pp. 188-189. ↩
- Olyott, Son of Mary, Son of God, p. 111. ↩
- Hammond, T. C., In understanding be men, (IVP, Leicester, 1968, sixth edition, revised and updated by David F. Wright), p. 101. ↩
- Olyott, Son of Mary, Son of God, p. 117. ↩
- Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p. 319. ↩
- Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p. 319. ↩
- Olyott, Son of Mary, Son of God, p. 117. ↩
- Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p. 319. ↩
- Chadwick, Henry, The Early Church, (Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1967), p. 210. ↩
- Hodge, A. A., Outlines of Theology, p. 383. ↩
- Kelly, J. N. D., Early Christian Doctrines, (Harper & Row, 2nd Edition, 1960), p. 290. ↩
- Kelly, ibid., p. 292. ↩
- Kelly, ibid., pp. 312, 316. ↩
- Bray, Gerald, Creeds, Councils and Christ, (IVP, Leicester, 1984), p. 155. ↩
- Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East Commission on Inter-Church Relations and Education Development, http://www.cired.org/faith/christ.html ↩
- Kelly, ibid., p. 323. ↩
- Bray, Creeds, Councils and Christ, p. 158. ↩
- Berkhof, Louis, The History of Christian Doctrines, (1937, Banner of Truth Trust edition, Edinburgh, 1969), p. 108. ↩
- Wahba, Fr. Matthias F., St. Antonius Coptic Orthodox Church, Hayward, California, USA, http://pharos.bu.edu/cn/articles/MonophysitismReconsidered.txt …View rest of footnote text ↩
- Bettenson, Henry, Documents of the Christian Church, (Oxford University Press, London, 1963), p. 73. ↩
- Haneef, Suzanne, What everyone should know about Islam and Muslims, (Kazi Publications, Lahore, 1979), p. 177. ↩
- Watt, William Montgomery, Early Islam: Collected Articles, (Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 1990), p. 68. ↩
- Watt, Early Islam, p. 67. ↩
- The Encyclopaedia of Islam, vol. VII, p. 872. ↩
- Trimingham, J. Spencer, Christianity among the Arabs in Pre-Islamic Times, (Longman, London, 1979), pp. 294, 298. ↩
- Bray, Creeds, Councils and Christ, p. 167. ↩