Refutation of a heresy of Christ’s incarnation


Courtesy of Hendrickson Publishers (2005)

By Spencer D Gear

Was this idea of Jesus’ being fully man and fully God a creation of the church after Christ’s life, death and ascension?

A statement has been made about the divine and human with relation to Jesus. It’s a confusing statement, but it points to a problem in the contemporary doctrine of the person of Christ:

It seems to me that part of the problem is the idea of Jesus being “fully man” and “fully God” simultaneously. But I think some of this is stuff that has come up AFTER Jesus. For example, the Ebionite Christians of the 2nd Century said that Jesus was man, but not God, but the Docetist Christians (same era) said Jesus was fully God, but not a man at all (since, by their thinking, God couldn’t be debaucherized by entering a sinful world.. so Jesus was kind of like a hologram, in today’s terms).. and so to stick these together, they made Jesus “fully God, and fully man”.. and that’s where this confusion comes from.[1]

My response[2] is that Jesus has two natures – fully God and fully man – and this is the orthodox teaching of the New Testament. See the following for biblical support:

The Nestorian heresy

This was as much an issue in the early church as it is today. It was debated at the First Council of Ephesus in 431 and the Nestorian position was found to be unorthodox and his teachings were condemned as heresy.

Nestorius, the patriarch of Constantinople, may not have taught this doctrine himself, but Nestorianism, associated with his name, believed the error that Jesus was two distinct persons, one human and one divine. This doctrine threatens the nature of the atonement. Harold O. J. Brown stated that

Nestorius’ incarnate person was a single person, not two as his critics thought, but he could not convince others that it was so. Consequently he has gone down in history as a great heretic although what he actually believed was reaffirmed at [the Council of] Chalcedon.[3]

The Scriptures do not indicate the human nature of Christ as an independent person. We don’t find in the Bible any teaching such as: “Jesus’ divine nature did this” and “Jesus’ human nature did that” as if they were acting as two separate persons. The NT teaching always speaks of the PERSON of Christ did this or that.

So, the orthodox position is that Jesus was one person who possessed both a human nature and a divine nature.

We can talk of Christ’s human nature, where he ascended to heaven and is no longer in our world (see John 16:28; 17:11; Acts 1:9-11). When speaking of Christ’s divine nature we can say that he is present everywhere: “Where two or three are gathered in my name THERE AM I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20); “I am with you always to the close of the age” (Matt. 28:20).

So we can say that both of these things are true about the PERSON of Christ – he has returned to heaven AND he is also present with us.

We can say that Jesus was about 30 years old (Luke 3:23) if we speak of his human nature, but when speaking of his divine nature, we can say that he eternally existed (see John 1:1-2; 8:58). In his human nature, Jesus became weak and grew tired (see Matt. 4:2; 8:24; Mark 15:21; John 4:6), but we know that in his divine nature, he was omnipotent (Matt. 8:26-27; Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3. Therefore, we know that he was omnipotent, but he grew tired.

We see these two natures at work in the situation where Jesus was asleep in the boat and then calmed the wind and the waves (Matt. 8:26-27). It is amazing that this one person was both tired and omnipotent. At time his weak human frailty hid his omnipotence. But we must never lose sight of the fact that Jesus was one person with both human and divine natures.
I find that the only way I can get my head around this teaching that opposes Nestorianism, is to read the Scriptures. Jesus was truly and fully God and truly and fully human – both natures in the one person.

But what about this problem?

It is stated by Jesus, ‘But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father’ (Mark 13:32 ESV). He was speaking of his second coming and Jesus did not know this time. How can this be when he is fully God?

This is why the biblical doctrine of Christology needs to be fully support in understanding that Jesus was one person with two natures. Christ’s lack of knowledge of the time of his return is a clear example of the need to have the orthodox doctrine of Christ’s one person with two natures. Wayne Grudem put it this way:

This ignorance of the time of his return was true of Jesus’ human nature and human consciousness only, for in his divine nature he was certainly omniscient and certainly knew the time when he would return to earth.[4]

Let’s check out Lutheran commentator, R. C. H. Lenski, and his interpretation of Mark 13:32:

The fact that the angels, though they are in heaven, do not know the date and period is no special surprise to us, but the fact that “the Son” should not know day and hour does cause surprise. The term “the Son” is placed alongside of “the Father.” But whereas Jesus thus names himself according to his divine person and nature, what he predicates of himself is something that pertains to his human nature. The Scriptures show that Jesus may be named according to either nature, and yet that something that belongs to the opposite nature may constitute the predicate. Analogous to the expression used here is Acts 3:15: “you killed the Prince of life”; also 1 Cor. 2:8, “crucified the Lord of glory.” In their essential oneness the three persons know all things, but in his humiliation the second person did not use his divine attributes save as he needed them in his mediatorial work. So the divine omniscience was used by Jesus only in this restricted way. That is why here on Mt. Olivet (v. 3) he does not know the date of the end. How the incarnate Son could during his humiliation thus restrict himself in the use of the divine attributes is one of the mysteries of his person; the fact is beyond dispute.[5]

This is the mystery revealed in the NT. Jesus Christ was one person with two natures – human and divine. Lenski has stated it well in his assessment above: “How the incarnate Son could during his humiliation thus restrict himself in the use of the divine attributes is one of the mysteries of his person; the fact is beyond dispute”.

See more of my articles in ‘Truth Challenge’. See also the article, ‘What do Christians believe about the incarnation? Was Jesus really God?


[1] Christian Forums #256, available at: (Accessed 23 October 2011).

[2] Ibid., #257. I was helped in my response by Wayne Grudem 1994. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, pp. 555-562.

[3] Harold O. J. Brown 1984. Heresies: The Image of Christ in the Mirror of Heresy and Orthodoxy from the Apostles to the Present. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., p. 176. This edition now is available from Hendrickson Publishers (2005).

[4] Grudem, op cit, p. 561. Grudem notes that if you check out the commentaries on Mark 13:32 by John Calvin, H. B. Swete (an Anglican) and R. C. H. Lenski (a Lutheran), you will find that they all attribute this ignorance by Jesus to his human nature and not his divine nature (Grudem 1994:561 n 43).

[5] R. C. H. Lenski 2001. The Interpretation of Mark’s Gospel. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, pp. 590-591. Previously it was published by The Wartburg Press (1946) and assigned in 1961 to Augsburg Publishing House. The Hendrickson Publishers, Inc. edition was printed in March 2001.


Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 13 October 2015.


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