STUDENT POST: The Hypostatic Union

Editor’s note: This post is part of a series featuring outstanding excerpts from student papers at the BibleMesh Institute, which offers affordable online training for local churches, schools, and ministries. The author’s name has been withheld for privacy and security purposes. He is preparing to serve as a missionary in the Horn of Africa.

Jesus is both fully God and fully human. Among other indicators, his exertion of supernatural power points to his deity. He turned water into wine (Jn 2:1–11), cast out demons (Mk 1:21–28), healed the sick (Lk 4:38–41), walked on water (Mt 14:22–33), fed 5,000 men with five loaves of bread and two fish (Mt 14:13–21), calmed a stormy sea (Lk 8:22–25), and raised a dead man back to life (Jn 11:38–44). Some argue that God, by the Spirit, empowered a merely human Jesus to perform these miracles. However, D. Blair Smith rightly comments that Jesus’ “disciples didn’t marvel at [his] complete dependence on another … Rather, their eyes are drawn to the incarnate Son of God as worthy of praise.”[1] One time, Jesus used supernatural power to heal a paralyzed man for the ultimate purpose of proving to the Jewish authorities that he had the divine authority to forgive sins (Mk 2:1–12), which is God’s prerogative alone.

Alongside Christ’s deity, the Bible also clearly teaches his humanity. Although miraculously conceived by the Holy Spirit (Lk 1:35), Jesus was physically born (Lk 2:7), had a human body that could be wrapped in swaddling cloths (Lk 2:7), increased in wisdom (Lk 2:52), wearied from a journey (Jn 4:6), ate food (Lk 7:36), had real and rational conversations, died (Mk 15:37, 39), and was buried (Mk 15:46). He had a human soul (Jn 12:27, 13:21) and emotions (Mt 8:10; Jn 11:35; Heb 5:7), and people experienced him as a true man (Mt 4:23–25).[2]

Mystery exists when considering the relationship between Jesus’ divine and human natures. Yet according to the triune God’s perfect and loving plan, “the Word became flesh” (Jn 1:14). Christ’s divine nature did not experience a change. Rather, he added a full human nature to his deity. The union of two natures in the person of Christ is called the hypostatic union, and the standard definition came from the Chalcedonian Creed of AD 451. This shortened version of the Creed states that Christ is

perfect in Godhead and … perfect in Manhood, truly God and truly man … of one substance with the Father according to the Godhead, and the same being of one substance with us according to the manhood, in all things like unto us except sin … acknowledged in two natures, without fusion, without change, without division, without separation … but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and combining to form one person.[3]

Why would God stoop so low and bind himself to humanity? The answer stems from God’s character and purpose, as well as humanity’s failure. Existing as three persons, God is eternally the loving relations of Father, Son, and Spirit. He desires to live among his people. But Adam and Eve rejected God’s nearness by following Satan’s temptation into sin. The results: God sentenced humanity to death (Gn 2:17, 3:19; Rom 6:23), and humanity became irreversibly corrupt (Rom 5:12), no longer able to live perfect and pure lives before God. As a perfect judge, God cannot revoke his judgment. Being holy and pure, he also cannot look at corrupt and sinful creatures (Hab 1:13), but must separate himself from them (Is 59:2). This is humanity’s great problem. But out of love, God provided the God-Man. Athanasius states that the eternal Word became man in order to

offer the sacrifice on behalf of all, surrendering His own [body] to death in place of all, to settle man’s account with death and free him from the primal transgression … Thus it happened that two opposite marvels took place at once: the death of all was consummated in the Lord’s body; yet, because the Word was in it, death and corruption were in the same act utterly abolished. Death there had to be, and death for all, so that the due of all might be paid.[4]

The crucifixion and death of Christ provide forgiveness and access to the presence of God for all who respond with faith. People can worship him as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29).

[1] D. Blair Smith, “How Did Jesus Do Miracles—His Divine Nature or The Holy Spirit?”, The Gospel Coalition, entry posted January 14, 2020, accessed May 12, 2020, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/jesus-miracles-who-how/.

[2] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 533-535.

[3] Leighton Pullan, Early Christian Doctrine (New York: Edwin S. Gorham, 1905), 111, https://ccel.org/ccel/leightonpullan/earlychristian/earlychristian.i.html.

[4] St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation (Christian Classics Ethereal Library), accessed May 11, 2020, https://ccel.org/ccel/athanasius/incarnation/incarnation.v.html.