Last night we took the evening to look at Philippians chapter 2, and try to answer this question: Based on the life and teachings of Jesus, and the witness of the New Testament, what have Christians come to believe about what it means that Jesus was both God (the Son) and Man? Included in the study were some quotes from the 2000 year history of Christians thinking about all of these things. I figured they’d be a good thing to post here. Enjoy…
Athanasius (c. 298-376): “The Savior is as simply God as if he were not man, and as plainly man as if he were not God.”
Augustine (c. 354-430) “For just as our word in some way becomes a bodily sound by assuming that in which it may be manifested to the sense of men, so the Word of God was made flesh by assuming that in which He might also be manifested to the senses of men. And just as our word becomes a sound and is not changed into a sound, so the Word of God indeed becomes flesh, but far be it from us that it should be changed into flesh. For by assuming it, not by being consumed in it, this word of ours becomes a sound, and that Word became flesh.”
Leo the Great (c. 460 AD): “What He was, He remained, and what He was not, He assumed.”
Thomas Oden quoting John of Damascus (c. 675-749): “‘The Word while being God, was made man without suffering change,’ but this does not imply that ‘the Godhead [entirely] was made man’; rather it means that ‘the godhead was united to humanity in one of Its Persons.”
Fred Sanders: When the word who was God and was with God in the beginning (John 1:1-2) took the astonishing step of becoming flesh and dwelling among us (John 1:14), what changed about him? A moment’s thought shows that his divine nature did not change, since that would mean not only that he stopped being God, which is enough of a frightful and unbiblical conclusion, but also that there stopped being a God at all, since the divine nature itself would have changed into human nature. No, God remained God, and the Word remained God, when he became flesh. [When John in his Gospel writes, “the Word became flesh”…] “Became,” in the incarnation, cannot mean “transformed into” or “underwent a change in which he stopped being one thing and turned into another thing.” When the Word became flesh he took human nature to be his own, and he added a complete, real human existence to his eternal self.
But here is the crucial thing to notice, the great, open secret at the heart of the gospel of God: when the Word became flesh, the sonship of the second person of the Trinity did not undergo any change either. It was the eternal Son, whose personal characteristic is to belong to the Father and receive his identity from the Father, who took on human nature and dwelled among us. His life as a human being was a new event in history, but he lived out in his human life the exact same sonship that makes him who he is from all eternity as the second person of the Trinity, God the Son. So when he said he was the Son of God, and when he behaved like the Son of God, he was being himself in the new situation of the human existence he had been sent into the world to take up.
Thomas Oden: The incarnation is concisely defined in the Orthodox Catechism: “The Son of God took to himself flesh without sin, and was made man, without ceasing to be God” (Russian Catechism). The incarnation occurred not by conversation of divinity into flesh but by the assumption of humanity into God. God became flesh not by changing into another reality, but by assumption of the flesh. Remaining what he was, he became what he was not. In Gregory of Nazianzus’ (c.329-390) renowned formulation: “When he was He continued to be; what He was not He took to Himself.”
God has elected to use an extraordinary from of body language to communicate to humanity. “Since human nature is essentially composite, and can neither express itself nor receive anything—cannot even think or aspire—except by use of the physical organism and of its material environment, God adapts His method to the nature which He has created, and uses what we have to use—the human body—as the instrument of His self-manifestation, of redemption, and of sanctifying grace.”
In becoming truly a man, God did not cease to be truly God. “Nor did he lose what he was, but he began to be what he was not” (Augustine, Hom. on John).
Gordon Fee: “His stepping into history is the…most profound display of Godlikeness the human race has ever encountered.”
Also, we looked at the logic of the incarnation, from a few different viewpoints. Here they are:
Described from a divine perspective, the story of the Incarnation is this:
- God is from all eternity Father, Son and Holy Spirit. (Trinity)
- God the Son became human.
- So… Jesus Christ was the Son (also called “the Word”). The son became a human and his name was Jesus. “‘God’ describes what Jesus is, but ‘Son’ describes who he is.” (Sanders)
Described from the human perspective, the story is this:
- People encountered Jesus.
- Jesus spoke about himself as the Son of God. He called God his Father.
- Jesus spoke about himself in the same way he spoke about God.
- Jesus did miracles only God could do, and then rose from the dead and allowed himself to be worshiped as God.
- When the Holy Spirit inspired the history of Jesus to be written, the authors of the accounts of his life spend most of their time saying that he is “the son” or “the son of God” – because that is how Jesus talked. They also wrote about all the things Jesus did and said that only God could do or say.
- The early Christians realized that this meant that Jesus was someone called “the Son” and that the Son needed to be included in their idea of the One God, as the one who was related to the Father and Holy Spirit in a special way.
Thomas Oden, in Classic Christianity, gives this helpful breakdown:
Five key arguments flow together in classic Christian teaching to achieve this trust that Christ must truly be God…
- IF the Son is addressed in scripture by ascriptions that could only be appropriate for God;
- if the Son possesses attributes that only God could possess;
- if the Son does the works that only God could have done;
- if the Son worshiped as God without disclaiming it, and,
- if the Son is viewed by the apostles as equal to God…
THEN – Question: where these five streams flow together, do they mutually compel faith to confirm that the Son indeed must be confessed as truly God?
Finally, Gordon Fee adds this insight in Pauline Christology: “What the earliest followers of Christ had come to believe…on the basis of his resurrection and ascension, was that the one whom they had known as truly human had himself known prior existence in the “form” of God—not meaning that he was “like God but really not” but that he was characterized by what was essential to God.”
Hope you find this all helpful!