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The Nature of Christ - Part I



Due to the complicated nature of this theme, it will take multiple parts to explore this topic to any degree of justice.  I will begin by laying some of the groundwork that is necessary first.


Who was Christ - Question of Antiquities


The question of Christ’s identity (God or man, a mixture of the two, only a man and nothing more, God in the flesh, etc.) is not a new question.  In fact, the Jews that lived at the time of Christ constantly wondered who He was.  They rejected Christ for all sorts of reasons:  He was born of a man (Joseph - Luke 4:22), His miracles and signs were not enough for them (they would not believe them in His own country - Luke 4:23-24), they considered Him a curse (Gal 3:13) because He went to the cross, His form was that of a servant (Phil 2:7).  The Jews were so busy with what Christ was not that they missed what Christ really was.  They attempted to stone Jesus, not just for His claims to be the Christ, but included in His claims was a claim to something far greater: Jesus made Himself out to be divine (He claimed to be the "I AM").


Although the Jews began the initial questions about who Christ was, they were essentially the tip of the ice berg.  In 325 A.D. this question came to a head.  At this time, a sect under the persuasion of a priest from Alexandria named Arius began to put a title to his version of Christology and it became known as "Arianism".  The Emperor Constantine pulled together an assembly of bishops to what was considered the first "Ecumenical Council" to discuss the nature of Christ and the relationship of Jesus to the Father.  Arius and the followers were mostly exiled at that time, but unknown to the thinkers in that day this idea would become a hot seat of debate for thousands of years (and is such today).  The paths these early denominations took in regard to Christology and other doctrines quickly became a tradition that took root not only in many churches and belief systems around the world, but also at home where some of these beliefs remain today among churches of Christ.


There are an unending degree of theories that have taken root since the time of the first council at Nicaea.  It is not only beneficial for one to understand some of the more basic Christological ideas so that they can make a comparison with Scripture to adhere to truth, but Christology has a profound and momentous impact on the unity of the gospel in teaching against those who would deny Christ, specifically those who claim He was only a man.  Further, a clear picture of Christ's nature ultimately has an impact on how we live our lives today (this idea will be drawn out in later portions).  Finally, when one has a clearer understanding of the nature of God in relation or contrast to the nature of man, it allows for a better idea of how God interacts with man, and what effect such interaction has on man (salvation).  There can be no greater reason to study something that relates this closely to our souls.




Following the council at Nicaea many doctrines around Christology began to arise.  Each of these doctrines came with a title to identify it from other forms that arose concurrently.  Most of these titles end with "ism" to denote them as a specific practice, system or philosophy.  I'd like to take the time now to delineate a few of the more prominent theories; however, before I do I would like to firm up a few terms:


The Terms



In order to describe some of the beliefs that arose surrounding Christ's nature it is important to understand some common terms used to describe Jesus' incarnation (His embodiment of the flesh).  This phrase is attributed to Apollinaris of Laodicea in his attempt to describe what he figured to have occurred upon Christ's incarnation.  What it boils down to is that "Hypostasis" is really just a term used to represent the "underlying state" or "underlying substance" that made up Jesus' being once He took on a fleshly body.



This word comes from monos meaning "only" or "single" and physis meaning "nature".  Some may mistake the meaning of the word to mean that Christ came from one nature, but actually the word represents the resulting personage of Christ, whether from a union/fusion of natures (both man and God) or of a purely human or purely God inhabiting the flesh and making up what is considered to be the Christ.



Dyophysitism (as the name sounds), is the belief in two different natures making up the person of Jesus.  These two natures would of course be both God and man.  It is important to understand that these natures are separate.  With monophysitism the two natures (man and God) join to make a single person/nature or the nature may be fully man (this is rare in the "Christian" world) or fully God, but in dyophysitism the two natures remain separate and even have at times (in extreme cases of dyophysitism) contradicting wills where the divine will of the "God-nature" will always overpower the weaker human will.  In my estimation it would be impossible to have such an occurrence in monophysitism due to the nature being single, the essence from which the will would originate must be singular as well.



As a preface, the reader should know that the beliefs expressed in the next section are only theories about Christ's nature.  In later portions of this continued article I will address what Scripture has to say about the nature of Christ and examine how that compares with some of these ideas.  Please keep in mind also that in addition to these views there are countless variations which have grown and been adapted over time and this is by no means an exhausted list.


Arianism - As I mentioned before, Arius came under fire at the initial council in Nicaea.  His main idea of Christology was that Christ was not an existent being before his formation on earth.  When I use the word "formation" just now, it is not out of coincidence.  Arianists hold to the belief that Christ was indeed a created being.  They concluded that Jesus was "heteroousious" from the Father (that is, He was of a completely different nature or substance entirely).  You can see why this type of doctrine popping its head in the fourth century might cause such a stir.  Some of the main flaws to this idea of thought are that Christ Himself was given the name (through God's own choosing) of Immanuel.  The name Immanuel is translated as "God with us" according to Matthew 1:23-25.  Some Arianists also believed Christ to be created based on verses like Col 1:15 where it states that the Son is the "firstborn over all creation".  What they forget to realize is that Christ is that the word "firstborn" has other meanings than the first "created", but rather it can mean "having the premonition" or "authority" over other beings that are created.  Not to mention that in the same context, Paul calls Jesus the "image of the invisible God".


In the next part I will continue to discuss the different views of the nature of Christ and begin to make some observations from Scripture to give direction as to who Christ really was.


            TO BE CONTINUED...


Ben Taylor