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Church History Debates: Is Jesus Fully Human?

At the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325, the vast majority of the church’s leaders affirmed that Jesus was fully God (contrary to the teaching of Arius). Yet, if Jesus is fully God, then doesn’t that call into question Jesus’ full humanity? Wouldn’t it be easier to believe that Jesus was of only one nature, the divine nature, even if that divine nature were housed in a human body? Enter the belief known as Apollinarianism.

Background and Summary

Because of the widespread discontent with the results of the Nicaean Council in A.D. 325, Emperor Theodosius called the Council of Constantinople in 381 to reaffirm the previous council. While the council dealt a final blow to Arianism in the Empire, it also challenged and condemned an opposite heresy.[1]

Apollinarianism, reaching its popularity in the A.D. 370s, held that Christ was “one nature composed of impassible divinity and passible flesh,” “one enfleshed nature of the divine Word.”[2] How, thought Apollinarius, could God enter weak, sinful flesh? To ascribe such a thing to God seemed blasphemous.

Apollinarius feared too much of a distinction between the human and divine would lead to “little more than a man illuminated by God.” Instead, said Apollinarius, Christ is “enfleshed God.” His flesh is “God-flesh.” Ultimately, therefore, Christ had only one nature after the Incarnation.[3]


“How, thought Apollinarius, could God enter weak, sinful flesh? To ascribe such a thing to God seemed blasphemous.”


Insisting on Christ’s full humanity for our full salvation, the Council of Constantinople condemned Apollinarius.[4]

Proponents of Jesus’ Human Nature (Along with Divine Nature)

Epiphanius, bishop of Salamis in Cyprus, was a staunch opponent of many heresies, including Apollinarianism.[5]

Gregory of Nazianzus, one of the champions of the Trinity known as the “Cappadocians,” wrote, “What is not assumed is not healed.”[6]

Opponent of Jesus’ Human Nature

Apollinarius, reacting against Arius’s minimization of Christ’s deity, swung to the other extreme. He taught that though Christ had a basically human body, His spirit was actually the Logos. After all, thought Apollinarius, the human spirit is too tainted by sin to have been in Jesus. Ultimately, however, this was an undermining of the humanity of Christ.[7]

Biblical Basis of Jesus’ Human Nature

“Father, if You are willing, take this cup from Me—nevertheless, not My will, but Yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)


“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are, yet without sin.”


Excerpt

Gregory of Nazianzus on Apollinarianism:

“If any one has put his trust in him as a man without a human mind, he is himself devoid of mind and unworthy of salvation. For what he has not assumed he has not healed; it is what is united to his Deity that is saved.”[8]


[1] Wright, David F. Wright, “Councils and Creeds,” in Introduction to the History of Christianity, ed. Tim Dowley (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002), 174.

[2] Wright, “Councils and Creeds,” 178-179.

[3] Harold O.J. Brown, Heresies: Heresy and Orthodoxy in the History of the Church (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1988), 163.

[4] Wright, “Councils and Creeds,” 178-179.

[5] Wright, “Councils and Creeds,” 179.

[6] Wright, “Councils and Creeds,” 179.

[7] Paul P. Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago: Moody Press, 1997), 421.

[8] Gregory of Nazianzus, “An Examination of Apollinarianism,” in Documents of the Christian Church, ed. Henry Bettenson and Chris Maunder (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 49-50.

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