Is a Chalcedonian Christology Coherent?
James Moulder has written an article in the Modern Theology journal titled "Is a Chalcedonian Christology Coherent." This article is in the July 1986 issue (ISSN 0266-7177). He examines the Chalcedonian Formulation of A.D. 451 which says that Jesus is both fully God and fully man simultaneously. He is not so much interested in the wording of the creed as he is to the conception of Jesus that the authors of the creed possessed. Our modern-day understanding of Christology is relatively the same as it was in A.D. 451. Although we do not set up the creed as the standard for truth, most Oneness Pentecostals do agree that most of the Creed does reflect the Biblical teaching. Moulder contends, however, that the Chalcedonian understanding is like saying a square is round, i.e. it is contradictory. He has attempted to rid Christology of this contradictory language by seeking a better understanding of what it means to be God, and what it means to be man.
Moulder is not the only one to argue that the incarnation of God, as it has been traditionally understood, is a contradiction. Soren Kierkegaard also proposed this view, claiming that God and man are two infinitely different things. The world of God and the world of man are as different as fire and ice. But is saying that Jesus was both ontologically divine (in his essence of being), and ontologically human (in his essence of being) a contradiction?
A contradiction exists between two propositions; the one denying the claim of the other. For example to say that a man is a spiritual being, and that he is not a spiritual being at the same time is a contradiction, but to affirm that a man is a spiritual and a material being simultaneously is not. We have no problem believing that spirit and flesh can be joined in on in our own person, so why is it so difficult to accept in the case of Jesus Christ? Surely there are some other variables in this situation that do not allow for such a simplistic comparison. The way Jesus is both God and man is more complicated than the way we can be a spirit being and a physical being, but the same general principle applies.
There are many aspects concerning the mechanics of the incarnation which we do not understand, but a mystery is not the same thing as a contradiction. Godís existence and manís existence are not wholly other as Kierkegaard has claimed. It must be remembered that man is made in Godís image, and therefore resembles God. If Godís image can be found in man, why is it so difficult to imagine that God could assume a human existence while still retaining His Godhood? Although we may not have full understanding of the way in which deity could unite metaphysically with humanity in the one person of Jesus Christ, it is not a contradiction to believe such a thing. Rather it would be considered a paradox, which is a seeming contradiction that cannot be adequately explained, but nonetheless is within reason.
From this point forward, I will offer a point-by-point affirmation/criticism to Moulderís claims.
When speaking of who became incarnate, Moulder points out from John 1:1, 14 that the following equation could be constructed: Jesus = the Logos = God the Son. I would disagree with the terminology "God the Son," because it is not a Biblical term, but I do agree with his basic assumption. Jesus is the Logos, who is God.
I will also agree with him when he said that "we can be puzzled about what we are because there is no uncontroversial account of what it means for us, or for Jesus, to be a human being" (p.292). There have been many theories of what it means to be human, even among Christians, but the abundance of theories does not mean that we cannot have any basic understanding of what it means to be human, or any knowledge of at least some basic constituents of humanity upon which all humanity is contingent. For even among the various opinions, there is always a considerable amount of overlap in ideas.
Moulder has rightly pointed out that every Christology is founded on an anthropology (study of man). Every Christology is also founded on a particular understanding of God, to which we will speak later. It is the anthropological understanding presented in the Chalcedonian Creed that he challenges. The Chalcedonianís claimed that "Jesus was homoousios [of the same substance] with us as to his humanity." This claim, Moulder has rightly said, is open to dispute because what it means to be human is open to dispute. Being open to dispute does not necessarily mean that the claim is illogical or contradictory, but only that it can be questioned.
I do not want to go into much detail concerning Moulderís philosophical approach to the topic of what it means to be a man, but I would like to address one particular statement he made. He believes, like Athanasius, that it was the embodiment of the Logos in flesh that made im a human being (p. 295). It is not clear, but if what he means by this is that the mere assumption of a human body is the essence of humanity/human existence, without the need for a human spirit/soul, then I sharply disagree with him. Being a human is much more than having a body. The body may be a part of human existence, but it is not the totality of what it means to be human. If God would have clothed Himself with pig-skin it would not have made God a pig. Skin is not the essence of person-hood.
If Jesus only took on some of our characteristics, namely a human body and behavior, the Jesus was only pretending to be like us, and was never really a true human being. It may be argued here that no one can say for sure what all a being a human being entails, so my claim is invalid. Although it is true that we may not be sure of what all it means to be human, the Bible is very clear that we are at the very least something more than biological flesh-beings. We are spirit-beings. If Jesus did not have a human spirit/soul, then He was only acting as a man. But the Bible is very clear that the Word, who was God, became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:1, 14). He did not just take on the characteristics of flesh, but He became flesh. God did not put on a costume of man, but became man, with all that that entails.
Moulder went on to argue from the book of Hebrews that Jesus is perfectly human "because he has been tempted to lead an inauthentic lifeÖ". He referenced Hebrews 4:15 which speak of Christ as being tempted in every respect like all other humans, but without sinning. His basic claim is that Jesus is a human being like us because He was tempted like we are. This ability, along with physical flesh, are the only two distinguishing characteristics of humanity that Moulder says Jesus shared with us, and thus can be said to be human.
I think limiting Jesusí humanity to these two areas is reductionistic at best. He has limited Jesusí humanity, confusing ontology (essence of being) with ability. Ability does not make one what they are, but what someone is makes them able to do such and such. One cannot do, before one is. Being tempted is not the sine qua non (essential element or condition) of being human. Angels can be tempted, and did fall to that temptation, but they are not humans. Jesusí temptations were the result of his ontological existence as a genuine and complete human being, not the cause of His humanity. He experienced temptation with us, not to identify Himself with us, but because in His complete human existence He was already identified with us. Even if Jesus would not have been tempted, this would not disqualify him from being a human being. It would only show that He had an ability that other human beings did not share with Him.
Reinforcing his claims, Moulder continued to say, "Öan incorporeal person [lacking a material form] is a human being if, but only if, he knows what it means to have a body and therefore be tempted to lead an inauthentic life" (p. 296). This seems to back up my understanding that he is claiming human existence primarily consists of the embodiment of an incorporeal (spirit being) person. To Moulder, the Logos is the incorporeal Spirit, who becomes man by taking on human flesh and being tempted in that flesh. This is a deficient understanding of the incarnation at best, and wholly unbiblical at its worst.
The main thrust of Moulderís argument centers on what it means to be God. Traditionally it has been said that the essential properties of God that distinguish Him as God are His omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence. I would add to this list Godís eternality, and immutability. It is the three "omnies" that Moulder challenges because he claims it creates an inconsistent triad for Christology. Moulder details this triad which the Chalcedonian understanding breeds:
He says that any of these two propositions can be true, but together they make the third proposition false. It is claimed that any way we slice it, there are logical contradictions in these three assertions. If God is the omnies (1), but Jesus is not the omnies (2), then Jesus and God cannot be the same person, which is false (3). If Jesus is not the omnies (2), and He is God, then God is not the omnies, which is false (1). If Jesus is God (3), then either (1) or (2) has to be false because "x = y if and only if every property of x is a property of y, and conversely" (p. 298). This is the law of identity. If in any way, or at any time x is ever different than y, x cannot be y. Jesus cannot be both the omnies and the non-omnies simultaneously. Because orthodox Christology must affirm all three propositions simultaneously, the Chalcedonian definition is seen as being a contradictory understanding of Christ.
Moulderís conclusions are indeed contradictory as presented. I say, as presented, because there is a way to affirm all three propositions without being contradictory, or dying the death of a thousand qualifications. It is His presentation of the three propositions that makes them appear contradictory.
I want to take particular argument with Moulderís last conclusion to demonstrate my point. In his argument he is assuming that one cannot be both limited and unlimited in one existence. Though his contention seems valid, because to say that something both is and is not would be a contradiction, it is not necessarily so.
The root of Moulderís problem is that he is confusing ontology with function. We have already demonstrated that the idea of God becoming a man is not a contradiction. Now all we must demonstrate is that Jesus is both fully God and fully man, and explain how His being ontologically both God and man simultaneously is worked out functionally.
That Jesus was ontologically God is evidenced in numerous passages. I will only cite a few here. First, Jesus said the Father was in Him (John 10:38; 14:10-11, 20). It is not said that part of the Father is in Jesus, but that the Father was indeed in Christ. If Jesus did not possess the omnies of the Father, then it cannot be said that the Father is in Him, because the Father is the omnies. If all of God was in Jesus except the omnies, it could not be said that God was in Him, because this is essential to being God.
It is also said that in Christ "all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form (Colossians 2:9). Christ possessed the full measure of deity. It was not part of God that was in Him, but all that makes up Godís person was in Christ.
Many Scriptures could be quoted to demonstrate the completeness of Christís humanity, but only a few examples will be examined. Hebrews says, "Wherefore in all things he had to be made like his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself has suffered being tempted, he is able to help them that are tempted" (Hebrews 2:17-18, emphasis mine). Notice that Jesus was made like other humans in all things, not some things. So whatever it means to be man, Christ was fully this.
In support of Jesus' authentic humanity, the author of Hebrews also said Jesus descended from the line of Judah (7:14) in a genuine human body (10:5). Hebrews 2:14 says that Jesus partook of flesh and blood in the same manner as all humans do. It seems clear that Jesus was like us in every way.
Being a genuine human being, Jesus was limited in where He could be, what He could know, and what He could do. Mark 5:30 and 13:32 demonstrate the limitations of Jesusí knowledge. The limitations of his power is evident from the fact that He said He could do nothing by Himself, but only what He saw the Father do (John 5:19). The limitation of Jesusí presence goes without saying. If God is unlimited, and Jesus is limited, then how can Jesus be God? Can he be both limited and unlimited? The passage which best informs our understanding on this dilemma is Philippians 2:6-11, to which I will now turn my attention.
This passage is often called the kenosis passage. Pages could be written on this passage, examining all of the Greek, but I will limit my comments to the most pertinent sections. Paul stated that Christ existed in the form (morphe) of God, but did not think that it was robbery to be equal with God. This phrase is translated from ouch harpagmon hesesato to einsai isa theoi. The meaning of harpogmos, translated "robbery," is "something to take advantage of." Christ did not consider equality with God something to be taken advantage of, but in His incarnation,
Instead of retaining this form, Christ "emptied Himself" (heauton, "himself," and ekenosen, "made of no reputation"). We get the term "kenosis" from the root of ekenosen, which is kenoo. This word is the crucial hinge to understanding the nature of the incarnation. Ekenosen is in the aorist active indicative, third person singular, meaning that the action here genuinely happened, and that being in the past. Christ actively "kenosed" Himself. "Made of no reputation" is a poor rendering from the Greek. The meaning of the word is to empty; to divest one's self of one's prerogatives, abase one's self; to deprive a thing of its proper functions.
Although ekenosen relates the fact that Christ did empty Himself, it does not indicate that which He emptied Himself of. Labon, a modal adverbial participle, serves this purpose. Being a form of lambano, the word means "to take." As a second aorist participle, it describes past action on the part of Christ taking place after His emptying (at the incarnation). Christ emptied Himself by taking upon Himself the form of a servant. He emptied Himself by adding a new existence to His eternally divine essence.
This does not make any sense to us. Mathematically we know that to empty means to take away. If you are to empty a room of the people in it, you have less people in the room than before, not more. The sum of a subtraction can never be larger than the original integer from which the lower integer was subtracted from. With God, however, it was possible. When Christ emptied Himself, He did not give up His essential deity with all of its attributes and characteristics, but added to that genuine and complete humanity to exist in the form of a servant. God did not lose His divine attributes in the incarnation, but gained human attributes. It can be said, then, that this emptying was accomplished by adding.
God laid aside the expression of divine essence. He did not consider His existence as deity, nor this visible form something to taken advantage of, but willingly relinquished its exclusiveness to accommodate His existence as a genuine human (vs. 7-8). This does not mean that God laid aside His divine essence. This passage only refers to His willing humiliation by the assumption of a human existence. God willingly set aside the exercise of the divine prerogatives to take up a human existence.
As Millard Erickson has said, this willing limitation God imposed upon Himself when He became a could be likened to the world's fastest sprinter pairing up with the world's slowest sprinter to run a three-legged race. By willingly and intentionally binding himself to another runner, the fastest runner is going to slow himself down considerably. This type of running is a new experience for him. Although his individual physical strength and speed has not diminished, it has been circumscribed by the conditions in which it now existence. The essence of ability and strength has not been diminished, but the conditions willingly imposed upon them have limited the exercise of their full potential.
The solution to understanding the dual nature of Christ (a seeming contradiction) will not be found in minimizing or redefining Jesus' deity or humanity. The solution lies in the acknowledgment of Jesus' complete, authentic, and genuine humanity; a humanity which imposed limitations (accepted willingly and intentionally) upon the fullness of Christís deity so that He could live on the same plane as any other human, sharing in all of their experiences, so that He could relate to man and be a sufficient high priest (Hebrews 2:14-18; 4:14-16; 5:1-9; 7:13-28).
This kenosis explains the functional relationship between the genuine and complete humanity and deity of Christ. The deity was latent (there, but not being utilized) within Christ. In the willing limitation of His deity, living life as a man anointed by the Holy Ghost, the exercise of Jesus' knowledge, power, and presence, as God, was limited. If the fullness of the deity of the Father was in Christ, but the exercise of this deity was willingly limited so that Jesus could live within the limits of every human being, then there is no contradiction. Jesus, because of His complete humanity, is limited; because of His complete deity, is unlimited. Functionally, however, the two natures exist in a fashion where neither is compromised. His two natures exist "without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the difference of the natures having been in no wise taken away by reason of the union, but rather the properties of each being preserved....," as the Chalcedonian Creed says. The full ontological existence of God was in Christ (who was also ontologically a complete human being), but the essential properties (omnies) were not being exercised in Him.
Moulder makes the mistake of equating Jesus and God. In doing so, he sees it contradictory to find anything different be said of Christ, or done by Christ, that is not said of God, or done by God. It must be realized that although Jesus is God, He is more than God. Jesus' identity goes beyond that of the Father in that the Son has a component to His existence the Father (God in His transcendence) does not have, namely humanity. In a sense it can be said that Jesus was more than God; not more in His deity, but more with respect to the addendum (addition) of His human existence. Because this is so, Jesus and the Father are functionally distinct, which accounts for the differences we read about in the NT.
Having said all of this, I would, therefore, modify Moulderís presentation of the three orthodox propositions to read:
These three assertions are not contradictory when it is understood that the exercise of Christís complete deity was willingly limited because of the addendum (addition) of humanity to Godís person. This limitation is one of function, not one of being. There is a vast difference between the two. Neither Christís ontological (pertaining to the nature and essential properties of existence) divinity or ontological humanity had to be diminished in order to coexist in one person, but the exercise of the divine nature was limited functionally in the hypostatic union of Christís two natures.
Having demonstrated that Christ can be the omnies due to His ontological existence as God, and that He can be limited due to His human nature, and that there are functional limitations placed on the exercise of Christís deity, I believe I can say that I have demolished Moulderís argument that says Jesus could not be fully God and fully man simultaneously without encountering a contradiction. The contradiction is avoided by understanding the functionality between Christís two natures.
Moulderís way of keeping consistent with the Chalcedonian claim that Jesus is both God and man is by redefining what it means to be God. To avoid a contradiction as he sees it, he denies that "omnipotence, or omniscience, or omnipresence are God the Fatherís essential properties" (p. 299), the second of the three affirmations of Chalcedonian orthodoxy. Instead of being homoousios with the Father with regards to the omnies, Christ is homoousios with the Father in respect to having the love of the Father, or as Moulder would term it, homoagapen with the Father.
Before examining what Moulder means by saying that Jesus is homoagapen with the Father, I want to examine his contention that Godís essential properties are not His omnies. He believes that by maintaining such, he can still claim that Jesus is God.
Although not the only determining factor, examining the distinctive characteristics of something or someone is the best way to determine what makes something/someone what he/she/it essentially is. When speaking of God, the Scripture is clear that God is omnipresent (Psalm 139:7-13; Proverbs 15:3; I Kings 8:27; Isaiah 66:1; Acts 17:27-28), omniscient (Job 42:2; Proverbs 15:3; Acts 2:23), and omnipotent (Romans 13:1; Revelation 19:6). How these aspects of Godís nature can be denied is beyond me. The Bible is too explicit that these are at least some aspects of Godís nature, if not some of the very things which make up the essence of His being.
If Moulder was to maintain the truth of the above statements as they apply to God, and yet deny these "characteristics" to Jesusí deity, claiming they are not essential to Godís essence, then the best picture of Christ he can present is that of a demi-god. He may be God, but there is a Deity greater than Him Ďout thereí still. Since he seems to deny them of God also, he is denying the Scriptural portrait of God. He has redefined God so that Jesus can still be considered God, even though He was limited.
Moulderís whole case for Jesus being homoagapen with the Father is based off of the parables which speak of the Father and Son having mercy and loving the lost. Those that show the Father and Son as punishing the wicked, namely the eschatological passages and parables, are recognized to be a problem to his Christology (p. 303). The way he gets out of this dilemma is to claim that he cannot know whether it is he or the Bible "which peddle false beliefs about Jesus" (p. 303). At this point I can understand how he can deny the Biblical statements of God which speak of Godís omniesóbecause of his view of the Scripture. I am not exactly sure what his view of inspiration and innerancy is, but when he can say, "ÖI have to live with the fact that I do not know whether it is I or some of the authors of the New Testament who hold false beliefs about Jesus and about God the Father" (p. 303), I am assured that his view of inspiration and innerancy is not conservative.
We must question Moulderís basis for making love and mercy the sine qua non attribute of God? Why not make something else the sine qua non attribute of God, such as peace or wrath? He has chosen to focus on only one of Godís distinguishing characteristics, to the neglect of all others. He has only focused on Godís character/moral characteristics. If nothing else, this is a deficient view of what constitutes the essence of Godís person.
In the end, nothing can attack Moulderís view because he picks and chooses what parts of the Bible are the most important and carry the most weight: "I therefore attach more weight to the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the two sons who were lost, than to the eschatological passages in the New Testament" (p.303) When confronted with the option of redefining his concept of love in light of the parables and passages which speak of Godís wrath, he says: "Finally, I am not tempted to revise my account of what agape involves because my convictions about Ďjustification by faithí rest on the parable of the Pharisee and the tax-farmer (Luke 18:10-14), rather than on the letters of Paul" (p. 303). Whatever he cannot get by with on these claims, he resorts to the claim of "ambiguity" as to the nature of God and men, taking a near-agnostic position, or a Ďit-doesnít-really-matter-all-that-muchí approach to what we believe (p. 304). What is so amusing is that after he has said all of that, he then asserts that we need to take the stories of Jesusí compassion and mercy with the greatest weight. Moulderís opinions and concepts seem to be the final authority for His beliefs, not the Bible, at least in its totality. I find his logic and approach to Christology without a valid source of authority, and ultimately without any solid base.
I will conclude by reinforcing that to confess that Christ is both fully God and fully man is absolutely essential to a proper interpretation/understanding of the Bible. What we must wrestle with is not the ontological nature of Christ, but the functional outworking of the divine and human natures in Him. How exactly the divine Spirit and the human spirit could dwell in Christ in their entirety of properties, and not end up with a contradiction, or two people in Christ. Solving this dilemma can only be accomplished through our understanding of the incarnation. If we understand that the Word became flesh (John 1:1, 14), then we can see, at least on a theoretical basis, how Jesus can be fully God and fully man, with all that that entails, and still be one authentic person. God did not come and dwell in a man, and neither did God just create a human body to live in, but the Almighty Spirit of God became a human being.
Jesus was both God and man, but in the incarnation these two natures were joined in such a way that they are united into one, and not divided; inseparable, yet distinguishable; the properties of each being present in Christ in their fullness, yet united as one person. That this is so, is known from the revelation of the Scripture. How exactly this is so, is mystery. Mystery, however, is not contradiction!
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