Who Is In the Driver's Seat?: Identifying the Conscious, Active Agent in Christ
It’s obvious that in His external appearance, Jesus presents Himself to us as a single individual. But the real question is not what He appears to be, but who He actually is. Who is the active subject of all that Christ does and experiences? Who experienced death? Who ate bread? Who healed the blind? Who forgave sins? Was it the divine person, a separate human person, or both? This is no trivial question. This is a question of whether God was personally involved in human experience, or if He was an observer of human existence through the perspective of a separate, independently existing human person. I am persuaded that Christ’s person is singular — the divine person — and He is the active subject of all Christ’s experiences. God experienced death, ate bread, and healed the blind — not in His divine nature, but via His human nature in His human mode of existence.
A nature is a set of essential capacities demarcating what kind of thing someone or something is, and is shared by all members of that class. A person, on the other hand, is an individual, immaterial, conscious substance of a rational nature — the self, or mind, defining who it is that possesses a particular nature. Rationality, volition, and consciousness are properties of persons, not natures. Perhaps a simpler way to differentiate a nature from a person is to understand a nature as a what, and a person as a who. Natures are devoid of personality (abstract). To be instantiated in reality (concrete), human natures usually derive their personality from human persons. In the case of Christ, however, the human nature derives its personality from God Himself (called enhypostasis), not a separate human person. As Fred Sanders writes:
Normally, any instantiation of human nature that we come into contact with is also a human person. Is the human nature of Christ, therefore, also a human person? The Christology we are considering gives a twofold answer. On the one hand, the human nature of Jesus Christ is in fact a nature joined to a person, and therefore enhypostatic, or personalized. But the person who personalizes the human nature of Christ is not a created human person (like all the other persons personalizeing the other human natures we encounter); rather it is the eternal second person of the Trinity. So the human nature of Christ is personal, but with a personhood from above. Considered in itself, on the other hand, and abstracted from its personalizeing by the eternal person of the Son, the human nature of Jesus Christ is imply human nature, and is not personal. The human nature of Christ, therefore, is both anyypostatic (not personal in itself) and enhypostatic (personalized by union with the eternal person of the Son). … One obvious strength of the anhypostatic/enhypostatic Christology is that it banishes forever the crypto-Nestorian tendency to find in the incarnation, alongside the second person of the Trinity undergoing human experiences, another person who is simply human. … Jesus Christ is human, and Jesus Christ is a person. It is also true that Jesus Christ is a human person, but what the fifth council makes clear is that “a human person” cannot mean “his created human nature is personalized by a created human personhood.” Instead, we can and must think in terms of the human nature of this divine person, the humanity of the hypostasis of the Son.1
While I would not identify Jesus’ deity as being the second person of a Trinity, Sander’s point is nonetheless valid. Jesus’ humanity is not an ontologically independent human person, but rather a human nature personalized by the divine person. “His humanity is not a distinct person, but instead a set of properties that the Logos possesses after the incarnation, so that the Logos himself can personally live as a man.2 Perhaps Augustus Strong said it best:
This possession of two natures does not involve a double personality in the God-man, for the reason that the Logos takes into union with himself, not an individual man with already developed personality, but human nature which has had no separate existence before its union with the divine. Christ’s human nature is impersonal, in the sense that it attains self-consciousness and self-determination only in the personality of the God-man. Here it is important to mark the distinction between nature and person. Nature is substance possessed in common…. Person is nature separately subsisting, with powers of consciousness and will. Since the human nature of Christ has not and never had a separate subsistence, it is impersonal, and in the God-man the Logos furnishes the principle of personality.3
God did not assume a servant, but the nature of a servant; He did not assume a man, but the nature of man (Philippians 2:7-8). God personalized the human nature He assumed so that He could personally exist as man; He Himself being a fully functional human person. “Christ is not a Spirit-filled person as we are, capable of living as a human apart from the Spirit.”4 Jesus' humanity finds its subsistence in the divine person, and has no independent existence from Him.5 Just as we are the personal subject of all our experiences, likewise God is the personal subject of all Christ’s experiences. So whatever can be said of Christ can be said of God Himself.
Not only is there one personal subject in Christ who is the seat of all Christ’s experiences, but in Christ, that one person always functions as man. He does not do some things as God (such as healing, casting out devils), and other things as man (such as eating and sleeping). Rather, all that He does, He does as man. As Garrett DeWeese writes, “During the earthly ministry of the incarnation, the Logos voluntarily restricted the exercise of his personhood capacities to the range of thoughts, sensations, volitions, perceptions, etc., that can be exercised by a person operating within the normal limitations of human nature….”6
Human existence is finite in nature. God's becoming a man, then, was contingent on His willful acceptance of human limitations (Philippians 2:5-11): spatial limitations, epistemic limitations, etc. He could not simply discard those limitations when it was convenient for Him, because they are inherent to the existence He assumed. To cast off the limitations would require casting off His human existence. Seeing that the incarnation is permanent, it follows that in Christ, God is always conscious of Himself as man, and always functions as a genuine human being. Only in His cosmic existence transcendent to the incarnation is YHWH conscious of Himself as God, and experiences divine functions.
What’s important to grasp is that YHWH’s duality of consciousness/function is not internal to Christ between His two natures, but external to Christ, between YHWH’s two modes of existence.As Father, YHWH is conscious of Himself as God, and functions as God via the attributes of the divine nature. As Son, YHWH is conscious of Himself as man, and functions as man via the attributes of the human nature. So Jesus qua Jesus does not experience both omnipresence and limited presence. As Son, YHWH only experiences limited presence and limited knowledge. And yet that same divine person transcends the incarnation as the unlimited God, and in that mode of existence He continues to experience omnipresence and omniscience.
When He assumed human nature, God assumed all that pertains to a human existence including human mental functioning such as consciousness, psyche, volition, etc. While Christ’s mind is the divine mind, God willingly constrained His epistemic functions to those allowed by human nature so that in Christ, His mind would be functionally equivalent to the mind of an ordinary human person. This is no case of divine amnesia, but rather an act of divine self-limitation and accommodation to human existence. As Garrett DeWeese writes:
[T]he voluntarily constrained divine mind, restricted to operating through a human nature and a human body, just was a human mind. … The “human mind” of Christ refers to the mode of operation of the mind of the Logos functioning within the constraints of (voluntarily limited by) Jesus’ human nature and the organs of a human body. At the same time, the mind of the Logos, functioning gloriously and perfectly according to the divine nature, never sleeps, never ceases to be omniscient. But rather than constituting two minds, we should understand the human mind as sort of a limited subset of the divine mind.7
Thomas Morris likewise notes that
[Jesus] was not a being endowed with a set of personal cognitive and causal powers distinct from the cognitive and causal powers of God the Son.8 For Jesus was the same person as God the Son. Thus, the personal cognitive and causal powers operative in the case of Jesus’ earthly mind were just none other than the cognitive and causal powers of God the Son. The results of their operation through the human body, under the constraints proper to the conditions of a fully human existence, were just such as to give rise to a human mind, an earthly noetic structure distinct from the properly divine noetic structure involved with the unconstrained exercise of divine powers.”9
In other words, Christ has one mind – the divine – but because the divine person/mind is existing and functioning through the attributes inherent to human nature, the divine person/mind is the functional equivalent of everything it means to be a human person/mind. Indeed, to say a person’s mind is “human” is just to refer to its nature. All it means to say that one has a human mind is to say one is a rational being with/of a human nature. Since the divine person/mind possessed human nature, and functioned via human nature, Christ’s mind was truly human in every way.
In Christ YHWH became conscious of Himself as man and functioned as man, not merely in His human nature, but through His human mode of existence. He continued to be conscious of Himself as God, and function as God in His cosmic mode of existence.10 While personally the same, the Father and Son are existentially, metaphysically, psychologically, volitionally, and functionally distinct.
That there is a real psychological, volitional, and functional distinction between the Father and Son is evident from Mark 5:30. Here we read of a woman with an issue of blood, who received healing when she touched Jesus’ clothes. Jesus responded by asking, “Who touched me?” He was not feigning ignorance. He was genuinely unaware of the woman’s identity. He knew someone had been healed only because He felt power flow out from Him. Now, we know supernatural events are not spontaneous. They happen only when God wills for them to happen. But it seems clear that Jesus did not exercise any volitional power to heal the woman, for if He had, He would have known whom it was whom He willed to heal. But He didn’t. Jesus’ experience was passive, not active. So who healed her? Since it was not Jesus’ act of volition that resulted in the woman’s healing, it must have been the Father’s. This is highly significant, for it demonstrates a genuine psychological, volitional, and functional distinction between Father and Son. The Father was doing one thing (acting to heal), while the Son was doing another — completely unaware of what His Father is doing. An internalist understanding of the Father-Son distinction fails to account for this. How, after all, could Jesus be unaware of what the Father had done if the activity of the Father was internal to Jesus? It makes better sense to understand “Father” to refer to God’s continued existence transcendent to Christ, and His locus of activity to be external to Christ.
Understanding the genuineness and reality of this existential, conscious, and psychological distinction between Father and Son is significant to our understanding the nature of the Father-Son relationship. For example, it makes sense of why Jesus prayed to the Father even though He was personally identical to the Father (differing only in His mode of existence). As a genuine human being with real human limitations, including a genuine human psychology, Jesus had the capacity for, and need of prayer as do all human beings. The man whom God came to be was in relationship with the God from whom He came to be (Luke 2:52). Jesus related to the Father as Other, not because He was a different person from the Father, but because the genuineness of His human existence brought about a modal, and yet real psychological and functional distinction between He and the Father.
The exclusivity of human operations in Christ is also significant for our understanding of Christ’s ministry. He did not minister as God, but as a man anointed by the Holy Spirit. The very title ascribed to Jesus, “Christ,” means “anointed one.” Jesus testified to His anointing when He quoted Isaiah's prophecy, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor...” (Luke 4:18, ESV), as being fulfilled in His ministry. Matthew also understood Isaiah to refer to Jesus when Isaiah said, “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.” (Matthew 12:18, ESV). Jesus is God, and yet God’s Spirit is upon Him.
Speaking to the crowds on Pentecost, Peter said Jesus was “a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know:..” (Acts 2:22, ESV). Jesus did not perform the miraculous as God; God performed the miraculous through the agency of Christ. When preaching to Cornelius, Peter said “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him” (Acts 10:38, ESV). Again, Jesus is the agent, while God is the source. Jesus was anointed by the Spirit of God to heal and perform exorcisms. God is said to be with Jesus. Jesus received power to do good and heal those oppressed of the devil because of God's anointing upon Him to do so.
Finally, when the disciples prayed following Peter and John’s release by the Jewish leaders, they prayed to God about His “holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed..." (Acts 4:27, NET). How can this be? Why, if Jesus is God, is He said to be anointed by God?
According to Philippians 2:5-11, God became incarnate by “emptying Himself.” He did not lay aside His deity, but He willingly limited the use of His divine prerogatives to accommodate a human existence. Jesus possesses the divine nature, and thus possesses all the divine properties proper to that nature such as omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence, but they are latent in Christ. “By taking on human nature, he accepted certain limitations upon the functioning of his divine attributes. These limitations were not the result of a loss of divine attributes but of the addition of human attributes.”11 In this state, Jesus lived His life and performed ministry as a man anointed by the Holy Spirit, dependent upon His Father for everything He did.
Jesus plainly said of His own ability, “I can do nothing on my own.” (John 5:30, ESV). Jesus didn't even know what to teach apart from what His Father told Him. The very words He spoke were echoes of what He had first received from His Father: “[T]he Father who sent me has himself given me…what to say and what to speak (John 12:49, ESV; See also John 7:16; 8:26-28, 38, 40; 17:8). Jesus was a recipient of divine revelation, not the originator.
On another occasion Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel.” (John 5:19-20, ESV; See also 3:32). The importance of this passage is two-fold. First, it reveals that Jesus was in total dependence on His Father. Secondly, it shows how Jesus ministered. Jesus saw the works His Father was doing and then fulfilled those same works on earth. The Father revealed His will to Jesus in some fashion, whether it be via visions or propositions. Jesus did nothing, and said nothing apart from this knowledge.
As an anointed man, Jesus operated in the gifts of the Spirit just as we do. He cast out demons by the Spirit of God (Matthew 12:28). Through a word of knowledge He knew the woman at the well had five husbands and a current live-in (John 4:17). Through the discerning of Spirits Jesus discerned the guileless spirit of Nathanael, and the foul spirit in the man at a synagogue (Mark 1:26; John 1:47). Through the gift of faith Jesus calmed the raging storm (Mark 4:39-41). Through the gifts of healings Jesus healed multitudes upon multitudes of the sick. He made the lame to walk by the working of miracles (Matthew 11:5; 15:30). Through the word of wisdom Jesus directed the apostles where to cast their nets so that they might catch fish (Luke 5:4-10), and through the gift of prophecy Jesus foretold many future events.
Understanding that Christ ministered as a man anointed by Spirit is important to our own Christian walk. If Christ functioned and ministered as God, we might admire His example, but we could not emulate Him. But if Christ ministered as a man, then He is a true example for us to emulate.
1. Fred Sanders, “Introduction to Christology: Chalcedonian Categories for the Gospel Narrative,” in Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective: An Introductory Christology, eds. Fred Sanders and Klaus Issler (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2007), 31-2.
2. Donald Fairbairn, “The One Person Who is Jesus Christ: The Patristic Perspective,” in Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective: An Introductory Christology, eds. Fred Sanders and Klaus Issler (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2007), 101.
3. Augustus Strong, Systematic Theology (Philadelphia: Judson Press, 1907), 694-95.
4. David Bernard, Clifford Readout, and J.L. Hall, “The True Humanity of Jesus Christ”; Position paper of the United Pentecostal Church International, March 2004.
5. This is why the virgin birth is such an important doctrine of Christianity. The virgin birth was not necessary to avoid passing on a sinful nature to Christ (such an idea presupposes our predisposition toward sin is passed on solely by males, for which there is no Biblical support. Jesus was spared this predisposition of fallen human nature by an act of God), but to avoid creating a separate human person. Human persons come into being at conception with the joining of male and female gametes. Without the contribution of male gametes, no human person was created. Instead, the divine person Himself took on human existence using the biological contributions of Mary. As J.S. Wright wrote, “In fact genetic considerations may with caution be used to show that the incarnation necessitated the virgin birth. If a child had first been conceived through the act of Joseph and Mary, there would have been a potential and complete man from the beginning. God could not then become this man, but would either have to attach himself in some way as an extra (Nestorianism), or be content to fill him spiritually as the Holy Spirit filled holy men of old. Neither of these concepts fits the biblical picture. It is since the rejection of the incarnation and of the virgin birth that all sorts of new theories have emerged as to how Jesus Christ was God.” See J. Stafford Wright, “Virgin Birth,” in J.D. Douglas et al., eds., New Bible Dictionary (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1962), 1238.
6. Garrett J. DeWeese, “One Person, Two Natures: Two Metaphysical Models of the Incarnation,” in Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective: An Introductory Christology, eds. Fred Sanders and Klaus Issler (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2007), 145.
7. Garrett J. DeWeese, “One Person, Two Natures: Two Metaphysical Models of the Incarnation,” in Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective: An Introductory Christology, eds. Fred Sanders and Klaus Issler (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2007), 145-6.
8. As an adherent to Oneness theology, I would not identify the deity of Christ as “God the Son,” but rather “YHWH,” “the divine person,” or simply “God.” While I find fault with Morris’ terminology, I agree with his conceptual framework.
9. Thomas Morris, The Logic of God Incarnate (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1986), 161-62.
10. Does this mean, then, that God has two consciousnesses? Yes and no, depending on how we understand such a statement. Indeed, God has acquired another consciousness in the incarnation, so in a sense we might say that God now has two consciousnesses. While God has acquired another consciousness in the incarnation, it is a human consciousness, not a second divine consciousness. There is no duality of consciousness within God's being after the incarnation, so we cannot say that God as God has two consciousnesses. God as God has only one consciousness, but God as man has a human consciousness as well. God's newly acquired human consciousness is not internal to His divine essence, but is externally His by virtue of His assumed human nature. This is in contradistinction to Trinitarianism, which posits three personal consciousnesses within God’s very essence.
11. Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1985), 735.
IBS | Statement of Faith | Home
| Browse by Author | Q
Links | Virtual Classroom | Copyright | Submitting Articles | Search