April 25, 2016
One of the most foundational doctrines of Christianity is the doctrine known as the incarnation. This doctrine “is the central fact of Christianity. Upon it the whole superstructure of Christian theology depends.”Simply put, without the doctrine of the incarnation salvation simply is not merely hampered; it does not exist. The whole basis of the Christian hope is that the second person of the Triune God “took into union with Himself what he before that act did not possess, a human nature.” In other words, God’s divine nature joined with human nature in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
Such a profound and mysterious doctrine is certainly going to be riddled with theological speculation and debate. Did Jesus house two separate natures in a human body? In A.D. 430, Nestorius (the Patriarch of Constantinople) was accused of promoting such an idea because of his rejection of the term “hypostatic union.” This rejection fired up Cyril of Alexandria, who became one of Nestorius biggest opponents. Cyril understood Nestorius rejection to be a form of Apollinarianism, which denied the joining of the two natures. In 451 the Council of Chalcedon attempted to settle the matter, although Nestorius had already been condemned in 430, by affirming,
“we all with one voice teach the confession of one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ: the same perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity, the same truly God and truly man, of a rational soul and a body; consubstantial with the Father as regards his divinity, and the same consubstantial with us as regards his humanity; like us in all respects except for sin; begotten before the ages from the Father as regards his divinity, and in the last days the same for us and for our salvation from Mary, the virgin God-bearer as regards his humanity; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only-begotten, acknowledged in two natures which undergo no confusion, no change, no division, no separation; at no point was the difference between the natures taken away through the union, but rather the property of both natures is preserved and comes together into a single person and a single subsistent being; he is not parted or divided into two persons, but is one and the same only-begotten Son, God, Word, Lord Jesus Christ, just as the prophets taught from the beginning about him, and as the Lord Jesus Christ himself instructed us, and as the creed of the fathers handed it down to us.”
Although the Council confirmed the joining of the two natures, it did very little to address the serious metaphysical questions that arise from such a statement. It failed to answer such significant issues such as Can God die? Did he die? What do the Scriptures mean when they say Christ emptied himself? (Phil. 2:7) What does it mean to be perfect in divinity and humanity? Did Jesus possess all the attributes of divinity? Scholars have attempted to answer these questions primarily through two opposing views.
The first view to deal with the metaphysical questions arriving from the incarnation of Christ is commonly referred to as the hypostatic union or Classical View. Proponents of the Classical View argue that Jesus retained all the essential attributes of God while at the same time possessing all the essential attributes of humanity. For example, they claim that Jesus was omnipresent by the divine nature although confined spatially by his human nature. He was divinely omniscient yet lacked knowledge as a human, so on and so forth. Jesus, then, in the classical view is a single person with two natures, each retaining the full attributes of which possessing such a nature would necessitate. As Perman states, “[I]t would be wrong to conclude that Jesus’s human nature became divine in some ways or that his divine nature became human in some ways. Rather, each nature remains distinct and thereby retains its own individual properties and does not change.”
Many theologians reject this view on the grounds that it creates a logical contradiction. How can Jesus be limited in space as human and yet be everywhere as divine? These theologians charge holders of the hypostatic union to be supporters of an illogical contradiction. However, proponents see this not as a contradiction but a paradox: “Jesus is one person, not two, but he has two natures, not one. The church has always admitted that this teaching constitutes a profound mystery, but it has always denied that it constitutes a contradiction.” In other words, while we may not understand how it is true; it is true nonetheless. This leads to the inevitable question: On what grounds is it true?
Proponents of the Classical view claim that their belief is more consistent with Biblical teaching. As Blaising notes,
“Admittedly, this doctrine leaves many metaphysical questions unanswered. However, it should be noted that this doctrine was not produced as the fruit of philosophic speculation on the possible singularly cosubsistence of the finite and infinite. Rather it was offered as a precise description of the incarnation recorded in Scripture, drawn from the greatest extent of biblical data and making use of whatever language that might help in that descriptive task… The considered biblical data include all the major passages on the incarnation…, as well as the Gospel narratives, and epistolary references where the attributes of both natures are manifested in one person, the communicatio idiomatum.”
Therefore, In light of the truth claim, the Scriptural evidence must be examined. Hypostatic union theologians claim there is ample evidence to suggest full retention of both the divine and human natures. They point to the many instances of Jesus’ intimate knowledge of people as evidence that he retained full possession of his divine omniscience. According to these theologians, John “makes it clear that this supernatural insight was not an occasional revelation: Jesus “knew all people and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone” (John 2:24-25).” On top of Jesus’ apparent omniscience, these theologians point to his many miracles as evidence of his omnipotence. They assert that his ability to heal the sick, calm the seas, and raise the dead as attested in the Gospels further demonstrate Jesus’ retention of divine attributes. For Classical Viewists, Jesus divine nature is firmly presented in Scripture as possessing full use of Divinity.
These same theologians offer as much Scriptural evidence to support the retention of full humanity. They highlight that Jesus had to mature intellectually and physically (Luke 2:52). They point to the fact that Jesus needed to sleep (Mark 4:38). They argue that Jesus faced temptation (Hebrews 4:15). He was fully dependent on the Father (John 6:38). For the Classical Viewist, there is only one conclusion “that in the incarnation the divine Logos while in the body of Jesus and united to it, is also beyond the bounds of the human nature he assumed.”
Any other view would, to those who uphold the orthodoxy of the hypostatic union, diminish the divinity of Jesus. If the full exercise of the Logos’ divine attributes is not on display Jesus would not be the God-man. They claim rather that Jesus would be something else – divinely human. “We would reject the history of religions school which sought to establish the Jesus of the Gospels as a ‘divine Man’. He was not a divine man who derived a supernatural substance from God. The Gospels do not present Jesus in this way.”
For those who subscribe, then, to the orthodoxy of the hypostatic union, Jesus was a paradox, not a contradiction. He was the God-man. He was fully omnipresent and fully limited spatially. He was omniscient and lacked full knowledge. He was omnipotent and dependent on the Father and Holy Spirit. These attributes, they contend, do not cancel each other out, yet neither can they explain, by their own admission, how they can coincide.
Opposing the Classical View of the incarnation of Jesus is what is known as the Kenosis Theory. While the Classical view highlights the divinity of Jesus, proponents of kenosis claim it does so by diminishing the human nature with illogical contradictions. To combat these problems, kenosis theologians suggest that all though Jesus possessed divine he relinquished the right to exercise such attributes when he took on the human nature. Towns explains it this way,
“As a result of the incarnation, Jesus became the God-man. He was at all times both God and man as he lived on earth. When Jesus became flesh, He voluntarily subjected Himself to human limitations. Before His birth, Heaven was his throne and He traveled the universe at will. Now in the flesh, Jesus was limited to the distance that a man could walk on the paths of Galilee. The Son of God who created water voluntarily lived in a body that got thirsty.”
Kenotic Theology was first contemplated on a serious level in the writings and teachings of Gottfried Thomasius, a German Lutheran theologian. Much like the Classical View was developed to address the concerns of theological heresies such as Nestorism, Thomasius formulated this view to confront what he saw as serious theological concerns. Foremost on the list of concerns was to try and explain in adequate fashion the full humanity of the person of Jesus. As Bible scholars began to become intensely aware that Jesus must be studied in the light of his environment, they became more open to the “prescientific” knowledge of his day. Jesus has been seen more accurately as the Synoptics portrayed Him; a real human being influenced by his culture, psychological development, and physical needs.
The Kenosist, then, is attempting to emphasize the humanity of Jesus while the Classical Viewist underscored his divinity. Similarly, the upholders of the Kenosis Theory, believe that their view harmonizes with the Scriptures in a complete fashion than that of their opponents:
“Everything inconsistent with being a true human was set aside in the incarnation. Jesus did not cease to be God, of course, and his divine attributes did not cease to exist. But the Second Person of the Trinity temporarily relinquished his ability to use these attributes. This is not simply an inference kenotic theorists make to avoid embracing a logical contradiction. Rather, it is the clear teaching of Scripture.”
The Scriptural foundation of the Kenosis is found in Philippians 2:7. In this passage, Jesus is said to have “emptied” (Gk. kenoó) himself of his Godhood. The Kenosist sees this “emptying” as the voluntary surrendering of divine attributes. They point to times when Jesus seeming did not display omniscience. For example, when asked when the restoration of Israel would occur, Jesus responds, “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24:36, NIV). Here Jesus clearly claims that he is not in possession of such knowledge. If then, this is indeed what He meant, then Jesus could not be displaying the attribute of omniscience. He relinquished use of the attribute to become limited in knowledge, according to Kenosis theologians.
Critics argue that the times when Jesus apparently showed ignorance of certain, He was essentially highlighting a teaching point. For example, when the woman with the blood condition touched Jesus, He was not aware of who touched him. Kenosis opponents argue that when Jesus asked, “who touched me?” (Luke 8:45), Jesus was drawing attention to the woman in order to teach his disciples a lesson in faith. Most Kenosists see this as a force upon Scripture. Helland argues,
“These initial passages, on a plain unbiased contextual reading, show that Jesus demonstrated a limitation in his knowledge. He asked questions to secure information. It could be argued that where Jesus asked questions, he was not seeking information, but was merely drawing out matters for his purposes. I would argue that, unless we have contextual clues from the writer or from a parallel reference, the burden of proof lies with those who would suggest such an interpretation.” 
Concerning the woman with the blood condition, Helland writes,
“One could argue that Jesus is here ‘playing dumb’ in order to draw out the woman, bring attention to her healing, and thus glorify God. However, three observations easily dismantle any such possibility: (1). how can an intentional divine attribute of omnipotent omniscience ever realize that power had gone out from him–or for that matter realize anything? The Greek word here (epigrwus means ‘to notice, perceive, learn of, to perceive something (on oneself)’; (2). the fact that Jesus kept looking around shows that he did not know who it was in the throng of the crowd; (3). If he was drawing the woman out he could (we would assume from his omniscience) have singled her out of the crowd–an even greater display of divine attributes! A plain unbiased reading can only yield the conclusion that Jesus and the disciples were unaware of the identity of the woman who touched him.”
While Kenosis theologians readily admit some questions by Jesus were to highlight teaching points, they deny that all questions were for such purposes. Their contention is such discernments must be made based upon contextual content and parallel accounts. Therefore, where no such redaction exists the scripture must be read and interpreted as is.
Evaluation and Conclusion of the Two Theories.
Both the Classical Viewist and Kenosist have made a valiant effort to adequately explain the union of the two natures of Jesus. Despite the courage and strength of such efforts, neither side has succeeded in successfully answering the metaphysical questions that arise from such a union. The Classical View answers these questions by diminishing the human nature of Jesus while the Kenosis Theology does so by diminishing the divine nature of Christ. Both extremes fall into error as the true union of the two natures are can be neither emphasized nor diminished. As Richey put so aptly,
“The constant revival of ancient heresies and fruitless investigation into matters where human thought has reached results beyond which we can never hope to go, may only be avoided by recognizing that “no theory of the Incarnation answers to the facts of the Gospels except that one which has the witness of the fathers of the first four centuries, i. e., of the two whole and perfect natures co-existing in the one indivisible Person of Jesus Christ.”
It may be construed that I fall into the camp of the Classical View. Nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed not! I side with neither view as both are plagued by the same fundamental fallacy. Namely, both see the central focus of Scripture being “Complete Christology”. Such a starting point is inevitably going to lend itself so to the diminishing or emphasizing of one nature or the other. I agree with Richey, in as much, that any idea concerning the doctrine of Incarnation must allow for the “two whole and perfect” natures of Christ.
If then, the central focus of Scripture is not “Complete Christology,” what is it? Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6). The story of humanity begins with a judgment of death (Genesis 2:17). We have life because of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:13-14). Revelation ends with the opening of the “Book of Life” (Revelation20:15). I conclude from these few and many others that the central focus of Scripture is “Life Christology.” When we read a passage of scripture it must be viewed in the light of Christ as life. Attempting to apply a complete Christology to the passage is folly and an exercise in futility. That is not to say, that scripture does not shed light on other aspects of Christology, rather those other aspects must be understood as supporting Life Christology.
In light of Life Christology, how is the “emptying of Christ” of Philippians 2:7 to be understood? The Logos took “on the form of a servant, a mere man. In doing this, He did not empty Himself of any part of His essence as God. Instead, He took upon Himself existence as a man. While remaining completely God, He became completely human.” Classical Viewists contend this occurred through the exercising of contradicting attributes. Kenosists, on the hand, claim the process occurred by the voluntary surrendering of divine attributes. I believe both theories are incompatible with Scriptural teaching.
The Apostle Paul calls Christ the “second Adam” and compares His death on the cross and subsequent resurrection to the actions of the “first Adam” in the Garden of Eden (1 Corinthians 15:45; Romans 5:12-18). This teaching forces us to go back and look at what occurred when the first Adam was created so that we may understand the nature of the second Adam. However, as the Scriptures are examined we must keep our stated Life Christology in view. Only through this lens will the scripture cohere into a unified concept of truth.
When God created the first Adam, he declared, “It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18). There are two parts to this declaration. First, Adam was incomplete. He was one-half of a whole. If otherwise, there would have been no need for the institution of marriage (v. 24). Man’s nature was always intended to be joined with something else. Genesis tells us that God created woman to fulfill such a purpose (v.22).
The second part of the declaration is the need for a helper. While the woman was created to fulfill such a role, it is interesting to note that Jesus said, “when the paraklétos (helper) comes…” (John 15:26) referring to the day of Pentecost. If God had already created the helper that would complete man in the Garden, why the need to send another? Is it simply because woman failed to live up to her purpose due to sin?
I suggest the answer lies in God’s foreknowledge. Adam and Eve’s sin did not shock God. He was not unaware of the end results of Adam and Eve’s test. Mankind, male and female, were created with a singular objective. God would indwell in them and join his eternal nature to their created nature. This, however, could not be done due to the holiness of God until sin had been dealt with permanently. Jesus was ordained to die from before the foundation of the world (1 Peter 1:20). As a result, God temporarily completed by through the creation of woman.
So what occurred at the Incarnation? Jesus became the first of what God intended from the beginning. The Logos emptied himself of His Godhood by relinquishing his “self-completion” to become part of the wholeness of humanity. In other words, Jesus becomes the first of the “New Creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Such a view of scriptures avoids the contradiction of the Classical View. The Logos does not by necessity need to relinquish any of His divine attributes, but merely unify those attributes within the context of a human nature. At the same time, it is not necessary to overly emphasize the human nature as with the Kenosis Theology. All that is required is that human nature learns to unify within the context of the divine.
The Completionist View
Previously, I argued that the Classical view and the Kenotic view both lacks in fully explaining the nature of the Incarnation of Christ. I suggested that what really occurred was the voluntary cessation of the “self-completion” of God. In this section, we will explore more fully exactly what this entails. And the Biblical basis on which this view is founded.
First, we must define what we mean by “self-completion.” God exists as a triune. He is one being made up of three persons. Each person is distinct in personality and function. This unity of these persons makes a whole. The unification is a result of the voluntary surrendering of the individual wills to the service of the other persons; thereby creating a single unified will. This unification occurs on both psychological and metaphysical levels. The ensuing result is what we call God. This is the paradigm in which God existed until the incarnation.
In the incarnation, God voluntarily ceases to exist in the afore-described paradigm. Instead, God chooses to exist in a new paradigm- The Trinity plus humanity. God “emptied himself” by opening upon the union of wills and thereby entering a new mode of existence. Some may argue that I claiming God is not immutable; or that God has ceased to be God. In terms of human concepts in one sense this true. Just as God at one point in eternity past existed without the knowledge of sin. In just the same way, God at one point existed without the inclusion of humanity. However, in another sense, God exists outside of time and so, therefore, God exists simultaneously without humanity and with humanity. This dual existence He has experienced for all eternity. In that sense God has not changed who and what He is. However, for spatially and time confined psychologies such that man possess God, to some degree, must be viewed as bound by time.
With the birth of Jesus, two natures (the divine and human natures) which are two separate entities unified to create a single nature unique in and of itself. We may see a limited similarity in the process of genetics. Two different individual genes, both easily isolated, combine together to create a trait that is unique in and of itself. While this example may provide a framework in which to understand the incarnation, it is not a direct comparison as to nature and process. Admittedly, this concept is not a simple one to define in human vocabulary. However, much like the Doctrine of the Trinity, it is implied from scriptural exegesis, so we must look to the scriptural evidence.
John 1:1-2, 14
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was GodAnd the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.…”
In the opening of John’s Gospel, we find the most basic and foundational statement of the Incarnation. Concerning this verse Tenney writes, “He partook of flesh and blood with its limitations of space and time, and susceptibility to suffering so that He belongs to humanity as well as God.” Yet it is more than just the relinquishing of the use of Divine attributes as the Kenosists claim and neither is it the complete separation of natures as suggested in the traditional view. The word “became” “signifies a change of condition, state or place.” John was espousing a complete change of condition for the Logos. As Tenney said, “Christ entered into a new dimension of existence through the gateway of human birth and took up his residence among men.” This neither implies two natures in one body nor does it imply a limiting of one nature or the other. In fact, it tells of a completely new mode of existence.
“And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.”
This verse is not a typical verse referred to as an Incarnation scripture, yet it is important to note that Jesus grew in wisdom. He did not possess the full wisdom of God. “He passed through a natural but perfect spiritual and physical development. At every stage, He was perfect for that stage.”  Therefore, Jesus had to learn to be Divine in the context of humanity. He had to learn to be human in the context of Divinity. This took wisdom. Jesus came to be the personification of such wisdom (John. 14:6). Yet, He was not born as such, instead, He had to grow into it. Even as the God-man, Jesus was not perfect in the sense of completion, rather perfect in the sense of the correct state of being for the circumstance. We may compare it to a baker who samples his cake batter prior to baking and declares it perfect. The cake, itself, is not complete, yet the batter is perfect for baking. Jesus was not perfect in the sense of completion but rather He was perfect in that He was prepared for completion. It is interesting to note that the temptations were not allowed to occur until He had reached 30 years of age and been baptized. It is also interesting to note the only comments by scripture on Jesus between ages twelve and thirty is the one we find here at the end of Luke’s second chapter.
We may imply, then, that Jesus was not divinely wise. The summary statement of his growth occurs after an incident in which He was not wise enough to realize it was not yet time to be about the Father’s business. Therefore, it may be inferred that it required the experience of the fear of his parents to teach him that lesson. If it any other possible alternative was the actuality Jesus, either, was not perfect or he sinned. Since this cannot be the case we conclude then, that at this point in His history Jesus did not know how to respond. This is not mere human development, but rather it is God development as He expands himself to include humanity.
John 2:3-4, 8
“When the wine ran out, Jesus’ mother said to Him, “They have no more wine.” “Woman, why does this concern us? Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.”… and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine.”
In these passages, we cannot help but notice that Jesus did not know that the hour had come. We can argue that here we see the human being learning to act in the context of the Divine. Only three days earlier, Jesus had received the power of the Holy Spirit to begin his ministry. John tells us that Jesus arrived on the third day of the wedding. Since it is a three-day journey from Bethany to Cana, the wedding would have started the day that Jesus was baptized or shortly after the drawing of His first disciples. While His mother may not have known exactly what Jesus would do, she was apparently aware that His time had come. Commenting on this Towns says, “Mary was simply informing Jesus of a need, not ordering or commanding him. Her statement is in fact much like a prayer to Jesus, she knew He could do something.”
Jesus did do something, it is interesting to note that his first miracle is a transformation of water to wine, and the first temptation by Satan as recorded in Matthew is that of turning to stones to bread (Matt. 4:3). I suggest the wedding in Cana was a growing point in for the human to act in the context of the Divine. At the wedding at Cana Jesus continued his education both as Divine and human in order to prepare for his upcoming test with Satan.
While the Kenosists and the Classical Viewists both recognize there were times when Jesus displayed attributes of Divinity and humanity. These theories fail to answer the metaphysical questions which arise from the doctrine of the incarnation. The Completionist view, I believe better addresses these issues. It more coherently unifies scripture and does not fall into the trap of metaphysical questions as the other prevalent views do.
“The Council of Chalcedon -451 A.D” http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Councils/ecum04.htm#Definition of the faith (accessed 4/21/05 2016).
Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary. Nashville, Tn: Thomas Nelson, Inc, 1999.
Blaising, C., Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Grand Rapids, MI:Baker Book House Company, 2001.
Boyd, G.A. and P.R. Eddy. Across the Spectrum: Understanding Issues in Evangelical Theology: Baker Publishing Group, 2009.
Geldenhuys, N. Commentary on the Gospel of Luke: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1950.
Guzik, D., “Bible Commentary” http://biblehub.com/commentaries/guzik/john/1.htm (accessed May 15 2016).
Helland, Roger. “The Hypostatic Union: How Did Jesus Function?” The Evangelical Quarterly 65, (1993): 311.
Perman, Matt, “How Can Jesus Be God and Man” http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/how-can-jesus-be-god-and-man (accessed April 22 2016).
Reymond, R. L., Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Grand Rapids, MI:Baker Book House Company, 2001.
Richey, A. The Incarnation and the Kenosis: Essay Read before the Alumni of the General Theological Seminary: James Pott & Company, publishers, 1898.
Tenney, M.C. John: The Gospel of Belief: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997.
Towns, E.L., M. Couch and E.E. Hindson. The Gospel of John: Believe and Live: AMG Publishers, 2002.
Towns, Elmer L. Theology for Today. Mason, OH: Cengage Learning, 2008.
Vine, W.E. and M. Unger. Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words: With Topical Index: Thomas Nelson, 1996.
Walvoord, John F. Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1969.
 John F. Walvoord, Jesus Christ, Our Lord (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1969), 96.
 Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd ed. s.v. “Incarntion.”
 “The Council of Chalcedon -451 A.D” http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Councils/ecum04.htm#Definition of the faith (accessed 4/21/05 2016).
 Matt Perman, “How Can Jesus Be God and Man” http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/how-can-jesus-be-god-and-man (accessed April 22 2016).
 G.A. Boyd and P.R. Eddy, Across the Spectrum: Understanding Issues in Evangelical Theology (Baker Publishing Group, 2009), 113.
 Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd ed. s.v. “Hypostatic Union.”
 Boyd and Eddy, 114.
 Evangelical Dictionary of Theology.
 Roger Helland, “The Hypostatic Union: How Did Jesus Function?,” The Evangelical Quarterly 65, (1993).
 Elmer L. Towns, Theology for Today (Mason, OH: Cengage Learning, 2008), 195.
 Helland, “The Hypostatic Union: How Did Jesus Function?,” 313.
 Ibid., 316.
 C.f. John 6:5
 Emphasis mine. A. Richey, The Incarnation and the Kenosis: Essay Read before the Alumni of the General Theological Seminary (James Pott & Company, publishers, 1898), 6-7.
Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary (Nashville, Tn: Thomas Nelson, Inc, 1999), 1550.
 M.C. Tenney, John: The Gospel of Belief (Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997), 70.
 W.E. Vine and M. Unger, Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words: With Topical Index (Thomas Nelson, 1996).
N. Geldenhuys, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke (Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1950).
 E.L. Towns, M. Couch, and E.E. Hindson, The Gospel of John: Believe and Live (AMG Publishers, 2002), 18.
 Ibid., 19.