Sharpening Christological Vernacular

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Subsequent to the Incarnation, it is correct to describe Christ as one Person consisting of two distinct natures. While this is an accurate description of Christ, the terms “person” and “nature” are sometimes used without much specificity, leading to confusion in Christological discussions. Therefore, it is helpful to sharpen these definitions in order to more accurately understand what happened at the Incarnation.

1. Definition of  “Nature”

First, let me note what I am not speaking of when I use the word “nature” here. I am not using the word “nature” as a synonym for “tendencies” or “inclinations” (i.e. it is human nature to sin). Rather, I am using the word “nature” to denote a set of attributes or qualities. 1

Norman Geisler and William Watkins define “nature” as ,”… the qualities, attributes, or properties of a thing which are necessary to it.” 2 Similarly, JP Moreland and William Lane Craig define nature as, “…essential properties that make things what they are.” 3 So then, the word “nature” can be viewed as a placeholder for the necessary parts of a whole. Thus, “nature” can be defined precisely as, a set of properties, attributes and/or qualities of x, such that if x ceased to have them, then x would no longer be x.

A human nature for example, would include all those attributes that serve to constitute a human being (a physical body, a mind, etc…). Likewise a divine nature would include every attribute necessary for divinity (transcendence, omnipotence, etc…)

2. Definition of “Person”

Although the meaning of “person” is easily understood, it too can be more precisely defined. Alfred J. Freddoso offers a good definition, when he defines a “person” as, “an independently existing ultimate subject of characteristics.” 4 So, while a “nature” is an impersonal catalog of attributes, a “person” is the conscious subject of those attributes – while a nature is a “set of properties,” a “person” is a property bearer.

3. Incarnational Synthesis

Now, having properly understood these definitions, one will understand that, at the Incarnation, Christ did not add an additional person (a subject of properties) to Himself. Synthesis1Rather, at the Incarnation, Christ added an additional nature (a set of properties) to His Himself.

In an extremely lucid article, John Breck writes, “…the expression ‘hypostatic union’ refers not to the ‘union of two hypostases,’ [persons] one human and one divine. It refers rather to the union of two natures within the one hypostasis of the pre-existent Son…” 5 Geisler and Watkins make the same point when they write, “…the Son did not conjoin himself to a human nature in which a person already subsisted…On the contrary, the pre-existent, uncreated Son united to himself a created human nature of which he became its subject.” 6

At this point, one may see a problem with the logic of the Incarnation, for in order to be by possessing a human and divine nature, it would seem that Christ possessed contradictory attributes. That is, He would be weak yet omnipotent, ignorant yet omniscient, finite and yet infinite at the same time. Thus, some have charged the Incarnation as a logically incoherent doctrine. Herein lays the apologetic challenge to which to which an answer must be given.

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  1. Samuel A Dawson, “Is There a Contradiction in the Person of Christ? the Importance of the Dual Nature and Dual,” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal 9, no. 1 (Fall 2004): 165.
  2. Norman Geisler and William Watkins, “The Incarnation and Logic: Their Compatibility Defended,” Trinity Journal 6, no. 2 (Fall 1985): 189.
  3. J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 598.
  4. Alfred J, Freddoso, “Human Nature, Potency and the Incarnation,” Faith and Philosophy 3 (January 1, 1986): 27-53.
  5. John Breck, “Reflections on the ‘Problem’ of Chalcedonian Christology,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 33, no. 2 (January 1989): 147-57.
  6. Geisler and Watkins, “The Incarnation and Logic”, 194.
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