Jesus: What are some common errors about Jesus as fully God and fully human?

Jesus: What are some common errors about Jesus as fully God and fully human?

…we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. – 1 John 5:20

Regarding the full divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ, theologian J. I. Packer has said:

The really staggering Christian claim is that Jesus of Nazareth was God made man—that the second person of the Godhead became the “second man” (1 Cor. 15:47), determining human destiny, the second representative head of the race, and that He took humanity without loss of deity, so that Jesus of Nazareth was as truly and fully divine as He was human. Here are two mysteries for the price of one—the plurality of persons within the unity of God, and the union of Godhead and manhood in the person of Jesus.1

There are two general ways in which various thinking has erred regarding the humanity and divinity of Jesus. The first is to deny the full divinity of Jesus in favor of his humanity; the second is to deny the full humanity of Jesus in favor of his divinity.

The denial of the full divinity of Jesus has been done by heretics such as the Ebionites, dynamic monarchianists, Socinians, Servetusites, Nestorians, modalists, monarchianists, Sabellianists, Unitarians, Social Gospel proponents, “death of God” theologians, liberal “Christians,” Arians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, functionalists, Adoptionists, Kenotics, Apollinarians, and more recently by the popular book and film The Da Vinci Code.

The denial of the full humanity of Jesus has been done by heretics such as Marcionites, Docetists, Gnostics, modal monarchianists, Apollinarian Paulicians, monophysitists, New Agers, and Eutychians. Perhaps the people who most commonly prefer Jesus’ divinity over his humanity in our present age are Protestant Christian fundamentalists. They are so committed to preserving the divinity of Jesus that they tend to portray his humanity as essentially overwhelmed by his divinity so that he was largely not tempted to sin, if indeed tempted at all.

In addition, the Bultmannian school (after Rudolf Bultmann) has separated the “Christ of faith” from the “Jesus of history.” Subsequently, Jesus is more like an ancient Greek god. Some evangelical Christians make a similar error by removing Jesus’ life and teachings from history in the world and relegating him to the subjective realm of religious experience so that Jesus becomes little more than a figurative object for devotion and experience only in our heart.

Lastly, it is falsely believed that the Christian concept of incarnation is commonly held across many ideologies, if not even borrowed from them. Humanist mystic Aldous Huxley famously asserted that “the doctrine that God can be incarnated in human form is found in most of the principal historic expositions of the Perennial Philosophy.”2 In response, Geoffrey Parrinder has shown that Huxley’s claim is grossly overstated.3 Nonetheless, it is true that there is a long history of religious beliefs claiming that a god or goddess came to the earth in physical form. These are considered in the broadest sense to be incarnational teachings, although none of them is the same as Christian incarnation.4

In many idolatrous religions, a deity is said to be present in or physically manifested as an object, which then comes to eventually be worshiped as the deity itself. Some idolatrous religions (e.g., Sikhism, Bahá’’, Hinduism) refer to incarnations as avatars, which literally means “descent.” Christian apologist Timothy C. Tennent notes three ways in which such avatars are different from what Christians believe about the incarnation of Jesus Christ.5 (1) Avatars are repeated endlessly throughout each cycle of history, whereas the incarnation is a unique, singular act in history. Jesus will not return for another incarnated life cycle or be replaced by another person housing his spirit. (2) An avatar comes forth because of accumulated karma and is therefore not a free act of God, like the determination of the Father to send Jesus into history before time began. (3) An avatar is a mixture and blending of the divine and human, whereas Jesus is not a blending of a god and a man but rather God becoming man.

Therefore, because Jesus is the only God and his incarnation alone is altogether unique, it is a grievous error in any way to portray his earthly life as similar to avatars and the like that are postulated by other religions.

Are you more familiar with Bible verses that speak of Jesus humanity or divinity? What can you do to be equally familiar with both categories?

1Packer, Knowing God, 46.
2Aldous Huxley, The Perennial Philosophy: An Interpretation of the Great Mystics, East and West (New York: HarperCollins, 2004), 49.
3Geoffrey Parrinder, Avatar and Incarnation: The Divine in Human Form in the World’s    Religions (Oxford: Oneworld, 1997), 13.
4See Winfried Corduan, “Jesus: The Avatar I Never Knew,” Christian Apologetics Journal 4, no. 2 (2005): 29–44.
5See Timothy C. Tennent, Christianity at the Religious Roundtable (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2002), 59–60.