Sunday, September 26, 2010

Torrance, Hypostatic Union pt 3: Epistemology

The hypostatic union of divine and human natures in the one person of Jesus Christ, as articulated at the Council of Chalcedon, has vital implications for the knowledge of God. Prior to a detailed inquiry into the mediation of reconciliation in the person of Jesus Christ, we must first examine the epistemological significance of the hypostatic union. At Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asked Peter, "Who do you say I am?" (Mt 16:15). In the Torrance theological tradition, the "Who?" question takes priority over the "how?" question. Before we can fully consider the work of atoning reconciliation, we must first understand "Who" Jesus Christ is, for if we ask the wrong question at the beginning, we will never grasp the heart of the gospel (Purves, 2007:24).

An inquiry into the person of Jesus Christ must begin with a non-foundationalist christology. In other words, we do not begin with pre-determined, independently derived epistemological assumptions about the subject of inquiry. For example, we do not allow the epistemological assumptions of the Enlightenment to set the boundaries of our inquiry into the nature of Jesus Christ. We do not begin christological inquiry with questions about the possibility of God entering space-time history; rather, we begin with the fact that he did. Neither do we seek to answer the "Who?" question by reflection on our human experience, but only in terms of God's actual self-revelation in Jesus (Purves, 2007:24, 25, 29).

To begin with the fact of God's intervention in human history, particularly in the incarnation of the eternal Word, is the sine qua non of Torrance's "realist" epistemology. In Torrance's doctrine of the mediation of Christ, "actuality" is always epistemologically and methodologically prior. Knowledge unfolds in accordance with the nature of the object of inquiry as it is revealed in the course of investigation. Christological inquiry, therefore, is conducted on the terms of the divine self-disclosure in Jesus Christ, who is "of one nature" with the Father. In harmony with the Patristic assertion that only God can reveal God, the Torrance tradition asserts that there is no other ground for knowing Jesus outside of Jesus himself; Jesus is self-attesting. The "Who?" question, therefore, is an ontological question, not a phenomenological question. The intent of the question is to discover the Lord who has already revealed himself and claimed us for his own. Thus, theology pursues its questions a posteriori, not a priori. Christological inquiry is pursued after the fact of God's self-revelation in the incarnate Son, not according to a previously determined epistemological necessity established independently of Christ (cf. Purves, 2007:24-26).

In regard to the mediation of revelation and reconciliation, the "work" of Jesus Christ must never be separated from the "person" of Jesus Christ. "How" Jesus Christ provides atoning reconciliation is a direct function of "Who" he is as the incarnate Saviour, who is at once both God and man. As Purves (2007:25) notes, christology is not soteriology: we do not know Christ from his works. To be sure, the christological question is prior to the soteriological question. When we know who Jesus Christ is as God and man, then we may begin to understand what he does and what it means.

In order to understand who Jesus Christ is and how he mediates revelation in his incarnate constitution, we must strive to understand, as much as humanly possible, the relation of humanity and divinity in his one person. To be sure, both the humanity and the deity of Jesus Christ are essential for the mediation of revelation. In his humanity, Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word of God, assimilates to himself the hearing and speaking of man so that he might address us within the limitations of human life in a way that we can understand. In his deity, Jesus Christ assures us that his Word of revelation has divine validity, authority, and significance, for it is the very Word of God.

Jesus' Humanity and the Mediation of Revelation

While Torrance puts great emphasis on the divinity of Christ by constituting the Nicene homoousion as the epistemological and ontological linchpin of his doctrine of the mediation of Christ, he does not diminish the importance of the humanity of Christ. For Torrance (2008:185, 186), the humanity of Jesus Christ in its "stark actuality" is also essential for the mediation of revelation. In Jesus Christ, the eternal Word by whom all things were created (John 1:3; Col 1:16) became a creature, a human being, without ceasing to be the eternal Word of God. Therefore, the very "creatureliness" of Jesus constitutes the act of divine revelation in a means accessible to humankind. Because the eternal Word has become temporal, human beings can know eternal truth in creaturely form within the limitations of time. "The historical humanity of Jesus is the guarantee that within the relativities and contingencies of our historical human existence, revelation is reality, and is actuality accessible to us at our level." According to Torrance (1982:84):

Christian theology arises within and is bounded by a triadic relation in which God, man, and world are involved together in a movement of God's personal and creative interaction with man whereby he makes himself known to him within the objectivities and intelligibilities of the empirical world.

It is in God's self-revelation in the ongoing historical dialogue with Israel and, especially, in Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh, that we come to comprehend divine revelation and the response of man. The self-revelation of God comes directly from the revealing activity of the incarnate Word of God, who "has penetrated the barriers of estrangement, opened it out to the light and understanding of God, and established a two-way connection between God and man in the incarnation . . ." (Torrance, 1982:85, 86; cf. 1971:138). Torrance (1982:88) continues:

In Jesus, God's eternal Word graciously humbled himself to participate in finite being, submitting to its limitations and operating within its struggles and structures, thus fulfilling God's revealing and redeeming purpose for his incarnate life as Man on earth and in history. . . . Thus, in effecting his self-communication to man, the Word of God assimilated the hearing and speaking of man to himself as constitutive ingredients of divine revelation. In him God's articulate self-utterance became speech to man, through the medium of human words, and speaks as man to man, for in him God assumed human speech into union with his own, effecting it as the human expression of the divine Word.

Torrance's argument that, in the Word made flesh, "God's articulate self-utterance became speech to man," is succinctly expressed by Barth: "God himself speaks when this man [the incarnate Word] speaks in human speech" (Barth, 1957c:51).

In keeping with his critical realist epistemology, wherein the human mind is capable of apprehending reality, Torrance (1982:89, 90) argues that the reciprocity between divine speaking and human hearing embodied in the incarnate Word of God arises from the "correlation of the uncreated Word and Rationality of God and the created word and rationality of man." The Word who became incarnate in Jesus Christ is the very Word of God through whom all thing were created and in whom they are unceasingly sustained (Col 1:16, 17). While the eternal Word is independent of what he has created, he is "the free creative source and ground of all finite being." He created the universe out of nothing (ex nihilo) and gave it a contingent reality and order of its own which he preserves and protects, while remaining sovereignly transcendent over it. As Torrance notes, "It was into this created rationality (or logos) that the Word (or Logos) of God entered, assimilating it to himself in the incarnation, in order to become Word of God to man through the medium of human word and rationality and in order to provide from the side of man for an appropriate response in truth and goodness toward God." Torrance (1982:91) continues:

In Jesus Christ, then, the eternal Word of God became man within this world of contingent existence and contingent rationality, sharing to the full the conditions, distinctions, and connections of space and time that characterize the thought and speech of all men, in order to be understandable and communicable as intelligible word to all men.

Without ceasing to be the eternal Word of God, Jesus took within himself earthly, life, action, and speech in such a way "as to constitute it not merely the earthen vessel of the Word of God, but his actual speaking of it to mankind." Torrance (1982:91) continues:

That is to say, within the hypostatic union of divine and human nature that took place in Jesus Christ, there is included a union between uncreated and created rationality and between uncreated and created word, so that it is in the rational form of creaturely human word that Jesus Christ mediates God's word to all mankind.

In regard to Jesus statement, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father but by me" (Jn 14:6), Torrance notes that the Nicene Fathers saw Jesus Christ as the arché or "controlling principle" by which all knowledge of God is tested. The "downright humanity" of Jesus Christ became the "touchstone" of authentic knowledge of God and the understanding of the Christian message. As Torrance argues, by the humanity of Jesus, we have access to the Father, for as a "corporal visible reality," he is the way that leads us back to the Father (Torrance, 1988a:62, 63). Torrance continues:

It is only as our knowledge of God conforms to Jesus Christ that it can be accurate and precise knowledge of God, for Jesus Christ the incarnate Son is the perfect and proportionate image of God, the one Form or Eidos of Godhead, the 'exact seal' . . . in whom the Father imparts to us knowledge of himself as he really is and as he has actually manifested himself.

Torrance follows Athanasius and the Cappadocians in asserting that the incarnate Son of God is not only the image, but also the "very reality of God in his self-communication to us," the "Form and Face" of knowledge of the Father, so that to know Jesus Christ is to know the Father, for "the Person (hypostasis) of the Father is known in the Form of the Son."

The incarnation of the Word of God means that God assumes human form and reveals himself to us within the actual forms of human life in the only way that we can understand. God's ways are not our ways; thus, God does not reveal himself to us in his total otherness; rather, he reveals himself within the conditions of our human and creaturely nature. Because God has become human in the incarnate Word, it is possible for us to know him, not as a result of any innate capacity we possess to know God, but solely on the ground that God is free and able to meet us within the limitations of our creaturely existence. Torrance (2008:192) argues:

There, within human nature, God reveals himself as God in terms of what is not God, in terms of what is man. He speaks to us in a human voice, in human language, and in human thought forms. He assumes the humble form of a servant within the condition of our human nature. He did not assume a form unknown to us, but our actual human form under law, the form of servitude, and so speaks our creaturely and earthly language under all its limitations and imperfections.

Torrance's assertion of the mediation of revelation in the familiar form of "creaturely and earthly language" is in keeping with his critical realist epistemology, with its insistence that the subject matter of scientific theology can actually be known. Against the Kantian bifurcation between the knower and the known, the hypostatic union is the embodiment of a "union" between divine and created word, so that Jesus Christ reveals divine word in human form and, thus, enables divine revelation to be comprehended within the limitations of human thought and speech.


Barth, K. 1957c. Church Dogmatics (vol IV.2) (translated by G.T. Thomson). Edinburgh: T & T Clark. 867 pp.

Purves, A.P. 2007. Who is the Incarnate Saviour of the World? In G. Dawson, ed. An Introduction to Torrance Theology: Discovering the Incarnate Saviour. London: T & T Clark. Ch. 1.

Torrance, T.F. 1971. God and Rationality. London: OUP. 216pp.

Torrance, T.F. 1982. Reality and Evangelical Theology: The Realism of Christian Revelation. (Forward by K.A. Richardson, 1999). Downers Grove, IL: IVP. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster. 174pp.

Torrance, T.F. 2008. Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ (edited by R. Walker). Downers Grove: IVP. 371 pp.

Torrance, Hypostatic Union pt 2: Historical Background

(I am posting this material for those who are interested in the history of theology. The doctrine of the hypostatic union as articulated at the Council of Chalcedon (451 A.D.) is one of the "elemental forms" or basic constitutive concepts of T. F. Torrance's doctrine of the mediation of Jesus Christ.)

While the New Testament assertion of a two-fold order of being in Jesus Christ as both Son of God and Son of man is the "foundation datum" of all subsequent christological development, it also contains all the elements of the "christological problem" that would later emerge, particularly in the fourth century: that is, how to define the relation of the divine and human natures in Jesus Christ (Kelly, 1978:138). Despite aberrant forms of christology that had existed as far back as the second century (e.g., Ebionism and Docetism), during the fourth century, especially in the early years of the Arian controversy, issues related to the doctrine of the Trinity outweighed the importance of questions related to christology. Once the question of the divinity of Jesus Christ was considered settled, however, theologians inevitably turned their attention to the relationship between divinity and humanity in the incarnate Son of God (Gonzales, 1987:335, 336).

The Nicene fathers were not content to assert only the consubstantial unity between Jesus and God; they also understood the vital importance of asserting the consubstantial union between Jesus Christ and humanity (cf. Torrance, 1988a:3, 4). In asserting the consubstantial relation between the Father and the incarnate Son, the Nicene Fathers sought to secure "both ends" of the homoousion, that is, the divine and the human. As Torrance notes, "Everything would be emptied of evangelical and saving import if Jesus Christ were not fully, completely, entirely man, as well as God" (Torrance, 1988a:146). Clauses related to the humanity of the Son were added as vital components of the creed (e.g., "He came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit, He became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man. For our sake He was crucified under Pontius Pilate; He suffered death and was buried."). As Torrance notes, those creedal statements that refer to the humanity of Jesus Christ are dominated by a soteriological concern: "for us and for our salvation." The Nicene fathers sought to secure the truth that Jesus Christ is both God and Saviour. The mediation of Christ in reconciliation involved a "two-fold movement," from God to man and from man to God, so that both the divine and human activity of Jesus Christ must be regarded as issuing from one person. In regard to the significance of "both ends" of the Nicene homoousion, Torrance notes, "If Jesus Christ the incarnate Son is not true God from true God, then we are not saved, for it is only God who can save; but if Jesus Christ is not truly man, then salvation does not touch our human existence and condition" (Torrance, 1988a:146-149).

The message of the gospel is articulated in the basic Nicene principle that the human acts of Jesus Christ are the very acts of God. As Torrance (1988a:149) asserts:

In him God has really become man, become what we are, and so lives and acts, God though he is, 'as man for us'. . . . Only God can save, but he saves precisely as man ‒ Jesus Christ is God's act, God acting personally and immediately as man in and through him, and thus at once in a divine and in a human manner.

Notwithstanding the Nicene creedal assertion of the full divinity and full humanity of Jesus Christ, however, the question remained as to exactly "how" the divine and human natures of Jesus Christ are related. Inevitably, the question arose as to exactly "what kind" of human nature was assumed in the incarnation and to "what degree" was it assumed? In regard to this "constant problem of theology," Torrance (2008:182) asks:

[H]ow can we be faithful in our theological statements to the nature of the eternal being of the Son who became man and who yet remains God, and at the same time be faithful to the nature and person of the historical Jesus Christ?

The christological debates of the early church concerned the relation of divinity and humanity in the incarnate Son. These often heated debates took place primarily in the eastern Mediterranean world and were conducted in the Greek language under the ubiquitous influence of the metaphysical presuppositions of Greek philosophy (McGrath, 1998:32). The problem of the relation between the two natures of Christ can be better understood by a comparison of the rival christologies of ancient Alexandria (Egypt), with its Docetic tendencies, and that of Antioch (Syria), with its Ebionite tendencies (Torrance, 2008:198ff).

Alexandrian Christology and Apollinarianism    

The christology of the Alexandrian school was strongly soteriological in character. Redemption was equated with "divinization" or "deification," that is, "being taken up into the life of God." For divinization to occur, human nature must be united with the divine nature; that is, God must be united with human nature in such a way that the latter is enabled to share in the divine life of God. This is precisely what happened in the incarnation: the divine Logos assumed human nature, thereby assuring its divinization. In short, God became human so that humanity may become divine. In regard to the relation between divinity and humanity in the incarnation, Alexandrians emphasised the unity of divine and human natures in Jesus Christ. In addition, they argued that, in the incarnation, there is only one "nature," in that the Logos united human nature to itself. This emphasis on one nature in the incarnation distinguishes the Alexandrian school from the Antiochene school, with its emphasis on the two natures of the incarnate Word (McGrath, 1998:51, 52).

Hinting of Docetism, the Alexandrians regarded the humanity of Christ as a passive, impersonal vehicle for use by the divine Logos, asserting that the humanity did not have a mind and will distinct from that of the eternal Word. By the fourth century, they had developed a "Logos-flesh" christology; that is, an assertion that human flesh, not humanity in its entirety, was assumed in the incarnation. Their assertion of only one nature in the incarnation allowed the Alexandrians to assert the important doctrine of communicatio idiomatum; that is, what is attributed to Christ's humanity may also be predicated of the divine Logos. Unfortunately, they applied this principle in such a way that the human nature of Jesus Christ was severely compromised (Gonzales, 1987:340, 343, 344; McGrath, 1998:52; Olson, 1999:204-206).

Alexandrian christology reached its climax and natural conclusion with Apollinaris of Laodicea (c. 310-c. 390). Because he regarded the human mind as the source of sin, Apollinaris was concerned that the assumption of a complete human nature would compromise the sinlessness of Jesus Christ; thus, he argued that the Logos did not assume a rational human mind in the incarnation; rather, the human mind was replaced by the divine mind of the Logos. Basing his argument on the trichotomist position that humans are composed of body, soul, and spirit (cf. 1Thes 5:23), Apollinaris argued that the soul is the impersonal, unconscious, but vital principle that gives life to the body; the spirit is the seat of personality, that is, the centre of the rational faculties or reason. In the incarnation, the Logos occupies the place of the spirit, so that in Jesus Christ, a human body and soul are joined to a divine reason or mind. In this way, Apollinaris preserved the immutability of the Logos, while solving the problem of how divine and human natures could unite without creating a new nature. Christ is human because he possesses a human body and soul; he is divine because his mind or reason is that of the eternal Logos. Moreover, in harmony with the "Logos-flesh" christology of Alexandria, Apollinaris argued that if a complete human being with its own personality and reason had been united to the Logos, then the incarnation would result in "two persons," one divine and one human. Since the existence of two centres of consciousness, each with an independent mind and will, would undermine the union of divinity and humanity in the incarnation, Apollinaris preserved the unity of the Saviour by asserting the "one nature" of the incarnate Word. Yet, in so doing, he mutilated the human nature of Jesus Christ by taking away its rational faculties and substituting the divine Logos in their place (Gonzales, 1987:346-348; McGrath, 1998:52; Olson, 1999:207, 208).

Opponents of Apollinaris' position, represented by Gregory Nazianzus (329-389), stressed the redemptive importance of the assumption of human nature in its entirety in the incarnation. Because God has assumed human flesh, we are enabled to obtain deification. Accordingly, Nazianzus argued that "what has not been assumed has not been healed"; that is, only those aspects of human nature that are united to the Logos in the incarnation have been redeemed. According to Nazianzus, if we are to be saved in the totality of our humanity, then humanity in its totality must be brought into union with the divine (Gonzales, 1987:349-352; McGrath, 1998:53-55; Olson, 1999:208).

Apollinarianism was officially condemned at the Council of Constantinople (381 A.D.), not because it asserted the one nature of the God-man in the incarnation, but because it denied the full, complete humanity of Jesus Christ. Against Apollinaris, the council asserted that Jesus Christ is "fully human" (Gonzales, 1987:352; Olson, 1999:208; Torrance, 2008:196, 197).

Antiochene Christology and Nestorianism    

Against the more metaphysical soteriology of the Alexandrians, the Antiochene theologians viewed salvation as a wonderful moral-ethical accomplishment wrought by a human being on behalf of all by uniting his will to that of the divine Logos. Given its moral concerns, Antiochene christology emphasized the humanity of Christ, producing a "Logos-man" christology in which the human nature of Christ was not regarded in a passive, instrumental way, but as actively able to obey God. In their concern to preserve the genuineness of the humanity of the incarnate Son, while, at the same time, guarding the transcendent divinity of the Logos against the creaturely contamination of human nature, the Antiochenes emphasized the "distinction" of the two natures of Jesus Christ. In contrast to the "one nature" christology of Alexandria, the Antiochenes defended the "two natures" of the incarnate Son by arguing that Jesus Christ is both God and a human being, possessing both a perfect divine nature and a perfect human nature in "perfect conjunction." Against the Alexandrian insistence on the assumption of a "general" human nature, the Antiochenes argued that the Logos united to a specific human being in the incarnation; that is, the human nature of Christ is a whole and complete person, having an active mind and will. Convinced that the Alexandrian position led to the "mingling" or "confusion" of the divine and human natures, the Antiochenes emphasized their distinct identities, viewing the two natures of Jesus Christ much like water-tight compartments, neither interacting nor mingling with one another, yet held together by the good pleasure of God. Antiochene christology reached a crisis point in the thought of Nestorius (died c.451), who, his critics argued, expressed a doctrine of "two sons," that is, that Jesus Christ was not a single individual but "two persons," one human and the other divine (McGrath, 1998:55-57; Olson, 1999: 205, 206).

Controversy erupted when Nestorius, bishop of Constantinople, forbade the use of the popular term, Theotokos ("God-bearer"), to refer to Mary, the mother of Jesus. Against the Alexandrians, who favoured the term as a logical outcome of their doctrine of communicatio idiomatum, Nestorius, regarding the nature of divinity in the Greek philosophical terms of immutability and impassibility, argued that divine nature could neither be born nor die. Because he believed so strongly in the divinity of the Son, Nestorius resisted any attribution of creatureliness to the incarnate Word, believing that it would confuse the divine and human natures. The humanity is merely the "vehicle" or "instrument" for the use of the divinity and is not the divinity itself. Moreover, Nestorius viewed Theotokos as "crypto-Apollinarian," regarding the title, "God-bearer," as an implication that Jesus Christ was not fully human. In common with Antiochene christology, Nestorius regarded divinity and humanity as mutually exclusive categories; that is, one cannot be both fully human and fully divine. For Nestorius, to say that Mary gave birth to God is to deny the full humanity of Jesus Christ; therefore, he denied the Alexandrian doctrine of communicatio idiomatum as the basis of his rejection of Theotokos (Gonzales, 1987:354, 363, 364; Olson, 1999:211-214).

Nestorius' thinking on the relation between the divine and human natures of Jesus Christ can be viewed as the logical conclusion of Antiochene christology, which emphasized the humanity of Jesus while trying to do justice to his divinity. Nestorius tried to explain the humanity and divinity of the incarnate Son in such a way as to preserve the integrity of both natures. For Nestorius, real humanity cannot exist apart from a specific individual who is the conscious centre of that nature; thus, prosopon ("person") and physis ("nature") go together in both divinity and humanity. In an attempt to avoid the assertion of adoptionism, Nestorius posited a special kind of union between the divine and human natures of Christ, one he referred to as synapheia (L., conjunctio): Jesus Christ is a "conjunction" of "divine nature-person" and "human nature-person," the eternal Logos and the human Jesus in intimate union. Arguing that each nature retains its own predicates, which may not be confused, Nestorius denied the Alexandrian doctrine of the communicatio idiomatum. Thus, he was compelled to assert that the incarnation results in two persons: the Son of God and the Son of Mary. To this union of two persons, we assign the name Jesus Christ (Gonzales, 1987:363; Olson, 1999:215, 216).

Nestorius was opposed by Cyril, bishop of Alexandria (died 444), who considered the former's christology a sophisticated form of the "adoptionism" associated with the Antiochene heretic, Paul of Samosata. The similarity between adoptionism and Nestorianism lay in the fact that, in both, the Son of God never truly enters human existence; rather, the person of the divine Logos remains both distinct to, and different from, the human person of Jesus. Cyril dismissed the "non-interactive" Antiochene model as a mere "conjunction" of natures rather than a genuine union, arguing that it was ineffective in safeguarding the vital soteriological principles at stake in the doctrine of the incarnation (i.e., divinization) (Gonzales, 1987:366, 367; Olson, 1999:216, 217; cf. McGrath, 1998:57-61).

Nestorianism was officially condemned at the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D. Against Nestorius, the council affirmed the unity of the divine and human natures in affirming that Jesus Christ is "one person," not two. Perhaps unfairly, Nestorius is regarded as one of the great heresiarchs of church history, while Cyril is regarded as one of the great defenders of orthodox christology (Gonzales, 1987:367; Olson, 1999:217, 218, 220; Torrance, 2008:197, 200).

Cyril, the staunch opponent of Nestorius, is credited with articulating the basic outlines of the doctrine of the "hypostatic union," the doctrine that became foundational to the orthodox articulation of the mystery of the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. In brief, the doctrine asserts that the subject of the life of Jesus Christ is the divine Logos, the eternal Son of God, who assumed a human nature while remaining fully divine. Cyril rejected a Nestorian conjunction of natures and replaced it with "hypostatic" union: the union of two realities in the one hypostasis, or "personal subject," of the divine Logos. According to Cyril, there is no human personal subject in the incarnation. While the human nature of Jesus Christ includes every aspect of humanity, that is, body, soul, spirit, mind, will, it lacks an "independent" or "autonomous" personal being over against the Logos. The humanity appears anhypostasia, that is, "impersonal." The hypostasis, or "personal subsistence," of Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God, who condescended to take on human flesh through Mary. As Cyril argued, Mary gave birth to God in the flesh. Hence, the doctrine of the hypostatic union is the foundation of the communicatio idiomatum. For Cyril, the one personal subject of the eternal Son is both divine and human; thus, because they are one and the same person in two modes of being, it is correct to say that the Son of God was born, suffered, and died, and it is also correct to say that the human Jesus worked miracles and forgave sin (Olson, 1999:218, 219; cf. Gonzales, 1987:366, 367, 378).

The Chalcedonian Definition

Notwithstanding the condemnation of Apollinarianism at Constantinople and Nestorianism at Ephesus, the christological disputes between Alexandria and Antioch continued, with both schools convinced that the christology of the other compromised the doctrine of the incarnation in ways that undermined or destroyed Jesus Christ's ability to save. Antiochene christology continued to emphasize the two natures in such a way as to functionally separate the human from the divine, so that Jesus Christ accomplished salvation as a godly man who fully cooperated with the divine Logos that assumed him. Alexandrian christology, on the other hand, emphasized the role of the divine Logos, who assumes humanity unto himself and, thereby, heals the wounds of sin and death for all who participate in him by faith. Alexandrian christology, with its emphasis on the divine nature of the Logos, reached an extreme point in the monophysite ("one nature") christology of Eutyches. A staunch opponent of Nestorius, Eutyches rejected any assertion of "two natures" after the incarnation and subsequently undermined the humanity of Jesus Christ to such a degree that it seemed to vanish like a drop of wine in the ocean of his divinity. Eutyches' main error consisted in denying the consubstantiality of the Saviour with humanity. In asserting the humanity of Jesus made no difference to the divine Logos, Eutychianism was hardly more than a new form of Docetism (Olson, 1999:222, 223; cf. Gonzales, 1987:370-372).

The differences between Alexandrian and Antiochene christology were finally resolved at the Council of Chalcedon (451 A.D.). Seeking to preserve the truth of both positions, while avoiding the extremes of either, particularly Eutychianism and Nestorianism respectively, the Council reached what is essentially a compromise between the rival positions by affirming that Jesus Christ is "one person" in "two natures." In harmony with the Antiochene position, the council affirmed the real humanity of Jesus Christ and his two natures; in harmony with Alexandrian christology, it asserted that the two natures cannot be separated or divided, but must be held together in one person. Antioch was declared right in its affirmation of two natures, but wrong in its Nestorian denial of the unity of those natures. Alexandria was declared right in its affirmation of "one person" of Jesus Christ, but wrong in the Eutychian denial of the completeness and integrity of the distinct natures of humanity and divinity in their union in Jesus Christ (Olson, 1999:231-233; cf. Gonzales, 1987:380).

At the heart of the "Chalcedonian Definition" (cf. Kelly, 1978:339, 340; Gonzales, 1987:379; Olson, 1999:231, 232) is the "four fences" of Chalcedon: "without confusion, without change, without division, without separation." These phrases serve as boundaries surrounding the mystery of the hypostatic union. "Without confusion, without change" guards the mystery against the monophysite attempt to preserve the one person of Jesus Christ by creating a mixed or hybrid nature from divinity and humanity. "Without division, without separation" protects the mystery from a Nestorian over-emphasis on the distinction of natures, with its tendency to separate them and make two persons of the incarnate Son. In addition, the "Definition" asserts that Jesus Christ is "homoousios with the Father as to his Godhead" and "homoousios with us as to his manhood." Thus, Jesus Christ is both fully divine and fully human. The Definition further asserts that the two natures of Jesus Christ concur "in" one person (prosopon) and one hypostasis, with the properties of each nature preserved. Moreover, despite the omission of Cyril's phrase, "hypostatic union," it is clear that the divine Logos is regarded as the unique subject of the incarnation, as evidenced by the sanction given to the controversial term, Theotokos. Thus, orthodox, catholic belief is that Jesus Christ is God with a human nature, not merely a man elevated into a special relationship with God (Kelly, 1978:341; Olson, 1999:233, 234).

Torrance (2008:83-86) makes the three important points regarding the doctrine of the person of Jesus Christ as articulated at Chalcedon: First, the doctrine of Jesus Christ is the "mystery of true divine nature and true human nature in one person." This is the "heart" of the Christian faith. This mystery cannot be categorized in terms of what we already know; rather, it can be known only out of itself and can only be acknowledged with wonder and thanksgiving; hence, doxology is the "first step" in the doctrine of Christ.

In acknowledging that the mystery can be known only out of itself, Torrance remains true to his scientific methodology, wherein a reality is known only in accordance with its nature and not in terms of antecedent presuppositions or a priori conceptual categories. In assigning primacy to doxology, Torrance maintains his assertion that faith and worship are integral to the epistemological process.

Second, the mystery of Jesus Christ is that true God and true man are united in one person; that is the doctrine of the hypostatic union. Yet, the mystery of Christ can only be stated in negative terms; that is, we can only say what it is "not." The Chalcedonian doctrine of Christ states that divinity and humanity are united in Jesus Christ in such a way that there is no impairing or diminishing of either the divinity or the humanity, and there is neither separation of the natures or confusion between them. This is expressed in the four great negative terms inconfuse ("without confusion"), immutabiliter ("without change"), indivise ("without division"), and inseparabiliter ("without separation").

In noting that the mystery of the hypostatic union can only be stated in negative terms, Torrance is not retreating to a form of apophatic mysticism, wherein descriptions of God can only be stated negatively (i.e., God is "not this"). Rather, notwithstanding the definitive self-disclosure of God in Jesus Christ, wherein God may be known positively according to his nature, we are not given to understand, let alone articulate, exactly "how" divinity and humanity are united in one person; we are given only to know, by faith, that such mystery has occurred in Jesus Christ.

Third, the union of divine and human natures in the incarnation is entirely the result of the transcendent act of the eternal Son in assuming human flesh. As a result of that act, the eternal Son of God, without ceasing to be God, now exists as the man Jesus, who is fully and truly human with his own individual life. On the other hand, apart from the act of God in the incarnation, there would have been no Jesus of Nazareth, so that the humanity of Jesus is grounded in the act of the eternal Word becoming flesh. The doctrine of anhypostasia asserts that the human nature of Jesus exists only in union with God. It has no independent existence; hence, an-hypostasis ("not person", i.e., no separate person). The human nature of Jesus is given existence in the existence of God. It co-exists in the divine mode of being; hence, en-hypostasis ("person in," i.e., real human person in the person of the eternal Son). This means that Jesus has a fully human mind, will, and body, and is in complete possession of all human faculties.

Torrance's assertion of the doctrine of anhypostasia, that is, that there would be no such person as Jesus of Nazareth apart from the incarnation of the eternal Word, rules out adoptionist christologies. Jesus is not merely a man upon whom came the Holy Spirit at his baptism; rather, apart from the incarnation of the Word, he would never have existed. At the same time, Torrance's assertion of the doctrine of the enhpostasia means that Jesus was fully human and, therefore, rules out Docetic, Apollinarian, and monothelist christologies.

As will be shown, Torrance's understanding of the hypostatic union is clearly in line with the Definition of Chalcedon. He adds nothing new to the orthodox understanding of the relation of divinity and humanity in the one person of Jesus Christ; rather, he goes to great length to articulate the epistemological and evangelical significance of the doctrine.


Gonzalez, J.L. 1987. A History of Christian Thought (vol 1). Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press. 400pp.

Kelly, J.N.D. 1978. Early Christian Doctrines. Peabody, MA: Prince Press. 511pp.

McGrath, A.E. 1998. Historical Theology: An Introduction to the History of Christian Thought. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. 388 pp.

Olson, R.E. 1999. The Story of Christian Theology. Downers Grove, IL: IVP. 652pp.

Torrance, T.F. 1988a. The Trinitarian Faith: The Evangelical Theology of the Ancient Catholic Church. London: T & T Clark. 345pp.

Torrance, T.F. 2008. Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ (edited by R. Walker). Downers Grove: IVP. 371 pp.

Torrance, Hypostatic Union pt 1: Scriptural Witness

(In this blog, I am getting ready to begin a series of posts on the doctrine of the hypostatic union and its constitutive importance in T. F. Torrance's doctrine of the mediation of Christ. As preparation for these upcoming posts, I want first to include introductory material on the scriptural and historical background of this doctrine as articulated at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 A.D.)

The early church declared, "Jesus is Lord" (e.g., Rom 10:9; Phil 2:11), attributing to Jesus Christ a two-fold order of being: "according to the flesh" (kata sarka), that is, as a man, and "according to the Spirit" (kata pneuma), that is, as God (e.g., Rom 1:3ff; 8:9; 2Cor 3:17; Heb 9:14; 1Pet 1:11; 3:18) (Kelly, 1978:138). Jesus Christ is both Son of man and Son of God. This two-fold order of being is, perhaps, no more clearly articulated than in the prologue of the Fourth Gospel (Jn 1:1-18). In proclaiming "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us," John succinctly articulates the mystery that underlies what would later become the doctrine of the hypostatic union of divine and human natures in Jesus Christ. As Torrance (2008:60) notes, John uses Old Testament images and language to expound the incarnation of the Word of God. The eternal Word, who cast his shadow across the history of Israel in the offices of prophet, priest, and king and, above all, in the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, has become flesh and tabernacled among us. According to Torrance, John proclaims that Jesus Christ is the tabernacle of God: the one in whom the glory of God is to be seen has come to dwell among us as one of us. Moreover, the same Word who became flesh is the creator, the one by whom all things are made. Without ceasing to be the eternal Word of God, he has entered creaturely existence in such a way as to dwell in it in personal presence, as "the personal Word" who becomes flesh and effects "personal meeting and faith" with those who receive him. As Torrance (2008:60, 61) notes:

In all this the Word is the Lord God, the subject of the incarnation. He becomes creature in all his sovereign freedom as creator; and without ceasing to be that creator Word he becomes flesh, without any diminishment of his freedom or of his eternal nature. But as the very Word of God and as remaining God's Word in all the fullness of his grace and truth he comes personally to man, light into darkness, declaring and manifesting God in the flesh in a fullness from which we can all receive.

In stating that the "Word became flesh" (Jn 1:14), John means that "the Word fully participates in human nature and existence, for he became man in becoming flesh, true man and real man" (Torrance, 2008:61). Torrance goes to great length to argue that the incarnation is to be understood "as God really become man." Jesus Christ is not merely man "participating" in God but is himself "essential Deity." God did not merely descend on Jesus Christ as on one of the prophets; rather, "in Jesus Christ God came to dwell among us as himself man" (Torrance, 1988a:149, 150). Torrance's understanding of the incarnation is in distinct contrast to adoptionist, Ebionite, Docetic, Nestorian, Apollinarian, and all other christologies that compromise the integrity of the union of divinity and full humanity in the person of Jesus Christ.

Notwithstanding John's assertion that the eternal Word assumed human flesh, however, the doctrine of the hypostatic union of divinity and humanity in the person of Jesus Christ is not explicitly articulated in the New Testament. The doctrine is implied, however, in the narratives of the virgin birth. As Torrance (2008:88, 89) notes, Matthew (1:18) and Luke (1:26-38) describe the virgin birth of Jesus Christ, who is both the divine Son of God and the human Son of Mary. While Mark does not speak specifically of the birth of Jesus, unlike Matthew and Luke, he never refers to Jesus as the son of Joseph, but, rather, as the "son of Mary" (Mk 6:3). In the incident at Nazareth recorded in Matthew, the people describe Jesus as "the carpenter's son," while in the same incident recorded in Luke, they describe him as "Joseph's son" (cf. Mt 13:55; Lk 4:22). Torrance argues that Mark's description of Jesus as "Mary's son" is most "un-Jewish," since calling a man by his mother's name is extremely strange in Jewish speech. Thus, Mark appears deliberately to avoid referring to Jesus as "Joseph's son."

Torrance (2008:89) also notes another passage in Mark (12:35-37), where Jesus says of the Messiah, "David calls him Lord; so how is he his son?" In other words, "How can a divine Christ be born of human stock?" Mark's language fits well with the virgin birth, argues Torrance. While Mark does not explicitly mention the virgin birth, neither do Matthew nor Luke after that point in their narratives from which Mark begins. Thus, far from providing evidence against the virgin birth by his silence about it, Mark's language leans strongly in that direction. As Torrance notes, "In Mark, there are . . . distinct allusions to the supernatural birth of Jesus of Mary."

Returning to the prologue of John's gospel, Torrance (2008:90, 91) finds a reference to the virgin birth in John 1:12, 13: "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (NKJV). Torrance's argument for a reference to the virgin birth concerns the translation of the phrase, "who were born." He argues that the phrase is singular and, thus, should be translated, "who was born," in which case the reference is to Jesus. He argues further that the word translated "man" (andros) should more accurately be translated "husband," which would then properly indicate that Jesus was not born of a human father. Torrance claims that, while the "main manuscripts" (with some exceptions) translate the passage in the plural, "all the available patristic evidence" has it translated in the singular. Torrance also notes that Tertullian (De Carne Christi) charges the Valentinian Gnostics with corrupting the text, changing it from singular to plural, because they were adverse to the doctrine of the virgin birth. In addition, Torrance argues that the singular translation is increasingly followed by modern scholars. Finally, Torrance finds an additional Johannine reference to the virgin birth in the first epistle (1Jn 5:18): "he who was born of God."

Regarding the Pauline corpus, Torrance (2008:92, 93) states that Paul never applies the New Testament word for human birth (gennan) to Adam or Jesus, since neither the first nor the second Adam were "generated" in the usual way; rather, both "came into existence": one from the "earth," the other from "heaven" (cf. 1Cor 15:47). To say that Jesus came "from heaven" is, for Torrance, an "explicit" reference to the virgin birth. Furthermore, Torrance notes that in Galatians 4, Paul uses the usual word for human birth (gennan) three times but uses a different word (ginesthai) when speaking of Jesus. As Torrance argues, "[I]n reference to Jesus' birth [Paul] refuses to use the only word the New Testament uses of human generation. Every time Paul speaks of human birth he uses gennan, but not once when he speaks of Jesus. Every time Paul wants to refer to the earthly origin of Jesus he uses the word ginesthai." Torrance finds here "the strongest disavowal" of ordinary human birth in regard to Jesus.

Therefore, while the doctrine of the hypostatic union is not explicitly articulated in the New Testament, it is clearly supported by scripture. The eternal Word of God was conceived by the Holy Spirit, assumed human flesh from a young virgin and dwelt among us in the person of Jesus Christ, the divine Son of God and the human Son of Mary.


Torrance, T.F. 2008. Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ (edited by R. Walker). Downers Grove: IVP. 371 pp.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Culture of Anger

A new article of mine, entitled, "Why Does God's Grace Make Christians Angry?" has just been published in The Plain Truth Magazine. This magazine seeks to promote the good news of God's unconditional grace as opposed to the legalism that plagues many churches. Their current issue focuses on the "Culture of Anger" in much evangelicalism. To read my article, click on the following link and scroll down to page seven of the magazine.

While you are at it, take a look at my pal Bert Gary's article, published in the same issue, and entitled, "The Prosperity Gospel: God in a Box." Click on the following:



Discipleship; Living in Union with Christ

Radically and unapologetically Christ-centered Announcing the publication of my new book (or manual) called "Discipleship: Living i...