Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Torrance Hypostatic Union, pt 6: Jesus Humanity and the Mediation of Reconciliation

The homoousial relation between Jesus and the Father is vital. Because only God can save, if the ontological bond between the Father and Son is severed, the bottom falls out of the gospel. Following the Council of Nicaea, however, it became clear to the fathers that the humanity of Jesus Christ was as important to our salvation as his divinity. If in Jesus Christ God did not really become one with sinful humanity by taking our actual human nature upon himself, then the work of Christ on our behalf is emptied of saving content, for the work of Christ would have no connection with our side of the gulf opened between God and man by human sin. To be mediator between God and humanity, Jesus Christ must not only be homoousios with the Father, but also homoousios with humanity; that is, Jesus Christ must be fully divine and fully human. If Jesus Christ is not fully man as well as fully God, the Gospel is emptied of evangelical and saving import (Torrance, 1988a:3, 4, 146).

In one of his most straightforward and complete statements on the vital importance of the full humanity of Jesus Christ for the mediation of reconciliation, Torrance (1988a:8) writes:

[I]t is essential to realise that Jesus Christ the Son of God is also man, of one and the same being and nature as we are. If he is not really man, then the great bridge which God has thrown across the gulf between himself and us has no foundation on our side of that gulf. Jesus Christ, to be Mediator in the proper sense, must be wholly and fully man as well as God. Hence the Creed stresses the stark reality and actuality of his humanity: it was for our sakes that God became man, for us and for our salvation, so that it is from a soteriological perspective that we must seek to understand the human agency and life of Jesus Christ. He came to take our place, in all our human, earthly life and activity, in order that we may have his place as God’s beloved children, in all our human and earthly life and activity, sharing with Jesus in the communion of God’s own life and love as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

According to Torrance (2008:184, 185), “The very fact that God became man in order to save us, declares in no uncertain way that the humanity of Christ is absolutely essential to our salvation.” To be our merciful and faithful High Priest, and to make propitiation for our sins, Jesus had to be made like his brethren (Heb 2:17). The humanity of Jesus Christ means that God has actually come among us, “in the very same sphere of reality and actuality” to which humanity belongs. If Jesus Christ were not man as well as God, that would mean that God had not actually come all the way to us in order to “gain a foothold” in our creaturely world of space and time. It would mean that God remained far from us, as far as the creature is from the Creator.

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 (as in adoptionism); rather, “in Jesus Christ God came to dwell among us as himself man” (Torrance, 1988a:149, 150). Against christologies that compromise the humanity of Jesus Christ, Torrance writes:

The Johannine statement that “the Word became flesh” must be understood to mean “became man,” but “became man” is to be understood in such a way as not to give place to a dualist conception of man, for . . . it is the whole man who is body of his soul and soul of his body, not a body without soul or mind, that is meant.

For Torrance, the Johannine assertion that “the Word became flesh” is decisive, for it means that the incarnation is an act of “God himself” in which he became fully man in “the undiminished reality of human and creaturely being” without ceasing to be God. Against static interpretations of the immutability of God, therefore, Torrance argues that the incarnation is to be understood as a real “becoming” on the part of God, in which God comes ‘as man’ and acts ‘as man’ for us and our salvation. In short, Jesus Christ is to be understood not as God “in” man but God “as” man (Torrance, 1976:227, 228; 1988a:150).

Against Docetic christologies that negate the full humanity of Christ, Torrance (1988a:151) writes:

The incarnation, far from being some sort of docetic epiphany of God the Son in the flesh, involves the full reality and integrity of human and creaturely being in space and time. The immediate focus is undoubtedly centred on the human agency of the incarnate Son within the essential conditions of actual historical human existence, and therefore on the undiminished actuality of the whole historical Jesus Christ who was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified and buried, and rose again from the dead.

The New Testament makes clear that Jesus Christ is fully human: as bone of bone and flesh of flesh, he eats, drinks, thirsts, grows hungry and tired, and feels pain as well as joy. As one of us, in the same sphere of reality in which mankind lives, the “stark actuality” of his humanity, “his flesh and blood and bone,” guarantee that God has come among us as a particular, historical man among other men, one we could easily pass by, failing to see anything in him other than ordinary humanity (cf. Isa 53:2). As Torrance cogently asserts, “If Christ is not man, then God has not reached us, but has stopped short of our humanity; then God does not love us to the uttermost, for his love has stopped short of coming all the way to where we are, and becoming one of us in order to save us.” Christ’s humanity, however, assures us that God, in the person of the incarnate Son, is one “of” us and one “with” us. Christ’s humanity is the guarantee of the coming of God into our world of space and time. If Jesus Christ were not human as well as divine, that would mean that God had not come all the way to man within the world of space and time, but rather would remain far from us. A docetic view of Christ breaks the link between God and man and destroys the relevance of the divine acts of Jesus for our salvation (Torrance, 2008:185).

Noting that the Nicene fathers defended the full humanity of Jesus on soteriological grounds, Torrance (1988a:152) argues:

It was the whole man that the Son of God came to redeem by becoming man himself and effecting our salvation in and through the very humanity he appropriated from us.If the humanity of Christ were in any way deficient, all that he is said to have done in offering himself in sacrifice “for our sakes,” “on our behalf” and “in our place” would be quite meaningless.

Here Torrance echoes the assertion of Gregory Nazianzus that “the unassumed is the unhealed.” Against Docetic, Apollinarian, and monothelist christologies that compromise the full humanity of the Son, Torrance asserts that the Son of God became a human being, identifying himself with every aspect of our fallen humanity, all “for us and or salvation.”

Again following the Nicene and post-Nicene fathers, Torrance (1988a:153, 154) argues that in the incarnation, the Son of God took on not only the form of a man but the form of a servant. In an act of “utter self-abasement and humiliation,” Jesus assumed our servile condition under the slavery of sin “in order to act for us and on our behalf from within our actual existence.” The Pauline expression, “form of a servant,” however, does not refer to a mere “likeness” or “appearance” that Jesus assumed in the incarnation, “but the actual form of existence which he took over from the ‘lump of Adam’; it was a ‘real incarnation’.” The Pauline kenosis (cf. Phil 2:5ff) did not involve a “contraction, diminution or self-limitation of God’s infinite being”; rather, it involved the “self-abnegating love” expressed in the impoverishment or abasement (tapeinosis) the Son of God freely took upon himself entirely for our sake. Torrance finds here the allied concepts of “servant” and “priest.” “The servant form of Christ was discerned to be essential to his priestly oneness with us in virtue of which he could act on our behalf, in our place, and in our stead, before God the Father.” As both servant and priest, Christ’s person and act, that is, who he was and what he did, were completely one, “for he was himself both the one offered and the one who offered for mankind.” In the mediation of reconciliation, Jesus Christ, both fully God and fully man, ministered the things of God to man and the things of man to God.

In Jesus Christ, God has come to us in the form of a servant, veiling his divine majesty, for we cannot look on the unveiled face of God and live. The humanity of the incarnate Son is the “veil” under which the transcendent God draws near to reconcile and save us. Torrance argues that God could not have come to us in a form other than that of a servant, for had God come in a form unknown to us, or in his unveiled glory, he would have disrupted the conditions of our world and our humanity, so that rather than save us, he would have triggered our disintegration. The humanity of Christ holds mankind at “arm’s length” from God, in order to give him “breathing space, time, and possibility for surrender to God’s challenge in grace, time for decision and faith in him.” As Torrance notes, the humanity of Jesus Christ makes salvation possible, for in the incarnate Son, God comes alongside us as a man and, within our historical existence with its temporal relations, acts upon us personally through word and love to draw us out in surrender to God (Torrance, 2008:194). He continues:

God has come in Jesus to be one with mankind, to act from within humanity, and as man to yield to the Father the obedience of a true and faithful Son, and so to lay hold of God for us from the side of humanity. It is within that union of the Son to the Father that the sinner is drawn, and given to share. In other words, the hypostatic union is enacted as reconciling event in the midst of human being and existence, and in it men and women are given to share by adoption and grace in Jesus Christ.
The humanity of Christ, therefore, is essential to God’s act of reconciliation. The atonement is grounded in the fact that in the humanity of Jesus, God is acting on our behalf. A docetic view of the humanity of Christ would mean that God only appears to act within our human existence; thus, his acts would not reach to the roots of our condition and would have no relevance to our need. Atonement is real and actual only as the mediator acts fully from the side of man ‘as man’ and from the side of God ‘as God’. If the humanity of Christ is imperfect, atonement is imperfect, and we remain in our sins. On the other hand, if Jesus Christ is really and truly man, then his death for our sins is an act of God “in” human nature, not merely an external act “upon” human nature. Moreover, if atonement is to achieve its purpose, it must be not only an act of God in man but also an act of man in response to God, that is, man’s satisfaction for sin ‘by man’ before God. Thus, in the full humanity of Jesus Christ, as it is joined eternally to his deity, both in incarnation and atonement, humanity is restored to its place before God from which it has fallen. “[M]an’s wrong has been set aside in and with the judgment accomplished upon the humanity of Christ, and now in his humanity our new right humanity has been established before God” (Torrance, 2008:186).


Torrance, T.F. 1976. Theology in Reconciliation: Essays toward Evangelical and Catholic Unity in East and West. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. 302 pp.

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

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

Next post coming soon!! Jesus’ Divinity and the Mediation of Reconciliation

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