by Harold L. Trott
Awake, mankind! For your sake God has become man. Awake, you who sleep,
rise up from the dead, and Christ will enlighten you. I tell you again: for your sake, God became man.
You would have suffered eternal death, had he not been born in time. Never would you have been freed from sinful flesh, had he not taken on himself the likeness of sinful flesh. You would have suffered everlasting unhappiness, had it not been for this mercy. You would never have returned to life, had he not shared your death. You would have been lost if he had not hastened to your aid. You would have perished had he not come.
Let us then joyfully celebrate the coming of our salvation and redemption. Let us celebrate the festive day on which he who is the great and eternal day came from the great and endless day of eternity into our own short day of time.
He has become our justice [justification], our sanctification, our redemption, so that, as it is written: “Let him who glories glory in the Lord.”1
Thus begins a well-known Christmas sermon by Augustine, Bishop of Hippo and one of the greatest theologians of the Incarnation. It illustrates the incontrovertible importance of this vital doctrine of Christianity. Some years ago, the writer of this paper read an assertion that the Anglicans are the church of Christmas because they emphasize the doctrine of Christ’s Incarnation; that the Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Reformed are the churches of Good Friday because they strongly stress the Cross and Atoning Sacrifice of Christ; and that the Eastern Orthodox are the Church of Easter because they so strongly accentuate our Lord’s Resurrection. Such a view is overly simplistic; certainly this writer’s own study of theology causes him to question such a premise. It may be true with respect to emphasis, but the fact is that each one of those doctrines concerning the person and work of Christ is of supreme importance and equal to the others in preeminence.
For example, in his unrivaled explanation of the second article of the Apostles’ Creed from his Small Catechism, Dr. Martin Luther himself gave equal prominence to each of the three doctrines of Christ:
I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord [incarnation], who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won [delivered] me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death [atonement], in order that I may be [wholly] His own, and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, even as He is risen from death, lives and reigns to all eternity [resurrection and glorification]. This is most certainly true. (emphasis added).2
In no way was C.S. Lewis exaggerating the importance of the Incarnation when he wrote in his classic work, Miracles, that:
The central miracle asserted by Christians is the Incarnation. They say that God became Man. Every other miracle prepares for this, or exhibits this, or results from this. Just as every natural event is the manifestation at a particular place and moment of Nature’s total character, so every particular Christian miracle manifests at a particular place and moment the character and significance of the Incarnation. There is no question in Christianity of arbitrary interferences just scattered about. It relates not a series of disconnected raids on Nature but the various steps of a strategically coherent invasion—an invasion which intends complete conquest and “occupation.” The fitness, and therefore credibility, of the particular miracles depends on their relation to the Grand Miracle; all discussion of them in isolation from it is futile.3
Professor Lewis’ thought supports Lutheran theology with its strong emphasis upon incarnational thinking in its objective doctrines of Word and Sacrament, which are based upon the reality of the divine-human Lord Jesus Christ. The first words of Dr. Martin Luther’s explanation of the second article of the Apostles’ Creed clearly state what is called the “theandric premise,” that Jesus Christ from the moment of his conception is a union of two natures in one person. This truth is clearly affirmed by Sacred Scripture and is not at all merely a later result of patristic reasoning and tradition. (The word theandric comes from the Greek word for God, θεός, theos, and the Greek word for man, which in most of its forms begins ανδρ, “andr.”)
This is not to say that patristics is unimportant. Lutherans retain a high respect for the Church Fathers. For example, in 1936 Dr. Hermann Sasse, an orthodox Evangelical [Lutheran] theologian who migrated to Australia as a result of the Third Reich in Germany, wrote a paper “I Believe in the Apostolic Church,” in which he states:
The great truths of the faith that the Holy Spirit led the church of Christ to recognize in the weighty doctrinal struggles of the early centuries, and which have been recognized by the orthodox church down through the ages as the true interpretation of the Holy Scriptures, do not cease to be truths because they have been abused, taken apart, or even denied. If there is one thing that especially Evangelical [Lutheran] theology in our time has to learn from Luther and the Confessions of the Reformation, it is that the ancient church must be taken seriously. The history of the church did not stand still, as many a young theologian today seems to think, from the death of the last apostle until Luther arrived on the scene. The decline of the knowledge and study of patristics among the present generation of theologians threatens to
become a disaster for our theology unless it is turned around. A church without patristics
becomes a sect.4
One need only analyze the present state of modern Protestantism to discover, with few exceptions, how true and wise were Dr. Sasse’s words.
I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord.5
The work of the Ante-Nicene and Nicene Fathers was important not only for the new terms it presents along with their precisely crafted meanings. This is what is generally thought of in connection with the work of the Church Fathers: words like “homoousian” and “the hypostatic union”, which were upheld by the ecumenical councils of Nicaea and Chalcedon and remain indispensable for the study of theology to this day. But at least as notable in their work is the firm positioning of their teaching generally atop the foundation of the primary sources, that is, the documents of Sacred Scripture, so that, among others, the doctrine of the theandric premise, in spite of its obviously non-biblical name, speaks in full harmony with the Word of God. Nicaea.
This writer recalls attending a study group in college where a well-meaning but poorly informed participant began by saying, “Our Lord, who was half-God . . . .” That is far from what the theandric premise contends. It would be more correct to say that Christ is simply true God, as if he were not man, and Christ is simply true man as if he were not God. This is what true God and true man mean with respect to the two natures of Jesus Christ.
The Theandric Premise in John’s Writings
Truly, John, author of the Fourth Gospel, was the evangelist of the Incarnation. The emphasis of his Gospel, or good news, is Jesus Christ who was/is/ever-shall-be God. He is God the Eternal Word who became flesh (John 1:14), a true man in time, space, and matter, and continuing so in His exaltation. John’s entire Gospel pulsates with that truth, but the theandric premise is especially affirmed in two passages. First, his Prologue:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. (John 1:1-18)
The second is from the Light of the World discourse:
The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. (John 8:48-59)
In the Prologue of his Gospel, the Apostle John writes that God became a man. As a true man he came to his people and as a true man he made the light and truth of God clearly known to all. In his telling of the climax of Jesus’ dispute with the Jewish leaders, the Light of the World Discourse, (8:12-47) John recorded that Jesus appeared to his contemporaries as being a man in every sense like themselves. Yet he made a direct claim to being God, when he told his adversaries: “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was [even existed], I am [God].”
John also states that this Divine Word, not diminished by his union with human flesh, possessed the authority to give eternal life:
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. . . . Yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. . . . (5:24, 40)
Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal. (6:27)
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (10:10)
Jesus Christ Incarnate also had authority both to intercede and to answer prayers directly:
If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. (14:14)
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.(15:7)
Jesus also possessed the authority to judge:
The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. (5:22-25)
Indeed, to see the God-Man was the same as seeing the Father:
Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (14:9)
And finally, to placing one’s faith in the Christ Incarnate was equal to trusting in God:
And Jesus cried out and said, “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me.” (12:44)
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” (14:1)
The Theandric Premise in the Old Testament
John was far from the only writer in the canonical Sacred Scriptures to affirm the theandric premise. As one might expect, it first appears in the Old Testament. In his Pentecost sermon, recorded by Luke, Peter confirms the theandric premise in citing Psalm 110:
This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, “The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified. (Acts 2:32-36; emphasis added)
The same two-natures in reality can also be found in the Servant Passages of the prophet Isaiah. The one promised Messiah would be born, and thus be a genuinely human child. At the same time, as the Mighty God, he would be truly eternal and divine:
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)
Moreover, one of his names would be Emmanuel (meaning “God with us”). The mystery of the God-Man was announced prophetically:
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (7:14)
The early Christian apologist Irenaeus defended orthodox teaching, when he applied the Isaiah passage to the person of Jesus Christ, and beyond that carried out its application to the controversy between Jews and (gentile) Christians. He saw the virgin birth as a promise to the gentiles that the Savior belongs to them, and—with emphasis—not to find his popularity among the gentiles an insurmountable offense. He points out that the virgin birth means that Jesus did not have a Jewish father, for the God of the whole earth was his Father. Therefore, Jesus decidedly does not belong to those who demand a Messiah belonging exclusively their little corner of humanity and not to all the nations.
God, then, was made man, and the Lord did himself save us, giving us the token of the Virgin. But this token is not as some of those who presume to expound the Scripture now allege, Behold, a young woman shall conceive, and bring forth a son. (Is. 7:14) So Theodotion the Ephesian has interpreted, as well as Aquila of Pontus, both Jewish proselytes. The Ebionites follow them and assert that he was begotten by Joseph. Thus as far as in them lies they destroy such a marvelous dispensation of God, and set aside the testimony of the prophets which proceeded from God. For truly this prediction was uttered before the removal of the people to Babylon; that is, previous to the supremacy acquired by the Medes and Persians. But it was translated into Greek by the Jews themselves, long before the period of our Lord’s advent. Thus there remains no suspicion that perchance the Jews, in keeping with our view, did put this interpretation upon these words. Indeed, had they been cognizant of our future existence and of our use of these proofs from the Scriptures, they themselves would never have hesitated to burn their own Scriptures. For these Scriptures do declare that all other nations partake of (eternal) life, and they show that those who vaunt themselves as the house of Jacob and the people of Israel are disinherited from the grace of God.6
The Theandric Premise in the Letters of Paul
The canonical New Testament epistles clearly bear witness to the union of the divine and the human natures of Jesus Christ. This reality is consistently substantiated throughout the narratives of all Four Gospels. The theandric union premise is intrinsic also in the writings of the Apostle Paul. He speaks of Jesus Christ as a human being and a descendant of King David, but also acknowledged as the Son of God:
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rom. 1:1-4)
Paul expresses the two natures of Jesus Christ in one succinct phrase. Our Lord is one person whose human body was crucified by the “rulers of this age”; but he is also clearly called “the Lord of glory,” the Crucified Lord.
But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory [God]. (I Cor. 2:7-8)
The apostle to the gentiles spoke of the “sent” savior/Son. Although himself untouched by original and actual sin in his human nature, Jesus is also God’s own eternal Son who was sent into the failed state of human history.
For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh. (Rom. 8:3).
Some commentators now think St. Paul was quoting an early Christian hymn when he says that Jesus Christ, ὃς ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ [who existed in his very nature as God] ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσεν [made himself nothing/emptied himself], μορφὴν δούλου λαβων [taking the form of a servant] ἐν ὁμοιώματι ἀνθρώπων γενόμενος [being made in the likeness of men]:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil. 2:5-8)
Finally, because of the theandric premise, Paul saw in Jesus Christ the true peacemaker, go-between, and intermediary between the interests of God and the interests of humanity, because he was by nature both God and man in his one person. This concept finds memorable expression in two different passages:
For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. (1 Tim. 2:5)
Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh [true man] vindicated by the Spirit [true God], seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory. (3:16)
Another example is the words of Paul’s disciple Luke, in his transmission of the Apostle Paul’s touching farewell to the presbyters [pastors] of the Ephesian church:
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. (Acts 20:28)
Thus, every one of these Pauline passages require the theandric premise, and this must be assumed if the Apostle is to communicate a meaningful message.
The Theandric Premise in the Letter to the Hebrews
The unknown inspired writer of the epistle to those persecuted Jewish Christians in danger of apostatizing and returning to Old-Covenant Judaism also made much of the theandric premise.
The entire first chapter of Hebrews emphasizes the true divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ, notably in this statement:
But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is for ever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.” (Hebrews 1:8-9)
In the second chapter, from beginning to end the inspired author emphasizes the true humanity of the Incarnate Lord Jesus.
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (2:14-18)
Throughout the rest of the Epistle to the Hebrews, the theme is carefully developed: the Son of God, as a true human being, is able to totally identify with human weaknesses.
Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession. (3:1)
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (4:14-16)
The comprehensive, modern, and orthodox theologian Thomas C. Oden succinctly summed up the interface between Jesus as true God and true Man in the Letter to the Hebrews:
This one person, sent from God to humanity, is the representative of humanity and as such, the high priest petitioning from man to God, who “through the eternal Spirit” offered his humanity “unblemished to God.”7
How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (9:14)
But sadly, what originally seemed clear and matter of fact soon became the soil for many misunderstandings and threats to true faith as stated in the theandric premise. Serious heresies came into existence, which can be divided into three categories. First, there were those heresies that rejected Jesus Christ’s true divinity. Eutychians did not believe Christ to be fully and truly God, but to possess a single “mixed“ nature. Ebionites saw Jesus as merely the natural son of Joseph and Mary. Arians looked upon Jesus Christ as an exalted creature, but not as eternal God.
Second, there were heresies that rejected that Jesus Christ was true man. Eutychians denied that Jesus was truly man because he had a single nature, they thought, that was no more human than it was divine—only a unique blend. Docetists denied that Jesus was truly a human being; he was rather like God in a mask. Apollinarians believed that the divine Logos took the place of Jesus’ human spirit; it was another God in a mask idea.
Third, there was the heresy that rejected Jesus’ personal theandric union. Nestorians believed Jesus Christ was in reality two persons, one human and one divine, rather than being one person with two natures.
Sadly, the British writer, G.K. Chesterton was absolutely correct when stating that the new heresies are simply the old ones with new names. For examples, the Watchtower Bible Society (Jehovah Witnesses), the Christadelphians, and many liberal Protestant thinkers are modern Arians.
Much thought, study, and illumination from the Holy Spirit were necessary before the true Biblical doctrine of the Incarnation came into focus as it is stated precisely in the Athanasian Creed:
But it is necessary to everlasting salvation that one also believe faithfully the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. For it is the right faith that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is at the same time both God and man.
He is God, begotten from the substance of the Father before all ages; and He is man, born from the substance of His mother, born in this age: perfect God and perfect man, composed of a rational soul and human flesh; equal to the Father with respect to his divinity, less than the Father with respect to his humanity.
Although He is God and Man, He is not two, but one Christ: one, however, not by the conversion of divinity into flesh, but by the assumption of the humanity into God; one altogether; not by confusion of substance, but by unity of person.
For as the rational soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ, who suffered for our salvation; descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead, ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father, God Almighty; from whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.8
1. St. Augustine of Hippo. Quoted from www.lifeondoverbeach.wordpress.com, blog, 24 December 2015.
2. Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 355.
3. C.S. Lewis. Miracles: A Preliminary Study (London: G. Bles, 1947; (Harper San Francisco, 2000 Reprint), 173-174.
4. Hermann Sasse. “I Believe in the Apostolic Church,” from a paper presented in 1936.
5. Concordia, 355.
6. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, Editors. The Ante-Nicene Fathers: The Writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325. Volume I: The Apostolic Fathers, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1956), 451 (Against Heresies Book III: 21, 1). adapted.
7. Thomas C. Oden. Systematic Theology: Volume Two – The Word of Life [Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers (Reprint of 1987 Harper San Francisco Edition), 2006], p. 168. A conservative, contemporary theologian, Professor Oden investigates more deeply into the objective theological origins than do many representatives of partisan schools of thought in the history of the Christian church and therefore has been of invaluable help to this writer due to his comprehensive knowledge of the Church fathers, his thoughtful secondary material, his gathering of scriptural citations, and his interpretative insights.
8. Concordia, 43-44.
All of the quotations from the Sacred Scriptures in this paper are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version.® ESV®, copyright© by Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Illinois, Compact Leather Edition, 2003. Used by permission. All rights reserved.