Setting aside modalism, can you explain the hypostatic union?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

(Click here to read Monday Musings ... the place where I discuss the thinking that went into this article.)

Question: I don’t understand how Jesus can be God if God is also the one giving this message: “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place.” I see where John 10:30 and Philippians 2:5-6 affirm that Jesus is God. So, is God talking to or giving things to himself here? What I’m worried about is that this might be a contradiction of some sort. (Please do not give modalism as part of the solution.)

Answer: I’m glad you brought up the problem of “God talking to himself” ... and you are wise to dismiss Modalism as a satisfactory solution to this problem. There is something much more profound going on between God (the Father) and Jesus (the Son) than their being different “modes” of being. They are distinct persons — and it wasn’t until the Council of Chalcedon in 451 A.D. that this view became the official consensus. No one has satisfactorily overturned this doctrine; we’ve refined it a bit... but that's all.

That being said, please adjust your expectations. There are some things we humans will never “get” — and the Trinity is likely to be near the top of every believer’s list. Yet the Bible plainly states that our God — who is definitively one God (Deuteronomy 6:4) — manifests this unity in three distinct persons. So here’s the thing: these three persons can do what every other “person” can do: talk to other people! Once you “own” (as far as possible!) the idea of the Trinity, one of its persons talking to another of its persons will be no problem.

This also covers the revelation given by God to Jesus in Revelation 1:1. The idea here is, where there is a multiplicity of persons, any exchange is possible — be it a biscuit recipe or an apocalyptic vision. Just because these three persons are the same ontological entity — the One True God — this does not mean that a first-person to second-person communication between two persons of the Trinity is against the rules of language and/or logic. Such a discourse would be as normal as one between any two humans.

I think it would help us to discuss the hypostatic union here. That’s the phrase we use to describe the ontological coexistence of deity and humanity in the person of Jesus Christ. This — more than any other aspect of Christ — shows how it is congruent that the man Jesus Christ is a member of the Trinity.

William Lane Craig of Reasonable Faith Ministries has, in my opinion, the best take on how all this works. So I will roughly follow his teaching. (Click here to access his teaching on the Doctrine of Christ in Defenders series 3.)

Concerning body/soul dualism, Jesus Christ was just like us in that he had a physical component and a metaphysical component — the part of us we loosely called “the soul” — and it is important to affirm that he had both. In body, Jesus was exactly like us. He shared our physical limits (Mark 11:12), our mental limits (Matthew 24:36) and he had no physical advantages (Isaiah 53:2). He was like any other prophet in that the miracles he performed came from God — not from himself. They were through his person, not from his person.

“[Nicodemus] came to Jesus at night and said, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.’”
(John 3:2, NIV, emphasis mine)

When we compare our souls to Jesus’ soul, some things are the same and some things are different. In both cases, the soul is the essential self, not the body. Therefore, we are not bodies that have souls; we are souls that have bodies. When we die, the essential part of our being continues into the spiritual realm, and our bodies stay behind to decay... yet... we are still us! (Just note that Jesus’ body did not decay; it was raised and glorified within three days of his death.)

Now — and this is a strange thing for me to admit — our souls are more of a mystery to me than is Jesus’ soul. This is because I understand that my soul is the essence of my person; it is my identity. But I don’t know where it comes from. Were there “souls” hovering in a queue before the foundations of the world... waiting for bodies to inhabit? Or is a soul created at physical conception — but will live eternally from that moment on? The Bible doesn’t tell us. But it does tell us about Jesus’ soul.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1, NIV)

The Greek word for “Word” in the above verse is Logos; that’s what William Lane Craig teaches is Jesus’ soul, and I’ve adopted that idea. The Logos has been around forever, and the more you think about it, the more appropriate it is as an analog to our human souls.

What this means for the hypostatic union is that Jesus was indeed one of us. He was born of Mary and lived for about 33 years. As such, he was truly human ontologically. But for him to be truly human experientially, he had to suppress some aspects of his divinity — and here’s how that worked: Jesus was categorically divine — still a card-carrying member of the Trinity who could have called down legions of angels at any moment (Matthew 26:53) — but who chose not to be functionally divine.

This is why Jesus did such things as pray to the Father. He was still “in” the Trinity, but one of the things he “gave up” (Philippians 2:6-8) when he took on flesh was the continual fellowship and communication that existed between the persons of the Trinity through all eternity. Now, after he ascended, he gained that all back. But he will remain the incarnate Christ for all eternity too — and I have no idea how that works!

I pray this helped.

(Mainsail Ministries articles often have a preamble where I discuss the thinking that went into them. These are called Monday Musings — and if you haven’t read the one associated with this article — consider doing so at the following link: 20200921 When speaking to Jesus, was God talking to himself?).

(For comments, or to join the Monday Musings mailing list, contact us at mainsailep@gmail.com. To submit a question about God, the Bible or the Christian culture, click here.)