Jesus, and heretic theories about his identity.

He’s God. And human. But obviously some folks don’t agree.

I’ve written about how Jesus is Yahweh, and when he became human.

Plenty of people struggle with these ideas. Usually people who are bugged by the idea of God becoming human. Often people who imagine it working the other way round: A human becoming God, or earning divinity by being so very good. And of course people who figure Jesus never was God, and was just a great human being and no more.

Now, they’re wrong. And to be fair, we’re all wrong. But these folks are so wrong as to be called heretic, where their beliefs stand a really good chance of leading people away from God, his grace, and his kingdom. They’re not little errors. They’ll interfere with people’s salvation, or trick ’em into rejecting God. Of course these heretics already refer to us orthodox Christians as “heretics”—they’re entirely sure they’re right and we’re not.

It’s a pride thing. They prefer their ideas about what God is like, over what God actually revealed about himself. They figure either God’s revelations are wrong, or misinterpreted—whereas they got it right, and how clever of them to see what others don’t. How wise of them; how inspired; what special favorites of God’s they must be. And all the other delusions pride can trick us into.

Heretic theories tend to fall into one of four categories:

  1. Another god. Most heretics figure God created Jesus to be another god under him. Like his vice-God, or prince of all the angels, or some other powerful being who’s not the very same One True God as he.
  2. Not really God. Jesus is the “son of God” same as all humans are sons and daughters of God. Just another one of God’s creations. He’s still Messiah, a great teacher and prophet; the best human God ever made. But not God.
  3. Not really human. Jesus only pretended to be human, lest he freak people out too much. But he’s fully divine, wearing what appeared to be a human form.
  4. A demigod. In pagan religions, gods and humans bred and made demigods, half-and-half hybrids who were either supermen or lesser gods. Demigod heresies describe Jesus these ways—part-God instead of entirely God, part-human instead of fully human.

Whereas, to answer these theories, orthodox Christians aver:

  1. Jesus is the same God, Pp 2.6 and God is One. Dt 6.4 There isn’t another God.
  2. Jesus is as God as God can be. Jn 1.1-2
  3. He’s human; Jn 1.14 more human than humans are, ’cause we sin, which dings us quite a lot.
  4. True, to become human, Jesus was depowered, Pp 2.7 and had to perform miracles through the Holy Spirit’s power. Ac 10.38 But godlike power doesn’t make you God; it’s like saying arms and legs make you human. Divine nature does, and Jesus absolutely has that. He 1.3

The popular heresies.

According to popular culture, in late antiquity the pope called together a bunch of cardinals and said, “Okay, this is orthodoxy: Jesus is divine, God’s a trinity and Jesus is in it, keep these books of the New Testament and not the others, and cover up everything about Jesus’s wife and family.” (No, he didn’t have a wife. Obviously had family though.)

This conspiracy theory is how they explain how Christianity changed from a living faith into Roman Catholicism, and how all their favorite beliefs about Historical Jesus became suppressed. (It’s actually not too far removed from what certain Fundamentalists teach.) It’s also in The Da Vinci Code, and you know everything you read in a conspiracy-theory novel (or its movie adaptation) must be true. But it’s pure drivel.

What’d really happen was Christians would have theories about Jesus’s identity. They really liked the idea he’s human, and would overemphasize it. Or they really liked the idea he’s God, and would overemphasize that. Or they’d otherwise pull some clever idea out of their arse, ’cause they surely didn’t get it from bible. And teach their ideas instead of bible.

As is true of all heresies, there were unanticipated results which caused big problems among Christians. Fr’instance if your church teaches Jesus isn’t really human: This becomes a serious problem when we’re trying to use Jesus as our example of how we humans oughta live. Even orthodox Christians try to use the excuse, “Yeah Jesus could do that, ’cause he’s God. But I can’t.” For us, that excuse won’t wash. For heretics… well it is what they’ve been teaching.

Likewise if your church teaches Jesus is a different god than the LORD. Naturally your church winds up prioritizing Old Testament over New Testament, or vice versa, depending on which god you’re gonna follow. Again, orthodox Christians suffer from this problem too. But when we listen to the Holy Spirit, he straightens us out. Whereas heretic Christians ignore the Spirit and remain wrong—and often gracelessly, dangerously so.

So. Here’s a handy chart of the better-known heresies in Christendom. Note they all date back to ancient times. Not because there haven’t been new heresies since; it’s because all these “new heresies” are simply the same old ones with new packaging. Ain’t nothing new under the sun.

Adoptionism. Theodosius of Byzantium, 190s. Human. By virtue of Jesus’s outstanding life, the Holy Spirit turned him into “the Son of God.” …maybe we can do likewise! (Mormon theology leans this way.)
Apollinarism. Apollinaris of Laodicea, 370s. Demigod. Jesus has a human body and emotions (the “lower soul”), but no mind, no will. That was taken over by the divine “word.” …the body and emotions can’t be redeemed by a Spirit-led life. (Platonists.)
Arianism. Arius of Alexandria, 310s. Another god. At creation, Jesus was created as a subordinate god. So we’re bitheists. …we should be loyal to either one God or the other. (Jehovah’s Witnesses.)
Docetism. Unknown; 70s. God. Jesus wasn’t human. He only dokúsin/“seemed” human; hence the term. (A.k.a. “gnosticism,” ’cause most gnostics were docetists.) …Jesus didn’t really share a true human experience, and suffer and die. (Christian Science, some pagans.)
Ebionism. From the beginning, 30s. Human. Jesus is a great prophet, even Messiah, but not God. (Named for the evyoním/“poor”; a.k.a. psilanthropism.) …Jesus is clever but fallible, and his statements of divinity are probably myth. (Muslims, Unitarians, some pagans.)
Modalism. Sabellius of Rome, 210s. God. God’s not a trinity, but one infinite person who’s sometimes Father, sometimes Jesus, sometimes Holy Spirit. Incidentally, the Father also died on the cross for your sins. (A.k.a. monarchianism, patripassianism, Sabellianism.) …God is more might than love, and deceptively complicated. (Oneness Pentecostals.)
Eutyches of
God. Jesus basically has one nature: His divine nature overwhelms any human one. (Also called Eutychianism.) …Jesus had no human nature, and therefore wasn’t tempted in the same ways we are.
Monothelitism. Patr. Sergius I of Constantinople, 638. Demigod. Jesus has two natures, but only one divine will. He didn’t have to conform to what he saw the Father doing; he already had that will. …Jesus had no human will, and didn’t have to conform to the Father’s will.
Nestorianism. Patr. Nestorius of Constantinople, 420s. Demigod. Jesus consists of a human person and a divine person. …Jesus has a human side and a divine side; that “mother of God” is the wrong way to describe what Mary became.

On the upside, because of them the ancient Christians had to hammer out what we do believe about Jesus’s identity, based on the scriptures. That Jesus is the same God as the Father was hammered out at the Council of Nicea in 325. The rest was pretty much summed up at the Council of Chalcedon in 451:

  1. One person. Christ Jesus isn’t two people in one; not a god possessing a human, nor one man with two wills. He’s one person. One of the three persons of the trinity; he didn’t smuggle any extra person into there with him.
  2. Two natures. Jesus has a human nature, ’cause he’s human; he’s not a demigod. At the same time he has a divine nature, ’cause he’s fully God; still not a demigod.
  3. Without confusion, change, division, separation. The bishops wanted to make it clear Jesus isn’t in any way bifurcated or hybridized by having two natures.

Yeah, sometimes we humans struggle with the idea Jesus has two natures, ’cause we tend to think of divinity and humanity as two distinct species. Either Jesus is fully one, fully the other, or a hybrid; how can he be both at once? Grow a donkey in a horse’s womb and you get a donkey. Mate ’em together and you get a mule. But there’s no such thing as a creature who’s fully donkey and fully horse; that’s bad arithmetic.

The way I tend to explain it is to compare it with someone with dual citizenship. A Mexican born in the United States is a citizen of both the U.S. and Mexico. Can live in one country or the other, traveling back and forth between them, with most of the rights of a native, depending on how racist the locals are being. True, if these countries ever go to war again (God forbid), the dual citizen might have to pick a side, but otherwise there’s no reason one can’t be 100 percent both. Same with Jesus.

It’s not a perfect analogy; few are. My point is that trying to figure out how Jesus can simultaneously have two natures isn’t that hard to fathom. It’s just we Christians haven’t entirely thought out what a “nature” is—and still prefer to overemphasize Jesus being God at the expense of being human, or vice-versa. Both at the expense of how Jesus is described in the New Testament. And for bonus fun, we’ll keep spreading the rumors that the bishops in the church councils were up to no good.

All to remake Jesus into something he’s not, but something we feel more comfortable worshiping. Our own personal Jesuses. But they’re not real, and wishing doesn’t make ’em so. Good theology is about finding out who Jesus really is, and following him instead of our theories. It’s not easier, but it’s the only way to truly know him and his Father. Jn 14.9