What is Hypostatic Union?

What is Hypostatic Union?

by Michael J. Penfold

C.H. Mackintosh once remarked that, “The truth respecting Christ’s humanity must be received with scriptural accuracy, held with spiritual energy, guarded with holy jealousy, and confessed with heavenly power. If we are wrong as to this, we cannot be right as to anything.”[1] That being the case, Christians ought to pay special attention to exactly what happened at the incarnation – when Christ “came in flesh” (1 Jn 4.2, 1 Tim 3.16).

The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man at one and the same time: no less divine because of His humanity and no less human because of His deity. When Christ “partook of flesh and blood” (Heb 2.14) He became something He had never been before – man: while never ceasing to be what He always was – God. How do we know this? Because the Bible says, “In Him [Christ] dwells all the fullness of the godhead bodily” (Col 2.9). Note the last word in that sentence. The totality of divine powers and attributes were, are and ever will be, in the incarnate Christ.[2] Had He, at His incarnation, given up a single divine attribute – never mind completely exchanging His deity for humanity – He would have immediately ceased to be God.

A study of the relevant New Testament passages on the incarnation[3] reveals that the incarnate Christ is one person with two natures.

  1. One Person

Because He was God, Christ did some things that only God can do (create bread and fish, raise Himself from the dead). Because He was man, Christ did some things that only man can do (sleep, cry and sweat). However, the Bible never says that Christ did the former ‘as God’ and the latter ‘as man’. We read “He knew their thoughts”, not “His divine nature knew their thoughts”. We read “I am thirsty”, not “My human nature is thirsty”. At all times and in all places, everything the Lord Jesus did and said is attributed, in the Bible, to His one person. It can be confidently affirmed that Scripture never divides Christ’s person, not even when speaking of His death. Christ did not die ‘as man’. But surely God cannot die? True, but the man who died was God, and Scripture says “the Son of God [a title of deity] loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal 2.20).[4]

  1. Two Natures

Though the Bible presents the Lord Jesus as one person, it must be remembered that the Lord’s humanity was not a person; it was a nature. Christ was already a person before He came into the world. He had always been a person, eternally sharing the nature of God, but in “becoming flesh” He assumed, appropriated and took to Himself, in full union, another nature (ours), and made it His own as much as it is ours, without sin. In other words, the eternal Son of God added a human nature, with its body, soul and spirit,[5] to His divine nature. Thus He is one person with two natures. For this we should be eternally thankful, for what is not assumed cannot be redeemed. Only because the Lord Jesus assumed full unabbreviated humanity – flesh enlivened by a rational soul – can He redeem us, represent us and reign with us in the age to come.

In the centuries since the completion of the New Testament, many have fallen off the narrow path of truth with respect to Christ being “one person with two natures”. Some have fallen off one side by “dividing His person” (See 1. above). Others have fallen off the other side by “confusing His natures”, an error to be avoided at all costs.

To avoid confusing Christ’s natures, it must be understood that when, at the moment of conception, Christ’s divine nature was united with His human nature, there was no loss or transfer of any essential attributes of either nature. Christ’s human attributes belong only to His human nature; His divine attributes to His divine nature; while the attributes of both natures belong to the one person. Had Christ’s two natures been in some way fused or merged, the fundamental truth of God’s immutability would be in peril. But no: the divine essence or nature cannot change.

At the moment of incarnation,

  1. Christ’s deity was not humanised (or He would have ceased to be truly God)
  2. Christ’s humanity was not deified (or He would not have been truly human)
  3. Christ’s humanity and deity did not convert by fusion into a novel third entity.

This last option (c.) – that the Lord Jesus had only one nature – is an ancient heresy called monophysitism (Gk: mono = one, phusis = nature).[6] What is wrong with this idea? If the Lord had only one nature the question arises, was that nature human or divine? If divine, where were the human? If human, where were the divine? And if it is a mixture, a tertium quid, neither fully divine nor fully human, Christ has a different nature from both His Father and from us, leaving God without a perfect representative and us without a kinsman redeemer. Thus it is critical to understand that at the incarnation each of the Lord’s natures remained whole, distinct and unchanged.

Historically, the truth of two natures united in one person has been called “hypostatic union”[7] and four adverbs have been used to describe it. Christ’s divine and human natures were and are united unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly and inseparably. This union, unbroken even in His death on the cross, will last eternally. The “man in the glory” will ever be one person with two natures.

An illustration from typology may help. The ark of the covenant was constructed from acacia wood and overlaid with gold. Gold speaks of glory and deity; wood of incorruptible humanity. When constructed, the gold did not become wood, nor the wood gold. Nor were the gold and the wood mixed into some kind of alloy. To form one ark, the wood and the gold were inseparably joined, while remaining distinct. And so it is, in a much deeper and more complex sense, with the natures of the Lord Jesus.

In summary, if rule number one with the Trinity is to “neither confound the persons nor divide the substance”, rule number one with the person of Christ is to “neither confuse the natures, nor divide the person”.

Sound and helpful articles on hypostatic union are abundant online, but nowhere has a ready reference of multiple quotations from teachers and writers on this topic been put together. Below is a handy list of over 40 quotations expounding and explaining the subject and answering the question, “What is hypostatic union?”.

Michael J. Penfold


Jack Hunter: “ ‘Born of a woman’ or ‘woman-born’ [Gal 4:4]. This refers to His humanity, while ‘God sent forth his Son’ refers to His deity. These two expressions bring before us the uniqueness of the Person of the Lord; He was God and He was Man. In Him there was the union of two perfect and complete natures, the divine and human. And yet He was one Person…The union of two complete natures in one person is known to theologians as hypostatic union. We sometimes speak of the Lord Jesus doing certain things as God (e.g. stilling the storm) and certain things as man (e.g. sleeping in the boat) but we must be very careful not to divide His person. He is not two persons but one person, the Son of God, of one substance with the Father. The Westminster Shorter Catechism says: ‘The only Redeemer of God’s elect is the Lord Jesus Christ, who being the eternal Son of God became man and so was, and continueth to be God and man in two distinct natures and one person for ever’.”[8]

Norman Crawford: “…He was the fullness of deity and the perfection of manhood in one person, but the mystery of the hypostatic union of two natures in one blessed person will always be beyond comprehension. In these holy matters we do well to use the Holy Spirit’s own language about Him. He is never called ‘the Godman’ which suggests that He was part God and part man, and was some kind of blending of the two. He was not a mixture…”[9]

Harold Paisley: “The Scriptures present the Lord in incarnation as possessing two perfect natures coexisting in His one glorious person. These two natures must never be separated or divided…This great truth is known as the hypostatic union, that is, the union of two perfect natures in one Person. Deity and humanity in equal relationship are found alone in the eternal Son of God, the perfect Servant of Jehovah. This wondrous foundation of Christian faith often appears in the same context.”[10]

William Hoste: “…hypostatical union, that is the union in the Lord Jesus Christ of two whole and perfect natures, the divine and the human…”[11]

J.B.D. Page: “The Incarnation is defined in John 1:14 (RV): ‘And the Word became flesh…’ He who is Eternal became temporal. The Celestial One became terrestrial. Thus, a union of the Infinite and the finite was formed. Not surprisingly, Paul declared that ‘without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh…’ (1 Tim 3:16), which refers to the birth of Christ and His life on earth in the days of His flesh. In becoming Man, the Incarnate had two natures, one divine and the other human, but He had one personality, not two.”[12]

John Ritchie: “…His Divine Personality, the Son of God, ever God and Man, two natures in one Person, always Divine, yet ever perfect Man.”[13]

J.N. Darby: “It is well perhaps, in view of the infidelity which is spreading everywhere, to begin by saying that I hold, and I can add that we firmly hold, all the foundations of the Christian faith – the divinity of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, one God, eternally blessed – the divinity and humanity of the Lord Jesus, two natures in one person – His resurrection and His glorification at the right hand of God – the presence of the Holy Ghost here below, having descended on the day of Pentecost – the return of the Lord Jesus according to His promise..”[14]

William Kelly: “Human nature there now was in His person, as surely as He was and is God; but, by God’s will and power, it was unsullied and holy”…“In like manner the Son of God, the Word, could be made flesh, and did become man, though ever infinitely more than man, taking human nature into union with the divine, so as to form one person; but the condition of His humanity must be ascertained from the scriptures which treat of it”…“The Nestorianism which divides the person is as dangerous and destructive as the Eutychianism which confounds the two natures to the overthrow of both. From the conception Deity was never severed from the humanity of Christ, no, not even when His spirit was in Paradise and His body lay in the tomb”…“He must have the nature of those whose cause He undertakes, though not in the same fallen state.”[15]

Walter Scott: “The divine and human natures of our Lord, both absolutely perfect, are distinguished in office and action, but must not be separated. There is but one Saviour and one Mediator, who is very God and very man, and in this fundamental truth reposes the whole system of Christianity.”[16]

F.W. Grant: “And that He became flesh imports this manhood, not as something outside of or other than His true Self, but assumed into it. While yet this was not, nor could be, transmuted Deity, but the Tabernacle of Deity: the divine and the human not being confused together, but united; the Word tabernacling among us by becoming flesh.”[17]

Samuel Ridout: “…while we can distinguish we must not separate between the two natures of our Lord. The whole texture of Scripture illustrates this most important truth.”[18]

Edward Dennett: “First, then, the ark may be viewed as a figure of the person of Christ. This is seen from its composition. It was made of shittim-wood, overlaid with pure gold. The shittim was a kind of acacia, a wood said by some to be imperishable. Be this as it may, it is a type of what is human; and if a wood, as some affirm, that would not rot, incorruptible, it was a most suitable emblem of the humanity of our Lord. The gold is always a symbol of what is divine. The structure of the ark, therefore, figures the union of the two natures in the person of Christ.”[19]

J.M. Davies: “He took our nature as well as our frame (Heb 2:14-16, 4:15, 10:5). While His conception was supernatural, his birth was natural, and His growth afterwards was also natural…At His incarnation He assumed our human nature. Then we are told that He took on the seed of Abraham…It is important to note that these two natures were united in Him as one person. He was not a dual personality. He did not do some things as man, and other things as God. Certain things that He did reveal His humanity, such as when He hungered or was asleep. And certain things reveal His deity, such as the rebuking of the winds and the raising of Lazarus from the dead. The two natures were separate and distinct. They were not fused into one. He was one person with two inseparable natures.”[20]

Albert McShane: “He [Christ] was wholly man and wholly God…the Son of God partook of blood and flesh, thus uniting two natures in one person, yet these two are never confused but always remain distinct.”[21]

David Gilliland: “How can one person be 100% God and at the same time 100% man? How could you bring together the fulness of deity and the fairness of sinless manhood?…That has given theologians a great deal to grapple with down the centuries, and especially in the 4th and 5th centuries of the Christian era…and on four different occasions – the Council of Nicea 325AD, Constantinople 381AD, Ephesus 431AD and Chalcedon in 451AD, they had great gatherings of the major theologians of that day to study the subject. Now, there are 4 components to the problem. Number one is the deity of Christ. Number 2 is the humanity of Christ. Number 3 is the union of them both, and number 4 is the distinctiveness of each…Now if we can keep right on those 4 we will keep within the bounds of the Word of God. In 325AD there was a real heresy sprang up across the Christian world that Jesus was not eternal – He was the oldest created being – and a man called Arius believed that and the Christian theologians got together and they denounced that as heresy…they said He was verily God, and He was essentially God, He was eternally God, He was equally God: there was no diminution and there was no dilution in His everlasting essential glory. Then a little bit later there came along came another man [Apollinaris] and he said but “He [Christ] didn’t have a human spirit”. And the divine piece [the Word] came in and when there was no human Spirit, the divine piece made up that gap. So they had to have a second Council. The problem with the second man [Apollinaris] was not that he denied His full deity: he denied His full manhood…so they declared that He was verily God yet become truly human. We have to be careful that we don’t emphasise His deity to the expense of His humanity, nor do we emphasise His humanity to the expense of His deity: we keep to the Bible which says “the Word became flesh” and “great is the mystery of godliness”. Then there came a third man [Nestorius] and he began to grapple with deity and humanity and he began to teach, and some of his pupils especially, “There were two natures but there were also two persons – two Christs” and…He did that as man; He did that as God. That’s that other old heresy still trickling down to this present day. There are not two persons…There are two big words that are not in the Bible but the truth of each word is there. One is the word Trinity and the other is the great word incarnation. Now in the Trinity there are three persons in one nature, but as a result of the incarnation there are two natures in one person…Deity and humanity are joined together. They are not amalgamated. They are not fused. They are not blended. That’s the problem with the fourth man [Eutyches]. He taught there was deity and humanity produced a hybrid – a third. No, dear Christians. Thank God [for] a Saviour: He was eternally God yet became truly human, lower than angels to die in our stead. You say, but can you understand it? Can you explain it? Can you scientifically analyse it? No, I can’t. But there are two things that I do with a Bible in my hand: I believe it in my soul and I bow in worship before almighty God…You see this mystery – great is the mystery of godliness, God was manifest in the flesh…If you try to explain it you’ll lose your mind: but if you dare to deny it you’ll lose your soul…It is the joining of infinite and finite – and we dare not deny it.”[22]

W.R. Dronsfield: “The opposite error to saying that He is two persons is to say that His two natures have combined into one. It was an ancient heresy that the two natures, Manhood and Deity, merged together. For this reason the writer does not like the expression the ‘God-man’. It implies to him (though not to many orthodox Christians) that He is half man and half God. Such an idea must be resisted. He is wholly Man and wholly God. He possesses all the attributes and properties of real, unfallen, holy Manhood, and at the same time possesses all the infinite attributes and properties of Deity. The unity consists, not in the amalgamation of essence, but in the Oneness of His Person.”[23]

F.F. Bruce: “His human nature is as perfect as His divine nature, and He unites godhead and manhood in one Person. We cannot think of Him as a dual personality, and we should not yield to the temptation of saying that He did or said such-and-such as God, and did or said something else as man…The perfection of His godhead and manhood, on the one hand, and the unity of His person, on the other, can be best safeguarded by the classical Christian recognition of the two natures in one person.”[24]

Henry W. Holloman: “In Jesus Christ, two united but distinct natures exist, a perfect human nature and a fully divine nature. How this can happen is a mystery bound up in the sovereignty and omnipotence of God. The doctrine is described in four main points: 1. Christ was truly human. Everything that can be said of a pure human being can be said of Him. 2. Christ was fully divine. Apart from His human nature, everything that can be said of God can be said of Christ. 3. Christ had a single personality in which human and divine natures are united in one person. 4. Christ’s two natures are inseparably united or fused, but not confused.”[25]

Paul Enns: “The word incarnation means ‘in flesh’ and denotes the act whereby the eternal Sn of God took to Himself an additional nature, humanity, through the virgin birth. The result is that Christ remains forever unblemished deity, which He has had from eternity past; but He also possesses true, sinless humanity in one person forever (cf. John 1:14, Phil 2:7-8, 1 Tim 3:16)…In summarizing the hypostatic union, three facts are noted: (1) Christ has two distinct natures: humanity and deity; (2) there is no mixture or intermingling of the two natures; (3) although He has two natures, Christ is one person.”[26]

Robert P. Lightner: “The Son of God, who was one in person and nature (divine), became two in nature (divine and human) while remaining one in person through his incarnation. The eternal Son of God did not join himself with a human person, it must be remembered, but with a human nature. In the union of the human and the divine in Christ each of the natures retained its own attributes. Deity did not permeate humanity, nor did humanity become absorbed into deity.”[27]

Kevin DeYoung: “In simplest terms, the hypostatic union is a reference to Jesus Christ as both God and man, fully divine and fully human. Hypostasis is the Greek word for subsistence (think: individual existence). The hypostatic union, therefore, is the technical term for the unipersonality of Christ, whereby in the incarnation the Son of God was constituted a complex person with both a human and a divine nature…Without confusion: The Lord Jesus Christ is not what you get when you mix blue and yellow together and end up with green. He’s not a tertium quid (a third thing), the result of mixing a divine and human nature. Without change: In assuming human flesh, the Logos did not cease to be what he had always been. The incarnation affected no substantial change in the divine Son. Without division: The two natures of Christ do not represent a split in the divine Person. Jesus Christ is not half God and half man. Without separation: The union of the human and divine in the person of Jesus Christ is a real, organic union, not simply a moral sympathy or relational partnership. This may seem like needless theological wrangling, but Chalcedon’s careful definition is meant to preserve the biblical teaching that (1) the divine nature was united, in the person of the Son, with a human nature (Jn 1.14, Rom 8.3, 1 Tim 3.16, Heb 2.11-14) and (2) the two natures are united in only one divine Person (Rom 1.3-4, Gal 4.4-5, Phil 2.6-11). As Chalcedon puts it, the characteristics of each nature are preserved – in no way annulled by the union – even as they come together in one person (prospon) and one subsistence (hypostasis).[28]

Dr Robert L Reymond: “…the incarnation was an act of addition rather than subtraction. Without ceasing to be what he eternally is as God, the Son of God took into union with himself what he was not, making our human nature his very own.”[29]

Joel Beeke: “Scripture teaches that within His one person, Christ possessed both a divine and human nature. His divine nature has no beginning, being from eternity. His human nature began when Christ was conceived by the Holy Ghost in the virgin Mary.” “Christ in His divine nature assumed humanity. This means He took upon Himself a nature that was truly human. He remained what He was (divine) while He took to Himself that which He had not yet been (human). He became bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh in all respects, yet without sin. The Scriptures reveal Christ’s real human nature from birth to burial. He was born (Luke 2:7). He grew to maturity (Luke 2:40). He was hungry (Luke 4:2). He laboured (John 5:17). He was tired and slept (Luke 8:23). He ate and drank (Luke 24:42-43). He was sorrowful and wept (Mark 14:34). He experienced pain and suffering (Luke 22:44) both in body and soul (Matt. 26:38; 1 Pet 2:24). He died (Mark 15:37) and was buried (vv. 45-46).”[30]

Dr Robert Letham: “He [Christ] assumed and incorporated human nature, body and soul, into union with himself such that it was his own. He remained the Word. What is there, and who is there, after the egeneto, the becoming, is the same as what was there and who was there before. The difference is that there is now an addition. The Word now has a full human nature. In the words of Paul, he who was – and eternally is – ‘in the form of God’ has now added ‘the form of a servant’ (Phil 2:6-8). He has not ceased to be in the form of God. There is no subtraction, only addition. It is the Word who is the subject of the whole event.”[31]

John MacArthur: “For the first five centuries of its existence, the early church defended the true doctrine of the incarnation. During that time many erroneous teachings about the hypostatic union (the union of the divine and human natures in Christ) were put forth, examined, and rejected. For example, some argued that Jesus did not have a human spirit, but rather that His divine spirit united with a human body. That view preserved His deity, but at the expense of denying His full humanity. Others argued that the divine Christ-spirit entered the man Jesus at His baptism, and left Him before His crucifixion. Another false view held by some was that Jesus was a created being, and thus inferior to God the Father. Still others viewed Him as two separate persons, one human and the other divine; according to that teaching Jesus was a man in whom God dwelt. All of these views (and others as well) erred fatally either by denying Jesus Christ’s full deity or His full humanity.”[32]

John Walvoord: “The hypostatic or personal union of the human and divine natures in Christ is given explicit divine revelation in at least 5 major passages of Scripture (Phil 2:6-11, John 1:1-14, Rom 1:2-5, 9:5, 1 Tim 3:!6, Heb 2:14, 1 John 1:1-3)…The English word ‘nature’ is derived from the Latin natura and is the equivalent of the Greek physis (cf. Rom 2:!4, Gal 2:15, 4:8, Eph 2:3, 2 Pet 1:4). In the history of Christian doctrine the usage of the term ‘nature’ has varied, but the word is now commonly used to designate the divine or human elements in the person of Christ. In theology the term ‘substance’ from the Latin substantia is also used, corresponding to the Greek ousia. All these terms are used to define the real essence, the inward properties which underlie the outward manifestation. As this refers to the person of Christ, nature is seen to be the sum of all the attributes and their relationship to each other…Through the incarnation of Christ, the two natures were inseparably united in such a way that there was no mixture or loss of their separate identity and without loss or transfer of any property or attribute of one nature to the other. The union thus consummated is a personal or hypostatic union in that Christ is one Person, not two, and is everlasting in keeping with the everlasting character of both the human and divine natures. The proof that the two natures maintain their complete identity, though joined in a personal union, is based on a comparison of the attributes of the human nature and the divine nature…there is no mixture of the divine and human to form a new third substance. The human nature always remains human, and the divine nature always remains divine…The two natures of Christ are not only united without affecting the respective attributes of the two natures, but they are combined in one person. This union should not be defines as Deity possessing humanity as this would deny true humanity its rightful place. It is not, on the other hand, humanity merely indwelt by Deity. Christ did not differ from other men simply in degree of divine influence as sometimes advanced by modern liberals.”[33]

B.B. Warfield: “…from the beginning to the end of the whole series of books [of the Bible], while first one and then the other of His two natures comes into repeated prominence, there is never a question of conflict between the two, never any confusion in their relations, never any schism in His unitary personal action; but He is obviously considered and presented as one, composite indeed, but undivided personality…there can scarcely be imagined a better proof of the truth of a doctrine than its power completely to harmonize a multitude of statements which without it would present to our view a mass of confused inconsistencies. A key which perfectly fits a lock of very complicated words can scarcely fail to be the true key.”[34]

John Murray (1898-1975): “The incarnation, therefore, means that the Son of God took human nature in its integrity into his person with the result that he is both divine and human, without any impairment of the fullness of either the divine or the human…The divine is not changed in to the human, not accommodated to the human, nor is the human transmuted unto the divine – no conversion! The divine and human do not coalesce so as to firm a third – no composition! Neither are the natures mixed – no confusion!…It was the person of the Son, and he alone, who took human nature to himself into union with his divine nature in the one divine person”…“From the time of conception in the womb of the virgin, and for ever, the second person of the Godhead is God-man. This identity did not suffer dissolution even in death. The death meant separation of the elements of his human nature. But he, as the Son of God, was still united to the two separated elements of his human nature. He, as respects his body, was laid in a tomb and, as respected his disembodied spirit, he went to the Father. He was buried. He was raised from the dead. He was indissolubly united to the disunited elements of his human nature. When he was raised form the dead, human nature in its restored integrity belonged to his person, and it was in that restored integrity that he manifested himself repeatedly to his disciples and to various other persons, including more than five hundred at one time.”[35]

Charles Lee Feinberg: “The hypostatic union is that which was effected and brought into being by the incarnation.”[36]

Lewis Sperry Chafer: “…the truth so evidently taught in the New Testament, that undiminished Deity – none other than the Second Person, whom He eternally is – incorporated into His being that perfect humanity which He acquired and ever will retain. Of these two natures it may be affirmed from the evidence which Scripture provides, that they united into one Person, and not two; that in this union, that which is divine is in no way degraded by its amalgamation with that which is human; and, in the same manner and completeness, that which is human is in no way exalted or aggrandized above that which is unfallen humanity.”[37]

A.W. Pink: “When contemplating the ineffable mystery of the Holy Trinity, we saw how necessary it was to distinguish sharply between nature and person, for while there are three persons in the Godhead, their essence or nature is but one. In like manner, it is equally essential that we observe this same distinction when viewing the Person of the Mediator, for though He assumed human nature, He did not take a human person into union with Himself. Thus, we may correctly refer to the complex person of Christ, but we must not speak of His dual personality. At the first moment of our Lord’s assumption of human nature, that human nature existed only as the ‘seed’ or unindividualized substance of the Virgin. But it was not for that reason an incomplete humanity, for all the essential properties of humanity are in the human nature itself. Christ assumed the human nature before it had become a particular person by conception in the womb: He ‘took on Him the seed of Abraham’ (Heb. 2:16). The personalizing of His humanity was by its miraculous union with His Deity, though that added no new properties to human nature, but gave it a new and unique form. Nor was it simply a material body He assumed, but a human spirit and soul and body; for He was made ‘in all things like unto His brethren, sin excepted’. That it was an impersonal human nature which the Son of God assumed is clear from His own words in Heb 10:5: ‘A body hast thou prepared me’. The ‘body’, put metonymically for the entire human nature was not the ‘me’ or ‘Person’, but something which He took unto Himself. ‘For the love of Christ constraineth us: because we thus judge, that if One died for all, then they all died’     (2 Cor 5:14): note carefully it is one who died: though possessing two natures, there was but a single Person. The humanity of Christ – consisting of spirit, and soul and body – had no subsistence in itself or by itself, but only as it was taken into union with a Divine Person”…“It was also a permanent act, so that from the first moment of His assumption of our humanity, there never was, nor to all eternity shall there be, any separation between His two natures. Therein the hypostatic union differs from the conjunction between the soul and body in us: at death this conjunction is severed in us; but when Christ died, His body and soul were still united to His Divine person as much as ever. As to how this act of assumption took place, we cannot say, the Scriptures themselves draw a veil over this mystery: ‘the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee’ (Luke 1:35), so that from Mary and from us was hidden that ineffable work of the Most High, forbidding us to make any curious and unholy attempts to pry into it. The Divine transaction occurred, the amazing work was performed, and we are called upon to believe and adore.”[38]

Charles Hodge (1797-1878): “Christ is both God and man, in two distinct natures, and one person forever. This is the great mystery of Godliness. God manifest in the flesh is the distinguishing doctrine of the religion of the Bible, without which it is a cold and lifeless corpse”…“The two natures are united but not mingled or confounded. We have seen that the first important point concerning the person of Christ is, that the elements united or combined in his person are two distinct substances, humanity and divinity; that He has in his constitution the same essence or substance which constitutes us men, and the same substance which makes God infinite, eternal, and immutable in all his perfections. The second point is, that this union is not by mixture so that a new, third substance is produced, which is neither humanity nor divinity but possessing the properties of both. This is an impossibility, because the properties in question are incompatible…Neither is it possible that the divine and human natures should be so mingled as to result in a third, which is neither purely human nor purely divine, but theanthropic. Christ’s person is theanthropic, but not his nature; for that would make the finite infinite, and the infinite finite. Christ would be neither God nor man; but the Scriptures constantly declare Him to be both God and man.”[39]

Herman Bavinck (1854-1921): “The union which in His incarnation came to be effected was not a moral union between two persons, but a union of two natures in the same person. Man and woman, no matter how intimately united in love, remain two persons. God and man, although united by the most intimate love, remain different in essence. But in Christ, man is the same subject as the Word which in the beginning was with God and Himself was God. This is a unique, incomparable, and unfathomable union of God and man. And the beginning and end of all wisdom is this: ‘And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14). In this union, Christ in the unity of His person commands all the attributes and powers which are proper to both natures. Some have tried to effect a still stronger and closer union of the two natures by teaching that the two natures, immediately at the incarnation, were welded into one Divine-human nature, or that the Divine nature divested itself of its characteristics and condescended to the limitation of human nature, or that the human nature lost its properties and received those of the Divine nature (be it all of them, or just some of them such as omnipresence, omnipotence, omniscience, and quickening power.) But the Reformed confession has always repudiated and attacked such a welding of two natures into one and such a communication of the properties of the one nature to the other. It was a view of the two natures which resulted in a mingling and confusion of them and so in a pantheistic denial of the difference in essence between God and man, Creator and creature…in Christ, the fulness of the Godhead bodily dwells (Col. 2:9 and 1:19). That fulness is maintained only if both natures are distinguished from each other, communicating their properties and attributes not to each other, but placing them, rather, in the service of the one person. So it is always the same rich Christ who in His humiliation and exaltation commands the properties and powers of both natures and who precisely by that means can bring those works to pass, which, as the works of the Mediator, are distinguished on the one hand from the works of God and on the other hand from the works of man, and which take a unique place in the history of the world. By this doctrine of the two natures one has the advantage that everything which Scripture says of the person of Christ and everything it ascribes to Him comes into its own.”[40]

J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937): “The truth is, the witness of the New Testament is everywhere the same; the New Testament everywhere presents One who was both God and man. And it is interesting to observe how unsuccessful have been all the efforts to reject one part of this witness and retain the rest. The Apollinarians rejected the full humanity of the Lord, but in doing so they obtained a Person who was very different from the Jesus of the New Testament. The Jesus of the New Testament was clearly, in the full sense, a man. Others seem to have supposed that the divine and the human were so blended in Jesus that there was produced a nature neither purely divine nor purely human, but a tertium quid. But nothing could be more remote from the New Testament teaching than that. According to the New Testament the divine and human natures were clearly distinct; the divine nature was pure divinity, and the human nature was pure humanity; Jesus was God and man in two distinct natures. The Nestorians, on the other hand, so emphasised the distinctness of divine and human in Jesus as to suppose that there were in Jesus two separate persons. But such a gnosticising view is plainly contrary to the record; the New Testament plainly teaches the unity of the person of our Lord. By elimination of these errors, the Church arrived at the New Testament doctrine of two natures in one person; the Jesus of the New Testament is ‘God and man, in two distinct natures, one one person forever’.”[41]

John Calvin: “…we maintain, that the divinity was so conjoined and united with the humanity, that the entire properties of each nature remain entire, and yet the two natures constitute only one Christ”…“For we must put far from us the heresy of Nestorius, who, presuming to dissect rather than distinguish between the two natures, devised a double Christ. But we see the Scripture loudly protesting against this, when the name of the Son of God is given to him who is born of a Virgin, and the Virgin herself is called the mother of our Lord (Luke 1:32, 43). We must beware also of the insane fancy of Eutyches, lest, when we would demonstrate the unity of person, we destroy the two natures”…“he [the Lord Jesus] is accounted the Son of God, because the Word begotten by the Father before all ages assumed human nature by hypostatic union, – a term used by ancient writers to denote the union which of two natures constitutes one person, and invented to refute the dream of Nestorius, who pretended that the Son of God dwelt in the flesh in such a manner as not to be at the same time man!”[42]

Theodore Beza: “The two natures, that of God and that of man, have been united in one Person since the moment of the conception of the flesh of Christ. We confess that, from the moment of this conception, the Person of the Son has been inseparably united to the human nature (Matt 1:20, Luke 1:31, 32, 35, 42, 43). There are not two Sons of God, or two Jesus Christs: but One alone is properly Son of God, Jesus Christ. At all times the properties of each of the two natures remain entire and distinct. For the divinity separated from the humanity, or the humanity disjoined from the divinity, or the one being confounded with the other, would profit us nothing. Jesus Christ is therefore true God and true man (Matt 1:21-23, Luke 1:35). He has a true human soul, and a true human body formed from the substance of the virgin Mary, and by the power of the Holy Spirit.”[43]

Jonathan Edwards: “This became Christ, as one who had taken on him the human nature, but at the same time he existed in the divine nature; whereby his person was in all respects equal to the person of the Father. God the Father hath no attribute or perfection that the Son hath not, in equal degree, and equal glory. These things meet in no other person but Jesus Christ.”[44]

John Owen: “There was not in this condescension the least change or alteration in the divine nature. Eutyches and those that followed him of old conceived that the two natures of Christ, the divine and human, were mixed and compounded, as it were, into one. And this could not be without an alteration in the divine nature, for it would be made to be essentially what it was not; – for one nature has but one and the same essence. But, as we said before, although the Lord Christ himself in his person was made to be what he was not before, in that our nature hereby was made to be his, yet his divine nature was not so. There is in it neither ‘variableness nor shadow of turning’. It abode the same in him, in all its essential properties, acting, and blessedness, as it was from eternity.”[45]

Louis Berkhof: “With a view to the proper understanding of the doctrine, it is necessary to know the exact meaning of the terms ‘nature’ and ‘person’ as used in this connection. The term ‘nature’ denotes the sum-total of all the essential qualities of a thing, that which makes it what it is. A nature is a substance possessed in common, with all the essential qualities of such a substance. The term ‘person’ denotes a complete substance endowed with reason, and, consequently, a responsible subject of its own actions. Personality is not an essential and integral part of a nature, but is, as it were, the terminus to which it tends. A person is a nature with something added, namely, independent subsistence, individuality. Now the Logos assumed a human nature that was not personalized, that did not exist by itself…The one divine person, who possessed a divine nature from eternity, assumed a human nature, and now has both. This must be maintained over against those who, while admitting that the divine person assumed a human nature, jeopardize the integrity of the two natures by conceiving of them as having been fused or mixed into a tertium quid, a sort of divine-human nature…There are passages of Scripture which refer to both natures in Christ, but in which it is perfectly evident that only one person is intended, Rom 1:3, 4; Gal 4:4, 5; Phil 2:6-11. In several passages both natures are set forth as united. The Bible nowhere teaches that divinity in the abstract, or some divine power, was united to, or manifested in, a human nature; but always that the divine nature in the concrete, that is, the divine person of the Son of God, was united to a human nature, John 1:14; Rom 8:3; Gal 4:4; 9:5; 1 Tim 3:16; Heb 2:11-14; 1 John 4:2, 3….Repeatedly the attributes of one nature are predicated of the person, while that person is designated by a title derived from the other nature. On the one hand human attributes and actions are predicated of the person while he is designated by a divine title, Acts 20:28; 1 Cor 2:8; Col 1:13, 14. And on the other hand divine attributes and actions are predicated of the person while he is designated by a human title, John 3:13; 6:62; Rom 9:5…We must be careful not to understand the term to mean that anything peculiar to the divine nature was communicated to the human nature, or vice versa; or that there is an interpenetration of the two natures, as a result of which the divine is humanized, and the human is deified (Rome). The deity cannot share in human weaknesses; neither can man participate in any of the essential perfections of the Godhead.”[46]

The Belgic Confession of Faith (1561): “We believe that by this conception, the person of the Son is inseparably united and connected with the human nature; so that these are not two Sons of God, nor two persons, but two natures united in one single person; yet, that each nature retains its own distinct properties”…“These two natures are so closely united in one Person that they were not separated even by His death. Therefore that which He, when dying commended into the hands of His Father, was a real human spirit, departing from His body. But in the meantime the divine nature always remained united with the human, even when He lay in the grave. And the Godhead did not cease to be in Him, any more than it did when He was an infant, though it did not so clearly manifest itself for a while.”[47]

The Council of Chalcedon (451AD): “…one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the fathers has handed down to us.”[48]

Westminster Confession of Faith: “The Son of God, the second person in the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance and equal with the Father, did, when the fulness of time was come, take upon Him man’s nature (John 1:1, 14, 1 John 5:20, Phil 2:6, Gal 4:4) with all the essential properties and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin (Heb 2:14, 16, 17, 4:15): being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the virgin Mary, of her substance (Luke 1:27, 31, 35, Gal 4:4). So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion (Luke 1:35, Col 2:9, Rom 9:5, 1 Pet 3:18, 1 Tim 3:16). Which person is very God, and very man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man (Rom 1:3, 4, 1 Tim 2:5).”[49]

Michael J. Penfold (info@webtruth.org)


[1] C.H. Mackintosh, Notes on the Pentateuch, (Beamsville: Believers Bookshelf Inc., 1999), p. 244-245.
[2] Immutable – Mal 3.6, Heb 1.10-12, 13.8. Impeccable – 2 Cor 5.21, 1 Pet 2.22, 1 Jn 1.5, 3.5. Omnicient – Mt 12.25, Lk 6.8, 9.17, Jn 1.47-51, 2.24-5, 4.17-18, 6.61, 64, 13.1, 11, 16.30, 18.4, 21.17, Col 2.3. Omnipotent – Mt 28.18, 1 Cor 15.5, Phil 3.21, Rev 1.8. Omnipresent – Mt 18.20, 28.20, Jn 1.48, Mk 6.48.
[3] The 7 major doctrinal incarnational passages of the New Testament are: Jn 1.1-14; Rom 1.2-5; 9.5; Phil 2.6-11; 1 Tim 3.16; Heb 2.9-18; 1 Jn 1.1-3. The Gospel narratives (Matt, Mark, Luke and John) supply the historical record of the “days of his flesh” (Heb 5.7).
[4] See also 1 Cor 2.8
[5] Jn 2.21, 12.27, 11.33
[6] Two ancient false systems of theology, Apollinarismiam and Eutychianism, held to monophysitism.
[7] An hypostasis (noun) is a person, so ‘hypostatic’ (the adjective) means ‘personal’.
[8] J. Hunter, Galatians, What the Bible Teaches, (Kilmarnock: John Ritchie Ltd., 1983), p 60, 63.
[9] N. Crawford, Luke, What the Bible Teaches, (Kilmarnock: John Ritchie Ltd., 1989), p. 55.
[10] H. S. Paisley, Mark, What the Bible Teaches, (Kilmarnock: John Ritchie Ltd., 1984), p. 473.
[11] W. Hoste and W Rodgers, Bible Problems and Answers, (Kansas City: Walterick Publishers, 1957), p. 6.
[12] J.B.D. Page, article in Assembly Testimony Magazine, He Shall Be Called (Banbridge:  AT, Nov/Dec 1998)
[13] John Ritchie, Talks to Young Believers (Kilmarnock: John Ritchie Ltd).
[14] J.N. Darby, Letters, Vol 2, No, 294 (Kingston-on-Thames: Stow Hill Bible and Tract Depot, nd.)
[15] William Kelly, Christ Tempted and Sympathising, (London: Weston, nd.), p. 9, 13, 34, 50
[16] W. Scott, Exposition of the Revelation of Jesus Christ, (London: Pickering & Inglis Ltd., no date), p. 18.
[17] F.W. Grant, Numerical Bible, The Gospels, (New York: Loizeaux Brothers, 1897), p. 476
[18] Samuel Ridout, The Tabernacle, Lecture 17
[19] Edward Dennett, Lectures on the Tabernacle, Lecture 17, The Altar of Burnt offering (stempublishing.com)
[20] J.M. Davies, Collected Writings Vol 2, (Cookstown: Scripture Teaching Library, 2014), p. 191, 195, 196
[21] Albert McShane, Writings of Albert McShane, (Kilmarnock: John Ritchie Ltd., 2003), p. 331
[22] From a recording of David Gilliland commenting on Hebrews Ch 2 during the Lurgan Bible Readings, Northern Ireland, 2014
[23] W.R. Dronsfield, The Incarnation of the Son, www.stempublishing.com
[24] Prof F.F. Bruce, Treasury of Bible Doctrine, (Bristol: Precious Seed, 19 ), p. 149.
[25] Henry W. Holloman, Kregel Dictionary of the Bible and Theology, (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2005), p. 233
[26] Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology, (Chicago, Moody Publishers, 2008), p. 233, 239
[27] Robert P. Lightner, Handbook of Evangelical Theology (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1995), p. 82
[28] thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevin-deyoung/theological-primer-hypostatic-union
[29] A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1998), p 616
[30] Extract from Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth magazine, Grand Rapids, MI, USA.
[31] Dr Robert Letham, Systematic Theology, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019), p. 477-478
[32] John MacArthur,  NT Commentary, John 1-11, (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2006), p. 37-38
[33] John F. Walvoord, Jesus Christ Our Lord, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1969), p. 112-116
[34] B.B. Warfield, Article “Person of Christ” from The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, James Orr, General editor, v. 4, (Chicago: Howard-Severance Co., 1915), pp. 2338-2348
[35] John Murray, Collected Writings Vol 2 (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1977), p. 139
[36] Charles Lee Feinberg, The Hypostatic Union, Bibliothica Sacra 92, no. 367 (1935): 262
[37] Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol 1 (Grand Rapids, Kregel Publications, 1993), p. 384
[38] A.W. Pink, Studies in the Scriptures, 1934-1935, Vol 7, (Lafayette: Sovereign Grace Publishers, 2005), p. 183-184, 186
[39] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Vol 2 (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1940), p. 284, 288
[40] the-highway.com/Christ1_Bavinck.html
[41] J. Gresham Machen, Christianity & Liberalism, (Grand Rapids, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2009), pp. 97-98
[42] John Calvin, Institutes 2:14:2-3
[43] Theodore Beza, Extract from The Christian Faith, translated into English by James Clark
[44] Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol 1, (London: F. Westley and A.H. Davis, 1885), p. 682
[45] John Owen, The Works of John Owen, Vol 12 (London: Richard Baynes, 1826), p. 217
[46] Extracts from Systematic Theology by Louis Berkof
[47] The Belgic Confession of Faith (Article 19)
[48] The Chalcedonian Definition (AD 451)
[49] The Westminster Confession of Faith, London, 1647, Chapter 8, Paragraph 2

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