Christianity’s Great Mystery
By Angel Manuel Rodríguez
QUESTION: In one of your columns you discussed the union of the human and the divine in Christ. Please tell me how the Adventist view of the Incarnation corresponds to that of other Christians?
This is not a biblical question, but its answer will be based on biblical insights. I will summarize the prevailing view among Christians, then try to summarize what Adventists say about the topic. Of course, with a mystery so profound as this, there is room for disagreement.
1. Christian Controversies and an Attempted Solution: Early in the history of the Christian church, the person of Christ became a subject of heated debate. Some suggested that Christ was two persons—a human being and God—in one human body. Others argued that He was one person with only one mind or spirit—the divine. Still others suggested that the divine and human nature were merged, resulting in a third type of nature, making Christ neither fully human nor fully divine.
In an attempt to resolve the controversy, an ecclesiastical council was convened in 451 in the city of Chalcedon (near modern Istanbul, Turkey). The council put together a statement known as the Chalcedonian Definition. It affirmed, among other things, that Christ was “truly God and truly man,” that He had two natures in one person, and that “the distinction of natures” was “by no means taken away by the union” (Philip Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, vol. 2, pp. 62, 63). Although it is still debated whether this was a true definition, the fundamental ideas it contains have been accepted by most Christians.
2. Adventists and the Two Natures of Christ: Adventists have agreed with this definition because they find it compatible with the biblical information about the incarnation of God in Christ. It is true that the theology of the statement goes beyond what is explicitly stated in the Bible, but it still remains within the parameters of divine revelation. That Christ was fully divine and fully human is a biblical fact. We worship God in human flesh, not two persons—one divine and one human—in one body. Otherwise we would worship a human being! We agree that “the two natures were mysteriously blended in one person” (Ellen G. White, Lift Him Up, p. 76). But in this union the divine nature “was not humanized; neither was humanity deified by the blending or union of the two natures; each retained its essential character and properties” (Manuscript Releases, vol. 16, p. 182). The Son of God indeed took human nature upon Him at the Incarnation.
3. Implications of the Union of the Two Natures: The fact that the two natures remain distinct implies that in the Incarnation there are two wills. This helps us understand the possibility that Jesus could have fallen into temptation. God cannot be tempted to sin, but the human nature could. It also helps us understand that although the divine nature was omniscient, the human was not. Christ’s human nature had limited knowledge and grew in understanding the nature and mission of the Son of God (cf. Luke 2:52). The element of mystery remains because even though there are two natures, there is still one person.
Since the human and the divine were united, what the human nature experienced was also experienced by the divine. Here we should make some careful distinctions. Please stay with me. The divine nature experienced the feelings, emotions, struggles, and temptations of the human nature. For instance, when the human nature was thirsty, the divine nature experienced in a unique and direct way what it meant for humans to be thirsty, or hungry, or tempted, etc. The totality of the Person experienced those sensations. On the other hand, when the divine nature used divine power to heal, the human nature became the vehicle through which that power reached the other. When a sick woman touched Jesus’ cloak and was healed, Jesus realized “that power had gone out of Him” (Mark 5:30). The power of the Son of God healed the woman, but Christ’s human nature experienced in a unique way a divine power that it did not possess in itself. This was the result of the union of two natures.
There are many other implications of that union, but those serve to illustrate the significance of the greatest mystery in the universe.
Angel Manuel Rodríguez is director of the Biblical Research Institute of the General Conference.