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As I see it, the church debate regarding Christ’s deity and humanity failed to focus on the real underlying issue. Their arguments did not start with an understanding of Paul’s Hebrew view of spirit, soul, and body but upon the Greek philosophical distinction between spirit and matter. For this reason, the Greek Christian philosophers compared and distinguished Christ’s spiritual nature with His physical humanity.
Paul, on the other hand, compared Adam with Christ, saying in 1 Corinthians 15:45-47,
45 So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural [psuchikos, “soulish”]; then the spiritual. 47 The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven.
If the church had understood the apostle Paul, they would have built their arguments upon his foundation and the tripartite nature of man in general. Adam was “a living soul” and “earthy.” The name Adam literally means “earthy,” for he was named after the earth or ground (adamah). By contrast, the last Adam, Christ, was “spiritual” and “is from heaven.”
The Nicean Creed did set forth that Christ was “begotten, not made,” which reflects this basic understanding of the difference between the two Adams. They understood that Adam was “made,” and that Christ was “begotten.” So far, so good. But when they began to slice Him into two separate beings, Jesus being His humanity, and Christ being His divinity, they immediately began to veer down a Greek philosophical path of dualism and Docetism.
How Many Natures Did Jesus Have?
Jesus Christ is a single Person having spirit, soul, and body—as we all have in common. The primary difference between Him and us is that we were born Adamic, that is, soulish, whereas Christ is spiritual. What does this mean in practical terms? Primarily, it means that in our fleshly identity, we inherited souls in the image of the first Adam, souls that are mortal and corruptible. Christ, however, was begotten by the Spirit, so He was never soulish by nature.
Christ certainly had a soul, but His conscious identity came through His spirit, not His soul.
The same can be said of all who have been begotten by the Spirit and who have transferred their identity from the old man (fleshly soul) to the new man (spirit). Jesus never had to transfer His identity from one entity to another, but all of us must do so, because we were not virgin born.
The key is to be begotten, not made. Our Adamic flesh man was “made,” whereas our new man was “begotten.” As long as we live in human flesh, there are two Persons coexisting in one body. Paul tells us that we ought to be led and instructed by the spiritual man, so that we do not follow the dictates of the old soulish man.
Though we tend to shift our conscious identity back and forth between these two entities, we are really just one person at a time. Legally speaking, we are who we claim to be in the divine court. Having changed our identity, we are no longer the person that our parents brought forth. But being spiritual does not mean we have ceased to have a soul. It is rather that the soul is in submission to the spirit. The soul is subordinate; the spirit is dominant; but each of us is one person.
Hence, it cannot properly be said that when we were begotten by the Spirit, we began to have two natures (spiritual and material) at the same time. We are one or the other, even though both are present. Likewise, Jesus Christ from birth was one Person who had one nature. It was spiritual from the start, even though that nature had been begotten in a material body. When we were begotten from above and became new creatures in Christ, we became like Him.
The Main Issue
Therefore, the argument about the dual nature of Christ, along with the dispute over his deity or humanity, misses the point. Those who make Christ “human” miss the point because they emphasize His physicality without seeing that He was disconnected from Adam. Those who argued for Christ’s deity, downplaying His humanity, split His Person-hood into two separate entities, thus straying from the truth that He was spirit, soul, and body like all of us.
In other words, their dispute was over the issue of human vs. deity and physical vs. spiritual, when they should have been discussing Adam vs. Christ and soulish vs. spiritual.
It all started with His virgin birth, for this alone separated Him from Adam, insofar as His nature is concerned. While it is true that His mother was Adamic, the penalty for Adam’s sin has always been passed down through the seed of the male, not through the female. Hence, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:22, “as in Adam all die,” even though Eve sinned first.
Two Main Laws of Sonship
By failing to comprehend the real issue, the early church lost the understanding of sonship. They continued to use terminology of sonship, but they did not know the laws on which it was based. Sonship is based primarily on two laws: (1) “after its kind” in Genesis 1:21, which means that fathers beget children in their likeness; and (2) the law of authority, based on the Fifth Commandment, “Honor your father and your mother” in Deuteronomy 5:16, which establishes the subordination of a son to his father.
Hence, when Jesus claimed to be the Son of God and, conversely, claimed that God was His Father, He was placing Himself in subjection to His Father in accordance with the law. Likewise, He was also in the image and likeness of His Father, because the spiritual seed that had begotten Him in the Virgin Mary guaranteed that He was a perfect fractal of His heavenly Father.
We too are (or are destined to be) fractals of our heavenly Father, for “when He appears, we shall be like Him” (1 John 3:2). Therefore, John says, we are not to practice lawlessness (1 John 3:4), as if we were still in the image of Adam. True sons of God are those who think like their heavenly Father, agree with His plan insofar as they are able to comprehend it, and do only what their heavenly Father does. In this way, we both praise and honor our Father. We honor our mother by acknowledging the New Covenant, living by faith in the promises of God.
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