Apollinarius revisited

“Many Christians have spoken of Jesus as being ‘aware,’ during his lifetime, of his divinity – aware in a sense that made him instantly, almost casually, the possessor of such knowledge about himself that would have made events like his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane quite inexplicable.  What I have argued for elsewhere, not to diminish the full incarnation of Jesus, but to explore its deepest dimension, is that Jesus was aware of a call, a vocation, to do and be what, according to scriptures, only Israel’s God gets to do and be.” – N.T. Wright, Simply Christian, 118.

One of the questions that I ask my students is, “when Jesus became human, was he omnipresent?” This question is the easiest of the three omni’s to answer.  The majority of my students immediately answer “no.” Then we move to Jesus’ omnipotence.  Most students here say that Jesus was still omnipotent.  They cite his miracles as evidence.  Fair enough, but what about passages that say he’s tired or hungry?  Or what about other prophets that also perform miracles? Are they omnipotent too?  This gives them some pause and eventually they concede that Jesus is not fully omnipotent.  The last omni is the most difficult to digest.  I ask the question, “Was Jesus omniscient during his lifetime on earth?”  To drive the point further I ask, “When Jesus was a baby, did he know who he was?” “Was the mind of God trapped in a baby’s body?”  I can see that the students are starting to get uncomfortable here, and I myself feel a bit sacrilegious for asking the question.  Then I start thinking about Apollinarius.

Apollinarius was also uncomfortable with the idea of a fully human Jesus, and in an attempt to hold onto his full divinity claimed that the mind of Jesus was not human but was the mind of God.  See, the early church heresies make sense to me, much more sense than what the church actually comes up with, which takes me back to the classroom.

Just to be clear here, I affirm the early church’s doctrine of the full divinity and full humanity of Jesus.  But the early church’s heresies also make more sense to my students. They have no problem understanding that Jesus is fully divine, but the harder concept to understand is his full humanity.  Not just that Jesus must be 100% human (including his mind), but why that is so important?  This is one of the reasons I introduce them to Wright’s theory in Simply Christian.  Regardless of whether they agree with it or not, It forces them to think through how they view Jesus’ humanity and shakes them of their “God-in-a-bod” assumptions.

(I guess I should also add that if our understanding of being fully divine is limited to the omni’s, then we are basing our definition of God more on Greek philosophy than scripture.  Being divine goes much deeper than being omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient, and immutable.)

So what do you think?

Why is it important that Jesus be fully human?

Do you think Wright’s vocation theory goes too far?

Why do we get more uncomfortable about God limiting his omniscience as opposed to his other characteristics?

5 thoughts on “Apollinarius revisited

  1. This is an area that I have studied off and on for several years. There is not much information on Athanasius or what he taught but apparently he was considered a heretic. I believe that his teachings were totally misunderstood. He taught that Jesus and man were tri-partite beings, having a body, soul and spirit.

    The spirit is the part of man that allows him to be connected to God. The soul comprises the mind, will and emotions. The body is what houses the soul and spirit while we are on earth. All men are born in Adam, with a spirit that is dead to the things of God, and are unable to be in communion with Him until after salvation. Because of this, man lives out of his soul….out of his emotions, out of his own capacity to think and reason and out of his own will. At salvation, man becomes a “partaker of the divine nature.” His spirit has been cleansed of the original sin of Adam and has been made holy and righteous…a place for the Holy Spirit to dwell. His soul has begun the process of transformation, but his soul is still impacted by the life he had in Adam….erroneous thinking, wrong choices and the emotions that result in both of those. This is what it is to have a “human nature” also known as an “Adamic nature.” After salvation man is able to be in communion with God and has a choice of whether to walk by the Spirit, or to walk after the flesh (live out of his soul).

    Jesus was born of a human mother but because he did not have an earthly father, he did not have an Adamic nature. He had a divine nature. He had a spirit that was always alive and in communion with God. But Jesus had a human body that, by its very existence, limited His Divine nature. A human body cannot be everywhere at once, nor can it be all powerful. And a human brain does not have the capacity to be all knowing. Jesus was always completely Divine ( holy, completely righteous and pure and perfect) in His Spirit, but taking on a human body, by definition, would limit His ability to express some of His Divine attributes (omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence). He did not ever have an Adamic nature (human nature) but He did have a human body that limited His ability to operate out of His divinity. He “laid aside his deity” to inhabit a human body. In this state of being in a human body, Jesus had a completely human mind, although it had not been impacted by original sin. But it was not able to operate in omniscience because of His human physical brain. He was completely dependent on the Father to reveal to Him what He needed to know. That is why He said He couldn’t do anything of His own initiative. He was always in complete communion with God but only had access to what the Father revealed to Him in the moment. It is my understanding that Jesus knew (at the right time) that He was the Son of God because God revealed it to Him. When God revealed to Him what He would go through at the cross , He was in great agony in His humanness. He asked the Father if there was not a way that this cup could be avoided, but He submitted Himself to His Father’s will. It was necessary for Him to take on a human body to redeem all humanity from the sin into which we are born in Adam. He had to have a human body to shed His blood because without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin.

    The problem seems to have arisen when the term “nature” was never defined by the theologists of the day Having a human nature is not the same thing as having a human body. Jesus had a fully human body but not a human nature. Nature, as it is used in the Bible, does not refer to a physical body, but to a state of the spirit, being in Adam or in Christ. Jesus was a fully Divine Being, housed in a fully human body. Fully God and fully man.

    I did not supply Scripture references for this, but would be glad to do so if you have any questions. I would love to hear your thoughts on what I have written. I just happened upon your page/post by a google search and hope that I have not intruded upon a private discourse.


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