The two natures of Jesus refers to the doctrine that the one person Jesus Christ had/has two natures, divine and human. In theology this is called the doctrine of the hypostatic union, from the Greek word hypostasis (which came to mean substantive reality). Early church figures such as Athanasius used the term "hypostatic union" to describe the teaching that these two distinct natures (divine and human) co-existed substantively and in reality in the single person of Jesus Christ. The aim was to defend the doctrine that Jesus was simultaneously truly God and truly man.

Historical development

The doctrine of the hypostatic union (the two natures of Jesus) was adopted as orthodox doctrine at the Council of Chalcedon in 451. Three major schools of theology were involved at the council: Alexandria, Antioch, and the West. The consensus of these three schools in the Chalcedonian Creed illustrates the catholicity (i.e. universality) of the ancient church. ^[1]^ The creed asserted two distinct natures, human and divine, and affirmed the one person of Jesus Christ.

Biblical basis

One of the clearest passages in Scripture concerning the two natures of Jesus comes from John 1 (see on John 1). The Word (i.e. Jesus) "was with God, and the Word was God." Moreover, the Word took on human flesh (John 1:14). Luke's gospel also says that Jesus "increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man" (Luke 2:52).

Two minds and wills, or one?

"Some conclude that when Jesus took on his human nature he possessed two minds, a human mind and a Divine mind, with the human mind responsible for Jesus' knowledge rather than the Divine mind. Others hold that Jesus had one mind but while in his mortal body he chose to have a subconscious mental part that was inaccessible to the conscious mind and then, after his resurrection, his humanity became dominated by the Divine so his subconscious became accessible."^[2]^ For an example of the "two minds view", see The Logic of God Incarnate, by Thomas Morris. For the "divided mind" view, which speaks of "two systems of belief [in one mind] to some extent independent of each other", see Richard Swinburne's Christian God, p. 201^[3]^. For a critique of these, see "The Inclusion model of the Incarnation: Problems and Prospects", by Tim Bayne^[4]^.

The view that Jesus only has one will is called Monothelitism.

Leo's "Tome"

Leo's Tome refers to a letter in 449 from Pope Leo I to Flavian, Patriarch of Constantinople, expounding the orthodox Christology of the West. In this letter Leo maintains that Jesus Christ is one person of the divine Trinity with two distinct natures that are permanently united. These two natures share properties through the so-called communicatio idiomatum or sharing of attributes between the divine and human natures of Christ. Alexandrian theologians favored this concept. It was used, but found less favor among Antiochene theologians. Leo's statement was directed specifically against the heresy of Eutychianism. This letter was recognized by the Council of Chalcedon (451) as a statement of orthodox Christology.

The Communicatio Idiomatum

"A doctrine that is related to the Hypostatic Union is the communicatio idiomatum (Latin for 'communication of properties'). It is the teaching that the attributes of both the divine and human natures are ascribed to the one person of Jesus. This means that the man Jesus could lay claim to the glory He had with the Father before the world was made (John 17:5), claim that He descended from heaven, (John 3:13), and also claim omnipresence, (Matt. 28:20). All of these are divine qualities that are laid claim to by Jesus; therefore, the attributes of the divine properties were claimed by the person of Jesus."^[5]^

God and man forever

"Christ's humanity was not a mere fleshly shell that God rented and used for a temporary amount of time. God did not just come to live in flesh as a man, but the 'Word became flesh' (John 1:14). God incorporated human nature into His eternal being. In the incarnation humanity has been permanently incorporated into the Godhead. God is now a man in addition to being God. At the virgin conception God acquired an identity He would retain for the rest of eternity. His human existence is both authentic and permanent. Jesus' humanity is not something that can be discarded or dissolved back into the Godhead, but He will always and forever exist in heaven as a glorified man, albeit God at the same time."^[6]^ Upon his ascension, Jesus was not deified, but rather was glorified.

Contrasting views

A variety of events led up to Chalcedon, but there were three opposing views that deserved the church's attention. Apollinarianism, Nestorianism, and Eutychianism all challenged the view that the one person of Christ included a human and divine nature. While their goals may have been to unify the person or natures, each view was condemned as heresy.


Apollinarians argued that in the Incarnation the Son of God assumed a human nature but not a human soul. Instead, his divine nature took the place of the soul. This view diminished the full humanity of Jesus and was condemned at the Council of Constantinople in 381. This view is similar to docetism.

See main page: Apollinarianism


Nestorianism insisted that there were two natures but that there were also two persons: one divine and the other human. Rather than unifying Jesus, this view separated the person of Jesus along with his two natures.

See main page: Nestorianism


This view essentially absorbed the human nature into the divine nature. In an attempt to unify the person of Jesus, Eutychianism denied the two natures of Jesus and affirmed a new, or third, nature. This issue is also similar to that of monophysitism (mono - one; physis - nature).

See main page: Eutychianism

Monophysitism, Miaphysitism, and Dyophysitism

Adherents of miaphysitism argue that it is different than monophyistism, "mia standing for a composite unity unlike mone standing for an elemental unity".^[7]^ They argue:

"After the Union, Christ was no longer in two natures. The two natures became united into one nature without separation, without confusion and without change. Thus He was at the same tithe perfect God and perfect man. This is the union of the natures in the Incarnation. After the union Christ is not two persons or two natures. but one Person, one incarnate Nature of God the Son, with one will, but being at once divine and human."^[7]^ The Council of Chalcedon resolutely affirmed dyophysitism over monophysitism and miaphysitism, saying that Christ had two inseparable natures in one person.


  1. John H. Leith, ed. Creeds of the Churches, 3rd edition (Louisville:John Knox Press, 1982), 34.
  3. Sources found here.
  4. Available here
  6. "Can God be God if the Incarnation is Permanent?", by Jason Dulle.
  7. ↑ ^7.0^ ^7.1^ "The Issue Between Monophysitism and Dyophsitism."


  • Thomas F. Torrance, Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2008)
  • Alan Spence, Christology: A Guide for the Perplexed (London: T&T Clark, 2008)
  • Donald Bloesch, Jesus Christ: Savior & Lord (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1997)
  • Gerald O'Collins, Christology: A Biblical, Historical, and Systematic Study of Jesus. 2nd edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009)

See also

External links