Union, Not Confusion

Some years ago I attended a service where the preacher noted he was thankful that God the Son had come in the flesh and that two natures, the divine and the human, were “blended” in one person for us and for our salvation. When I heard that I did a double-take because if what he said was true, we could not have been redeemed at all. A doctrine that may appear arcane to many is in fact both biblical and essential to our salvation.

We want to delve into the doctrine of the hypostatic union of the divine and human natures in the one person of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Specifically we want to consider what the faith we hold affirms. Why is it important that we understand the relation of the divine and human natures as one of union and not confusion? Simply put, if the two natures are blended or blurred then we no longer have a union but a concoction. And this concoction will benefit no one.

The Westminster Assembly of divines thought through the matter with some needed precision building on the work of the early church with its Chalcedonian formula or definition. In the confession of faith, we find this paragraph in the chapter on Christ the Mediator (8):

2. 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 fullness of time was come, take upon him man's nature, with all the essential properties, and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin; being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the virgin Mary, of her substance. 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. Which person is very God, and very man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man.[i]

The divines were not formulating doctrine out of thin air. They were rearticulating settled orthodox teaching which was established by early church fathers in AD 451 at the Council of Chalcedon. The fathers were not sitting around spinning philosophico-theological nostrums, but were seeking to gather up the various strands of biblical teaching about Jesus. The New Testament reveals a Mediator who exhibits both superhuman knowledge and power (e.g., Christ’s divine knowledge in Matthew 11:25-30 and the miracles in Mark 8) and at other times finite human knowledge and powers (e.g. Christ’s admission that he did not know when we would come back in Matthew 24:36 par. and his thirst and tiredness in John 4:6-7 at the well in Sychar of Samaria). The fathers were also concerned to counter various forms of false teaching circulating amongst the churches:

Following, then, the holy Fathers, we all unanimously teach that our Lord Jesus Christ is to us One and the same Son, the Self-same Perfect in Godhead, the Self-same Perfect in Manhood; truly God and truly Man; the Self-same of a rational soul and body; co-essential with the Father according to the Godhead, the Self-same co-essential with us according to the Manhood; like us in all things, sin apart; before the ages begotten of the Father as to the Godhead, but in the last days, the Self-same, for us and for our salvation (born) of Mary the Virgin Theotokos as to the Manhood; One and the Same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten; acknowledged in Two Natures unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the difference of the Natures being in no way removed because of the Union, but rather the properties of each Nature being preserved, and (both) concurring into One Person and One Hypostasis; not as though He were parted or divided into Two Persons, but One and the Self-same Son and Only-begotten God, Word, Lord, Jesus Christ; even as from the beginning the prophets have taught concerning Him, and as the Lord Jesus Christ Himself hath taught us, and as the Symbol of the Fathers hath handed down to us.[ii]

The hypostatic union of the divine and human natures in the one person of Jesus Christ was just that: a union. If the two natures were blended or blurred, as the preacher thought whom I referenced at the beginning of this article, he could not have saved us because he would have become a tertium quid or third thing. Jesus would have been neither wholly God nor wholly man. He could not have represented fallen man in his sinless and holy life and sacrificial death nor could he have been God so that his temporal offering would have eternal weight and value.

It makes a difference whether the two natures in the one person of Christ maintain their integrity or they are blended to create an unknown and unknowable quantity. Does your salvation depend upon the reality of the hypostatic union as expressed in the Chalcedonian definition? It surely does.

[i] The Westminster Shorter Catechism Q & As 21-22 address the person of Christ as do Westminster Larger Catechism Q & As 36-42. Q & A 40 notes, “Q. Why was it requisite that the mediator should be God and man in one person? A. It was requisite that the mediator, who was to reconcile God and man, should himself be both God and man, and this in one person, that the proper works of each nature might be accepted of God for us, and relied on by us, as the works of the whole person.” Italics mine.

[ii] Italics mine.


Jeffrey C. Waddington (Ph.D., Westminster Theological Seminary) is stated supply at Knox Orthodox Presbyterian Church.  He also serves as a panelist at Christ the Center and East of Eden and is the secretary of the board of the Reformed Forum.  Additionally he serves as an articles editor for the Confessional Presbyterian Journal.


Jeffrey Waddington