Hypostatic What?

This past weekend Christians all over the world celebrated Good Friday and Easter, and remembered the death and resurrection of Jesus (I recognize this coming Sunday is Easter in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, so if that’s you, wait to read this post until after then… jk). As we focus on these aspects of Jesus’ life and ministry, I want to turn our focus this week to something as foundational as his death and resurrection: the hypostatic union. The mysterious fact that Jesus is fully God and fully man, 2 distinct natures existing in union. I want to discuss why it’s important for us to care about this, and consequently what that means for youth ministry.

The Hypostatic Union

When we seek to understand the hypostatic union, we have to recognize that we can only understand so much because we are finite and God is infinite. Even looking at the definition of the Greek term hypostasisdoesn’t help much: it literally means “substance”. But what it denotes is helpful in our understanding; it means an actual, concrete existence. When we talk about this, we mean that Jesus has an actual divine nature and an actual human nature. Over the past 2,000 years, the Church has sought to explain how Jesus can be fully divine and fully human, and at times has run amuck. Norman Geisler goes so far as to say that “[a]ll heresies regarding Christ deny one or both of these propositions. [that Jesus is fully God and fully man]”[1]A brief look at a few of those will help shape our understanding of why the hypostatic union is an important and foundational doctrine.

Apollinaris[2]taught that Christ had a human body, but not a human mind; his mind and spirit were divine. In presenting this view, Apollinarianism holds that Jesus is only partially human and partially divine – these 2 “halves” make the whole. This view was forcefully rejected at several Church councils, in large part because our human bodies are not the only thing that needs saving. Our minds and spirits do to, and Christ had to be fully human to save us. Hebrews 2:17 says, “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”

A second faulty view of the personhood of Christ is Nestorianism. This is the view that Jesus was actually two separate persons. There was a divine Jesus and a human Jesus. The biggest issue with this is that the Bible does not give any indication that there were 2 different persons – Jesus is distinctly one person. He never speaks of himself in the plural, and if this were the case, then how do we know which Jesus died on the cross? Or that he even rose from the dead, and it wasn’t his “twin” pulling a fast one?

A third view that attempts to understand the divinity and humanity of Jesus is Monophysitism. Eutyches taught that Jesus’ divinity and humanity combined to form a new, third nature. If this is true, then Jesus is not truly God and not truly man – meaning he could neither represent us nor earn our salvation. Not a good solution if you ask me.

In response to these views, the Council of Chalcedon was convened in 451 AD. Here’s a link to the resulting statement in its totality, but a few lines will serve us well:

“So, following the holy fathers, we all with one voice teach the confession of one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ: the same perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity… t no point was the difference between the natures taken away through the union, but rather the property of both natures is preserved and comes together into a single person and a single subsistent being. He is not parted or divided into two persons.”

Jesus is fully God and fully man. While being unable to completely comprehend how these two natures can be in one person, the Church has repeatedly found this important enough to make clear statements on. This is an example of why it’s important for us youth workers to know our theology and our church history, because some of these ideas may seem like reasonable things, or like new perspectives. We have to know why it’s important that Jesus is fully human and fully God because a lot depends on it. I love the way the New City Catechismsimply defines the importance of this. The response to the question, “Why must the Redeemer be truly human” is “That in our human nature he might on our behalf perfectly obey the whole law and suffer the punishment for human sin, and also that he might sympathize with our weaknesses.”[3]The response to the question “Why must the Redeemer be truly God” is “That because of his divine nature his obedience and suffering would be perfect and effective; and also that he would be able to bear the righteous anger of God against sin and yet overcome death.”[4]A lot hinges on this hypostatic union.

What does this have to do with youth ministry?

The most obvious application to youth ministry should be that as teachers, we are held responsible for what we are teaching and are charged to teach sound doctrine. If we are unsure of what we believe ourselves, we are less likely to teach it to the teenagers we serve. Additionally, if we do not know why the hypostatic union is a foundational tenet of our faith, we’re less likely to correct teenagers who have incomplete views of Jesus. One of the most heartbreaking things I can imagine would be for a teenager to leave our ministry thinking they’re saved because they’re being a good person, just like Jesus was a pretty good person. We’re absolutely failing at our calling if we are giving them an incomplete picture of Jesus.

A fringe benefit for knowing and understanding the hypostatic union would be that *hopefully* youth ministry and youth workers might get some more respect, because we actually take theology seriously and don’t live out the stereotype people tend to have.

As you get back into the swing of things after Easter, I pray that you continue to meditate on the death and resurrection of Jesus. What it means, and why it matters that he is fully God and fully man. Continue to dive into knowing what you believe and why you believe it[5], and continue to do youth ministry with excellence.


[1]Norman Geisler, The Big Book of Christian Apologetics, 84.

[2]The information for these comes from Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, 554-556.

[3]The New City Catechism, 61.

[4]The New City Catechism, 63.

[5]One topic I didn’t have time for this week was kenosis, the idea that Jesus emptied himself of his divinity when he was on Earth. This heresy has sprung up again and again in the Church and deserves our attention as well. I hope to return to it in the future, but do your homework in the meantime!

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