I occasionally take time in this column to consider the deep mysteries each of the major faiths of the world holds at its heart.
These mysteries are core beliefs and quite often they are so profound and so recondite that people who are not in the faith but who want to learn more about it are cut off from understanding.
I want to understand everything I can possibly understand and learn everything I can possibly learn.
This week I want to try to understand the Christian understanding of the nature of Jesus.
The question at the heart of the mystery is the question of whether Jesus was divine or human or both. A few weeks ago, in answer to a question about gender-neutral language in reference to God, I suggested that Jesus was essentially divine for Christians but appeared on earth in human form. I wrote,
“Christianity does have that issue that Jesus was a man, but that is complicated by the Christian belief that Jesus is not really a human male but the child of God who appeared on Earth in a gendered form of a man. Jesus is part of the Trinity, meaning Jesus’ essence is primarily divine not human.”
This was incorrect and false to the self understanding of Christians. If Fr. Tom Hartman were still with me, he would have slapped me around and prevented me from including this ignorant passage, but he is not so I did and I apologize.
Meanwhile many of you, dear readers who are Christians, wrote to me in varying degrees of frustration to help correct my misunderstanding of the Christian understanding of the nature of Jesus. This note from a seminary professor was particularly kind and helpful:
Dear Rabbi Gellman,
I always enjoy your column, syndicated in the BUFFALO NEWS. I have a question about your column of July 11, 2020. You write that Christianity holds that “Jesus is not really a human male” and that “Jesus’ essence is primarily divine not human.” However, all mainline Christian denominations believe that Jesus was (and is) truly divine and truly human.
1. Scripture — Hebrews, 4:15. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every regard has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Also 1 Timothy, 2:15)
2. Condemnation of the early heresy, “Docetism,” which denied the humanness of Jesus.
3. Council of Chalcedon (451): Jesus was (and is) one person in two natures, divine and human.
4. Nicene Creed: “I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, ... by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.”
5. Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994): “Jesus Christ became truly man while remaining truly God. Jesus Christ is true God and true man.” (No. 464)
Sincerely, (C), Ph.D.
(Professor Emeritus, Christ the King Seminary, East Aurora, N.Y.
Dear Reverend C: Thank you for your very kind and wise correction. Please accept my apologies. However, if I might push on this mystery just a bit more for the sake of my own understanding, what is the plain meaning that is accessible to a non-Christian of the phrase, “Fully divine and fully human.” To me fully means totally and totally does not leave room for anything else. Similarly, the phrase, “One being with two natures” is hard to grasp. I am both a father and a husband, but I am one nature — one being, not two beings. This is clearly not what Christians believe about Jesus. What seems clear to me, but was the root of my ignorance, is that the Docetists had a point. It still seems to me that Jesus for Christians was/is essentially God. This would make it possible for God to have assumed a human form as the man Jesus.Read Full Article
I think I understand why the Docetist Heresy was rejected. Unless Jesus was fully man, his sufferings would be impossible because God cannot suffer like a human. I also think I understand why for Christians Jesus was/is divine because unless he was God, his atoning death for the sins of humanity would have been impossible. What I still am struggling to understand is how Jesus could be both. So please help me understand how Jesus could be both fully God and fully human.
And let me invite my dear Christian readers to also help me appreciate more deeply your core belief about Jesus. What do you mean when you say that you believe that Jesus was fully divine and fully human? I want to understand. Help me if you can. Pray for me if you can’t.
God bless you, Marc.
Send ALL QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS to The God Squad via email at email@example.com. Rabbi Gellman is the author of several books, including “Religion for Dummies,” co-written with Fr. Tom Hartman.