A number of Christians claim that Jesus Christ was fully God and fully man during His incarnation on the earth, although the Bible makes no such statement. This belief is called “hypostatic union” and is thought to have originated during the Council of Chalcedon in the middle of the fifth century A.D. But, is this belief correct?
In actuality, the Council of Chalcedon did not conclude that Jesus Christ was fully God and fully man. Instead, the Council concluded that Jesus Christ was truly God and truly man. And, there is a significance difference in meaning between the term fully and the term truly. According to Webster’s Dictionary, fully means “to the full, completely, entirely, thoroughly,” whereas truly means “accurately, genuinely, faithfully, factually, really, rightfully, or legally.”
Thus, there is a meaningful difference between saying that Jesus Christ was fully God and fully man rather than saying that He was truly God and truly man. Saying that Jesus, in His human form, was fully God and fully man indicates that Jesus had all the characteristics of both God and man. In contrast, saying that Jesus, in His human form, was truly God and truly man indicates that Jesus was genuinely both God and man, but this does not mean that he had all the characteristics of both God and man while He was in human form. In fact, the Bible makes it sufficiently clear that Jesus temporarily divested or suspended some of His characteristics or abilities as God, so that He could do what was necessary to be the Savior of every person who sincerely trusts in Him for eternal salvation.
Also, Jesus could not have had all the characteristics of both God and man at the same time, because some of the characteristics are mutually exclusive. Consider the following two examples.
If Jesus Christ had remained fully God, He would have been incapable of sinning, so it was necessary for Jesus as a man to be able to sin, so that He could fully experience the temptations faced by humans (see Hebrews 2:18; 4:15). In other words, if the incarnate Jesus had remained fully God, He would not have been tempted to sin, whereas as a man, He was tempted as we are, but He resisted the temptations and did not sin.
Moreover, the Bible indicates that God is eternal and immortal; He has always existed and it is impossible for Him to die. In contrast, a number of scriptures in the New Testament make it clear that Jesus Christ died on a cross so He could atone for the sins of everyone who has genuine faith in Him. (The fact that Jesus was subsequently resurrected from death is not relevant insofar as the particular matter that this article is addressing, since God the Father could have resurrected Him, just as He resurrected several other people during the ministry of Jesus.) On the other hand, if Jesus Christ had been fully God throughout the entire time He was on the earth as a man, He could not have died physically. This is another reason to believe that Jesus was not fully God while He was in human form.
Furthermore, several scriptures indicate that, in His human form, Jesus Christ did not have all the attributes of God. [Note: When we quote Scripture in this article, we use the wording in the New King James Version of the Bible.]
According to Matthew 8:5-10, Jesus Christ “marveled” on at least one occasion. This scripture states,
Now when Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, pleading with Him, saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, dreadfully tormented.” And Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.” The centurion answered and said, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, “Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!
If Jesus Christ had been fully God throughout the time He was in human form, He would have known before he met the centurion in person that the centurion had great faith, because God is omniscient. Thus, Jesus would not have marveled (i.e., been astonished or surprised) about the great faith of the centurion during His meeting with him. However, Jesus did marvel, which is another indication that during His incarnation on earth, He was not fully God. [To learn more about God’s omniscience, click on “Is God Really Omnipotent and Omniscient?”]
On another occasion, which is recorded in Mark 13:30-32, Jesus Christ said that He did not know when certain future events will occur and that only God (the Father) knows when those events will take place. In this scripture, Jesus declares,
Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away. “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
As we previously stated, if Jesus Christ was fully God throughout His incarnation, He would have been omniscient. Thus, Jesus would have known when the End Times events will occur. Since He did not know, Jesus must not have been fully God at that time.
In addition to the foregoing considerations, there is not even one verse of scripture that says or even infers that Jesus Christ was fully God and fully man.
So, what does the Bible indicate was the reason why Jesus Christ was not fully God while He was in human form on the earth?Philippians 2:5-8 states,
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
This scripture makes it clear that Jesus Christ willingly gave up at least some of His divine attributes so He could become the necessary perfect sacrifice required by God to atone for the sins of mankind. And, because Jesus did so, 1 Corinthians 15:3b declares, “Christ died for our sins. . . .” If Jesus had remained fully God throughout His incarnation on earth, He could not have died for our sins, because it is impossible for God to die, as we previously stated.
Given the preceding considerations, we believe it is incorrect to say that Jesus Christ was fully God and fully man throughout the time He was on earth. Jesus did have attributes of both God and man, but He did not have all the attributes of both God and man. The explanation for this is relatively simple: Many of the attributes of God are opposites of the attributes of mankind. (For example, if Jesus could not die a physical death, then He could not have died on a cross as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind.) Therefore, it would have been impossible for Jesus to have had all the attributes of both God and man.
For all of the foregoing reasons, we believe that it is reasonable to conclude that, in His human form, Jesus Christ was truly God, rather than fully God, whereas in His pre-incarnate form and after His resurrection, He was fully God. More importantly, regardless of what a person believes in this regard, the Bible makes it sufficiently clear that Jesus Christ was not just an extraordinarily good (i.e., holy) man. During His sojourn on the earth, He was God incarnate. [For a discussion of Jesus’ deity and related matters, click on “Was Jesus Christ More than a Prophet?”]