Archive for February, 2010

Paying the Preacher – 1 Corinthians 9:3-14

It has become an all too well known story.  A renowned pastor with a gigantic ministry has more money in his personal coffers than Fort Knox hides in its vault.  A local news organization comes in to investigate the pastor’s lifestyle and what is revealed shocks believers and appalls non-believers:  private jets, sprawling mansions, excessive luxuries.  And the pastor at the center of it all seems to spend more time fleecing his flock than shepherding them into the green pastures of God’s Word.

With such scandalous abuses littering the history of the modern American Christian Church, it is no surprise that many people look at their pastor’s paycheck with at least a little bit of suspicion.  “What’s really going on financially behind the scenes?” someone may wonder.  Indeed, recently, I received a question from someone concerning 1 Corinthians 9, where Paul argues that those who preach the gospel should be duly compensated for their labor.  The apostle writes:

This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me. Don’t we have the right to food and drink? Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas? Or is it only I and Barnabas who must work for a living? Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk? Do I say this merely from a human point of view? Doesn’t the Law say the same thing? For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it about oxen that God is concerned? Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because when the plowman plows and the thresher threshes, they ought to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more? But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ. Don’t you know that those who work in the temple get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel. (1 Corinthians 9:3-14)

A few things are especially notable in Paul’s arguments in these verses.  First, in verse 3, Paul makes a “defense” of his ministry.  The Greek word for “defense” is apologia, a technical term for a legal defense in a court of law.  Thus, there are some who are questioning the very validity of Paul’s ministry.  Interestingly, however, his antagonist’s accusations seem to flow not from the fact that he’s being compensated to preach the gospel, but from the fact that he’s not being compensated!  Paul frankly admits that though he has a right to receive remuneration for his preaching, he “did not use this right” (verse 12).  The argument of his detractors, then, is this:  “You only get what you pay for!  And you’re not paying Paul anything!  Thus, you’re not getting good preaching!  So you should turn to us!  Our preaching is better that Paul’s because we’ll charge you for it!”  This, of course, is the reasoning of a charlatan.  Compensation or lack thereof does not make the message of the gospel any more or less true.  The gospel is the gospel, regardless of remuneration.

With this in mind, Paul continues by explaining that his free preaching of the gospel does not mean that all pastors should not be compensated for their work.  Paul quotes Deuteronomy 25:4 to prove his point: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain” (verse 9).  In ancient Israel, an ox, while he pulled a sledge around a threshing floor to separate the kernels of grain from their husks, would remain un-muzzled so he could eat some the grain while he was threshing it.  Thus, just as ox eats his grain as payment for his labor, so should a pastor be compensated for his labor.  Indeed, Paul concludes: “The Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel” (verse 14).

So what does all this mean?  Well, on the one hand, Paul warns against those pastors who have a sense of entitlement because of their preaching of the gospel.  A pastor should never say, “My preaching is great and therefore I deserve an exorbitant paycheck,” as those who were disparaging Paul’s ministry were saying.  On the other hand, Paul clearly says that a congregation should faithfully support its pastors.  Indeed, one of the things for which I consistently thank God is the way in which my beloved Concordia supports me as a pastor – and not only me, but all of the pastors here.  I praise God for the faithfulness and generosity of Concordia’s members.  And it is my intention and prayer, by the Spirit’s power, to serve Christ’s Church well and faithfully all the days of my life.

I am one who makes my living from preaching the gospel.  And preaching the gospel is a weighty task.  But it’s also a blessed privilege.  I am thrilled beyond words that I get to do it.

Do you have a theological question you would like Zach to answer on his blog? Email him at

February 25, 2010 at 4:45 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – The Real Thing – 1 Corinthians 6:12-20

In 1969, the Coca Cola Company came out with one of their most memorable slogans: “Coke.  It’s the real thing.”  This slogan was meant to distinguish Coca Cola from all those other “phony colas” out there which were not the real thing, but only discount knock-offs.  There’s only one real cola and these advertisers wanted us to know that it was Coke.

Of course, the great philosopher Plato would disagree with Coke’s slogan.  Plato distinguished between two worlds: the material world which he described as a world of incidental, outward forms and the non-material world which he maintained was the world of true and universal Forms.  Thus, a physical object like, let’s say, a bottle of Coca Cola, was only an incidental form and shadow of a larger, true, grander Form in a spiritual world of Forms. A physical bottle of Coca Cola, then, would quite literally not be the real thing.  No, the real Coca Cola resided somewhere in an inaccessible spiritual world of true Forms.

Plato’s distinction between the true spiritual world of Forms and the illusionary physical world of forms has profoundly influenced nearly every philosophical system.  It especially held sway over the philosophical systems of the first century.  The Epicureans believed, for instance, that since everything in this physical world was only a shadow of the true spiritual world of Forms, everyone was free to live how they wanted, doing with their bodies as they wanted.  After all, our physical, bodily forms did not really matter.  It was our spiritual Forms that really counted.

Enter the Corinthian Christians.  This congregation had apparently bought into Platonic and Epicurean philosophies and found it acceptable and even admirable to live hedonistic lives, apart from any ethical scruples.  Indeed, they had a slogan to summarize their philosophical sensibilities: “All things are lawful for me” (1 Corinthians 6:12).  The Corinthians believed that whatever they wanted, desired, or thought they needed, they could obtain without regard to moral law.  Were they hungry?  They could gorge themselves.  Were they lusty?  They could engage in promiscuity without so much as a second thought.  After all, this physical world is only a place full of shadows and our physical bodies are only shells.  The real spiritual Form of us resides somewhere else.

The apostle Paul, when addressing the Corinthians, has a somewhat different estimation of this physical world and our physical bodies.  He writes, “The body is meant…for the Lord, and the Lord for the body” (1 Corinthians 6:13).  Paul’s argument is simply this:  what you do with your body counts.  Your body is not just a shifting shadow of a greater spiritual reality in some non-descript world of Forms.  Indeed, the body is so precious that the Lord is “for the body.”  In other words, God thinks your body is a good thing!  Tall, short, fat, skinny, black, white, Hispanic, male, female, old, young, or middle aged, God is for your body!  He cares about your body!  Indeed, he cares about it so much that he promises to raise it imperishably from the dead on the Last Day (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:42).

Paul finally describes the value of our physical bodies thusly: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?  You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.  So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).  There is an interesting textual variant at the end of verse 20.  Some ancient manuscripts add another line to this verse.  They add, “And in your spirit, which is God’s.”

This final line is probably a liturgical gloss. In other words, whenever a letter like Paul’s would be read out loud to an ancient Christian congregation, the congregation would know the letter so well that they would respond at certain strategic points in the reading.  And so, much like when a pastor today says, “The peace of the Lord be with you all,” the congregation will respond, “And also with you,” when the pastor of one of these ancient congregations would read, “So glorify God in your body,” the congregation would respond, “And in your spirit, which is God’s.”  These words seem to have become so commonplace, that they made it into some copies of the actual biblical text!

Although these words were almost certainly not in Paul’s original letter to the Corinthians, they do provide us with some interesting insight into how Christians viewed their bodies.  The body, it seems, was so important to the early Christians that they came up with a responsive liturgy just to extol the value of our bodies along with our spirits:  “Glorify God in your body.  And in your spirit, which is God’s.”  Thus, whether in our physical bodies or in our incorporeal spirits, we are to glorify God with everything in us.  What you do with your body matters.  It is not just a reflection of some spiritual reality, it is spiritual reality because in your body resides your spirit.  So, in both your body and your spirit, live well and so glorify God with everything in you.

Want to learn more on this passage? Go to
and check out audio and video from Pastor Josh’s
message or Dr. Player’s ABC!

February 22, 2010 at 4:45 am Leave a comment

The Temptation of Christ – Matthew 4:1-11

Yesterday at Concordia, we kicked off our Lenten season with a two and a half day fast.  If you want more information on fasting, its theological significance, as well as some of the mechanics of fasting, you can download a pdf of our fasting booklet here.

My guess is, if you are participating in our fast from solid foods, even as you are reading this, your stomach is growling.  Mine is.  And yet, as I mentioned in my message last night, we fast so that we can feast.  For as our stomachs are emptied, our souls are filled as we remember, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

As I was thinking further about the temptations Satan leveled at Jesus while he was fasting in the desert, a few things struck me.  First, I found it striking that Satan didn’t stop at one temptation.  He circled back to tempt Jesus a second and a third time.  When it comes to luring people into sin, Satan’s motto seems to be, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!”  Thus, this is a temptation truth that we do well to remember:  Fighting temptation is not a battle, it’s a war.  If we resist temptation once, we can be pretty much guaranteed that Satan will come back for another round.  But, then again, lest we throw up our hands in despair, believing it is futile to even try to resist temptation because Satan will simply continue to assault us, I also found Matthew 4:11 to be especially heartening: “Then the devil left Jesus.”  Satan will eventually check out, even if he comes at you for a few rounds.  Jesus’ brother James puts it well:  “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).  If you, like Jesus, are fighting a battle with Satan, I would simply offer you this exhortation:  Resist the devil.  And keep on resisting.  Even if it takes forty days.  For Satan will eventually check out.

The second thing I found striking about Satan’s encounter with Christ is what one scholar terms as the “descending Christology” of these temptations.  In his first temptation, Satan addresses Jesus: “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread” (Matthew 4:3).  Notice that Satan acknowledges Jesus could be the Son of God, but he does not acknowledge he is the Son of God.  But Satan does not stop here.  He dives deeper into heresy until he crassly declares in his third temptation: “All [the kingdoms of the world] I will give you if you will bow down and worship me” (Matthew 4:9).  Satan begins his temptations by saying, “If you are the Son of God…” He ends his temptations by essentially saying, “If I am god…”  He ends his temptations demanding Jesus worship him as a god.  A subtler error turns into a huge and hoary one.

Satan uses the same tactic with us that he used with Jesus.  He begins by tempting us with smaller errors but then tries to drag us into larger errors until he finally destroys our faith altogether.   This is why, whether it be a temptation to tell a little white lie or a temptation to commit murder, we must resist Satan’s every temptation at every turn and on every front.

The final thing I found striking – and really, touching – about Christ’s battle with Satan is the final line of Matthew’s temptation account:  “And angels came and attended Jesus” (Matthew 4:11).  The Greek word for “attended” is diakaneo, a word which describes someone who waits on tables.  This has led many scholars to believe that following Satan’s temptations, angels came and waited on Jesus with food.  And so Jesus finally breaks his fast.  Oh what a relief that must have been for our Lord.  And oh what a joy it must have been to see all of heaven concerned with his hunger and temptations.  And here is comfort for us too:  When we feel hungry or weak or tempted, all of heaven is concerned with our concerns.  And heaven attends to us.  God’s angels and best of all, God’s Son, offer us strength when we are weak and perseverance when we are tired.  And so, as you fast, rejoice that all of heaven watches.  And rejoice that all of heaven cares.  But most of all, rejoice that the God of heaven loves you.

February 18, 2010 at 4:45 am 1 comment

ABC Extra – Darkness to Light – John 3:1-16

Fitness.  According to the Bible, it’s not just a diet program or an exercise regimen, it involves everything we are.  For God desires us to be fit in every aspect of our lives, be that physically, emotionally, spiritually, relationally, or otherwise.  Indeed, Jesus describes his mission thusly:  “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).  Jesus desires not only that we have life, but that we have it to the full.  And a full life can be found only in him.

Ultimately, a perfectly full life can never be had in this life, for this life will end.  Thus, a full life, given by Jesus, involves a promise of a new life beyond this one – a new, eternal life beyond this one.  This new, eternal life is the topic of conversation between Jesus and a Pharisee named Nicodemus in John 3.  The chapter opens:

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.” (John 3:1-2)

Especially notable in these verses is the timing of this conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus.  It is “at night” (John 3:2).  On the one hand, as I mentioned in Adult Bible Class, John’s gospel regularly uses the image of darkness to express not only physical darkness, but spiritual darkness.  As Jesus later says in this same chapter: “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).  Thus, Nicodemus’ timing in his visit to Jesus seems to express something concerning his spiritual state:  he is in darkness.

But at the same time the setting of this encounter alludes to Nicodemus’ spiritual darkness, it alludes to something else:  his faithfulness.  According to ancient traditions, religious communities, such as the community of the Pharisees, were to study Scripture late into the night.  We read in the Dead Sea Scrolls: “The general membership [of a religious community] will be diligent together for the first third of every night of the year, reading aloud from the Book, interpreting Scripture, and praying together” (1QS 6:7-8).  Thus, at night, as during the day, Nicodemus was to study Scripture with his fellow Pharisees.  So when Nicodemus comes to Jesus, he probably does so right after he has studied the Scriptures.

Eventually, Nicodemus comes to faith in Jesus.  We read near the end of John’s gospel:

Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there. (John 19:38-42)

Interestingly, by this time, Nicodemus does not seem to be nearly so shy concerning his commitment to Jesus as he was in John 3.  He accompanies Joseph of Arimathea to Pontius Pilate, the very prefect of Judah.  Mark records that such an act “took courage” (Mark 15:43), for Pilate could have easily condemned the two men.

Not only does Nicodemus boldly approach Pilate with Joseph, he also embalms Jesus’ body on “the Jewish day of Preparation” (John 19:42), that is, the day before the Sabbath.  Jewish days were reckoned from sundown to sundown.  This means that Nicodemus would have to tend to the details of Jesus’ burial before sundown – while it was still daylight.

Nicodemus’ first encounter with Jesus was under the cover of night.  Nicodemus’ final encounter with Jesus was in broad daylight.  Perhaps all those late night study sessions of the Scriptures helped Nicodemus after all.  For hours upon hours of studying the light of God’s Word eventually led him to faith in God’s Light of the world.

Before you go to bed tonight, after it becomes dark, take a cue from Nicodemus:  take a few brief moments to read and ponder the light of God’s Word, thanking God for his Light of the world.

Want to learn more on this passage? Go to
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Pastor Zach’s ABC!

February 15, 2010 at 4:45 am Leave a comment

CHRIST.ology – Part 3

In 1971, a delicatessen opened in Austin that became instantly popular among college students for its delicious sandwiches.  From its humble beginnings on South Congress Street, Schlotzsky’s has since become a national franchise with hundreds of stores scattered over thirty states.  Their slogan is simple, yet to the point:  “Funny name.  Serious sandwich.”

As I wrap up my three-part series on Christology based on a class that I taught at Concordia’s Men’s Bible Breakfast, Schlotzsky’s slogan provides an apropos starting point for this blog:  “Funny names.  Serious Christology.”

In last week’s blog, I surveyed a few of the different ways in which, historically, people have gotten the two natures of Christ wrong.  Arianism denied that Christ was true God.  Docetism denied that Christ was true man.  Nestorianism asserted that Christ not only had two natures, but was two persons.  Monophysitism said that Christ had only one nature – a composite God-man nature.  All of these Christologies were declared by the Church to be heretical.

So if these Christologies are wrong, then what’s right?  How do we properly understand the relationship between the two natures – divine and human – in the one man, Jesus Christ?  Enter the funny names.

The Church has regularly used three genera (singular, genus) to describe how the two natures in the one man Jesus Christ relate to each other.  Genus is a Latin word meaning “type,” or “kind.” It is regularly used in biology as a taxonomic unit.  Thus, these three genera have been used by the Church to explain the types of ways in which the two natures in Christ relate to each other.  Be warned, however, for these three genera have funny names.  But don’t let that throw you.  For they present some serious Christology.

The Genus Idiomaticum
The Genus Idiomaticum seeks to uphold the distinction between the two natures of Christ by declaring that each nature in Christ “has its own peculiar essential or natural attributes, which it retains even in the union, yet without conversion or confusion…The difference of the natures [is not] abolished because of the union, but rather the property of each nature is preserved intact and takes part in forming the one person” (Martin Chemnitz, The Two Natures in Christ, 172).  In other words, even though we cannot divide the two natures into two Christs, we can make distinctions between these two natures as they work together in the one Christ.

A biblical example of the Genus Idiomaticum comes in Romans 1:3-4: “God’s Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, but through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God.” Here, Paul clearly distinguishes between the human and divine natures of Christ.  On the one hand, Jesus, according to his human nature is the Son of David.  On the other hand, according to his divine nature, Jesus is the Son of God.  The Genus Idiomaticum says that it is acceptable and even important to make these kinds of distinctions as long as one does not divide Christ’s two natures.

The Genus Majestaticum
This genus is explained well by Martin Chemnitz: “The divine nature of Christ in itself has received nothing from the hypostatic union, but…his human nature has received and possesses innumerable supernatural gifts and qualities which are contrary to its nature and which are above every name and also above, beyond, and exceeding its own essential properties, which still, however, remain unimpaired” (The Two Natures in Christ, 244).  In short, Chemnitz says that the attributes of Christ’s divine nature affect and enliven the attributes of his human nature.  For example, because Jesus was God, Jesus – as both God and man – could walk on water.  Or because Jesus was God, Jesus – as both God and man – could heal the sick.  Or because Jesus was God, Jesus – as both God and man – could rise from the dead.

Interestingly, this genus proved to be a flashpoint of contention between the Lutherans and those who were Reformed.  The Lutherans properly maintained that this genus allowed Christ to be physically present with his body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper.  After all, because Jesus was God, Jesus – as both God and man – can be omnipresent, even in Communion.  Those who were Reformed did not hold to this genus and so, at best, they asserted that only Christ’s divine nature, and not his human nature, could be present in the Sacrament.  For Christ’s human nature could not be present on an altar while also being present in heaven, even as humans cannot be in two places at once.  Proper Christology, then, affects many different areas in the broader discipline of theology.

The Genus Apotelesmaticum
The Genus Apotelesmaticum asserts that even though distinctions can be made in Christ’s two natures, the whole person of Christ, and not one of his natures individually, saves us.  Again, Martin Chemnitz explains: “The union of Christ’s two natures took place in order that the work of redemption, propitiation, and salvation might be accomplished in, with, and through both of His natures” (The Two Natures in Christ, 218).  Thus, when we speak of our salvation, we say, “Christ saved me.”  We do not say, “The human nature of Christ saved me when he died on the cross,” or, “The divine nature of Christ saved me when he rose from the dead.”  No!  All of Christ – his birth, his ministry, his death, and his resurrection – effects our salvation.

From time to time, I will see bumper stickers on the back of vehicles with a simple two-word confession:  “Jesus Saves.”  Besides being a nice way in which Christians can share their faith, these bumper stickers also represent a proper understanding of the Gensus Apotelesmaticum.  For they are a good reminder that it is Jesus – all of Jesus – who saves us.  It is good Christology wrapped up in two words.  And this is why Christology is not only incredibly intricate, it is also blessedly simple.  For this confession of “Jesus saves” is a confession we can all carry in our hearts and on our tongues no matter how young or old, how theological trained or theologically novice we may be.  Carry it to someone else today.

February 11, 2010 at 4:45 am Leave a comment

Sermon Extra – The Good Shepherd’s Voice – John 10:1-11

This past weekend at Concordia, we kicked off a new series titled “Fit for Life” where, for the next few weeks, we are discussing how Jesus can bring health and wholeness to every area of our lives. Indeed, in my sermon this weekend, I began by talking about how the ancient Israelites had a word that they used to describe this kind of holistic health:  shalom. This word, most often translated as “peace,” was used to describe a person’s overall well-being, wholeness, health, and even the promise that God would one day come and set the brokenness of this sinful world right.  And then, one lonely night in Bethlehem, angels appear to a group of shepherds announcing the birth of a Savior named Jesus and singing: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14).  In Christ, God had fulfilled his promise to bring shalom to this earth.

As God’s shalom incarnate, Jesus brings health to a broken world.  He gives sight to the blind, he makes the lame walk, he cures those who are sick, he makes the deaf hear, he raises the dead, and he preaches good news (cf. Matthew 11:5).  One such instance of Jesus preaching good news comes in John 10, where Jesus calls himself “the Good Shepherd” (verse 11) who comes “so that we may have life, and have it to the full” (verse 10).  How does the Good Shepherd accomplish such a feat?  By “laying down his life for the sheep” (verse 11).

In my sermon, I spoke of two different words that Jesus uses for “life” in verses 10 and 11 respectively.  When Jesus describes our life in verse 10, he uses the word zoe, describing normal, everyday life.  When Jesus talks about laying down his life in verse 11, however, he uses the word psyche, meaning “soul.”  Thus, Jesus lays down his very soul at Calvary so that we can have not just normal, everyday life, but full, eternal life.  Jesus’ call, then, is to build your zoe on what he did on the cross with his psyche.

One of the things that Jesus promises as our Good Shepherd is this: “His sheep follow him because they know his voice” (verse 4).  I find it interesting that Jesus’ sheep do not just hear his voice, or even listen to his voice.  No.  Instead, they know his voice.  They know its tone and tenor.  Indeed, they know his voice so well that “they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice” (verse 5).

In our world, there are many voices that clamor for our attention and allegiance.  The voices of politicians try to steer us to vote Republican or Democrat.  The voices of financial gurus try to get us to invest with them, promising exceptional returns on our portfolios.  There are even voices of differing and competing spiritualities, all trying to get us to believe their claims.  “It’s all karma.  You only get what you got coming to you.”  “There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet.”  “All roads lead to God.  Just be sincere in what you believe.”  “Salvation is found in no one else but Jesus, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).  Which of these voices do you believe?

The invitation of our Good Shepherd is to trust in his voice and his voice alone.  For all other voices of this world – be they political or financial or spiritual – lead to an empty life and, finally, to an eternal death.  But listening – and knowing – the Good Shepherd’s voice leads to a life that is full and, finally, to a life that is eternal.

This week, get to now the Good Shepherd’s voice a little better.  Read his sure and certain voice in his Word.  Listen for the whisper and prompting of his Spirit.  Wait for the Good Shepherd to respond to your prayers.  For when you know the Good Shepherd’s voice you also know shalom.  And there is no better thing than shalom for a full life – and for an eternal one.

Want to learn more on this passage? Go to
and check out audio and video from Pastor Zach’s
message or Pastor Nordlie’s ABC!

February 8, 2010 at 4:45 am 1 comment

CHRIST.ology – Part 2

This blog is part two of a three part series I am writing on Christology, based on the Tuesday morning Men’s Bible Breakfast series I am teaching at Concordia.  In part one, I spoke of Christ’s two natures as truly God and truly man.  Sadly, over the centuries, these two natures have regularly been disparaged and misrepresented by heretics.  So that we do not make the same mistakes as these heretics of old, it is worth surveying some of the historical mistakes made concerning Christ’s two natures.

Broadly speaking, Christological heresies have fallen into one of two categories:  those which deny Christ’s two natures on the one hand, and those which confuse Christ’s two natures on the other.  Let’s look at some examples of each.

Heresies which deny Christ’s two natures…

Arianism rose to ascendancy in the third and fourth centuries.  This heresy taught that though Jesus was a god, he was not the God.  That is, Jesus was indeed divine, but he was not “of one substance with the Father,” as the Nicene Creed confesses.  A letter that Arius wrote to Eusebius of Nicodemia, the bishop who baptized Constantine, succinctly states the Arian position: “Before Christ was begotten, he was not…The Son has a beginning, but God is without beginning.”  The Arians taught that Jesus’ was God’s first creation and not eternal.  John 1:1 firmly refutes such a notion:  “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”  Jesus, the Word, was in the beginning.  He is uncreated and without beginning because he is in the beginning.  Thus, he is not a god, he is the God.

The heresy of Adoptionism surfaced at the turn of the second century.  The Adoptionists taught that Jesus was not just declared God’s Son at his baptism, he was made God’s Son (cf. Luke 3:21-22).  To back up this claim, the Adoptionists used Psalm 2:7:  “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.”  According to Acts 13:33, this Psalm is fulfilled in Jesus.  The Adoptionists pointed to God “becoming” Jesus’ father as proof that he was adopted.  However, their reading of this passage is woefully mistaken.

The Hebrew word for “become” in Psalm 2:7 is yalad, a word classically translated as “beget.”  This word can either denote cause or relationship, depending on what Hebrew mood is used.  That is, sometimes this verb can denote cause – one generation giving rise to another through procreation.  Other times, however, this verb is used to denote relationship, describing the love and affection that two people have for each other.  In Psalm 2:7, this verb, according to its Hebrew mood, is used to denote relationship and not cause.  That is, this verb is used to speak of the Father’s loving relationship with the Son and not the Father’s causation of the Son.  Thus, Psalm 2:7 is not meant to say that the Father adopted to Jesus to make him his Son, but that the Father loves his Son, even as many fathers love their sons.

The name “Docetism” comes from the Greek word dokeo, meaning, “to seem.”  The Docetists taught that though Jesus looked, or seemed, human, it was merely an illusion.  He did not truly become a man and he did not truly die on a cross.  The Docetists based their position on the philosophy of the Gnostics who taught that the spiritual was inherently good while the physical was inherently evil.  Therefore, the Docetists taught that God, who is spiritual, would never become a man because a man is physical and the physical is evil!  John refutes this heresy again and again.  For instance, the evangelist writes in 2 John 7: “Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.”  John is unequivocally clear:  If a person does not acknowledge that Jesus became true man, he is a deceiver.

Heresies which confuse Christ’s two natures…

Even as Arianism and Adoptionism denied Christ’s nature as God and Docetism denied Christ’s nature as a man, there were other heresies which affirmed both natures, yet confused them.  To these we now turn.

Nestorianism became especially prevalent in the fifth century and taught not only that there were two natures contained in the one person of Christ, but that there were actually two Christs!  That is, although Christ may have looked like one person, he was actually two persons.  Thus, there were some things which the human Christ did which the divine Christ did not participate in and vice versa.  For instance, the Nestorians taught that only the human Christ died on the cross, for God cannot die.  This is in direct contradiction to Philippians 2:6, 8 which teaches:  “Christ, being in very nature God…and being found in appearance as a man, humbled himself and became obedient unto death – even death on a cross.”  Paul clearly teaches that Christ, who was in his very nature God, died on the cross. Thus, God died on the cross contra Nestorianism.  Christ is one person with two natures, both of which participate in everything Christ, the one man, does, including his life, miracles, ministry, death, and resurrection.

In reaction to Nestorianism, there arose yet another heresy called Monophysitism. Monophysitism taught that Christ was one person with only one nature.  That is, Monophysitism so desired to keep the two natures of Christ unified rather than radically separating them into two Christs as did Nestorianism that it melded Christ’s two natures into one hybrid nature.  Eutyches explains Monophysite theology thusly: “Christ’s human nature was dissolved like a drop of honey in the sea.”  Thus, Christ’s human nature, though still theoretically present, is not in any way distinct from his divine nature.  Biblically, this is problematic because Scripture speaks of Jesus’ two natures as distinct, though not separate.  For instance, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prays, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).  Here we see both Jesus’ human and divine natures.  As a human, Jesus does not want to die.  As God, he surrenders himself to his Father’s will.

Pope Leo the Great wrote against Monophysitism in a declaration known as The Tome of Leo:

The proper character of both natures was maintained and came together in a single person…The birth of flesh reveals human nature; birth from a virgin is a proof of divine power. A lowly cradle manifests the infancy of the child; angels’ voices announce the greatness of the Most High. Herod evilly strives to kill one who was like a human being at the earliest stage the Magi rejoice to adore on bended knee one who is the Lord of all. And when he came to be baptized by his precursor John, the Father’s voice spoke thunder from heaven, to ensure that he did not go unnoticed because the divinity was concealed by the veil of flesh: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Accordingly, the same one whom the devil craftily tempts as a man, the angels dutifully wait on as God. Hunger, thirst, weariness, sleep are patently human. But to satisfy five thousand people with five loaves; to dispense living water to the Samaritan woman, a drink of which will stop her being thirsty ever again; to walk on the surface of the sea with feet that do not sink; to rebuke the storm and level the mounting waves; there can be no doubt these are divine.

There is hardly a finer confession, explication, and affirmation of Christ’s two natures than the one penned above.  Pope Leo clearly confesses that Christ has two natures, yet he is only one person.  And indeed, this confession of Christ is sorely needed – not just because it is good Christology, but because it is good soteriology, a word which refers to the doctrine of our salvation. Christ must be human so that he can identify with us in our struggles, temptations, and sin.  He must be human so that he can die.  But he must also be God so that he can lead us, guide us, and redeem us.  He must be God so that not only does he die, but he also rises again.

Truly man.  Truly God.  Truly Jesus.  Truly our hope and salvation.  Don’t settle for anything or anyone less than him.

February 4, 2010 at 4:45 am 1 comment

Older Posts

Follow Zach

Enter your email address to subscribe to Pastor Zach's blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,061 other followers

%d bloggers like this: