Was Jesus a God-Man?
INCARNATION is the teaching in Christendom that “God is Man, and Man is God in the Person of Jesus Christ.” This belief is called “the central doctrine of Christianity.” Catholic and most Protestant churches thus teach that Jesus was a God-Man. But, like other doctrines taught by the clergy, this one, too, defies logic and reason. Indeed, theologians admit that no human philosophy can fully explain it. It is contradictory and it is confusing. But since the Bible says that “God is not the author of confusion,” our interest is quickened by the questions: How did the incarnation teaching originate? Does the highest authority of all, God’s Word, really teach that Jesus was Almighty God masquerading as a man?—1 Cor. 14:33.
The doctrine that Jesus was a God-Man did not crop up until long after Jesus’ death. Then the teaching developed gradually. It was crystallized A.D. 325 at the Council of Nicaea. At this council a pagan emperor, Constantine, directed affairs. Merrill’s Essays in Early Christian History says: “It is not likely that Constantine cared very much about what doctrine should come off victorious in the discussions and votes. He did not aspire, like Henry VIII of England, to be a theologian. But he wanted harmony in the Church for political reasons. . . . He doubtless hoped in advance that decisions might be reached acceptable to both sides.”
One of America’s noted theologians, Henry P. Van Dusen, further enlightens us as to what happened at Nicaea, in his book World Christianity (page 72): “The East was seething with more violent dispute over the correct theological interpretation of Christ’s person. Hence Constantine summoned all the bishops of the Church to assemble at Nicaea in 325. The 318 bishops who responded represented only about a sixth of the bishops of the Empire. As in all ecumenical councils, they came predominately from the East. Constantine’s principal ecclesiastical advisor, Bishop Hosius of Spain, presided, with the emperor at his right hand. The weight of imperial influence swayed the decisions. The early form of the Nicene Creed was the outcome.” Thus pagan Constantine, concerned more with politics than with religion, “swayed the decisions” and determined what Christendom in general believes to this very day. So Christendom’s acceptance of the theory of Jesus’ being a God-Man rests on a pagan emperor.
Not until the Council of Chalcedon in 451 was the incarnation doctrine defined. What is eye-opening about that council, as well as the one at Nicaea, is that they solved matters by absorption. Some said Jesus was man. Some said Jesus was God. The council, made up of deflected Christians, decided Jesus was God-Man. So each of the embattled contestants could accept the formula with reasonable satisfaction by the simple device of underscoring that phrase which embraced his own interest. Dr. Van Dusen says in his World Christianity: “The upshot of three centuries of heated controversy in two successive phases was the Catholic Church’s resolute refusal to choose—its return of a firm if somewhat befuddled ‘both . . . and’ to the disputants’ insistent ‘either . . . or.’ Nicaea, Constantinople, Chalcedon are the successive landmarks on the tortuous route. . . . At Chalcedon a century and a half later than Nicaea the same method of solution was even more baldly employed—not ‘either . . . or’ but ‘both . . . and,’ a solution by inclusion rather than by rejection at whatever cost to logical coherence and rationality.”
Has your understanding of Christ Jesus been influenced by the Council of Chalcedon? Most professed Christians do not even know that the council was responsible for defining the doctrine; and yet “the formula of Chalcedon,” writes Dr. Van Dusen on page 75, “met its dilemma by affirming, side by side, the contradictory contentions of the two disputant parties, without serious attempt at reconciliation.” Some way out of a dilemma! And so Chalcedon’s definition of Christ’s nature (“two natures, without confusion, without division, without separation, . . . not divided or separated into two persons but one”) has been called with reason, as Dr. Van Dusen says, “to the logical mind, distilled nonsense.”
“THE BEGINNING OF THE CREATION BY GOD”
Regardless of what any council or man says about Jesus’ nature, the only reliable authority is God’s Word itself, of which Jesus said: “Your word is truth.” (John 17:17, NW) This Word of God reveals that Jesus is the Son of God, not Jehovah God himself. Concerning his relationship to his Father, Jesus explained: “The Father is greater than I am.” (John 14:28, NW) Jesus condemned hypocrisy; yet what glaring hypocrisy he himself would be guilty of if he had been Almighty God garbed in flesh! Jesus was not God himself, because even in his prehuman existence he was a created spirit called “the Word.” The Word was a mighty spirit creature and as such may properly be called “a god” but not “the God.” Hence an accurate translation of John 1:1 (NW) reads: “Originally the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.”
This scripture does not say that the Word always existed. Only Jehovah God is “from everlasting to everlasting.” (Ps. 90:2) There was a time when the Word was created. Jesus gave true facts concerning himself at Revelation 3:14 (NW), where he said: “These are the things the Amen says, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation by God.”
So Jesus, in his prehuman existence, was the very beginning of Jehovah’s creation. Thereafter Jehovah used the Word in producing all other creations: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation, because by means of him all other things were created.” (Col. 1:15, 16, NW) When God’s “firstborn” came to earth, the life force of the Word was transferred from heaven to the egg cell in the womb of Mary. This meant that the Word had to lay aside his heavenly glory, his spirit life. This he did: “Christ Jesus, who, although he was existing in God’s form, gave no consideration to a seizure, namely, that he should be equal to God. No, but he emptied himself and took a slave’s form and came to be in the likeness of men.”—Phil. 2:5-7, NW.
“A LITTLE LOWER THAN ANGELS”
Since Jesus as the Word “emptied himself” of his heavenly glory, he was no mighty spirit in a baby’s fleshly clothing just pretending to be ignorant like a newborn infant. Jesus was truly made flesh. His apostle John writes: “So the Word became flesh and resided among us.” (John 1:14, NW) When the Word “became flesh” he was no longer a spirit creature. Indeed, he had to be a man in the real sense to fulfill this scripture: “We behold Jesus, who has been made a little lower than angels, crowned with glory and honor.” If Jesus had been a God-Man, he could not have been really “lower than angels.” Nor is it reasonable to think that the great Sovereign of the universe, of whom it is written that “at no time has anyone beheld God,” would take up human form and be “lower than angels.”—Heb. 2:9; 1 John 4:12, NW.
There were times when angels appeared as men, as when two angels appeared to Lot. (Gen. 19:1) Such would be a case of true incarnation. It is noteworthy that the angels visiting Lot materialized as full-grown men, not as babies. If Jesus had been a mere incarnation, then it would not have been necessary for God to transfer his life to an embryo in the virgin’s womb and to have Jesus born as a helpless infant, subject to human parents; he could still have remained a spirit person and materialized a fully developed fleshly body just as the sons of God did in Noah’s day and as the angel Gabriel did before Mary.
INCARNATION NULLIFIES THE RANSOM
One of the cardinal teachings of the Bible is the ransom. Sin and death came upon mankind when a perfect man, Adam, transgressed Jehovah’s law. For obedient mankind to be released from the condemnation of sin and death, a ransom must be paid. It must be the exact equivalent of the perfect man Adam, for God’s law requires exactness: “You must give soul for soul, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.” So for Jesus to provide the ransom he must be a perfect man, no more, no less. Further, if Jesus had been a spirit garbed in flesh he could not really have died at man’s hands; and if he did not really die, again we see that the ransom could not have been provided. But the Bible is clear that Jesus did provide the ransom and that he was a man, not God clothed in flesh: “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, a man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a corresponding ransom for all.”—Ex. 21:23, 24; 1 Tim. 2:5, 6, NW.
But now what of 1 Timothy 3:16, which says in the King James Version that “God was manifest in the flesh”? This is not an accurate text. In fact, nearly all the ancient manuscripts and all the versions, including the Latin Vulgate, have in their text “He who” instead of “God.” Most modern translations choose “He.” Thus the New World Translation renders it properly: “He was made manifest in flesh,” meaning the Word, who became the man Christ Jesus.
So what have we learned? This has become overwhelmingly clear: (1) The Council of Chalcedon, instead of rejecting the bad, mixed the error that Jesus was God with the truth that he was man, thus winding up with “distilled nonsense”; (2) Jesus in his prehuman existence was not God but God’s Son, “the beginning of the creation by God”; (3) Jesus had to be a real man, not a God-Man, to be “lower than angels”; (4) if Jesus had been a spirit masquerading in human flesh, there would have been no need for him to be born a baby, and (5) to provide the ransom sacrifice Jesus had to die a perfect man, nothing more, nothing less.
The inevitable conclusion is that God’s Word does not teach that Jesus was a God-Man. It teaches that on earth he was a perfect man, a perfect human organism. Those who teach that he was a God-Man teach false religion. They violate the rule set down by the apostle of Christ: “Do not go beyond the things that are written.”—1 Cor. 4:6, NW.