Kathy Keller—The Nestorian Threat to Christmas

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Although fully divine, Jesus was fully human as well. Had he not been, his life and death would have no redemptive value whatsoever. That God himself passed the death sentence on our sin and disobedience, then came to suffer that sentence himself, after having lived a perfect, sinless life, trading his reward for our punishment is the Gospel in its most concise form. For his sinless life to matter, and be sufficient to earn God’s favor, he had to do it as a man, not a divine being for whom nothing was very difficult.

This is not easy to comprehend, and yet it is the heart of the mystery of salvation. It is no wonder that the early Church worked hard to protect this truth from variants that would have tilted the nature of Christ into one of two heresies: Nestorianism (and several other related heresies) taught that Jesus was fully human, and though certainly specially anointed by God, was not fully God as well. On the other hand Docetism (and several other similar teachings) taught that Jesus was fully God, but only masquerading as human, not really subject to the sorrows, temptations, and trials of human beings.

Docetism seems to have run its course—we don’t hear many people today insisting that Jesus was God and only appeared to be human. But the family of Nestorian views is another matter. It is the preferred stance of the modern world—Jesus was a fully human being, and although given special gifts and grace by God, he was still just human, a first century Semitic man of his time, limited and even (some assert) flawed.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Christian Life / Church LifeChurch History* TheologyAnthropologyChristologyTheology: Scripture

2 Comments
Posted December 29, 2013 at 5:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. Peter dH wrote:

I’m slightly confused. No real quarrel with the argument as such, but neither Nestorius nor his followers ever taught that Jesus “was not fully God as well”. The controversy was not about his divinity or his humanity, but the specific way these were united in the one person of Jesus Christ - with Nestorius arguing for a more sharply delineated coexistence of the two natures: “he is entirely the son of David according to the flesh but the Lord according to the deity. The body therefore is the temple of the Son’s deity, and a temple united to it by a complete and divine conjunction…” (Second Letter to Cyril, tr. R.A. Norris, Jr). The orthodox judgement is that his language drove too big of a wedge between the human and divine natures of Christ.

This causes Kathy, as I read it, to understate the subtle nature of hermeneutical Nestorianism. It is not simply saying “ultimately [the bible] is a human book.” That sounds more like hermeneutical Arianism to me. Hermeneutical Nestorianism is affirming that the bible is a human as well as a divine book - entirely reasonably, with its different voices, genres and cultures clearly shining through - and then driving enough of a wedge between its human and divine inspiration that we can prise the two apart and end up accepting some elements as divinely inspired, while dismissing others as simply conditioned by the human author’s culture, personality, or bad judgement (hi Paul!).

Here, I think, she is spot on. That is indeed a popular justification to separate “the good bits” from “the bad bits” according to one’s own preferences. Moreover, when pursued to its logical conclusion, there is indeed an uncomfortable link with one’s view of Jesus.

December 29, 9:51 am | [comment link]
2. CSeitz-ACI wrote:

#1. Your comment also explains why Antiochenes (Diodore and Theodore) inevitably turned the OT into a ‘Hebrew Religion’ whose literal sense admitted of very little extension. John Behr has gone so far as to argue that they represent the first Christian exegesis that turned the OT into a ‘B.C.’ book, as against the rich use of it previously. They had difficulty relating the divine word with the ‘word assumed.’

December 29, 2:24 pm | [comment link]
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