There Are No Barnacles On God: The Incarnation, The Person of the Son, and Diagrams

There’s a well-known and widely read book of theology among us evangelicals that tries to present the Incarnation of Christ in the form of a diagram to help us understand. Yet, I’m rather uneasy with the diagram it presents. (Well, actually more than rather uneasy – but I’m British and that’s how we express these things.) It’s attempting to show that ‘Christ’s divine and human natures remain distinct and retain their own properties, yet they are eternally and inseparably united together in one person.’ (That’s from p.557 of the book in question, where the diagram can also be found – by the way, the same diagram lives on p.244 of the shorter version of the book.) That’s all very well, but the diagram actually does something else over and above that. It seems to create a new Person. Have a look at the diagram:

Do you see what I mean? In an attempt to highlight the hypostatic union of the human and divine natures in Christ, the diagram does the following:

Divine Nature (God the Son) + Human Nature = Person of Christ

What’s wrong with that? Well, it’s true, Jesus is true man and true God; His One Person consists of two natures – one human and one divine. But that’s not the problem with the equation (and the diagram from the book). No the problem is where it locates God the Son.

Orthodox Christianity doesn’t teach that you add together God the Son and a human nature to get the Person of Christ. No, the teaching of the faith is that, in the Incarnation, God the Son took to Himself true humanity. It’s not that the sum of the Person of the Son and the human nature produces a new thing called ‘the Person of Christ’. No, not at all. There is only one Person in Christ, and that is the Person of the Son. Christ’s humanity does not cling onto the outside of the Trinity like a limpet (as the diagram would suggest), but rather the Person of the Son has taken to Himself true humanity, so the humanity of Christ is the humanity of God the Son, and rather than a limpet clinging to the outside, we have instead a Man in the Trinity – the God-Man Christ Jesus.

This is what the ancient creeds (which define Christology) tell us. The Nicene Creed says that we believe ‘in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds ... who for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man’. So according to the Nicene faith – that’s the faith of the universal church – the one Lord Jesus is the only-begotten Son who was made man for us and our salvation.

The Definition of Chalcedon puts it like this:
‘the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood: truly God and truly man, of a reasonable soul and body; consubstantial with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood ... one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten ... one and the same Son, and only-begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ...’
You see that – the Person of the Son is consubstantial with us according to His true Manhood. And that One Person is the Only-begotten Son, God the Word.

Perhaps most clearly and succinctly (which is an odd thing to say of the Athanasian Creed), the Athanasian Creed tells us that, ‘our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man’, and that this is so ‘by taking of the Manhood into God.’ The One Person of Jesus Christ is not the adding together of divine nature and human nature, but the taking of human nature into God in the One Person of the Son.

(By the way, all three of those creeds can be found on pp.1169-1171 of the book with the diagram in question.)

For the early church, it wasn’t enough to say that the Person of Christ had two natures, one human and one divine. It was even more important who that One Person of Christ is. He is not a new person made up from the adding together of the two natures, but the Person of God the Son, God the Word who was with the Father in the beginning.

Anyway, I was reminded of my uneasiness with said diagram as I was reading Thomas Torrance’s The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being, Three Persons. So let me just leave you with some words from Torrance:
‘In the language of the Nicene Fathers it is he who came down from heaven and was made man for us and our salvation who is acknowledged to be of one and the same Being as God the Father, that is of the same equal Being as the eternal Father, while nevertheless distinct … from him as his only begotten Son. The incarnate Son, Jesus who was born of the Virgin Mary and crucified under Pontius Pilate, is none other than the eternal Son of God – the eternal Son of God, he who was begotten of the Father before all time, is none other than the incarnate Son, Jesus who was born of the Virgin Mary and crucified under Pontius Pilate.’ (T.F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God, pp.143-144)
So, let’s get rid of those limpets and barnacles from our diagrams of the Trinity!