Can Christ be both God and Man?

by David Tavender

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In attempting to answer this question, some have concluded that, although a very special man, The Lord Jesus Christ isn’t or wasn’t ever God. On the other hand, some have concluded that Christ wasn’t truly human, but a manifestation of God who only looked like a man.

Such conclusions certainly make the primary problem  – “can Christ be both God and man?” – disappear, but neither are conclusions I am able to agree with.

 

Deity and Humanity

There is a long list of Scriptures showing evidence of Christ’s humanity, and, frequently, those who do not accept His deity will point out things like Christ’s physical limitations, weakness and death in order to demonstrate that He couldn’t be God. Conversely, many who proclaim His deity do not feel comfortable dwelling on the Lord Jesus’ human features at the risk of being seen to undermine His deity.

In reality, both deity and humanity shine through our Lord in abundance, as amply supported by a multitude of Scriptural phrases and passages:

  • Christ’s humanity is evidenced by several passages that show Him hungering (e.g. Matthew 21:18), thirsting (e.g. John 19:28), being tired (Matthew 8:24), etc.
  • Christ’s deity is evidenced by several passages listed on our web page “The Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ“.

Rather than lean more one way or the other towards deity OR humanity, it is important to acknowledge that both aspects are present, and equally vital to who the Lord Jesus Christ was and is.

Needless to say, our limited human minds have difficulty comprehending this, and therein lies a major obstacle: we are reluctant to believe what we cannot fully understand. It is quite fair to say that reconciling the two aspects of deity and humanity within the one being conflicts with most logical thinking. However, it is more a matter of what we place as being our primary source of guidance in these issues. Do we look at the mountains of evidence pointing to both Christ’s deity and humanity, and place our faith in the revealed word of God who knows the ins and outs of the matter? Or do we defer to the limited knowledge and sometimes faulty logic of man? It is at this point we must decide to consider the full testimony of the Scriptures, or we will be wasting our time. The Bible is God’s words and thoughts, and He has spoken about Himself via those words and thoughts. It is of primary importance to consider what He has said about Himself first, before offering our human response. Would any of us dare to suggest that the Bible tells us everything there is to know about Christ’s deity and humanity, though? Surely it does not, and there comes a point when we must acknowledge, even upon diligently searching and reading the Scriptures, that there will be many aspects of His being we may never fully comprehend. This should not discourage us, however, as it highlights something of the wonderful subject at hand, and it is worth our attention for a moment or two.

 

Comparison and Equality

Consider how we learn – our method of understanding something is to compare the thing unknown with an object or concept that we do know. In describing a pony to a child who doesn’t know it is, we may tell them, “It is a bit like a horse”. In describing a nasturtium, we may say, “It is a kind of flower”. In describing a frankfurter, we may say, “It is like a sausage”; and so on. We take an item that is familiar and well known, in order to help the child understand that which is unfamiliar to them.

This method may be helpful in the things of this world, however the impossibility of us understanding the being and nature of God by comparison alone is emphasised many times in Scripture:

I am God and there is none like Me (Isaiah 46:9)

There is no one like the LORD our God (Exodus 8:10)

There is none like Me in all the earth (Exodus 9:14)

Who in the heavens can be compared to the LORD? Who among the sons of the mighty can be likened to the LORD? [implied answer: “There is none.”]  (Psalm 89:6)

To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare to Him? [again, the implied answer: “There is none.”]  (Isaiah 40:18)

See also Exodus 15:11; Deuteronomy 33:26; Psalm 113:5; Jeremiah 10:6; Acts 17:29.

In connection with none being like God, the question of “equality” with God is also put to Isaiah’s readers:

To whom then will you liken me, or to whom shall I be equal? (Isaiah 40:25)

To whom will you liken me, and make me equal, and compare me, that we should be alike? (Isaiah 46:5)

The Old Testament makes it clear: no being or object may be compared with God that one might be able to say summarily, “God is like such and such” or “God is equal with such and such”. Quite plainly, nobody is like God, or equal with God. However, the New Testament introduces us to Jesus of Nazareth, and we are presented with a being who is indeed compared with God, and attributed equality with God.

Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill him, because he not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was his Father, making himself equal with God. (John 5:18)

The Jews answered him, saying, “For a good work we do not stone you, but for blasphemy, and because you, being a man, make yourself God.” (John 10:33)

Both of these references quoted refer to Christ’s enemies’ accusations about His claims of equality with God. Note that the Lord Jesus did not refute these accusations. On many other occasions, He challenged the many and various false teachings of the religious leaders of His day (e.g. Matthew 12:1-14; 22:29; 23:1-35; etc.), but it is significant that He did not do so in these instances concerning His claims of deity. Their conclusions about what He was implying were actually correct; their error was that they didn’t believe it.

In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, Christ’s equality with God is also spoken of.

Christ Jesus … 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 servant, and coming in the likeness of men. (Philippians 2:5-7)

Being God in the flesh – not a different God, but the same God – Christ could justly claim equality with God and exercise all the rights that go along with it. Perhaps the hardest part for us to believe is that a being with such powers and rights would lay them aside voluntarily out of love in order to be of service to mankind.

 

Conclusion

Let us briefly draw some of these thoughts together. As we have seen from the question posed in Isaiah’s prophecy – “To whom will you liken me, and make me equal, and compare me, that we should be alike?” (Isaiah 46:5) – there is no duplicate of God’s being and nature anywhere in the universe that we may compare and say, “God is like such and such”. Yes, we are given glimpses in many places of His character, but there is far less about His being and nature. We often learn by comparing the known to shed light upon the unknown; yet when there is no thing or no one else like God to compare Him to, our understanding will be severely limited. Yet, despite the distinctions between the One who took on a human body and the One who remained invisible, the Lord Jesus Christ is referred to as being equal with God.

Modifying Isaiah 46:5 for the purposes of our subject, we may well ask, “To whom will you liken Christ, and make equal, and compare, that they may be alike?” The answer again is, “Nobody is like Christ”.

This is a simple yet profound truth, and we would do well to bear it in mind. No other being throughout eternity has ever been both God and man. We have no other examples with which to compare Him, and this will necessarily affect our efforts to comprehend how both deity and humanity may be present in the one being. It is quite fitting for us as Bible-believing Christians to observe these two frequently attested aspects, conclude with our finite minds that we don’t understand how they can be compatible, and yet still rejoice in the truth of each one.

 

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