Four “nots” in a Knotty Problem

red rope tied into a knot

The knotty problem was “what” is Jesus. This question is not just a theology question, it is a question that impacts us as Christians. During the first four hundred years of Christianity, many false teachers had tried to pervert the Gospel. And those that loved Jesus were still divided when it came to reconciling the Scriptures. Here are a few verses that challenged Christians.

The Impetus for the Counsel of Chalcedon

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:1-2,14

“We are telling you the good news. What God promised our people long ago he has done for us, their children. He has raised up Jesus. This is what is written in the second Psalm. It says,

I will tell of the decree:
The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;
    today I have begotten you. – Psalm 2:7

Acts 13:32-33

5 So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”… 7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.

Hebrews 5:5,7

These verses, and many others, caused quite a struggle within the early Church. What (not who) was Jesus? Is Jesus just a man that God anointed for a special work? Was Jesus born a man but transformed into the Son of God? What does it mean in Hebrews 5:7, “In the days of his flesh?” These, and many more questions, vexed the early Church. They had a knotty problem on their hands.

The Counsel of Chalcedon

So, a conference of theologians was called to gather in Chalcedon, which is now located in modern-day Turkey. To exacerbate the problem, heretical teachings during that time gained a strong foothold within the Church – you can study these elsewhere. My point is that the question of what Jesus was/is was no small matter.

Many times, within language, it’s necessary to use negation (no, not, etc.) to convey a characteristic of God. Examples of this approach are: immutable (not changing), infinite (not finite), and sinless (without sin). Many branches of the Church (universal) had struggled to come to grips with the nature of Jesus for centuries. Here are a few of the ideas they had about Jesus:
God + Man
God with characteristics of Man
An anointed Man
God only
A person that can transform back and forth between God and man

So, a great struggle took place within the early Church because of this question of what was Jesus.

These struggles led to this meeting of theologians in Chalcedon, in the 400’s AD, in an attempt to gain unity within the Church. The result was the Creed of Chalcedon, adopted in A.D. 451. For over 1,500 years, this Creed of Chalcedon has served as a key foundational doctrine for the Church, including the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches, regarding who Jesus is.

The Knotty Problems

The Creed of Chalcedon specifically agreed on four “nots” regarding the nature of Christ’s deity and Christ’s humanity; they agreed on a hypostatic union, that is, one person with two natures. Here are the four “nots” the Creed of Chalcedon state about Jesus’ two natures (deity and humanity):

1 – Unconfused – They are not stirred together, a mixture of God and man.
2 – Unchangeable – Jesus has one nature. His nature did not nor does not change back and forth.
3 – Indivisible – Just as there can’t be water without hydrogen and oxygen, Jesus could not be Jesus without both His deity and humanity.
4 – Inseparable – It is not possible to consider one of Christ’s natures separate from the other (both God and man).

I know this is heavy stuff, but we need to be educated Christians. The key text of this creed begins:

We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood;

Calcedon Creed (451 AD)

The Importance of the Creed of Chalcedon

Why is this important? Here’s why: When we pray we need to know that the Jesus that sits at the right hand of God the Father “gets us”; He fully understands our humanity, right down to hunger, fatigue, anger, and betrayal. Jesus also, in fact, is of the same essence as that of God the Father and the Holy Spirit – they are One.

So, when we come to Jesus, confess our sin, and throw ourselves upon the mercy of the court (ask for forgiveness) we are in the best possible position. Our mediator (attorney) is Jesus, who is the son of the judge, and Jesus, our attorney, tells his Father, our judge, that he has already covered the cost of our sin by His own blood.

That’s a pretty strong position to be in! That’s the good news that Paul was preaching in Acts, chapter 13. The Creed of Chalcedon clarified who Paul wrote about as well as what Jesus is within all the Scriptures. So, we can declare with confidence that Jesus is one person with two natures – God and man.

Image by Lucio Alfonsi from Pixabay

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