Opinions on faith and life

Hypostasy

2010-06-23

This unusual word is used in some theoretical physics and medical journals. But it comes from the word hypostasis, whose religious/philosophical meaning is “an underlying reality or substance” that refers to either all three Persons of the Trinity or the “hypostatic union” of divine and human in Jesus. But we need to be aware of teachings that can lead away from Biblical truths while intending to do the opposite, or “apostasy”.

Every coin has two sides, and every argument (well, many of them) has the potential of supporting unintended points. This is true of one of the newer and more dangerous teachings by Christians today: that the Son (Jesus) is eternally subordinated to the Father, called “Eternal Sonship” or “the eternal subordination of the Son” (ESS). I’ve argued against that teaching more than once in this blog. But this error resulting from an attempt to have Christians model the divine/human has an unexpected “evil twin” that appears to argue the opposite yet only ends up supporting it.

This opposite argument, which I will call “the Humble God” view or HG, makes its argument from scriptures such as the following: Ps. 113:6, John 14:9, Phil. 2:5-11, Mt. 20:28, Micah 6:8, Isaiah 57:15, Ps. 138:6, 1 Peter 5:5, Luke 15:21-28, etc.

Re. Ps. 113:6, it should be noted that the Hebrew word is “condescended”, not “humbled”. God “looks down upon” His creation and has pity on it. Condescension means stooping down to a lower level to help, and presumes that the condescender ranks above the other. Humility on the other hand means putting oneself in the lower rank or position. So when God stoops down to help people He is condescending to us, while when Jesus became human He humbled himself (Phil. 2:5-11). Only Jesus models humility, while the Trinity models condescension. In fact, “grace” is condescension, for it is favor bestowed from the greater to the lesser. This is entirely different from when the greater becomes the lesser.

Re. John 14:9, no one disputes the oneness of the Father and the Son, but this supports the fact that Jesus is divine, fully God, and says nothing about His humanity. Phil. 2:5-11 was already mentioned and has the same issue as John 14:9. In fact it is more explicit in that it states Jesus humbled himself after “being found in appearance as a man”. And it is in this state that Jesus “came to serve” in Mt. 20:28; it was in His humanity that he was humbled. Likewise, in Micah 6:8 it is people who are to “walk humbly with God”, not “walk with the humble God”. That God “dwells with the humble” ref. Isaiah 57:15 should come as no surprise, since that’s exactly what Jesus did as a human being; similar comments can be made for Ps. 138:6 and 1 Peter 5:5. The reference to the “prodigal son” in Luke 15:21-28, like the other references, speaks of compassion and condescension, not the father putting himself below his son in rank.

All that the scriptures tell us about humility is said to human beings in relationship to other human beings, not between God and His creatures. To lower God in this way is to make Him equal to His creation— the very serious error of panentheism, as well as being almost identical to the view that even God is lower in rank than people when He helps us.* What Jesus did humbly, He did as a human being, and this is not true of any other Person of the Trinity. The ESS argument holds that because Jesus is also divine then men can be divine (play the role of God to women’s role of subordinate Son, while saying men and women are equal in essence). The HG argument thinks that because Jesus is also human then God is also human. That is, the first tries to deify man, while the second tries to humanize the divine.

Both arguments seem unable to grasp the uniqueness of Jesus, that though He is fully God He is also fully human, and that this hypostatic union is true only of Him— not of any other human or any other Person of the Trinity. And both views have their motives, trying to justify some human institution or relationship by presuming to know more about the inner workings of the Trinity than scripture has given us. This over-reliance on heavy inference is, as I’ve said before, much like the over-reliance on theoretical physics: it’s of little practical value but makes some people look smart and get popular. But with Paul I would say, “Do not go beyond what is written” (1 Cor. 4:6). It’s fine to make inferences, but not to use them as necessary building blocks in a larger argument.


* There are no page numbers online, so “search this document” for something like “the person who is helping is occupying a subordinate or inferior position”.

15 Comments

Lin

Sorry, Waneta, I do not agree. From Isaiah 6 to Revelation, I do not think you can make that arguement outside the Incarnation. All through the OT, we see and hear about God’s "lovingkindness". This word does not do justice to "hesed" as it is not a feeling or emotion God has for us but more of His deeds in action. This is not a show of Him being "humble" but of His Sovereign Grace. I can agree He is patient, long suffering, kind, merciful, full of grace and love. I can agree He is perfect Justice and even Wrath. But I cannot agree He is humble. He is to be worshipped in Spirit and Truth. Isaiah said in chapter 6, Woe is me, I am a man of unclean lips. What made him say that? Do you see humility in Rev 20?

Outside of the Incarnation, if there is anything that makes me nervous it is the need for us to try and humanize the Triune God.

Joe Blackmon

Hey

I know this is off topic, but was that you that had my back over at the blog that shall not be named?

Paula Fether

Why, whatever are you talking about, Joe? ;-) ::wink wink::

Feel free to email if needed. :-D

Lin

"Re. Ps. 113:6, it should be noted that the Hebrew word is “condescended”, not “humbled”. God “looks down upon” His creation and has pity on it. Condescension means stooping down to a lower level to help, and presumes that the condescender ranks above the other. Humility on the other hand means putting oneself in the lower rank or position. So when God stoops down to help people He is condescending to us, while when Jesus became human He humbled himself (Phil. 2:5-11). Only Jesus models humility, while the Trinity models condescension. In fact, “grace” is condescension, for it is favor bestowed from the greater to the lesser. This is entirely different from when the greater becomes the lesser."

Thanks for pointing this out. Such an important distinction! I got a kick out of your linking to Grudem who has done somthing similar by saying that God is submitting to us by "helping" us. I literally fear for folks who try to make God something lesser.

How can anyone read Isaiah 6 or even Revelation and come away thinking it is humility and not condescention? There are winged creatures flying around His Throne singing Holy Holy Holy for crying out loud.

This does not include the Incarnation but of course if we read Philippians closely, we know that He GAVE UP His position and lowered Himself to become also Human. Yes, you are right, only Jesus, as God in the flesh, models humility.

Paula Fether

I think this is just another way in which people try to read human characteristics back onto God, just like it was done in Greek mythology. The gods were just people with superpowers. Now we’re more subtle, but it’s the same thing. And though their own teachings are just as insulting to God, the male supremacist will still use this devaluation of God against the egalitarian position. Two steps forward, one step back...

Greg Anderson

Considering what the entire Psalm (113) says, I wonder if condescending is a good rendering from Hebrew (for verse 6) to describe God’s acts of compassion on the poor and needy.

To me, condescension implies a sniffing and bombastic attitude toward those of lesser degree. The way the great and powerful Oz treated Dorothy would be a good example of this. Maybe I’ve misunderstood the intent of the paragraph, much in that same way that the inclusion of Islam into the Abrahamic faiths ONLY as a geographic marker can be mistaken as an endorsement of Islam itself.

Paula Fether

Oh, sorry, I should have made that clearer. Thanks for asking!

Yes, condescension has developed a negative connotation; I was thinking in terms of its earlier meaning. I don’t think God looks down on us in a negative way at all, but in love and pity. It’s really only a negative thing when the "greater" is a mere human, since God really does have the right to pull rank on us. Yet He doesn’t even do that most of the time, but cares for us and reaches down to lift us up. Maybe I should have used a word like "benevolence", but it isn’t always easy to find the right English word. ;-)

Greg Anderson

You’re right, the connotations of words can change drastically in as short a period as a century. If I said today that the lilting and whimsical tunes of Mozart make me feel gay, you can rest assured that the snickering would never stop, and yet in 1910, nobody would have batted an eyelash.

Sonnet

"Condescension means stooping down to a lower level to help, and presumes that the condescender ranks above the other. Humility on the other hand means putting oneself in the lower rank or position. "

So when women [who are "equal in being" with men] stoop down to a lower level to "functionally" help men, are women being likened to the role of God with regards to men by the non-egal teachers? Or is it that women are expected to be more humble than men creating a double standard between the sexes?

Paula Fether

Good question, Sonnet. But the key is in the intrinsic "rank" of the two involved, and as you noted there is none between men and women. So when either one helps the other, they can’t be stooping down, but only reaching across. Yet if anyone were to claim that helping means putting oneself below the other, then according to Grudem they are temporarily lowered in rank— which makes the husband lower than his wife when he helps her!

I love irony. (not to be confused with ironing)

Lin

Great question, Sonnet.

Great Answer, Paula. I laughed out loud! Comp illogic is really amusing when you strip all the adjectives mental gymnastics away. And these guys are scholars!

And Greg, yes, it is almost impossible to communicate over the centuries because word meanings change. I was thinking more in terms of Noblesse Oblige but even that does not really explain it and could be more confusing. But God is God. The I AM. Yahweh!

But I cannot see God (sans the Incarnation) as Humble. He is Glory, Honor and Power. He is to be worshipped as the GREAT I AM.

However, Jesus Christ, as God in the Flesh modeled humility.

Paula Fether

Tanx Lin!

I know, these "scholars" are really sloppy. And millions follow them. But yes, the whole point is that God is God, the omnipotent and eternal! How can people forget this so easily?

Waneta Dawn

"But I cannot see God (sans the Incarnation) as Humble. He is Glory, Honor and Power. He is to be worshipped as the GREAT I AM."

Lin, It depends on your definition of humble. If you are referring to humble as "beneath others" then God certainly is not that. In Christians, humility is not claiming to be of lower rank than others, because that can be hidden pride. Real humility is honest/truthful acknowlegement of ones own status, and acting accordingly. With this type of humility, one can be the president, accept the responsibility of the job, stay within the bounds of the job, and not equate that to being God, yet at the same time recognize one’s faults and where one is barely adequate. I suggest God has this latter type of humility--one that is based on truth, not on pride or unwarranted conceit. (If He had no humility, according to human thinking, He would have pride, which is sin.) With that type of humility, God does see Himself as I AM, with all glory, honor and power, without fault or sin. He also sees us rightly in relation to Himself, that we are puny, powerless, and sinful and He reaches down to help us. James says when we ask for wisdom He does not upbraid us, but gives it to us liberally. So God’s "humility" (correct judgment) sees Himself as He really is and sees us as we really are, yet in spite of the huge gulf between us, He loves us and helps us.

Waneta Dawn

Lin, What part do you disagree with? My comment has to do with an experience I had years ago, where a person who seemed to be so humble was actually very proud about their "humility." That experience and our subsequent discussion helped me realize that often what we humans think is humility is actually pride. We finally realized that real humility is not appearing to be poor in spirit, or claiming to be less than others. It is actually "correct judgment of ourselves." It is also right judgment of ourselves in relation to others. That is the type of humility I am saying God has. His correct judgment says He is far above us in every area. And no, I do not believe God makes Himself small for us. With the exception of Christ who left heaven for a time and made himself a little lower than the angels, and humbled himself unto death on a cross, I would agree that God does condescend to us rather than stoop to our level.

My intent with my comment was to add to the discussion, and in the process I realized that with God’s correct judgment, He is not guilty of pride, either, even though He is all glorious, almighty, all majestic.

Does this make my comment clearer, or are there still areas where you disagree?

Lin

"We finally realized that real humility is not appearing to be poor in spirit, or claiming to be less than others. It is actually “correct judgment of ourselves.” It is also right judgment of ourselves in relation to others. That is the type of humility I am saying God has. His correct judgment says He is far above us in every area."

This is much more clear! I think I might have read into your comment something that was not intended. I am very sorry for that.

I guess the problem is the word humble and humility ascribed to God. Once again, word meanings can be tricky. Which is why soundbite Christianity is dangerous!

I can really relate to your experience because I know a well known former mega church pastor who is far and wide known for his "humbleness". It is actually his trademark. But I happen to know him personally and know it is not true. It is part of his stage persona and became so well known he had to nurse that persona carefully which caused him shrink from any conflict to protect his persona. In effect, he had to have others do the necessary uncomfortable and even dirty work for him. And of course, they did to protect the mighty works of the mega church.