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Words of a Fether

Opinions on Faith and Life

Hypostasy

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”.

Posted 2010-06-23 under Jesus, God, subordination, hierarchy, egalitarian