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The Nature of Christ: The Heresy of Nestorianism | Theology Matters

  • July 2006 Issue
Practical Theology

How could Jesus be the omnipotent creator and yet be weak enough to need rest (John 4:6)? How could he be the omniscient God of the Bible and yet not know the time of his return (Matt. 24:36)? The heresy of Nestorianism attempted to resolve these questions, but in the process it denied the nature and personhood of Jesus.

Nestorius was consecrated the Patriarch of Constantinople in 428 A.D, although he is said to have denounced the view associated with his name. This heresy began as a reaction to the assertion of some Arians that the divine Son of God had merely taken a human body in the incarnation (see June “Theology Matters”) but didn’t really become a man. Nestorianism attempted to uphold the reality of Christ’s humanity by claiming that Jesus was really two persons in one: the divine Son of God and the human Christ.

Theologian Louis Berkhof points out that the defect in Nestorianism was not in its view of the two natures of Christ but in its view of His person. “Instead of blending the two natures into a single self-consciousness,” Berkhof explains, “Nestorianism places them alongside of each other with nothing more than a moral and sympathetic union between them.”

Why Theology Matters

Jesus Christ is one person with two natures: a nature that is fully divine and a nature that is fully human. Colossians 2:9 says that “all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” in Christ. He is truly God and was made in human likeness (Phil. 2:5–11). Nestorianism claimed that Jesus died on the cross but not God. However, in order to atone for our sins Jesus Christ must be both perfect God and perfect man.

 FOR FURTHER READING

 To learn more about Nestorianism and how the early church responded to this heresy, read the chapter entitled “The Christological Controversies” in The History of Christian Doctrines by Louis Berkhof (Banner of Truth). 

BY Dr. John Koessler

Dr. John Koessler, who retired as professor emeritus from Moody Bible Institute, formerly served in the division of applied theology and church ministry. John and his wife Jane enjoy living in a lakeside town in Michigan. A prolific writer, John’s books include Dangerous Virtues: How to Follow Jesus When Evil Masquerades as Good (Moody Publishers), The Radical Pursuit of Rest (InterVarsity), The Surprising Grace of Disappointment (Moody), and True Discipleship (Moody). John is a contributing editor and columnist for Today in the Word.

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