What are the reasons why Trinitarian orthodoxy holds that the Word had to make his hypostatic union with the man Jesus Christ at the point of his conception in Mary's womb rather than later at his baptism by John the Baptist? Is the view simply that the Word was incapable of uniting with a full-grown man?

The reason I'm asking is I don't see anything in John 1:14's "the word became flesh" that specifies when that took place. From a purely scriptural point of view, I don't see that it matters whether it took place at the conception or the baptism, that the word united with Jesus. But I'm sure the framers of Trinitarian orthodoxy must have had some reasons for placing it at the conception.

  • cf. Lk 1:31.
    – user13992
    Sep 21 '14 at 3:27
  • @FMS, "And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus." That doesn't say he will already be God? The question is basically, why can't he be born simply as a human being, and become God by the Word uniting to him at the baptism (rather than becoming God in the whom)? By becoming God, I mean the assumption of the manhood into the deity, like the Athanasian creed says "35. One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of that manhood into God." Why couldn't that happen at the baptism? Sep 21 '14 at 3:31
  • Nice question +1. Would you mind posting an answer as well. I get the idea you have something in mind. Sep 21 '14 at 9:59
  • 3
    "I assume Catholics know more about the subject than Protestants, who seem to just sort of continue it from Catholicism rather than think it out for themselves." Boo. Nonsense.
    – curiousdannii
    Sep 21 '14 at 12:17
  • @davidbrainerd would you be opposed to an edit to change the scope simply to Trinitarianism?
    – curiousdannii
    Sep 21 '14 at 13:40

The doctrine of the Trinity says that God is three persons in one being. One of those persons, the second person of the Trinity, took on flesh and became a human, the man Jesus.

If I understand what you're suggesting, you would run into one of these two problems:

  1. Because the pre-baptism Jesus was a person, the hypostatic union would be two people, a heresy called Nestorianism. This is a very complicated topic, so I'll quote from a blog I found that explains some of the problems much better than I could:

    When pressed the Nestorian will say that Jesus is both God and man but what he means by this is that Jesus is one person and God is another person and two persons reside in the same human body. In other words, Jesus is not really God at all. God is somehow in Jesus but not really Jesus. Therefore, the logical and rational conclusion to be drawn is that Jesus is not fully God and it would therefore be idolatry to worship Jesus.
    The Bible never speaks of Jesus as if He were two persons. Rather the Bible speaks of Jesus as though He were one individual man who is as fully human as anyone else. He thinks, feels, eats, acts, lives and dies just as any other human person would. But Jesus is more than a human person. He is also a divine person and this person is one person being both divine and human at one and the same time. The other error of Nestorianism is that it denies that the Son of God, the Word, became flesh.
    The Nestorian thinks he has solved the problem of the apparent contradiction of Jesus being one person who is both fully God and fully human. But the Nestorian only thinks he has solved the "apparent" problem which is no real problem at all. And even more than that the Nestorian position divides Christ into two persons which are not united at all.

    (by Charlie J. Ray, emphasis added)

    If the Word is a different person than the human Jesus then really the whole idea of the incarnation is lost.

  2. Something that is not God became God. This is very similar to the heresy called Adoptionism, as some people who believe that say that Jesus was adopted as God's son and became divine. This goes against God's singular uniqueness of being the eternal God. This is much less controversial (I think the only 'Christian' group which says that the non-divine can become divine is the LDS) so I'll leave it there.

  • Its so hard to keep "orthodoxy" straight, but I thought orthodoxy said Jesus had two wills, a human will and a divine will, in which case you are saying the same thing as Nestorius in reality, even if you use the word "will" rather than "person" (which Nestorius himself didn't actually use, I don't think). Sep 21 '14 at 20:19
  • In different contexts trinitatians will say he had one or two wills. If he has two it comes from two natures, not two persons. Which is confusing of course. Perhaps another way to say the first problem is that if pre-baptism Jesus was a person who was not the person of the Word, then where did that person go at the incarnation?
    – curiousdannii
    Sep 21 '14 at 22:01
  • But to say that Jesus' person is merely the person of the Word, is Arianism, in that it denies him a real human soul. Orthodoxy just doesn't have any consistency to it from what I can tell. In fact, I don't see any reason why a perfect union was necessary at all, in that the only reason Jesus needed any divinity was to perform the miracles, really. Its not like he needed to personally be God for any actual reason, which makes Paul of Samosata's christology sufficient. Sep 21 '14 at 22:22
  • "But to say that Jesus' person is merely the person of the Word, is Arianism, in that it denies him a real human soul" I don't understand that logic. "I don't see any reason why a perfect union was necessary at all, in that the only reason Jesus needed any divinity was to the miracles, really." There will be other questions asking why Jesus had to be divine, but the main thing is that no human could ever bear God's wrath and take away our sin. The gospel means that it was entirely God who had to deal with our sin.
    – curiousdannii
    Sep 22 '14 at 1:58

I'm sorry if I misunderstand your "scoping the question", but I'm responding from the Protestant tradition which I think has something significant to say on the matter.

In Reformed theology, the implications for Jesus' hypostatic union beginning at his conception at the least encompass his life of obedience. Jesus actually was born and lived under the law (see Galatians 4:4-5) and kept that law as the second Adam. This law keeping would not have been possible without him being perfectly upheld by the Spirit. If he had not been upheld by the Spirit he could have "theoretically" fallen from his original righteousness. However, this could never have happened because he actually was upheld by the Spirit.

Jesus needed to be both God and man from conception so that he could live his whole life in obedience to his Father. From at least his circumcision onward to the cross, his life was one of suffering and enduring temptation without giving in. He was perfected through his sufferings though he was already sinless. In Hebrews 9:14, Jesus' quality of being an unblemished sacrifice is attributed to the eternal Spirit. In other words, his whole life of obedience which qualified him to be an unblemished sacrifice was due to the Spirit's work throughout his whole life. The obedience is also what earned him righteousness which he then credits to those who have faith in him. So it's fair to say that the Reformed view of the hypostatic union requires it to begin at conception or there is no salvation possible.

  • Does this answer imply that Jesus had no free will because he was controlled by the Holy Spirit? When did the Holy Spirit come into the world? Sep 21 '14 at 9:57
  • I thought the Protestant position on the how of Jesus living a sinless life was that he was born without original sin and therefore incapable of sinning (a view that also makes little sense to me). Its the one the Calvinist Covetus argued with Socinus in De Jesu Christo Servatore Part III. But the issue I see with both that position and yours, is that it makes his temptations fake. He wasn't "tempted in all points like as we are" if he didn't have the ability to fall to the temptation. It becomes a Docetic christology on the point of his temptation. Sep 21 '14 at 20:27
  • As a man, yes he did have the ability to fall. However, the Spirit fully upheld him always so that he never chose to sin but always delighted to do the will of his Father. So it was the perfect help of the Spirit which made him unable to sin. Sep 22 '14 at 14:06
  • @Cohen_the_Librarian Christ doesn't have the ability to fall because He is a divine person who has two natures not a divine-humane person. The ability to fall is only possible if He is a human person also. St. Maximos the Confessor defended two wills Christology while insisting that the Logos doesn't have a gnomic desire which is a property of a human hypostasis. This is why both Catholic and Orthodox reject any possibility of the Son to fall into sin. He is incapable to sin. Feb 17 '15 at 5:26

Why must the hypostatic union be viewed as taking place at Jesus' conception?

Because the man assumed by the Logos is His humanity and no one else. The man belongs to Logos. If the union happens at baptism then by nature that man is not divine but merely endowed with grace of adoption to be one of His children.

One Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages. ... Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became man.

Niceano-Constantinopolitan Creed (381)

The Logos became man for us and for our salvation. He took humanity from the Theotokos this is why devotion to her is crucial for proper Christology. She is the birth giver of God the Word. She gave her humanity to the Logos. Without being born of a virgin the Logos must create His own humanity alien from the rest of humanity because His humanity would be newly created and not identical with the fallen nature like the rest of us.

If any one confess not that Emmanuel is in truth God and that the holy Virgin is therefore Mother of God (Theotokos), for she bare after the flesh the Word of God made flesh, be he anathema.

St. Cyril, Twelve Anathemas, 1.

God the Word won't create a fallen humanity for Him to assume because He is not the author of evil or partake in evil. It's crucial for the Logos to assume our nature to redeem us and that is why He was united with our fallen humanity at conception.

What has not been assumed has not been healed

St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Epistle 101:32.

As regards to whether or not the Holy Spirit guarded Jesus from falling into sin, it's worth to note that even though Jesus is filled with the Spirit in His earthly ministry He is incapable to sin because He is a divine person, not divine-humane person.

If any one say that the one Lord Jesus Christ hath been glorified by the Spirit, using His power as though it were another's, and from Him receiving the power of working against unclean spirits and of accomplishing divine signs upon men; and does not rather say that His own is the Spirit, through whom He has wrought the divine signs, be he anathema.

St. Cyril, Twelve Anathemas, 9.

Because our fallen humanity was assumed at the moment of conception the Logos is one of us. If He assumed the man Jesus of Nazareth at later time and not at Jesus' conception then when He assumed Jesus there won't be real union but mere Samosatan adoptionism. By adoptionism the Logos by nature is not identical with us and our nature won't be healed. Only by assuming the man at conception He assumed humanity to Himself and it belongs to Him not someone else. By redeeming that humanity He redeemed us.

  • "Without being born of a virgin the Logos must create His own humanity alien from the rest of humanity because His humanity would be newly created and not identical with the fallen nature like the rest of us." Why? I don't see any reason why a new human would be any less authentically human than an old human.
    – curiousdannii
    Feb 20 '15 at 11:49
  • @curiousdannii it's authentically human but He wouldn't heal our humanity, He replaced it. In Lutheran and Calvinian Christology they reject Augustinian tranducianism. By proposing new nature being assumed that nature is not a fallen one that we have. Both Cappadocian fathers and Augustine built their soteriology from a particular Christology that is Christ redeeming our fallen humanity by partaking the same fallen nature. It's like repairing grandpa's old wagon not buying a new wagon and replacing it. Catholic and Orthodox see it as restorative while Lutheran and Calvinian as replacement. Feb 20 '15 at 22:19

It's really very simple, and it's all about identity.

We acknowledge that it is "the Word" who was "made flesh" because Scripture says: "the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us" (Jn 1:1; 14)—not absorbed, added to, or confused with flesh. So there is only one Person of which to speak: the Word, called Jesus since the Incarnation. No 'human Jesus' (as if there is a human and a divine Jesus, instead of one Person with two natures equally His) which was 'mixed with' the Word. Jesus is the Word, the Son of God in the flesh: "and we beheld his glory: the glory of the Only-Begotten of God, full of grace and truth."

So the reason for placing the hypostatic union at the conception of Jesus is made obvious: the "Son" whom Mary was to "concieve and bear" (Lk 1:31) is the Word, the Son of God (Gal 4:4)—ever since there was flesh to call Jesus', it belonged to the Son. The humanity of Jesus is and has been His own since it began to be formed in Mary (Lk 1:42-43—notice the fruit of Mary's womb is the Lord's own already; cf. Mt 2:20).

There are not two people in Jesus, but two natures belonging to the one Person: the Word/Son of God.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .