Chalcedonian Creed – Explicit Affirmations; Implicit Denials

Greg Strand – October 23, 2012 3 Comments

Yesterday we looked at the Chalcedonian Creed, which consists of the orthodox statement affirming the biblical truth that Jesus is fully God and fully man. The key expression is summarized in the affirmation “one person, two natures.” In theological/doctrinal terms, this is what we are addressing when we discuss the hypostatic union (the Greek hypostasis means “being,” “substance,” “nature,” “essence,” or “person”).

The term Creed comes from the Latin credo, which means ‘I believe’. Creeds consist of statements of belief, explicit statements of truth that are confessed, both individually and corporately. But for every explicit statement of belief is an implicit statement of denial. For example, one of the early Christological confessions in the New Testament is that Jesus is God (Jn. 1:1, 18; 20:28; Acts 20:28; Rom. 9:5; Tit. 2:13; Heb. 1:8; 1 Jn. 5:20; 2 Pet. 1:1). When Christians explicitly affirm this truth, they are implicitly denying any statement that denies or undermines this truth. Though not stated, we deny the teaching of the Arians who claimed Jesus was not fully God, and today we implicitly deny the teaching of the Jehovah’s Witnesses who claim Jesus is a god.

This is reflected in the Chalcedonian Creed as well. It is important to note that this Creed attempted to address every Christological heresy that had affected the church up to that time. Robert Reymond (A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith [Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998], 608-609) helpfully makes explicit these implicit denials, which I have adapted and expanded.

  1. Against the Docetists (Jesus only appeared to be human) it declared that the Lord Jesus Christ was perfect in manness, truly man, consubstantial with us (homoousion, not homoiousion, i.e. he is not of “like substance or being” with us, but he is “of the same substance” with us) according to manness, and born of Mary.
  2. Against the Samosatian adoptionists (at some point, baptism, the human Jesus was adopted by the Father to become the Son) it insisted upon the personal subsistence of the Logos “begotten of the Father before the ages.”
  3. Against the Sabellians (a form of modalism) it distinguished the Son from the Father both by the titles of “Father” and “Son” and by its reference to the Father having begotten the Son before all ages.
  4. Against the Arians (Jesus was not eternal, but created, stated as “there was time when he was not”) it affirmed that the Lord Jesus Christ was perfect in deity, truly God, and consubstantial with the Father (homoousion, not homoiousion, i.e. he is not of “like substance or being” with the Father, but he is “of the same substance” with the Father). (An earlier version of this was known as Ebionism.)
  5. Against the Apollinarians (one person of Christ had a human body but not a human mind and spirit which were of divine nature), who had reduced Jesus’ manness to a body and an “animal soul” (psyche alogos), it declared that Jesus had a “rational soul” (psyche logike), that is, a “spirit.”
  6. Against the Nestorians (two separate persons in Christ, a human person and a divine person) it both described Mary as theotokos, i.e. the God-bearer (not Christotokos, i.e. the Christ bearer, emphasizing that Mary bore the man Jesus, undermining that she actually bore the God-man Jesus) not in order to exalt Mary in the slightest, but in order to affirm Jesus’ true deity and the fact of a real incarnation, and spoke throughout of one and the same Son and one person and one subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons and whose natures are in union without division and without separation.
  7. Finally, against the Eutychians (Christ has one nature only, human nature was absorbed into the divine nature so a third kind of nature resulted), it confessed that in Christ were two natures without confusion and without change, the property of each nature being preserved and concurring in the one person.

As Evangelicals committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ, the faith once for all entrusted to the saints (Jude 3), and as those who are a part of the longer and larger Evangelical stream throughout the history of the church, we, like our Evangelical predecessors, affirm Chalcedonian Christology, as a statement that summarizes the Bible’s teaching about Jesus Christ. Here is the conclusion in Evangelical Convictions: A Theological Exposition of the Statement of Faith of the Evangelical Free Church of America (pp. 98-99):

Jesus Christ is thus one Person in whom two distinct natures are united.

Jesus Christ is truly God and truly man. He is fully and completely both at the same time, showing us the true nature of each. He is not some mixture of humanity and divinity, creating a third kind of being, like a horse and donkey becoming a mule. The Son of God remained God – he never gave up being God, but he added to his divinity real humanity. As God incarnate, the divine subject made real human experience his own, and since the incarnation, the Son of God will forever be human.

Against Arius, the Chalcedonian Creed asserts that Jesus was truly God. Against Apollinaris, it asserts that he was truly man. Against Eutyches, it asserts that Jesus’ deity and humanity were not changed into something else. And against Nestorius, the Creed asserts that Jesus was not divided but was one Person and in this one Person are two distinct natures, which are divine and human in all their fullness. 

Greg Strand

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Affectionately called “Walking Bible” by his youngest daughter, Greg Strand has a ministry history that goes back to 1982. Since that time, he has served in local church ministry in a variety of ministry capacities: youth pastor, associate pastor of adult ministries and senior pastor. He is currently the EFCA's Executive Director of Theology and Credentialing. Greg reads voraciously and never stops learning — a passion reflected in the overflowing bookshelves that spill from his library to multiple offices. And he could tell you about each of those books! His hunger for learning pales in contrast to his great love for God and for teaching the Word of God.

3 responses to Chalcedonian Creed – Explicit Affirmations; Implicit Denials

  1. If we were to occasionally incorporate a creed into our EFCA worship service, which creed would you recommend?

    • Thank you for your comment and question, Dave.

      First, since we are in the EFCA and we have a confession, i.e. a Statement of Faith, I would begin there. Many in the Free Church are not overly familiar with our excellent confession of faith. Last summer at our EFCA One national conference, during one of our corporate services we confessed/professed and prayed our SOF. We did this in 20 minutes, two minutes for each Article: 30 seconds to recite the article and 90 seconds to pray. You can read what we did here: EFCA Statement of Faith: Corporate Confession and Prayer. Most will not have this time during a service, but you can do this during one service. I would also suggest that depending on what is being preached, an Article can be corporately recited. I do this often. In fact, at our EFCA Theology Conference last week, I did this very thing for both the Theology Conference and the Postconference.

      Second, I would suggest the Apostles’ Creed (based on the Old Roman Creed, which was influenced by the Rule of Faith in the 2nd century). It is the earliest, and most well-known of the Creeds. As you will note in each of these early Creeds I mention, they are all Trinitarian, and this truth forms and shapes the Creed. Since this is the earliest Creed, it does not address the finer Christological and Trinitarian nuances the other Creeds develop. The reason is that these truths were not yet being questioned, undermined or denied. This is one reason Creeds generally get longer, and also why they need to be reviewed and revised, since they must affirm biblical truth and do so in a contemporary day in which certain truths are being denied and need to be affirmed.

      Third, I would consider the Nicene-Constantinople (381), generally referred to as the Nicene Creed. The original Creed was affirmed at the Council of Nicea (325) and revised at the Council of Constantinople (381) It is longer than the Apostles’ Creed, and makes more explicit statements about the deity of Christ, over against those heretical beliefs that were undermining and denying the truth that Jesus is fully God and fully man, one Person in two natures.

      Finally, I would consider the Athanasian Creed (c. 600). This one is longer still, and yet has a wonderful section affirming the biblical truth of the Christology and the Trinity. If you do not confess/profess the whole Creed, you could possibly do this section. But the downside is that this section occurs in the context of the whole, which is important to affirm.

      One final word of pastoral counsel. Because many in the Free Church have had negative experiences with Creeds, as they are regularly recited in many churches and have become rote and meaningless, many in the Free Church may have some anti-creedal bias or some suspicions of them. This is not reflective of the Creed but of the reciter of the Creed, and how the Creed may be used or referred to. I share this from the perspective of one who lived through this sentiment. Consider it part of my own confession and misunderstanding. What this means is that if you are going to confess/profess creeds in the church, especially if nothing has been done prior, it will be important for you to teach and explain the role of corporate confessions and creeds in the Bible, e.g. Jesus Christ is Lord (1 Cor. 12:3; Phil. 2:11), and how and why they have been used in the history of the church.

  2. Thanks!
    I really appreciate your time and your thoughts.

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