The Bible contains salutary themes like atonement, temple, and promise. But throughout history, unsavoury or mistaken people have misread the Bible. For example, Paul had to correct the Galatians who began to follow false teaching when it came to the relationship between the Torah and the Gospel.
During the course of his argument, Paul had to specify the identity of the seed in Genesis 22 as well as the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham. According to the apostle, the seed is Christ and the Spirit fulfills the promise.
Like Paul, we sometimes too have to specify the Bible’s meaning with crisp definitions. For centuries, the church has done just that. Christians have developed a number of words to specify the Bible’s teaching about Jesus.
And I think it is good and wholesome to know these words so that we can have a better understanding of who Jesus is. For that reason, consider this short dictionary of Jesus words to help you avoid error and to know Jesus better.
Jesus Words That Describe Who He Is
Incarnation. The word incarnation refers to Jesus becoming human. The word itself means in-fleshing. The key biblical passage is John 1:14: “the Word became flesh.”
Nature. In theology, the word nature means the essence of a thing. It is a general category or genus. Humanity is a nature; Peter is a specific person with a human nature. Samantha also has a human nature. Samantha and Peter both share a human nature, but they are also individuals of that human nature that they share.
The theological word nature does not mean what the modern word “nature” does today. This is because the word nature meant something different centuries ago. Words change their meaning over time. So we need to learn what words meant when they were used to understand them.
Hypostasis. The word hypostasis is a Greek word meaning a concrete instance of a nature— For example, Peter (hypostasis) is a concrete instance of humanity (nature). In the Latin Church, theologians used the word persona to mean something similar to hypostasis. Boethius (AD 477–524) defined person as “an individual substance of a rational nature.” In English, we use the word person.
Hypostatic union. The hypostatic (personal) union describes Christ’s union of humanity and divinity in his one person (hypostasis). Since Freud, however, person has come to mean the whole emotional and intellectual makeup of a person. In theology, person (persona, hypostasis) carries none of this meaning. It simply refers to a specific species of a genus.
Anhypostasis. Anhypostasis is a Greek word that means no–person or no-concrete instance. For theology, this word describes how the Word assumed humanity. He assumed a personless human nature. The Logos is the only person in the hypostatic union.
Christ has a human and divine nature and only one person (the Logos) because he assumed a person-less human nature.
Enhypostasis. Christ’s union was enhypostatic meaning that it always had a person (the Logos). As noted above, only one person exists in Christ: the Logos. This provides the fundamental logic for why Christ can atone for the sins of humanity. He is not one specific human instance (hypostasis); he assumes the human nature of all—not of a specific person.
Christ assumed our whole human nature to heal it wholly, atone for it wholly, and crown it wholly with honour. In Adam, we had our head in a human person; in Christ, we have our head in a divine person.
Recapitulation. The word recapitulate (re-head) derives from the New Testament Greek word anakephalaioo (ἀνακεφαλαιόω; Eph 1:11). It simply means “to sum up.” When applied to Jesus, the word means to sum up the previous history in Jesus.
Irenaeus of Lyon (AD 130–202) specified (following Paul) that Jesus is the new Adam who now repeats what Adam did but without fail. Jesus is the new head of the human race and not Adam. By covenant, Jesus becomes the head of the human race. Irenaeus pulls from the apostle Paul who frequently refers to Jesus as the head and the church as his body.
Jesus Words that Misdescribe Him
Nestorianism. Nestorius (386–451) attempted to describe how Jesus sometimes acted divinely and other times humanly. But he pressed the distinction too far and made it seem like Christ had two persons—a divine person and a human person. But the Bible always talks about Jesus as a single person. He acts as one person with two natures. So Nestorius’ way of talking about Jesus does not match the biblical idiom.
Eutychianism. Eutyches (c. 380–c. 456) talked about Jesus’ divine nature in ways that made it look like the divine nature took over human nature. But Jesus needs to have a normal human nature so that he can heal our will, thoughts, and emotions. He also needs to have a normal nature to satisfy the biblical word (Heb 2:14; 4:15).
Besides, to atone for humanity as our new covenantal head (in place of Adam), Jesus had to have common human nature. Only an impersonal human nature (with a divine person) can atone for all human nature. Every other human is a specific human person. So they cannot atone for other specific humans.
Only Christ can do this because he has a common human nature without a human person. This logic provides the metaphysical grounding for Christ’s federal representation of humanity as the new Adam.
Apollinarianism. Apollinarius (d. c. 390) tried to show how Jesus could unite both humanity and divinity in one person. He argued that Jesus had a divine mind but a human body. This mixture of human and divine contains a serious error: what Jesus does not assume, he cannot heal (so Gregory of Nazianzus). If Jesus did not have a mind, he could not heal our mind. And redemption would only be partial.
How to Use Jesus Words
Jesus words help us read the Bible. They serve as short, pithy reminders of major themes. They also provide us with the best available specification of what the Bible says. Knowing these words help us avoid talking about Jesus in unhelpful ways. Positively, they help you to know Jesus.
And Christians believe something rather counter-cultural. We believe the source of overcoming sin, relational conflict, and a host of other things lies outside of ourselves and within an invisible reality: God.
Hence, knowing God and his Son Jesus is eternal life (John 17:3). Knowing God changes us and the world. The invisible God made visible in Christ to us through the incarnation and now experienced by the Spirit changes us.
So knowing Jesus words will rock your world. Actually.
It will make a mean man kind, a unjust woman just, and give the lonely person a new community. Ultimately, knowing Jesus words means that God shines his light in our hearts by the Spirit to see the face of Christ (2 Cor 3:18–4:6). Through this new creation, we leave everything behind. And we come to know the new head our newly created body, Jesus.
We know him now in part. But we will see him with a spiritual vision one day. Then all tears will be wiped away. And we will have his name on our foreheads. We will walk in light always. For with him, are joys and unspeakable happiness. All of this comes from knowing Jesus.
So know Jesus words. It matters.