Enhypostasis: What Kind of Flesh Did the Word Become? (God-Man)

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This series is on Jesus, the God-Man.  This article appeared on Desiring God and Desiring God owns rights to this content.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us . . . (John 1:14)

Yesterday we looked at the doctrine of anhypostasis and said that the kind of humanity Jesus took in the incarnation was impersonal. He did not add a human person to himself when he took a fully human nature.

Now we turn to the flip side of the coin and ask, Where did the singular person of Jesus come from? Who is the one person of his two (divine and human) natures?

The doctrine of enhypostasis gives the answer. His humanity is not only impersonal (anhypostasis), but it’s also in-personal (that’s what enhypostasis means), in that its personhood is in the personhood of the eternal second person of the Trinity. The fully divine Son is the person who took full humanity and remains the “one person” of the God-man.

Donald Macleod writes in The Person of Christ, “The import of enhypostasis is that the human nature of Christ, although not itself an individual, is individualized as the human nature of the Son of God. It does not, for a single instant, exist as anhypostasis or non-personal” (202).

There is a kind of asymmetry in Christology. While (symmetrically) Jesus is both fully God and fully man—and has fully divine and fully human minds, emotions, and wills—Jesus has been divine much longer than he’s been human (asymmetrically). As the second person of the Trinity, Jesus has been fully divine from all eternity, while he added full humanity to that divinity at a certain point in time, the incarnation, which we celebrate at Christmas.

Fred Sanders summarizes together the doctrines of enhypostasis and anhypostasis:

On the one hand, the human nature of Jesus Christ is in fact a nature joined to a person, and therefore enhypostatic, or personalized. But the person who personalizes the human nature of Christ is not a created human person (like all the other persons personalizing the other human natures we encounter); rather it is the eternal second person of the Trinity. So the human nature of Christ is personal, but with a personhood from above.

Considered in itself, on the other hand, and abstracted from its personalizing by the eternal person of the Son, the human nature of Jesus Christ is simply human nature, and is not personal. The human nature of Christ, therefore, is both anhypostatic (not personal in itself) and enhypostatic (personalized by union with the eternal person of the Son) (31).

So the “one person” of the two-natured Jesus is the divine person, the eternal Son. It was the eternal Son who covenanted before creation with his Father for the redemption of sinners, gladly took on our full humanity at the first Christmas, and for the joy set before him (Hebrews 12:2) died at the cross on Good Friday for the sins of those who treasure him and rose again triumphant over death on Easter Sunday.

He is a spectacular Jesus who saves us and is the everlasting focus on our joyful worship.

For more reflections on the person of Christ —

For more Christmas Christology:

“God in a Manger” (2009)

“The Permanence of Christmas” (2008)

“Advent and the Incarnation” (2007)

David Mathis (@davidcmathis) is executive editor for desiringGod.org, pastor at Cities Churchin Minneapolis/Saint Paul, and adjunct professor for Bethlehem College & Seminary. He has edited and contributed to several books and is author of Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines.


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