Contrary to popular misconception, the Christian doctrines of the Trinity and the nature of Christ do not deny that Jesus Christ was a real human being. In fact these doctrines, correctly understood, require the full humanity of the Son of God.
The Hebrew Scriptures testify to the Coming One, the servant-king, the anointed One (Messiah/Christ) who would bring redemption and undo the failures of humankind, making God’s creation all that it was intended to be. To bring this about, God himself stepped into that creation to effect its redemption by destroying the root cause of humanity’s failure; sin. Sin had to be overcome and destroyed in the very flesh in which it normally reigned. Jesus is the one sent to accomplish this. It was necessary that the redeemer of humanity be fully human in order to fully redeem us.
But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honour because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers… Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”(Hebrews 2:9–18)
This passage is clear and emphatic; “one source,” “ brothers,” “sharing,” “himself likewise,” “the same,” “in every respect.” The writer gives the reasons; so he could taste death, so he should be made perfect (i.e. teleioo, complete) through suffering, to address the root cause, to bear sin and turn away God’s wrath and to be empathetic to those tempted. Each aspect of Christ’s redeeming work; representation, substitutionary atonement and mediation required him to be human. To accomplish this required him to also be divine, but we have addressed that in detail elsewhere.
The Hebrew Scriptures testified beforehand to the humanity of the coming Redeemer. He was to be the seed of the woman (Gen 3:15; Gal 4:4–5) the (single) offspring of Abraham in whom all nations would be blessed (Gen 22:18; 17:7; Gal 3:16) and the son of David (2 Sam 7:12; Luke 1:32; Acts 13:23). Jesus Christ was fully human, the second Adam. But whereas the first Adam was formed from the earth, the second Adam was the Lord from heaven, made flesh to dwell among us (1 Cor 15:47; John 1:14). Abraham rejoiced to see Christ’s day; he was to be greater than his father Abraham, the Lamb of God’s provision (Gen 22:7–14; John 8:56; Heb 7:6–7). He was also to be greater than his father David, a fact which perplexed the Jews of Jesus’ day (Matt 22:42–46). The coming Messiah would be God’s suffering servant (Isa 42:1–7) formed in the womb (Isa 49:5), who would grow up before God (Isa 53:2). This servant would be “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” and “cut off out of the land of the living” (Isa 53:3, 8).
When Jesus walked on earth in the first century, nobody questioned that he was a man. In fact to his neighbours it was astonishing that the boy next door, the carpenter’s son, could “get this wisdom and these mighty works” (Matt 13:54–57). He was “the son (as was supposed) of Joseph . . . the son of David… the son of Abraham… the son of Adam, the son of God” (Luke 3:23–38). Jesus experienced a real birth, in humble circumstances (Luke 2:7) and Mary had to be purified from the birth and its ritual uncleanness, as any other new mother would under the Law (Luke 2:22). He was circumcised (Luke 2:21) and “the child grew and became strong” (Luke 2:40). Jesus experienced the normal weaknesses and physical needs of a human being. He grew tired (John 4:6, Luke 8:23) and thirsty (John 19:28) and hungry (Matt 4:2; 21:18). It appears that he was so weakened by his ordeal at the hands of the Roman guards that he could not physically carry his cross (Luke 23:26).
Jesus had a human mind. He learned (Luke 2:52) and submitted obediently to what was required of him (Luke 2:51, Heb 5:8). He had normal human emotions such as love, compassion, anxiety, sorrow, astonishment, anger, exasperation and despair (Matt 8:10; 15:32; 21:12; 26:38; Mark 1:41; 3:5; 6:6; 8:17; 10:21; Luke 7:13; 19:41; 22:41–46; John 11:5, 35). Jesus suffered physically and emotionally (Heb 5:7–8; Isa 53:3; Luke 22:44, 24:26) and he was tempted “in every respect, just as we are” and thus can sympathize with our weaknesses (Heb 4:15). Jesus’ humanity thus underpins his intercessory ministry. It is his authentic humanity which equips him to be the sole mediator between God and mankind, our Advocate (1 Tim 2:5; 1 John 2:1). His common experience of temptation not only equips him to be a merciful High Priest and advocate but also qualifies him to be our Judge (John 5:27).
Two heresies which denied the full and real humanity of Christ were rejected by the early church. In the late first century, Docetism arose. From the Greek word dokeo, meaning “seem,” Docteism maintained that Jesus Christ only seemed human but was really a divine spirit. Docetism was refuted by the early church writers and in New Testament passages such as 1 John 4: 2–3: “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.” Docetism was rooted in the Greek dualist idea that spirit was good and matter was evil and therefore the highest of Gods couldn’t be associated with matter. This dualism was also one of the underpinnings of Gnosticism.
In the fourth century, a theologian named Apollinarius of Laodicea promulgated the teaching that Christ did not have a human soul, but rather the eternal Logos, the Word of God, took the place of the human soul in the God-Man Jesus. He felt that the absence of a human soul was necessary to give Christ unity of will, sinlessness and the ability to destroy death. Non-Trinitarians such as Christadelphians seem to assume that this is what that the doctrine of the Trinity teaches, judging by their arguments against what is actually Apollinarianism, under the guise of refuting the Trinity. Apollinarianism, however, was firmly rejected as heresy at the Council of Constantinople in 381 AD on the grounds that it reduced Christ’s humanity to a mere appearance and denied that he was in any sense a man as was clearly depicted in Scripture. This controversy provided the context for Gregory of Nazianzus’ famous quote, that “What has not been assumed cannot be restored.” In other words, it was man’s rational soul that was the seat of sin, and it was in this human nature that sin had to be defeated. Following the Council, the Nicene Creed reads in part,
“One Lord Jesus Christ . . . Who for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary, and became man and was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate and suffered and was buried . . .” So, in line with the Bible’s clear teaching, the creeds of the early church upheld that Jesus was fully human, “of a rational soul and body;” the Word made flesh.
But Jesus is more than us, even in his genuine humanity. He is Son of God as well as Son of man, by virtue not only of his unique conception, the point of the in-fleshing or incarnation of the Word (Luke 1:35), but by the demonstration of his unique relationship with the Father and the exercise of his divine prerogatives (John 20:30–31). The Father himself testified to this Sonship (Mark 1:11; 9:7). Jesus was also sinless, a feat which no human in their own strength could accomplish. Jesus frequently spoke of himself as the Son of Man, rather than Son of God. To a Jewish audience this recalled the prophets and intertestamental literature, in which “Son of Man” denoted a messenger of God, a go-between delivering prophecies of judgement, but also an eschatological figure. Daniel 7:13–14 describes “one like a son of man, who approaches the Ancient of Days” and is given “dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations and languages should serve him,” (the word serve here – latreuo – denotes worship). “His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed;” an obvious reference to the eternal kingdom of God promised to the son of David. This Son of Man is not your average bloke, no mere representative of humanity. Jesus specifically identifies himself with this Son of Man, identical with David’s “Lord,” who would “sit at the right hand of Power and be seen coming on the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:61–62; Psa 110:1). As the Son of Man, Jesus exercised divine prerogatives such as forgiveness (Matt 9:6) lordship over the Sabbath (Matt 12:8), command of angels (Matt 13:41) and judgement (John 5:27). So whilst the title acknowledges Jesus’ humanity, it paradoxically speaks of divinity as well.Theologian Millard Erickson summarises the Trinitarian position with respect to the genuine humanity of Jesus Christ.
The importance of Jesus’ humanity cannot be overestimated, for the issue in the incarnation pertains to our salvation . . . For the validity of the work accomplished in Christ’s death, or at least its applicability to us as human beings, depends upon the reality of his humanity . . . Furthermore, Jesus’ intercessory ministry depends upon his humanity . . .” (Erickson, MJ, Christian Theology, Grand Rapids: Baker, 2013; 644–645).
So please, those who would use the humanity of Jesus to argue against his divinity, the incarnation, or the Trinity, you could not be more off track. Instead of diminishing the Lord, rather let us exalt and latreuo-worship him who came down from heaven, humbled himself for our sakes, even to death on the cross; the Son of Man who came not to be served, but to serve and to give his precious human life as a ransom for many.