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The Incarnation is a difficult doctrine to come to grips with. By the incarnation we’re referring to the event of God becoming a man in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Part of the reason for this difficulty is because there is a whole bunch of technical terminology that is flung around that needs to be understood. And a lot of these technical terms refer to specific ways of understanding the incarnation that, for one reason or another, don’t express the way the Bible speaks about the person of Jesus.

So this post is like a cheat sheet or a glossary of some of the main incarnational concepts and pieces of terminology. It’s not supposed to be comprehensive, it’s not meant to be a detailed explanation of the terms, it’s meant to be a cheat sheet. In the upcoming months they’ll be some posts with more detail about some of these terms and concepts.

Apollinarianism: the doctrine that in the incarnation the Word took the place of the human spirit or mind. This was condemned at Contantinople in 381 because it compromised the true humanity of Christ in that in meant that he did not possess a human mind.

Anhypostasis / Enhypostasis: anhypostasis (Gk: literally not-person) refers to the fact that the humanity of Jesus had no independent reality before the incarnation of the Word. Before the incarnation there was no human person Jesus. While enhypostasis (Gk. literally in-person) refers to the fact that as a result of the incarnation the humanity of Jesus did have real personhood, real personal being in the person of the Son. Jesus was a real human person whose “personal substance” was that of the second person of the trinity.

Arianism: the doctrine that Jesus was not of the same being as God and so therefore was not God but was instead the highest of creatures created by God for a creative and mediatory role. This was condemned at Nicea in 325.

Docetism: the doctrine that while Jesus was totally God, he only appeared or seemed to be human (from the Gk. Dokew, to seem or appear). Generally refers to any theory which denies the full humanity of Christ.

Ebionism: the view that Jesus was not God but an ordinary man, adopted to become the Son of God.

Eutychianism: a doctrine of “two natures before the incarnation, one nature after”. This was condemned at Chalcedon in 451 because it implied that Christ’s human nature was no longer the same as ours but had been swallowed up in divinity. It makes Christ a third type of thing, not God and not man but a divine man, a third thing, instead of him being the God-man.

Hypostatic Union: the doctrine that in Jesus there are two distinct natures, divine and human, in the one person. First formally accepted at Chalcedon in 451.

Hypostasis: originally referred to objective or substantive reality (Gk. hypo-stasis “standing under” or the Lat sub-stantia, substance) but then became a technical term denoting the unique reality or “personal subsistence” of the three persons in the one being of God. From the Council of Constantinople in 381 onwards the formula “three persons in one being”, “three hypostaseis in one ousia”, became the orthodox touchstone for the doctrine of the Trinity.

Monophysitism: the view that there is only one nature in Christ (divine) not two (divine and human). (Gk. monos one and physis nature) Condemned at Chalcedon in 451.

Monothelitism: the view that Christ only has one will (divine) rather than two (divine and human), (Gk. monos one and thelein to will). Condemned at Constantinople in 680.

Nestorianism: the theory that in Christ is two persons, one divine and one human.

Socinianism: a Unitarian theology which teaches that Christ is not divine, but a normal mortal man born through the Holy Spirit and then re-born in the resurrection to be immortal. So although his death wasn’t an atoning sacrifice, his death is still important as a revelation of the love of God and was still accepted as a ground of forgiveness.

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