A little while ago, a friend posted a Facebook status update about a teaching on Nestorian Christians. I was curious as to what the view was on this so I asked for clarification. I was directed to an audio of and some notes on the teaching. I have not listened to the sermon yet, but I did go through the media presentation. The view is in favor of Nestorian Christians. More specifically, the presentation implied that Nestorian Christians were the remnant of the original—perhaps even the true—Christians.
I am always wary of these kinds of views. There are a few reasons: 1) Nestorius was condemned by the council of Chalcedon; 2) the Nestorian view is generally condemned by modern, orthodox Christian scholars; and 3) the view does not line up with Scripture.
It seems the Chalcedon statement is thus far the most definitive document produced by the church on the nature of Christ. I can appreciate the wrestling that the church leaders did in trying to produce a statement about what they believed regarding Christ’s humanity and deity.
Modern orthodox Christian scholars—many, at least—reject Nestorianism. Among these would be those like Millard J. Erickson. I suspect that scholars like Gary Tuck, Earl E. Cairns, Roger E. Olson, M. James Sawyer, and Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen do also. Even Oneness theologian Daniel L. Segraves rejects Nestorianism in favor of a more Chalcedonian christology. He writes of Nestorianism in Oneness Pentecostal circles in a negative light:
Although Oneness theology elevates Jesus Christ, . . . the Christology of some early proponents sacrificed or compromised the integrity of Christ’s person [referring to those who held the insufficient views of Apollinarianism, incipient Certinthianism, and Sabellianism], the hypostatic union of deity and humanity. . . .
Some of these views faded in Oneness theology in the latter half of the twentieth century, but there is still a struggle to avoid and overcome the Nestorian tendencies of some perspectives.1
Because Nestorianism divides the person of Jesus Christ into virtually two persons within one body, and Holy Scripture does not suggest this, it must be rejected. The logical outcome of Nestorianism is that one nature can act independently of the other nature. Contrary to this, Scripture speaks of the opposite:
God has a face:
They [the servants] shall see His [God's] face, and His name shall be on their foreheads (Revelation 22:4).2
If Christ’s two natures were really as separate as Nestorianism makes it seem, then this statement would be meaningless: the face would belong exclusively to the human person and not to God in any degree.
The one with a human body is called God:
And Thomas answered and said to Him [Jesus], “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).
Here, Thomas is speaking to Jesus, one who has a human body. While Thomas is not saying that the human body is God, the one he is speaking to is both God and human. If Nestorianism is true, then Thomas is not speaking to Jesus, the one standing there, but a spirit Jesus who is known as God. Some within the ranks of Oneness Pentecostalism have put forth this view. The problem is that the pronoun “Him” refers to the one who stood in the midst of the room. That person had a human body.
The one who forgives sins is called “a man”:
So He got into a boat, crossed over, and came to His own city. Then behold, they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you.”
And at once some of the scribes said within themselves, “This Man blasphemes!”
But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins”—then He said to the paralytic, “Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.” And he arose and departed to his house. (Matthew 9:1-7).
Jesus has a chance to correct the scribes regarding their thoughts about Jesus being a man. The scribes are correct. Yet, Jesus does not correct them and does not refer to Himself as the Son of God (often thought to refer to Jesus’ divinity); instead, Jesus refers to Himself as the Son of Man, which many have taken to be a reference to His humanity. If the latter reference is correct, then the conclusion that can be drawn here is that the one who forgives sins is human but also other-than-human. However, Jesus’ humanity cannot be neglected as being involved in some way with this act.
One last note is that some groups, like Oneness Pentecostals, will claim a connection to Nestorius, or hold a christology similar to his. A Oneness Pentecostal who advocates Nestorianism might argue that if Nestorian Christians are the true Christians, and Oneness Pentecostals hold to Nestorianism, then Oneness Pentecostals are true Christians. However, what must not be overlooked is that those involved in the Nestorian debate in that day held to the doctrine of the Trinity. Therefore, a Oneness Pentecostal cannot argue for the truth of Oneness Pentecostal theology/christology on the basis that a Oneness person aligns himself or herself with Nestorius.
1Daniel L. Segraves, “Oneness Theology,” in Encyclopedia of Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity, ed. Stanley M. Burgess (London, UK: Routledge, 2006), 343. It would be helpful to note that before Segraves’s article was submitted for publication, it was reviewed and approved by Kenneth F. Haney, the then-general superintendent of the United Pentecostal Church International (UPCI), and by David K. Bernard, a Oneness Pentecostal theologian and current general superintendent of the UPCI.[Back]
2All Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982).[Back]