Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Second Sunday in Lent.

The Collect

ALMIGHTY God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves; Keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Collect from the First Day of Lent is to be read every day in Lent after the Collect appointed for the Day.

Daily Bible Verse

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Was Gordon H. Clark a Nestorian Heretic? The Incarnation

On the left is the orthodox teaching and on the right is the Nestorian heresy.  Mary is called the "God bearer" because the son she gave birth to is fully God.  The Nestorian error calls Mary the Christ bearer because there is no complete union of the two natures in Jesus Christ.  The two natures are loosely associated in a "relationship".
"Clark is here proving that not only empirical science is subject to correction but so is theological and philosophical science apparently."  --Charlie J. Ray

[11/18/2013.  Addendum: I no longer believe that Clark was guilty of Nestorianism.  I am letting this article stand as written to show the process of my thinking.  Basically, Clark defines the "person" as the propositions he thinks.  Thus, the divine Person of the Logos thinks what only God can think and what only the second Person of the Godhead thinks.  This is also what distinguishes the three Persons of the Trinity.  Clark's thought evolved over the years as well.  Anyone reading his books can see that he earlier on did not challenge the traditional view that Christ is one Person with two natures.  But the philosophical and logical mind of Clark could not be content with apparent contradictions.  So Clark tackled the apparent paradox of the incarnation.  He has been falsely accused of rationalism because of this.  But would that not also make the theologians who formulated the Definition of Chalcedon guilty of "rationalism"?  Also, it should be noted that Dr. Clark distinguished between common, every day language and technical definitions.  He rejected the idea of "religion" because the word is undefined.  But he acknowledged that the word is useful in everyday language.  The same can be said of the traditional language that Jesus is one Person in two natures.  Technically, if He had two wills, divine and human, he must have had two minds and two persons united in one incarnate Jesus Christ.  Charlie]

Similarly Titus 2:13.  The King James version has it:  "the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ."  This allows the objector to separate the great God from our Lord Jesus Christ.  But the sense, even in the King James version, and even more so by the usual rules of Greek grammar, does not permit this separation, for the subject matter is the glorious return of our Lord.  One person returns:  not the Father, but the Son.  Hence the great God and Jesus is the same person. --Gordon H. Clark, The Trinity.

Due to recent ad hominem attacks in a Facebook forum I am compelled to post a brief statement in response to a debate that occurred at the God's Hammer blog a year or so ago.  You can read a few of the posts that I did at my blog during that period here:  The Incarnation Debate.  This response is not a formal paper but an ad hoc response due to the controversy being rehashed in a Facebook forum.

Unfortunately, the followers of Clark are not as well trained in logic as Clark himself was.   That being the case, along with the noetic effects of sin, human beings often make mistakes in reasoning from the logical propositions recorded in Scripture.  The logic of Scripture is not the problem but our ability to reason properly remains.  That being the case the debate over just how Jesus Christ could be both God and man in one person is an ongoing debate. 

Gordon H. Clark died prematurely and was unable to finish his last book, The Incarnation, (Jefferson:  Trinity Foundation, 1988).  In that book, Clark argued that the term "nature" does not adequately deal with the issue of what constitutes a human being as a "person" with a human and physical body.  Clark defines person as the propositions that he thinks.  So Clark concludes that since it is impossible for a finite mind to be omniscient it is therefore impossible for Christ to be both God and man in the same "person".  Clark then utilizes his distinction of persons for his theology of the trinity in solving the problem for the incarnation.  The persons of the trinity are distinguished from each other by the propositions they think.  In the same way the divine person of the Logos is distinguished from the human person of Jesus Christ by the propositions that each thinks.  So there are two persons in Jesus Christ, said Dr. Clark.  One is left to infer that the body is a shell inhabited by two persons.  That conclusion does indeed imply the Nestorian heresy since there is no true hypostatic union of the two "natures" in the one person of Christ.  Whether or not Dr. Clark is actually guilty of that error is a matter of debate.  The traditional formulation of the doctrine of the incarnation is irrational, according to Dr. Clark.  Therefore there must be a reformulation of the doctrine. 

Earlier in Dr. Clark's career he advocated the Chalcedonian theology of the Incarnation without qualification.  (See Definition of Chalcedon 451). That can be seen easily by reading his commentary on Colossians and other sources.  Additionally, it should be noted that the Westminster Confession and Standards, the Anglican Formularies, and the Three Forms of Unity all uphold the theology of Chalcedon:

2. The Son of God, the second person in the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance and equal with the Father, did, when the fulness of time was come, take upon Him man's nature,1 with all the essential properties and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin;2 being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, of her substance.3 So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion.4 Which person is very God, and very man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man.5

See also: WLC 36-37 | WSC 21-22
1 John 1:1,14; 1 John 5:20; Phil. 2:6; Gal. 4:4.
2 Heb. 2:14,16,17; Heb. 4:15.
3 Luke 1:27,31,35; Gal. 4:4.
4 Luke 1:35; Col. 2:9; Rom. 9:5; 1 Pet. 3:18; 1 Tim. 3:16.
5 Rom. 1:3,4; 1 Tim. 2:5.

The Westminster Larger Catechism says:

<big>Westminster Larger Catechism</big> 36. Who is the Mediator of the covenant of grace?

Answer: The only Mediator of the covenant of grace is the Lord Jesus Christ,1 who, being the eternal Son of God, of one substance and equal with the Father,2 in the fulness of time became man,3 and so was and continues to be God and man, in two entire distinct natures, and one person, for ever.4

See also: WCF 8.2 | WSC 21-22

1 1 Tim. 2:5.
2 John 1:1,14; John 10:30; Phil. 2:6
3 Gal. 4:4
4 Luke 1:35; Rom. 9:5; Col. 2:9; Heb. 7:24,25.

37. How did Christ, being the Son of God, become man?

Answer: Christ the Son of God became man, by taking to himself a true body, and a reasonable soul,1 being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost in the womb of the Virgin Mary, of her substance, and born of her,2 yet without sin.3

See also: WCF 8.2 | WSC 21-22
1 John 1:14; Matt. 26:38.
2 Luke 1:27,31,35,42; Gal. 4:4.
3 Heb. 4:15; Heb. 7:26.

38. Why was it requisite that the Mediator should be God?

Answer: It was requisite that the Mediator should be God, that he might sustain and keep the human nature from sinking under the infinite wrath of God, and the power of death;1 give worth and efficacy to his sufferings, obedience, and intercession,2 and to satisfy God's justice,3 procure his favour,4 purchase a peculiar people,5 give his Spirit to them,6 conquer all their enemies,7 and bring them to everlasting salvation.8
1 Acts 2:24;,25; Rom. 1:4; Rom. 4:25; Heb. 9:14.
2 Acts 20:28; Heb. 9:14; Heb. 7:25-28.
3 Rom. 3:24,25,26.
4 Eph. 1:6; Matt. 3:17.
5 Tit. 2:13,14.
6 Gal. 4:6.
7 Luke 1:68,69,71,74.
8 Heb. 5:8,9; Heb. 9:11-15.

39. Why was it requisite that the Mediator should be man?

Answer: It was requisite that the Mediator should be man, that he might advance our nature,1 perform obedience to the law,2 suffer and make intercession for us in our nature,3 have a fellow-feeling of our infirmities;4 that we might receive the adoption of sons,5 and have comfort and access with boldness unto the throne of grace.6
1 Heb. 2:16.
2 Gal. 4:4
3 Heb. 2:14; Heb. 7:24,25
4 Heb. 4:15
5 Gal. 4:5
6 Heb. 4:16

40. Why was it requisite that the Mediator should be God and man in one person?

Answer: It was requisite that the Mediator, who was to reconcile God and man, should himself be both God and man, and this in one person, that the proper works of each nature might be accepted of God for us,1 and relied on by us, as the works of the whole person.2
1 Matt. 1:21,23; Matt. 3:17; Heb. 9:14.
2 1 Pet. 2:6

41. Why was our Mediator called Jesus?

Answer: Our Mediator was called Jesus, because he saveth his people from their sins.1
1 Matt. 1:21

42. Why was our Mediator called Christ?

Answer: Our Mediator was called Christ, because he was annointed with the Holy Ghost above measure;1 and so set apart, and fully furnished with all authority and ability,2 to execute the offices of prophet,3 priest,4 and king of his Church,5 in the estate both of his humiliation and exaltation.

See also: WCF 8.3 | WSC 23
1 John 3:34; Ps. 45:7.
2 John 6:27; Matt. 28:18,19,20.
3 Acts 3:21,22; Luke 4:18,21.
4 Heb. 5:5,6,7; Heb. 4:14,15.
5 Ps. 2:6; Matt. 21:5; Isa. 9:6,7; Phil. 2:8-11.
The Heidelberg Catechism makes it even more clear that unless the Mediator is fully divine the full price of redemption cannot be met:

Heidelburg Catechism
Question 17. Why must he in one person be also very God?

Answer: That he might, by the power of his Godhead sustain in his human nature, the burden of God's wrath; and might obtain for, and restore to us, righteousness and life.  (See: Lord's Day 6).

I can post similar doctrinal propositions from the Three Forms of Unity and from the Anglican Formularies.  It should suffice that Dr. Clark chose to go against traditional Reformed theology here.  His view, although not technically identical with the Nestorian error does reject the Westminster Confession, which is supposed to be Dr. Clark's theological standard.  It is therefore not unreasonable to say that at this point Dr. Clark became unconfessional. 

Dr. Clark's conclusion is that the hypostatic union is impossible:

The usual theological treatment  of the problem is so self-contradictory that nearly any escape looks promising.  After stating that Jesus was a man, a "true" man, the theologians continue by arguing that he was not a man at all--he was only a "nature".  For them the boy in the temple and the assistant carpenter in Nazareth was some set of qualities attaching to the Second Person.  But this is impossible for two reasons.  First, it attaches contradictory characteristics to a single Person.  He is both omnipotent and frail; he is both omnipresent and localized; he is omniscient, but he is ignorant of some things.  In the second place, closely related to the first, the characteristics of an ordinary man cannot possibly attach to Deity.  The Logos never gets tired or thirsty; the Logos never increases in either stature or wisdom.  The Logos is eternal and immutable.  How then can these human characteristics possibly be characteristics of God?  But by irresponsibly assigning such qualities to God, the theologians contradict their other statement that Jesus was truly man.  Even the  word true betrays the weakness of their position.  Let your yea be yea and your nay be nay. The Scripture simply and plainly says, "The Man Christ Jesus."  (The Incarnation, pp. 76-77).

Three years earlier Clark espoused a completely different view of the incarnation in his book, The Trinity,  reprint 1990, (Jefferson:  Trinity Foundation, 1985).  He seems to uphold the full deity of Christ in pages 12-17 and even cites Matthew 11:27; John 1:1; Acts 20:28; Romans 9:5; Philippians 2:6; Colossians 2:9; Titus 2:13 to prove that Jesus Christ is indeed fully God.  On page 17, however, we begin see a bit of doubt:

Similarly Titus 2:13.  The King James version has it:  "the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ."  This allows the objector to separate the great God from our Lord Jesus Christ.  But the sense, even in the King James version, and even more so by the usual rules of Greek grammar, does not permit this separation, for the subject matter is the glorious return of our Lord.  One person returns:  not the Father, but the Son.  Hence the great God and Jesus is the same personIn the list of  verses above, the New American Standard translation was used.  [See:  Titus 2:13 NASB].  This is a better translation of this verse, for it is difficult in Greek to separate "of us" (our) from "the great God."

Now, these are by no means the only verses that assert the Deity of Christ.  There are many others.  Nevertheless, no matter how clear these verses are by themselves, they raise tremendous problems when taken with the remainder of the Scriptures.  The first has already been mentioned:  How can there be two or three Gods?  What is the relation of the second to the first?  The early Church faced a second problem also.  The New Testament describes Jesus, not merely as God, but also as a man.  He had a body, he ate, he walked, he got tired, he wept, and he died.  How then can he be God?  A man cannot be God, can he?  Not only did the early Church have difficulty in thinking so; but Kierkegaard assures us that it is absolutely impossible.  To say that God is eternal and that he became incarnate is to contradict oneself.  (The Trinity, pp. 16-17).

On page 59 Clark out and out rejects the two person view as heresy:

But the orthodox doctrine allows the three persons of the Trinity to have one will only, while surprisingly the incarnate Jesus has two wills, one divine, one human; and yet even with a human will, and "reasonable soul," he is not a human person.  Nestorianism, with its assertion that Christ was two persons, though plausible on the ground of this psychology, is nonetheless, on the ground of the mediatorial atonement, a heresy.  (The Trinity, page 59).

Clark likes to proceed through several long and complicated arguments before we arrive at his conclusions.  This is particularly true of  his last book, The Incarnation.  As you can see, however, in three short years Clark went from advocating the view espoused in the Athanasian Creed, the Definition of Chalcedon, and the Westminster Standards to the opposite view, namely that Jesus is two persons and not one person with the attributes of both the divine being and the human being united hypostatically.  In his book on the trinity, Clark has no problem uniting three persons in one being.  That would mean that the trinity has a non-personal being that unites the three persons who are defined by the "propositions" that they think.  Yet, in his book on the incarnation Clark reverses himself and says that a "nature" is meaningless without the definition of "person" as a set of propositions that the person "thinks".   So not only does Clark's final book reverse his view of the incarnation as Christ being a unity of a reasonable soul of a human with the divine Logos in one Person, but Clark seems to undermine the genus of unity of the three persons of the Godhead.  In short, his final book on the incarnation would imply that the trinity is really tritheism since the divine nature is not a meaningful term in Clark's opinion.  Of course, Scripture says that there is a divine nature:

θείας κοινωνοὶ φύσεως (2Pe 1:4 NA27)  and θειότης (Rom 1:20 NA27)  [Theias koinonoi phuseos 2 Peter 1:4 NASB and theiotes Romans 1:20].

If we follow the axiom that Scripture is the univocal Word of God as Clark and his supporters postulated in The Answer, then it would seem that Clark's objection to the creeds and the Westminster Standards are based on his exaltation of human intellect above Scripture.  If God is not contradictory in Himself, then the inerrant Scriptures are not contradictory either.  If Scripture portrays Jesus as both human and as God then we must find another way of solving the apparent contradiction than denying what the Scriptures plainly teach, as Clark himself earlier acknowledged in The Trinity.

Although some will disagree, it would seem simply from this brief examination that Clark has been unduly influenced by Kierkegaard's opinion when he said:

A man cannot be God, can he?  Not only did the early Church have difficulty in thinking so; but Kierkegaard assures us that it is absolutely impossible.  To say that God is eternal and that he became incarnate is to contradict oneself.  (The Trinity, p. 17).

Clark is here proving that not only empirical science is subject to correction but so is theological and philosophical science apparently.  Judging simply on this and what the original language texts have to say Clark's solution to the dilemma introduces more problems than it solves.  I will not go so far as to call his view Nestorianism since he never fully explains how his two person view is compatible with the biblical doctrine that Jesus is one person, which Clark himself admitted in his book on the trinity.  There has to be a unity of the divine person/nature and the human person/reasonable soul without dividing, confusing, mixing or conflating them.  The idea that Christ is a man and not divine could also be open to the charge of kenosis, that the Logos emptied Himself of Deity to become man.  Clark would never agree to that since the trinity would then be reduced to two persons and that God could "change".   As you can see Clark's solution opens up other questions and does not actually improve on the confessional statements in Westminster or in the Athanasian Creed or the Definition of Chalcedon.

John Robbins does not clarify much in the conclusion to The Incarnation when he says:

The relationship that obtains between the Logos, the Second Person of the Trinity, and Jesus is unique, unlike that between the Logos and every other man who comes into the world (see John 1:9).  The Logos did not merely light the mind of Christ;  the Logos is fully in Christ.  Christ could therefore say, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life."  No mere prophet could make such an astounding claim.  Prophets, inspired by God, possess some of the divine propositions.  Christ, however, possesses them all, as the author of Hebrews argues in his first chapter.  (The Incarnation, p. 77).

One has to ask if the other prophets possess some portion of the divine nature?  Scripture says that Jesus was unique not because of having more propositions than other men but because he was full of deity and he possessed the divine nature as noted above.  But Scripture never once says that the prophets possess some of the "propositions" inherent in the "divine nature".  This also raises the question about the premise of The Trinity Foundation that even a plow boy can read the Bible and understand theology.  If Scripture is sufficient and is non-contradictory, why are we obligated to answer Kierkegaard's objection on the basis of reason?  Should not the fact that revelation is the very Word of God be sufficient?  If so, then despite our inability to solve the apparent contradiction at this time, we ought to believe God's Word first.  That would include the confession of the catholic and Reformed churches which draw the warrant for that confession from Scripture as the final authority, not the opinions of individual men like Clark and Robbins.  (See:  Article VIII, Thirty-nine Articles of Religion).

Although I generally do endorse the Scripturalism of Gordon H. Clark, where Clark departs from the clear teaching of Scripture and the confessions that draw their warrant from Scripture I am not obliged to follow.  Sola Scriptura!  That being said, I admire and endorse the work of The Trinity Foundation in its battle against theonomy/reconstruction, the Federal Vision/Auburn Avenue/New Perspectives on Paul and other heresies confronting the Reformed churches today.

Unfortunately, some who frequent ad hoc discussion forums cannot differentiate between a rational and prepared paper or article discussing issues biblically and logically and emotivist and ad hominem fallacies that frequently occur in such forums.  I am as guilty as anyone else of allowing my temper to get the best of me when irrational and unbiblical positions are presented as if they were the only possible interpretation of the texts in Scripture.  Even the supporters of Dr. Clark, The Philadelphia Presbytery of the Orthodox Church,  acknowledged that everyone makes mistakes in exegesis:  

Since everyone makes mistakes in exegesis, it is beside the point whether Dr. Clark is right or wrong on this point. All that should be of concern to Presbytery is whether Dr. Clark asserts both sovereignty and responsibility.  (p. 31, of The Answer).

In conclusion, I wish to apologize for any overly polemical statements I made during the debate with Sean Gerety at God's Hammer.   However, I stand by my view that Dr. Clark and Dr. Robbins were unconfessional and possibly in error in their statements made in The Incarnation.  That does not negate the whole body of work of both men as I agree with them more often than not.  However, as a guard against error we as Reformed Christians are obligated to the perspicuity of Scripture first and foremost.  Our commitment to confessional statements does acknowledge that confessional statements and creeds are subject to be corrected by Scripture should they be proved wrong.  Unless and until a better solution to the problem presented by the incarntion of Jesus Christ is developed it is my opinion that Reformed believers should side with the creeds and confessions as they draw their most certain warrant from Holy Scripture.

Sincerely in Christ,

Charlie J. Ray

Addendum:  Since Clark like everyone else was fallible, it is strange to find so many of his followers unwilling to question Clark or even to defend his views in rational form.  When "discussion" of The Incarnation comes up they resort to appealing to Clark as if what he wrote in his last book were an infallible papal bull.  As I pointed out above, Clark completely threw out everything he had written on the subject of the incarnation in his previous body of work.  Ironically, Clark, who prided himself on the law of contradiction, contradicts his life's work in the last book and even crosses the line into an unconfessional view.  As one who is unafraid of controversy, I am willing to fight for the truth.   When the Scriptures say something unequivocally--as even Clark admits that Scripture called Jesus "our great God and Savior"--then we are obligated to believe the Scriptures no matter who contradicts them.  When Van Til contradicts Scripture we must disagree with Van Til.  When Clark disagrees with Scripture then we must disagree with Clark as well.  As you can see here I've been more generous than David Engelsma, who unapologetically says that Clark's view is the Nestorian view.

Addendum:  Nestorius himself did not actually endorse the two person view.  His view was that Christ was one prosopon or person uniting two distinct natures.  Nestorius called Mary the "Christ bearer" or "Christotokos" because for Nestorius the two "natures" could not be completely united because that would imply the monophysite view.  Some of Nestorius' followers took the implications of this further than Nestorius did and advocated the two person view, hence the heresy is called "Nestorianism" even though Nestorius himself did not officially advocate the two person view.  His view was that there was no hypostatic union since this implied a blending of the divine nature with the human nature.  See Nestorius' Understanding of the Person of Christ
  and Nestorius' Orthodox Position


Reasonable Christian Blog Glory be to the Father, and to the Son : and to the Holy Ghost; Answer. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be : world without end. Amen. 1662 Book of Common Prayer

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