The True and False Definitions of Attempting Jesus Christ in the Early Church

Below are the true and false definitions of Jesus Christ during the years of the early church. This understanding is also very helpful for the church today.

The One True Definition of Jesus Christ

(1) Nicene-Chalcedon Orthodoxy

Jesus Christ had two natures—human and divine—that were united in the one person, without confusion, change, division, or separation. This was the teaching of the Chalcedon Creed.

The 12 False Definitions of Jesus Christ in the Early Church

(1) Arianism

Jesus Christ was a created being and not fully equal with the divinity of the Father, denying the triune nature (the Trinity) of God. The Arians wanted to replace the word homoousios, meaning “one substance” with the Father, as written in the Nicene Creed, with the word homoiousios, meaning “alike in substance” with the Father. While others wanted to use the word homoiosa, which means “being like” the Father. This was the teaching of Arius, an elder of Alexandria, Egypt.

(2) Nestorianism

Jesus had two natures that coexisted—human and divine—but did not exist in a complete union. The two natures of Christ remained separate and were in effect two distinct persons. This Christological position stated that Mary was the Mother of Christ, but not the Mother of God (in Greek Theotokos). This was the teaching of Nestorius.

(3) Eutyche Monophysitism

Overreacting to Nestorianism, Monophysitism taught that Jesus Christ had one nature that was a fusion of human and divine elements. The one divine nature was so strongly emphasized that Christ’s human identity was almost completely lost. This was the teaching of Eutyches.

(4) Miaphysitism

Jesus Christ had only one nature made up of human and divine elements. The human and divine natures were equally present within a single nature in the person of Jesus Christ. Christ was from two natures, not of two natures. This was the primary teaching of bishop Cyril of Alexandria.

(5) Apollinarianism

Jesus Christ had only one divine nature, and he did not have a human mind or soul. This was the teaching of Apollinarius.

Adoptionist: Jesus Christ had two natures—human and divine—but they existed separately. Christ was a man and divinity descended on him only sometime during his life on earth.

(6) Docetist

Jesus Christ represented only an illusory shape taken by a divine being; he had no real human nature. Christ only took human form as a guise in which to visit the world. His suffering on the cross was an illusion. The name Docetists comes from the Greek word dokein, meaning “to seem.”

(7) Gnosticism

Jesus Christ was a divine being that came to redeem us from the evil material world. While living on earth, Christ occupied a supernatural body distinct from humans.

(8) Marcionism

Because the God of the New Testament was greater than the flawed God of the Old Testament, Jesus Christ was the Son and representative of the greater God of the New Testament. This was the teaching of Marcion.

(9) Monarchianism

God was one person, and did not have a triune nature. Mary was the mother of the man Jesus, but it was only at his water baptism that he became divine. This was taught by bishop Paul of Antioch.

(10) Modalism

Jesus Christ had a divine nature, but no real human nature. In this view, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not persons, but modes (actions) of one divine being.

(11) Monothelitism

Jesus Christ had two natures, but had only one will.

(12) Monengerism

Jesus Christ had two natures, but had only one energy.