Have you heard something like this: “When Christ was in the Garden of Gethsemane asking for relief, it was the human side of him speaking.” Or how about this, “When Christ said that he did not know the day or the hour of his coming, that was the human person talking, not the divine.” Or even better: “When Christ was forsaken on the cross, it was simply his humanity that was forsaken, not his deity.”

All of these statements, to some degree, represent an early Christological (concerning Christ) heresy called Nestorianism. Formally, Nestorianism is a belief first attributed to Nestorius (c. 386–c. 451), Archbishop of Constantinople. Nestorians believed that Christ existed after the incarnation as two separate persons, Jesus the man and the Son of God. Although there is quite a bit of debate as to whether the issues involved in this controversy were legitimate or linguistic and political (and as to whether Nestorius himself truly held to such a view), this doctrine was condemned as heresy at the Council of Ephesus in 431 and at the Council of Chalcedon in 451. The orthodox Christian position was that Christ exists as one person with two natures.

Christ cannot be divided. When we assume that Christ can speak from his humanity or from his deity, this often evidences that we don’t have an orthodox view of the hypostatic union (the union of the two natures of Christ). Christ is not two persons, but one. Christ is not two consciousnesses, but one. Therefore, every time Christ speaks, he speaks from his single personhood.

If Christ were two persons, redemption was not accomplished as it would render the incarnation and representation of Christ meaningless. Why? Because there would be no need for an incarnation. The union would have little difference to any believer’s union with Christ. One person and state of consciousness would be connected, in some way, to another person and state of consciousness. This union does not provide any qualifications for redemption as the human is simply another person who is not God. Christ did not have multiple personalities.

This is why we believe that Christ is completely (very) God and completely (very) man; one person, two complete natures without division.

When Christ died on the cross, it was the person of Christ, the second person of the Trinity, who experienced the death of his human nature and separation from the Father. Of course his divine nature did not die. However, the eternal Son did experience a mysterious relational breach (death) with the Father as he bore the sins of mankind.

When Christ prayed in the Garden to “Let this cup pass from me” it was the same person who in eternity past purposed to die for the sins of mankind and the same person who, moments later, rebuked Peter for suggesting (by cutting off the ear of a gaurd!) that he find another “cup” to drink. In a very real sense he knew that the cross was the only way, even though he experienced a terrible trial in the Garden.

When Christ said that he did not know the day or the hour of his coming, it was the same person who with the Godhead planned every aspect of redemption including his second coming. While the “rules” of the incarnation and redemption may have included a limitation to his access of his omniscience, the one person of Christ could have instantaneously made himself of aware of everything at anytime, including knowledge of the time of his coming. However, had he done so, he likely would have forfeited redemption.

Theotokos (Gk theos, “God” + Gk tokos, “parturition, childbirth”) is a historic designation given to Mary in relation to her role as the mother of Christ. Hang with me here. Theotokos means “God bearer.” This designation was approved by the third Ecumenical Council held at Ephesus in 431. Nestorius opposed the use of the term theotokos, preferring christotokos (”Christ-bearer), believing that Mary was the mother of the human nature of Christ, not the divine nature (which is true). Most, however, felt that this would divide Christ into two persons, giving the impression that the human nature might have existed without the divine nature for a time and therefore assumed its own person. Christ had to be complete from conception, two natures one person. Led by Cyril of Alexandria, the council chose theotokos to acknowledge a belief in the dual-nature of Christ. It is important to note that this designation was not meant to venerate Mary, but to make a theological statement about Christ. He must be fully God, fully man, and one person from the beginning if man is to have redemption.

Next, we will cover Gnosticism.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    33 replies to "Heresies: Nestorianism – A Divided Christ"

    • Ed Kratz

      Thanks so much Steve. I have felt so much better for nearly three weeks. Not one “episode” of depression in any way like it was for those two months. I have been taking St. John’s Wort. Maybe that has something to do with it! Don’t know. I am just glad I am feeling better. I feel so much for those who are not.

    • Chris S

      Michael, I too am glad to hear that you are dong better. I have prayed for you. Thanks for all the blogage. Just keep doing what many of us are sure is your calling in life.

      These issues may be considered hair splitting to some but the early church fathers didn’t think so. They knew how critical it was that we be clear on these issues.

    • Tony Byrne

      While it is “Nestorianism” to divide the Person of Christ, it is not “Nestorianism” to distinguish between the natures in the one unified person. For example, we could ask, “Is Jesus Omnipresent?” If one says no, then we could ask how He could be with His church unto the end of the age, as he promised. If one says yes, then we could bring up His ascension. He left earth and ascended in to heaven.

      The answer, then, to the question “Is Jesus omnipresent?” must be qualified by saying yes and no. Jesus (the one person) is omnipresent in regard to His divine nature but not with respect to His human nature. If we say Jesus is not omnipresent, we move in to some form of Kenosis theory. If we simply say that Jesus is omnipresent, we may move in to the Eutychian error (blending th natures), such that Jesus’ body is ubiquitous.

      It is not Nestorianism to say that Jesus is omnipresent with respect to His divine nature, but not in regard to His human nature. It’s sound Chalcedonian Christology. Notice how Augustine speaks in the following:

      “But what means that passage of the great Evangelist, He was in the World, and the World was made by him? (John i. 10.) The sense sure is, that he was sent hither with regard to his Humanity, but was really here before, and all-along in respect of his Divinity.”

      On the same passage (John 1:10), Augustine says:

      “8. What then? If He came hither, where was He? “He was in the world.” He was both here and came hither; He was here according to His divinity, and He came hither according to the flesh; because when He was here according to His divinity, He could not be seen by the foolish, by the blind, and the wicked…

    • Tony Byrne

      Augustine, on the same passage, continues and says:

      “Behold, both here He is now, and here He was, and here He is always; and He never departs, departs no-whither. There is need that thou have some means whereby thou mayest see that which never departs from thee; there is need that thou depart not from Him who departs no-whither; there is need that thou desert not, and thou shalt not be deserted.”

      Some may confuse Augustine’s Christology for Nestorianism, but he is not dividing the Person by distinguishing between what can be predicated of each nature of Jesus. Omnpresence and non-Omnipresence can be predicated of the one Person of Jesus, but these properties cannot be predicated of each nature. Properly speaking, omnipresence belongs to His divine nature, while spatial extension and location belongs to His human nature.

    • Tony Byrne

      Calvin, along the same lines as Augustine, distinguishes between the natures of Christ in his commentary on Eph. 4:10:

      “To fill often signifies to finish, and it might have that meaning here; for, by his ascension into heaven, Christ entered into the possession of the authority given to him by the Father, that he might rule and govern all things. But a more beautiful view, in my opinion, will be obtained by connecting two meanings which, though apparently contradictory, are perfectly consistent. When we hear of the ascension of Christ, it instantly strikes our minds that he is removed to a great distance from us; and so he actually is, with respect to his body and human presence. But Paul reminds us, that, while he is removed from us in bodily presence, he fills all things by the power of his Spirit. Wherever the right hand of God, which embraces heaven and earth, is displayed, Christ is spiritually present by his boundless power; although, as respects his body, the saying of Peter holds true, that ‘the heaven must receive him until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.'”

      For Calvin as well as for Augustine, Christ is both omnipresent and not omnipresent at the same time [the two meanings which seem apparently contradictory], but they are not contradictory when you distinguish the natures.

      Again, this is certainly not Nestorianism, though it may seem like it.

      p.s. I see that Michael twice said that “he [Jesus] bore the sins of mankind” and the “person [Jesus] who in eternity past purposed to die for the sins of mankind.” One who consistently believes in a strictly limited atonement [Owenism, or Michael Patton’s position] can’t say that Jesus satisfied for the sins of mankind, i.e. for the sins of any of the non-elect 😉 But that’s a different topic for another day.

    • admin

      Chalcedon makes distinctions as well:

      “As to his deity, he was born from the Father before the ages, but as to his humanity, the very same one was born in the last days from the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, for our sake and the sake of our salvation…”

      As to His Deity … (his divine nature) … and as to His humanity (his human nature)

      It is imperative that we make these distinctions else we end up with other heresies equally as aberrant as Nestorianism… i.e Monophysitism, Eutychianism, or Ubiquitarianism.

    • Michael L

      I know is may be a bit of a side topic. But it’s an interesting question I’ve been asked before and that I honestly have a hard time answering satisfactorily:

      If Christ was fully human, and humanity (as we all know) is capable of sin, was Christ capable of sin ? And if He was capable of sin, do you think He at some point in His life, as a youth or other undocumented period of His life, did sin ? If not, please provide your arguments as to why not ?

      I’d appreciate any sound theological debate / comment on that.

      In Him

    • Hodge


      Augustine’s distinctions are helpful. The disposition of Adam made it posse non pecare “possible not to sin.” Christ, however, is a different story. For Christ, it is non posse pecare “not possible to sin.” His two natures create an interesting dynamic in that He is able to be tempted because of His human nature that by itself would be posse non pecare and even posse pecare; but His divine nature makes it non posse pecare. Hence, He can be tempted, but cannot give in to the temptation. At first, this might seem that He went through less than us. However, what this basically says is that He can be tempted with everything, yet never satisfy the urge or temptation by giving into it. Imagine not being able to satisfy any tempting urge for your entire life. This gives some understanding of the verse ” For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all similar things, yet without sin.”

    • Tony Byrne

      Here’s another quote:

      “[William Lane] Craig opts instead for the Scholastic view that in the incarnation Jesus Christ was omnipresent and omniscient in his divine nature but not in his human nature.”

      Carl F. H. Henry, The Identity of Jesus of Nazareth (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1992), 86. Henry is referencing Craig’s view in “Review of The Logic of God Incarnate,” by Thomas V. Morris. Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 30:493-94.

      Obviously Bill Craig is not a Nestorian either. In fact, Carl Henry says it’s the scholastic view.

    • Tony Byrne

      “Thus if it be asked, for example, whether Christ was omnipresent during his state of humiliation, the answer is that he was with respect to his divine nature but that he was not with respect to his human nature.” William Craig, JETS 30:4 (December 1987), 494.

    • Mike B.

      I get really uncomfortable applying the term “heresy” to positions like this. It seems like it’s just an alternate attempt to wrangle with the strange, confusing, and seemingly contradictory statement that Jesus was both human and divine. It is certainly strange, and I don’t think that it offers the most satisfying explanation, but I don’t think that you can say that it is counterbiblical since all theological contemplation about exactly how – technically speaking – these two natures coexisted goes beyond the Bible. It is a philosophical solution to a Biblical problem, not a position that can itself be deemed biblical or unbiblical.

      You say that it denies that hypostatic union, but what does that even mean? Where does the Bible talk about a hypostatic union of Christ’s two natures? Where does it even talk about Christ’s two natures? Where does it even talk about nature, or essence, or substance?

      As far as the implications for the efficacy of the atonement go, I don’t know if I buy that either since no one actually knows exactly how the atonement is supposed to work anyway. All we manage to say is that it is generally some kind of substitution. Beyond that, the mechanics are vague and controversial. So how can we say with any kind of certainty that a division of Christ’s two natures makes it ineffective? Who is to say that the death of Jesus’ human nature on the cross is not sufficient, so long as he was kept sinless by the divine nature, hence a spotless sacrifice for the sins of mankind? Who ever said that God himself had to die in order to atone for sins?

      I’m playing devil’s advocate here, but I get a little testy when people use such strong words as heresy to define people who differ from established Church tradition on issues that are, when it comes down to it, only philosophical speculation on Biblical themes, and hardly biblical doctrines themselves.

    • rayner markley

      I agree with Mike B here. Also, the term ‘heresy’ seems to push people outside the body of Christ regardless of the fact that they may love God and trust in Jesus Christ, which are the real requirements for a Christian.

    • Rick

      Mike B #12 and Rayner #13-

      But do they really love God and trust in Jesus Christ if they deny who He is?

    • EricW

      But Christ has two natures, two wills, and two energies:

      Kontakion (Tone ‘8’) for St. Maximus the Confessor:

      Let us the faithful fittingly praise the lover of the Trinity,
      The great Maximus who taught the God-inspired faith,
      That Christ is to be glorified in His two natures, wills, and energies;
      And let us cry to him: “Rejoice, herald of the faith.”

    • Ken Pulliam


      You state: However, the eternal Son did experience a mysterious relational breach (death) with the Father as he bore the sins of mankind.

      This is one of my problems with the Penal Sub. Theory (I have multiple). How can a historic, orthodox Christian say that there was a division or breach between two members of the Trinity? In addition, if the breach was due to the fact that the Son was suffering the penalty for sin (presumably because God cannot “look upon sin” ), why was there not a breach also between the divine nature and human nature in Jesus at that moment thus effectively dividing the person?

    • rayner markley


      They do not deny who he is; they have a different idea about who he is. No one knows the details with certainty. To Jesus’ contemporaries, he was a man—who lived as a man and died as a man. Then he was resurrected unlike any man, and that was evidence of divine favor even beyond the signs and miracles he had done. Jesus was a historical person and the resurrection a historical event. That is who and what we believe. That is why we believe. The theory of his divinity or the particulars of how redemption is accomplished (which I also believe by the way) are not reasons for believing.

      In showing Nestorians the door, so to speak, perhaps the church violated Jesus’ greatest wish for his disciples—that they follow his commandments and love one another.

    • Tony Byrne

      Gabriel Biel (1420-1495):

      “We know then there are two natures in Christ, namely the divine and the human. According to the divine nature, by which he is eternally one with the Father and the Holy Spirit, he is everywhere, unbounded, without place, incomprehensible; he holds all things fills all things, embraces all things, transcends all things, as Gregory says in the eighth homily on Ezekiel. But the human nature which he assumed from the body, from the Virgin, because it is creaturely, is bounded, precisely located, movable from one place to another, although hypostatically united to the immovable nature. Wherefore even the man is resplendent. Although Christ is everywhere and eternal, yet the human nature in Christ is temporal and does not fill every place, according to Ambrose in the book on the Holy Spirit. To be in all things and everywhere is peculiar to divinity and dominion.” Sermon II, in ordine XXX, Fol. CCXLV, Sermones de festivitatibus Christi.

      Let not the ubiquitarians [i.e. those who think Christ’s humanity is omnipresent] susepct this Extra Calvinisticum” Christology to be somehow Nestorian, even in the least. Biel even traces his distinctions back to the Fathers.

    • Dave Burke

      “[William Lane] Craig opts instead for the Scholastic view that in the incarnation Jesus Christ was omnipresent and omniscient in his divine nature but not in his human nature.”

      Ah, semantics. Always there for you when logic isn’t at home!

      Can a “nature” be omniscient without being a person? Can a “nature” be tempted without being a person?

    • Tony Byrne

      Perhaps someone interested in an extended conversation with a “Christadelphian” will come along and answer your questions, Dave. As for me, I am only interested in conversations with fellow evangelicals on this blog. Also, my quotes above are mainly for Michael Patton and Tim Kimberley to read and respond to, if they wish.

    • Tony Byrne

      We confess, therefore, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, perfect God, and perfect Man of a reasonable soul and flesh consisting; begotten before the ages of the Father according to his Divinity, and in the last days, for us and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin according to his humanity, of the same substance with his Father according to his Divinity, and of the same substance with us according to his humanity; for there became a union of two natures. Wherefore we confess one Christ, one Son, one Lord. According to this understanding of this unmixed union, we confess the holy Virgin to be Mother of God; because God the Word was incarnate and became Man, and from this conception he united the temple taken from her with himself.

      For we know the theologians make some things of the Evangelical and Apostolic teaching about the Lord common as pertaining to the one person, and other things they divide as to the two natures, and attribute the worthy ones to God on account of the Divinity of Christ, and the lowly ones on account of his humanity [to his humanity].

      From The Letter of Cyril to John of Antioch.

    • cherylu


      Do you know the dating of that letter?

    • Tony Byrne

      Hi cherylu,

      This “Ephesine Creed” or “Formula of Reunion” [as quoted above] is said to be “approved at Ephesus in August 431” (J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, p.328), but dated [sent from Cyril to John perhaps?] at 433.

    • Tony Byrne

      After 431, apparently a “division lasted two years longer, till at last a sort of compromise was effected” [P. Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 8 vols. (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2002), 3:726]. It was in 433 that “union was effected” Ibid., 728.

    • Hodge


      Your objection is absurd. Christ is a divine Person with a divine and human nature. A nature allows one to do or not do X, or be or not be X. So can a nature be tempted? No, a person with a nature can be tempted if the nature allows. Can a nature be omnipresent? No, a person with a nature that allows for omnipresence can. BTW, the Son is also a divine Person, not just a person with a divine nature, so the question falls flat at that point. You’re essentially trying to argue that if an angel took upon itself the nature of a human being, i.e., it became physical, then it would actually have to be a human being and no longer an angel, since personhood and nature are confused. That doesn’t follow. The same goes for God. He can retain His divine Person and nature and add a nature that allows His Person to be or not be X and to do or not do X.

    • KenB

      While I certainly find myself in favor of the Chalcedonian view, I cannot help but be thankful for the work of Nestorians in bringing the gospel to China along the Old Silk Road. I have been blessed to see the Nestorian Stele, near Xi’an, which, among other things, does clearly convey basic Gospel truth.

      On another point, if Christ “through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God”, was He actually forsaken on the cross?

      Sometimes I wonder if we haven’t extrapolated general concepts such as “God being too holy to look upon sin” into a commonly told story line such as “the Father turning away from Christ when he bore our sins on the cross and thus Jesus cried ‘why have You forsaken Me?’ – but without distinct scripture to back it up. In other words, the story line, while conveying truth, is touted as tantamount to scripture verses which do not convey such detail about what really happened.

    • Michael L

      Sorry it took me a week to get back. Work has this nasty habit of getting in the way. I should go back to being a “lurker

      I’m familiar with Augustine’s distinctions. I think it’s in Confessions, but may be wrong on that.

      And I’m hi-jacking a thread on this. I just got in a conversation on whether Christ was “non posse peccare” or “posse non pecare”. If the prior (like you describe), does that mean the temptations of Christ become a little pointless ? After all, if it’s “not possible to sin”, can one be tempted ?

      Augustine used the “non posse peccare” as the potential glorified state of Adam. I would extrapolate and say that that becomes the state we will reach once glorified. It is also the state obviously of Christ after glorification and the state the apostles got a glimpse of on the mountain as described in the synoptic gospels.

      However, I’m more leaning towards that Jesus was “posse non peccare” during his life on earth. I read Heb 4, which you quoted, in that light. However, if Christ was “posse non peccare” before his resurrection and “non posse peccare” after, Heb 13:8 becomes difficult for me.

      But then again, even without focusing on the sinful (or non-sinful) nature of Christ, Heb 13:8 is a challenge for me. I know that when Christ appeared after his resurrection, He was looking a little “different” (think road to Emmaus, Saul, etc…), which makes me think change, which then again throws me for a loop with Heb 13:8.

      As I fore-warned, this is a complete hi-jacking of this thread and out of respect for CMP, we should try to take this conversation somewhere else. Hodge, you can reach me via my webpage. I could start a thread there for those interested.

      In Him

    • Robert Malak

      Assyrian Church of the East is the oldest Church that still flourishes today, it was establish by Esho Mshikha (Jesus Christ) disciples. The message was received untainted by the politics of Rome, Judea, Greeks and others. The original writings where done in Aramaic the language that Esho, his disciples and the people of that region spoke for thousands of years.
      The Truth is in the books of the Church of the East (most of them were stolen by the Crusaders under the Pope’s orders). If you really want to understand the light, then open your eyes, your ears, and your heart. When you read the Story of Jonah in its original Aramaic form before the omission of vital verses, you will truly find the beauty of the word. The Assyrian Emperor, the most powerful ruler listen to Jonah because they (the Assyrian) knew God the creator before the Jews ever did.
      God Picked the Assyrians to carry his true message and to be witnesses to the evil of man, God gave them to Esho. The Assyrian church of the East is still carrying this message regardless of the attacks from all sides (Kurds, Turks, Arabs, Islam, and Jews) especially the Catholic Church that successfully used money to buy some of the Assyrians and they gave them different names such as Chaldeans. Still the church was able to carry the message to China and Japan.
      Stop living a lie and seek the truth.

    • Nestorius got a bad rap!

      Cyril, that spawn of Satan, bore false witness against Nestorius in saying that Nestorius was teaching Christ as two “persons.” What Nestorius was actually saying was not that Christ was two persons, but that it is inappropriate to confuse Christ’s divinity with His humanity – to say, for example, that God hungers, thirsts, is tempted to sin, suffers, dies. Much of the debate between Nestorius and Cyril was one of terminology as Cyril was wrongly using hypostasis for Father, Son and Holy Spirit individually (whereas Hebrews 1:3 correctly used it for God alone and not for “persons” of God). The way Cyril was using hypostasis was essentially the way Nestorius was using prosopon.

      Of course, the whole thing started when Nestorius objected to the use of the term theotokos (the God-bearer) to describe Mary. He thought the term was suggesting that Mary somehow contributed to Christ’s divinity. He also objected to using the term anthropokos (the man-bearer). He preferred the compromise term Christokos (the Christ-bearer).

      Nestorius essentially taught that those things pertaining to Christ’s divinity do not pertain to His humanity and those things pertaining to His humanity do not pertain to His divinity. For him, it was Christ having two distinct natures (not persons) in prosopic union.

    • Anastasios

      The standard Eastern Orthodox view is that Reformed theology is Nestorian, or at least tends strongly in that direction (EO generally aren’t too impressed with Augustine either; they believe he was within the bounds of orthodoxy but “just barely” and he was more of a philosopher than a genuine theologian). Since Calvin went “beyond” Augustine in many ways, he stepped over the line and into Nestorianism, so say the EO. Zwingli was even more clearly a Nestorian. Menno Simons, on the other hand, was a monophysite (he argued that Jesus was purely divine, he was only “human” in the sense that the wine at Cana was wine; I. e. miraculously rather than naturally). Whatever strengths the Reformers may have had, Christology was _not_ one of them.


    • I don’t think the Reformers would have considered themselves Nestorians, particularly since they generally adhered to the doctrine of hypostatic union (and Nestorius to prosopic union). Most people of Reformed faith today certainly wouldn’t consider themselves Nestorian.

      It is unfortunate, however, that because the Reformers generally considered the Trinity a settled doctrine (meaning there was nothing more to be said about it, apparently accepting the Roman Catholic version of the Creeds), they never really dealt with any of the content of the Creeds or the issues that led to them. For that matter, it’s unfortunate that a lot of my fellow Protestants seem to just sort of take the Trinity for granted – they accept the doctrine as true, but haven’t really examined it for themselves.

    • Jerry

      How bout this crazy thought? Jesus Christ is not God. Man sinned and fell from grace so it had to be a man to redeem us. Silly I know but the Word speaks for itself. Simple isn’t it?

    • Adithia Kusno

      Hi Michael Patton,

      I want to ask when you said the Logos incarnate was having a ‘separation from the Father,’ who is separated? If it’s the second divine person, he is never separated from the Father. If it’s human nature, it can’t happens because separation is personal experience. Christ never committed any sin, so how then the second divine person be separated from the Father? If he became sinful like what Luther said, then we’d end up with separation in one God. If he condemned in hell like what Calvin said, then temporarily there is a change in the eternal relationship of Triune God. Could you explain in a better way how would your view not fall into Nestorianism? Thank you.


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