Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Heresy, Error, or Truth? Mary the Mother of God

This one is two parts in which we will consider the teaching of Nestorius.  Is it heresy, error, or truth?  And why do you hold such. 

Part One: The Mother of God Syllogism

Jesus Christ is God;

Mary gave birth to Jesus;

Therefore Mary is the Mother of God.

Is that true?  Nestorius thought it was an incorrect statement.  He argued that it would be better to call Mary the bearer of Christ or bearer of humanity.  To call Mary “the bearer of God” caused problems for Nestorius.  He felt that it failed to take into account the fullness of Christ’s humanity.  Therefore, he argued…

Part Two: Nestorius’ position

Christ is indivisible in that he is Christ, but he is twofold in that he is both God and a human being.  He is one in his sonship, but is twofold in that which takes and that which is taken…For we do not acknowledge two Christs or two sons or “only-begottens” or Lords; not one son and another son, not a first “only-begotten” and a new “only-begotten,” not a first and second Christ, but one and the same.

If I am able, please allow me to simply summarize Nestorius’ teaching (or at least what he was charged with teaching).  It is believed that Nestorius taught that in Jesus there were “two natures and two persons.  The human nature was born of Mary, the divine was not.  Nestorius believed that in the person of Jesus he has a divine person/nature and a human person/nature.

Some folks thought that Nestorius was denying the divinity of Jesus Christ.  Nestorius felt his opponents were denying his humanity.  What do you think?

References: Historical Theology by Alistar McGrath and The Story of Christianity by Juston Gonzalez. 


  1. Mike, hope you're doing well.

    What do I think?

    I think heresy (unorthodox beliefs) are not something to be afraid of though the "Church" organization has tried to make it that way.

    "If you don't believe and behave the way we tell you that you must believe and behave, then [insert consequence here]"

    Going back through Church history, there have been those who have dared to stand up for what their conscience told them was right, and lost their lives for it or were exiled.

    For whatever reason, those that are weak in faith became the rule keepers. You can't eat this or that, you can't do this or that, you can't look this or that way while those who relied on their faith with a clear conscience were not looked at as strong, but as false teachers. And worse, the Church leaders took it upon themselves root out these heretics ignoring both the teachings of Jesus & Paul.

    I'm generalizing here of course, mainly for space and time considerations.

    Now, whether Jesus was God or in union with God and how that union is accomplished is not laid out as clearly in scripture as we might have it. For example, in Jude 1:25 we have

    Jude 1:25
    Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

    The writer of Jude clearly maintained in thought a difference between God & Jesus - what that difference is, is unclear. Yet it seems clear that the writer held a distinction between God and Jesus, and that the accomplishment of the union was not as important as the message.

  2. Chris,

    Glad to hear from you. It has been quite some time since we have talked. I trust all is going well with you.

    In response to your comment. There is one sense in which I agree with you about the role of "heresy" within the church. Especially during the Middle Ages and on through the Reformation period. There were some that were branded heretics in much the same way you describe. Yes, that is wrong.
    But there is another sense in which what you say does not fit well with history. Again, I know you said you are generalizing. So, perhaps my disagreement is merely pointing out what you did not say. In the early church those labeled heretics were often those that were significantly departing from that which is revealed, and the apostolic faith that was handed down. These men were not following the teaching of Paul and Jesus, nor were they putting needless rules on people.

    Per your statement in answer to the question of Nestorius....come back on Friday to see my response :-)

  3. Mike,

    Maybe it would be good to define what part of church history we're talking about, and then try to see what was "orthodox" vs. "unorthodox"?

    When you say "early church" are we talking about in Paul's lifetime, or after?

    We know about heretical groups such as the gnostics that differed greatly in their teachings during and after Paul's lifetime. Their greatest heresy being that the flesh was evil, and the spirit was not and that deeds of the flesh didn't affect the Spirit.

    But then we need to ask who defined the "orthodox" teachings? And how was that teaching given?

    Paul and Peter disagreed on the circumcision. Paul disagreed with the Judah-izers (sp?), and probably with good reason.

    Paul also disagreed with those that taught you couldn't eat certain foods and that one day was holier than the rest - Paul maintained that one day is no more holy than another (Rom 14) yet there were those in the church _during_ Paul's time that taught these things.

    Obviously, we don't have "orthodoxy" at this point in history necessarily so maybe they wouldn't be called heretical. Yet, those that taught those things are the very ones who ended up _leading_ the church later and led the church's development. We see this same practice today - Sunday is more important than any other day - yet Pauls tells us that it is not. Don't drink. Yet Paul says don't let anyone tell you what to drink or eat - it is all the Lord's. Yes, I know he did say not to do it if you would cause someone to stumble, and I agree - that's a different reason for not eating/drinking.

    We have another example, in Jesus' teachings in Luke. The disciples tried to prevent a man from casting out demons because he didn't follow with them and Jesus reprimanded them. This was before the organized church and already they were trying to enforce "rules" based on their own understanding. Perhaps this understanding changed after the crucifixion and they were more open, but it doesn't seem that way based on the council of Jerusalem recorded in Acts where they met together and decided amongst themselves how the gentiles should behave. Were they led by the Holy Spirit when deciding? Perhaps, perhaps not. There's not enough evidence from scripture to say.

    Paul basically tells us that we cannot know until we stand before God whether we're right or wrong (1 Corinthians 4).

    Paul also warns the church at Corinth not to judge between their church leaders. (1 Cor 4), not to judge them.

    It seems that Paul expected his churches to follow his teachings and no one else. He claimed to be their "father" and urged them to imitate him. (1 Cor 4). Yet Paul himself confirmed that he might be "wrong" (1 Cor 4) but that he had a clear conscience.

    So, going back to the Judaizers, would they have been considered heretical by their own congregations? Or would Paul have been the heretic? :)

    I know I rambled on a bit here, but this post sort of tied into some thought processes I've been going through on "orthodoxy".



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