This statement is not from the New Testament, and as best I can tell, it is not a quotation from an early creed or council of the Christian church. It appears to be a modern adaptation of what was stated at the Council of Chalcedon in 451: that Jesus was "truly God and truly man."1 This statement stands somewhat in tension with the early Nicene Creed (325), where it appears that Jesus was "true God of true God…of one substance with the Father." He had no beginning since "he was begotten by the Father before all the ages" and "for us men came down from the heavens, and was made flesh of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man."2
The Nicene creed affirms that he was originally God and later "became a person." It does not claim that he was human (in Greek, man/person is anthrōpos; human is anthrōpinos). His entry into human flesh, as described by the creed, is vastly different from human procreation or generation. If the creeds accurately describe Jesus, the only conclusion one can reach is that Jesus was not like us; that is, he was not human, at least not as we are. How many other people do you know who originated in heaven and whose birth was claimed to have been occasioned by insemination from a Holy Spirit (Matt 1:18//Luke 1:35)?
The predecessors of the later church that created the creeds, however, were not unified in describing the origin or nature of Jesus in the late first and early second centuries.3 During this earlier period the religious marketplace brimmed with competing ideas about Jesus. One could understand Jesus simply as a human being "who was descended from David according to the flesh and appointed Son of God…" (Rom 1:3-4). In other words, he did not originate in heaven but was commonly human like us. God chose to elevate him to divinity like the Roman Senate did for the Roman Emperor:4 declaring that the genius (an indwelling guiding force or spirit) of the emperor deserved to be worshipped.5
Before the creeds in the earlier period, the synoptic gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke) described his career basically as a Jewish thaumaturge (worker of miracles), faith healer, and Galilean wise man. That is something very different from being God from the beginning and later becoming flesh as the Gospel of John has it. While John is similar to the synoptics, its prologue (John 1:1-18) prompts the reader to see Jesus as having a divine origin before he became enfleshed.6
John presents the reader with the other end of the spectrum: the belief that Jesus, as the Word was, "from the beginning," with God and "was God" (John 1:1-2). He only later "came to be in flesh" (John 1:14). A slightly earlier description declared that although he was equal to God (Phil 2:6), he came into being in human likeness and was found in human form (Phil 2:7). He was exalted by God for his death on the cross (Phil 2:8-9). One strange idea, reflected in Paul's letters, suggests that some thought he had a special kind of flesh that was only similar to sinful flesh (Rom 8:3), such as we human beings have. His flesh would not see corruption (Acts 2:25-31/Ps 15:8-11 Septuagint, not the Hebrew).
The point I wish to make is that after the third century the view that emerged from the debates became the standard. No longer was there an opportunity to ponder Jesus with impunity. The issue was settled. If you did not share the view of the group that called themselves "orthodox," you were a "heretic" (which only means that you do not share the orthodox view).
If the pondering of the earliest followers of Jesus (as recorded in the New Testament) is your standard for determining who Jesus was, there are several options available for you to consider. A number of ideas were in the air. Here is another that I recently stumbled across: Jesus was a human being, descended from David. He became the pioneer of a certain kind of faith in God, and established that Way of faith for others to follow by being perfected through his own sufferings (Heb 2:10, 12:2).7 So what do you say about Jesus, and how do you explain all the other views?
Missouri State University
2The italics are mine; the source is Bettenson and Maunder, Documents of the Christian Church (3rd ed.; Oxford, 1999), 28.
3For a survey of the diversity of views in the pre-creedal gatherings of Jesus followers, see C. W. Hedrick, "Is Belief in the Divinity of Jesus Essential to Being Christian," Unmasking Biblical Faiths (Cascade: 2019), 221-33 and "Early Confessions and the Language of Faith," The Fourth R 32.1 (2019), 15-20.
4Hedrick, "Belief in the Divinity of Jesus," 223-24.
5E. Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity (3rd ed.; Eerdmans, 2003), 209.
6Hedrick, "Belief in the Divinity of Jesus," 221-24.
7Hedrick, "Belief in the Divinity of Jesus," 221-33 and "Early Confessions and the Language of Faith," 15-20.