Two Natures, One Being: My Perspective on the Person of Christ Compared and Contrasted with Bonhoeffer’s Understanding as Primarily Conveyed in Life Together

BCM 308 I: Research Paper A

Prof. James Arcadi


Who is Jesus? This question is central to Christology. Christology may generally be defined as “the theological study devoted to answering two main questions: Who is Jesus? (the question of identity) and what is the nature and significance of what Jesus accomplished in the incarnation (the question of his work).” [1] We will be focused on his identity. Does Jesus have a fully divine nature and a fully human nature? In a 2015 Gordon College BCM308 Christian Theology class lecture, Dr. Green presented that Christology is “the study of his human and divine natures and how those natures relate to each other.” This presents the further question, how do those natures relate to one another? How can they relate?

This paper will explore the understanding of the Person of Christ Bonhoeffer conveys through looking at Life Together. Then we will look at a few other sources in coming to understand some of Bonhoeffer’s perspective. Next we will move into exploration of my own understanding, with a portion of that segment comparing these two understandings. Bonhoeffer and I both believe that the Person of Christ has two full natures, one human and one divine, and that those natures interact such that sometimes Christ relies on one and not the other. We disagree on our understanding of what it means for Christ now to be fully human. I believe Christ has a human flesh aspect to him now (restored and ressurected like we will have one day), while Bonhoeffers’ belief in the present Christ does not have a human flesh aspect like we will have.

The Person of Christ in Life Together

Bonhoeffer, through Life Together presents a picture of Christ that affirms his two natures: full humanity as well as full divinity. Life Together is his exposition on the nature of Christian community, and how it ought to be lived out. He wrote Life Together during his 1938 stay in Pomerania secretly training young vicars. The life he describes in this book is the life that they shared together. The first chapter focuses on community, and in it Bonhoeffer describes the purpose of Christian community as being ministering to one another in Christ.

We see Bonhoeffer’s belief in Jesus’ fully divine nature and as fully human nature when he writes, “when God’s Son took on flesh, he truly and bodily took on, out of pure grace, our being, our nature, ourselves.” [2] “God’s Son” refers to Jesus, and calling him God’s Son in capital letters signifies that he has divine nature. Jesus “truly … took on … our nature”, meaning that Jesus took on human nature. Jesus in this view has fully human and fully divine nature. He did not lose his divine nature when he became human.

Bonhoeffer’s language, “took on”, signifies that there was a moment in time when he became human. He therefore did not have a human nature for all of eternity, but he at least had it throughout the course of his life on earth.

Bonhoeffer does not affirm that Christ still has a physical human nature. He also does not make statements against Christ presently having a physical human nature. He remains silent on the topic. Though his absence of statement on this topic I am lead to hypothesize that he believes Christ does not need a presently human nature in order to mediate between man and God. Paul’s language in 1 Tim. 2:5 does not necessitate Christ having a presently active role of mediating, which would presently require a human . I imagine Bonhoeffer could have thought that Christ’s. However, I’m in danger now of reading too far into Bonhoeffer’s absence of language, and thus giving him a false image to my reader.

Bonhoeffer does not explicitly affirm a physical aspect to the resurrection of Christ in Life Together. He refers to resurrection as something which can fill our periods of meditation [3] , and also describes John of Patmos’ vision of “all the splendor of the resurrection.” [4] Whether or not Bonhoeffer believed Christ historically raised from the dead is not made explicit in Life Together. Andy Stearns, Th.M., expresses doubt towards the idea that Bonhoeffer believed in a historical resurrection. [5] Stearns points to a passage in Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship: “if we take the statement that Christ is risen and present as an ontological proposition, it inevitably dissolves the unity of the scriptures, for it leads us to speak of a mode of Christ’s presence which is different e.g. from that of the synoptic Jesus.” [6] Here Bonhoeffer makes the critique that Christ’s present risenness gives us a present description of Christ’s presence that is different from Jesus as he is presented in the gospels. I’m having a hard time putting words to (conceptualizing?) how Jesus might presently exist if he did not resurrect. I suppose that the consequence is that Jesus might now not have a human nature, or that he might now not have a body but yet somehow have a human nature.

I’m not sure what the ethical implications of putting such great focus into whether or not Jesus presently has a human nature. Perhaps this could affect our beliefs about whether Jesus

Jesus’ divine nature is affirmed by Bonhoeffer in his statement that “Christ became the Mediator and made peace with God and among men…Christ opened up the way to God and to our brother.” [7]

We can extrapolate how Jesus’ two natures relate by examining the implications of Bonhoeffers’ statement about Jesus’ experience with human suffering. “[The] Man Jesus Christ, to whom no affliction, no ill, no suffering is alien and who yet was the wholly innocent and righteous one.” [8] Jesus knew what every suffering was like, and he also was innocent, meaning that he was sinless. There is one suffering though that he did not know, and that was the suffering that comes from having personally sinned. Looking back on that experience can cause suffering. What we can imply Jesus has experienced though according to Bonhoeffer is the experience of suffering that comes from being tempted. This will be relevant later as we extrapolate how Bonhoeffer may have understood how Christ’s human and divine natures relate.

The Person of Christ in My Understanding

I believe that Jesus Christ presently has a fully human and fully divine nature. We have seen that Bonhoeffer understands Christ as presently existing as fully God because we’re assuming Bonhoefffer held a trinitarian view of God, and as such, if Jesus once was divine, he must always be, because he is one of the members of the trinity. If he were ever without his divine nature, God’s nature would have changed. I am taking the position in my interpretation of Bonhoeffer’s text that he did not assert Jesus was fully human as seen through his use of “Word of God”, and description of the resurrection, and by reasoning of omission conclude that he at least did not find Jesus’ present nature, whether it is human or not, as important. This was not critical to his discussion in Life Together. We cannot leap to the conclusion that he understood Christ as having lost his human nature, but we can leap to the conclusion that he did not find it significant for a basic understanding of Christian community and how to live it out.

So, Bonhoeffer and I agree in our understanding of Christ, at least while he was living on earth, that then he had fully divine and fully human natures. We see that through Bonhoeffer’s description of Christ coming down as the Son of God into someone who fully took on “our nature”.

We agree in our opinion of Jesus at a specific time having taken on a human nature. He stated that God “took on” flesh. And I draw my assertion from the beginning of the gospel of John, verse 1:14, “Word became flesh.” I understand the time sensitive word “became” to be implying that there was a moment when Jesus took on human nature.

We likely agree in our understanding of how Jesus’ human nature and divine nature relate. Through examining the way Jesus responded to temptation, we can come to an understanding of Jesus’ natures relations. Bonhoeffer seems to imply that Jesus experienced temptation. In Jesus temptation, Wayne Grudem explains the connection between Jesus’ two natures. [9] There is the human nature that Jesus has, and in that he can rely on it to resist the temptation, but he need not rely on his divine nature in order to resist temptation. These temptations are not sayings which are required to have divine nature to resist. And I don’t think that it was the Holy Spirit who enabled him to resist, because before he was anointed with the Holy Spirit, he was sinless, so even then somehow he went without giving in to sin. However that works, we still here see some of the relationship between the two natures. They coexist in Jesus but he does not always work according to both. In the temptation narrative he worked according to the human nature, without relying on the divine nature.

We see that the one human nature and the divine nature are related to each other through some common thing, Jesus’ actions, which can be affected and guided by one or the other. Jesus has two wills, but one person. The divine nature is connected to his person, and the human nature is also connected to it. They are related to one another through both being connected to his person, and they are both part of his identity, and sometimes one is relied in such a way that the other must not be relied on. These natures coexist in the one person of Jesus, but not every quality of both natures is relied on all the time, such as the aspect of his divine nature which means it’s impossible for him to sin.

There is seeming paradox in Jesus having both physical nature and divine nature. These are not actually impossible to coexist. [10] There is simply a lack of evidence for the assertion that it is not possible for two natures in one being. “If someone responds that he or she does not understand how Jesus could have two centers of concsiousness and still be one person, then that fact may certainly be admitted by all.” [11] It is important to accept this that we cannot understand. It is an act of humility, [12] and we must make a leap to the absurd to have any claims on truth. [13] Like we do not know what it’s like to have the nature of a cat, we don’t know what it’s like to have to have divine nature and human nature. [14]

What A Church Living According to Bonhoeffer’s Christology Would Look Like

Bonhoeffer’s beliefs about the person of Christ come to emphasize his being on earth, so the way we see that played out is by examining the ways peoples’ understanding of how Christ works. Instead of an active focus on the ways that God is acting in new ways now across the earth, this church would focus more on the work of Christ as he was on the earth, because his work centered around Christ’s work then. If he doesn’t have human nature now, or at least, if that is not emphasized, we likely won’t be focusing on how people will be acting out Christ’s empowerment now. That’s not true though, because the work of the Holy Spirit through people today is likely still affirmed by Bonhoeffer.

In the end of Life Together he talks about The Word speaking to people. Bonhoeffer has a high view of how Jesus’ word as recorded in Scripture can affect them. He describes meditation on the Word of God as powerful, and he views Jesus as having spoken in the authority of God. So this community will live according to the Word of God as revealed through Christ while he was on earth.


Bonhoeffer believes in the full human nature and full divine nature of Christ coexisting in Jesus while he lived on earth. We see this through Bonhoeffer’s language about Jesus being the Son of God and taking on human nature. We see the way that these natures relate by looking at how Jesus dealt with temptation. I agree with Bonhoeffer, and I am left perplexed about whether or not Jesus presently having human nature is important. Also, I am confused about whether Jesus needs to have risen physically from the dead. Why couldn’t he have been right in his teachings and work of dying and reconciling, then simply come to be with God in divine nature again, as he was before, and the reconciliatory, mediative work done with? These are areas I value putting more research into, because I think there is an important reason as to why Jesus had to rise physically, but at the moment I do not know why.


Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. 1994. Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press, 2000.


Kierkegaard, Søren. Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments. Translated by Howard V. Hong. Copenhagen: University bookshop Reitzel, 1846.


Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community. Translated by John W. Doberstein. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1954.


——. The Cost of Discipleship. 1937. Translated by Reginald H. Fuller. Burbank: Touchstone, 1995.


Grenz, Stanley J., David Guretzki, and Cherith Fee Nordling. Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1999.


Stearns, Andy. “Bonhoeffer and the Scriptures” 2012. Last modified January 16, 2013.


[1] Grenz, Guretzki, and Nordling, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, 25.

[2] Bonhoeffer, Life Together, 24.

[3] Ibid., 83.

[4] Ibid., 19.

[5] Stearns “Bonhoeffer and the Scriptures” 2012, last modified January 16, 2013,

[6] Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, 255-256.

[7] Bonhoeffer, Life Together, 23.

[8] Ibid., 46-47.

[9] Grudem, Systematic Theology, 537.

[10] Harris, personal discussion, 2015.

[11] Grudem, Systematic Theology, 561.

[12] Ibid., 560.

[13] Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, 210.

[14] Grudem, Systematic Theology, 561.