The Necessity and Distinction of the Divine and Human Natures in the Communicatio Idiomatum for Atonement

Pieta            How is it possible for the human nature and divine nature to exist in the one person of Jesus so that the sins of mankind could be atoned, and God’s righteous demands could be satisfied?  The existence of human and divine natures in the person of Jesus is the only way in which the redemption of man and the righteousness of God could both stand. Anselm said sin brings a debt “which no one can pay except God, and no one out to pay except man: it is, therefore, necessary that a God-Man should pay it.”[1] It is impossible for God, who alone in infinite majesty is adequate to atone for sin, to die. It is just as impossible for mankind to adequately compensate for sin through either life or death. Therefore, it was necessary for the Word, the Son of God, to add humanity to his person so that through his death he might be the adequate atoning sacrifice through penal substitution.


The communicatio idiomatum is a most difficult concept in Christological studies and should be addressed with utmost humble reverence. To study how the communicatio idiomatum relates to atonement, there will first be a definition of concepts and terms. The definition of concepts and terms is always an important step in research, but the importance of this step is elevated because of the complexity of the subject and limited usage of the terms involved.

The importance of the communication idiomatum will then be considered for penal substitutionary atonement. Then the doctrine will be examined in light of Hebrews 10:1-10. There the Scripture states that the preparation of a body was necessary for the Word to be the propitiation. The Reformed and Lutheran positions will be contrasted. Finally, the conclusion will summarize the data and state why the communicatio is necessary for atonement.



The Deity and Humanity of Christ

The deity of Christ is affirmed by the New Testament. Jesus was not an angel or another exalted being. Jesus is eternally divine (Jn. 1:1-2). Jesus said, “I and the Father are one” (Jn. 10:30). Jesus is the “exact imprint” of God’s nature (Heb. 1:2-3). Jesus was “in the form of God” (Phil. 2:5). Isaiah prophesied Jesus would be called, “Mighty God” and Everlasting Father” (Is. 9:6). Jesus is described as the “one Lord” (1 Cor. 8:6). Jesus did the things that only a divine being could do. He created the universe (Jn. 1:3; Col. 1:17). He forgave sins (Mark 2:10). Jesus is described as divine by God the Father (Heb. 1:8).

Jesus, the eternal Word, became flesh (“ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο,” Jn. 1:14). Jesus was “manifested in the flesh” (1 Tim. 3:16). Jesus, the eternal Word, had a body prepared for him (Heb. 10:5). Jesus “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light” through his appearing (2 Tim. 1:10). Jesus descended from David “according to the flesh” (Rom. 1:3). Jesus was able to condemn sin in the flesh because he was sent “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom. 8:3). The Father sent Jesus to be “born of woman” (Gal. 4:4). Jesus “took on the likeness of humanity” (Phil. 2:7 CSB). Colossians 1:22 tells us that Jesus reconciled Christians through his physical body. 1 Timothy 3:16 teaches that Jesus was “manifested in the flesh.” Hebrews 2:14 teaches that it was necessary for Jesus to share in flesh and blood like the rest of humanity. 1 John 4:2 and 2 John 7 describe the incarnation as a test of faith. Those who deny the incarnation are described as “antichrist.”

The incarnation was necessary because of sin. This is the primary, if not only, reason for the incarnation.[2] Irenaeus said, “For if the flesh were not in a position to be saved, the Word of God would in no wise have become flesh. And if the blood of the righteous were not to be inquired after, the Lord would certainly not have had blood [in His composition].”[3] Some have argued that there were other ways for God to remedy mankind’s sin problem.[4] However, none are able to put forth an adequate solution other than the sacrifice of the incarnate Lord. Turretin noted why the sacrifice of the Word was necessary. First, because “God cannot deny his own justice, he could not free men without a satisfaction being made first. Satisfaction could not be made to infinite justice except by some infinite ransom (lytron); nor could that infinite ransom (lytron) be found anywhere except in the Son of God.”[5] Secondly, Turretin also beautifully noted that:

“our mediator ought to be God-man (theanthrōpos) to accomplish these things: man to suffer, God to overcome; man to receive the punishment we deserved, God to endure and drink it to the dregs; man to acquire salvation for us by dying, God to apply it to us by overcoming; man to become ours by the assumption of flesh, God to make us like himself by the bestowal of the Spirit. This neither a mere man nor God alone could do.”[6]


Thus, to be effective in achieving redemption, there is the necessity of a divine Being to take on humanity to cover the sins of mankind.


Hypostatic Union

The hypostatic union refers to the union of the two natures (divine and human) which fully dwell in the incarnate Logos. This is the union of “divine and human natures in one person, without confusion, without change, without division, and without separation.”[7] The Son of God did just take a human body. He took the entire human nature in addition to but not mixed with or in place of his divine nature. The major problem with the hypostatic union is understanding how the one person of Jesus can simultaneously have two distinct natures.

“Probably the most difficult question in Christology is how the two natures of Christ’s deity and humanity are united in the person of the Son, given the Creator-creature distinction,”[8] Anselm noted that the two natures could not be mingled or they would produce a man, a god, or a third ontological being.[9] Furthermore, if the two natures were so mingled, then there would not be a human sacrifice with infinitely divine worth.  The two natures must be distinct in one person so that all may be accomplished.

The Reformed position holds that the human and divine natures exist without mixing or uniting into one nature. The Lutheran position holds that divine attributes were stretched to the human nature.  Consequently, the Lutheran view teaches that omnipresence is extended to the physical body of Christ. “Lutherans say that they fit together in a unified way because the divine attributes modify the human attributes and vice versa; in other words, his two natures change one another.”[10]

Consequently, they teach that the physical body of Christ is physically present in communion.  They do not believe the elements change on in their physical makeup. They do believe that Jesus is in, with, under, and by the bread and cup. The Reformed view counters by saying, “that the divine nature doesn’t change the human nature or vice versa but that the person of Jesus has all the attributes of both. It is not that his body is omnipresent, but he is omnipresent, in his own divine way.”[11]

Communicatio Idiomatum

Communicatio Idiomatum refers to how the divine and human natures dwell in the one person of the incarnate Logos. Wellum wrote, “In Christ, the Creator-creature distinction is not violated, yet both natures are not merely juxtaposed, lying side by side in the one person without contact or interaction.”[12] The doctrine holds that in the incarnation of the Logos “the divine and the human, are indissolubly and perfectly connected with one another in personal unity.”[13]  John Calvin cautioned against mixing the two natures. He described the moment of incarnation and beginning of the communicatio idiomatum this way: “because he chose for himself the virgin’s womb as a temple in which to dwell, he who was the Son of God became the Son of man—not by confusion of substance, but by unity of person. For we affirm his divinity so joined and united with his humanity that each retains its distinctive nature unimpaired, and yet these two natures constitute one Christ.”[14] Therefore, the one person of Christ contained all the attributes of deity and all the attributes of humanity.

The divine nature was not made human and the human nature was not made divine. In the fourth century, Leo wrote:

Although therefore in our one Lord Jesus Christ, the true Son of God and man, the person of the Word and of the flesh is one, and both beings have their actions in common: yet we must understand the character of the acts themselves, and by the contemplation of sincere faith distinguish those to which the humility of His weakness is brought from those to which His sublime power is inclined: what it is that the flesh without the Word or the Word without the flesh does not do.[15]


Leo’s letter was formative for the Chalcedonian Creed. John Cassian later described this union in the person of Christ when he wrote, “the Word, which was sent to save men, can be termed, Saviour, and the Saviour, who was born in the flesh, can through union with the Word be called the Son of God; and so through the indifferent use of either title, since God is joined to man, whatever is God and man, can be termed altogether God.”[16]

Closely related to the communication idiomatum is the communicatio apotelesmatum or operationum. The communicatio operationum refers specifically to the divine and human natures working together in the person of Jesus. Berkhof described four results of the apotelesmatum or operationum:

(1) that the efficient cause of the redemptive work of Christ is the one undivided personal subject in Christ; (2) that it is brought about by the cooperation of both natures; (3) that each of these natures works with its own special energeia; and (4) that, notwithstanding this, the result forms an undivided unity, because it is the work of a single person.[17]


The operationum is the result of the idiomatum. This is not to be confused with the Lutheran doctrine which holds that the operationum causes the real presence of Jesus in the elements of communion.[18]

The two natures existed in one person. The Scriptures speak of both human and divine natures in the one person of Jesus. In John 1 the eternal Word took on flesh (Jn. 1:1, 14). In Philippians 2:5-11, Jesus was in the divine form (morphe) yet chose to be “found in human form.” Hebrews 2:14 teaches that Jesus “shared in flesh and blood” just like mankind. 1 John 1:1-3 described the eternal Word as that which was seen and handled by the apostles. Therefore, the Scriptures describe one person with two natures rather than two personalities or one personality which absorbed or intermingled with the other. As Calvin wrote, “For we maintain, that the divinity was so conjoined and united with the humanity, that the entire properties of each nature remain entire, and yet the two natures constitute only one Christ.[19]

Vos noted that “the strongest proof is found in the absence of any traces of a twofold personality in all that is communicated to us about the Mediator.”[20] The Scriptures consistently speak of the one person of Jesus rather than multiple personalities. That the two natures do not compose two personalities is also seen in the fact that there are not two personalities interacting with each other as we see the three persons Father, Son and Spirit interacting. That the two natures are joined in one nature is seen in the way Jesus spoke of himself. Vos wrote, “It is the same, identical subject that speaks in both relationships, both when it is said, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death” [Matt 26:38], and when it is stated, “Before Abraham was, I am” [John 8:38]. Oneness of persons and duality of natures, therefore, is also the result here.”[21]

Crips presented another option for the communicatio. He described a moderate view of communicatio in relation to the glorified body of Christ as “the attribution of the properties of each person of Christ, such that the person of Christ is treated as having divine and human attributes of one nature that properly belong to the other nature in the hypostatic union, without transference of properties between the natures and without confusing or comingling the two natures of Christ or the generation of a tertium quid.[22] This seems difficult to maintain because the physical body of Christ, albeit the glorified body, is not physically present everywhere. I order for this to be true the physical body of Christ must be physically present everywhere.

The doctrine of two natures in the one person is the consistent position of Christianity. This position was put forth in the Chalcedonian Creed. The Creed introduced Jesus this way:

“We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body; consubstantial [co-essential]2 with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood.”[23]


The two natures in the one person was further described the one person of Jesus as: “to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; (ἀσυγχύτως, ἀτρέπτως, ἀδιαιρέτως, ἀχωρίστως) the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son.”[24] Schaff summarized the communicatio in the Chalcedonian Creed as: “a permanent state resulting from the incarnation, and is a real, supernatural, personal, and inseparable union—in distinction from an essential absorption or confusion, or from a mere moral union, or from a mystical union such as holds between the believer and Christ. The two natures constitute but one personal life, and yet remain distinct.”[25]


Christianity distinctly teaches the forgiveness of sins through the sacrifice of God himself rather than the merit of the human offender. The atonement refers to the covering of human sin by the blood of Jesus. Atonement (כָּפַר) “indicates the act of physically covering one object with another (Gen 6:14). Frequently, the covering aspect of kāpar indicates atonement, probably by metaphoric reference as a kind of covering or wiping, in the sense of covering or cleansing sin or impurity.”[26]

Exodus 29:33 contains the first usage of the word “atonement” in the English Standard Version. The Hebrew word translated “atonement” is כִּפֶּר meaning “cover over…pacify, make propitiation.”[27] The New Testament refers to this concept by the word ἱλαστήριον. Which refers to “that which serves as an instrument for regaining the goodwill of a deity…means of propitiation or expiation, gift to procure expiation.”[28] So we learn that Christians are “justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation (ἱλαστήριον) by his blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 3:24-25).

The Old Testament made a strong connection between animal sacrifices and atonement through temple services.  As Jonathan Edwards said, “God abundantly testified by the sacrifices, from the beginning of the world, that an atonement for sin was necessary, and must be insisted on, in order to his acceptance of the sinner.”[29] Hebrews 9:22-23 says, “Indeed, under the law, almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. Thus, it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.”

Hebrews 9 also points to the necessity of a perfect and heavenly sacrifice which will bring about true atonement. The necessity of the communicatio idiomatum is presented in Jesus’ spiritual entrance into the heavenly temple (Heb. 9:24). The communicatio idiomatum is again pointed out the offering of his physical blood as a physical sacrifice (Heb. 9:25-26). Because of his atoning sacrifice, Jesus will physically return from his heavenly home to “save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Heb. 9:28).

The atonement encapsulates the work of Christ as the ransom (Mark 10:45); sacrifice (Hebrews 10:11-14); reconciliation (Ephesians 2:16); victory (Colossians 2:13-15); and the regaining of what was lost by Adam (Romans 5:12-21). Christ is our High Priest who offers atonement for our sins (Hebrews 2:17). He is also the atoning sacrifice (Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2). He is the Savior.

Penal Substitutionary Atonement

Penal substitutionary atonement refers to the punishment for sin being inflicted upon the body of Christ instead of on the guilty sinner deserving of that punishment. The penal substitutionary atonement is seen in passages which describe Jesus “bearing the sin of many” (Is. 53:12) and being the one upon whom the Lord “has laid the iniquity of us all” (Is. 53:11). 1 Peter 2:24 says, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that, having died to sins, we might live to righteousness. By his wounds, you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but you have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (CSB). “The sacrifice is both provided by God and offered to God; God offers himself in the gift of his Son to achieve a just and merciful forgiveness of sinners. It is God himself who makes the complete sacrifice.”[30]

There are several paradigms for understanding the nature of the atonement. For example, many see the atonement as a ransom of sinners by Christ. This is often referred to as “Christus Victor” (Victorious Christ). This paradigm says Jesus “bought mankind” back having paid the price for sin. This would be seen in passages such as Mark 10:45 as Jesus said he came to “give his life a ransom for many.” In the middle ages, Anselm popularized the paradigm of satisfaction. Briefly, this position says that sin dishonors God by denying him what is inherently his. Man renders an infinite offense to God’s majesty and satisfaction is required by him. This satisfaction is met in Christ’s atoning work. There is merit in each of the views of atonement, but the penal nature of atonement is unavoidable in the Scriptures and it is a main reason for the communicatio.

The physical body of Christ was necessary for penal substitutionary atonement. It was impossible for animal sacrifices to take away sins, but the blood of the spotless Lamb of God was able to take away sins once and for all (Hebrews 10:4). The nature of the atonement inherently demands punishment of sin. Isaiah 53:10-12 presents both the suffering and the reward of the Savior. Peter wrote, “he himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.  By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). J. I. Packer eloquently described the atoning work of Christ when he wrote:

If the true measure of love is how low it stoops to help, and how much in its humility it is ready to do and bear then it may be fairly claimed that the penal substitution model embodies a richer witness to divine love than any other model of atonement, for it sees the Son at the Father’s will going lower than the other views suggest.[31]

The penal nature of the atonement is not for a lack of God’s love. Rather, it is the greatest demonstration of love God could manifest.

The physical body of Christ enabled Christ to accomplish salvation on our behalf. Christ, in his physical body, died on our behalf (Romans 8:32; 14:15; 1 Corinthians 8:11; Galatians 2:20). Christ died for our sins (Romans 5:6, 8; Galatians 1:3-4). Jesus likewise spoke of himself as the definitive, all-powerful, and foundational sacrifice. Because of the physical body and blood, Jesus said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many” as he instituted the Lord’s Supper (Mark 14:24). These words alluded to the physical sacrifice of Exodus 24:8, “And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “’Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.’” Jesus was the perfect and final physical sacrifice for sin and sinners.


There are three main views of how Christ is present in the Lord’s Supper. Those three views are the Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Reformed positions. The Roman Catholic view is transubstantiation. This view teaches that the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus when the priest says “this is my body” over the bread and wine. This view misses the symbolic statements Jesus used about himself and used concerning the Lord’s Supper (Jn. 6:41;10:9; 15:1). The Catholic view also forgets that the sacrifice of Christ was “once and for all” (Heb. 9:27) and not every time the mass is celebrated as they teach.

Lutheran and Reformed scholars differ on how the communicatio affects the presence of Christ in Lord’s Supper. The Reformed perspective teaches that the Lord has a spiritual presence in the Lord’s Supper. “His conclusion was not that the bread actually becomes the physical body of Christ, but that the physical body of Christ is present ‘in, with, and under’ the bread of the Lord’s Supper.”[32]

The Lutheran theologians continued to argue that there was a very real physical presence of the Word in Lord’s Supper. Luther argued that Christ is omnipresent his physical body is also omnipresent. “This meant that Jesus Christ, including his human nature—which in and of itself is localized in on space and not present in every space—is ubiquitous, or everywhere present, in virtue of its union with the divine nature.”[33] Luther thus taught the physical body of Christ had acquired the omnipresence of the divine nature.

These two views of the presence of Christ in the Supper are the result of different views on the nature of the communicatio. The Lutheran position Furthermore, “hyper-Antiochene (semi-Arian) and hyper-Alexandrian (semi-Docetic) Christologies can easily converge, particularly with the assistance of Hegelian sublation, in a Monophysitism that reduces the infinite to the finite simultaneously.”[34] These complex systems stem from the same misunderstanding of the distinction between the two natures. As Horton wrote, “Only by properly distinguishing without separating the two natures are we able to avoid both the Nestorian and the Monophysite ways of getting around the significance of the humanity as well as the deity of Christ.”[35]

Zwingli was in opposition to Luther’s doctrine of an omnipresent physical body. He rightly saw that Luther’s doctrine promoted a mingling of the two natures rather than maintaining the distinction between the two natures.[36] The Chalcedonian Creed rightly maintained the distinction between the two natures saying that the one person of Christ existed “in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son.”[37]

There are several problems with the Lutheran view. The Lutheran view, perhaps, began with a failure to recognize the symbolic nature of Jesus’ language. The Lutheran view holds that there is an inconsistent mixing of the natures. This goes against the Chalcedonian precision of two unmixed natures in one person. The Lutheran view also seems to limit Christ’s human nature at times. For example, their conception of the divine omnipresence affecting the human nature compromises the human nature so that it is not purely human. The Lutheran view does not recognize that the divine qualities did not permeate the human nature. The Lutheran view does not take into consideration that Jesus himself said he was going to be with the Father (Jn. 16:28; 17:11). Jesus’ body is not ubiquitously omnipresent. The glorified body of Jesus is yet at the right hand of the Father (Acts 7:55-56).

This debate helps us to recognize the importance of maintaining the distinction between the human and divine natures which existed in the singular person of Jesus. Thus, the problem centers on the mixing of the natures in the Lutheran theology.[38] The struggle between the Lutheran and Reformed views are also important because they were seen as continuations of the debates of Nestorianism and Eutychianism. Both errors are manifestations of improperly handling the two natures of Christ. The Reformed view was accused of Nestorianism and the Lutheran view was charged with holding to Eutyches. Calvin recognized the two extremes and the dangers of both. He wrote, “Away with the error of Nestorius, who in wanting to pull apart rather than distinguish the nature of Christ devised a double Christ! …. Let us beware, also, of Eutyches’ madness; lest, while meaning to show the unity of the person, we destroy either nature.[39]


The Inability of Physical Sacrifices

Hebrews 10 opens with the insufficiency of physical sacrifices to take away sin. As Bonaventure said, no “pure creature” would be able to atone for sin.[40] Atonement required the God-Man. As Anselm wrote that sin brings a debt “which no one can pay except God, and no one out to pay except man: it is, therefore, necessary that a God-Man should pay it.”[41] A pure fleshly sacrifice would not be satisfactory. A divine creature could not die. Therefore, the eternal Logos added humanity to his person in order to become the perfect sacrifice.

The sacrifices of the Old Testament era were just shadows (Heb. 10:1) of what was to come. The sacrifices were not to be the final solution. They were inadequate. They pointed to the final adequate solution of Calvary through their own inadequacies. Turretin described the shadowy nature of the Old Testament sacrifices: “They are called a “shadow” both physically … and artificially for an obscure and rude delineation of a thing, opposed to the perfect image (eikona) of a thing (in which sense it is used by the apostle, Heb. 10:1)”[42]

Hebrews 10:4 declared the inadequacies of the physical sacrifices saying, “For it was impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” Hebrews 9:9 had already pointed out that the purely physical sacrifices could not take away sin (Heb. 9:9). This problem with sin and its consequences were emphasized by the preacher of Hebrews in order to highlight the sinner’s need for the perfect sacrifice of Jesus. The conscience could only be made pure by the perfect sacrifice of Jesus (Heb. 9:13). The Old Testament sacrifices were insufficient because they were not equal to the human nature which needed atonement.

The Old Testament sacrifices paled in comparison to the sacrifice of Jesus. Only Jesus could be the perfect sacrifice because only Jesus had kept the law perfectly on behalf of the sinful world. In this way, God’s justice is upheld because sin is punished. The merciful nature of God is preserved in that Jesus, though sinless, suffered as though he was guilty on behalf of the guilty (2 Cor. 5:21). Jesus had to be the sacrifice because the sacrifice had to stand for both man and God. Finally, Jesus had to be the sacrifice because only the God-Man was of great enough intrinsic worth to secure redemption for the world.

Interestingly, many medieval theologians argued that Christ’s sacrifice was done only in his human nature and not his divine nature. Peter Lombard and other interpreted passages like 1 Timothy 2:5 to mean that the sacrifice of Christ only affected his human nature.[43] Reformed theologians argued for the sacrifice being of both natures in the one person. “Ames and Turretin argue that it is required by several biblical texts. In John 10:17–18, the mediatorial work of Christ involves his sovereign laying down of his life and taking it up again, actions that signal the operation of divine power (cf. Mt. 22:29–31; Eph. 1:20; Phil. 3:21).”[44]

The Scripture presents the involvement of both natures in the sacrifice of the one person of Jesus on the cross.[45] Most convincing are the passages which describe the sacrifice of Jesus while emphasizing his divine nature. Acts 20:28 described Jesus as the divine Lord over his church, but that church was “purchased with his own blood.” Both the human and divine natures are noted because both are present in the one person of Jesus.

Likewise, in 1 Corinthians 2:9 Paul described the ignorant actions of the rulers manifested in the crucifixion of Jesus. Given the intensely physical nature of the crucifixion, it obviously included Jesus’ human nature. But then Paul said they “crucified the Lord of glory.” The phrase “the Lord of glory” functions as a divine title.[46] As John Cassian wrote, “following the guidance of the sacred word we may now say fearlessly and unhesitatingly that the Son of man came down from heaven, and that the Lord of Glory was crucified: because in virtue of the mystery of the Incarnation, the Son of God became Son of man, and the Lord of Glory was crucified in (the nature of) the Son of man.”[47]

The Need for the Sacrifice of the God-Man

Jonathan Edwards wrote, “It was especially the work of God the Father to prepare Christ a body, as appears by Heb. 10:5.”[48] Since it was impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin, the book of Hebrews points out that there must be a better way with a better sacrifice. This sacrifice is needed for what is termed by Turretin as “God’s vindictive justice.” Vindictive justice is necessary before God, Turretin argued, because: “(1) the voice of Scripture; (2) the dictates of conscience and the consent of nations; (3) the sanction of the law with the whole Levitical priesthood; (4) our redemption through the death of Christ.”[49] Turretin then cited Exodus 34:7; Habakkuk 1:13; Psalm 5:4; Genesis 18:25; Romans 3:5-6; 1:18, 32; and 2 Thessalonians 1:6 in order to show that in order for justice to be had, punishment for sin must be handed out.

This better sacrifice must be a divine sacrifice because only the sacrifice of a divine being would be weighty enough to atone for sin.  The impossibility of Old Testament sacrifices to take away sin was described by Westcott who wrote, “the identical repetition was a sign of the powerlessness of the system. It could provide nothing fresh. And yet further, what it had once done it did again. Evidently, therefore, the effect was as inadequate as it was unalterable.”[50] The debt of sin required a greater sacrifice than humanity could provide. The sacrifice of the God-man was required for forgiveness. This is especially true for those who affirm the penal substitution theory of atonement (1 Jn. 1:29; 1 Jn. 2:2). McCormack noted that there is an inadequacy in what humanity can offer which is compensated by God’s perfect offering.[51]

This is why Jesus came into the world (Heb. 10:5).  “Coming into the world” (ἐρχόμενος εἰς τὸν κόσμον) is a common phrase found in John “where the phrase is used virtually as a title, alongside ‘Christ’ and ‘Son of God.’”[52] The phrase is used to highlight Jesus’ preincarnate eternal existence and his incarnation.[53] Jesus “came into the world” at the incarnation. The incarnation was accomplished by the eternal will of God at the appropriate time (“πλήρωμα τοῦ χρόνου” Gal. 4:4). The mystery of the incarnation was achieved by the work of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 1:18). Gabriel told Mary that Jesus was born “Son of the Most High” and “King of the Jews” (Luke 1:30-33). The angel told Joseph that his incarnation was so that “he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). Even at his birth, the incarnation, both his divine and human natures are emphasized as necessities for bringing about the purposes of God. Therefore, the doctrine of the incarnation is important for communicatio idiomatum. “Nothing was more central to Jesus’ own understanding of his mission than his priesthood, which would render him both vicar and victim.”[54]

Psalm 40:6-8 is used to highlight the ineffectiveness of purely physical sacrifices and the need for a better sacrifice. The quotation in Hebrews is part of a section giving thanks to God for his wondrous work of salvation as the believers come to worship by offering themselves as living sacrifices as it were. The words of the Psalm echo Samuel’s rebuke to Saul in 1 Samuel 15:22-23. The Hebrew text described the submissiveness and obedience which servants of God should yield to God as the “hollowing out of the ears.” This may refer to the law of ear piercing in Deuteronomy 17:14-20.

The quotation in Hebrews 10 has a conspicuous difference from the text in Psalm 40. The text in Hebrews 10 has “a body you have prepared for me” (σῶμα δὲ κατηρτίσω μοι) while the Hebrew text has “אָ֭זְנַיִם כָּרִ֣יתָ“ “you have given me an open ear” (ESV) or “ears to listen” (CSB). There are four variations in the Hebrews quotation from the Hebrew Psalm. The Hebrews variant of “body” is found in LXX B S A. Some have said that this may be an attempt of the copyists to conform the Old Testament Greek text to the New Testament quotation.[55]

Karen Hobes has effectively argued that this represents a paranomasia.[56] Hobes noted that “Therefore, it is observed that with each variation the author of Hebrews has achieved a phonetic assonance between the variant word and another element of the quotation. Furthermore, in five other misquotes, of the OT in Hebrews, similar phonetic manipulation is observed.”[57] This phonetic change was made to achieve a very specific effect or to highlight an aspect of Jesus’ work to the reader/listener. Hobes noted:

The argument of Hebrews 10 is that it was Jesus Christ’s body which was the sacrifice well pleasing to God, not the many animal sacrifices endlessly repeated. The lexical choice of σώμα δέ concurrently with the substitution of the plural form of ολοκαυτώματα achieves phonetic assonance and by this marked prominence, the one body of Christ is contrasted with the many burnt offerings with which God was not pleased. The rhetorical construction of paronomasia, therefore, reinforces the point of the argument made in Hebrews 10.


The change was made to highlight the necessity of the physical sacrifice Jesus’ body as “rhetorical ornamentation.” These variations explain why it was not possible for David to say what Christ says in the Hebrews 10 version of the quotation.”[58] Perhaps, then the author of Hebrews used Psalm 40, with phonetic adjustments which were common among ancient rhetoricians, to emphasize the body which the Word needed to be the perfect obedient sacrifice.

The quotation of Psalm 40:6-8 is either attributed directly to the preincarnate Christ by the Hebrews writer or the text is simply prophetic.[59] “Some take the psalm to be prophetic concerning the coming of Christ. Others see the pre-existent Christ speaking through the psalm. A third approach is to understand the Old Testament as now embodied in the person of Jesus.”[60]Perhaps the contrast in Hebrews 1:1 between God’s revelation in the past and God’s revelation in his Son is meant to alert the reader to the way in which some Old Testament texts will be used in the book.

The quotation from Psalm 40:6-8 highlights the need for a body to be sacrificed and the fact that Jesus had a body to sacrifice. The heresy of Docetism is thus defeated. Christ had a physical body, but that body was not his “person.” The Psalm presented the pre-incarnate Word saying, “a body you have prepared for me” (Heb. 10:5; Psalm 40:6). The person of the Word existed eternally. Yet, a physical body was necessary for sins to be taken away (cf. Heb. 10:4).  This human nature was added then to the person of the Word to fulfill God’s purposes and mankind’s needs.

The text manifests key aspects of the communicatio which are necessary for the purposes of God to be fulfilled. First, the eternal Word is present. The Son of God is aware of mankind’s need and God’s plan. The Son also freely gave himself to become the sacrifice by taking on human form. Even as the eternal Son took on human form, he did not cease to be the Son nor did he become something else. He added human nature to his divine nature in his person. Finally, all this mysterious work is accomplished so that God’s will be done (Heb. 10:7) despite human failure and inadequacies (Heb. 10:5).


This paper has discussed the character of the person of the eternal Logos at the time of the incarnation. It has been shown that the Old Testament sacrifices were inadequate for taking away sin and therefore pointed to a greater sacrifice. It has been shown that the Scriptures teach the Logos took on human form in order to become that sacrifice. It has been shown that without the sacrifice of the incarnate Lord there could be no forgiveness of sins.

The communicatio idiomatum is necessary for sins to be truly forgiven and for God’s righteous demands to be upheld. This is a great mystery. Anselm’s cautionary words, “What you are asking of me is above me, and I am afraid of treating higher things”[61] are appropriate for the discussion of the communicatio idiomatum. While we should approach the discussion with utmost reverence, the communicatio doctrine is vital for Christian study. The communicatio must be studied so that heresies may be avoided so the true work of God through Christ may be appreciated, and so that the Christian can praise God for this greatness. The salvation of the world required the human nature to be fully added to the person of the eternal Son without altering, replacing, or affecting the divine nature.

[1]Anselm “Why God Became Man” Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008): 320.

[2]Turretin offered the following: “(1) no other end of the advent of Christ and of his incarnation is ever proposed (whether in the Old or in the New Testament) than that he might save his people from sin. If he is promised, it is only after the fall (Gen. 3:15) and to bruise the head of the serpent. If he is shadowed forth, it is by sacrifices appointed for the expiation of the sins of men. This the angel clearly confirms in the New Testament (Mt. 1:21), as do Zachariah (Lk. 1:67ff.), Simeon (Lk. 2:30, 34), John the Baptist (Jn. 1:29), Christ himself (Mt. 9:13; 20:28), the apostles, Paul (Gal. 4:4, 5; 1 Tim. 1:15; Heb. 2:14) and John (1 Jn. 2:1, 2; 3:8). Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, ed. James T. Dennison Jr., trans. George Musgrave Giger, vol. 2 (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1992–1997), 300.

[3] Irenaeus of Lyons, “Irenæus Against Heresies,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 541.

[4] Augustine for example wrote: “Those then who say, What, had God no other way by which He might free men from the misery of this mortality, that He should will the only-begotten Son, God co-eternal with Himself, to become man, by putting on a human soul and flesh, and being made mortal to endure death?—these, I say, it is not enough so to refute, as to assert that that mode by which God deigns to free us through the Mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus, is good and suitable to the dignity of God; but we must show also, not indeed that no other mode was possible to God, to whose power all things are equally subject, but that there neither was nor need have been any other mode more appropriate for curing our misery. Augustine of Hippo, “On the Trinity,” in St. Augustin: On the Holy Trinity, Doctrinal Treatises, Moral Treatises, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. Arthur West Haddan, vol. 3, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 174.

[5] Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 302.

[6] Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, ed. James T. Dennison Jr., trans. George Musgrave Giger, vol. 2 (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1992–1997), 302–303.

[7] John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue, eds., Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017), 931.

[8] Stephen J. Wellum. God the Son Incarnate Foundations of Evangelical Theology. John S. Feinberg, Ed. (Wheaton: Crossway, 2016).

[9] Anselm “Why God Became Man,” 320.

[10] John M. Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord: An Introduction to Systematic Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2006), 144.

[11] John M. Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord: An Introduction to Systematic Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2006), 144.

[12] Stephen J. Wellum. God the Son Incarnate: The Doctrine of Christ. Foundations of Evangelical Theology. John S. Feinberg Gen. Editor. (Wheaton, Il.: Crossway, 2016): 324.

[13] Samuel Macauley Jackson, ed., The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge: Embracing Biblical, Historical, Doctrinal, and Practical Theology and Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Biography from the Earliest Times to the Present Day (New York; London: Funk & Wagnalls, 1908–1914), 179.

[14] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion & 2, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, vol. 1, The Library of Christian Classics (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 482.

[15] Leo the Great, “Letters,” in Leo the Great, Gregory the Great, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. Charles Lett Feltoe, vol. 12a, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1895), 93.

[16] John Cassian, “The Seven Books of John Cassian on the Incarnation of the Lord, against Nestorius,” in Sulpitius Severus, Vincent of Lérins, John Cassian, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. Edgar C. S. Gibson, vol. 11, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1894), 575.

[17] L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co., 1938), 324.

[18] George Thomas Kurian, Nelson’s New Christian Dictionary: The Authoritative Resource on the Christian World (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2001).

[19] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 1997).

[20] Geerhardus Vos, Reformed Dogmatics, ed. Richard B. Gaffin, trans. Annemie Godbehere et al., vol. 3 (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012–2016), 46.

[21] Ibid., 46.

[22] Oliver Crisp Oliver D. Crisp Divinity and Humanity. Current Studies in Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2007): 22.

[23] Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical Notes: The Greek and Latin Creeds, with Translations, vol. 2 (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1890), 63.

[24] Ibid., 63.

[25] Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical Notes: The History of Creeds, vol. 1 (New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1878), 31.

[26] J. David Stark, “Forgiveness,” ed. Douglas Mangum et al., Lexham Theological Wordbook, Lexham Bible Reference Series (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014).

[27]  Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver, and Charles Augustus Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), 497.

[28] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 474.

[29] Jonathan Edwards, The Miscellanies: (Entry Nos. 833–1152), ed. Harry S. Stout, Amy Plantinga Pauw, and Perry Miller, vol. 20, The Works of Jonathan Edwards (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2002), 164.

[30] Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, vol. 6 (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1999), 335.

[31] J. I. Packer and Mark Dever. In My Place Condemned He Stood (Wheaton: Crossway, 2007): 94.

[32] Wayne Grudem. Systematic Theology. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994): 994.

[33] Gregg R. Allison. Historical Theology: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011): 379.

[34] Michael S. Horton. Lord and Servant: A Covenant Christology (Louisville: John Knox Press, 2005): 165.

[35] Ibid., 165.

[36] Huldrych Zwingli. “Christian Answer”, in Corpus Reformatum, 92, 933-934.

[37] Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical Notes: The Greek and Latin Creeds, with Translations, vol. 2: 63.

[38] Concerning the errors manufactured by mixing of the attributes, John Calvin wrote: “It is amazing how much untutored minds—and even some not completely uneducated—are plagued by expressions of this sort, which they see applied to Christ, yet not quite appropriate either to his divinity or to his humanity. This is because they do not consider the expressions suitable either to his person, in which he was manifested as God and man or to the office of the Mediator. Yet it is utterly obvious how beautifully the various statements agree among themselves, in the hands of a sober expositor who examines such great mysteries as devoutly as they deserve.” John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion & 2, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, vol. 1, The Library of Christian Classics (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 486.

[39] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion & 2, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, vol. 1, The Library of Christian Classics (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 486–487.

[40] Bonaventure, Commentaria in quatuor libros Sententarium Magistri Petri Lombardi, in vol. 3 of Doctoris seraphici S. Bonaventurae opera omnia, ed. Fathers of the Collegium S. Bonaventurae (Quaracchi: ex Typographia Collegii S. Bonaventurae Ad Claras Aquas, 1887), III.20.1.3.

[41]Anselm “Why God Became Man” Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works, 320.

[42] Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, ed. James T. Dennison Jr., trans. George Musgrave Giger, vol. 2 (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1992–1997), 149.

[43] Stephen J. Duby. “Atonement, Impassibility and the Communicatio Operationum” International Journal of Systematic Theology (July 1, 2015):

[44] Ibid., 288.

[45] These passages would include Matt. 22:29–31; Eph. 1:20; Phil. 3:21; Acts 20:28; 1 Cor. 2:8; Heb. 9:14 and Jn. 10:17-18.

[46] The phrase is also found in James 2:1 in the ESV; ASV. However, the phrase “τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ τῆς δόξης” should likely be “glorious Lord” as in the CSB and NASBU. However, James 2:1 could still be interpreted as an ascription of divinity to the Lord Jesus through the word “δόξης.”

[47] John Cassian, “The Seven Books of John Cassian on the Incarnation of the Lord, against Nestorius,” in Sulpitius Severus, Vincent of Lérins, John Cassian, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. Edgar C. S. Gibson, vol. 11, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1894), 577.

[48] Jonathan Edwards, The Miscellanies: (Entry Nos. 833–1152), ed. Harry S. Stout, Amy Plantinga Pauw, and Perry Miller, vol. 20, The Works of Jonathan Edwards (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2002), 235.

[49] Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, ed. James T. Dennison Jr., trans. George Musgrave Giger, vol. 1 (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1992–1997), 237.

[50] Brooke Foss Westcott, ed., The Epistle to the Hebrews the Greek Text with Notes and Essays, 3d ed., Classic Commentaries on the Greek New Testament (London: Macmillan, 1903), 307.

[51] Bruce L. McCormack, ‘The Only Mediator: The Person and Work of Christ in Evangelical Perspective’, in Richard Lints, ed., Renewing the Evangelical Mission (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013), p. 264.

[52] Paul Ellingworth, The Epistle to the Hebrews: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1993), 500.

[53]John used the phrase in John 1:9; 6:14; 9:39; 12:46; 16:28; and 18:37.

[54] Michael Horton Lord and Servant, 237.

[55] George H. Guthrie “Hebrews” Commentary on the Old Testament Use of the Old Testament. G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson eds.  (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007): 977.

[56]Paranomasia is a technique used by ancient rhetoricians to create assonance in a speech or document for some effect on the recipient.

[57] Karn H. Hobes. “The Function of Paranomasia in Hebrews 10:5-7” Trinity Journal 13 no. 2. (Fall 1992): 184

[58] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 497.

[59] Old Testament texts are also attributed to the words of the Father and Son in Hebrews 1:6, 2:12-13.

[60] David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary, 495–496.

[61] Anselm, “Why God Became Man,” 266.

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