What is Neo-Apollinarianism?

Neo-Apollinarianism is a relatively new model of the incarnation championed by William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland. Briefly, Neo-Apollinarianism is a model of Jesus’ incarnation which teaches that a restricted version of the eternal Logos inhabited the body created in Mary’s womb to supply the “human” mind to the body. In this way, Jesus could be said to be both human and divine. As a new hypothesis, it has not received a great deal of academic attention. It has been most popularly proposed and defended by Craig and Moreland in their book Philosophical Foundations of a Christian Worldview and by Craig alone in his Defender’s Podcast, Reasonable Faith website, and other interviews. 

It is difficult, if not impossible, for creatures to understand how Jesus can be truly God and truly man. The incarnation and hypostatic union are a mystery. The difficulties associated with understanding the incarnation led Apollinarians and Neo-Apollinarians to reject the true fullness of both natures. Instead of a full human or full deity, both Apollinarianism and Neo-Apollinarianism suggest that both natures are present in part. These divine parts and human parts come together and form one person. 

Moreland and Craig noted the difficult assertion of two full natures in one person was one of the facts which led to their Neo-Apollinarian model.[1] They wrote, 

But if anything appears to be a contradiction, surely this is it! How can Jesus be both God and man, infinite and finite, Creator and creature? How can we unite in a single person both omniscience and ignorance, omnipotence and weakness, moral perfection, and moral perfectibility? The attributes of deity seem to drive out the attributes of humanity, so that it seems logically inconsistent to affirm with the historic Christian church that Jesus is truly God and truly man (vere Deus/vere homo).[2]

Loke noted “the main reason for the continual unease with Dyothelitism is that its proponents have yet to provide a satisfactory account of how Christ could have two wills yet remained one person.”[3] This is a difficult area and perhaps one that will remain a mystery. However, Bathrellos offered an interesting theory of how this union of two wills may function in one person. He wrote, “We are endowed with a self-determining human will, a self-determining human power of willing, by virtue of which we are able to will in a self-determining manner. It is we as willers who actualize our self-determining power of willing in willing certain things….The incarnate Logos possesses a self-determining human will in virtue of which he is able to will as man in a self-determining way, and thus to actualize the self-determining power of his human will.”[4] In summary, there were two wills present in Christ, but Christ was the singular determiner.

            The “Tome of Leo” is perhaps helpful here as well. Leo affirmed the two natures of Christ[5] and that the two natures were complete at the incarnation. Leo wrote, “Thus in the whole and perfect nature of true man was true God born, complete in what was His own, complete in what was ours. And by ‘ours’ we mean what the Creator formed in us from the beginning and what He undertook to repair.”[6] By “what was ours,” Leo described everything which is present in humanity and corrupted by sin. Surely, this would include the human mind. Leo denied the occurrence of any change in the divine Logos and affirmed the full humanity of Christ. He said, “both natures retain their own proper character without loss: and as the form of God did not do away with the form of a slave, so the form of a slave did not impair the form of God.”[7] Leo then described the operation of both natures in the one person of Christ. He wrote, “For each form does what is proper to it with the co-operation of the other; that is the Word performing what appertains to the Word, and the flesh carrying out what appertains to the flesh.”[8] Some accused Leo of Nestorianism, but he remained true to the two natures being joined in one person. His statement emphasized the two natures rather than two persons. Leo helps the reader to see both natures were operating in harmony and the one sacred Person remained the determiner of the two wills.  

Neo-Apollinarianism then assumes the divine and human mind could not be joined in the one person of Christ. Instead, they teach the traditional view of the incarnation would result in two persons rather than one. Craig and Moreland are right to deny the two persons of Nestorianism, but Chalcedonian Christology was not Nestorianism. Chalcedon rejected Nestorianism as it described Christ as “One and the same Son” and “One and the same Christ” and “concurring in one Person and one hypostasis.” Moreland and Craig wrote, “Apollinarianism achieved a genuine incarnation that, given anthropological dualism, is no more inherently implausible than the soul’s union with the body.”[9] Neo-Apollinarians thus deny the human mind of Christ to affirm the “one person” aspect of the incarnation. 

 Apollinarianism holds the Logos is the rational soul of Jesus and there is no human mind or soul. Moreland and Craig write, “We postulate with Apollinarius that the Logos was the rational soul of Jesus of Nazareth.”[10] The Neo-Apollinarian view holds Jesus did not have a human mind or soul at the incarnation. Instead, the eternal Logos, in a limited form, inhabited the truly human body. The Logos, Neo-Apollinarians maintains, provided the human rationality to the flesh of Christ to complete one true person being both human and divine. 

Since Moreland and Craig affirm they follow Apollinarius in their model, it is appropriate to note the similarities between the two models and the difficulties common to both.[11] Apollinarius, as he attempted to describe his view of the incarnation, wrote, “The ordinary man is ensouled and lives by the will of the flesh.”[12] This seems to be the same model put forward by Craig and Moreland. The body of Christ was created, but the mind of Christ was the uncreated, yet self-limited, Logos.

            Moreland and Craig recognized the Logos is superior to the human mind. To resolve this apparent difficulty, they maintained the Logos’ divine attributes were limited in such a way that the incarnate Lord could function as a human. Moreland and Craig wrote, “the Logos allowed only those facets of his person to be part of Christ’s waking consciousness which were compatible with typical human experience, while the bulk of his knowledge and other cognitive perfections, like an iceberg beneath the water’s surface, lay submerged in his subconscious.”[13] How the infinite Logos can be “limited” is not described, but a soft kenoticism must be assumed if the deity is to be limited. 

Moreland and Craig noted that Apollinarianism failed because it did not maintain the human mind of Christ. They noted two major problems with Apollinarianism are “a body without a mind is a truncation of the human nature” and “if Christ did not have a human mind, then he did not redeem the human mind.”[14] They believe they have resolved both these problems with the limited Logos. In this way, the Logos only supplied the human properties of rationality and will to the human flesh. Moreland and Craig wrote, “In affirming that the incarnate Christ had two natures, the church fathers were stating that Christ exemplified all the properties that constitute humanity and all the properties that make up deity. In that sense, he had two natures and so belonged to two natural kinds, man and God.”[15] Craig and Moreland did not discuss the gap between the divine and human mind. The “property” of rationality and the “property” of will suffice to make the mind of Christ “human.” 

            To summarize, Neo-Apollinarianism presents a model of the incarnation in which a limited version of the Logos is clothed with or takes up residence in the human body of Jesus. This Neo-Apollinarian version of the Logos relegates the supernatural aspects of the Logos to a “divine subconscious” which only appears at certain times. This mixture of the rational Logos and the human flesh provides, according to Neo-Apollinarianism, one person who is truly God and truly man. The question remains as to whether this model provides a true human nature or a true divine nature. Perhaps, instead of a union of the divine and human natures, Neo-Apollinarianism presents a third type of being which is neither truly human or truly divine. Instead, Neo-Apollinarianism presents some type of demigod which is neither human or divine. 

This model of the incarnation remains dangerous in several areas. First, Neo-Apollinarianism puts the doctrine of God into question. Neo-Apollinarianism risks bringing God down to the level of creature rather than infinite Creator. Neo-Apollinarianism also calls into question the sacrificial death of Jesus. Anselm highlighted the necessity of the incarnation to supply the sacrifice valuable enough to cleanse the sins of God’s people in Curs Deus Homo. If The fullness of God was not present at the cross, the entire doctrine of atonement must also be revised or caste aside. Neo-Apollinarianism also negates the true humanity of Christ and calls his representative work and High Priesthood into question. If Jesus was not truly man, he could not truly be the second Adam.


[1] The question of how two natures can exist in one person was also one the major reasons why Apollinarius’ doctrine was formed.  

[2] J. P. Moreland and Willian Lane Craig. Philosophical Foundations, 597.  

[3] Andrew Ter Ern Loke, “On Dyothelitism Versus Monothelitism: The Divine Preconscious Model” The Heythrope Journal. LVII (2016), 136.

[4] Demetrios Bathrellos, The Byzantine Christ: Person, Nature, and Will in the Christology of Maximus the Confessor. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 126.  

[5] “And this nativity which took place in time took nothing from, and added nothing to that divine and eternal birth, but expended itself wholly on the restoration of man who had been deceived.” 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), 39.

[6] Leo the Great, “Tome of Leo” in Leo the Great, Gregory the Great, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. Charles Lett Feltoe, vol. 12a, 40.

[7] Leo the Great, “Tome of Leo” in Leo the Great, Gregory the Great, 40.

[8] 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), 40.

[9] J. P. Moreland and Willian Lane Craig. Philosophical Foundations, 599.  

[10] J. P. Moreland and Willian Lane Craig. Philosophical Foundations, 608. This affirmation gives rise to several questions. If the Logos is the “rational soul of Jesus,” then how is he made like his brethren in every respect (Heb 2:17)? If the Logos is true divine nature, then how can the Logos be or supply the human nature to the incarnation? If the Logos is a human nature, then it cannot be a divine nature? If the Logos supplies the human nature for Jesus, then how was Jesus tempted since God cannot be tempted? If the Logos supplies the human nature of Jesus, then one is still left with difficulties explaining both the human and divine actions of the incarnate Jesus. 

[11] Moreland and Craig did note that that Apollinarianism “was inadequate as it stood” (Philosophical Foundations, 611). However, the revisions to Apollinarianism are concerned with the nature of the Logos’ and the limiting of his divine nature. The basic premise that the Logos supplied a body with rationality is the same in Apollinarianism and Neo-Apollinarianism. The difference lies in the limited nature of the Logos in Neo-Apollinarianism. 

[12] Apollinarius, “On the Union in Christ of the Body with the Godhead.” Richard A. Norris, ed. Christological Controversy. Sources of Early Christian Thought, 81.

[13] J. P. Moreland and Willian Lane Craig. Philosophical Foundations, 611.

[14] J. P. Moreland and Willian Lane Craig. Philosophical Foundations, 599. 

[15] J. P. Moreland and Willian Lane Craig. Philosophical Foundations, 606.  

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