Gospel Theology (Pt. 4) – Dyothelitism

Today we continue our discussion of “Gospel Centered” theology by looking at the doctrine of dyothelitism. This is a doctrine that you have probably never heard of, so let me give you a little bit of background.

In A.D. 680, the Council of Constantinople convened. This was one of the 7 ecumenical councils of the church, that is, the 7 councils that all orthodox branches of the church (Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Protestants) recognize as authoritative and binding in some sense.  This council debated two distinct positions concerning the will of Jesus.  The Monothelities (mono = one, thelo = I will) argued that in Jesus Christ there was only one single will. The Dyothelitites (duo = two, thelo = I will) argued that Jesus Christ possessed a divine will as well as a human will. After much discussion and debate the council settled on Dyothelitism as the orthodox doctrine. This seems like a trivial discussion, but really it isn’t.

The gospel hinges upon this doctrine!

This doctrine provides us with a perfect illustration of the fact that the gospel can help to settle debates over doctrine. To understand why this is so we need to remember two key pieces of the gospel: 1) Humans owe God perfect obedience, 2) Humans are sinful and hence are incapable of offering God that which God deserves. Enter Jesus, fully God, fully man. Jesus lives the perfect life on humanity’s as humanity’s representative and substitute. He can only live that perfect life because he is God.  In order to be humanity’s representative and substitute, Jesus must offer up perfect obedience as a human. He must offer up perfect obedience flowing out of the human will, or else he has no right stand in our place. If Jesus’ perfect obedience didn’t flow out of the human will, then his perfect obedience could not count as our own obedience. Jesus also had to act out of his divine will, or else it would have been impossible for him to live out that life perfectly.

(Let me get technical for a second, skip this section if you so feel led: T.F. Torrance says that justification is twofold. On God’s side it means to judge or condemn in order to put right and it means to deem right. On humanity’s side there are also two actions that must be performed, there must be confession of God’s righteousness and there must be obedience to it. Torrance suggests that these four things are all fulfilled in Christ. In Christ humanity (in virtue of anhypostais) acknowledges its sinfulness. In Christ, God judges humanity as sinful and puts it in the right therefore revealing his own righteousness. At the same time, in Christ, humanity (enhypostasis) offers up perfect obedience and faithfulness to God. Finally in Christ, God deems humanity as being in the right. Thus Jesus is the judge and the judged in one person.)

So far we have said that in order for atonement to be made Jesus must carry out action from his humanity and from his divinity. This simple fact is why we choose dyothelitism over monothelitism. To choose monothelitism is to make Christ’s atonement ineffective. The divine will must be at work in Jesus, the human will must be at work in Jesus; to have only one will at work is to remove a part of this important gospel equation. Hence dyothelitism.


Published by cwoznicki

Chris Woznicki is an Assistant Adjunct Professor of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He works as the regional training associate for the Los Angeles region of Young Life.

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