November 10, 2022

Does Jesus Have One Will or Two?

Nathan W. Bingham & W. Robert Godfrey
Does Jesus Have One Will or Two?

The question of whether Jesus has one will or two is closely related to a similar question about the natures of Christ. Today on the Ask Ligonier podcast, listen as W. Robert Godfrey warns against straying from Scripture’s response to these queries.


NATHAN W. BINGHAM: Joining me this week on the Ask Ligonier podcast is Ligonier Teaching Fellow Dr. W. Robert Godfrey. Dr. Godfrey, does Jesus have one will, or separate wills—one divine, and one human?

DR. W. ROBERT. GODFREY: Well, Nathan, I love that question. I used to ask that question in class when I taught on this subject in church history. And before I lectured on the way in which the church came to a resolution of this question, I used to ask students, “Do you think Jesus had one will or two wills?” Almost invariably, the majority of the class would vote that He had one will. That enabled me to smile and say that they were all heretics and had fallen into the dreadful error of Monothelitism and that they needed to repent, which made me feel very smug.

It’s a curious question, and it really rests on the matter of is the will a function of the person or a function of the natures of Christ? I think it is understandable that we tend to have the thought, “Well, Christ is one person, therefore He must have one will.” But the way the church has thought about this—and I think correctly thought about it—is that if Jesus only had one will, then it must be the divine will, because He had a divine will before the incarnation. If He only has one will, then He doesn’t have a human will. And if He doesn’t have a human will, does He have a full human nature? I think that’s a fair question and a correct way to approach this problem. Isn’t a human will an essential element of a human nature? And if Jesus didn’t have a human will, could He really have been tempted in the fullness of His humanity? Hebrews tells us very clearly that Jesus was tempted in all ways as we are, yet without sin. And that temptation would’ve been significantly different if only the divine will of Jesus had been tempted and not the human will.

I understand why we have a kind of instinctive reaction—well, if Jesus has two wills, might they have ever been in conflict? Might the human will have willed one thing, and the divine will another? I think the church was right in analyzing that to say “no,” since each will is operated by the person, there can never be a conflict between the two wills. The two wills will always be in harmony. And yet each of the natures would be incomplete if each nature didn’t have its own full and complete divine will and human will. I really do think it’s helpful to realize that Jesus experienced a full and complete humanity. That’s why Dyothelitism is the orthodox position that all of those hearing us should embrace enthusiastically.

I think that point is reinforced by realizing that the doctrine of Monothelitism was really developed historically in the life of the church to try to reconcile Monophysites to the orthodox church. There had developed this heresy in the life of the church, and it had come to dominate in certain places like the Egyptian church, for example, that taught that Christ did not have two natures, but only had one nature. And that one nature was conceived of sometimes as a kind of fusion of the divine and human natures. The church rightly said this is very dangerous, for then Christ in some ways is neither fully human nor perhaps fully divine. So, the Chalcedonian decision in 451 that Christ is one person with two natures is an important orthodox teaching. I think the church did realize that in some ways that was being compromised by the efforts of the Monothelites to bring the Monophysites back into the church. The motive may have been good, but the theology was not good.

Just as a little footnote, we might note that many people have taught that the pope actually seems to have embraced and taught Monothelitism at one time. Protestants, but even some older Roman Catholics, argued that this was evidence that the Roman Catholic Church should not embrace the doctrine of papal infallibility, because Pope Honorius’ commitment to Monothelitism seems to prove that the pope had once failed in his duty to teach orthodoxy.