Apollinarianism was a fourth-century Christian heresy that plagued the early church and that denied the full humanity and perfection of Jesus Christ. It is named after Apollinaris the Younger, who was bishop of the Laodicean church and who originated the teaching c. AD 361. Apollinarianism was rejected in the various early church councils, including the First Council of Constantinople in 381.
Apollinarianism taught that Jesus’ two natures, human and divine, could not co-exist in the same person. According to Apollinaris, since Jesus was human, He must have sinned, and a sinful nature could not share the same body with the divine nature. To overcome this “problem” in Jesus, the Logos of God came upon Jesus, replacing His human mind or rational nature with God’s and overwhelming the sinfulness inherent in Jesus’ humanity. The Logos thus became the divine nature of Christ, as opposed to the human nature of Jesus.
Apollinaris believed that Jesus had a human body and soul, but Jesus’ mind was replaced by the Logos. He pictured Christ as a “middle ground” between God and man, just as a mule is a middle ground between a horse and a donkey or gray is a middle ground between black and white. The resulting blend of divine and human, according to Apollinarianism, was neither fully divine nor fully human.
Apollinarianism denied the biblical truth that Jesus Christ has two distinct natures (human and divine) united in one Person. We call this coming together of divinity and sinless humanity the hypostatic union. The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ is both 100 percent God and 100 percent man, the Son of God and the Son of Man, at the same time.
Apollinarianism cancels out the atonement that Christ provided for us on the cross. In His divine position as the Son of God, Jesus was able to offer a holy sacrifice acceptable to the Father; in His human position as the Son of Man, Jesus was able to die on man’s behalf. If Jesus were imperfect, He could not have been “a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:19). If Jesus were not truly human, in every sense of the word, then He could not have been a true Substitute for us. Jesus Christ, the man, is the “one mediator between God and mankind” (1 Timothy 2:5).
Apollinarianism is refuted by many passages of Scripture that teach that Jesus was truly a human being. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). “In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9). The apostle John warned the early church of heresies such as Apollinarianism: “Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world” (2 John 1:7). These deceivers, said John, were spreading the doctrine of the antichrist (verse 7; cf. 1 John 4:1–3). Apollinaris was one such deceiver, and he went to his grave clinging to his heresy.
Apollinarianism, like Docetism, which also denied the true humanity of Christ, must be rejected because it is an unbiblical view of Jesus’ nature, diminishes His holiness, and lessens the sufficiency of His atonement.