Does The Believer Have One Nature Or Two? -- By: William W. Combs

Journal: Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal
Volume: DBSJ 002:1 (Fall 1997)
Article: Does The Believer Have One Nature Or Two?
Author: William W. Combs


Does The Believer Have One Nature Or Two?

William W. Combs*

* Dr. Combs is Academic Dean and Professor of New Testament at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary in Allen Park, MI.

In recent times the popular radio preacher and author, John MacArthur, has attacked the idea of two natures in the believer. He says at one point: “If you are a Christian, it’s a serious misunderstanding to think of yourself as having both an old and new nature. We do not have a dual personality!”1 Similar attacks have come from a number of others. J. I. Packer says: “A widespread but misleading line of teaching tells us that Christians have two natures: an old one and a new one.”2 John Gerstner labels the two-nature viewpoint “Antinomianism.”3 Are these attacks justified? Is it unbiblical to speak of two natures within the believer? This essay purposes to tackle the issue.

I should begin by stating that I do think there is a sense in which the believer can properly be said to have two natures, and yet there is also a sense in which the believer can properly be said to have one nature. Whether the believer can more correctly be described as having one nature or two is partly a matter of semantics—a difference in the usage of the term nature. Those who insist that a believer has only one nature are using the term nature differently from the two-nature proponents. But, as I will demonstrate, more important than the issue of the semantics of one or two-nature terminology, there lies below the surface of this debate a serious disagreement regarding the character of regeneration and sanctification within the believer. Those who argue against two natures in the believer usually do so because they view most of the two-nature proponents as having a defective understanding of these two doctrines,

which is merely reflected in their two-nature terminology. Thus, it is important to note at the outset that the debate between one or two natures has both semantic and substantive elements of disagreement. Both of these areas will now be explored.

Meaning Of Nature

We might begin our discussion by looking at the word nature. It is important to note that the meaning of the term nature as it is used in the debate over one or two natures in the believer is primarily a theological issue, not one of scriptural usage. Thus we observe that neither the kjv nor the nasb, for instance, ever use the terms old nature,...

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