During its first two centuries, the early church took special care to protect the doctrine of Christ’s nature. They rejected the idea that Jesus was merely a human teacher (known as Ebionism), or was a human on whom the Holy Spirit descended (known as Adoptionism). They also rejected the opposite doctrine that asserted Jesus possessed a divine nature but merely appeared to be human, (known as Docetism, from a Greek word meaning “to seem”).
These one-dimensional views of Christ’s nature were rejected as heresy because they did not do justice to the full scope of Christ’s nature as the Bible describes it. Jesus Christ was truly God and truly man. He was the God who existed before all things and through whom “all things were made” (John 1:3). But He was also the God who became flesh and was “born of a woman, born under the law” (John 1:14; Gal. 4:4).
The fact that Jesus was “born of a woman” means that He had a human body as well as a human nature. The only remarkable thing about the Savior’s physical birth was His conception. Jesus’ body was formed in Mary’s womb as a result of God’s direct activity. She became pregnant when the power of God “would overshadow” her (Luke 1:35; cf. Matt. 1:18). But every other aspect of His growth and development was ordinary. After His conception, Jesus went through the normal stages of fetal development until His birth. After His birth Jesus “grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52). He learned to walk and talk just as any other child does. He was subject to hunger, thirst, and weariness (John 4:6).
Why is it important that we believe that Jesus had a fully human, physical body? Scripture indicates that a real body was essential to Christ’s mission. He did not come merely to teach or even to provide an example of godly living. Jesus came to reconcile us to God and make us holy. He could only do this by “setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations” (Eph. 2:15).
Jesus shed His blood on the cross and offered His sinless, resurrected body as a sacrifice of atonement for sin (Rom. 3:25). The fact that Jesus had a human body as well as a human nature made it possible for Him to die. As a result, those who have trusted in Christ have been reconciled to God “by Christ’s physical body” and are “without blemish and free from accusation” (Col. 1:22).
For Further Study
To learn more about the doctrine of the incarnation of Christ, read Incarnation by Alister McGrath (Fortress).
By John Koessler, Chair and Professor of Pastoral Studies
John Koessler serves as chair and professor of pastoral studies at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois. He is married to Jane and has two sons, Drew and Jarred. John is the author of Folly, Grace & Power: The Mysterious Act of Preaching (Zondervan), A Stranger in the House of God (Zondervan) and served as general editor of The Moody Handbook of Preaching (Moody). John has written several other books and articles and serves as a contributing editor for Today in the Word.