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How Can God Have A Body?: The Heresy of Docetism | Theology Matters

  • August 2006 Issue
Practical Theology

 Features of Docetism

Comes from the Greek word “to seem”

Denies the incarnation

Fails to see the importance of Christ’s suffering

Rooted in the Gnostic belief that matter is evil

 

Timmy’s parents tried to comfort him during the fierce storm that had frightened him. “Don’t be afraid,” they said. “God is right here in the room with you.” But Timmy wasn’t consoled. “I know God is right here in the room with me,” he complained, “but I need someone with skin on.”

How important is it to believe that Jesus Christ is God “with skin on?” According to the apostle John, any claim that Jesus Christ did not come in the flesh does not come from God (1 John 4:2). John’s warning was one of the first critiques of the heresy that eventually came to be known as Docetism. The name comes from the Greek word that is translated “to seem.” A form of Gnosticism, Docestism claimed that Christ only appeared to suffer. Some Docetists claimed that Christ’s body was not real. Others taught that the spirit of Christ inhabited the human Jesus but departed from Him prior to His death.

The New Testament takes pains to make clear the true humanity of the Son of God. Jesus was a descendant of David and possessed a human nature. He was shown to be Christ the Lord through the power of the resurrection (Rom. 1:3–4). He is God in the flesh.

Why Theology Matters

In its article on Doceticsm, the New Dictionary of Theology (InterVarsity) warns that those who try to separate “the Christ of faith” from “the Jesus of history” are advocating a new kind of Docetism. Christ’s human nature was central to His redemptive work. So was His divine nature. It was necessary for the divine Christ to share our nature “so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14).

FOR FURTHER READING

Examine the evidence for the Christian claim that Jesus Christ came “in the flesh” in The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ by Gary R. Habermas (College Press).

BY Dr. John Koessler

Dr. John Koessler, who retired as professor emeritus from Moody Bible Institute, formerly served in the division of applied theology and church ministry. John and his wife Jane enjoy living in a lakeside town in Michigan. A prolific writer, John’s books include Dangerous Virtues: How to Follow Jesus When Evil Masquerades as Good (Moody Publishers), The Radical Pursuit of Rest (InterVarsity), The Surprising Grace of Disappointment (Moody), and True Discipleship (Moody). John is a contributing editor and columnist for Today in the Word.

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