Is Christ Still in the Flesh? (Part 2 of 2)

In last weeks’ post, we looked at some of the biblical data attesting to the fact that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, meaning he is still in the flesh. His incarnation, fully God and fully man, is the underpinning of our salvation. As previously mentioned, one’s eternal security depends on one’s belief in the true person of Christ. The Docetists denied his humanity; the Jehovah’s Witnesses deny his deity. However, the Jehovah’s Witnesses deny another important fact pertaining to his resurrection; they deny he was raised in the flesh. This post will focus on debunking that heresy through an examination of the key texts used to support their view.

While the Scriptures are quite clear that Christ manifested himself in the flesh (ex. John 1:14), there are some passages that can be troublesome when one tries to defend the deity of Christ and his resurrection. The Jehovah’s Witnesses deny the deity of Christ, so their rendering of the Scriptures in The New World Translation expresses that view. The reason I refer to it as a rendering, though to them it is the Bible, is because while it contains the books of the Bible, their perversion of the texts—some places adding, some places taking away, and some places changing— renders their bible as a work of man, not of God. One who knows the Scriptures can read through their bible and find text after text that is grammatically, syntactically, and contextually in error.[1]

According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, “resurrection involves a reactivating of the life pattern of the individual . . . the person is restored in either a human or a spirit body and yet retains his personal identity, having the same personality and memories as when he died.” [2] As it pertains to Christ, the JWs believe that after his death, he was raised as a “spirit creature.”[3] So, in Acts 10:40-41, which speaks about Christ being raised from the dead and that others could not see him, the JWs say it is “because he was a spirit creature . . . humans cannot see spirits.”[4] However, verse 41 tells us why all were not able to see him: because it was only those “. . . who had been chosen by God as witnesses.” The Scripture defeats their own argument from the Scriptures!

Their primary texts they use to support their view are 1 Corinthians 15:44-49 and 1 Peter 3:18. The main issue they have in their interpretation of these texts is they err in their understanding and rendering of the Greek word for spiritual, which is pneumatikos, interpreting it to mean non-material/physical.

In 1 Corinthians 15:44-49, Paul is speaking about the nature of our resurrection, contrasting the earthly form we have in Adam and the spiritual (heavenly) form will we have in Christ. He writes,

44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.

Now, in looking at these verses, it appears that Paul might be making a contrast between physical and non-physical; however, something immaterial cannot be considered as having a body. One of the foundations of Christian theology is that God is Spirit (John 4:24), so he does not have a body. So what then does Paul mean when he speaks of a spiritual body? Is it a physical or non-physical body?

In his authoritative work on the Resurrection, N. T. Wright addresses this semantic issue brought about by the influence of platonic philosophical views regarding the physical and non-physical that have been employed in Pauline studies today. He writes, “within the post-Plato world there was no concept of non-physicality such as many post-Enlightenment thinkers have read into Paul at this point.”[5] It is because of the influence of Platonic metaphysics and the language used to describe such concepts that many within Christianity and other biblical religions [6] hold to an improper understanding of spiritual as it pertains to resurrection theology.[7] Regarding the contrast between non-physical and physical and the words employed to express the distinctions between the two, N.T. Wright notes,

“Had Paul wanted in any way to produce the kind of contrast suggested to a modern reader by ‘physical’ and ‘spiritual’, . . . pneumatikos would have been an unhelpful word to have for the latter idea, but . . . if Paul had wanted to find a word for ‘non-physical’, psychikos (which could literally be translated as ‘soulish’) would have itself been a possible option.[8]

Furthermore, since we are promised that our bodies will be like his, which is a material body according to the Scriptures (Phil. 3:21), then spiritual must surely mean something material. In using Scripture-to-interpret-Scripture, we will look at another use of this word in 1 Corinthians 10 to help us see what spiritual means.

Paul writes:

1For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ (1 Corinthians 10:1-4).

In looking at this, we see that during the Exodus Israel ate and drank spiritual food and drink. So are we to think that the food and drink God provided was immaterial? Psalm 105:40-41, one of the supporting verses for 1 Corinthians 10:3-says, “he brought quail, and gave them bread from heaven in abundance. He opened the rock, and water gushed out.”

One can see that Paul does not mean they were given non-material food or “soulish” food. Rather, the food and drink given were from the Spirit. It was a supernatural food—a food that originated from the heavens, created by God, which sustained the physical nature of the Jews. It was supernatural because the Spirit animated it. Spiritual is not immaterial, and if Christ demonstrated in the gospels that he had a body, eating and drinking, then he could not have been a spirit-creature; otherwise, Jesus would be a liar when he wanted them to see that he had a physical body like they did. He was given a glorious body; a body that we too will have in the resurrection that is supernatural, not immaterial. 1 Corinthians 15:47 further supports this understanding: “The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven.” As the manna was spiritual food from heaven, the second man, Christ (and eventually all of us) is the spiritual— supernatural—man from heaven.

The next verse they use to supports their position is 1 Peter 3:18: “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.” They understand this verse to mean that Jesus was “brought forth with a spirit body.”[9]

One of my pastors just recently preached on this text, providing a grammatically, syntactically, and contextually clear understanding of Peter’s intent, which, as it should, falls inline with what Paul was speaking about in 1 Corinthians 15. There are varying views and opinions on what this verse means, particularly because of the dative singular noun πνεύματι, which many versions translate as “by the Spirit,” for a dative case noun means that it is the direct object of the verb. However, as he points out,

. . . it does not grammatically work. If you notice, [he is comparing the ESV to another version that use ‘by’] I had to change the word “in” to “by.” Are we allowed to do this in the Greek? Sometimes, but most likely not here. The clauses “put to death in the flesh” and “but made alive in the spirit,” are exact parallels to each other. They both begin with the exact same kind of participle (which is a verbal noun) and they both end with the exact same kind of dative noun. What accentuates this even more so is it has the μεν δε construction. I have mentioned this before. This construction in the Greek has the word μεν in the first clause, and it means, “On the one hand.” The second clause has δε, which means, “but on the other hand.” This is used when parallel contrast is being made. So it should be read, “On the one hand He was put to death in the flesh, but on the other hand He was made alive in the spirit.” With that being said, the text must be grammatically read just as ESV translates it here. So we must understand it as spirit with a little “s.” So thus far, we have determined that it cannot be in reference to Christ’s human soul, because that soul was already alive. We have also determined that it is not talking about the Holy Spirit. So what other option is there?[10]

Peter, like Paul, is contrasting between the earthly and the heavenly life. If Peter were contrasting physical and non-physical, as already mentioned regarding Paul, he could have used the word psychikos to differentiate or “the words σωμα and ψυχη instead of his chosen words of σαρχ and πνευμα.”[11] Peter’s emphasis here is on the limitations one has in the flesh; “the flesh refers to the human sphere of limitations and suffering, whereas spirit refers to the sphere of power, vindication, and new life.”[12] Remember, he is writing to encourage and provide hope to suffering sheep, so Peter is not trying to give them a lecture on metaphysics, he is trying to help them push on and endure to the resurrected, victorious life that awaits them in Christ. However, as it pertains to Christ, Peter is speaking of the two modes of his life—his earthly (death in the flesh) and his heavenly (made alive in the spirit). When we think about what it means to redeem something as we have been redeemed in Christ, the redeemed item is restored, not ontologically changed. One of the first things Christ did to demonstrate he had a physical body, was he ate with his disciples. And Thomas put his fingers in the holes left from the nails. He showed them, though his body is scarred from the world, it is no longer impervious to the elements that exist in the world. And our bodies will be like his body; they are no longer natural—rather, they are supernatural.

So, is it possible that this reading of the Scripture (what the JWs believe and teach) is accurate? Is Christ a spirit creature? Well, I believe the context of the passages we have examined demonstrates that the use of the word pneumatikos was intended to mean spiritual in a supernatural sense, not immaterial, as the Jehovah’s Witnesses have understood it. All of the support verses in the first post and those we have reviewed in this one clearly demonstrate that Christ came and still is in the flesh.

—Romans 11:36
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1. As an example, the quintessential verse giving us the clearest expression of the deity of Christ, John 1:1 (“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”), is rendered in The New World Translation as, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was a god” (italics mine). In the Greek, there is no warrant for inserting an indefinite article in this verse, for there is only an article in the Greek; the terms definite and indefinite are unnecessary because the context and many other situations establish whether the article is definite or not. The Greek use of the article has a much wider range and purpose than how we use it in the English language.
In John 1:1, the grammatical forms and structure of this verse is intended to signify a distinction in persons between God the Father and Christ the Word yet expressing the shared divine essence between them. Furthermore, if John truly intended to make the claim in the manner in which the Jehovah’s Witnesses have rendered it, then it would make John a polytheist—a heretic. The Jehovah’s Witnesses have constructed a straw-house out of proof-texts and grammatical jargon in order to support their rendering, in which those who are un-learned in the Scriptures might see as a fortress that cannot be knocked down. However, the translators of the Watchtower Society (the formal name of the religion) do not have any background in the biblical languages; therefore, they have no credibility in making claims pertaining to what the Greek or the Hebrew may or may not say.
2. Watch Tower, Reasoning From the Scriptures (Brooklyn, NY: Watchtower, 1989), 334.
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid.
5. N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 350, n.114 .
6. I don’t mean these religions are orthodox; rather, they are man-made religions that employ the Bible as its spiritual and authoritative (and among others) source.
7. Ultimately it is a dualistic perspective, distinct to Greek philosophy that has been employed in modern thinking. What Wright demonstrates in his work (a mammoth 817 pages!) is that the Jewish perspective, carrying over into Judeo-Christian theology, is that the Messiah was expected to raise from the dead in the flesh. The eschatological view of the final resurrection for Israel is grounded in the coming Messiah. When he comes to lift Israel out from under Greek oppression and establishes his kingdom, peace will be restored and God’s covenant family, those who are asleep and awake, will be resurrected to finally make their home in the land flowing with milk and honey (Genesis 17:7; Leviticus 26:42; Psalm 132; Joel 3:18; Zephaniah 3:8; Zechariah 2:11). So, if one claiming to be the Messiah came, died, and rose as a spirit, then he was not truly the Messiah. Wright’s work is highly recommended and is considered one of the best works on the Resurrection par excellence.
8. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, 351.
9. Ibid., p. 334. What is truly ironic here is that one of the charges the Jehovah’s Witnesses make against orthodox Trinitarian theology is that our doctrines are steeped in man-made Greek philosophy. Pretty funny! However, they are the ones who have adopted Greek philosophy and have imported it into their interpretive presuppositions.
10. Stephen Feinstein, “1 Peter 3:18-22 ; Christ’s Victorious Suffering,” (sermon, Sovereign Way Christian Church, Hesperia, CA., September 21, 2014)
11. Ibid.
12. Ibid.

Is Christ Still in the Flesh? (Part 1 of 2)

In the beginning years of the Christian faith, a heretical teaching known as Docetism (Gk. dokein, “to seem”) weaved its way through the church. This heresy asserted that Jesus only seemed to appear in the flesh and only appeared to suffer and die as a man. Those that held and promoted this heresy did so because a true incarnation, God becoming flesh, seemed incomprehensible. Though the “mystery of godliness” (1 Tim. 3:16) in the union of God and Man is indeed an enigma, the Scriptures clearly teach that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man. The nature of Christ as the God-man is one of the fundamental doctrines of our faith, for without this uniting of God and man, there would have been no uniting between God and fallen man. This docetic heresy compromised the integrity of the gospel, for the redemption of humanity hinges on the necessity of Christ’s divine nature and human nature.

There are those who deny his humanity, like the Docetists just mentioned.[1] And there are those who deny his deity, beginning with the Arians of the 3rd-4th centuries (referred to as Arianism), which, through the perseverance of Athanasius in keeping the sound doctrine and guarding the deposit (2 Tim. 1:14), it was for the most part eradicated as a contending theology of a virulent influence to orthodox Christianity. However, a modified form of Arianism emerged in the late 1800’s in the teachings of Charles Taze Russell, who founded the cult known today as the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

In my previous post, I addressed an important element of what the atonement does for us and what all other religious systems, ultimately, end up working to undo: the purifying and sanctifying of our minds and souls, so that we are righteous in God’s sight. It is through his work on the cross that we can now do any good works for God. Those who bypass the cross, carrying their own offering to the Lord, will never be granted a righteousness based on what they do—ever. For God only sees filthy rags being brought to his throne (Isa. 64:6).

The humanity of Christ is crucial for our salvation. If God did not become fully man, then he could not be our representative; likewise, if he was not fully God, then he could not bear the sin guilt of the many, nor could he forgive man for his transgression, for only God can forgive sins (Mk. 2:7). Nowhere does it make sense for a third-party member to come and grant forgiveness to the guilty party when he was not the offended party (cf. Ps. 51:4). Furthermore, the Scriptures tell us “no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice” (Ps. 49:7-9). Only a life of eternal value could ransom the lives of finite value.

The Docetists denied the humanity of Christ; the Jehovah’s Witnesses deny his deity. Furthermore, Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t believe he was raised from the dead in a physical body; rather, he was raised a “spirit creature.” Based on Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 15: 46-50, they posit that Christ’s body could not have gone to heaven because “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (v.50), and because Christ’s “natural body” died and his resurrected body is a “spiritual body” (v.44), then it cannot be a physical, material body.

Is it possible that this reading of Scripture is accurate? Is Christ a spirit creature? Well, as I said earlier, the humanity of Christ is essential to our salvation, and we are promised that our bodies will be like his, which is a material body according to the Scriptures (Phil. 3:21). So, in the next blog post I will examine these passages and some others, looking at their context within the New Testament, ultimately demonstrating that the Jehovah’s Witnesses hold an unbiblical view of the resurrected Christ.

As it pertains to the teachings of Docetism, in the Scriptures there are many passages that clearly demonstrate that Christ came, lived, died, and still is in the flesh:

· He had a human mother (Matthew 1:23).

· He had human prenatal development (Luke 1:42-44; 2:5-7).

· He had a human childhood (Luke 2:21-22; 51-52).

· He grew physically and learned as any other child (Luke 2:52).

· He had a human adulthood in which (a) he got hungry (Matthew 4:2), (b) thirst (John 2:2; Luke  7:34, 36), (e) was tempted by the devil to sin (Matthew 4:1; Hebrews 4:15), (f) got wearied and was  tired (John 4:6), (g) cried over a friend’s death (John 11:35).

· He had human relatives, including a legal father, an actual mother, brothers, and sisters (Matthew 1:24; Mark 6:3).

· He had a human occupation as a carpenter (Mark 6:3).

· He had human friends, such as Mary, Martha, and Lazarus (John 11:5).

· He had human emotions, including anger (Luke 19:45-46) and weeping (John 11:33, 35).

· He suffered a human death (John 19:28-34).[2]

And then after his resurrection:

One of the clearest affirmations of his bodily resurrection is when Jesus revealed himself to Thomas at the end of John’s Gospel (John 20:24-28):

Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

His disciples saw him for forty days in that manner (Acts 1:3), and then he ascended to heaven, in which the angels said to the men watching him ascend, he “. . . will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).

In the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7:54-56, Luke writes,

Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

(See further: Mark 16:19; Acts 7:55, 56; Rom. 8:34; Eph. 1:20; Col. 3:1; Heb. 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Pet. 3:22; Rev. 3:21; See Matt. 22:44; Acts 2:33)

Furthermore, Paul, who speaking of the risen Christ, writes in Colossians 2:9 that “in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” So, he has a physical body in which his “deity dwells.”

And, finally in 1 John 4:2-3, the author makes a clear, doctrinal stance against the false teaching of Docetism mentioned earlier. He writes, “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God” (emphasis added.) John did not say that Jesus Christ ‘came’ in the flesh; rather, he has come, which is a perfect active participle, implying that Christ is still in the flesh, not a past tense event.

Our Lord came into his creation as one of us, lived like us, and died—though not like us—to be then raised up from the grave demonstrating that he is Lord and King. And when Christ ascended into heaven, it was the first time a man entered the Gates of Glory. The Psalmist writes,

Lift up your heads, O gates!

And be lifted up, O ancient doors,

that the King of glory may come in.

Who is this King of glory?

The Lord, strong and mighty,

the Lord, mighty in battle!

Lift up your heads, O gates!

And lift them up, O ancient doors,

that the King of glory may come in.

Who is this King of glory?

The Lord of hosts,

he is the King of glory! Selah (24:7-10)

—Romans 11:36
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1. This group and the various heretical christologies that stem from this theological perspective for the most part exist in a fossilized form, only generally being surveyed in systematic or historical theology classrooms and texts.
2. Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology: In One Volume (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2011, pp. 1507-08.

 

A Moment of Trinitarian Truth

Outsiders have attacked the doctrine of the Trinity, the central, all-encompassing doctrine of our Faith for centuries, positing that its origins are un-biblical. Unitarians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Oneness Pentecostals, and even liberals calling themselves Christians advocate that the doctrine of the Trinity arose due to the profound influence of Greek Philosophy, also referred to as Hellenization, in the Christian church since the time of the second century. Nowhere, they say, can the doctrine of the Trinity be found in the pages of Scripture. The Trinity, though indeed a mystery, is not a contradiction. There is no contradiction in a belief of a divine essence shared by three co-equal, co-eternal persons. Again, it is truly a mind-boggling mystery, but it is not a contradiction. Now, if a person follows the line of thinking by those who don’t believe in the Trinity, then yes, they will see that it is a contradiction. Those who have been shaped by a theology rooted in the wisdom of man, as those cults are, will only see a tainted and marred picture of the beautiful doctrine that we Christians cherish.

The world is a reflection of the Trinity. It is because of the Trinity that we understand and know that the most treasured aspect of life for human beings—personal relationships—are only that way because of the Trinity. The Trinity reveals to us that God is love (1 John 4:8). And that love is reflected in the relationship between the Father, Son, and Spirit. God can only be love if there is a personal relationship to demonstrate love through. We know that God is not contingent on anything outside of himself, so he did not need man to demonstrate love in order to be love. The Trinity is the means for God to be love, not contingent on anything outside of the Godhead. And love is shared between the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. Love, the love deeply rooted that we yearn for and is in us, requires a Triune origin.

The Trinity, Broughton Knox says, is “other-person-centered.” He continues, “Eastern religions popular in the Western world today have the same concept of reality. Their followers are invited to ‘mediate on yourself, worship yourself, repeat the mantra going on within you; God dwells within as you.’ The doctrine of the Trinity contradicts and corrects these modern thoughts and attitudes. It teaches that reality seeks the welfare of the other person. Reality is good, it does not serve itself but serves others. And since this is ultimate reality, any philosophy of life or any social theory which contradicts this reality will certainly be running into the shadows” (The Everlasting God, pp. 62-63).

I so often encourage my brothers and sisters in Christ to be reading the pages of Scripture with Trinitarian lenses, looking at the different roles of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit in God’s plan of redemption. Now, while there are plenty of stand-alone texts speaking of the deity of Christ and the Spirit, I truly enjoy the moments when God reveals to me texts that I have not seen before, revealing and strengthening the truth that the Trinity is a doctrine directly and only from Scripture. I am indebted to Broughton Knox for this ‘moment of Trinitarian truth’ in which he points to three verses from three different Gospels in which each author records the inerrant word of Christ speaking about the future persecution Christians will face.

Matthew writes, “For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (10:20).

Mark writes, “ And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit” (13:11).

Luke writes, “ for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict” (21:15).

What do we see in these texts? We see that in the future time of persecution, the Spirit of the Father, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus will speak words of wisdom through God’s children in their time of persecution. The writers of Scripture, recording the words of Jesus, are all attributing the same action to each person of the Trinity. Up to this moment, I had not made the correlation yet. Some of you may have already made these connections, but for me it was a new refreshing, invigorating moment to see another testimony in Scripture of the unified yet distinct work of our Triune God.

Praise be to God—Father, Son, and Spirit—the blessed Trinity.

—Romans 11:36