Could Christ Have Sinned?

We do a theology class for our congregation twice per month. We meet in the evenings for 90 minutes and discuss a few questions from the assigned reading. We use Grudem’s systematic theology. I’d prefer Erickson, but Grudem’s format is more user-friendly. This coming week, we’re discussing this question:

  • Do YOU think it is possible for Jesus to ever sin? If it isn’t possible, then how can Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-10 be true?

These are my preliminary reflections as I prepare for the class. They are not fully formed, but they point where I’m headed. To answer this question coherently, you need to competently pull together several strands of orthodox Christology. In short, this is a tough question.

First things first

We must understand two things up-front:

  1. Jesus never sinned
  2. Father, Son and Spirit decided that the incarnate Messiah would be a perfect representative man, so it is certain that He would not sin

But, if Jesus didn’t sin, can He really understand us? And if Jesus couldn’t have sinned, then isn’t the incarnation a farce?

Definitions

  1. Sin: an unholy thought (Ex 20:17; Mt 5:27-30) or action (“lawlessness,” 1 Jn 3:4).
  2. Temptation: an enticement, push or nudge to sin.1
  3. Nature: the constellation of attributes and capacities that give shape to a person; including will, mind, emotion, volition.2
  4. Person: the owner, possessor or master of a nature – the active subject of a nature. It’s the vehicle that owns and actuates a nature. 3

Two nature Christology

Jesus has eternally existed as a divine person with a divine nature. In the incarnation, Jesus added a human nature to His divine nature. So, He now eternally exists as one divine person with two natures; divine and human.

But, Jesus’ temptations aren’t like ours because His human nature is not like ours. Adam and Eve broke the mold, and our natures reflect this brokenness. However, Jesus’ human nature is like Adam and Eve’s original nature – morally neutral. This means temptation strikes us differently than it did Jesus; we’re tempted from within and Jesus was tempted from without.

This means Jesus exercised more strength and fortitude, as our representative, to withstand the temptation. A champion weightlifter understands the crushing weight of the barbell more than the man who can’t lift anything.4 So, Jesus understands temptation better than we do, because he triumphed over it while we succumb to it.

Because Jesus had a real human nature, like the original Adam and Eve, this seems to mean Jesus’ human nature is theoretically able to sin because Adam and Eve were able to sin, too. Also, Adam and Jesus are two parallel representatives for humanity, so one would expect a correspondence between their capacities.

Thankfully, we don’t have to puzzle this out on our own. Very smart Christians have already done this.

Chalcedon

The Council of Chalcedon is the high-water mark for Christology.5 Here is what it says, with some comments:

Christ must “be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably …” This means the natures can never be confused or changed; as if they can be melded together or mistaken for each other. Also, Jesus’ divine and human natures can’t be disconnected from one another. In other words, they’re locked together but not mixed.

The Creed goes on, and explains, “the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved …” This means each nature remains what it is and each nature retains its constellation of attributes. Thus, the divine nature is truly divine, and the human nature is truly human (like Adam’s and Eve’s).

These two natures are “concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son …” So, in some unfathomable way, each nature concurs together in the God-Man.

The Calcedonian Creeds tells us several things:

  1. while the natures are not mixed, and they each retain their separate attributes,
  2. they still work in lock-step together, in some way,6 and you can’t downplay the role of either nature,
  3. therefore, to assume one nature has a controlling hold on another (as impeccability advocates often suggest) seems to go beyond Chalcedon7

The precise mechanics of this union of natures in Jesus must remain a mystery; to go any further is dangerous speculation. We can also toss in some other caveats:

  1. If Jesus is truly human, then He has a human will proper to His human nature.8 He has to make a meaningful and intelligent choice, as a man, to obey God the Father as our representative. To suggest otherwise is to impugn His humanity.
  2. However, natures cannot act. Only a person can act. This brings us back round to the metaphysical conundrum that Jesus the divine person acts; even if it’s in accordance with one nature and not the other. The Son is the acting subject of both His divine and human natures.

Scripture

Hebrews 4:14-16 tells us Jesus can sympathize9 with and understand10 our weaknesses. He can only do this because He was tempted in all points just like we are – but without sin.11 These words mean something. If the temptation does not mirror Adam and Eve’s, it’s difficult to see Jesus as a parallel representative.

Because of (οὖν) Jesus’ shared experience of suffering, the Scripture calls us to “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need,” (Heb 4:16). This suggests Jesus must really have been tempted to sin the same way as the original Adam and Eve.

In Hebrews 5:7-10, we read that, “in the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.” The best example of this is Gethsemane, where Jesus genuinely wanted to be freed from what was to come – but He resolved to do His Father’s will, anyway. Jesus the divine person expressed a purely human volition through His human nature. Like on many other occasions, Jesus seems to have “walled off” or compartmentalized His divine nature at this point.

We read that “although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered,” (Heb 5:8). Jesus learned experiential obedience to God by suffering and triumphing over sin. As a man, Jesus learned things. “And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him,” (Heb 5:19). Jesus’ suffering without sinning is what “completed” Him as our representative. In Hebrews 2:10, the Bible says it’s the suffering that was the means (διὰ) of this “completeness,” realized most fully in His unjust execution.

The problem

Here’s the conundrum:

  1. to suggest Jesus, as the God-Man, is unable to sin seems to denigrate His true humanity. This position seems to make the incarnation a farce – a foregone conclusion. It implies Jesus never felt the true force of the temptations. This position is known as impeccability.
  2. but, to suggest Jesus could sin seems to denigrate His deity. This position is known as peccability.

So, what to do? The solution seems to be a qualified form of peccability, as follows:12

  1. Jesus was genuinely tempted to sin,
  2. not like us, but like the original Adam and Eve (morally neutral),
  3. so, it was theoretically possible for Him to sin,
  4. but He chose not to sin

Why this solution?

To suggest otherwise seems to denigrate His humanity and make the divine nature override the human one – contra the Chalcedonian creed, which says “the property of each nature being preserved and concurring in one Person …”

R.L. Dabney even calls the hypostatic union “an absolute shield to the lower nature, against error.”13 The human nature is somehow captive to the divine. This also seems to violate dyothelitism. Shedd argues that Jesus as a person (with both natures) could not have sinned, the divine nature controls the human.14 This is the same error as Dabney’s; it seems to absorb the humanity into the divine.15 How, then, are Jesus’ temptations not all a farce?

Charles Hodge remarked, “If from the constitution of his person it was impossible for Christ to sin, then his temptation was unreal and without effect, and He cannot sympathize with his people.”16

Anselm draws a distinction between temptation and will; the temptation may be there, but the will is not – so both options are true, in a way!17 Grudem acknowledges we can’t really understand how the two natures relate in the God-Man, but affirms Jesus as a man didn’t rely on His divinity as a backstop;18 contra Dabney and Shedd. But, he observed:19

if we are asking if it was actually possible for Jesus to have sinned, it seems that we must conclude that it was not possible. The union of his human and divine natures in one person prevented it.

This seems to violate Chalcedon. But, he concludes, rightly: “His divine nature could not be tempted with evil, but his human nature could be tempted and was clearly tempted. How these two natures united in one person in facing temptations, Scripture does not clearly explain to us.”20

This is wise advice. This is where Scripture stops. Chalcedon is the high-water mark; everything else is just tinkering. The Third Council of Constantinople fleshed some of this out a bit:21

each nature wills and performs the things that are proper to it in a communion with the other; then in accord with this reasoning we hold that two natural wills and principles of action meet in correspondence for the salvation of the human race.

But, we really can’t say precisely how the two natures communicate together. Stephen Wellum has noted, “[s]ome kind of asymmetrical relationship between the Son’s living, speaking, and acting in and through his natures must be postulated, which is probably one of the most difficult areas for us to conceive.”22

Millard Erickson explains that “while he could have sinned, it was certain that he would not. There were genuine struggles and temptations, but the outcome was always certain.”23 This is perhaps the best answer, and it touches on yet another area of genuine mystery – a compatibilist concept of God’s sovereignty:

  1. Father, Son and Spirit decreed that Jesus would be the sinless representative,
  2. so, it was certain the incarnate Christ would not sin
  3. yet Jesus, acting in accordance with his true unspoiled humanity with His human will, theoretically could have sinned
  4. even though, according to the decree, it is certain he would not sin

This is the same conundrum we have as we consider whether Judas was a truly willing agent when he betrayed the Savior (Mk 14:21). Compatibalism assigns moral responsibility to the human agent, even as it upholds God’s decree. This helps us understand how Jesus theoretically could sin, and yet could not sin.

Wrapping up

I return to the questions I posed at the beginning:

  1. If Jesus didn’t sin, can He really understand us? He theoretically could have sinned, but He didn’t, so He does understand and can sympathize with our struggles.
  2. If Jesus couldn’t have sinned, then isn’t the incarnation a farce? But, He theoretically could have sinned, so it isn’t a farce.

I pray these imperfect reflections help you think through this important question!

Notes

1 This is a variation of a definition given by Robert Letham, Systematic Theology (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019), 524.

2 See especially the discussion by Stephen Wellum, God the Son Incarnate: The Doctrine of Christ (Wheaton: Crossway, 2016), 424ff.  

3 Ibid.  

4 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994; ePub 2015), 539.

5 One of the best short discussions on the Christological controversies is by Robert Reymond, A Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998), 583-622. See especially 608-622.  

6 The Third Council of Constantinople explained it well; “we say that he has two natures shining forth in his one subsistence in which he demonstrated the miracles and the sufferings throughout his entire providential dwelling here, not in appearance but in truth, the differences of the natures being made known in one and the same subsistence in that each nature wills and performs the things that are proper to it in a communion with the other; then in accord with this reasoning we hold that two natural wills and principles of action meet in correspondence for the salvation of the human race,” (Norman P. Tanner (ed.), Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, 2 vols. [Washington D.C., GUP, 1990], 1:129-130).

You cannot go further than this, perhaps the best expression of Chalcedon as applied to the will of each nature that mankind will ever formulate.

7 Even the Third Council of Constantinople, at it condemned the monothelite issue, seemed to hint at points beyond Chalcedon when it said “the two natural wills not in opposition, as the impious heretics said, far from it, but his human will following, and not resisting or struggling, rather and in fact subject to his divine and all powerful will,” (Ibid, 1:128). Yet, the Council then clarified this by a quotation of Jn 6:38, and suggested Jesus’ human nature always sought to do the will of the divine. The incident at Gethsemane certainly suggests a resistance and struggle (contra the Council, above), but nonetheless a successful submission to God’s will.

I am uncomfortable with the depths the Council went to as it suggested the human nature obeys the divine; this smacks of Nestorianism or a radical disjunction of the natures. The Oneness Pentecostals actually sound remarkably like this! This formulation seems to go too far into mystery.

8 This is dyothelitism; see the Third Council of Constantinople.  

9 Friberg defines the word here as “a disposition to help because of fellow feeling,” (25330 συμπαθέω).

10 Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines “sympathy” as “the act or capacity of entering into or sharing the feelings or interests of another,” (sv. 3a).

11 Most commentators understand χωρὶς ἁμαρτίας as I interpreted it, above. These include Peter T. O’Brien (The Letter to the Hebrews, in PNTC [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010; Kindle ed.], KL 3681) and F.F. Bruce (The Epistle to the Hebrews, in NICNT [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990; Kindle ed.], KL 1392-1405) and William L. Lane (Hebrews 1-8, in WBC, vol. 47a [Dallas: Word, 1991], 114). Some commentators, such as Homer Kent (Hebrews, 92), believe the phrase refers to the manner of the testing; that is, Jesus was tempted like we are except in the manner of a sinful inclination or pull from within. This is theologically correct, but it isn’t the point the writer is making. Kent is incorrect.

12 For a good counter-argument for impeccability, see especially Robert Letham, Systematic Theology (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019), 520-526. He seems to generally follow Shedd.

13 R.L. Dabney, Systematic Theology (St. Louis: Presbyterian Publishing, 1878; reprint; Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 1996), 471.

14 “When these two natures are united in one theanthropic person, as they are in the incarnation, the divine determines and controls the human, not the human the divine,” (W.G.T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, ed. Alan W. Gomes, 3rd ed. [reprint; Phillipsburg: P&R, 2003], 660).

15 “Consequently, Christ while having a peccable human nature in his constitution, was an impeccable person. Impeccability characterizes the God-man as a totality, while peccability is a property of his humanity,” (Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, 661).

16  Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology [reprint; Peabody: Hendrickson, 2011], 2:457.

17 “We can therefore say of Christ that he could tell a lie, if this statement is recognized to contain the implication, ‘If it were his will’. And since he could not lie unwillingly and it could not be his will to tell a lie, it can equally be stated that he was incapable of lying. It follows that thus he both could, and could not, tell a lie,” (Why God Became Man, in Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works [Oxford: OUP, 1998; Kindle ed.], Book 2.10).

18 Grudem, Systematic, 539. “Jesus met every temptation to sin, not by his divine power, but on the strength of his human nature alone.”

19 Ibid, 539.  

20 Ibid.

21 Norman P. Tanner (ed.), Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, 2 vols. [Washington D.C., GUP, 1990], 1:129-130).

22 Wellum, God the Son Incarnate,  441.  

23 Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Baker: Grand Rapids, 2013; ePub), 657.  

Who is the Word?

john 1
Excerpt from John 1 from manuscript GA 01 (courtesy of CSNTM.org)

The Gospel of John is important. And, in a piece of writing noted for its Christology, the prologue (John 1:1-18) is rightly considered to be a masterpiece. Because it’s so important, it’s attracted any number of critics and false teachers who desperately try to explain why it doesn’t actually say … what it actually says.

An ordinary Christian can go batty pondering all the controversies inherent in this passage. Was John 1:1 (“and the Word was God”) translated correctly? Have Christians been influenced by pagan, Greek philosophy to interpret “the Word” as the co-equal, co-eternal Son of God? These are good questions, and lots of good theologians and bible teachers have lots of good answers for them. But, setting these issues aside for a time, if you take a step back and just consider the content as a literary unit the message is very clear.

Who is the Word?

At1 the very beginning, when the creation happened, the Word was there (Jn 1:1a). So, whoever this Word is, He’s eternal. He’s prior to creation. More than that, the Word is with God (Jn 1:1b). God is before creation, and so is the Word. They’re together. They share the same space; they’re with one another. Even better yet, the Word actually is God (Jn 1:1c).

But, how can this be? How can the Word actually be God? John is saying the Word is somehow distinct from God and there at the beginning with God. Yet, the Word is God, too. What does this mean? It shows us that God and the Word are both eternal, they both stand outside of creation, and they both share the same nature. They’re one, and yet they’re distinct, too.

And, God made everything through the Word (Jn 1:3). The language conveys personal agency, and the Word is the living, active and personal agent who made creation on God’s behalf. “Without Him was not anything made that was made,” (Jn 1:3). Why is that? It’s because “in him was life” (Jn 1:4); that is, the Word contains life and is the source of life and creation. This life is the light which shines the way for men to come to faith; to escape from the figurative darkness of sin and wickedness (Jn 1:4b-5).

The Apostle John then briefly explained the Baptist’s ministry. God sent him to tell people about the Word (note the distinction again). John proclaimed the Word was the light for all men “that all might believe through him,” (Jn 1:7). John himself wasn’t the light, “but came to bear witness about the light,” (Jn 1:8).

The irony, of course, is that the very Creator of creation came into the world, “yet the world did not know him,” (Jn 1:10). He came to His own people, and they rejected Him (Jn 1:11). Notice that it isn’t God who came to His people; it was the Word. Of course, the Word shares the same nature as God so He can properly be said to be God. But, in this prologue, the Word and God are distinguished from one another. John will go on to speak of the Father in contrast to the Son later in the book. For now, however, it’s enough to know John is painting a deliberate contrast between God and the Word.

It’s true people rejected the Word. But, that’s not the end of the story. It all doesn’t end in tragedy and darkness. After all, “[t]he light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it,” (Jn 1:5). In fact, the Apostle hastens to add, to everyone who did receive the Word (that is, who believed in His name; in effect, who He was as the incarnate God-Man), the Word did something very special. He gave these people the right or privilege to become God’s children (Jn 1:12). The Word didn’t give people the power to become His children; He made them God’s children.

People aren’t born into God’s family; they have to be adopted by God. John explains God’s children don’t come to Him by blood relation, or by the sexual desires of a man or woman who produce a child, or even the desires of the husband himself. People don’t become God’s children by physical descent, or by the will of any of his parents. How, then? They’re born from God’s will.

Again, notice the delineation of roles:

  • God wills people to become His children
  • This will is actuated when they receive the Word by believing on His name; that is, in who He is as the incarnate GodMan.

This is beautiful, and the Apostle tells us how it all came about. The Word “became flesh and dwelt among us,” (Jn 1:14). This is the incarnation, where the Word added a human nature to His divine nature.2 God (i.e. the Father) didn’t become flesh and come here; the Word did. John and the other apostles are eyewitnesses who saw the Word’s glory! What kind of glory was it? It was the glory of the unique, one and only Son who comes from the Father, full of grace and truth (Jn 1:14). In other words, it was the same as the Father’s glory.

Notice that John more precisely defines “God” here as “the Father.” It was His glory that descended on Sinai (Ex 19:16-19), that filled the tabernacle (Ex 40:34-38) and Solomon’s temple (1 Kgs 8:1-11). It was also His glory that left that same temple during the exile (Ezek 8-10), and hasn’t returned since. The Word’s glory is just like that.

This Word is the one who John the Baptist preached about. He told everyone the Word would come on the scene after him, but outranks him. Why does the Word outrank John, a true prophet from God? Because the Word came before John (Jn 1:15). This makes sense, because the Word created Creation according to the Father’s will and only walks the earth because He “became flesh and dwelt among us,” (Jn 1:14).

The Word’s glory, which John and the others saw and marveled at, is full of grace and truth. Why does John say this? Because from His grace all believers continue to receive grace upon grace; that is, an unending low of graces while pile atop one another (Jn 1:16). What’s so marvelous about this cascade of grace upon grace? Well, the Apostle says, the law came from Moses, but grace and truth came from Jesus Christ (Jn 1:17). Here John stops being coy and explicitly identifies Jesus as the Word.

This is the New Covenant; the new and better way that Jesus inaugurated with His life, death, burial and resurrection. The law of Moses did bring grace and forgiveness to the believer but that atonement wasn’t final and permanent; it was on layaway. The law of Moses did point to the truth of Christ but it didn’t contain that truth; it was a marker along the way. John was obliquely referring to the new and better covenant, which all believers show and tell the world about as they celebrate the Lord’s Supper in local churches.

Nobody has ever seen God. But, the only God who is at the Father’s side has made Him known (Jn 1:18). Once again, John draws a distinction between Father and Son, and identifies Jesus as God once more. Moses is the penultimate Israelite, but he couldn’t see God. Jesus sits at the Father’s side, and He’s come here to make Him known to us. Moses served his purpose, and even he knew someone else would come from God (Deut 18:15f). That someone is Jesus, the Word who was there before the beginning, who can fully reveal God to sinful men.

The Word is God the Son Incarnate

John’s prologue isn’t hard to understand. But, too many people make it hard (which isn’t at all the same thing) when they refuse to read it as a literary unit, or have a theological agenda, or waste sermons explaining the joys of Colwell’s Rule in John 1:1. The prologue is about Christ, and it tells us He is distinct from the Father, and co-equal and co-eternal with Him. It’s a synopsis of Christ’s identity and ministry. It’s the Apostle’s dustjacket summary of the incarnation:

The Word existed before Creation. The Word made Creation. The Word was with God before Creation, and He’s also God, too. God made everything through the Word, who contains and embodies life itself and acts as a light for all men. That light shined in the darkness, and Satan still hasn’t overcome it.

God sent John the Baptist to tell everyone about the Word, but the world rejected the Word anyway. But, for those few who did receive the Word, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become God’s children. To do all this, the Word took on flesh, dwelt among us, and eyewitnesses saw His glory. His glory was like that of the only Son’s, identical to the Father’s, full of grace and truth. And, the Word pours out grace upon grace to His people; to those who received Him. Moses brought the law, but Jesus brought the new and better covenant characterized by grace and truth.

Nobody has ever seen God, but Jesus (the only God) who sits at the Father’s side has made Him known to all who have ears to hear. He’s better than Moses. He’s Moses’ successor. And, to all who receive Him He gives the privilege to become a child of God, according to God’s will.

Notes

1 The preposition here (Ἐν ἀρχῇ) is temporal, and the sense is “at the beginning;” that is, at the point in time at which creation began.

2 “Accordingly, while the distinctness of both natures and substances was preserved, and both met in one Person, lowliness was assumed by majesty, weakness by power, mortality by eternity; and, in order to pay the debt of our condition, the inviolable nature was united to the passible, so that as the appropriate remedy for our ills, one and the same ‘Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus,’ might from one element be capable of dying and also from the other be incapable. Therefore in the entire and perfect nature of very man was born very God, whole in what was his, whole in what was ours,” (Leo the Great, “The Tome of St. Leo,” in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, 14 vols., ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. Henry R. Percival (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1900), 14:255.

 

Learning from Smart, Dead Guys

Ikone_Athanasius_von_AlexandriaWe really don’t know everything. I know – it’s crazy. Christians stand on the shoulders of dedicated, intelligent and devout brothers and sisters from days gone by. Our very vocabulary, the categories and structures of our theology have been shaped by the controversies and issues of bygone days.

This is why creeds and confessions are such valuable tools in a Christian’s arsenal. See, for example:

  1. The 1833 New Hampshire Confession of Faith
  2. The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith
  3. The Belgic Confession

So, because Christians before us have already puzzled and thought until their puzzlers were sore, I’ve decided to take some time to read about Christology from some 4th century Christians. Last year, I translated the Nicene-Constantinople Creed (381 AD). I plan to write a short introduction and commentary on it, and basically use it as a vehicle to teach 4th century Christology.

In order to really understand what was going on in the 4th century, I need to do two things:

  1. I need to read some good history books, and
  2. I need to read what Christians from the 4th century actually wrote about Christ, and see how they responded to the Arian heresies and the controversy about the Holy Spirit.

That’s where Athanasius of Alexandria comes in. He was a key figure in the Christological controversies of the 4th century; perhaps the key player. I don’t have time to read everything he wrote (that would take a while!), but I am taking time to read some of it.

That brings me to the point. The man was a genius. It’s always humbling to learn something from really smart, dead guys. And, to top it off, Athanasius didn’t even have wireless internet!

In this short excerpt from his work On the Incarnation of the Word, Athanasius tackled the objection that Jesus’ death was humiliating and unfitting for the Son of God. Read what he has to say, and think about it:

For perhaps a man might say even as follows: If it was necessary for His death to take place before all, and with witnesses, that the story of His Resurrection also might be believed, it would have been better at any rate for Him to have devised for Himself a glorious death, if only to escape the ignominy of the Cross.

But had He done even this, He would give ground for suspicion against Himself, that He was not powerful against every death, but only against the death devised for Him; and so again there would have been a pretext for disbelief about the Resurrection all the same. So death came to His body, not from Himself, but from hostile counsels, in order that whatever death they offered to the Saviour, this He might utterly do away.

And just as a noble wrestler, great in skill and courage, does not pick out his antagonists for himself, lest he should raise a suspicion of his being afraid of some of them, but puts it in the choice of the onlookers, and especially so if they happen to be his enemies, so that against whomsoever they match him, him he may throw, and be believed superior to them all; so also the Life of all, our Lord and Saviour, even Christ, did not devise a death for His own body, so as not to appear to be fearing some other death; but He accepted on the Cross, and endured, a death inflicted by others, and above all by His enemies, which they thought dreadful and ignominious and not to be faced; so that this also being destroyed, both He Himself might be believed to be the Life, and the power of death be brought utterly to nought.

So something surprising and startling has happened; for the death, which they thought to inflict as a disgrace, was actually a monument of victory against death itself. Whence neither did He suffer the death of John, his head being severed, nor, as Esaias, was He sawn in sunder; in order that even in death He might still keep His body undivided and in perfect soundness, and no pretext be afforded to those that would divide the Church.[1]

You’d be surprised how much you read in Christian books is really just a regurgitation of stuff somebody else said a long time ago. I’m learning a lot from Athanasius. I can also see where our understanding of theology has, in some instances, advanced beyond him – particularly in the 5th century, leading up to the Chalcedonian Creed. But, what an explanation he provided here!

You can learn a lot from smart, dead guys . . .

Notes:

[1] Athanasius of Alexandria, “On the Incarnation of the Word,” in NPNF2, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. Archibald T. Robertson (New York, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1892), 4:49.