Today’s Christian scholars spend large amounts of time trying to convince people that Jesus is divine. The Church uses sermon series, books, events, websites, and a host of other resources to focus on that important debate.
But as strange as it may sound to modern Christians, one of the church’s first major struggles was to convince the world that Jesus was actually human!
The New Testament clearly teaches that Jesus had a body, that He ate and drank, that He experienced emotions, and that He bled and died on a cross. On the surface, those sound like very “human” experiences, right? But in spite of these straightforward testimonies, one early group known as the Gnostics (pronounced NOS ticks) rejected the idea that Jesus was really human. They believed He was something else entirely, and they made a lot of trouble for the early Church.
The Gnostics took their name from the Greek word for knowledge, gnosis, (pronounced NO sis), but in reality, tuberculosis would have been more accurate because they infected thousands with their heresy. Essentially, they believed that all matter was evil. Shirts, eggs, trees, whales, golf clubs, whatever; if it was made out of matter, it was “evil” according to the Gnostics.
But here’s where it gets interesting…or just plain weird.
When Jesus – God’s only perfect Son – came to Earth, He came wrapped in matter: bone, muscle, tendon, hair, skin. So, according to the Gnostics’ teaching, Jesus was evil. Right away, they knew that was going to be a hard sale, so they had to invent a viable alternative. The option they landed on was a concoction of philosophy and science fiction.
The Gnostics began to teach that Jesus wasn’t really human, after all. If He were, they reasoned, He would have been evil (because He was made of matter). No, instead of being human, they taught that Jesus was actually a “clever hallucination,” or a “hologram,” to borrow a term from Star Trek.
That got the Gnostics out of the frying pan…but straight into the fire. They ran into another theological wall when they realized that neither a hologram nor a hallucination could die on the cross for someone’s sins. (Holograms don’t bleed, and God made it clear time and again that forgiveness requires the shedding of blood.)
To counter the Gnostics’ popular – but heretical – views, the Church tasked itself with proving that Jesus was fully human and fully divine at the same time…which is exactly how the Holy Spirit inspired John to describe the Incarnation in the opening chapter of his gospel:
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
The Word became flesh. The Word became human.
Church History in Plain Language by Bruce L. Shelley. Nelson, 1995, Pages 51-52.
Topics Illustrated Include:
God (Nature of)
(Resource cataloged by David R Smith)