By Anthony Tamel
Bro Tamel is co-pastor of Parkway Apostolic Church in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.
Published in the Forward Magazine Summer 2001
There is nothing new about controversy. Most churches differ in various matters of teaching, even among Apostolic churches. Some controversies are more serious than others, and one of the more seri-ous ones relates to the physical body of Christ. It stems from the thought that Christ’s physical body was heavenly in its origin and from the Father entirely, rather than Christ having an earthly body received from His mother, Mary. There are other com-ponents to this controversy, but if we can resolve the issue of His flesh’s origin and nature, the others become mute. For the sake of clarity, we will refer to this controversial teaching as the divine flesh doc-trine.
In most cases, the less that is said about a contro-versial doctrine the better, because it causes confu-sion for those who would not have otherwise heard it. But when a doctrine causes people to question their salvation after they have been born again of water and Spirit, it needs to be corrected.
It has been said that the heart of the divine flesh doctrine is found in its interpretation of I Corinthians 15. Other verses sprinkled throughout the Scriptures are the arteries. For this reason let us go right to the heart of the issue and then handle a few of the main arteries. We could say much more about the doctrine, but it would take a book to deal with all of the passages of Scripture that have been misused and taken out of context in the attempt to prove its validity.
I Corinthians 15 is not complicated or difficult to understand, but if we do not keep in mind the pur-pose of the Holy Spirit in inspiring Paul to write these verses, we can miss their true meaning. The topic that Paul dealt with is not the origin or the nature of Christ’s body, but rather the type of bodies we will possess upon the resurrection of the dead. Thus, the subject is not a comparison between Christ’s body and ours, but the difference between the bodies we now have and the bodies we will receive at His coming. Keeping this point in mind, let us look at the verses that deal specifically with this subject.
The Heart of the Matter
“But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come? Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die: and that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain: but God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body. All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds. There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: it is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; -it is raised in power: it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heav-enly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly. Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption” (I Corinthians 15:35-50).
As was typical of Paul, he raised questions in order to answer the proposed objections to the idea of a bodily resurrection: “How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?” (verse 35). He then called the questions foolish and gave the analo-gy of the organized physical life and worlds. He said that bodies are alike in their own order, whether species of animal or astrophysical body. Each of them has its own glory (verse 41). The same is true of the resurrection of the dead (verse 42), and he concluded the verse with the words, “It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption.” These are indeed two dif-ferent bodies and orders of life.
God can take a natural body that is perishable and bring it into a different order of life: “It is sown a nat-ural body; it is raised a spiritual body” (verse 44). Paul stated that a transformation of our body from the nat-ural to the spiritual can and will take place. The nat-ural body comes first, and the spiritual body comes afterward (verse 46). Paul dealt with our beginning body and then the ending body that we will have.
Paul next used Adam, the first human, to illus-trate this truth. The first Main was a man and had a mortal body, but the “last Adam” describes man’s final state in God’s plan of redemption. He is no longer a mortal man but now has become a quicken-ing (life-giving) spirit. The subject all along has been the order of change of our body, from the natural to the spiritual.
Let us keep in mind that we are still talking about the metamorphosis or change that occurs upon the resurrection of our body. Actually, this theme began earlier in the chapter when Paul wrote about the res-urrection of Christ. Paul pointed out that one man (Adam) brought about death, and another (Christ) brought life: “For since by man came death, by man also came the resurrection of the dead” (verse 21). By Adam came death, and by Christ we shall all be made alive (verse 22). In verse 23 we find the graph-ic expression “firstfruits”: “But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming~” This verse reveals that Jesus was the first to be resurrected to a glorified life. Jesus was not;the first person to be raised from the dead, but he was the first to be raised eternal with a glorious or glorified body (Philippians 3:21).
Fourteen verses later we read that the body that is sown is different from the body that shall be: “And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat or of some other grain” (I Corinthians 15:37). There are some things we know from this verse. First, the body of Christ that was sown, or planted in the ground, was not the same in nature as the body that appeared after His resurrection. If it was the same, He would not be called the flrstfruits. The grain that is sown is not the fruit that appears. Second, if Jesus did not change and yet was the firstfruits, then what hope is there that we will change? The word “firstfruits” implies that there are similar fruits to follow. Jesus was the firstfruits because of a change, and we will be changed as Jesus was at the time of our resurrec-tion. What is the change that this passage describes? It is natural to spiritual, corruptible to incorruptible. If Jesus’ body was not transformed from being like us to being like He is now, then He could not be the firstfruits.
Now we are ready to take a close look at verse 47 of this chapter, which is at the core of the argument. It reads, “The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven.” Those who contend for the divine flesh doctrine believe this to mean that Christ’s flesh was not of the earth; there-fore Mary could not have contributed to it. Mary was merely a surrogate. Let us consider what the verse actually says. Paul made it clear to us that the first man, Adam, was of the earth, or below, while the sec-ond man is the Lord from heaven, or above. Since the subject is the corruptible body and the incorruptible body, Paul wanted us to know the origin of each. The fact that the first Adam was made from the dust of the earth points to a physical body, but it also refers to the whole person including his nature. When we look at someone’s body we see only the physical makeup, but he is also a soul with all of its faculties. Aside from his outer appearance, Adam had an inner self that was from below.
But the Lord had His origin from heaven. The question is, Did He get His outer appearance from heaven? While those who believe in the divine flesh doctrine agree that Jesus’ body did not actually come down from heaven, they use this verse to prove that Jesus is not materially from the earth. But if verse 47 were truly dealing with the physical appearance of Jesus, He would have had to have a body in heav-en before that body came down. The Son would have existed before Mary’s conception, even if for a mil-lisecond.
One thing is perfectly clear, however: Jesus did not have a physical body, even in the form of-a fertilized egg, before Mary conceived Him. Jesus is the Word, or expressed mind and thought of God, made flesh. He is God who came down to dwell in flesh. God is a Spirit, and He had no physical body prior to His earthly existence.
In fact, the Scriptures make it perfectly clear where His physical body came from: “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law” (Galatians 4:4). The word “made” means “to cause to become” (Strong). This word appears in Matthew 4:3: “And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.” We also read it in John 2:9: “When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom.” It appears again in John 1:14: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” Whether bread, wine, or flesh, it was “caused to become” what it was formerly not. And the flesh of Jesus was “caused to become” of a woman. Looking again at I Corinthians 15:47, we read, “The second man is the Lord from heaven.” It is evi-dent that Paul was not instructing us about Christ’s flesh, since it did not come from heaven. What then is the significance of this verse? Paul possibly meant that the Word (expressed mind and thought of God) was from above, or more likely Paul was simply reminding us that our ‘heavenly Father from above came to dwell in the flesh that was made of a woman. God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself (II Corinthians 5:19).
In I Corinthians 15:48 we see again a contrast between the earthly and the heavenly. What do we know about the earthly? One thing we know is that earthly beings are mortal, meaning they can die. What do we know about heavenly beings? In contrast with the earthly~ they are immortal, meaning they cannot die. Adam was earthly, and he died. Angels are from heaven above, and there is no record of them ever dying or any verse that tells us they will die, not even the fallen angels in the end.
Now, what can we say about the body of Christ? We can say it was a mortal body because it went through the process of death. Christ’s death on the cross is evidence that His physical body was the same as ours: “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14, emphasis added).
Again, Paul’s point is that there will be a change in our bodies at the time of the resurrection. We will not remain the same. As we were in the image or likeness of the earthly, mortal body, we will then bear the image of the heavenly, spiritual body (I Corinthians 15:49). Our bodies need to be changed because flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God (verse 50). Jesus had flesh and blood; there-fore, His body had to be made incorruptible just as our bodies will be made incorruptible.
The difficulty that many people have in under-standing that Jesus is God incarnate has to do with the fact that they have never seen anyone like Him. When we see a man, he is just a man. However, when we see Jesus, He is a man and He is God. He is the God-man. Even Jesus’ own disciples had difficulty comprehending this truth. Jesus told Philip, “Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?” (John 14:9) When we see Jesus, we see all of God that we will ever see, the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. And as the revelation of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, Jesus acted perfectly in accordance with each of these manifestations. Since the present subject is the flesh of Christ, let us focus on the manifestation of the Son.
As the Son, Jesus grew in the same ways that we grow. “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man” (Luke 2:52). If Jesus’ flesh were divine, in His flesh He would have already had wisdom. and favor with His Father. He would not have asked questions such as, “Who touched me?” or “Do you have any meat?” He would not have needed to ask about how long a young boy had been demonized. On one occasion, His disciples asked about certain prophecies Jesus had given: “Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled?” (Mark 13:4). Jesus answered, “But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father” (Mark 13:32). Clearly, His flesh was not omniscient. If His flesh were divine, then “divine flesh” would not be omniscient.
As the Son, Jesus had a human will. This simply means that Jesus had volition, or choices that He could make. Not for a moment did His human will oppose the Father’s will, not even when He said, “Father~ if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). His request certainly did not mean He want-ed to avoid death or avoid drinking of the cup of sin. But being in great anguish, He prayed that His own will would not stand in the way of God’s plan. In Jesus’ own words, He stated that He would prefer the Father’s will at all times.
Jesus affirmed that He always did the will of the Father. “Then said Jesus unto them, When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things. And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him” (John 8:28-29). If Jesus had no will of His own, stat-ing that He did things to please the Father would be pointless. Doing the will of the Father was the choice that Jesus made. Jesus was a man who made all of the right choices. Is it any wonder the Father said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17)?
As the Son, Jesus was tempted. “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feel-ing of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Some who believe the divine flesh doctrine claim that this verse merely means someone was trying to tempt Jesus but it had no effect on Jesus because He could not be tempted or enticed. But this interpretation does not make sense. If it was not possible for Jesus to be tempted, then the effort to tempt would not have been an actual temptation. It would have been an attempt but not a temptation. The Scriptures, however~ tell us that Jesus was tempted.
Others who believe in the divine flesh of Jesus have said Jesus was only tempted to reveal His true identity as the Son of God, but He was not tempted to sin. Let us understand that Satan’s motive was not to discover if Jesus was truly the Son of God. His identity as the Son of God was not a secret. Furthermore, if Jesus was tempted in all points as we are, and yet He was only tempted to reveal His real identity, then that would mean we are tempted only to reveal -our real identity. But can you ever remember being tempted to reveal that you are a born-again child of God? We do that gladly. No, the temptation for Jesus was to circumvent God’s plan, which would have caused Him to miss the mark, and that means to sin. Being tempted in all points as we are does not mean that Jesus had a problem with wine or women. It merely means that He had to con-front and resist “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (I John 2:16).
Since we are tempted when we are drawn away by our own lust (James 1:14), some say Jesus could not have been tempted because He did not have lust. While He certainly did not have sinful lust, the Greek word for “lust” in James 1:14 is epithumia, which simply means a strong or inordinate desire. In Luke 22:15, Jesus used the same word of Himself, to express a great desire: “And he said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer.”
After not eating for forty days in the wilderness, do you think Jesus had a strong desire to eat? I think so. But He overcame the temptation to satisfy His flesh.
I also imagine that Jesus had some strong feelings about His being identified as God’s Son, but He over-came the temptation of pride by not jumping from the pinnacle of the Temple. Doing so would have put His Father’s love to the test of bearing Him up and so would have tempted God. Finally, He had strong feelings about the people who made up the kingdoms of the world that passed before His eyes, but He overcame the temptation of becoming their king before His time. If there be any doubt concerning Jesus’ being. tempted, let consider Hebrews 2:17- 18: “Wherefore in all things; it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren-, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.” If He had never been tempted, He would not have suffered, nor would He be like you and me. The truth is, He was God and man at the same time. God cannot be tempted, but humans can.
Those who espouse the divine flesh doctrine say that Jesus could not have a body like our body because then He would have sinful flesh. The expres-sion “sinful flesh” appears just one time, in Romans 8:3: “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.” Let us not forget, Jesus never sinned. Therefore, He only had the similitude of sin-ful flesh. Wemust not take “sinful flesh” to mean something more than what was intended.
There is nothing inherently evil about our physical bodies. Otherwise God would have created Adam as an evil creature. Bullinger’s Critical Lexicon defines “flesh” as “human nature in its embodiment.” The Greek word for “flesh” is translated as “carnally” in Romans 8:6: “For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace,” and as “carnal” in Romans 8:7: “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” The point is that speak-ing of flesh as “sinful” has nothing to do with its biol-ogy or chemistry but rather with its moral nature.
Since the words “sinful flesh” appear in Romans 8, we must look again at the chapter to get a clear understanding of what it means. Actually the eighth chapter is a continuation, of the seventh chapter, which deals with the conflict between the mind and the flesh, or sinful human nature. Paul lamented that he knew what he should do but had failed to do it because his sinful nature had ordered something else. Given the senses and emotions that are easily stimulated by activities contrary to God’s law, our human minds by themselves are too weak to resist sin.
The believers of the divine flesh doctrine think that this sinful inclination results from the sub-stance that composes our bodies. The elements in our body are found in the earth, and this makes us earthly If we think about it, Jesus’ body was made of the same elements. Jesus ate the same things you and I eat, which also come out of the ground. The cells in His body were formed. by the nutrients provided from plants and animals. If these elements made Adam inherently evil, Jesus would have had to struggle with the same sinful tendency. But again, what Romans means by “flesh” is the embodiment of our nature. Jesus’ body was the same as ours, but let us consider the difference that kept Him from actual-ly having sinful flesh.
Romans 8:1-4 says, “There is therefore now no con-demnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” If the Spirit of life in Christ. Jesus can make us free from the law of sin and death, Jesus had what was needed to live above sin. God sent His Son, who was like us, but He possessed an infinite measure of the Spirit of life that overrode any sinful tendency. Romans 8:5-6 says, “For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be car-nally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.”-Verse 9 explains, “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” When Paul said we are not in the flesh, he was not saying we are lifted out of our earthly bodies or given divine flesh of our own. He was simply saying that our spiritual nature is no longer the same. We are now new creatures in Christ.
We still have bouts with sin in our lives and the reason is that sometimes we fail to walk according to the limited measure of the Spirit that is at work in us. However, the-body of Jesus contained an immea-surable amount of God’s Spirit because it was His own. Therefore, Jesus had sinless character. The rea-son Jesus was tempted but did not sin had nothing to do with the origin of His flesh but had everything to do with the origin of His Spirit.
Was Jesus born in sin? David said of himself that he was born in sin (Psalm 51:5). But what does that mean? Was he born with original sin, that is, guilt for Adams sin, as is taught by the Roman Catholic Church today? No, we do not believe in original sin-in that sense. Then what did David mean when he said, “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me”? Let us remember that Psalm 51 is the record of David’s repentance. David recognized that there was something sinful about his own nature. The sin principle was diffused into it from birth. David was indeed born in sin.
Was Jesus born in sin? For Jesus to be born in sin He would have had to have a fallen nature like David’s. Jesus did not. The difference was not divine flesh, but His inward man. His Spirit was holy, and therefore He was not in the flesh. (See Romans 8:9.) If we want to be delivered from our own sinful flesh, then we must walk in His Spirit, which corrects and counteracts the sinful nature that is in us.
His Uncorrupted Body
Why is it that Jesus’ flesh never saw corruption? Not because His flesh was divine, as some contend. His flesh would have been corrupted just like ours since He took our sin upon Himself and died as a mortal. The Scriptures do not tell us that Jesus could not see corruption but- that He would not see corrup-tion. “For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption” (Psalm 16:10). Why did Jesus’ body not see corrup-tion? Because His body was not left in the grave. The Spirit raised it in only three days. His own Spirit, the quickening Spirit that dwelt in Him, prevented the corrupting process and raised- Him up. That same quickening Spirit will raise our bodies if He dwells in us (Romans 8:11) and make them incorruptible.
That Jesus’ body did not see corruption does not mean that it was the same after His resurrection as it was before. We must remember that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. One day the Lord will come again, and we who are alive and remain will be caught up. Our bodies will not see cor-ruption, but neither will they be the same.
Those who believe that Jesus had divine flesh also believe that they put on His flesh in some manner at the time of their baptism, because they are baptized into Christ. We do take on the nature of Christ, but the idea that we take on a new divine body is incon-gruous. -We are not born into Christ’s natural body by faith. We are born into His spiritual body, which is the church. “And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preemi-nence” (Colossians 1:18).
Those who believe that being baptized into the body of Christ means receiving Christ’s physical body, would have to believe they will live their- life without ever sinning again. I have not seen a person yet who was baptized and lived -for a time who has not sinned at one time or another since he was bap-tized. The key to holiness is not just to be baptized in Christ but to abide in Christ. Only then will we live above sin. “He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also to walk, even as he walked” (I John 2:6). If we are in Christ, or if we abide in Christ, we will be spiritually sensitized to walk the way He walked.
Out of a Dry Ground
One more artery of the divine flesh doctrine is the attempt to prove that Mary attributed nothing to the body of Jesus. Advocates of this belief use Isaiah 53:2: “For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground.” They con-tend this means that, at the time of Jesus’ concep-tion, Mary’s womb was barren.
This verse of Scripture has no bearing on the nature of Mary’s womb. In fact, this verse has noth-ing to do with Mary at all. Scripture never uses dry ground to illustrate a barren womb. One may argue that there is always a first time. However, Isaiah had already used the figure of “dry ground” to describe the spiritual condition of Israel. Isaiah 44:3 gives us a prophecy for Jacob (Israel): “For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: I will pour my spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring.” If “dry ground” had anything to do with barrenness of the womb, there would be no seed or offspring to bless.
At the time of the prophet Joel, the earth dried up from a drought. He used this situation as an object lesson for Israel. In the natural sense, the prophecies of Joel were fulfilled in the year Joel spoke them, but in a spiritual sense the rain did not fall for more than four hundred years. We Pentecostals recognize that the former and latter rains prophesied by Joel brought spiritual refreshing. The environment in which Jesus lived had lacked such spiritual precipitation for centuries. He grew up in the dry ground of the Judaism of His day, devoid of the refreshing moisture of God’s Spirit in the hearts of people.
The controversy concerning the nature of Christ’s flesh is not new. It has been debated from every posi-tion imaginable for centuries. It is not my intent to point out the error of every argument used in attempting to get people to believe that Jesus had flesh unlike our own. Neither have I begun to make a case from the Scriptures to show that Jesus was not only the root but also the offspring of David, or prove Jesus was of the natural seed of Abraham. This could only be possible if Jesus were the natural child of Mary. However, I hope this article will help someone who has been exposed to the fallacious teaching that Christ did not come to earth as a human to be the sacrifice for humanity. If the blood of innocent bulls and goats could not redeem us, it is difficult to imagine that anything other than a sinless human, who is like us in every way except sin, could be the substitute for us.