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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

When Jesus Died Did God Die?

A person wrote William Craig and asked the following question (see link):

I don't see how it's possible that God could actually die. For if God were to die then He wouldn't be a necessary Being. But this is impossible because God must be necessary by definition. So when Christ died on the cross, was it just the human part that died?

Dr. Craig responds:

I couldn't resist your question, Jesse, since it appeals to my favorite hymn, the magnificent "And Can It Be?" by Charles Wesley. I urge anyone who knows only praise songs and choruses to listen to this hymn and contemplate the wonderful lyrics about God's amazing love.

Your question is one that also troubles our Muslim friends and is therefore very urgent. Fortunately, the historic Christian church has addressed this question clearly.

The Council of Chalcedon (451) declared that the incarnate Christ is one person with two natures, one human and one divine. This has very important consequences. It implies that since Christ existed prior to his incarnation, he was a divine person before taking on a human nature. He was and is the second person of the Trinity. In the incarnation this divine person assumes a human nature as well, but there is no other person in Christ than the second person of the Trinity. There is an additional human nature which the pre-incarnate Christ did not have, but there is no human person in addition to the divine person. There is just one person who has two natures.

Therefore, what Christ said and did, God said and did, since when we speak of Christ we're talking about a person. For that reason the Council endorses speaking of Mary as "the mother of God." She bore the person who is a divine person. Unfortunately, this language has been disastrously misleading because it sounds as though Mary birthed the divine nature of Christ when in fact she birthed Christ's human nature. Mohammed apparently thought that Christians believed that Mary was the third member of the Trinity, and Jesus was the offspring of God the Father and Mary, a view which he rightly rejected as blasphemous, though no orthodox Christian holds it.

To avoid such inevitable misunderstandings it is helpful to speak of what Christ does or how he is relative to one of his two natures. For example, Christ is omnipotent relative to his divine nature but he is limited in power relative to his human nature. He is omniscient with respect to his divine nature but ignorant of various facts with respect to his human nature. He is immortal with regard to his divine nature, but mortal with regard to his human nature.

You can probably see now where I'm headed. Christ could not die with respect to his divine nature but he could die with respect to his human nature. What is human death? It is the separation of the soul from the body when the body ceases to be a living organism. The soul survives the body and will someday be re-united with it in a resurrected form. That's what happened to Christ. His soul was separated from his body and his body ceased to be alive. He became temporarily a disembodied person. On the third day God raised him from the dead in a transformed body.

In short, yes, we can say that God died on the cross because the person who underwent death was a divine person. So Wesley was all right in asking, "How can it be, that Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?" But to say that God died on the cross is misleading in the same way that it is misleading to say that Mary was the mother of God. So I think it better to say that Christ died on the cross with respect to his human nature but not with respect to his divine nature.

I find Craig's response contradictory. He is saying that the human nature of Jesus died not his divine nature. The divine nature, according to Craig and all orthodox theologians, cannot die. But then he says: yes, we can say that God died on the cross because the person who underwent death was a divine person . How is that not a contradiction?

The Chalcedonian Creed (451 CE), which Craig appeals to, states that Jesus was one person with two natures. Each nature, human and divine, is complete but yet there is still only one person.
We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach people to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood;

truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body;

consubstantial [co-essential] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood;

in all things like unto us, without sin;

begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood;

one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably;

the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ;

as the prophets from the beginning [have declared] concerning Him, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.

Historically, theologians have explained this creed by saying that the attributes of the divine nature and the attributes of the human nature are communicated (Latin, communicatio idiomatum) to the single person of Jesus. If the attributes of the divine nature are in fact communicated to the person of Jesus, then it would follow that the person of Jesus could not die. Theologians, however, have argued that the reason the death of Jesus is of sufficient value to pay the price for man's sin is because he was not only a man but also God. They claim He was the God-man (a theanthropic person). It is because of this fact that his death is of infinite value. As the Synod of Dordt (1618-1619 CE)stated it:

This death of the Son of God is the only and most perfect sacrifice and satisfaction for sins, of infinite value and worth, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world. This death is of such great value and worth because the person who submitted to it is not only a true and perfectly holy man, but also the only-begotten Son of God, of the same eternal and infinite essence with the Father and the Holy Spirit, for these qualifications were necessary for our Savior.

However, according to classic Christian theology, as espoused by Craig, only the human nature of Jesus died. If only the human nature died, then how is the death of Jesus of sufficient value to pay for all of mankind's sins? Does anyone beside me see the problem?

Furthermore, the Scripture teaches that the penalty for sin is more than physical death. It is also spiritual death. Craig defines death as: the separation of the soul from the body when the body ceases to be a living organism. The soul survives the body and will someday be re-united with it in a resurrected form. Okay, but that only defines physical death. Spiritual death, if I understand the Bible correctly, involves the separation of the spirit/soul of the individual from the presence of God. It is separation from God for eternity. This is usually defined as "hell." This is in reality the price for man's sin.

Now Jesus was supposed to have paid the price for man's sin, according to Christians. He could only do this if he died spiritually. The authors of Matthew (27:46) and Mark (15:34)seem to understand this when they report that on the cross Jesus cried out: My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?

This presents a huge theological problem. How can God (the Son) be separated from God (the Father)? This would create a break in the Trinity. Something no orthodox theologian would allow. However, if this did not happen, how then did the death of Jesus pay the price for man's sin? Once again, does anyone besides me see the problem? Craig apparently does not.

What I have presented here is an internal consistency problem for evangelical theology. Their own theology is contradictory. This inconsistency is, one of the reasons, why I left evangelical Christianity.


  1. I didn't have some of these issues in the Christianity in which I grew up (Armstrongism) because it wasn't tied to some of these creeds. It said that God the Son became a man and shed his divine prerogatives, died, and was dead as a doornail until God the Father raised him up (though I'm not sure how it addressed the passage in John where Jesus said he--Jesus--would raise himself up).

    But Garner Ted Armstrong also said that Jesus could pay the price for all of our sins because he was God and was worth more than all of us put together. How he reconciled that, I don't know. But I wonder if Jesus could have had a great status even after shedding his divine prerogatives. He was still the creator. He was still the Son of God. He was different as a flash-and-blood human being than he was before that point, but he could have still had status, based on who he was. I've given this analogy to other people---If I'm a prince and decide to live as a pauper and refuse to use my authority, I'm still a prince, with royal blood in my veins.

  2. The trinity itself seems to be a problem for christianity. As I understand it it was created as an attempt to reconcile what are otherwise contradictory statements in the new testament.

    The problem is that it is itself illogical and contradictory as many at the time said. For centuries this contradiction was addressed by ensuring ignorance among the faithful and responding with "isn't it a blessed mystery, now shut up my child and get back to work" to anyone who asked.

    Today the flaws and faults are being more publicly discussed and dissected beyond the seminaries where people learn to bury their doubts.

  3. I got kicked out of Catholic school (at the age of 7, no less) for asking that very question!

    Okay, I'll go read the post now.

  4. Having read the post, that is exactly the problem I was having with the trinity/Jesus as god, but also as man thing at the age of 7. Unfortunately for me (my parents were SO angry at me), no 7-year-old, however smart, has the abstract thinking ability to deal with Craig's explanation, so I ended up in a back and forth with a nun. Not good.

  5. I'm thinking about Matthew 17, Mark 9 and Luke 9, the sections called the transfiguration. Peter, James and John accompany Jesus to a mountain top where they see Moses, who had died and was buried, Elijah, who was taken up to heaven without dying, and Jesus together. In Luke it says the apostles see Moses and Elijah in their "glorious splendor". It seems that Moses and Elijah must also have a divine nature. Maybe this "divine nature" is called a soul, a piece of the divine, that G-d blew into us at some point after he created us. Whatever Moses and Elijah had they didn't need Jesus for it.

    Or maybe this is just a hallucination by Peter, James and John. Or maybe this is just a made up story.

  6. Part of what Craig said stood out to me, Emet, and your comment reminded me of that. He said Christ's soul survived while Christ was dead. Is that how he accounts for Jesus' divine self being alive while his human self was dead: his divine self was his soul? If that's what he's saying, then he's embracing the Apollinarian heresy (I think), which says that Jesus' mind was divine, whereas his body was human. Or he's a Nestorian, a view saying that Jesus' divine self was in the temple of his body.

  7. James,

    I don't think Craig is saying that Jesus did not have a complete humanity (i.e., human body and human soul). He is too smart to fall into that heresy. I am sure he believes that the person of Jesus possessed both 100% human nature and 100% divine nature.

    However, this raises some more questions which I need to address in more detail. Perhaps tomorrow.

  8. Craig's response makes perfect sense to me. I am not sure where the problem is for you Ken. It certainly is not a contradiction...

    God Bless...

  9. I think the problem is that if christ's divine nature did not die then what does it actually mean to say "god" died, actually nothing.

    It's a conundrum that I think flows automatically from the concept of the trinity.

    credo quia absurdum perhaps?

    "The Son of God died: it is wholly credible, because it is unsound.
    And, buried, He rose again: it is certain, because impossible."

  10. I am going to ask that everyone just ignore ZDenny until such time as he offers some arguments.

  11. ** For example, Christ is omnipotent relative to his divine nature but he is limited in power relative to his human nature. He is omniscient with respect to his divine nature but ignorant of various facts with respect to his human nature.**

    A lot of times when discussing theology with orthodox Christians, they say that they don't believe all paths lead to God because two contradictory things can't be true. Yet isn't this precisely what's argued here? Christ is both omnipotent and limited in power? Christ is omniscient, and yet doesn't know everything? Christ both died and didn't die?

    Not only that, but if only the human nature of Christ died, then doesn't that mean God demanded a human sacrifice?

  12. OneSmallStep,

    You make an excellent point which I do intend to address eventually. The orthodox doctrine of the Person of Chrisy is illogical as is also the doctrine of the trinity.

  13. Only God the father is immortal not Jesus although he is Divine in nature and second in the Godhead and is God.
    Jesus the Divine being who Is God did die on the cross to pay for our sins. A human sacrifice would not have covered our sins.

    The only "begotten son" ie only one ever born of God who is God but is not immortal this is how God could die.

    Only God the Father is Immortal and cannot ever die.

    Can u lot not understand the scriptures?