The divinity of Christ according to Tertullian’s ‘On the Resurrection of the Flesh’

Alexander Ivanov, ‘Christ’s Appearance to Mary Magdalene after the Resurrection’ (1835). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Alexander Ivanov, ‘Christ’s Appearance to Mary Magdalene after the Resurrection’ (1835). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The North African Christian theologian Tertullian (c. 145—220 A.D.) was a prolific writer, and one of our key witnesses to the condition and beliefs of Christianity at the end of the second century. His work ‘On the Resurrection of the Flesh’ was written to defend orthodox Christianity against the many heresies, then current, which taught that Jesus of Nazareth had only appeared to be human (and that, therefore, there was no resurrection of the body of Christ). But we also have in it a wonderful statement showing the equally orthodox belief that Christ was not merely human, but also God.

He writes[1]:—

“We show that Christ, in whom God is plainly discerned, is precisely of such a nature as the Creator promised he would be.”

Tertullian, ‘On the Resurrection of the Flesh,’ chapter 2

“Hence, we have ourselves previously issued our volume On the Flesh of Christ,[2] in which we both furnish proofs for the reality [of the flesh], as opposed to its being an empty phantom; and we claim for it a human nature [in Christ] which is without any characteristic particular [to himself] — such a nature as has marked out Christ as being both man and the Son of Man.

“For when we prove him to be invested with flesh and in a bodily condition, we at the same time refute heresy, by establishing the rule that no other being than the Creator must be believed to be God;[3] since we show that Christ, in whom God is plainly discerned, is precisely of such a nature as the Creator promised[4] he would be.[5]

Thus, although it’s not Tertullian’s main thesis in this work, even in defending the true humanity of Jesus —

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil…[6]

— Tertullian shows us the early Christian belief that Jesus was also divine: ‘God, and the Son of God,’ as one might say.

“Tertullian’s assertion is well worthy of our consideration and meditation. Orthodox Christians have always believed that Jesus is both God and man.”

This is certainly not the only place in Tertullian’s surviving writings where he asserts the divinity of Christ. He does so frequently; indeed, at much greater length in other works such as his Against Praxeas. His assertion here is nevertheless well worthy of our consideration and meditation. Orthodox Christians have always believed that Jesus is both God and man.

And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy — the Son of God.”[7]

Tertullian’s On the Resurrection of the Flesh, chapter 2:
https://ccel.org/ccel/tertullian/resurrection_flesh/anf03.v.viii.ii.html

 

 

Note
etimasthe.com is something I do outside of full-time employment. Consequently I generally only post new material on here once or twice a week.

The best way to stay informed of new content on here is to follow us on Twitter (@etimasthe) or to ‘like’ our Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/etimasthe.

 


Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 


[1] On the Resurrection of the Flesh, chapter 2. In Tertullian, The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. III: Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian (T&T Clark, Edinburgh; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI, 1997), 546. This work was written around A.D. 208.

[2] Another work of Tertullian’s, written around A.D. 207.

[3] The heretics taught that the physical universe was created by a being, the Demiurge, evil and inferior to the true God.

[4] That is, in the Old Testament prophecies.

[5] Emphasis mine. I have slightly modernized the translation from the one found in The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. III: Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian.

[6] Hebrews 2:14

[7] Luke 1:30-35

Add a Comment