There aren’t many examples of healthy online theological debate, but I’m grateful to Justin Taylor and Dr Stephen Wellum for demonstrating that it can be done, and done well.
While His human soul was separated from His body, His divine nature was separated from neither and never will be. His divine nature was as united to His lifeless body on earth as it was to His glorified soul in heaven. That means I can worship Him equally in the grave as in glory!
Justin and Stephen responded with Was Jesus Really In The Tomb as a Corpse? I thought this was a fine model of how important theology can be debated in a humble, respectful, constructive manner. There’s no attempt at point-scoring, no name-calling, and no impugning of motives. The aim is clearly to guard the person and work of Christ from any misunderstanding or confusion, and to bring readers to a better knowledge of Christ and ultimately to deeper love and worship of Him. That’s what it did for me anyway.
I would summarize Dr. Wellum’s response as follows:
- There is a danger when speaking of “God being in the tomb” that some will think that the entire being of God was there.
- The divine nature of the Son did not add to himself or unite himself to a human nature; instead it was the person of the Son who forever subsists in the divine nature and who now adds to himself a human nature.
- As Christ’s human body was separated from the person of the Son in the grave, that body cannot be called God or worshipped as God at that time.
I replied to Dr. Wellum in the comments section here, where I briefly addressed his three points. Here’s a summary of what I wrote:
1. God’s Entire Being?
Yes, there is a danger that by speaking of God without qualification, without specifically saying “God the Son,” a reader could think that I was speaking about the whole being of God being a corpse. I don’t think it’s very likely, but it is possible. In any future discussion on similar points I should make clear that I am only referring to one person of the Godhead.
2. Divine Nature?
I think our disagreement here may be more to do with different traditions or different audiences. Instead of speaking of the “divine nature of the son,” Dr. Wellum wants me use the phrase, “the person of the son who forever subsists in divine nature.”
One of the richest blessings of my own Scottish Presbyterian tradition, especially in the Scottish Highlands where I pastored, was the number of sermons and Christian fellowships that centered upon the person of Christ. Ordinary everyday Christians would spend hours studying this area and many’s a blessed evening (and early morning!) of fellowship I spent with these dear Christians worshipfully discussing the relationship between the two natures of Christ. In that tradition we usually spoke of “Christ’s divine nature” and “Christ’s human nature” without anyone ever thinking that either was separate from the person of the Son. However, I should not assume that others from other traditions hear these words in the same way as I do.
Some of our differences in terminology here may also be partly to do with who we are writing for. While I was writing a short blog post for a popular audience, Dr. Wellum, I believe, is writing a high-level Christology at the moment.
3. Separated Body?
Our biggest point of disagreement is here. Dr. Wellum believes that the body of Christ in the tomb was separated from the person of the Son, and that during these three days the Son only subsisted in his human soul and his divine nature.
Perhaps Dr. Wellum would interpret some of the following historic confessional statements differently, but I believe these summaries of biblical teaching support the view that the body of the Son of God, while separated from his soul, was never separated from His divine person.
The Apostle’s Creed
I believe…in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary:
Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried:
Jesus Christ was buried. He, not a body detached from Him, was buried. In other words, the body was always a He, not an It.
Westminster Confession of Faith (7.2)
Two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person.
I believe this is teaching that the whole human nature of Christ, His whole manhood, His body and soul, were inseparably joined to His Godhood.
Westminster Larger Catechism 50
Christ’s humiliation after his death consisted in his being buried, and continuing in the state of the dead, and under the power of death till the third day; which hath been otherwise expressed in these words, He descended into hell.
If I’m reading this correctly, this answer is speaking of Christ as a person, not of a body separated from the person of the Son. Christ in his human body was buried and continued in the state of the dead and under the power of death.
Belgic Confession Article 19
So then what he committed to his Father when he died was a real human spirit which left his body. But meanwhile his divine nature remained united with his human nature even when he was lying in the grave; and
I think this is one of the most beautiful statements of historic Reformed Christology that’s ever been written. Why not take some time to meditate on the mystery of these precious words.
His divine nature remained united with his human nature even when he was lying in the grave.
His deity never ceased to be in him.
Just as it was in him when he was a little child.
Though for a while it did not show itself as such.
I know that’s where Stephen, Justin and I all want this to end up, whatever our minor disagreements about the most profound truths in the universe.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail th’incarnate Deity.