Was Jesus a Spirit or Wasn't He? (An Appeal to Trinitarians)
by Hal Flemings - Jehovah's Witnesses United, May 1990
In their zeal to discredit Jehovah’s Witnesses, many writers inadvertently create irreconcilable difficulties for themselves. This paper will identify one of those difficulties.
Mainstream Trinitarians believe that when Jesus Christ was on the earth in the First Century of our Common Era that he was totally man and totally god. Everyone seems to agree with Jesus at John 4:24 where he stated, "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." (King James Version) Because God is a spirit and Trinitarians are certain that Jesus is God, they argue that while on earth Jesus was God incarnate, that is, a spirit being enclosed with flesh. Because Jehovah's Witnesses reject this view, literally volumes of books, magazines, tracts, cassette tapes, etc., have been produced to challenge them on the doctrine of the Trinity and the nature of Christ.
Consider the following indicative statements that show that the mainstream churches and others are firm on their view that Jesus Christ on the earth was a god-man - or rather the God-man:
1. Jesus is both God and man at the same time.
2. The incarnation of the eternal Son who came from the bosom of the Father is clearly set forth in the Scriptures.
3. A God set forth in the image of man is a God who is fully understood.
More specifically, in Francis Cassilly's volume entitled Religion Doctrine and Practice - For Use in Catholic High Schools, page 372, we observe:
"Are there two natures in Jesus Christ? Yes, there are two natures in Jesus Christ, the Divine Nature and the human nature." It is thus clear that for most Protestants and Catholics that when Jesus walked the face of the earth, he was a spirit and a man simultaneously.
The same critics of Jehovah's Witnesses who take issue with their view of Christ in relation to the Trinity also take umbrage with the Witness view of the resurrection of Christ. Jehovah's Witnesses teach that Jesus Christ, the man, was resurrected a spirit. Note the indicative statements below that are often repeated by such critics:
1. Luke 24:36-45 argues against the Jehovah's Witness theory. Since Jesus is omniscient, he knew that false prophets would arise who teach that he was nothing more than a spirit.
2. Luke 24 proves that Jesus Christ was not a spirit at his resurrection. One day he will return in the glorified resurrection body in which he left, and we shall know him by the print of the nails on his hand.
3. 1 Peter 3:18 cannot be used to demonstrate that Christ rose as a spirit creature because such an interpretation is clearly contradicted in the Gospels, by Paul and in Peter's messages recorded in Acts, which imply the empty tomb and the preservation of Jesus' flesh.
This paper is not concerned with defending the Witness stand on the nature of Christ at his resurrection or the question of Christ being the Almighty God or not; those matters have been effectively addressed elsewhere. What we are considering here is a serious contradiction.
That contradiction is as follows: these antagonists go to great lengths to establish that while on earth Jesus was God incarnate - a spirit clothed in flesh - but then deny that he was a spirit at all at his resurrection. Either he was a spirit or he was not a spirit. If he was God in the flesh - experiencing two natures simultaneously - then he was a spirit at his resurrection since God is a spirit. On the other hand, if indeed he was, in reality, not a spirit but a "glorified body", then he was not a God-man in the sense Trinitarians understand it, since a God-man is a spirit clothed in flesh. They cannot have it both ways. One of the attacks on the Witnesses has to be abandoned.
Was Jesus raised in a body of flesh, and does he have such a body in heaven now?
1 Pet. 3:18: “Christ died once for all time concerning sins, a righteous person for unrighteous ones, that he might lead you to God, he being put to death in the flesh, but being made alive in the spirit [“by the Spirit,” KJ; “in the spirit,” RS, NE, Dy, JB].” (At his resurrection from the dead, Jesus was brought forth with a spirit body. In the Greek text the words “flesh” and “spirit” are put in contrast to each other, and both are in the dative case; so, if a translator uses the rendering “by the spirit” he should also consistently say “by the flesh,” or if he uses “in the flesh” he should also say “in the spirit.”)
Acts 10:40, 41: “God raised this One [Jesus Christ] up on the third day and granted him to become manifest, not to all the people, but to witnesses appointed beforehand by God.” (Why did not others see him too? Because he was a spirit creature and when, as angels had done in the past, he materialized fleshly bodies to make himself visible, he did so only in the presence of his disciples.)
1 Cor. 15:45: “It is even so written: ‘The first man Adam became a living soul.’ The last Adam [Jesus Christ, who was perfect as was Adam when created] became a life-giving spirit.”
What does Luke 24:36-39 mean regarding the body in which Jesus was resurrected?
Luke 24:36-39: “While they [the disciples] were speaking of these things he himself stood in their midst and said to them: ‘May you have peace.’ But because they were terrified, and had become frightened, they were imagining they beheld a spirit. So he said to them: ‘Why are you troubled, and why is it doubts come up in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; feel me and see, because a spirit does not have flesh and bones just as you behold that I have.’”
Humans cannot see spirits, so the disciples evidently thought they were seeing an apparition or a vision. (Compare Mark 6:49, 50.) Jesus assured them that he was no apparition; they could see his body of flesh and could touch him, feeling the bones; he also ate in their presence. Similarly, in the past, angels had materialized in order to be seen by men; they had eaten, and some had even married and fathered children. (Gen. 6:4; 19:1-3) Following his resurrection, Jesus did not always appear in the same body of flesh (perhaps to reinforce in their minds the fact that he was then a spirit), and so he was not immediately recognized even by his close associates. (John 20:14, 15; 21:4-7) However, by his repeatedly appearing to them in materialized bodies and then saying and doing things that they would identify with the Jesus they knew, he strengthened their faith in the fact that he truly had been resurrected from the dead.
If the disciples had actually seen Jesus in the body that he now has in heaven, Paul would not later have referred to the glorified Christ as being “the exact representation of [God’s] very being,” because God is a Spirit and has never been in the flesh.—Heb. 1:3; compare 1 Timothy 6:16.
When reading the reports of Jesus’ postresurrection appearances, we are helped to understand them properly if we keep in mind 1 Peter 3:18 and 1 Corinthians 15:45, quoted on page 334.
Does Jesus have his fleshly body in heaven?
1 Cor. 15:42-50, RS: “So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. . . . It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. . . . Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam [Jesus Christ, who was a perfect human as Adam had been at the start] became a life-giving spirit. . . . I tell you this, brethren: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” (Italics added.)
1 Pet. 3:18, RS: “Christ also died for sins once for all, . . . being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit [“in the spirit,” NE, AT, JB, Dy].” (See page 334.)
Illustration: If a man pays a debt for a friend but then promptly takes back the payment, obviously the debt continues. Likewise, if, when he was resurrected, Jesus had taken back his human body of flesh and blood, which had been given in sacrifice to pay the ransom price, what effect would that have had on the provision he was making to relieve faithful persons of the debt of sin?
It is true that Jesus appeared in physical form to his disciples after his resurrection. But on certain occasions, why did they not at first recognize him? (Luke 24:15-32; John 20:14-16) On one occasion, for the benefit of Thomas, Jesus appeared with the physical evidence of nail prints in his hands and a spear wound in his side. But how was it possible on that occasion for him suddenly to appear in their midst even though the doors were locked? (John 20:26, 27) Jesus evidently materialized bodies on these occasions, as angels had done in the past when appearing to humans. Disposing of Jesus’ physical body at the time of his resurrection presented no problem for God. Interestingly, although the physical body was not left by God in the tomb (evidently to strengthen the conviction of the disciples that Jesus had actually been raised), the linen cloths in which it had been wrapped were left there; yet, the resurrected Jesus always appeared fully clothed.—John 20:6, 7.
- Reasoning from the Scriptures, WTB&TS