Book 2 Chapter 13 Section 1-4
Having established that it was necessary for our salvation for Christ to become man in the last chapter, Calvin moves on to argue against those who deny the full humanity of Christ. He argues against the ancient heresies of the Manichees and Marcionites who taught that Christ was “invested with celestial flesh” or only appeared as a “phantom” without a real body, respectively.
Marcion imagined the Christ assumed a phantom instead of a body because it is said that He was made in the likeness of man (Philippians 2.7). But the context of this verse is the humility of Christ in the face of His right to glory and honour. The point is that Christ was willing to appear as if he was only a man and nothing more, even though the truth was very different.
The Manichees dreamed of an aerial body because Christ is called the second Adam, the Lord from heaven (1 Corinthians 15.47). But, as Calvin argues “the apostle does not there speak of the essence of His body as heavenly, but of the spiritual life which, derived from Christ, quickens us.” Indeed, this very passage is one of the strongest in support of the real physical body of Christ as Paul argues repeatedly that our future resurrection from the dead is intimately connected with whether Christ’s real, physical, flesh and blood body rose from the grave.
The other points used to demonstrate the real and full humanity of Christ are that:
- The phrase “seed of Abraham” is directly applied to Christ by Paul (Galatians 3.16). This is not an allegorical statement but echos the promise made in Genesis 3.15 that the seed of the woman would crush Satan’s head.
- He was subject to physical infirmities. Jesus exhibited the full range of human physical needs and emotions – laughter, crying, being tired, frustration, jubilation, and disappointment.
- His portrayal in scripture as having experienced our weakness (Hebrews 2.11, 17; 4.15). Why would we be exhorted to consider Christ as being sympathetic with our human frailties if He never really became human?
- He was born of a woman (Galatians 4.5). Although His conception was supernatural His gestation within the womb and birth was just as any other human. He did not arrive on a cloud from heaven, but through the same means that we all arrived on this world.
The mystery of the incarnation is profound. The bible clearly teaches that Jesus Christ has a fully human and fully divine nature in one person. But what this must have been like to experience is clearly beyond our human minds. What must it have been like for the eternal second person of the trinity to have experienced life on earth for the first time? To be hungry and satisfy that hunger with food, to feel the wind and rain, to feel the pain of torture and the agony of death.
And yet His two natures never became confused or contradictory. The eternal Word became flesh, but still sustained creation every moment. “The Son of God descended miraculously from heaven, yet without abandoning heaven; was pleased to be conceived miraculously in the Virgin’s womb, and yet always filled the world as from the beginning.”
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.” Hebrews 4.17