Bryan Paul Sullo

Skinless Jesus

In Faith & Religion on 9 January 2014 at 4:32 pm

Recently, I heard someone on a Christian podcast claim that she had to be “Jesus with skin on” to her children. The expression immediately made my skin crawl, as I imagined some fleshless version of Jesus. How had he gotten that way? Was there some sort of flesh-eating bacteria in the Bible?

The woman’s sentiment was clear enough from the context: She wanted to be a representation, a likeness, an icon of Christ for her kids. The way she put it, though, really bothered me. The podcast ended, but I couldn’t get that phrase out of my mind. “Jesus with skin on.” Did Jesus lose his skin at some point along the way?

Certainly, after the Resurrection, the gospel writers take great pains to assure their readers that the risen Jesus was a being of flesh and blood, and not some sort of apparition: He ate. People touched him. He had his skin on then. So, Jesus was clearly in the flesh when he was “taken up into Heaven” before the eyes of the Apostles at the end of the gospel of Luke. There is no evidence that he discarded his body along the way.

Does that mean Jesus still has his skin on, and is it really important? I believe the answer to both questions is yes.

I don’t claim to know how things work in Heaven, but I do know that Christians are promised a bodily resurrection that comes complete with a new, heavenly body like Christ’s resurrection body. If Christ’s resurrection body isn’t good enough to take to Heaven, what’s the point.

More importantly though, there is at least one heresy implicit in the idea that Jesus sloughed off his humanity at the door to the heavenly throne room. The early church dealt with several such heresies in the first few centuries of Christendom:

There was Docetism, which claimed that Jesus was divine, but only appeared to be human. It was all a very clever illusion. Docetism is mentioned, though not by name, in the New Testament, and also mentioned in the writings of St. Ignatius.

Then, there’s Apollinarianism, which taught that Jesus had no human soul, that Jesus’ body was just a meat-puppet for the second person of the Trinity. This was condemned in 381 by the 2nd ecumenical council in Constantiople.

Next, came Nestorianism, whose adherents believed Jesus was two people—one human and one divine—in the same body (à la Steve Martin and Lilly Tomlin in All of Me). Nestorianism was condemed as heresy at the third Ecumenical Council in 431.

These, and several other heresies that came and went, all spring from Dualism, the idea that matter and spirit are in opposition. In simpler terms: spirit good, matter bad. Dualism tries to separate Christ’s divinity and humanity because a perfect person couldn’t possibly be made of imperfect matter. However, Christ’s dual nature is terribly important to our salvation, since Christ is the one point where human and divine meet.

Take two mathematically perfect spheres, one representing Heaven and the other, creation. Move them together until they touch. That point where the spheres touch is Jesus Christ. He’s not a point on one sphere that touches the other; he’s not two points, one on each sphere; he’s not a third entity holding the two together; he is the one and only point of contact. He’s both spheres at once. He’s the god-man. He is the bridge between the realms.

If Jesus had been only temporarily human, this bridge would now be severed. We’d be right back where we started—separated from God. It’s only by the skin of Jesus—by the fact that God’s nature and our nature exist in one being—that this world has any hope of redemption.

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