Jul 10, 2009


Many of the extant Gnostic texts do have Docetic elements in them but the Docetists did not stop there; they also misread Scripture to suit their own theological purposes. For example, a favorite verse of theirs was Phillipians 2:7, which says that Christ “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men”.

It helps to look at the Greek text of this verse to get at its root meaning, which deals with the reality of the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity. Greek scholar A.T. Robertson is helpful here:

Form of a servant (μορφην δουλου [morphēn doulou]) means he took the characteristic attributes (morphen as in Phillipans 2:6) of a slave. His humanity was as real as his deity and in the likeness of men (ἐν ὁμοιωματι ἀνθρωπων [en homoiōmati anthrōpōn]) means it was a likeness, but a real likeness … no mere phantom humanity as the Docetic Gnostics held. Note the difference in tense between huparchon (eternal existence in the morphe of God) and genomenos (second aorist middle participle of ginomai, becoming, definite entrance in time upon his humanity).

[SOURCE: A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Vol.V c1932, Vol.VI c1933 by Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention; Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, 1997), Php 2:7.]

Even though the Docetists twisted the truth of the text terribly to tout their trendy teaching, it seems as if once Ignatius possibly went outisde of the text in order to counter them. This very interesting response by Ignatius can be found in his Letter to the Smyrnaeans 3.2. Here, Ignatius quotes Jesus as saying “I am not a bodiless spirit”.

This agrapha (agrapha are statements attributed to Jesus but are not found anywhere in the New Testament itself; the word literally means “unwritten things”.) bears a small resemblance to Luke 24:39 but F.F. Bruce thinks Ignatius may be quoting from a work called The Teaching of Peter. [SOURCE: F.F. Bruce, The Spreading Flame: The Rise and Progress of Christianity from its First Beginnings to the Conversion of the English, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s, 1970), 246.] The evidence for this is inconclusive at this point.

Another oft-cited verse by the Docetists was John 3:13, where Jesus said to Nicodemus: “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man”.

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