Christological Heresies: DOCETISM

The next important error to develop concerning the person of Christ was Docetism. This term was derived from the Greek word dokeo, meaning to “seem,” or to “appear.” While the Ebionites believed that Christ had only a human nature, the Doceti held precisely the opposite error, asserting that He had only a divine nature and that His appearance in this world was only an illusion, or, more correctly, a theophany. According to this view He did not have a real human body and therefore could not have had a real human life. This meant further that He suffered no real pain and died no real death.

This peculiar belief was based on the philosophical assumption that matter is inherently evil. Since Christ was acknowledged to be altogether pure they could not admit that He was in any way connected with a physical body. Docetism was therefore simply pagan philosophy within the Church. It appeared quite early, about the year A. D. 70, and continued for approximately a century. The Patripassion and Sabellian heresies which appeared later may well be considered sects of the Docetic heresy since they too denied any real humanity in Christ.

The Scripture refutation of Docetism is found in John’s declaration that “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father), full of grace and truth,” 1:14; and also in the unequivocal statement of Heb. 2:14: “Since then the children are sharers in flesh and blood, He also Himself in like manner partook of the same.” Incidentally we may add that the early appearance of Docetism with its strong emphasis on the Deity of Christ is eloquent testimony showing that the impression made upon those who saw and heard Him in the flesh was that He was a supernatural Being.

Categories: Theology

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