Ancient Advent mediation #1 Tertullian: “On the flesh of Christ”

In today’s post I want to give the reader excerpts from the early church father Tertullian’s piece entitled: “On the Flesh of Christ”.  The entire text of this work is available at:

Tertullian was a lawyer when he had converted to Christianity and wrote various theological treatises in or around 200 A.D.  Tertullian was a defender of Christianity and in this particular work is upholding the the doctrine of Christ’s full humanity against various heretics who denied to Christ any real humanity as recorded in the Four Gospel records. As you read the excerpts below, I pray they will be used to set your heart and mind towards the true meaning of this advent season. Galatians 4:4-5 states: “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, 5 so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.”

For sake of ease headings will be provided with each excerpt to provide the sense of progression that Tertullian follows in arguing for the humanity of Jesus as it touches his nativity, life, crucifixion and resurrection.

Excerpts from Tertullian’s: On the Flesh of Christ

The purposes for which the Son came to be born and to become a man                 Either take away nativity, and then show us your man; or else withdraw the flesh, and then present to our view the being whom God has redeemed—since it is these very conditions which constitute the man whom God has redeemed. And are you for turning these conditions into occasions of blushing to the very creature whom He has redeemed, (censuring them), too, as unworthy of Him who certainly would not have redeemed them had He not loved them? Our birth He reforms from death by a second birth from heaven; our flesh He restores from every harassing malady; when leprous, He cleanses it of the stain; when blind, He rekindles its light; when palsied, He renews its strength; when possessed with devils, He exorcises it; when dead, He reanimates it,—then shall we blush to own it?”                                                                                                                         

The Person of the Son as God came in the virgin birth to also be man                    Otherwise Christ could not be described as being man without flesh, nor the Son of man without any human parent; just as He is not God without the Spirit of God, nor the Son of God without having God for His father. Thus the nature  of the two substances displayed Him as man and God,—in one respect born, in the other unborn; in one respect fleshly, in the other spiritual; in one sense weak, in the other exceeding strong; in one sense dying, in the other living. This property of the two states—the divine and the human—is distinctly asserted with equal truth of both natures alike, with the same belief both in respect of the Spirit  and of the flesh. The powers of the Spirit, proved Him to be God, His sufferings attested the flesh of man. If His powers were not without the Spirit in like manner, were not His sufferings without the flesh. If His flesh with its sufferings was fictitious, for the same reason was the Spirit false with all its powers. Wherefore halve Christ with a lie? He was wholly the truth.”                

Christ’s ability to die on the cross needed a birth.                                                “Christ, however, having been sent to die, had necessarily to be also born, that He might be capable of death; for nothing is in the habit of dying but that which is born. Between nativity and mortality there is a mutual contrast. The law which makes us die is the cause of our being born. Now, since Christ died owing to the condition which undergoes death, but that undergoes death which is also born, the consequence was—nay, it was an antecedent necessity—that He must have been born also,  by reason of the condition which undergoes birth; because He had to die in obedience to that very condition which, because it begins with birth, ends in death.” (

The significance of Christ’s humanity being ordinary                                                    “All these marks of the earthy origin were in Christ; and it is they which obscured Him as the Son of God, for He was looked on as man, for no other reason whatever than because He existed in the corporeal substance of a man. Or else, show us some celestial substance in Him purloined from the Bear, and the Pleiades, and the Hyades. Well, then, the characteristics which we have enumerated are so many proofs that His was an earthy flesh, as ours is; but anything new or anything strange I do not discover. Indeed it was from His words and actions only, from His teaching and miracles solely, that men, though amazed, owned Christ to be man.”

“Why deny it to be earthy, when you have the best of reasons for knowing it to be earthy? He hungered under the devil’s temptation; He thirsted with the woman of Samaria; He wept over Lazarus; He trembles at death (for “the flesh,” as He says, “is weak”); at last, He pours out His blood.”                                                                              

How the virgin birth of Jesus relates to the New Birth of the believer in Him     “Now it is easy to see what was the novelty of Christ’s being born of a virgin. It was simply this, that (He was born) of a virgin in the real manner which we have indicated, in order that our regeneration might have virginal purity,—spiritually cleansed from all pollutions through Christ, who was Himself a virgin, even in the flesh, in that He was born of a virgin’s flesh.”                                                                                                            

How the incarnation is the foundation for Christ’s work on the cross and second coming                                                                                                                                  “Surely he is antichrist who denies that Christ has come in the flesh.  By declaring that His flesh is simply and absolutely true, and taken in the plain sense of its own nature, the Scripture aims a blow at all who make distinctions in it.  In the same way, also, when it defines the very Christ to be but one, it shakes the fancies of those who exhibit a multiform Christ, who make Christ to be one being and Jesus another,—representing one as escaping out of the midst of the crowds, and the other as detained by them; one as appearing on a solitary mountain to three companions, clothed with glory in a cloud, the other as an ordinary man holding intercourse with all,  one as magnanimous, but the other as timid; lastly, one as suffering death, the other as risen again, by means of which event they maintain a resurrection of their own also, only in another flesh. Happily, however, He who suffered “will come again from heaven,”  and by all shall He be seen, who rose again from the dead. They too who crucified Him shall see and acknowledge Him; that is to say, His very flesh, against which they spent their fury, and without which it would be impossible for Himself either to exist or to be seen; so that they must blush with shame who affirm that His flesh sits in heaven void of sensation, like a sheath only, Christ being withdrawn from it; as well as those who (maintain) that His flesh and soul are just the same thing, or else that His soul is all that exists,  but that His flesh no longer lives.”                                                                                                                                

Tertullian’s conclusion of the importance of Christ’s incarnation to the Christian faith                                                                                                                                 “But let this suffice on our present subject; for I think that by this time proof enough has been adduced of the flesh in Christ having both been born of the virgin, and being human in its nature. And this discussion alone might have been sufficient, without encountering the isolated opinions which have been raised from different quarters. We have, however, challenged these opinions to the test, both of the arguments which sustain them, and of the Scriptures which are appealed to, and this we have done ex abundanti; so that we have, by showing what the flesh of Christ was, and whence it was derived, also predetermined the question, against all objectors, of what that flesh was not. The resurrection, however, of our own flesh will have to be maintained in another little treatise, and so bring to a close this present one, which serves as a general preface, and which will pave the way for the approaching subject now that it is plain what kind of body that was which rose again in Christ.”                                                                          

About pastormahlon

By the grace of God I was converted to saving faith in Jesus Christ at the age of 10 and called into the Gospel ministry by age 17. Through the Lord's grace I completed a Bachelors in Bible at Lancaster Bible College in 1996 and have been married to my beautiful wife since that same year. We have been blessed with four children, ranging from 7-18 years of age. In 2002 the Lord enabled me to complete a Master of Arts in Christian Thought at Biblical Theological Seminary, Hatfield PA. For nearly 25 years I have been preaching and teaching God's Word and have been studying the original languages since 1994. In 2016 God called my family and me to move to begin a pastorate at a wonderful Southern Baptist Congregation here in Northern New York.
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