What is Docetism?

Question
What is Docetism?
Answer
Docetism was an early heresy in the church. It taught a false view of Jesus' humanity. Docetism was related to Gnosticism, which understood that physical matter was inherently evil and the spiritual was inherently good. The word Docetism comes from the Greek word dokein, which means "to seem." According to Docetism, Jesus Christ only seemed to be human.

Docetism denied the full humanity of Jesus Christ. Some in their sect taught that Jesus was only a phantom, only appearing to have a body. Others taught that Jesus had some sort of heavenly body, but not a real, natural body of human flesh.

However, if Jesus did not have a real body then he could not have lived a real life or have actually died. Therefore, Docetism denies the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ; it was a mere illusion. So, in essence they deny the biblical doctrine of salvation as well (1 Cor 15:17).

Jesus was fully human. He was actually born as a real baby (Matt 1:18-25; Luke 2:1-20; Gal 4:4), lived a real life (wept [John 11:35], slept [Mark 4:38], hungered and thirsted [John 4:6-7]), and when he died, he really suffered and bled (Isa 53:5; Matt 27:26, 29, 35; Luke 22:44; John 19:34). After his bodily resurrection, Jesus denied he was a mere phantom saying to Thomas, "See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have" (Luke 24:39). The apostle John warned that to deny that Jesus came in the flesh was the spirit of antichrist (1 John 4:1-2: 2 John 1:7). If Jesus did not actually shed his blood on the Cross, then his death was absolutely meaningless (1 Cor 15:17).

Despite all the heresies in the early church (among them, Adoptionism, Albigenses, Apollinarianism, Arianism, Docetism, Ebionism, Gnosticism, Kenosis, Marcionism, Modalism, Monarchianism, Monophysitism, Nestorianism, Patripassionism, Pelagianism, Semi-Pelagianism, Socinianism, Subordinationism, and Tritheism, etc.) the Word of God still abides (1 Pet 1:23). Amidst all these assaults against God and his church by numerous false religions, the church has grown stronger, not weaker. In many ways, the church should be thankful for the gift of opposition!

Related Topics:

Could Jesus Sin?
Christological Heresies?
What is Adoptionism?
What is Albigenses?
What is Apollinarianism?
What is Arianism?
What is Ebionism?
What is Gnosticism?
What is Kenosis?
What is Marcionism?
What is Modalism?
What is Monarchianism?
What is Monophysitism?
What is Nestorianism?
What is Patripassionism?
What is Pelagianism?
What is Semi-Pelagianism?
What is Socinianism?
What is Subordinationism?
What is Tritheism?

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).