{doh - seet' - izm}

General Information

Docetism is a heresy concerning the person of Jesus Christ. The word is derived from the Greek dokeo, meaning "to seem" or "to appear." According to Docetism, the eternal Son of God did not really become human or suffer on the cross; he only appeared to do so. The heresy arose in a Hellenistic milieu and was based on a Dualism which held that the material world is either unreal or positively evil. Tendencies to spiritualize Christ by denying his real humanity were already present in New Testament times.

The Johannine Epistles addressed the problem several times (1 John 4:2 - 3; 2 John 7). Docetic teachings were also advanced by the 2d - century proponents of Gnosticism and were combatted by the 2d - century church fathers, especially by Ignatius of Antioch and Irenaeus. The fathers based their defense of the true Incarnation of the Son of God on the Old Testament doctrine of creation, according to which the material world is neither unreal nor evil but basically good.

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Reginald H Fuller


Advanced Information

Docetism is a term used to refer to a theological perspective among some in the early church who regarded the sufferings and the human aspects of Christ as imaginary or apparent instead of being part of a real incarnation. The basic thesis of such docetics was that if Christ suffered he was not divine, and if he was God he could not suffer. The combination of the two natures, Son of David and Son of God, affirmed by Paul in Rom. 1:3 - 4 was apparently already under attack in the Johannine community (see 1 John 4:2; 2 John 7). Docetic thinking became an integral part of the perspectives of Gnostics, who viewed Jesus as the alien messenger from outside the present evil world and one who was untouched by the evil creator. This alien Jesus came to awaken Gnostics to their destiny outside the realm of creation. While the framers of the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds were opposed to docetic teaching and clearly assumed the two natures of Jesus, the drafters of the Definition of Chalcedon (451 AD) made explicit the Christian teaching concerning Jesus Christ as "truly God and truly man."

G L Borchert

(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

J N D Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines.

The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in May 1997.

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