Monday, August 8, 2011

The Day God Fell Asleep?

In the comments thread following my previous post, listener Ronnie pointed out that it's possible to be a dualist and yet maintain mortalism, that immaterial human souls are completely unconscious in death awaiting the resurrection. I pointed out, hastily and perhaps incorrectly, that that would still be considered heresy by those who can't accept that as deity, Jesus either remained alive while His body lay dead in the tomb, or died along with His body.

Ronnie suggested in email that this objection seems to be to the death of the soul, not necessarily its being rendered unconscious. He pointed out the seeming likelihood that while living but asleep, the Word was likewise unconscious. Because I don't want to derail that conversation from conditionalism, I pose the question here:

Could it be that for three days God the Son was, as God, unconscious, and that not violate the immutability and triunity of God?


  1. That's right; it doesn't strike me as obvious that the proposition "Christ was temporarily unconscious" would lead to—or itself be—any type of heresy.

    In addition to being unconscious while he slept, Christ was also presumably unconscious in the womb. I'm not aware that this has ever been raised as an objection to orthodox Christology.

  2. Well, I could see one arguing that while Christ was unconscious as a human, the eternal Word remained aware. And perhaps such a one might argue that to say otherwise would violate God's inherent consciousness. Or, perhaps one might say that unconsciousness in death is considerably different from unconsciousness in life, and that while the latter sort might correctly describe God the son while sleeping, or while developing in the wound, the former sort as proposed by mortalists might not be.

    Just throwing thoughts out.

  3. My initial problem with that first response, incidentally, is that I've never thought of Christ as Godman having two consciences. My Christology may be immature, but I've always thought of Him as having one mind or conscience, one now as fully human as divine. Mike might be able to tear that idea to shreds, though :)

  4. A question, though, in this idea's application to conditionalism: If the first death is a death of the body only, and a rendering unconscious of the soul, why would we expect the second death to be anything different? Why then the death of both body and soul?

    Of course, Jesus once said something seemingly along those very lines :)

  5. Does the monistic position contend that the state of being one has in a time of slumber is identical to the state of being (or lack there of) that constitutes the monistic depiction of death? That'd be the first time I have ever heard of that.

    The issue is I believe, whether or not the Son possessed genuine being and actual consciousness during his postmortem/preresurrection state. Comparing monistic death to sleep seems to be quite a reach to me.

    I believe Christ has two minds, and two wills and one consciousness. I believe a mind is an axiomatic feature of humanity as is the will. Therefore, because Jesus is a genuine human He has both. However, He has one and only one consciousness as He is only one person.

    I'd like to invite you Ronnie to examine my objections to monism, hope you don't mind Chris;

  6. I don't mind at all, Mike.

    I do think you've misunderstood the point. This suggestion by Ronnie has nothing to do with monism. He's talking about a dualist view which nevertheless affirms the total unconsciousness of the dead. The immaterial soul exists but is entirely unconscious in death.

  7. I don't think that monism comes into play here. The genesis of this particular conversation was my suggestion that dualists can also deny a conscious intermediate state. So we are not comparing monistic death to sleep.

    There is no reason at all to think that Christ had any sort of consciousness in the womb. To claim that the unconsciousness of the fetus is not a problem but the unconsciousness of death is a problem strikes me a special pleading. It would need to be shown that the distinction matters to the argument.

    If someone wants to bite the bullet and say that unlike all other humans, Christ was conscious in the womb, then why not also posit that, unlike all other humans, Christ was also conscious in death?

  8. Ahh yes. I see. My bad, I was super tired when I responded. Quite an unusual view. I see no exegetical or theological reason to hold to such a position. Perhaps you could bring up some texts that might support that view. Sorry that I misunderstood.

    I don't see the unborn as unconscious. Certainly unaware and ignorant, but conscious nonetheless strictly speaking. I also don't see the death of a person who is in Christ leading to a state of unconsciousness, unless your referring to the viewpoint of the living like that expressed in Ecc 9:5, 1Cor 15:6/20, etc. I believe that once a person is in Christ there is never a time in which they are not experiencing fellowship with the Triune God (See John 5:24, 6:50, 11:26).

    Ronnie, a fetus is a human child and it seems to me that generally those who use that kind of language use it to dehumanize the unborn. Now I would bet that you didn't mean to communicate as much, but I think it prudent if we all as brothers refrain from that kind of language in light of the slaughter of children that goes on day by day.

  9. For the record, I don't see this view as very exegetically sound, either. The physicalist arguments I've found most compelling have made it quite difficult to see the language of soul and spirit as referring to a second, immaterial part of man where our true mind and identity reside. So I'm more likely to adopt physicalism than mortalistic dualism. That said, Mike's Christological argument prevents me thus far from coming down from the fence.

    I would ask, though, if we're really to believe that a human in its earliest days after conception is in any sense at all conscious. Without taking away an ounce of its dignity, humanity or right to life, I think we can admit that for some time after conception the unborn is far less than ignorant. How even ignorance could be attributed to a human lacking a single neuron is beyond me.

  10. Did not the baptizer leap in the womb?

    So far as your opinions on the case for monism, it seems to me that because it's outcome removes it so very far from biblical Christianity, doesn't it seem likely that their "exegesis" is invalid and therefore completely illegitimate? I think it better to seek a way to harmonize the tenable position rather than try to find a way out of the dead end that monism leads to (I love puns).

  11. Perhaps you missed my point (I'm not the Master Communicator that the Lord is, so that's understandable). John the Baptist was in or beyond the sixth month of gestation when he leaped for joy in his mother's womb (Luke 1:36). What does this have to do with a person only days after conception?

    As for physicalism, I've tried to be very careful to distinguish between the degree to which you and I are convinced of its heresy. I've told you and others that I have not yet found a satisfactory answer to your objections, and that that causes me to lean toward dualism and to begin to suspect that monism is heretical. However, I think I've made it clear that that is the only major roadblock for me at this point, and as you know I've argued against the traditional understanding of virtually every biblical passage you and I have discussed. And I doubt I've given anybody the impression that I'm as convinced as you are that your objections are unanswerable.

    So until I have become convinced that those objections are unanswerable, I'll freely admit that for the time being I find it difficult to read "soul" and "spirit" in the Bible and have in mind an immaterial part of man where our true mind and identity reside.

  12. In thinking about the original proposition - the possibility of Christ's soul (in a dualistic model) being asleep when his body died - don't we have to take into consideration that He's God and we're not?

    What I mean is that (I'm arguing virtually as I actually lean towards physicalism) isn't it possible that a dualistic "regular" person would have a soul that sleeps upon bodily death, but that Christ's "soul" would not be limited to that unconscious state? After all, our natural home is more the physical side of the body-soul equation, but Christ's home (anchor point?) is heaven, so he's as human as any one of us, but we're not as "soulishly developed" as He.

  13. Sorry, I haven't been following lately - can you link to the thread where the Christological objections to monism are?


  14. I encourage you and Ronnie and any other monistic-leaning readers to check it out and respond. When I interview Dr. Joel Green I presented him with a very, very abbreviated form of the argument (since time was limited).

    In my own words (but do read Mike's and respond), it seems that physicalists must say that during the three days in which Jesus' body lay in the tomb, the eternal Word was either alive as deity and no longer fully human (since the human was dead), or He was dead as deity and the immutable God was changed, from Trinity to Binity.

  15. oops, sorry, I thought you were referring to lengthy past discussions - my mistake

  16. It's worth noting, by the way, that I see his article addresses the question of unconsciousness, and not just lifelessness.

  17. Two questions must be asked:
    1. Must we assume that Christ's nature was completely unified at death (meaning that He died both as God and as man)? All Christological arguments against physicalism that I have come accross assume that both divinity and humanity died in Christ. If it is possible that He died in His human nature but not in His divine nature, then any view of death and man's nature is fine, as no part of the Trinity would die in the first place.

    2. If Christ's nature is completely unified, and God died as well as the man, could physicalism then work?

    I want to preface this by saying that the Bible is always most authoritative, and when it clearly teaches something, it overrides the opinions of all holy men.

    However, in regards to the question of whether or not Christ's natures could be distinguished/separated at death, I don't think the Bible is all that clear. I don't see much in the way of exegesis when people argue that God died in Christ, that He died in His divine and human natures. It is usually just assumed, or called the only only orthodox view. But is that the case? I think little is said in the Bible about this, and what little is said probably fits in with either idea, and means to the reader whatever he/she already believed.

    One measure of "orthodoxy" is how the church throughout time has viewed something. I am no early church scholar, so I don't have a good grip on what they said. I know the council of Chalcedon comes up, but exactly how that creed even applies is to this particular question I find questionable. Besides, 451 isn't exactly early Christianity. Many of us evangelicals reject teachings of earlier creeds, and rightfully so (like the Nicene Creed's teaching about baptism for the forgiveness of sin).

    What I do know is that this view of Christ's nature is NOT held only by physicalists or fringe groups today.

    I don't just mean a random baptist preacher somewhere who doesn't know better said this once in a sermon or a blog. Big names in evangelical circles explicitly hold the view that Christ's human nature died, but not His divine nature. William Lane Craig holds this view. Matt Slick of CARM holds this view. R.C. Sproul not only holds this view, but considers the idea of Christ dying in His divine nature to be "serious heresy." Even reformer Ulrich Zwingli apparently held this view (Gallant; Peters 2).

  18. (CONTINUED..)
    Now of course, many other big names disagree, including Martin Luther (77), Mark Driscoll (245), and Robert Peterson. Some like Wayne Grudem, even sort of ride the fence (599). I'm not saying that the view that only Christ's divine nature died is the majority view (though given how many don't anything about it, it could be for all I know). My point is, BOTH views are found among believers, even ones who are equally educated and agree on pretty much every thing else.

    Again, I think this is because the Bible doesn't really go there, so we tend to rely on philosophy. Those that say that Christ's divine nature did not die say that an immortal God cannot die. Those who say Hid divine nature did die say so because if God Himself didn't die, Christ's atonement would be insufficient for sin.

    I think what we know for sure is that Jesus is Lord, the Son of God, in His very nature God, and that He died for our sins and rose again. He came in flesh and rose in flesh, and we will one day be made like Him if we have faith. As for specifics, I don't think any specific ideas have solid Biblical support, and so I am very uncomfortable being dogmatic about it.

    (PART 2 to COME).

    Craig, William Lane. “Question 213.” Reasonable Faith. Reasonable Faith, n.d. Web. 01 Aug 2011. .

    Driscoll, Mark and Gary Breshears. Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010. Print.

    Gallant, Tim. “Two Natures, One Mediator.” N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Aug. 2011.

    Luther, Martin. The Table Talk of Martin Luther. Trans. William Hazlitt. London: H.G. Bahn, 1857. Google Books. Web. 02 Aug. 2011. .

    Peters, David G. “The ‘Extra Calvinisticum’ and Calvin’s Eucharistic Theology.” Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary Online Essay File. Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, n.d. Web. 02 Aug. 2011. .

    Peterson, Robert. “The Hermeneutics of Annihilationism: The Theological Method of Edward Fudge.” Presbyterion: Covenant Seminary Review, 21.1 (1995): 13-28. Web. 28 May 2011. .

    Slick, Matthew. “God Cannot Die. Jesus Died. Therefore, Jesus Cannot Be God.” Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry. Matthew J. Slick, n.d. Web. 30 Jul. 2011.

    Sproul, R.C. “Is it Accurate To Say That God Died on the Cross?” Ligonier Ministries. LigonierMinistries. 03 Apr. 2010. Web. 11 Aug. 2011.

  19. Alright, I'm back. I finally had a chance to take a look at Michael's theological objections. Before I comment on those, a few words about some of the comments that have been made thus far.

    1. As to question of why a person might be a dualist and also deny a conscious intermediate state, easy: that person thinks that Scripture (or philosophy) shows that humans are composed of both a a physical body and an immaterial mind or soul, and yet also believes that Scripture teaches that there is no such thing as disembodied consciousness. The fact is that dualists point to a number of biblical passages to support dualism, but only some of those are related to the intermediate state.

    2. I didn't know that it was controversial to suggest that a fetus, at least at some point in its development, is not conscious. If someone points to this fact in an attempt to dehumanize the unborn, the proper response should be to challenge the premise that human value is derived from consciousness.

  20. Just my initial thoughts, presented in an unsystematic way:

    1. I think right off the bat we can dismiss any challenge that argues on the basis of consciousness, for reasons already mentioned.

    2. I think we can also dismiss any challenge that argues on the basis of existence (or lack thereof). I do not believe that to die is to immediately cease to exist. Moreover, Scripture teaches that Christ, although he died, was supernaturally preserved "[He] did not see corruption." At no point did Christ cease to exist.

    3. The fact is that Scripture teaches that the same one who took on the form of a servant is also the one who made himself obedient to death. This is mystery that all Christians must deal with, not just physicalists.

    4. The assertion that Christ had only one consciousness is very controversial. It would need to be demonstrated that two consciousnesses necessarily means to two persons. I think that's an unenviable task.

    5. One could argue that when the person of Christ died, the human nature died while the divine nature stayed alive. So long as we don't assume that death means nonexistence, I don't see that it follows that the natures have necessarily been separated.

    6. Ultimately, I would need to see a deductively valid argument that shows that physicalism contradicts something taught in Scripture (e.g. not a claim that physicalism is guilty of "superimposing" natures—I'm not even sure what that means!). Given my comments above, I don't see that any of Michael's four points qualify.

    I don't want to be dismissive of either theology or philosophy, but in these issues, we must defer to what has been revealed. If Scripture teaches that man is a physical unity and that for mere mortal men there is no consciousness in death, and further, that Christ truly died, then to those truths we must submit and let the theological chips fall where they may.

  21. (From Part 1): Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI; Zondervan, 1995. Print.


    I had a bit to say, but looking over Michael's post, I have some questions first:

    You say "To this objection or any like it I would note that the addition of a human nature would not constitute a change in the being of God, but the addition of a being to the person of the Son (not an ontological shift of the being of God, but an addition of a human existence to a divine person)."

    An addition of a being to the person of the Son? How does that not constitute making Christ 2 persons (especially since you later say that those who treat Christ's natures as separate and distinguishable at death as making Him 2 persons)?

    What am I missing?

  22. I believe he meant to say "the addition of a nature."

  23. We still have the issue that, if Christ died in His divine nature, then God, in Christ, became mortal. As Michael accurately points out, immortality (not just consciousness, but immortality), is an essential characteristic of God. If Jesus became mortal, and He cannot in any way operate in a way that is essentially different from God, it must be the case that the Father (and Holy Spirit) also became mortal, by that reasoning. It seems that if Christ did die in his divine nature (which is NOT agreed upon within orthodox chrisendom), His nature differed from the Father and Holy Spirit, because He was able to die (even if that doesn't mean He became unconscious). How does this match up with the philosophical assumption that the 2nd Person of the Godhead cannot operate in any essentially different way from the Father and Holy Spirit?

  24. Joey, could you email me some quotes of notable dualist Christians who affirm that the Son died as deity, including those you cited above?