Did the Divine Spirit Leave the Body of Jesus?
In chapter eight of The Oneness of God David Bernard writes, “We must not assume that the Spirit of God departed from the body of Jesus the moment He uttered the words, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ The divine Spirit left the human body only at death. Hebrews 9:14 says that Christ offered Himself to God through the eternal Spirit.”
Did God leave the body of Jesus on the cross when He died as Bernard claims? If so, does this threaten the hypostatic union brought about by the incarnation?
I believe that the Father (divine nature) was still there united in the flesh at the point of death and even at the grave. If we teach that the divine Spirit left the body at the point of death, we are leaning towards Nestorianism in that the divine Spirit (Father) is a different person living inside the human person.
This raises the following questions:
1. Where would the divine nature be at death?
2. Will the divine Spirit unite again during the resurrection of the dead body?
3. Is there a point in the hypostatic union when the divine nature will be separated from the human nature?
I agree with David Bernard’s view. Indeed, I would argue that if the divine Spirit did not depart from Jesus’ body at the point of death, Jesus could not have died, because death only occurs when the spirit separates from the body. Since Jesus’ spirit is the divine Spirit incarnate, the divine Spirit had to depart from Jesus’ body in order for death to occur. If the divine Spirit had not separated from Jesus’ body, it would have been impossible for Him to die.
You fear that this implies a Nestorian view of Christ, but actually, I think the opposite is true. By affirming that Jesus died because the divine Spirit departed from His body, one actually rules out the possibility that Jesus is two persons in one body (one divine person, and one human person). How? In a Nestorian Jesus, death would not necessarily result from the Spirit’s departure because the human person/spirit would still be present in the body. Only if Jesus is a single person—the divine person—would death necessarily result from the Spirit’s departure from the body. So affirming that the Spirit departed from Jesus’ body at death not only rules out Nestorianism, but it also explains how Jesus could die.
Does this mean Jesus was not God for three days? No. The body was still God’s body even for those three days, in the same way that when you die, your body will still be your body. Indeed, that’s why your body will be resurrected one day—because it’s still your body. Just as you will get your body back one day in the resurrection, so too God got His body back when He raised it from the dead. How did He raise it? By rejoining His Spirit to that body.
Does this threaten the permanence of the incarnation (hypostatic union)? No. In the same way we continue to have a human nature even while our spirit is separated from our body (after we die), so too would God. The hypostatic union is not just a physical union with a human body, but a metaphysical union with human nature.
As for your specific questions:
- The divine nature just refers to sum total of divine properties belonging to God. Jesus “has” a divine nature simply in virtue of being God. Since God remains God whether He is embodied in Christ or not, He retains the divine nature at all times.
- The divine Spirit reunited with His body three days after Jesus’ death.
- No. There was only a brief period of time when God (divine nature) was separated from His human body. Even during that time, however, He remained united to human nature. Remember, a “nature” is a metaphysical thing, not a physical thing.
For further reading see Did God Leave Jesus on the Cross Prior to Jesus’ Death?
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