A Question I Was Asked:

What is Docetism?

What is Docetism? Can you explain?

UK Apologetics Reply:

This is an ancient heresy which was mostly stamped out by the early creeds of the church though a form of it may still exist in certain cults and sects. Essentially it seeks to deprive Jesus of His dual nature of Man and God (which the New Testament insists upon), the heresy turns Jesus into a spirit being alone, that is, without a physical body, so the physical body becomes merely an apparition or phantasm, and this is what the disciples (according to this theory) actually saw.

So Docetism was an error concerning the nature of Christ. There were some variations but it mostly taught that Jesus only appeared to have a body, that He was not really incarnate at all. The error came from early gnosticism which viewed matter as inherently evil; the idea was that God could not be associated with matter; so God could not suffer. Obviously the New Testament states differently. Within this theory, then, God could not have become flesh. Of course, John 1 states differently:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. ...The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1,14).

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death - that is, the devil (Hebrews 2:14).

So the New Testament is stating that Jesus "had flesh and blood." Obviously the false teaching of Docetism meant that Jesus did not suffer on the cross at all, neither did He rise from the dead; the reasoning was that a God being could not have really died anyway. So this teaching sought to reduce the physical appearances of Jesus (which the disciples observed) to a mere apparition.

John the Apostle directly confronts the heresy of Docetism in his epistles:

By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; and this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. (1 John 4:2-3).


For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. (2 John 7).

John was able to directly confront Docetism because it was a very early heresy, arriving on the scene while he still lived. Other early church fathers, such as Ignatius of Antioch and Irenaeus, also wrote against the heresy.

Docetism was condemned as a heresy at the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451.

Robin A. Brace. January 9th, 2017.