Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume III/Anti-Marcion/On the Flesh of Christ/XVI

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Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. III, Anti-Marcion, On the Flesh of Christ by Tertullian, translated by Peter Holmes

Chapter XVI.—Christ’s Flesh in Nature, the Same as Ours, Only Sinless. The Difference Between Carnem Peccati and Peccatum Carnis: It is the Latter Which Christ Abolished. The Flesh of the First Adam, No Less Than that of the Second Adam, Not Received from Human Seed, Although as Entirely Human as Our Own, Which is Derived from It.

The famous Alexander,[1] too, instigated by his love of disputation in the true fashion of heretical temper, has made himself conspicuous against us; he will have us say that Christ put on flesh of an earthly origin,[2] in order that He might in His own person abolish sinful flesh.[3] Now, even if we did assert this as our opinion, we should be able to defend it in such a way as completely to avoid the extravagant folly which he ascribes to us in making us suppose that the very flesh of Christ was in Himself abolished as being sinful; because we mention our belief (in public),[4] that it is sitting at the right hand of the Father in heaven; and we further declare that it will come again from thence in all the pomp[5] of the Father’s glory: it is therefore just as impossible for us to say that it is abolished, as it is for us to maintain that it is sinful, and so made void, since in it there has been no fault. We maintain, moreover, that what has been abolished in Christ is not carnem peccati, “sinful flesh,” but peccatum carnis, “sin in the flesh,”—not the material thing, but its condition;[6] not the substance, but its flaw;[7] and (this we aver) on the authority of the apostle, who says, “He abolished sin in the flesh.”[8] Now in another sentence he says that Christ was “in the likeness of sinful flesh,”[9] not, however, as if He had taken on Him “the likeness of the flesh,” in the sense of a semblance of body instead of its reality; but he means us to understand likeness to the flesh which sinned,[10] because the flesh of Christ, which committed no sin itself, resembled that which had sinned,—resembled it in its nature, but not in the corruption it received from Adam; whence we also affirm that there was in Christ the same flesh as that whose nature in man is sinful.  In the flesh, therefore, we say that sin has been abolished, because in Christ that same flesh is maintained without sin, which in man was not maintained without sin. Now, it would not contribute to the purpose of Christ’s abolishing sin in the flesh, if He did not abolish it in that flesh in which was the nature of sin, nor (would it conduce) to His glory. For surely it would have been no strange thing if He had removed the stain of sin in some better flesh, and one which should possess a different, even a sinless, nature! Then, you say, if He took our flesh, Christ’s was a sinful one. Do not, however, fetter with mystery a sense which is quite intelligible. For in putting on our flesh, He made it His own; in making it His own, He made it sinless.  A word of caution, however, must be addressed to all who refuse to believe that our flesh was in Christ on the ground that it came not of the seed of a human father,[11] let them remember that Adam himself received this flesh of ours without the seed of a human father. As earth was converted into this flesh of ours without the seed of a human father, so also was it quite possible for the Son of God to take to Himself[12] the substance of the selfsame flesh, without a human father’s agency.[13]


  1. Although Tertullian dignifies him with an ille, we have no particulars of this man. [It may be that this is an epithet, rather than a name, given to some enemy of truth like Alexander the “Coppersmith” (2 Tim. iv. 14) or like that (1 Tim. i. 20), blasphemer, whose character suits the case.]
  2. Census.
  3. So Bp. Kaye renders “carnem peccati.” [See his valuable note, p. 253.]
  4. We take the meminerimus to refer “to the Creed.”
  5. Suggestu.
  6. Naturam.
  7. Culpam.
  8. “Tertullian, referring to St. Paul, says of Christ: ‘Evacuavit peccatum in carne;’ alluding, as I suppose, to Romans viii. 3. But the corresponding Greek in the printed editions is κατέκρινε τὴν ἁμαρτίαν ἐν τῇ σαρκί (‘He condemned sin in the flesh’). Had Tertullian a different reading in his Greek mss., or did he confound Romans viii. 3 with Romans vi. 6, ἵνα καταργηθῇ τὸ σῶμα τὴς ἁμαρτίας (‘that the body of sin might be destroyed’)? Jerome translates the Greek καταργέω by ‘evacuo,’ c. xvi. See Adv. Marcionem, ver. 14. Dr. Neander has pointed out two passages in which Tertullian has ‘damnavit or damnaverit delinquentiam in carne.’ See de Res. Carnis. 46; de Pudicitiâ. 17.”—Bp. Kaye.
  9. Also in Rom. viii. 3.
  10. Peccatricis carnis.
  11. Viri.
  12. Transire in: “to pass into.”
  13. Sine coagulo.