“God Has No Body” Part 3.2

Find Part 1 here.

In Part 3.1, I challenged the first premise of the Church Fathers argument found in Part 1. The premise originally stated that the Church Fathers are a reliable source from whom we can learn about the doctrine of the Church. I argued that this is incorrect, and it is the apostles, not the Church Fathers, to whom we should turn. The apostles were taught directly by the Savior in person and through revelation, and the Church Fathers were heavily influenced by Greek philosophy (see also my post relating to Greek influence on the Rational Soul argument, Part 4.2)

The argument can be adjusted as follows:

  1. The apostles, not the Church Fathers, are a reliable and authoritative source from which man may learn  of Christian theology, including doctrine on the character of God
  2. The Church Fathers taught that God is an unchangeable, immaterial spirit who is without parts
  3. Thus, God may or may not be an unchangeable, immaterial spirit who is without parts (1) (2)

The Early Church

The matter of what the Church Fathers believed is not a difficult question to answer.  Clearly, the doctrine of a Trinitian God is evident again and again in their writings.  It is also important to consider, though, what the beliefs of lay church members was in those vital first centuries.  There is plentiful evidence that, as Dr. David Paulsen argues, “ordinary Christians for at least the first three centuries of the current era commonly (and perhaps generally) believed God to be corporeal.”

My shortcoming here is that my knowledge of the writings of early Church Fathers is very basic.  Because of that, I must appeal to others, to whom the reader could profitably turn for further investigation.

In “Early Christian Belief in a Corporeal Deity: Origen and Augustine as Reluctant Witnesses,” Paulsen investigates the claim that the writings of Origen and Augustine show that early Christians often believed in a corporeal deity.  The widespread belief in an anthropomorphic God was the reason Church Fathers had to combat the belief so vigorously.

Kim Paffenroth, of Notre Dame, replied to the paper in his comment “Paulsen on Augustine: An Incorporeal or Non-anthropomorphic God?”  This comment, though, was a spotty attempt at making Paulsen’s argument into a straw man, which Paulsen clarifies in a response to Paffenroth (“Reply to Kim Paffenroth’s Comment”).

Another paper by Paulsen that covers the subject is “Divine Embodiment: The Earliest Christian Understanding of God.”  Substantial portions of the paper were drawn from many others, written by Paulsen, on the subject of divine corporeality and early Christian beliefs.  It thus becomes a good single resource to find valid, and documented-backed claims regarding early Christian beliefs.  It suffices me to point you to that resource rather than citing the many references found therein.

If academic papers are not within your reach, you can also check our FAIR’s article on the same subject.

Regardless of what the Neo-Platonic Church Fathers believed, it can be strongly argued that early members of the Christian church believed in a corporeal God.  This is vital because it was these early members who would have been closest to the unadulterated teachings of the apostles and the Savior himself, and furthest from the corrupting influence of Greek philosophy.  Their beliefs reflect strongly on what the uncorrupted dogma of the Church might very well have been before it was infiltrated by Greek thought and practice.

The argument can be adjusted as follows:

  1. The apostles, not the Church Fathers, are a reliable and authoritative source from which man may learn  of Christian theology, including doctrine on the character of God
  2. The Church Fathers taught that God is an unchangeable, immaterial spirit who is without parts, but neither the scriptures nor the apostles necessarily support this idea; on the contrary, this idea originates with pagan philosophers like Plato and Aristotle, who lived over 300 years before Christ.
  3. Evidence suggests that the members of the early Church (i.e. in the first three centuries) believed in a corporeal God.
  4. The beliefs of early church members would have been most directly influenced by the teachings of the apostles and Jesus Christ himself, and least influenced by Greek thinkers.
  5. Thus, it is likely that the apostles taught that God is embodied rather than incorporeal (3) (4)
  6. Thus, it is likely that God is corporeal (1) (5)

It is important to note that this argument is inductive.  We can only make a conclusion that is conditional (“it is likely…”).  Still, the condition is based on arguments over what was taught by the original apostles.  If the apostles did in fact teach that God is corporeal (which is likely when considering the beliefs of early Church members who had not been influenced by Greek philosophy), then it is certain that God is corporeal.

That is a much stronger conclusion, and a powerful bit of evidence in favor of the anthropomorphites’ claim that God is embodied.

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