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The Denial of Christ's Human Spirit

W. R. Dronsfield


Many are aware of the wonderful way in which the messages to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3 correspond with the successive phases of the history of the professing church down the centuries from Pentecost until the present time. These will know that the message to the church in Pergamos (Rev. 2:12-17) is a prophetic survey or moral history of the period during the Emperor Constantine's reign and after, when the church became joined to the state. The Lord does not spare them, but exposes their worldliness and corruption, the rise of clerisy, and the overlaying of pure doctrine and practice with the old heathen customs of Pagan Rome (vv. 14-15). Yet, in spite of that, He commends them with these words: “Thou holdest fast My Name and hast not denied My faith”. They failed in many things, but Satan did not succeed in deceiving the great majority of the church concerning the doctrine of Christ—His Person, His work, and His word. Many subtle attacks were made against Christ's Person by eminent ecclesiastical teachers, but through them all the majority of Christians steered a straight and true course, and having discovered a doctrine to be false according to Holy Scripture, they exerted proper scriptural discipline against the false teacher and his followers, refusing all fellowship with them.

Two attacks

It would be beyond the scope of this booklet to describe all the subtle, and yet fundamental, errors that perplexed the church at that time, but the two main heresies were Arianism and Apollinarianism. The first attacked Christ's deity and the second attacked His humanity. It is against Apollinarianism that this paper is directed, but a few words about Arianism would not be out of place.


Arius was made a presbyter in the church at Alexandria in A.D. 313. His false system of doctrine has thus been summarised by Neander:

“God created Christ, or begat Him, with the intent through Him to produce all things else; the distance betwixt God and all other beings is too great to allow of the supposition that God could have produced them immediately. In the first place, therefore, when He determined to produce the entire creation, He begat a Being Who is as like to Him in perfection as any creature can be, for the purpose of producing, by the instrumentality of this Being, the whole creation. The names Son of God and Logos, were given to Him in order to distinguish Him from other created beings inasmuch as, although like all created beings He owed everything to the will and favour of the Creator, He yet enjoyed the nearest relationship to Him, inasmuch as the divine reason, wisdom, power, all of which titles could only be transferred to Christ in an improper, metonymical sense, were yet manifested by Him in the most perfect degree”.

So we see that Arius was willing to give to Christ all the honour due to Deity and to give Him the very Name of God and yet he refused to confess that He was of the same eternal substance (or nature) as the Father. True Christians therefore insisted that assent was given to the proposition that the Son was ‘homoousios theo', i.e., of the same substance with the Father, otherwise the Arians could talk as though they were quite sound in the faith.

Arius was the first to introduce the doctrine of the creation and non-eternity of the Son of God without denying His pre-existence. The Arians of the fourth century are followed in our day by the so-called Millennial Dawnists or Jehovah's Witnesses.

Apollinarianism was the opposite kind of error, being an attack on Christ's humanity. He denied that the Lord had a human spirit. But before we consider this in detail, let us first examine the scriptural doctrine of the tripartite nature of Man.



This is clearly taught in 1 Thessalonians 5:23, where it is plainly stated: “I pray God your whole spirit (pneuma) and soul (psuche) and body be preserved blameless”. Here the three elements are clearly set down as distinguishable entities. In Hebrews 4:12 , the spirit and soul are again distinguished from one another—“The Word of God is quick and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit”.

It may be asked whether we can determine the difference between the soul and the spirit. To do this exhaustively it would be necessary to examine a mass of scriptural evidence. A brief analysis of scriptural teaching will, however, be attempted. Let us look at the term ‘spirit' first. The Hebrew word for spirit in the Old Testament is ‘Ruach' and the exact equivalent in the New Testament is the Greek word ‘Pneuma'.

The literal meaning of both ruach and pneuma is ‘wind' and they are often used in this way. This is also the word used for ‘breath'—the wind of the nostrils.

Taking the word in its extramundane sense, we find it used to describe the essence of God (John 4:24 ) and also the nature of celestial and infernal beings (1 Sam. 16:14; Job 4:15; Ps. 104:4; Matt. 10:1; Heb. 1:14; 1 John 4:1, etc.). But we are only interested here in the passages which speak of a spirit as being an essential part of the human being. When we examine all these manifold passages we come to the conclusion that the spirit is that faculty of man which produces not only rational or mental operations, but responsible moral determinations and choices. It is thus the spirit of man which raises him above the level of the beasts. The beasts are not moral, not responsible, and not disengaged from material circumstances. Man is so, and the spirit within him causes him to have an instinctive desire to know God, although the Adamic fall prevents that desire from being fulfilled.

We do not find that Scripture ever affirms that a beast has a spirit, but the beasts are said to have souls (the Hebrew is Nephesh) no less than fifteen times. There is one apparent exception to this in Ecclesiastes 2:19 and 21. An understanding of the nature of the book of Ecclesiastes will explain this seeming inconsistency. Ecclesiastes 1:1 tells us these are the uninspired words of Solomon, but it is the inspired record of his words showing the agnosticism natural under the limitations of human wisdom apart from divine revelation. The Preacher is in despair and can see nothing beyond the grave. In verse 19, he takes the attitude of the modern biologist and says that man is the same as the beasts—all have one breath (spirit). In verse 21 he asks “Who knoweth the spirit of man whether it goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast whether it goeth downward to the earth?” (Revised Version). In a mood of utter agnosticism he questions whether man has a spirit which returns to God Who gave it, although his final state of belief shows a recovery of faith; and it is not surprising that he did not know that the beasts have no spirits. Many, not perceiving the nature of the book, have used Ecclesiastes to teach the doctrine of Annihilationism.

In the following passage the soul of animals is distinguished from the spirit of man: Job 12:10 —“In Whose hand is the soul (nephesh) of every living thing and the breath (ruach) of all mankind”. We see how carefully Job picked the right words.

The spirit is never said to be responsible for the animal desires such as eating and drinking, yet the soul (nephesh) is said to love eating and drinking or to hate certain foods. See for example Genesis 27:25; Numbers 21:5; Deuteronomy 12:20, 14:26; Job 33:20; Proverbs 13:25, and many other places. Physical love comes from the soul (Gen. 34:3).

Job 32:8 and 18 may be taken as typical passages showing that the spirit is the rational part of man.

“But there is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding.”

“For I am full of matter, the spirit within me constraineth me.”

We find, then, that a study of the human spirit presents a consistent picture throughout the Scriptures. Perhaps it should be added that when we speak of man being spiritually dead because of the Fall, we do not mean that the human spirit has ceased to exist or to operate, but that the communion between it and God the Divine Spirit has been severed. Death here means separation from the source of life, as always throughout the Scriptures.

Let us now briefly consider the human soul. The Hebrew word for ‘soul' in the Old Testament is Nephesh and the Greek equivalent in the New Testament is Psuche (often translated ‘life'). We find that the word Soul does not always allow such a clearly defined meaning as in the case of the word Spirit. Often it is used to indicate the middle part of man between the body and the spirit, but at other times it is used to describe the whole incorporeal part, i.e., soul and spirit together. Sometimes the term includes the whole individual—body, soul, and spirit. This corresponds with popular usage in which man is usually regarded as dual — body and soul — the spirit being included in the term ‘soul'.

Now we can proceed in our study of Apollinarianism. Because of the wide meaning of the term ‘soul', it was customary at that time to refer to the spirit as the rational or higher soul, and the middle part of man as the lower or animal soul.


Apollinaris was the bishop of Laodicea. He became famous for his intimate acquaintance with the Scriptures, which he publicly expounded at Antioch where Jerome was one of his multitude of hearers. He was a most distinguished man, of great learning and intelligence (being one of the few Hebrew scholars of the age) and a champion of the orthodox faith against the Arians, so that he was regarded by all, including Athanasius, as a man to be trusted in matters of doctrine. Yet in his zeal against the Arians, he fell into the opposite kind of error, and his case serves as a warning to all Christians to prove all things and not accept a doctrine simply because of the reputation of the teacher.

Apollinaris, a man of a strongly speculative mind, set himself to show how the doctrine of the Incarnation ought to be viewed. Neander describes his line of reasoning thus:

“Two beings persisting in their completeness, he conceived, could not be united into one whole. Out of the union of the perfect human nature with the Deity one person never could proceed; and more particularly, the rational soul of the man could not be assumed into union with the divine Logos so as to form one Person. This was the negative side of the doctrine of Apollinaris; but as to the positive side, this was closely connected with his views on human nature. He supposed that human nature consisted of three parts—the rational soul which constitutes the essence of man's nature; the animal soul, which is the principle of animal life; and the body, between which and the spirit, that soul is the intermediate principle. The body, by itself considered, has no faculty of desire; but this soul which is united with it, is the source and fountain of the desires that struggle against reason. This soul Apollinaris believed he found described also by the apostle Paul, in the passage where he speaks of the flesh striving against the spirit. [See Gal. 5:17. Also Rom. 7:18-23, and Matt. 26:41.] The human mutable spirit was too weak to subject to itself this resisting soul; hence the domination of the sinful desires. Therefore, for the redemption of mankind from the dominion of sin, it was necessary that an immutable Divine Spirit, the Logos Himself, should enter into union with these two parts of human nature. It does not pertain to the essence of that lower soul, as it does to the essence of the higher soul, that it should determine itself; but, on the contrary, that it should be determined and ruled by a higher principle: but the human spirit was too weak for this; the end and destination of human nature, therefore, is realised when the Logos, as an immutable Divine Spirit, rules over this lower soul, and thus restores the harmony between the lower and higher principles in man's nature”.

This, then, in the words of Neander, was the doctrine of Apollinaris. It does not really matter whether the reader has understood the particular train of reasoning which led Apollinaris to his erroneous conclusion. It is sufficient to know what the distinctive error was, and it can be summarised thus: Apollinaris believed, in common with other Christians, that man consisted of three parts—body, soul and spirit. But he stated that, in the Lord's case, the weak and mutable human spirit gave place to the immutable Divine Spirit. He did not acknowledge complete humanity in Christ, but only two parts—body and soul. The spirit inhabiting that body was not a human one, but only the Divine Spirit. Apollinaris clearly taught that the Lord's eternal Self was the Spirit, and the only Spirit, of His body.

It is to be feared that other eminent men besides Apollinaris have fallen into this error, but it should be recognised as one of the fundamental heresies of Church History.

The doctrine was condemned formally by a council in AD. 375 and another in A.D. 378 deposed Apollinaris from his bishopric and forced him and his followers out of communion. He died in A.D. 392, maintaining his false doctrine to the last, but his sect continued until about the middle of the fifth century. To combat his doctrine, the following words were included in the Athanasian creed: “Perfect God and perfect man: of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting.... For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man; so God and man is one Christ”. So the church of that period dealt decisively with fundamental error and merited the Lord's commendation: “Thou holdest fast My Name and hast not denied My faith”. Let us hope that all those who aspire to be Christians today are as worthy of the Lord's approval.

We will now examine the Scriptures on the subject.



Many may say “Why bother to go into the matter further? The doctrine is too obviously false to need scriptural refutation. Man consists of body, soul and spirit—no more and no less—and anybody who tries to maintain that the Lord's humanity was limited to only two parts instead of the three, is obviously deluded”. Yet the Scriptures are not silent even on such an obvious point, and so perhaps the reader will follow us while we show that it is thoroughly scriptural to confess a human spirit in Christ. There will then be no excuse for prevarication on the subject.

Here are some passages which speak of the Lord's spirit:

(1) Jesus perceived in His spirit. (Mark 2:8)

(2) He sighed deeply in His spirit. (Mark 8:12 )

(3) He groaned in the spirit and was troubled. (John 11:33)

(4) He was troubled in spirit. (John 13:21)

(5) He said, Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit. (Luke 23:46)

No doubt the objector will say, “There is nothing in these passages to show that it is a human and not a Divine Spirit spoken of”. But in truth each passage is in itself strong evidence. The Lord, in the last, commends His spirit to His Father's care and protection, and it is impossible to credit a statement that His eternal, omnipotent, Divine Spirit was the subject of such provision.

The first four give a wonderful picture of the spiritual life of the Lord Jesus and demonstrate that, though sinless, He had the human spiritual problems that we face. In the first passage His human knowledge is implied; in the second and third, the perplexity of His trial of faith; in the fourth, the spiritual agony at the perfidy of Judas and the prospect of Calvary's suffering; all combining to give us a living picture of the Christ of God in the spiritual reality of His Manhood.

God is Spirit. The Son—the second Person (in mention) of the Trinity—is Spirit. Where the Scriptures refer to the Spirit of God, it invariably means the Holy Spirit; for example, “The Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters” (Gen. 1:2) and “The Lord GOD and His Spirit hath sent Me” (Isa. 48:16). So apart from this, we should not speak of a Divine Person having a spirit, as it might appear to indicate that the Divine Spirit is only a part of the essence of His eternal Person. His inscrutable, eternal Person is essentially Spirit. In the Incarnation the Son took manhood into His Person—true manhood consisting of a human body, a human soul and a human spirit.

Two further texts will now be cited as translated in the Authorised Version

Matthew 27:50: “Jesus, when He had cried... yielded up the ghost”.

John 19:30: “He bowed His head and gave up the Ghost”.

These two quotations are unique. There are other places where the translation is made “gave up the ghost” or “yielded up the ghost”, as for example, in the accounts of the deaths of Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Ananias, Herod and Christ Himself as recorded in Mark and Luke, but in these cases they are translations either of the Old Testament Hebrew word ‘gava' or the New Testament Greek words ‘ekpneo' or ‘ekpsucho', which mean to die or expire (literally, to gasp or breathe out).

In our two quotations above the word translated ‘ghost' is pneuma, which means ‘spirit'.

In Matthew 27:50, the word translated ‘yielded' is ‘aphiemi' meaning to send away or dismiss. It is never translated ‘yielded up' anywhere else in the Scriptures, but it is translated quite correctly in Matthew 13:36 and Mark 4:36, where the Lord sends away the multitudes. In John 19:30 the word ‘gave up' is ‘paradidomi', meaning to deliver or deliver up (as it is translated 63 times in the New Testament).

Therefore the literal translations of our two quotations is as follows

(1) Jesus... sent away His spirit.

(2) He... delivered up His spirit.

These expressions show the unique power of the eternal Son of God to dismiss His Own Spirit, which obviously no mere man could do. It demonstrates conscious power and personality outside and apart from this spirit. Clearly it cannot possibly mean that He sent His Divine Spirit—His Own essence—away from Himself. A stronger proof that a human spirit is included in the Lord's humanity, could surely not be obtained.

“Verily He took not on Him the nature of angels: but He took on Him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behoved Him to he made like unto His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God; to make reconciliation for the sins of the people”. (Heb. 2:16-17)

His brethren were spirit, soul and body, and so to be like them He would be completely a Man—spirit, soul and body.

“For we have not a High Priest which cannot he touched with the feelings of our infirmities, but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin”. (Heb. 4:15)

It is but a short step for those who subtract from the Lord's humanity to say, “He did not suffer as we suffer, because He could not know real human suffering”.

The warning “No man knoweth the Son but the Father”, should not be forgotten. Let no one try to explain the mystery of the Incarnation. Let him believe with due reverence and adoration. At the same time the inscrutable mystery of the Son should not be used as a means to evade the confession of sound doctrine.



In the Second Epistle of John, the apostle directs a Christian sister not to give greeting or hospitality to those who do not bring the doctrine of Christ. Some have been puzzled how far they should take this. They say, “We have unconverted relations and acquaintances who certainly do not bring the doctrine of Christ. Must we refuse them entry into our houses?” We find, however, that the Scriptures permit a Christian to eat with unbelievers if he is so minded. In 1 Corinthians 10:27, we read, If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go,... eat, asking no questions for conscience sake”. It is plain then, that 2 John 10 cannot refer to those who have made no profession of faith in Christ, but must apply to those who are in a Christian assembly and therefore subject to the discipline of the assembly. Those who do not bring the doctrine of Christ should be refused fellowship at the Lord's table, for His table is holy.

The Scripture is very plain; a man must bring the doctrine of Christ. It is not sufficient that he does not deny it, he must affirm sound doctrine. No company of believers can tolerate those who follow this middle course of neither affirming nor denying sound doctrine, without opening the door to the secret spreading of leaven. Why should a person not confess the doctrine of Christ gladly, if his heart is pure?

If a man does not confess a human spirit in Christ, he does not bring the doctrine of Christ. The true manhood of the Lord is in question.

There are various plausible excuses. Perhaps the favourite one is to say, “We will not go beyond the plain words of Scripture. Nowhere in the Bible do we find the statement, ‘Christ has a human spirit'. Therefore we will not make such a statement. We cannot be called heretics for adhering to the plain words of Scripture”.

The fact is that many fundamental doctrines are not summarised in Scripture by a single defining statement. To find the scriptural authority for a doctrine it may be necessary to glean information from many places. The clear inferences from all these texts are then put together and the doctrine is found proven, so that it can be defined in a plain statement. This statement is not in the plain words of Scripture, but, in spite of that, the doctrine so stated has all the authority of the Word of God behind it. If a person says he will not affirm the doctrine because he will only repeat the exact Biblical wording, let him say whether he is prepared to limit all his expressions of doctrine to conform to this principle? Of course he will not, thus showing that there is something wrong with such a principle. What is the motive behind this objection? It may be only due to ignorance; but it also may be because the object is to conceal a heretical opinion.

This subterfuge is a very ancient one. For example, Anus, after being condemned and excommunicated by the Nicene Council in A.D. 325, laid a confession of faith before the emperor Constantine which was so cautiously expressed, almost exclusively consisting of passages of Scripture, that Constantine was misled. He could not see anything wrong with the confession and did not realise that the evil lay in that which he had not written. He had not affirmed that the Son was of the same substance as the Father. The emperor allowed Anus to return to Alexandria, but the church there refused him communion. After a while Anus went back to Constantinople and laid his confession before the emperor again. Constantine issued an imperative order to Alexander, bishop of Constantinople, to admit Anus to communion the following Sunday. What would have ensued from this awkward situation is not known, because Anus, while walking to the church accompanied by his friends, was suddenly taken ill and died the same day. Later Constantius, who succeeded Constantine as emperor, and was completely under the sway of the Semi-Arian party, was influenced to draw up the following declaration

“Whereas so many disturbances have arisen from the distinction of the unity of essence, or the likeness of essence, so from henceforth nothing shall be taught or preached respecting the essence of the Son of God, because nothing is to be found on that subject in the Holy Scriptures, and because it is one which surpasses the measure of human faculties”.

Here we have the plea that the fundamental doctrine as to the identity of essence between the Son and the Father is neither to be affirmed nor denied because this particular form of words is not found in the Scriptures. Yet it is a doctrine on which the whole Christian faith rests. The other excuse given was that the subject surpassed the human faculties. It is true that “No man knoweth the Son”, but that must not be made an excuse to undermine the plain doctrine of Christ.

After the death of Constantius, political interference ceased, and at the general council at Constantinople, A.D. 381, the sympathisers with Arianism were finally excommunicated and forced to form a small sect of their own.

Failure to confess a human spirit in Christ may be due to an unwitting belief in another form of error entirely. It may be admitted that a human spirit is an essential part of humanity, but some may feel that one cannot be sure what was the product when full humanity and full deity came together in union in Christ. When two things fuse together they may become something different. It is not therefore ‘safe' they will say, to affirm that Christ has a human spirit. Here there is a lapse into the error of the Monophysites, i.e., the confusion of the substance of the Lord's humanity and deity — another of the four main heresies that disturbed the church in the Pergamos period. (The word ‘substance' is used for want of a better one in the English language.) Sound doctrine is that the Lord Jesus Christ is God and Man; God of the substance of the Father; and Man of the substance of His mother born in the world (apart from sin). He is God and Man—one Christ. The unity of the Godhead and Manhood is not in confusion or fusion of substance, else the substance of manhood would be raised to something more than true humanity. (In all things it behoved Him to be made like unto His brethren. Heb. 2:17). This spurious explanation of the Incarnation, attempted by human intellect, that the union of Godhead and Manhood in Christ is by confusion of substance, must be rejected. We can say that the union of the natures consists in the Unity of the Person Who possesses both, this being in no sense an attempted explanation or complete definition of the unknowable mystery of the Incarnation. That is impossible.

Some may object to saying that the Lord has a human spirit and yet be quite willing to confess He has the ‘spirit of a man'. At first sight the terms seem synonymous, but if a person refuses one and accepts the other they cannot be equivalent in his eyes. Can the words ‘human' and ‘of a man' always be used interchangeably? If a dog is owned by a man, we can say it is the dog of a man, but that does not mean that we are saying it is a human dog! We see from this example that the term ‘of a man' need only indicate possession, but the word ‘human' shows the nature of the thing described. Nobody has objected to the word ‘Man' as describing the Lord Jesus. Therefore the Lord's spirit, whatever its nature, even if it be solely Divine or of mixed substance (that is confusion of Divine and human substance) can yet be said to be the Spirit of a Man in His case, i.e., the Man Christ Jesus. Of course, those sound in the faith will maintain that the Lord could not be a real Man if He had no human spirit, but as the Arians were willing to call Him ‘God' while not confessing His Divine substance, so the Apollinarians may call Him ‘Man' while not affirming His human substance. Of course we are not maintaining that it is wrong to say the Lord has the spirit of a man because, for anybody without ulterior motives, it clearly has the meaning that the spirit is part of His humanity; but we are showing that it is an inadequate substitute for the confession of a human spirit. The word ‘human' is a test for soundness in the faith, but the expression ‘of a man' may be an evasion.

There can be no genuine objection to the use of the word ‘human'. It is derived from the Latin word Humanus, from Homo, Hominis, meaning ‘Man'. It is not derived from the word Humus meaning ‘Ground'. Students of Etymology may tell us that the words are remotely akin, but that does not mean that one is derived from the other. In any case the etymological origin of a word has no practical present-day significance.

We end this booklet by quoting the words of a godly servant of Christ who lived in the nineteenth century:

“That He was truly Man, Son of man, dependent upon God as such, and without sin in that condition of dependence—truly God in all His ineffable perfection: this I hold, I trust, dearer than life. To define everything is what I do not presume to do. ‘No man knoweth the Son but the Father'. If I find anything which weakens one or the other of these truths, or which dishonours Him Who is their subject, I shall oppose it with all my might, as God may call me to do so” (Letters of J.N.D., Volume i, page 282, lines 35-42).

The times call for vigilance. Once a group of Christians becomes careless as to the doctrine of Christ, it is no longer entitled to be considered as possessing a claim on the support and fellowship of those gathered unto the Name of the Lord according to Scripture.