Jesus is not a demigod

According to Greek mythology, Heracles (the Latin Hercules) was the son of a god, Zeus, and a human mother. This made him in some sense a demigod, a person who was partly divine and partly human.

Orthodox Christian theology has decisively rejected the idea that Jesus Christ is a demigod in this sense. At the Council of Chalcedon in 451 a definition of the faith was agreed with the following words about the two natures of Christ:

one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ

In other words, Jesus is not half divine and half human, but fully God and fully man, without any kind of confusion or change in the natures, while also being one person.

While this definition does not explicitly rule out the idea that God the Father or the Holy Spirit took the role of a human father in the conception of Jesus, it certainly makes it more difficult to hold. Christians have often been accused of believing that Jesus is the product of a sexual union between God and Mary, but this has never been orthodox belief. I would conclude (along with John Robinson and Arthur Peacocke) that this Chalcedonian definition tends to support, without actually requiring, the kind of controversial explanation of Jesus’ virgin birth which I put forward yesterday.

28 thoughts on “Jesus is not a demigod

  1. Peter,
    Thanks for bringing in the Greeks! We still have much to learn from them.

    And thanks for your clear answers to our comments last post and for your referring us to this one. We might take more care when “decisively rejecting” if “not explicitly ruling out” (even the mythologies of the Greeks).

    C. S. Lewis credits Plato, for example, for prophesying the passion of the Christ.

    And to Virgil (who, we might say, listens too much to Homer), Lewis credits a foretelling of Jesus’ virgin birth:

    “Virgil, writing not very long before the birth of Christ, begins a poem thus: ‘The great procession of the ages begins anew. Now the Virgin returns, the reign of Saturn returns, and the new child is sent down from high heaven.’ It goes on to describe the paradisal age which this nativity will usher in. And of course throughout the Middle Ages it was taken that some dim prophetic knowledge of the birth of Christ had reached Virgil, probably through the Sibylline Books. He ranked as a Pagan prophet. Modern scholars would, I suppose, laugh at the idea. They might differ as to what noble or imperial couple were being thus extravagantly complimented by a court poet on the birth of a son; but the resemblance to the birth of Christ would be regarded, once more, as an accident. To say the least of it, however, this is a . . . striking accident. . . If this is luck, it is extraordinary luck. If one were a fanatical opponent of Christianity one would be tempted to say, in an unguarded moment, that it was diabolically lucky.’’ (C. S. Lewis, “Second Meanings,” Reflections on the Psalms, pages 101-02)

  2. Peter,

    The doctrine of the virgin birth of Christ is an important doctrine of the church. It is based on the teachings of the Gospel. I don’t know any Christian that would say that Jesus was a demigod but many Christians deny the virgin birth of Christ.

    I believe that Christianity must affirm that Jesus was fully God and fully man. To me, Christianity cannot exist without this declaration.

    Claude Mariottini

  3. It was a bit tricky translating “appeared in the flesh” in 1 Timothy and not ending up with heresy. “Appeared in the body of a man”
    “Appeared like a man”
    Hmmm, not quite right.
    We ended up with “appeared in a body”

  4. Peter,
    I agonized over a comment I made on Metacatholic and then agonized until it was accepted. I don’t know if he really read what I was saying, but take a look at it for my present view of Jesus being conceived as both fully human and fully God. God made the first Adam out the dust of the earth but he was fully human too.

    http://www.metacatholic.co.uk/2007/12/the-virgin-birth-lukes-new-creation-story/#comment-2206

    It leads into all sorts of correlations on things said in the New Testament texts and considerations on what Jesus knew about his being God and when he knew it. “I must be about my father’s business”

  5. ok no. “God” created the universe, or so that is what the teachings say, right? Jesus, was not the creator of the universe, he was not around all those billions of years before man even walked on Earth, well now I’m going completely off tangent and saying the world did not begin with The Garden of Eden -_- They are not one and the same. I hate religion because it is so ILLOGICAL. Jesus is a demigod, period. He is basically what Hercules and many other demigods were in Greek mythology. Mary was impregnated by God and thus Jesus was born. He was the son of a mortal and a God, thus making him a demigod. Get over it.

  6. Nykspree, on what historical evidence do you make your confident and unqualified assertion that “Mary was impregnated by God and thus Jesus was born”? This is not what the historical records say and has never been orthodox Christian teaching. So as far as I can say it is entirely speculative.

    You make the good point that Jesus also existed before creation, and so he cannot be entirely the product of whatever happened with Mary, that latter being simply the origin of his human body and nature.

  7. regardless, Jesus was a man/god. you could say that its not so because he is now ‘one with God’ , for example Heracles was a demi-god but was believed to have been granted full godhood and live amongst the other greek gods in olympus, this doesnt change the fact that he was believed to have been half god and half man.

  8. Mr Higman, may I suggest that you study the orthodox Christian doctrine of the Trinity and its development before asserting, incorrectly at least as regards the great majority of Christians throughout history, that Jesus “was a man/god” and “is now ‘one with God’”. If that is what you believe, that is your choice, but please do not misrepresent the beliefs of others.

  9. What about Jesus saying he was less than the father in I can’t remember where compared 2 him saying the father and I r one, couldn’t that be taken as a contradiction? my uncle is very adamant on believing it is

  10. Mike, I think you are referring to John 10:20 and 14:28. But there is no contradiction here. The former does not imply that the Father and the Son are the same being or identical in every respect. In orthodox Christian theology it is taken as meaning that they are of the same nature and substance. That is independent of their greatness. Consider that a large glass of water is greater than a small glass of water although both are of the same nature and substance.

    Now the exact sense in which the Father is greater than the Son is obscure to me. I don’t think this should be taken as implying the eternal subordination of the Son, a novel modern teaching which has become popular in certain circles, but which I would reject as heretical not least because it does suggest a difference of essence between the Persons. We need to look closely at the context of John 14:28, which implies that the Father in heaven is able to do more for the disciples than Jesus in his human body was able to do so. In other words, the Father was greater than the Son at that time because he was not limited by a human body. Perhaps the “is” in this statement should be taken as limited in time and not an eternal truth.

  11. It’s like he made a phase change. You have steam (God) and then it can coalesce into water (Jesus). Steam is still water, just in a different form.

  12. Chalcedon provides exactly the definition of a demigod albeit in a convoluted and illogical manner. The ancient Greeks never precisely defined the term demigod beyond the mythological meaning of a child of a god and a human. In this sense the Chalcedonian Jesus is indeed a demigod. Dionysus provides an interesting example as he was the son of Zeus and Semele and therefore human as well as divine and therefore a demigod. He was also, unlike Hercules who had to earn his immortality, fully divine from the outset. Therefore to ascribe the definition of a demigod to being half divine and half human is entirely fallacious, a demigod may indeed, as in the case of Dionysus, be fully divine.

  13. Mike, that’s an interesting take on the matter. But was Dionysus also fully human? Anyway, Jesus was never “a child of a god and a human”. It has never been orthodox Christian teaching that “Jesus is the product of a sexual union between God and Mary”, although Mormons are said to believe this, and Muslims may misunderstand this to be Christian teaching. So I don’t think Jesus is a demigod on your definition either.

  14. I don’t think anyone will change either of your minds. It will always be argued that each of you are wrong and each of you are right. You both have a right to your opinion. As a poly theist I do fall to the side of Jesus being a Demi god and it has nothing to do with sexual intercourse between Mary and God. Zeus was a bit of dog, but he did not require his bodily presence to “take” what he wanted. History was written by men and women who had opinions like we do. So learn all you can, keep an open mind and remember demigod or not Jesus is the son of God and that gentlemen is ALL you need to know.

  15. Polytheist, I respect your right to beliefs very different from mine. But I wonder if we differ more on definitions than on substance. Meanwhile the Wikipedia article I linked to seems to have changed a lot since 2007.

  16. Hmmm… I really have no clue of what you consider a demigod but let’s get real here. So what are the qualifications of being a demigod? 1) An inferior deity; a minor god. It was so nice of you to quote John 14:28 because you said, “The Father was greater than the Son at that time because he was not limited by a human body.” And that makes Jesus a minor deity. 2) A deified man. Well that one is an easy one to figure out, because Jesus was and is worshiped or revered as a god and he is exalted as one. 3) A male being, often the offspring of a god and a mortal. Okay you can just pretend that the virgin/holy spirit thing never happened but the Trinity/Triune is a Polytheist belief which is actually a Pagan belief. Nonetheless Jesus wasn’t even the true Messiah anyways. The true Messiah must be descended on his father’s side from King David (Genesis 49:10, Isaiah 11:1, Jeremiah 23:5, 33:17; Ezekiel 34:23-24). According to the Christian claim that Jesus was the product of a virgin birth, he had no father, and thus could not have possibly fulfilled the requirement of being descended on his father’s side from King David. Now shall we talk about the Nephilim (fallen angels) next, and talk about how the mated with human women (Genesis 6:1-4, Jude 6-7)?

  17. Nelix, you can, for as long as you like, make up definitions of “demigod” then claim that Jesus fits them. But the truth is that the person of Jesus, as understood by orthodox Christians, is quite different from the classic definition of “demigod”.

  18. Peter, The only reason the definition is different then the classic definition of Demigod, Jesus is said to be fully God and Fully human two different natures yet in truth this makes Jesus Half God and Half man a demigod. And another question if the Church had said Jesus was like demigods in other religions then more people would honor him as a demigod and still be pagan instead of Christian

  19. James, Christian theology long ago rejected as heretical any idea that Jesus is “Half God and Half man”. It insists on what looks like a paradox, that he is 100% God and 100% man, not a mixture but two different perspectives on the same being.

  20. Hello Peter, i’ve read through the comments and you have some great points. The only thing I’m not sure of understanding its what exactly do you mean by 100% God and 100% man? I fully agree with no confusion or separation in things relative too God but i just don’t seem to get what you mean by 100% of both. Please explain. Thanks

  21. Paul, I agree that this is hard to understand, but it is orthodox Christian teaching, simply with “fully” replaced by “100%”. I would understand it as different perspectives on the same person. From the normal physical viewpoint, Jesus was 100% human. But from a spiritual perspective he is 100% God. That is the best I can do at the moment.

  22. Christians believe that Jesus was God and they were one in the same. From my understanding a demigod is an offspring of a God and a mortal, who has some but not all of the powers of a god. If Jesus was God, why would he need a mortal to conceive himself into the world? But if Jesus was just a demigod that would mean he wasn’t equal to God, and thus Christians would be worshipping another god and violating the First Commandment. So either is he is equal to God, which means his birth from Mary was pointless or he is a demigod, which would mean he really is not God. Which one is correct?

    • Justin, Jesus is fully God and fully man, not half God and half man. To be fully human he had to be born of a human mother. That is a brief summary of a subject that I don’t have time to get into in detail.

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