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Devil's in the details

Docetism is broadly defined as any Christological teaching that claims that Jesus's body was either absent or illusory - the term derives from the Greek word dokein – "to seem".

Two varieties have become widely known:

  • In one version, Christ was so divine he could not have been human, since God lacked a material body, and therefore could not physically suffer. Jesus only appeared to be a flesh-and-blood man; his body was a phantasm. This stance, taken by Marcionism, seems to predate even Marcion's time (c. 85 – c. 160), being criticized in 1 John 4:2-3.
  • Other groups accused of docetism held that Jesus was a man in the flesh, but Christ was a separate entity, who entered Jesus's body in the form of a dove at his baptism, empowered him to perform miracles, and abandoned him on his death on the cross.

The term "docetic" should be used with caution, since its use is rather nebulous. Robert M. PriceWikipedia insists that terms like "docetism", "encratism", and "adoptionism", as well as "Gnosticism", have suffered a fate similar to "Xerox, Jello, and Kleenex" - the words have become employed "far beyond what historically descriptive usage would allow".[1]

In Islam[edit]

Islamic theology also treats the incarnation of Jesus (or Isa), or at least his crucifixion, as docetic, as the Qur'an teaches (in sura 4:157-158) that he was assumed into heaven to return again, rather than having been successfully crucified.

See also[edit]


  1. Yes, the "scare quotes" also appear in Price's review of Timothy Freke & Peter Gandy, Jesus and the Lost Goddess: The Secret Teaching of the Original Christians (2002).