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Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol III:
Tertullian: Part II: Christ's Assertion About the Unprofitableness of the Flesh Explained Consistently with Our Doctrine.

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter XXXVII.—Christ’s Assertion About the Unprofitableness of the Flesh Explained Consistently with Our Doctrine.

He says, it is true, that “the flesh profiteth nothing;” 7525 but then, as in the former case, the meaning must be regulated by the subject which is spoken of. Now, because they thought His discourse was harsh and intolerable, supposing that He had really and literally enjoined on them to eat his flesh, He, with the view of ordering the state of salvation as a spiritual thing, set out with the principle, “It is the spirit that quickeneth;” and then added, “The flesh profiteth nothing,”—meaning, of course, to the giving of life. He also goes on to explain what He would have us to understand by spirit: “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” In a like sense He had previously said: “He that heareth my words, and believeth on Him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but shall pass from death unto life.” 7526 Constituting, therefore, His word as the life-giving principle, because that word is spirit and life, He likewise called His flesh by the same appellation; because, too, the Word had become flesh, 7527 we ought therefore to desire Him in order that we may have life, and to devour Him with the ear, and to ruminate on Him with the understanding, and to digest Him by faith. Now, just before (the passage in hand), He had declared His flesh to be “the bread which cometh down from heaven,” 7528 impressing on (His hearers) constantly under the figure of necessary food the memory of their forefathers, who had preferred the bread and flesh of Egypt to their divine calling. 7529 Then, turning His subject to their reflections, because He perceived that they were going to be scattered from Him, He says: “The flesh profiteth nothing.” Now what is there to destroy the resurrection of the flesh? As if there might not reasonably enough be something which, although it “profiteth nothing” itself, might yet be capable of being profited by something else. The spirit “profiteth,” for it imparts life. The flesh profiteth nothing, for it is subject to death. Therefore He has rather put the two propositions in a way which favours our belief: for by showing what “profits,” and what “does not profit,” He has likewise thrown light on the object which receives as well as the subject which gives the “profit.”  Thus, in the present instance, we have the Spirit giving life to the flesh which has been subdued by death; for “the hour,” says He, “is coming, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live.” 7530 Now, what is “the dead” but the flesh? and what is “the voice of God” but the Word? and what is the Word but the Spirit, 7531 who shall justly raise the flesh which He had once Himself become, and that too from death, which He Himself suffered, and from the grave, which He Himself once entered? Then again, when He says, “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in which all that are in the graves shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and shall come forth; they that have done good, to the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation,” 7532 —none will after such words be able to interpret the dead “that are in the graves” as any other than the bodies of the flesh, because the graves themselves are nothing but the resting-place of corpses:  for it is incontestable that even those who partake of “the old man,” that is to say, sinful men—in other words, those who are dead through their ignorance of God (whom our heretics, forsooth, foolishly insist on understanding by the word “graves” 7533 )—are plainly here spoken of as having to come from their graves for judgment. But how are graves to come forth from graves?



John vi. 63.


John v. 24.


John i. 14.


John vi. 51.


John 6:31, 49, 58.


John v. 25.


The divine nature of the Son. See our Anti-Marcion, pp. 129, 247, note 7, Edin.


John 5:28, 29.


Compare c. xix. above.

Next: Christ, by Raising the Dead, Attested in a Practical Way the Doctrine of the Resurrection of the Flesh.

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