Would Christ Have Died If Not Killed?

This is an interesting question to ponder. It’s more than pure speculation, as it has implications on how we view Christ and His identity with mankind. It also contributes to how we view the effects of sin on man.

Here is the issue: Death is the result of sin, yet Christ never sinned. If Christ did not allow himself to be put to death, would he have died? What do you think?

The Complexity of Christ’s Humanity and Sin

The question is brought about by our pondering upon Christ’s identification with humanity and humanity’s identification with sin and death. Since Christ did not sin, and death is a result of sin, then wouldn’t it be systematic to believe that Christ would have lived forever in his unresurrected body had He not been 1) killed or 2) relinquished His spirit from His body?

I believe the answer is slightly more complicated than it might first appear, having implications that reveal our assumptions about our Christology (doctrine of Christ), Anthropology (doctrine of man), Harmartiology (doctrine of sin), Eschatology (doctrine of the end-times), and Teleology (doctrine of ultimate ends or purpose). Your answer to this question, yah or nah, is not the issue and is of minimal importance, but the assumptions that often cause one to say yah or nah are very important, ultimately being a result of your entire systematic theology.

Yes, Christ Would Have Died Had He Not Been Killed

I believe that Christ would have died a natural death had He not been killed. In fact, I believe that Christ got sick, ate, drank, had headaches, used the bathroom, was sunburned from time to time, had blisters on his feet when He walked too far, cried when hurt as a child, and sprained His ankle. In fact, He might have even needed to wear corrective lenses were His life lived in the 21st century (well, He probably could have had some sympathetic supporter pay for lasik!). The point is that Christ was very human, like us in every respect save sin.

Christ’s Fallen Nature?

“Save sin.” What does that mean? Save personal sin? – absolutely. Christ did not commit a personal sin (Heb. 4:15). Save inherited sin? – hmm, what does that mean? Normally inherited sin is equated with “sinful nature.” Hang with me for a moment. The sinful nature has traditionally been defined as the sinful tendency or bent that you and I have inherited from our parents; they inherited it from their parents who inherited it through their parents, and so on. In other words, it is mediated through procreation. It is the inward inclination and drive to rebel. It is what caused David to cry out, “Look, I was guilty of sin from birth, a sinner the moment my mother conceived me” (Ps. 51:5, NET, emphasis mine). If this is the way we are going to define inherited sin/sinful nature, I agree, Christ did not have this corruption. I don’t believe that Christ had an inward drive or inclination toward sin. Although I could be wrong, I believe that with reference to Christ, all temptation for sin came from the outside.

Fallen Nature vs. Sinful Nature: A Proposal

Now, here is a second issue having to do with our understanding of fallen humanity and its relation to Christ. Traditionally the phrase “fallen nature” has been equated with “sinful nature” which is equated with inherited sin. I am not sure, however, that this is a good equation. At the very least, I think we can understand more if we distinguish between fallen nature and sinful nature. Here is my proposal (I am not sure if this is original with me, but I don’t know any others who have articulated the issues in such a way – in other words, be warned!):

  • Sinful nature: The effects of sin that bring about spiritual corruption and death (separation from God) producing in us an inward inclination toward sin that is mediated through our parents. This affects only humans who are in spiritual relation to the first Adam.
  • Fallen nature: The effects of sin that bring about physical corruption and ultimate physical death that are mediated through the consequence of the fall. This affects all of creation.

Is Death a Natural Aspect of Humanity?

Put the situation this way. After Adam’s sin, what would have happened had God not expelled him from the Garden? He would have had a sinful nature due to his sin and resulting spiritual death (separation from God). In other words, spiritual death would have been a reality, but not necessarily physical death. It was only when he was expelled from the Garden that physical death became an imminent reality. Notice after the fall what the Lord said:

Genesis 3:22-24

And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”23 So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. 24 After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.

This tells us that it was not the sin itself or the resulting spiritual death that necessitated physical death, but the fact that Adam and Eve no longer had access to the “Tree of Life.” Therefore, physical death is a natural aspect to humanity when we don’t have the right sustenance. Whether literal or figurative, the Tree of Life is necessary for life

The Role of the Tree of Life in Christ’s Mortality

Therefore, while death does come as a consequence of sin, the consequence seems to be that humanity lacks something in creation that is essential to the subsistence of physical life. Since we don’t have access to this “Tree of Life” we die physically. It is that simple. Therefore, Christ, even though He did not commit any sin and did not have a sinful nature, did have a fallen nature. Christ would have died because He did not have access to the “Tree of Life.”

[Further exploration of the Tree of Life in Revelation 2:7 and 22:14 where, on a restored Earth, access to  the Tree of Life returns!]

Conclusion: Questions and Considerations

Now, before you jump on this moving train with me, let me reveal a small problem with my otherwise flawless systemization of this issue! If all I have said is correct, and the “Tree of Life” provides us with the necessary sustenance for physical life, how is it that people who are damned live for eternity without access to the tree? This, I don’t have an answer for. Could it be that the damned are judged in their physical bodies (Rev. 20:5, 12-13) and then are separated from them upon their condemnation? Could it be that Hell, then, is not filled with physical people, but only the immaterial part of their constitution? Or could it be that even in Hell, God gives people this needed sustenance so that they can suffer physically for all eternity? I don’t know. But I don’t think that this problem is significant enough to warrant the ill-consideration of my proposal to these issues.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    11 replies to "Would Jesus Have Died a Natural Death Had He Not Been Killed?"

    • Wolf Paul

      1. I think if Christ would not have died had he not been killed, he could not have been killed. The difference between being killed and dying from old age or other causes is not one of kind but of cause.
      2. However, I think it is unthinkable that Christ might not have been killed. While I don’t know of a specific verse that says so, I believe orthodox Christian faith is that Christ came to die for our salvation, and God’s plans cannot be thwarted.

      • C Michael Patton

        Yes. You are right. It is speculative in that since. But I also believe it is valuable to think about since it pushes our Christology to ask this question: do I really believe Christ was man and what does that mean?

    • Ed Chapman

      When I discussed “Catholic Baggage” a few posts ago, this is one of them.

      SPIRITUAL DEATH is the result of sin. Natural death is because Adam never ate of the tree of life, even after eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, because God blocked access to it, so that he would not eat of it and live forever. This shows that Adam was going to die regardless of eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil or not. The only way to have obtained eternal life, would have been eating of the tree of life, and he never did. That, in short, is one way to debunk “original sin”.

      The Catholics believe that Jesus could not have died had he not been killed, all because Jesus is God, and God cannot sin, or die, and that Mary was a vessel of the birth of Jesus, therefore, she, too, is sinless, hence, the Catholics think that Mary is already in her “glorified” body.

      The problem with that is, is that the SKIN, most people call it FLESH, was that of a man, and was capable of sin, but did not sin.

      Romans 1:3
      Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh;

      Mans flesh.

      Romans 8:3
      For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh:

      Hebrews 2:14
      Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil;

      Note the word, “blood” in the above. What is the purpose of blood? It keeps the flesh alive.

      Leviticus 17:11, 14
      For the life of the flesh is in the blood

      Flesh and “BLOOD” cannot inherit the kingdom of God. Just by the mere fact that Jesus had blood in his system tells us that he did not have a glorifed body that cannot die until he resurrected from the dead.

      1 John 4:2
      Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:

      That would mean, MAN’S FLESH. How many sects of Christianity do we know that denies that Jesus came in MAN’S DYING FLESH?

      Hebrews 4:15
      For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.

      Philippians 2:7
      But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:

      How does one kill a glorifed body? They can’t.

      Yes, you are correct that Jesus COULD HAVE died of old age, had he not been killed, because his flesh was that of man…with blood, that keeps the flesh alive. That’s not a morality lesson of sin, it’s just a simple flesh and blood issue.

    • Ed Chapman

      You had said:
      “This tells us that it was not the sin itself or the resulting spiritual death that necessitated physical death, but the fact that Adam and Eve no longer had access to the “Tree of Life.” Therefore, physical death is a natural aspect to humanity when we don’t have the right sustenance. Whether literal or figurative, the Tree of Life is necessary for life.”

      My response:

      You are making this sound as if Adam had ALREADY BEEN eating of the Tree of Life to…sustain his life.

      That’s not what I get out of it at all. From what I read, he never ate of that tree at all, and according to 1 Cor 15:42-46, he begain his life in a body that dies (corruption), that is weak, that is dishonorable, and that is called a “natural body”, and that is what came first. He was going to die anyway. There was no “sustanance” from the tree of life, because there is no such thing as the need to MAINTAIN eternal life once received. You either have it, or you don’t.

      Catholic baggage, thanks to Augustine!

      • C Michael Patton

        Well, that is not really the subject of the post. As long as you agree that if they ate of it (once or perpetually) they would have lived forever. And since they didn’t, they were subject to death. My primary thesis will carry with just that grant.

    • Ed Chapman

      The government will stipulate! (*Kevin Bacon, A Few Good Men!)

    • warren s taylor

      Interesting discussion though you can’t really prove anything by ambiguity. But you know that already.

      Points not speculative. Christ had 23 human chromosomes from his mother who was in the legacy of all that did or did not come down through Adam and Eve. See telomeres. Shortening’s not just in Crisco and that means a predictable end of life for Jesus’ body.

      But Christ’s spiritual identity was ontologically and inseparably Godhead. That’s why penal substitution cannot work. All talk of separation from the Father is absurdity. Separation means dissolution of the Plurality of Persons in a single ontology as what it means to be God.

      • Edward Chapman

        Warren S Taylor,

        You had said:
        ” All talk of separation from the Father is absurdity”

        My response:

        I’m assuming you are discussing the phrase, “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?”?

        If not, The Father was in heaven, as Jesus said, time and time and time and time again, while Jesus was on this earth. But he also said that the Father was “in” him, as well.

        John 14:10
        …but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works

        That’s two places at the same time.

        “spiritual death” simply means separation from God. It is my understanding that it was at that point that Jesus took our sins upon himself, and that was the meaning behind the statement. And that sin needed to be judged, for it is appointed unto men once do die…and then AFTER THAT, the judgment. The body, or flesh, of Jesus died, and God suffered for our sins.

        Not sure why the beakers and microscopes of science needs to be involved, when no one can see casper, the friendly ghost!

    • Eric Quek

      Reevaluating the Genesis account through the lens of modern science:

      My objective in this “article” is to present a metaphorical interpretation of the Biblical Genesis, specifically focusing on the Trees of Knowledge & Life, and draw parallels between these elements from modern scientific views. (Inspired by Michael Patton view that Sin was not the etiology of Death, rather from lack of access to the Tree of Life.)
      The Genesis narrative, depicts the Trees of Knowledge of Good and Evil & the Tree of Life as pivotal to human condition. This article reinterprets these symbols through contemporary scientific understanding, particularly the concepts of DNA integrity (Tree of Life) & the acquisition of knowledge with its consequences (Tree of Knowledge). The comparison with “forest bathing”, a practice known to enhance health, serves as a modern metaphor for the sustaining environment of Eden.
      The Trees of Eden & Modern science.
      The Tree of Life & DNA integrity: Tree of Life metaphorically linked to perfect DNA. In Eden, Adam and Eve’s genetic makeup was flawless, maintained by an environment akin to the therapeutic effects of forest bathing. This practice, scientifically proven to boost immunity & mental health, symbolizes the Edenic environment that preserved optimal human health & longevity.
      Shinrin-yoku, involves immersing oneself in a forest environment. Research shows that it increases NK—natural killer cell activities, reduces stress hormone production, and improves overall feelings of wellbeing. These benefits suggest how the Edenic environment could have supported the ideal health depicted in Genesis. NK cells are a type of lymphocyte critical to defend body against tumors and virally infected cells. Research has shown that spending time in forests increase the number and activity of these cells. This is partly due to inhaling yes inhaling phytoncides–essential natural oil, natural compounds produced by trees like Pines, Coniferous, which have antimicrobial properties. In addition, it impacts cytokine production which are signaling molecules that mediate and regulate immunity and inflammation. Thus, promoting an anti-inflammatory state. This could have been a key aspect of the Edenic environment, providing a natural defense against inflammatory diseases. Stress adversely affects immune function, by inhibiting the ability o fight off infections and inflammation. The reduction of stress hormones like cortisol in natural environments directly benefits immune health. In Eden, the absence of modern stressors could have meant a consistently optimal immune response. Exposure to natural calming environment can shift the nervous system away from the sympathetic mode to the parasympathetic –rest and digest mode. This shift promotes relaxation, reduces stress, and enhances digestion and recovery process, all of which would have been prevalent in the Garden.

      Edenic environment, these scientific findings suggest a setting that was inherently conducive to optimal health:
      Tree of Knowledge & Human progress: Represents the dawn of human awareness and technological advancement. Just as the discovery of fire, the industrial revolution, and modern technological breakthroughs have had both positive and negative impacts, the knowledge gained from this introduced the complexities of moral judgment & harsh realities of life outside Eden.

      The departure & consequences of acquiring knowledge from the source that was forbidden. Post-Eden biblical narrative suggests a gradual decline in human lifespan, which can be interpreted as the loss of perfect DNA integrity. Environmental factors—radiation, toxins, infectious disease—exacerbated by human discoveries and industrialization, may have contributed to this decline. The expulsion from Eden symbolizes a departure from an ideal state of health and environment. The lack of access to the therapeutic elements of Eden, akin to the absence of forest bating benefits, signifies a transition to a more challenging existence, with increased exposure to health risks.

      Concept of Resurrection & restoration: The Christian concept of resurrection, where believers are promised new, imperishable bodies, reflects a return to the Edenic state. This parallels the restoration of perfect DNA and an environment that sustains optimal health, akin to the benefits of forest bathing. The sustaining presence of God in the new creation mirrors the nurturing aspects of the Edenic environment. This suggests that the key to eternal life and perfect health lies not only in perfect DNA but also in an environment that supports and maintains this perfection. This suggests a holistic view of health and wellbeing where spiritual, physical and environmental factors are inextricably linked.
      (I have not read the new post by Michael: What on earth will heaven be like. Seems to promise a novel way of thinking which I am thrilled to sink my teeth in– likely second part of this coming?

    • Ed Chapman

      Dude, come on! I can name a while slew of catholic dogma that is out of sync with reality. Spare is with your authority!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.