The Bad Breath of Jesus and His Humanity


On my web stats there was a site that was bringing in a few visitors, so I decided to check it out. The post was from November 2007 (which I don’t know why that happened), but I read it and, suffice it to say, was quite upset.

Before going into what upset me (and the reason for this post), this website reminds me so much of a version of Christianity that is killing Christianity. The author wrote one post about how he loved a “parking ticket” tract that worked great. Think about that – a person comes out from her office building, sees what looks to be a parking ticket, gets extremely upset because it means a fine is coming, then realizes that it’s a tract asking her to believe in Jesus (not to mention tracts are impersonal and horrible ideas to begin with, this one takes the cake). This tends to be the nature of the site.

However, the post and comments in question deals with the nature of Jesus’ humanity. Mark Driscoll, back in 2007 when trying to promote his book Vintage Jesus (which is a great read) put out a series of mints that asked, “Did Jesus have bad breath?” The purpose, of course, was to get people to reflect on the humanity of Jesus.

The author writes that such a question is blasphemy (though he never explains why) and should never be asked about God. One commenter says, “Jesus didn’t have bad breath, He had the breath of the Holy Spirit!” Another comes out and says that it’s blasphemy to suggest that Jesus was inhibited by any fallen human traits. Yet another says we shouldn’t talk about such traits (such as if Jesus had a bowel movement while on earth) because it’s rude and embarrassing. Others argue that Jesus wasn’t poor at all and Driscoll’s description of Jesus is heretical. What is Driscoll’s view? Driscoll describes the entire situation as:

 “Roughly two thousand years ago, Jesus was born in a dumpy, rural, hick town, not unlike those today where guys change their own oil, think pro wrestling is real, find women who chew tobacco sexy, and eat a lot of Hot Pockets with their uncle-daddy. Jesus’ mom was a poor, unwed teenage girl who was often mocked for claiming she conceived via the Holy Spirit. Most people thought she concocted the crazy story to cover the fact she was knocking boots with some guy in the backseat of a car at the prom. Jesus was adopted by a simple carpenter named Joseph and spent the first thirty years of his life in obscurity, swinging a hammer with his dad.”

My own concerns for the character of Mark Driscoll (I see some inconsistencies with how he acts and the pastoral requirements of 1 Timothy – but every pastor will struggle with this), his theology and concerns about Christ are dead on accurate. He states in his book Vintage Jesus that many American Christians, both liberal and conservative, have forgotten who Jesus was (and is). On the liberal side, His humanity is often emphasized, to the point that people forget that He was Holy and was God. On the conservative side, however, His humanity is neglected, often to the point that people forget that He was human just like us, with the same frailties. The purpose of Vintage Jesus is to show that Jesus was both completely God and completely man – thus his question on the mints – though a cheesy marketing ploy – is a very valid question to ask many people today.

The comments and even the post betray a bigger problem within Christianity – we have yet to rid ourselves of Gnosticism. Gnosticism is a view of the world that is based on Platonism (specifically Neo-Platonism). Before going into detail on what Gnosticism is, how it exists in the modern world, and how the quoted post exemplifies the Gnostic attitude, it would be best to understand exactly what Platonism is.

In The Republic Plato goes over a variety of different types of philosophies. Prior to systematizing philosophy into different categories – such as metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, physics, etc – Greek philosophers would simply tell stories. In Plato’s Republic, he asks the question, “What is justice?” Ultimately, this can only be answered by dealing with metaphysics (“first things”).

Plato is referred to as a “realist,” which simply means he believes there is a reality outside of the physical reality that helps give meaning, or is the sole source of meaning, in the physical world. He is also a dualist in that he believes that the physical world and spiritual world are separate, yet can interact with each other (not combined or one in the same). So far all of this lines up with Christian thought, which teaches the same thing (there is an external spiritual world and it is separate from the physical world).

Where Plato begins to go wrong in when he places the spiritual world over the physical world, best described in his analogy of the cave. In this analogy, he envisions people in a very dark cave facing one of the cave walls. On the cave wall are shadows from objects behind them (they can’t see the objects) being cast onto the cave wall. For these people, the shadows are ‘the real’ because they have never known anything else. However, Plato argues that they can separate themselves from their entrapments and look behind them. When they do so, they see there is a fire behind the objects causing them to cast shadows. What is more is he can leave the cave and see the sun and experience the reality that he has missed out on.

This analogy is supposed to reflect real life where everything we see is merely a shadow of what is actually in existence. The chair you are sitting in, the computer you are using, and your hand that you are using to scroll don’t really exist, they are just shadows of an absolute form that exists in the spiritual world. It means everything in the physical life is lesser than that which is in the spiritual life.

This form of thinking dominated the ancient world from when Plato expounded on it (through the words of Socrates) to about 1000AD (with the re-discovery of Aristotle and the beginning of scholasticism). Christianity unfortunately suffered from this dualism.

Along came the Gnostics who, aside from other weird beliefs adopted from paganism, accepted whole-heartedly Plato’s dualism. They taught one of two things about Jesus: (1) He couldn’t be a human because God (spiritual) cannot inhabit flesh (physical). The physical world is inherently evil while the spiritual world is inherently good…or (2) Jesus couldn’t have been God and thus was just a human, for the same reasons above.

This is why in many of the Gnostic Gospels that have become famously interesting lately (thanks to the Da Vinci Code) attempt to display a story of a purely human Jesus. This is why it’s necessary for Him to have sex in their tales, to sin, and to not die and instead live on – it all discredits Him as being God.

The opposite end of the Gnostics taught that Jesus simply appeared to be human, but wasn’t actually human. To this sect the idea of God (spiritual) acting and taking on the form of a human (physical) was simply offensive.

In the modern era, Christians really do hold onto a form of Platonism and even Gnosticism. The more materialistic Christians are more apt to deny the Deity of Jesus while the more conservative are more likely to deny (or diminish) His humanity. Both make the same mistake Plato did – they properly realize that we live in a dualistic system (spiritual and physical), but improperly place one above the other.

In dealing with this post, I’ll deal with Plato’s distortion and its relation to Christianity rather than both distortions (physical above spiritual and vise versa).

The post I linked to shows a distinct lack of concern for the humanity of Jesus. The statement that one commenter left that Jesus didn’t breath normal air, but instead breathed the Holy Spirit shows just how far many have gone in order to spiritualize Jesus. The reason for this is that many fundamentalist Christians feel the need to “spiritualize” everything. Just walk into a Christian book store and you’re liable to find Bible-opoly, Testa-mints, “Lord’s Gym” t-shirts (and other cheap knock-offs), multiple Christian bands that are meant to mimic and imitate their “secular” counterparts, and a whole host of other items.

This desire to spiritualize everything comes from a misunderstanding of how the world works. Take a Thomas Kincaid painting (though repetitive) – would it be so popular if he didn’t include Scripture with it? Would people value it? In many conservative Sunday Schools a child that paints a picture of something that is non-religious themed, thought not chastised, is still encouraged to go with the religious themed artwork. Our music often only deals with what God has done or with what we deem “spiritual things” (I mean in our private listening, not in worship where it makes since to only sing music that reflects on God). We think that because the world has been tainted by sin and everything is fallen, we must avoid it.

Unfortunately, we forget two things: (1) this is still God’s world and (2) sin comes from within, the spiritual realm.

First, this is still God’s world. Though He has handed some authority over to the Devil and allows sin to continue in this world, He ultimately has control. A quick read through various passages of Scripture would show that He is still in control of everything. If the physical world is inherently lesser than the spiritual world because of sin, then why would God bother? Likewise, if the physical world is simply lesser regardless of sin, why would God create the physical world and then put us back into physical bodies at the second resurrection? The fact is, for whatever reason God has created the physical world and intends for us to live in a physical body forever.

Secondly, nothing is sinful in and of itself. A knife is not sinful if used to cut something that needs to be cut, but the action of stabbing someone is sinful. The action of stabbing someone, however, comes from a desire within to kill or harm someone. This originates in the spiritual realm. The spiritual realm (where, by the way, God does not reside as He is above both metaphysical realms) is just as fallen as the physical realm, so both are equal in their goodness and equal in their fallen nature. Both need to be redeemed.

With this in mind, we can take a new look at the humanity of Jesus. Though fully God, He was also fully human. He needed to eat, sleep, blow His nose, and use the restroom. He had emotions, He cried, He was happy, He was angry. His hair grew and had to be cut, He needed to bathe when He was dirty, rest when He was sick, and laugh when tickled by His mother when He was a child. If none of this is true, if Jesus didn’t experience any of this, then He was an unworthy sacrifice because He never fully related to the human experience. This is why the Gospels go to a great length to show that Jesus was both divine and human – the necessity of His divinity was so He could be a proper sacrifice and free from a sin nature while the necessity of His humanity was so that He could actually be an adequate sacrifice for humanity. If either is false, then Jesus is an inadequate sacrifice.

So is it blasphemy to ask if Jesus ever had bad breath, or to answer that He did? Absolutely not. Jesus’ body was subject to the effects of sin. Now, this does not mean that Jesus sinned – I must stress that – He was absolutely perfect in the way He acted, thought, and performed. However, His body was under the curse. This is evidenced by His need for sleep, His death, and the pain He felt. He avoided being stoned by the Pharisees for a reason – had they stoned Him they would have killed Him before His time. His body was frail because He was human.

Driscoll asked a fair question and, though pedantic to some or childish to others, one that does show how far removed we are from realizing that Jesus was human.

It bothers me that someone would take issue with this or try to say that questioning if Jesus had the same bodily functions as humans is “rude” or “blasphemy.” If He didn’t then He wasn’t really human.

In their attempt to show Driscoll as blasphemous, the irony is these people have betrayed that they buy into a form of the Gnostic heresy…which is far worse than asking if Jesus had bad breath. Jesus was fully God, but also fully man and went through the same things we go through, only without committing a sin.

For further reading on the topic of how Plato and Gnosticism influence modern Christianity, please read:

The New Super-Spirituality by Francis Schaeffer (it’s difficult to find this work on its own, but it’s part of the Complete Works volume)

Heaven is a Place on Earth: Why Everything You do Matters to God by Michael Wittmer (Dr. Wittmer’s website)

The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life by Os Guinness