Did God Die on the Cross? How Can God Die?

by Steve Ray on April 10, 2020

Almost every day I get questions. I always try to answer, even if briefly. Today I received a question from Raymund in the Philippines. He is part of a apologetics group and they got very hung up on whether God died on the cross. Here is his e-mail:

JosephOfArimathea-5c2e4559c9e77c0001904cf9Greetings Mr. Stephen: 

I am a great follower of yours and I’m from the Philippines. I’ve got a couple of questions here that bother me a lot.

1) Did GOD THE SON died literally on the cross? or 2) Did only the HUMAN NATURE OF GOD THE SON  die on the cross?

I hope you can enlighten me on this matter.

My first response was brief, an attempt to get Raymund to think through it himself. I do this sometimes because some people prefer to just ask a question without giving it any thought or doing the research themselves. I wrote:

Let me ask you a question because it’s better for you to think through this on your own than for me to give you a pat answer. When you die, what dies? You are going to die and get buried in the ground, but are you dead?

Raymund wrote back:

You are putting more cobwebs in my brain….anyway, thanks. It has been an issue for us here (a little group of Catholics Faith Defenders, I’m new in this group). We were browsing the web found no definite answer. This issue has divided us.

  one of us says that GOD literally died on the cross for us to be saved.  AND THAT IS A MYSTERY OF OUR GOD IN CHRIST JESUS..

  the other is saying that it cannot be since GOD cannot die.  Jesus our Lord is both God and man.  What died? Some say IT IS A HERESY TO SAY THAT GOD DIED ON THE CROSS LITERALLY. For me, the latter seems a logical point of view.  GOD IS SPIRIT, ETERNAL, NO BEGINNING, AND NO END, therefore, cannot die. What died on the cross?

To sum it all, I’m sad for our group and at the same time, I’m confused.

So I responded further to Raymund and his group of Catholic Faith Defenders:

The reason I asked you about “when you die, what dies?” Is because it should help you think about what death is. Death is “separation.” It is the separation of the body from the soul. The soul goes to heaven or hell and the body is buried in the ground. Death does not mean annihilation, it means separation. When you die, you cease from your earthly existence, but you are still alive in your soul.

Jesus had two natures (human and divine) but he was only one “person.” He is a divine person (not a human person). He is God who has taken on human nature and therefore he is God and a man.

harrowingofhellJust like you, when this divine person of Jesus died on the cross it was a real death. But he was not annihilated or altogether dead. His body was buried in the tomb but he was soul and person was alive just like you will be alive in your soul when you die.

While his body lay in the tomb we are told that he ” he went and preached to the spirits in prison” (1 Peter 3:18–19). He was still alive though his body was in the tomb. The person does not die, the body does and earthly existence ceases.

Catechism 630  “During Christ’s period in the tomb, his divine person continued to assume both his soul and his body, although they were separated from each other by death. For this reason, the dead Christ’s body “saw no corruption” (Acts 13:37).

Catechism 626  “Since the “Author of life” who was killed is the same “living one [who has] risen,” the divine person of the Son of God necessarily continued to possess his human soul and body, separated from each other by death: “By the fact that at Christ’s death his soul was separated from his flesh, his one person is not itself divided into two persons; for the human body and soul of Christ have existed in the same way from the beginning of his earthly existence, in the divine person of the Word; and in death, although separated from each other, both remained with one and the same person of the Word.”

So, Jesus taking on human flesh died just like we all die. But the divine person of Christ did not end or cease to exist. Jesus’ spirit/soul never stopped living just like your spirit/soul will still live after your body and soul are separated in death. Remember, death means separation, not annihilation.

I concluded with a bit of advice: Raymund, When you have questions like this I suggest you go to the Catechism of the Catholic Church which is the best theology book, the best commentary on Scripture and a superb guide for your spiritual life. It is easy to read and you can find answers to questions like this.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Bodick Rabago March 7, 2019 at 4:05 AM

God will never die!
You must first know why Jesus the Son of God needed to die!
Jesus body is the perfect offering to the Father! Heb 10.7-10
There is No logical reason why Jesus' Divine Nature will offer to the Father!
Even in the Humans, your soul will never die even if you are in hell , what more the Soul of Jesus who is the Word aka God!
Remember that Jesus has no Human Soul like in man because Jesus' soul is the Word made Flesh … John 1.1,14

STEVE RAY HERE: Jesus did have a human soul: “The Council of Chalcedon (451) teaches concerning Christ’s humanity: “He is perfect … according to humanity … a true man, consisting of a rational soul and a body.… He is identical in substance with us according to His humanity” (D 148).

Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (St. Louis: B. Herder Book Company, 1957), 141.

Eric Miagan - Filipino Catholic and CFD Member. March 13, 2019 at 12:47 AM

Thanks for the post Mr. Steve Ray. First of all CFD (Catholic Faith Defenders) is a large nationwide Filipino apologetics group recognized by the CBCP (Catholic Bishop’s Conference of the Philippines). This has been a dividing issue since early 2000’s and even after the local bishops tried to clarify it. It has always ended up being reignited. I think this was an tense part as it might cause “embarrassment” to affirm that Jesus – as God – died in face of the ongoing apologetics war between The Church and the local (and now globally projecting) Neo-Arian-ish sect Iglesia Ni Cristo (Church of Christ) established by Felix Y. Manalo around 1914. once again thank you for the article and have a blessed and transformative Lent.

dominic Gordula April 8, 2019 at 3:52 AM

I am also Filipino, thanks for the answer…. Now its clear to us…

Bill912 April 10, 2020 at 3:40 PM

Bodick Rabago: Actually, Jesus does have a human soul, because He has a human nature. He is True God and True Man. One who did not have a human soul would not be True Man.

STEVE RAY HERE: Correct Bill, confirmation here. Thanks. I also added this comment to Bodick’s comment above:

“The Council of Chalcedon (451) teaches concerning Christ’s humanity: “He is perfect … according to humanity … a true man, consisting of a rational soul and a body.… He is identical in substance with us according to His humanity” (D 148).”

Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (St. Louis: B. Herder Book Company, 1957), 141.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: