This is the great season when we celebrate the Savior’s incarnation. Which also means it’s that time of the year when strange things are afoot—fruitcake, tensile, and questions about whether Jesus suffered from bed head, used the restroom, or vomited because he had a case of the flu.
Given the striking humanity of the Savior, it is easy to just assume that Jesus must have experienced the stomach virus and vomiting, just like we have experienced. However the question is a bit more complex.
This is one question addressed a long time ago in the book On the Incarnation by Athanasius (c. 293–373). It’s a section worth a more careful look.
Did Jesus get the flu?
Athanasius says no.
Here’s his argument (pages 50–51).
First, he argues that all men who die of ‘natural causes,’ die from some form of illness.
The death of men under ordinary circumstances is the result of their natural weakness. They are essentially impermanent, so after a time they fall ill and when worn out they die.
Yet, in contrast, Jesus died in full strength.
But the Lord is not like that. He is not weak, He is the Power of God and Word of God and Very Life Itself. If He had died quietly in His bed like other men it would have looked as if He did so in accordance with His nature, and as though He was indeed no more than other men. But because He was Himself Word and Life and Power His body was made strong, and because the death had to be accomplished, He took the occasion of perfecting His sacrifice not from Himself, but from others.
Here’s the logic: If Jesus was prone to sickness then he was also prone to natural death. So why not let his 80 years play out and then Jesus could just die quietly in a bed as the Savior? Seems more appealing than the crucifixion. But,
How could He fall sick, Who had healed others? Or how could that body weaken and fail by means of which others are made strong? Here, again, you may say, “Why did He not prevent death, as He did sickness?” Because it was precisely in order to be able to die that He had taken a body, and to prevent the death would have been to impede the resurrection.
Ah, but didn’t Jesus feed the hungry and himself become hungry? Yes, but …
And as to the unsuitability of sickness for His body, as arguing weakness, you may say, “Did He then not hunger?” Yes, He hungered, because that was the property of His body, but He did not die of hunger, because He Whose body hungered was the Lord. Similarly, though He died to ransom all, He did not see corruption. His body rose in perfect soundness, for it was the body of none other than the Life Himself.
Hunger is not a result of the fall—but sickness is. Hunger was born in the stomach of Adam and a garden of delightful food. However, sickness is the birth pang of death. Sickness is an enemy we battle until at some point we become too weak to fight any longer and we succumb to physical death.
In all this, it seems to me that Athanasius was really attempting to preserve the crucifixion. Jesus did not incarnate to waste away by sickness. Instead, Christ maintained his health and strength. To Athanasius, this is what makes the cross so amazing. His strength sets the stage for his crucifixion. It was in the vigor of his remaining strength that allowed him to yell that Jesus gave up his own life (Matthew 27:46, 50). Jesus did not waste away.
So if I understand correctly, here’s his point: The Incarnate Savior was not a dying man, who at some point in his descent towards natural death, determined to die for sinners. Rather, in fullness of human strength, Jesus freely gave his life as a ransom. This is what’s at stake for Athanasius. Jesus never would have died from old age because he did not get sick. Thus, the atonement could never be accomplished through a “natural” death. The question over whether Christ ever got the flu was inseparable from a discussion about the Savior’s cause of death.
Did Jesus ever vomit because he had the flu? Athanasius says no; the crucifixion prevents it. Some say yes; the incarnation assumes it. But of course the simple fact is that Scripture doesn’t tell us, and that is the strongest evidence that should really settle the whole matter in the end.