What is Incarnation?

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Introduction

            Incarnation is a term used by Christians quite often but what does it mean? They use the word incarnation to express their belief that the birth of Jesus Christ marked the entrance of the eternal and divine Son of God into the human race.[1] The word incarnation means enfleshing, or becoming flesh, the union of human nature with the divine in one person.[2] This particular doctrine makes Christianity pretty unique amongst other worldviews. Evan Minton writes that, “The incarnation is an essential doctrine of Christianity, much like the Trinity and the resurrection. If the incarnation falls, Christianity goes with it.”[3]

On the other side, it has also been the most debated topic since the very first century. Those who disagree with Christianity are quick to reject this doctrine by claiming that God cannot become man. They also try to build up a case against it by proclaiming that Jesus was just a man. In order to deal with this issue we will first take a look at the scripture portions that talk about the word becoming flesh and then move on to discuss the deity of Christ as well as take a look at some of the objections that appear to threaten this core doctrine.

 

Incarnation – Word becoming flesh

 

We have quite a few scriptures at hand that explicitly talk about the incarnation. John 1:1-3 reads like this, “1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” As we read further, we come across verse 14 which reads, “14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Here John explicitly declares that the word became flesh and dwelt among us. It is evident as we have seen the glory of the one and only Son. He was there in the beginning with God, through whom all things were made. Thomas Oden writes that, “Paul wrote and probably even sang of one, ‘Who, being in very nature God,’ became ‘made in human likeness’ (Phil. 2:6-7). ‘Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich’ (1 Cr. 8:9). Paul did not invent this tradition but received it from the early Christian preaching prior to his conversion.” [4] Then there is another one that we have which is John 3:16 wherein we get the message that God gave his only begotten son.

 

Jesus is God incarnate          

 

It is obvious that Jesus never said ‘I am God worship me’ but that doesn’t mean he never proclaimed to be God. For example in John 10:30 He says that “I and Father are one.” We read in John 10:33 that Jews tried to stone him because they considered it a blasphemy that he, being a mere man, claimed to be God. They were also enraged when he said that “Before Abraham was born, I AM.” [5]

A very interesting point to mention here is that it is one thing to claim that he is divine, many in the past claimed, but it is altogether a completely different thing to prove it and that is where Jesus stands tall amongst everyone else, because he proved it. As we read in John 3:3-15 Jesus gave four affirmations of his divinity. Dave Miller explains, “(1) He claims to have come from heaven, (2) He claims to be an eternal resident of that heavenly realm, (3) He further claims that He is the source of healing comparable to the snake on the pole in Numbers 21, and (4) He claims that in order for a person to have eternal life and thereby avoid perishing, that person must believe in Him.” He further adds that, “This latter affirmation most certainly does not refer to belief in the sense that mere humans believe in each other; it necessarily refers to attributing to (and hence submitting to) the divine authority that Jesus possesses to dispense eternal life. In fact, one would have to inhabit eternity and be preexistent to offer eternal life to finite beings (cf. John 6:62). [6]

Another really astonishing event that took place was the Resurrection and the change in the belief of Thomas who initially doubted Jesus. When Jesus appeared to him, Thomas called him out as my Lord and my God, but Jesus didn’t correct him at all. Even in Titus 2:13 we are told to wait for our coming of great God and savior Jesus Christ. [7] Thus we can see that Jesus was worshipped as God and he proved his divinity while he was on the planet earth.

 

Objections to Incarnation

 

The objection that needs more focus here is the objection that Jesus was merely a man. Going by the rules of logic, if the contention ‘Jesus is a merely a man’ presents a lot of difficulties relative to the historical Christian belief, then it should be abandoned altogether. In the previous section, the deity of Christ was discussed and it does make sense to us that he wasn’t just a man, when we become familiar with the kind of things Jesus said and did. John Stott explains that, Jesus taught that to know him was to know God, to see him was to see God, to believe him was to believe in God, to receive him was to receive God, to hate him was to hate God, to honor him was to honor God. [8]

Jesus claimed to have the authority to forgive sins. When we forgive people, we do it for the things that they did to us. But when He forgave people, he forgave them for the sins they had committed against other people. Take a look at what CS Lewis has to say,

“Now unless the speaker is God, [the claim to forgive sins] is really so preposterous as to be comic. We can all understand how a man forgives offenses against himself. You tread on my toe and I forgive you, you steal my money and I forgive you. But what should we make of a man, himself un-robbed and untrodden on, who announced that he forgave you for treading on other men’s toes and stealing other men’s money? Asinine fatuity is the kindest descriptions we should give of his conduct. Yet this is what Jesus did. He told everyone that their sins were forgiven, and never waited to consult all the other people whom their sins had undoubtedly injured. He unhesitatingly behaved as if He was the party chiefly concerned, the person chiefly offended in all offenses. This makes sense only if He really was the God whose laws are broken and whose love is wounded in every sin. In the mouth of any speaker who is not God, these words would imply what I can only regard as a silliness and conceit unrivalled by any other character in history.” [9]

Muslims have deemed the New Testament teachings to be inconsistent with the Old Testament because they argue that there are few verses that explicitly declare that God is not a man. But Anthony Rogers argues that they ignore several other things, “The passages in question did not rule out the possibility that God could temporarily assume or appear in the form of a man during Old Testament times, something He did many times over (Genesis 18:1-33, 32:24-30; Exodus 15:3, 24:1-18; Numbers 12:5-8; Ezekiel 1-2; Amos 7:7; et al.). If God could temporarily assume a human form without ceasing to be God and without violating the import of this trio of passages, then the same would appear to hold true in the case of the incarnation, for which it may well be argued those earlier appearances during the OT served to prepare for.” [10]

The other objection that we often hear from skeptics and non-Christians is that how can Jesus be both man and God at the same time. In the above discussions we have already established the fact that Jesus is God. That also means that he has always been God and did not become God at a certain point of time, since God is eternal. But he did become man, but that doesn’t mean he gave up his divinity which is evident in the scriptures. Rather, according to one theologian’s view, he remained what he was but became what he wasn’t. Apostle John has declared that denying his humanity would be of the spirit of antichrist. Jesus’ humanity is evident from the fact that he was born through a human mother, he was thirsty, hungry and he experienced all human emotions. [11]

It is also argued that if Jesus is God then why he didn’t know the timing of his return. This does raise a huge challenge for us Christians that demand a reasonable answer. Tim Barnett of Stand to Reason, explains, “I think this is a legitimate challenge to our view that requires a thoughtful response. I think this is explained by the incarnation of Jesus. When the Second Person of the Trinity took on human flesh, He also took on certain limitations. This was the only way to fulfill His role as a human being. By limitations, I mean that there was a voluntary restricting—or veiling—of His divine attributes. He did not give up His divine attributes. If He did, then He would cease to be God. Rather, He willingly chose not to use them.” This of course doesn’t solve the mystery completely but it still does give us better scriptural understanding pertaining to the incarnation. [12]

 

Conclusion

 

It can thus be concluded that Incarnation is coherent as we saw the Deity of Jesus as well as his humanity. The objections were dealt with and the responses were apt. Jesus, therefore, is fully God and fully human, and any other alternative theory suggesting otherwise should be abandoned as it presents a lot of difficulties relative to the historical Christian belief of incarnation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Nash, Ronald H. 1992. WORLDVIEWS IN CONFLICT – CHOOSING CHRISTIANITY IN A WORLD OF IDEAS. Michigan, MI: ZondervanPublishingHouse

 

Oden, Thomas C. 1992. Classic Christianity. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers., p. 265

 

Minton, Evan. 2017. “Is the Doctrine of Incarnation coherent?” Accessed January 26, 2018. http://crossexamined.org/doctrine-incarnation-coherent/

 

Gotquestions. 2018. “Is Jesus God? Did Jesus ever claim to be God?” Accessed January 26, 2018. https://www.gotquestions.org/is-Jesus-God.html

 

Miller, Dave. 2018. “Jesus’s Claims to Deity”. Accessed January 26, 2018. http://apologeticspress.org/apPubPage.aspx?pub=1&issue=565

 

Slick, Matt. 2018. “Is Jesus God?” Accessed January 26, 2018. https://carm.org/is-jesus-god

 

Stott John. 1957. Basic Christianity. Illinois , IL: InterVarsity Press., p. 27

 

Lewis, C.S. 1972. “Mere Christianity” New York, NY: HarperCollins., p. 55

 

Rogers, Anthony. 2018. “The Incarnation: Old Testament Objections Considered and Refuted.” Accessed January 27, 2018. http://www.answering-islam.org/authors/rogers/incarnation_ot_objections.html

 

Perman, Matt. 2006. “How can Jesus be God and man?” Accessed January 27, 2018. https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/how-can-jesus-be-god-and-man

 

 

Barnett, Tim. 2018. “How Could Jesus Be God If He Didn’t Know The Time Of His Return?” Accessed January 27, 2018. https://www.str.org/blog/how-could-jesus-be-god-if-he-didnt-know-time-his-return#.WmtAoKiWY2w

 

 

 

 

[1] Nash, Ronald H. 1992. WORLDVIEWS IN CONFLICT – CHOOSING CHRISTIANITY IN A WORLD OF IDEAS. Michigan, MI: ZondervanPublishingHouse

 

[2] Oden, Thomas C. 1992. Classic Christianity. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers., p. 265

[3] Minton, Evan. 2017. “Is the Doctrine of Incarnation coherent?” Accessed January 26, 2018. http://crossexamined.org/doctrine-incarnation-coherent/

[4] Ibid., p. 267

[5] Gotquestions. 2018. “Is Jesus God? Did Jesus ever claim to be God?” Accessed January 26, 2018. https://www.gotquestions.org/is-Jesus-God.html

[6] Miller, Dave. 2018. “Jesus’s Claims to Deity”. Accessed January 26, 2018. http://apologeticspress.org/apPubPage.aspx?pub=1&issue=565

[7] Slick, Matt. 2018. “Is Jesus God?” Accessed January 26, 2018. https://carm.org/is-jesus-god

[8] Stott John. 1957. Basic Christianity. Illinois , IL: InterVarsity Press., p. 27

[9] Lewis, C.S. 1972. “Mere Christianity” New York, NY: HarperCollins., p. 55

[10] Rogers, Anthony. 2018. “The Incarnation: Old Testament Objections Considered and Refuted.” Accessed January 27, 2018. http://www.answering-islam.org/authors/rogers/incarnation_ot_objections.html

[11] Perman, Matt. 2006. “How can Jesus be God and man?” Accessed January 27, 2018. https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/how-can-jesus-be-god-and-man

[12] Barnett, Tim. 2018. “How Could Jesus Be God If He Didn’t Know The Time Of His Return?” Accessed January 27, 2018. https://www.str.org/blog/how-could-jesus-be-god-if-he-didnt-know-time-his-return#.WmtAoKiWY2w

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