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Theology > Jesus > Incarnation > Affirming the Incarnation


The Word became flesh.
Jo. 1:14

By affirming the Incarnation the believer is affirming that which is incomprehensible; in the words of Paul he is affirming a “mystery” (I Tim. 3:16). The Incarnation can be discussed but not explained; it can be contemplated but it does not become comprehensible. Even Christ Himself claimed that “no one knows the Son except the Father” (Matt. 11:27). Reason is incapable of arriving at the truth of the Incarnation or of explaining the dynamics and the implications of the event itself. Man is shut up to faith. The Incarnation is the most difficult topic in theology, and after stating theologically what can be stated the proper response is worship.

The doctrine of the two natures in one person transcends human reason. It is the expression of a supersensible reality, and of an incomprehensible mystery, which has no analogy in the life of the man as we know it, and finds no support in human reason, and therefore can only be accepted by faith on the authority of the Word of God (L. Berkof, ST, 322).

In the word “became”—the Gr. word, egeneto—is the heart of the Incarnation, meaning that God became man, Deity assumed flesh, the Eternal entered time, the Infinite took upon Himself finiteness (Jo. 1:14). The wording is slightly different in another text, but the affirmation is the same: “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise partook of the same things” (Heb. 2:14). Here the word is “partook,” a synonym for “became.”

To affirm the Incarnation is to affirm that Jesus is God in the flesh. John wrote that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (1:14), and Joseph was instructed by the angel to “call his name Immanuel, which means, God with us” (Matt. 1:23). To the Church at Philippi Paul writes of Christ: “being found in fashion as a man” (Phil. 2:8); and in Colossians Paul declares that Christ is “the image of the invisible God” (1:15), and that “in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (v. 19). To Timothy Paul succinctly affirms: “God was manifested in the flesh” (I Tim. 3:16). The Christian Faith from the very beginning has affirmed the revelation of God in Jesus, the Deity of Christ.

Whatever else is affirmed of the Incarnation by any believer is simply an enlargement of the above paragraph; every attempt at theological formulation is additional attempt to explain the mysterious, to make the incomprehensible somewhat understandable. Every subsequent statement is commentary that may or may not reflect what actually transpired in the Incarnation as it is taught in the above texts. To affirm more than what the Scriptures affirm is to pursue a deeper understanding which necessitates caution and discernment.

To move beyond a confessional use of the New Testament language to an attempt at description and definition of its teaching is to press the content of the faith into theological statements, and while this is not totally negative in nature, the resulting formulation is one step removed from becoming dogma. And dogma can become rigid and crystallize into legalistic doctrine, even used as a judge of a person’s commitment to the teaching of the New Testament in spite of that person’s confession of acceptance of New Testament teaching. The Incarnation must not be transformed into metaphysical and philosophical formulations that become unyielding in their appeal to the intellectual nature of man, a nature that is too often guided by reason at the expense of the personal relationship anchored in faith which invokes awe and adoration.

At least three facts must be affirmed relative to the Incarnation:

One, Jesus Christ was and is divine; He is God;

Two, Jesus Christ was and is a man; He is man;

Three, Jesus Christ was and is a person, surely with a single personality, will and consciousness; He is one; and in His oneness He is both God and man.

There are no accounts in Scripture of some events being attributed to His humanity while others are credited to His divinity; in each event it is the one Person acting in the event, whether walking on the water or weeping at the tomb of Lazarus. Deeds are not attributed to the human nature nor to the divine nature, rather, all the deeds are attributed to Jesus who is the Christ.

In fact there are no passages that speak of the divine nature of Jesus and/or His human nature; such terminology is not even used. He is simply spoken of as man and as God. At no point do the Scriptures seek to explain the phenomenon of these two facts, the two natures,  being united in one person. And at no point do the Scriptures explicate the relationship between the two natures. What has been a burden for the Church, the explicating of the two natures, does not appear to be a problem in the Scriptures.

Is it possible that explanation is not the proper approach? Is it possible that the approach should be acceptance and affirmation, rather than attempting to make understandable that which is incomprehensible? Perhaps the proper response and only response is one of acceptance, with no attempt at explanation, simply because explanation is impossible.

The most that can be affirmed is that the Logos became/assumed/was made/united to flesh. In other words, in Jesus we have the God-man (Jo. 1:14; Rom. 8:3; Gal. 4:4; I Tim. 3:16; Heb. 2:11-14; I Jo. 4:2-3).

Consider three passages:

. . . concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God . . . by the resurrection from the dead (Rom. 1:2-4).

“flesh” is sarx, a very concrete word; used of “flesh and blood” in Matt. 16:17 and Gal. 1:16, and of circumcision in the “flesh” in Rom. 2:28; being “flesh” Jesus is like David.

Note that both “flesh” and “Son of God” are applied to the one person, “Jesus Christ our Lord”: Jesus is God; Jesus is man; and Jesus is one.

What more can be affirmed? What more must be affirmed?

. . . Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God . . . taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. . . being found in appearance as a man . . . (Phil. 2:5-8).

“form of God” is morphē theou, the true and exact nature; “likeness” is homoiōma, something made like; “appearance” is schēma, the outward appearance, form, or shape.

Note that both “in the form of God” and “in the likeness of men” are applied to the one person, “Christ Jesus”: Jesus is man; Jesus is God; and Jesus is one.

What more can be affirmed? What more must be affirmed?

He is the image of the invisible God . . . and you . . . He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death (Col. 1:15, 21-22).

“image” is eikōn, likeness or exact replica, like an image of the emperor on a coin (Matt. 22:20), this word speaks of representation and manifestation; “body” is soma, and “flesh” is sarx.

Note that both “the image of the invisible God” and “the body of His flesh” are applied to the one person, “He”: Jesus is man; Jesus is God; and Jesus is one.

What more can be affirmed? What more must be affirmed?

The Son became what we are, but in becoming what man is the Son is still the Son. The essence of the Son did not change; in fact, the essence cannot change. It is not that God was changed or converted into flesh, nor that God came upon flesh or into flesh, but that God assumed flesh. How can this be? How is this to be understood? Can it be understood (see: The Incomprehensible)?

In the New Testament actions are attributed to the one person that are performed because the person is God (Mk. 1:34; 2:5-7; 4:39; 5:12-13, 30, 41-42). And actions are attributed to the one person that take place because the person is man (Mk. 2:16; 4:38; 11:15; 13:3; 14:25-26; 15:37).

From a different perspective actions that are the result of the person being man are ascribed to titles of Deity: the Lord of Glory was crucified (I Cor. 2:8); while also actions that are the result of the person being God are ascribed to titles of man: the Son of man descended from heaven (Jo. 3:13), the person known as Jesus wept and then raised Lazarus from the grave (Jo. 11:35, 43-44), and the Christ who is God over all is from the race of the patriarchs according to the flesh (Rom. 9:5).

While these are true and accurate observations regarding the Incarnation they are not convincing to the unbeliever, nor are they intended to be; for rational consideration does not establish faith. “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God” (I Jo. 5:1).

The whole subject matter of Christology is most intimately related to the secret of revelation (G. C. Berkouwer, The Person of Christ, 14).

The Christian Faith must affirm the following in order to be true to the Faith:

One, the Incarnation of God happened in history, it was an event at a point in time like any other event of history.

Two, to jettison the Incarnation from the arena of history by making it a myth or symbol, or through some other means to make it less than real historical event, is to destroy the Faith by reinterpreting the Faith itself differently from what it claims to be.

Three, historical argument, in the manner that historical argument is made, can be made for the fact of the Incarnation as much as any fact of past history; in this sense the Incarnation is verifiable. But because of the supernatural nature of this historical event the natural man is biased against the possibility and the probability of such an event. Be that as it may, even historical verification does not establish the certainty of the theology or dogma content inherent within the fact of the Incarnation.

Four, assurance of the Incarnation is provided to the believer by the authentication of the Spirit, who confirms to the believer this Truth, as well as the Truth of all the Text revealed by God.

Do not be surprised at the sight of simple people who believe without argument. God makes them love him and hate themselves. He inclines their hearts to believe. We shall never believe with a vigorous and unquestioning faith unless God touches our hearts; and we shall believe as soon as he does so (Pascal, Pensées).

Five, the Incarnation is at the center of the Christian Faith; it is an essential part of the person and work of Jesus who is the Christ.

Six, three facts cannot be debated: Jesus was and is God; Jesus was and is man; Jesus was and is one Person. Jesus Christ is the God-man.

The above statements have been nearly universally accepted by the Church throughout its history. This is not to affirm that they are understandable or that any believer has the ability to understand fully the phenomenon of the Incarnation. It is a mystery and before it/Him we worship, but we cannot explain the wonder of it all.

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