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Theology > Jesus > Incarnation > The Incomprehensible


I do not contemplate the baby; I do not contemplate the mother. Rather, I contemplate the act, that is, the God-man that the act produced, and the work and accomplishment of the Person.  When I consider the Incarnation wonder floods my thinking, and I am filled with awe and amazement.

I wonder not at the baby, nor at the mother. In fact neither does the New Testament give undue prominence to either, even while stating specifically the uniqueness of both: “Blessed are you among women” (Lu. 1:28), and “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Lu. 2:11). No conclusion is drawn from the distinctiveness of both in order to require that exalted recognition by the Church should be afforded to them in the future as mother and child, Madonna and Child. Eminence given, for instance, in painting, sculpture, and writings to the concept of mother/child is without foundation in Scripture; and such a concept has given rise to numerous improper rituals and spurious acts of worship. It is proper to give to both Christ and one who bore Him the recognition that the Scriptures give, but to give more is to create a questionable belief system.

Paul speaks of the Incarnation as a “mystery,” a “great” mystery; and he affirms that this fact is “without controversy” (I Tim. 3:16). The Incarnation, the reality that “God was manifest in the flesh,” is a historical event that is independent of reason, for reason cannot explain it nor make it understandable. It is incomprehensible—a mystery.

Twenty-seven times the word “mystery” (mustērion) is used in the New Testament, twenty times from the pen of Paul (28 and 21 times respectively if I Cor. 2:1 is accepted). Mystery is that which is hidden with God but may in part be revealed by Him to man. The point is that the mystery cannot be discovered by man; it can only come by Revelation. It cannot come to be known by human reasoning or contemplative meditation; it can only be established in the mind of the individual by God’s Revelation. It is not of man; it is of God. With only his limited intellectual and empirical ability man cannot certify to himself the integrity of the content of the Revelation; that must be accomplished by Divine activity. Confirmation is the work of the Spirit.

In relationship to the Incarnation “mystery” speaks of the hidden plan of God, a plan that remains hidden unless He chooses to make it fully or partially known; unless that happens it will always be unknown for man cannot know the mind of God without His Revelation. Some things can be known and some things cannot be comprehended. We know, and we do not know; we understand, and we do not understand. There is a mystery. And because of the mystery we wonder.

On the one hand there is the human desire to know as much as is possible regarding the Incarnation; on the other hand there is a recognition of human limitations. Yet it seems that throughout Ecclesiastical History the theologians have attempted to push the limits and press beyond that which is possible or that which is proper. How can “God was manifest in the flesh” be understood? How can man wrap his understanding around such a declaration? Do we hear this declaration and seek understanding, or do we stand before it with faith, knowing that the Word of our God is true, and bow before Him in awe and worship?

To enter into discussions of persons, natures, wills, and centers of consciousness seems doomed to endless speculation and without the possibility of resolution, and also without edification. A perusal of the discussions brings the following words and concepts into the discussion: adoptionism, homoousios, homoiousios, heteroousios, Theotokos, Christotokos, anthropotokos, ousia, hypostasis, persona, Logos, tertium quid, Theanthropos, and communicatio idiomatum; in addition, these words introduce conceptions that must be understood and related, such as: being, substance, subsistence, of the same substance, of similar substance, of a different substance, God-bearer, Christ-bearer, man-bearer, person, Word, and communication of properties or attributes. Interpretations utilize the following terminology: modalism, monophysitism, monothelitism, hypostatic union, kenosis, and other such words, all foreign to the normal reading of the New Testament and frustrating to the believer who is introduced to this wording and the accompanying concepts. Just the terminology suggests the difficulty of formulating an accepted conclusion, and the Church struggled for four hundred years before there was a generally accepted resolution.

Even with the decisions of the first four ecumenical councils (see: Early Church Councils), there were many who took variant positions and by doing so they were declared heretics. But were they in fact denying the Faith or were they seeking to understand the Faith as they felt led? And it is obvious from even a casual reading of the history that the decisions that were reached were influenced by personalities and the politics of the Empire and the Church. The entire Church was seeking to determine the correct position to take in light of the intellectual attacks from every quarter. And in doing so the Church was dealing with a “mystery.”

How can a legitimate consensus be formed when there is no grasp of the very act upon which consensus is sought? Should heresy be determined on the basis of some sort of consensus on these issues when specificity cannot be determined? Throughout the history of the Church the discussions have been unending. Just the combination of the two words, “God” and “flesh,” do not seem to fit. How can it be?

In contrast to the language of Church history, the terminology of the Scripture is straightforward and easy to understand in what it is affirming:

And they shall call His name Immanuel, which is translated, “God with us” (Matt. 1:23);

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (Jo. 1:14);

I am the living bread which came down from heaven (Jo. 6:51);

God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh (Rom. 8:3);

And being found in appearance as a man (Phil. 2:8);

God was manifest in the flesh (I Tim. 3:16);

But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels (Heb. 2:9);

Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself shared in the same (Heb. 2:14);

And every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God (I Jo. 4:3).

Simply and specifically the above Scriptures identify Jesus Christ with Deity and with flesh—He is the God-man. We affirm it, but we do not understand the “mystery.” Why should we seek more than what is provided?

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