Incarnation: Concise Introduction For Skeptics

John 1:14 ESV

“The Christian doctrine of the Incarnation,” explained Cross and Livingstone, “affirms that the eternal Son of God took flesh from His human mother and that the historical Christ is at once both fully God and fully man.”(Cross & Livingstone 2005: 830)

Incarnation was a means to which the Word became flesh (John 1:14), partook of the same nature as his brothers in every respect (Heb. 2:14, 17), born of a woman (Gal. 4:4), manifested in the flesh (1 Tim. 3:16) and found in human form (Phil. 2:8).

Charles Gore, summarizing Chalcedon Creed, correctly expound that in “incarnation the manhood, though it is truly assumed into the divine person, still remains none the less truly human, so that Jesus Christ is of one substance with us men in respect of His manhood, as He is with the Father in respect of His godhead.”(Gore 1891: 81)

Thomas Aquinas, contra unorthodox theory of kenosis1, adds that the “mystery of the Incarnation was not completed through God being changed in any way from the state in which He had been from eternity, but through His having united Himself to the creature in a new way, or rather through having united it to Himself.”(Aquinas 2009: n.p)

Though there was no change in Logos’ being or Personal identity, Robert Culver correctly noted five changes in Logos’ state. Logos changed in His dwelling-place(John 6:51), possessions (2 Cor. 8:9), glory (John 17:5), position (Phil. 2:6,7, Acts 2:33-36) and form (John 1:14, Phil. 2:8)(Culver 2005: 485-7)

The incarnation of Logos, unlike Hinduism doctrine of a continuous reincarnation towards moksha and Nirvana, was a one time event in human history.

Question For Skeptics: What case could you give against the Christian doctrine of incarnation?


[1] A theory that Logos emptied some of His attributes. Example He gave up all-knowing attribute.

Bibliography:

Aquinas, Thomas S., & Fathers of the English Dominican Province. (2009). Summa theologica (Complete English ed.). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

Cross, F. L., & Livingstone, E. A. (2005). The Oxford dictionary of the Christian Church (3rd ed. rev.). Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.

Culver, R. D. (2005). Systematic Theology: Biblical and Historical (486). Ross-shire, UK: Mentor.

Gore, Charles (1891) The Incarnation of the Son of God.: London: John Murray.

Photocredit: John 1:14 ESV Logos Bible Software.

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26 thoughts on “Incarnation: Concise Introduction For Skeptics

  1. Hello Prayson.

    Is it required, that the story is plausible only to high level of scholarly people? Or perhaps only to gullible people? Or mostly to indoctrinated people? What about the rest of us? Why is faith necessary anyway?

    The idea that for such an entity, that can form galaxies by mere thought, would require to impregnate a woman in order to tell the entire humanity what is good and redeem us from our natural form as part of the evolutionary process, is somewhat primitive. Is it not? It is well within the cultural information and bias of the people in antiquity and even later, but in the modern world it does seem a bit silly, if one is not indoctrinated to have faith in this particular story. Or any other supernatural story, for that matter.

    This is only one of those cases, that makes it seem like a god decided to decieve people by making his holy book ie. “his word” look like it was invented by ancient ignorant people. People who were aware of the prophesies, but not of the form of the natural world. Same as with people who were and some who are still convinced, that the genealogies in the Bible are an accurate source for the age of the universe. Accordingly their god decieved humanity by making the universe look as if it was billions of years old. But why?

    If Jesus was indeed a god, why did he appear as a mere human? Even less than most gods that had appeared in human form before him, like the pharaos. That is, if his real intent was to convince us (or even as many as possible) of the one and only way to salvation from eternal torment was only through him. Why was the alledgedly most important message from the creator of the entire universe sent only through this one guy? Such a feeble attempt from such a mighty entity smells like an obvious hoax to me. Especially, since it has been used so much (as hoaxes are) simply to gain power, authority and money.

    In general the redemption through faith is not a logical idea. A creator god capable of producing the universe would not require to try to convince us humans to believe in one particular religion among thousands of others, if that god wanted to change us, from what that god alledgedly created us to be. It is a total logical fallacy. However a son of a god is a very common phenomenon in the folklore of Mediterranean antiquity. Correct?

    How do we even know, if it is more important message, than the one conveyed by Buddha, or prophet Muhammed? Most people choose (or rather do not choose) between these as the result of childhood indoctirnation, but that is mostly because for centuries most people have been ignorant and as such found it at least compelling. And, of course, because it is possible to force indoctrination also on other peoples children.

    Let us face it, the miracle stories connected to Jesus are not that convincing. The entire idea of Jesus being a son of a god and bringing salvation, requires a strong will (faith) to believe it. But in this world nothing becomes true just because we would want it to be so.

    Perhaps the one and only god really used even a more feeble method of reaching for people and that religion has since allready died out. If we accept Jesus might have been a god, then we also should logically accept that just about any guy who has claimed or even not have claimed to having been a god might have been such.

    We have far more reliable sources of far more wondrous and less miracles from the antiquity, we do not consider real. For example, Polybius who was one of the first historians to have sworn on the integrity of historicity told about contemporary miracles. But we do not really think there were burning ships on the sky of Italy, or that the some oracle staffs actually shrank in size as a warning sign, that Hannibal would invade, do we?

    Sorry about the long comment again, but you asked… ;)

    • Thank you for a long comment, rautakky, but I asked “what case could you give against the Christian doctrine of incarnation?” A load of rhetorical questions and unsupported assertions from proper authorities in this field, would not do.

      • Now, now Prayson, is the faith not supposed to be embraced by everyone and not just the best of scholars and the most gullible people? Or mostly by people with the particular cultural indoctrination? If we are, every one of us, expected to accept the notion of trinity, then it should be obvious to all of us. Correct?It is a completely different thing to deliberately discard the story and idea only after you have first been convinced by it, than to reject it on the grounds, that it is not plausible to most of us through our own cultural biases, and sheer logic. The same logic by wich you discard Buddha and prophet Muhammed (unless you are one of those people who are convinced those two and all the other such making claims about the divine were in fact demons). Further more, since the claim does not appear such a different one in comparrison to other such claims about divinity, or even a particularly clever among them, it is quite unjust to divide people into eternal punishment or bliss on the grounds if they find it plausible or not.

        The cultural environment in wich such claims about the sons of gods were invented and spread is very important backround in wich to evaluate where and how such claims are formulated and for what purpose. Not to mention, wether if we should find them plausible. How does one estimate any religious claims from a neutral position? If they are not evaluated by some at least minimally neutral method, the entire process becomes as fruitfull as a yelling contest. It will lead us nowhere near to objective truth about the matter.

        You are not trying to limit the subject to the rules dictated by Christian theology? Are you? Of course, Christian incarnation theology will prove the incarnation of Christ to be true. That is the very point of it and that is exactly why it was created by men. By men, remember that. It is a closed system of thought. There are innumerable amount of such systems in every religion attempting to prove their point by limiting thinking. It is precisely these kinds of mind games that should make an intelligent person skeptical about such complex attempts to support primitive superstitions. To theology I have nothing to add, but if we are to evaluate such claims as we as skeptically thinking people should, to that I have my own input.

  2. Prayson, wikipedia is about the extent to which i think this subject deserves. Every “source” you use is a church father, as such with a vested interested in writing poetry.

    If you want this to be taken seriously do please try and find someone credible outside the church family to actually cite. I hope you see where i’m coming from here.

    • Well, John, if not from the church fathers, how did you come to know about the Council of Niceae? :D

      Remember I approach these documents as would any historian, so I wondered, what make church father’s historical documents less credible to those outside? :)

      John, I think it is you, if you wish your critic to be taken seriously, need to backup your assertions with historical data, and authorities in this field. It seems from popular errors and myths you hold, sorry if I am wrong, that you are not familiar with the scholarly work done on historical Christianity.

      • Prayson, you are perfectly aware that i know my Christian history better than the vast majority of Christians. And i stick to my point: try and show me something written about the trinity by someone who was NOT a church father. You won’t be able to because there is no such testimonial. You’re entire argument is based upon sources (most of which are 3 to 5 generations after your god-man) who ALREADY agree with your perspective and had a vested interest in promoting the magical story. I hope you can appreciate the shallowness of your argument. That said, if you can produce a single external, non-objective source you might have cause for a debate. (and please don’t bring up Josephus.)

        • John, why would a non-Christian attempt to write about Trinity? Why would they bother to write about a doctrine, which an attempt to understand the relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

          John, you did not even answer, why the data that we have, is less credible :D

          In Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus’s(61 AD – ca. 112 AD) letter to the Emperor Trajan, known as Letters 10.96-97, he recorded Christians ” fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food but ordinary and innocent food.”

          John, I would advice you to update your Christian history. It is I who hope you can appreciate the shallowness of your critic, for it does not only show that your are unfamiliar with Christian history but also hold to false popular myths.

          • Prayson, the letter you cite is from about 100 years (3 generations) after your god-man. I don’t doubt there were christians then. That’s a historical fact. I’m a little confused as to whether you don’t understand my position or are simply ignoring it. Here’s an example, the Persians wrote quite a number of documents detailing Alexander the Great when he was physically in Persia. Of course, the Persians were no fans of his but their writings clearly detail the historical person. You see, we have external, non-aligned sources for Alexander the great. I’m asking you to produce some external, non-aligned document regarding jesus and his alleged divinity. Without that you simply have apologists stories. I’m telling you, i will not accept apologists stories because they are, of course, inherently biased. Do you question this?

          • Does presence of biased-ness mean untrue? Could I press John, why is the data that we have, less credible? Is it because of biased-ness? And if so, do you mean historians should not accept data because it was written by biased people?

          • Of course, if the ONLY source for the story is the people who are invested in that srtory. Is that so hard to understand? Can you not see the credibility issues here? Hell, you can believe in a talking house brick for all i care, but don’t try and tell me the talking house brick is real (or divine) simply because thirteen people who also believe in the talking house brick wrote some words saying the talking house brick was real.

          • No I don’t. Example John. I think you are biased, as a person I am investigating giving a case against incarnation since you select which evidence you want. Should I concluded that because you are biased, then you are untrue?

          • No John. I am using your own reasoning to show how it fail. Simply because person X is biased, it does not follow, that person X account if untrue.

            Historian A. N. Sherwin-White, in Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament, explained that the sources for Roman and Greek history are usually biased and r1-2 generations or even centuries removed from the events they record, yet, historian take them as reliable sources.

            What reasons can you give John to show that church fathers biased-ness made their sources unreliable?

          • Why should I? Maybe I want to join in your belief John, but before I do that, I would love you to defend your claims. You made the claims John, you bear the burden of proof to defend your critic. You can not claim something, and wait for others to show otherwise :D

            What you are asking, is like demanding a Roman and Greek history from external, unbiased, unaffiliated, non-Roman/Greek source :) which is simply absurd historically speaking.

            So back to the basics, why is internal, biased, affiliated, church-father source, less credible? Moreover, my point was to show that what you believed was a myth, found in fiction books and Jehovah’s witnesses, since Christians from early stage believe Jesus to be God :D

            Pulling trinity doctrine into it, is simply a red-herring John :D

          • John, you made the following claim:

            “Or i could just draw your attention to the first Council of Nicaea where the notion of this god-made-man (virgin birth) was first teased out, debated, and then voted on for inclusion…. By men.”

            Well, the burden of proof is on you, my dear friend, to show that your claim is true. It is late to run for cover :D

          • i showed you the wikipedia entry. This is getting boring. You cannot provide any external source other than the people in-charge of exercising the divinity story free. It’s an orgy of one.

      • From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historicity_of_Jesus

        “Virtually all modern scholars of antiquity agree that Jesus existed, and biblical scholars and classical historians regard theories of his non-existence as effectively refuted.”

        “Although scholars differ on the reconstruction of the specific episodes of the life of Jesus, the two events whose historicity is subject to “almost universal assent” are that he was baptized by John the Baptist and was crucified by the order of the Roman Prefect Pontius Pilate.”

        It’s quite extensive and quotes many non-Christian sources and scholars. It also speaks of the criterion of multiple attestation and textual, biblical, form, and redaction criticism in approaching historical analysis.

        *****
        Archaeological and External Evidence for the Bible

        http://www.faithfacts.org/search-for-truth/maps/archaeological-and-external-evidence

        *****

  3. Let’s see, perhaps that magic is great in Harry Potter but it’s not meant to be believed by adults?

    Perhaps, the utter silliness of the notion that a god-made-man appeared on earth but his sojourn across the earthly plateau was somewhat oddly limited to about 90km2 on a 508,000,000km2 planet? Or how perhaps that sojourn miraculously missed every political, social, cultural and scientific hotbed of the day? Or how this god-made-man couldn’t write, instead leaving the ‘evidence’ for his existence to a handful of illiterate men and women?

    Or perhaps I could cite the Gospel of Thomas which fails to not only mention a birth but also the crucifixion of this god-made-man.

    Or i could just draw your attention to the first Council of Nicaea where the notion of this god-made-man (virgin birth) was first teased out, debated, and then voted on for inclusion…. By men.

    Prayson, you know I could go on, but Wednesdays are not good days for mockery :)

    • Hej John,

      Thank you once again for your input. I would love to go beyond mockery to scholarly level. Could you backup your thoughts, which is not a case against incarnation even if true, with contemporary historical research on this field?

      Which source misinformed you that the first Council of Nicaea was the first teased out of God-made-man, debated and voted on for inclusion by men? :)

      It is Wednesdays and I was hoping for a well thought of historical and critical base case, not mockery John.

      • Straight from wikipedia:
        The council of Nicea dealt primarily with the issue of the deity of Christ. Over a century earlier the use of the term “Trinity” (Τριάς in Greek; trinitas in Latin) could be found in the writings of Origen (185-254) and Tertullian (160-220), and a general notion of a “divine three”, in some sense, was expressed in the second century writings of Polycarp, Ignatius, and Justin Martyr.[citation needed] But the doctrine in a more full-fledged form was not formulated until the Council of Constantinople in 360 AD.[65]

        as you can see, a man, Origen (a person determined to create a religion with magical elements to wow 1st century audiences) invented the idea and it was debated and voted on at Nicaea.

        Got any evidence of it before then?

      • O John. If your scholarly source is wikipedia, then I can see how misinformed you are in this field. Have your read or familiar with the writings of the Christians from circa A.D. 30 to A.D. 325?

        From Clement of Rome(ca.30 A.D) to the Council of Nicaea, historians have found data of the divinity of Christ Jesus. Example:

        Ignatius (ca. 30-107 A.D.) wrote “For our God Jesus Christ, was, according to the appointment of God, conceived in the womb by Mary, of the seed of David, but by the Holy Ghost.”( Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians 4:9) and that Jesus was “God Himself appearing in the form of a man, for the renewal of eternal life.”(4:13)

        Polycarp of Smyrna (ca. 70-160 A.D) recorded: “Our Lord and God Jesus Christ.” in his Epistle o to the Philippians, Chapter 6. Irenaeus (120-202 A.D.) in “Against Heresies” Book III wrote that Jesus was “perfect God and perfect man” and on I can list historical date to show that your source is simply a myth that is only popular in fictional books as Dan Browns’ The Da Vinci Code(2003)

        Nicaea I was the first ecumenical council summoned by the Emperor Constantine in A.D.325, near Constantinople to first and foremost address the teachings of Arius (b. ca. 256 – d.336), a presbyter in Alexandria, who denied the full Divinity of Christ Jesus. Arius argued that there was time in which Son of God did not exist. Pre-existent Logos, according to Arius, is indeed supernatural being but a first perfect creature created by God the Father.

        All 318, except Theonas and Secundus (Schaff: 1994: 623-9), bishops condemned the teachings of Arius as false and reaffirmed by subscribing to Christ’ full Deity viz.: the Son of God is true God from true God, begotten not made and of one substance with God the Father.

        This is why I was hoping for a scholarly level exchange and not a popular misinformed fiction level understanding John. :)

        We can mock, John, but I hope we get the fact right, before we share our misinformation to be believed by adults :D

      • Very nice find on Ignatius and Polycarp and their discourses mentioning Christ’s divinity.

        I agree with you Prayson, that the doctrine of the Trinity is way beyond historians, especially non-Christians. It even took many years for Christians to define it properly. We have Christians TODAY who misunderstand it…

        So, for John, don’t look for historical evidence outside the Church for exposition on the Trinity because you will not find it.

      • You wont get scholarly level debate from the likes of John Zande. They only sway the gullible and uneducated and when confronted, with an educated and reasoned argument, revert to mockery.

        Origen, an early textual critic, said, “that ‘the Scriptures are of little use to those who understand them as they are written”….given the opportunity, many like Origen will actually alter the manuscripts to make them say what they understand them to mean….Justin Martyr, Valentinus, Clement of Alexandria, Marcion, Tatian, and a horde of others practiced their ‘”textual science”’ by operating on manuscripts, or by writing their own ‘”versions’”

        People like John Zande question the divine with the human invention of “limits”, in this case he states, “…oddly limited to about 90km2 on a 508,000,000km2 planet?”, in reference to Jesus’ life, but he has no clue to His real mission…consider the “question” he proposes….

        Question: “Why did Jesus say that He was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel (Matthew 15:24)?”

        Answer: Jesus was in the area of Tyre and Sidon, a coastal region in extreme northeastern Galilee (Matthew 15:21) when a Canaanite woman came to Him with a request to heal her demon-possessed daughter. For a while, Jesus did not respond to the woman’s entreaties, and she followed Him and continued to beg for mercy. Finally, the disciples, feeling that the woman was a nuisance, asked Jesus to send her away. Then Jesus said, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24).

        We should understand Jesus’ words here not as an outright rejection of the Gentiles—moments later, He heals the woman’s daughter (Matthew 15:28)—but as a fulfillment of prophecy, a setting of priorities, and a test of the woman’s faith.

        In Jeremiah 50:6, God calls Israel His people and “lost sheep.” The Messiah, spoken of throughout the Old Testament, was seen as the one who would gather these “lost sheep” (Ezekiel 34:23-24; Micah 5:4-5). When Jesus presented Himself as a shepherd to Israel, He was claiming to be the fulfillment of Messianic prophecy (Mark 6:34, 14:27; John 10:11-16; see also Hebrews 13:20; 1 Peter 5:4; and Revelation 7:17).

        Jesus’ words to the Canaanite woman also show an awareness of Israel’s place in God’s plan of salvation. God revealed through Moses that the children of Israel were “a holy people to the LORD . . . chosen . . . a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 7:6). It was through the Jews that God issued His Law, preserved His Word, and sent His Son. This is why, elsewhere, Jesus tells a Samaritan that “salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22). In Matthew 15, when the Jewish Messiah says that He was sent to “the house of Israel,” He is simply connecting His presence with God’s purpose in Old Testament history. Christ was “born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law” (Galatians 4:4-5).

        Every ministry must have priorities, and Christ’s ministry was no exception. When Jesus sent His disciples to preach the good news of the kingdom, He expressly told them, “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:5-6). Jesus did not forbid their preaching to all Gentiles; He did, however, narrow their focus to the areas which should be most receptive—those who knew the Law and were expecting the Messiah. Paul, in his missionary journeys, followed the same priority of preaching to the Jews first (Romans 1:16).

        Finally, Jesus’ words to the Canaanite woman served as a test of her faith. She came to Jesus believing that He was the “Lord,” the “Son of David,” and the giver of mercy (Matthew 15:22). His delayed answer and seemingly exclusionary statement brought from her a further, passionate, public expression of her faith in His unlimited power (Matthew 15:27).

        This act of compassion and healing of a Gentile is a beautiful picture of Christ’s ministry to the whole world—the Jewish Messiah is also the Savior of all who will believe (Matthew 28:19; John 10:16; Acts 10:34-36; Revelation 5:9).

        So, my friends, do not be disillusioned by the unchosen, for their hearts are hardened to the ways and truths of the one and only Father God .and His word in flesh, Jesus Christ..

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