The doctrine of the incarnation, then, is the biblical teaching that the Son of God, who is fully God, ‘became flesh’ (John 1:14), or took on a human body.
The importance of the incarnation
There must have been those in the early church who preached the false doctrine that Jesus was not really fully God and fully man (“Apparently many false teachers were saying that Jesus only ‘appeared’ to be human” – ESV Study Bible notes). John the Apostle addressed the supreme importance of affirming both his deity and humanity when he wrote:
- “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. …And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” John 1:1, 14, ESV
- “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist…” 1 John 4:2-3, ESV
- “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.” 2 John 7, ESV
Meditations on the incarnation
Here are some quotes from leading theologians, past and present, about the incarnation of Christ:
“He who is over all, the blessed God, has been born; and having been made man, he is still God forever.” Hippolytus, quoted in Gregg Allison, Historical Theology, p368
“Man’s Maker was made man that the Bread might be hungry, the Fountain thirst, the Light sleep, the Way be tired from the journey; that Strength might be made weak, that Life might die.”
Augustine, quoted by Justin Taylor.
“Though he [the Son of God] was incorporeal, he formed for himself a body like ours. He appeared as one of the sheep, yet he remained the Shepherd. ..He was carried about in the womb of Mary, yet he was clothed in the nature of his Father. He walked on the earth, yet he filled heaven. ..He needed nourishment because he was a man, yet he did not cease to nourish the entire world because he is God. ..He was standing before Pilate, and at the same time he was sitting with his Father. He was nailed on a tree, yet he was the Lord of all things.” Melito of Sardis, quoted in Gregg Allison, Historical Theology, p367
“He was the only begotten of the Father of all things, being begotten in a particular manner as the Word and Power by [God], and having afterwards become man through the virgin.” Justin Martyr, quoted in Gregg Allison, Historical Theology, p367.
“For the Word, perceiving that no otherwise could the corruption of men be undone save by death as a necessary condition, while it was impossible for the Word to suffer death, being immortal, and Son of the Father; to this end he takes to himself a body capable of death, that it, by partaking of the Word who is above all, might be worthy to die in the stead of all, and might, because of the Word which was come to dwell in it, remain incorruptible, and that thenceforth corruption might be stayed from all by the Grace of the Resurrection. Whence, by offering unto death the body he himself had taken, as an offering and sacrifice free from any stain, straightway he put away death from all his peers by the offering of an equivalent. For being over all, the Word of God naturally by offering his own temple and corporeal instrument for the life of all satisfied the debt by his death.” Athanasius, On The Incarnation Of The Word, quoted in John Piper, Contending For Our All, p59
“We believe…in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all the ages, Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten not made, of one substance with the Father, through whom all things were made; who for us men and for our salvation came down from the heavens, and was made flesh of the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary, and became man…” The Nicene Creed (381), quoted in Gregg Allison, Historical Theology, p372
“…we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in divinity and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a rational soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten [born], for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the virgin, the God-bearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ.” The Chalcedonian Creed (451), quoted in Gregg Allison, Historical Theology, ps376-7.
“How glorious then is this willingness of the Son of God to humble himself to be our mediator. What heart can conceive, what tongue can express the glory of that mind of Christ which brought him down from infinite glory to take our nature into union with his so that he could mediate with God on our behalf?” John Owen, The Glory of Christ, p40.
“That man should be made in God’s image is a wonder, but that God should be made in man’s image is a greater wonder. That the Ancient of Days would be born. That He who thunders in the heavens should cry in the cradle?” Thomas Watson, quoted by Justin Taylor.
“Infinite and yet an infant. Eternal and yet born of a woman. Almighty, and yet nursing at a woman’s breast. Supporting a universe, and yet needing to be carried in a mother’s arms. Heir of all things, and yet the carpenter’s despised son.” Charles Haddon Spurgeon, quoted by Justin Taylor.
“Remaining what he was, he became what he was not.” Grudem’s Systematic Theology, p562.