Essential Doctrines (Part 3): The Incarnation of Jesus Christ

jesus-on-shroud     The incarnation of Jesus Christ is critical in understanding the person of Jesus Christ and in understanding the salvation that comes from Jesus. It is due to aberrations of the understanding of Jesus’ identity in the movements of Jehovah Witnesses and for many in the LDS church that those two movements are normally not recognized within the umbrella of Christian faith by most evangelicals. For instance, Jehovah Witnesses claim that Jesus was a created being. Charles Taze Russell, the founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, claimed that Jesus was the archangel Michael. Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon church, claimed that Jesus was the first offspring from a Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother. The LDS hymn “O My Father” (LDS Hymnbook #292) refers to a Heavenly Mother. Therefore, Jesus is reduced to a mere offspring and not the God incarnate as identified in Scripture. This article will examine the essential doctrine of the incarnation of Jesus Christ.

 

What is the Doctrine?

The doctrine of the incarnation of Christ has to do with the person of Jesus Christ. It seeks to answer the question that Jesus posed to Simon Peter, “Who do you say that I am” (Matthew 16:15). Who was Jesus? Those who knew Jesus best answered that Jesus had two natures: Jesus was divine and Jesus was human.

The Divinity of Jesus

Christians from the earliest of times have understood that Jesus was divine. This is clear from the early Christian hymn which was preserved in Philippians. The hymn states,       

“who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:6-11).

This hymn is important because it pre-dates many of the New Testament documents. For instance, Elwell and Beitzel write about the early nature of the incarnation, “As a result, some believe that it represents an earlier stage in the development of the church’s theology, before the doctrine of the incarnation had evolved. That is doubtful for two reasons: incarnation passages like the Philippians hymn (2:6–11) probably antedate Mark’s Gospel; and Mark has a well-developed theology of the two natures of Christ” (Osbourne 1988, 1026). Although John’s gospel was one of the later documents written, John left no room for doubt concerning Jesus’ divine nature as John wrote, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:1-3, NIV). So, it can be seen that Jesus was viewed as divine from the earliest times of church history.

The Humanity of Jesus

Jesus was clearly seen as a human being, as well. This is clear from the Philippians hymn as it was recorded that Jesus “taking the form of a bond-servant…made in the likeness of men.” Jesus was not a theological concept nor was Jesus an intellectual invention. Jesus was in fact a human being. This is evidenced by the fact that Jesus grew in stature (Luke 2:52), became tired (John 4:6), slept (Matthew 8:24), wept (John 11:35), and became hungry (Mark 11:12). All these attributes show that Jesus was in fact human. It is important to keep a good balance of Jesus’ humanity along with Jesus’ divinity.

  

Why should a Person Believe the Doctrine?

There are at least four reasons why an individual should believe that Jesus is both divine and human:

Evidence of Jesus’ Existence

 No reputable historian denies the existence of the historical Jesus. Only those in secular online communities give any weight to the “Jesus is fiction” myth. Jesus’ existence is not only confirmed in the New Testament records, but there are extra-biblical writers who confirm the existence of Jesus of Nazareth (the official historical name for Jesus). It would be irresponsible for this article to seek to offer an exhaustive list of extra-biblical writers, however, a few of the more popular sources will be given.

Tacitus, a reliable Roman historian writes,

Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures of a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular” [Annals 15.44].

 Pliny the Younger wrote a letter to Emperor Trajan in 112 A.D. that said,

“They were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to do any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of food—but food of an ordinary and innocent kind” [Letters 10:96]

 From these two sources, one can find that there is good and early evidence to support the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth as well as the New Testament documents which must be included.

Evidence of Jesus’ Miracles

 There is also evidence that Jesus performed miracles. Not only was Jesus known by the early Christians for performing great wonders, Jesus was known for doing the same by His opponents. The Babylonian Talmud, compiled from 70 – 200 A.D. has a portion of the Sanhedrin that reads,

“On the eve of Passover Yeshu was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, “He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Any one who can say anything in his favour, let him come forward and plead on his behalf.” But since nothing was brought forward in his favour he was hanged on the eve of the Passover” [Sanhedrin 43a, Babylonian Talmud]!

 Obviously “Yeshu” is the Hebrew, or Aramaic, form of “Yeshua” which is translated over to “Jesus” in English. In this text, it is seen that Jesus was hung (another term for crucifixion) on the evening of Passover. Jesus was accused of working sorcery. Obviously this is a link to the miracles performed by Jesus. The greatest miracle of all would be that of the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection is not mentioned here as it will be addressed in the 6th installment of this series.

Evidence of Jesus’ Understanding of Himself

 Jesus obviously believed Himself to be the incarnate God. Jesus called Himself “Son of Man.” This was, in fact, Jesus’ favorite term for Himself. The phrase “Son of Man” alludes to the Daniel prophecy pertaining to the one who approached the “Ancient of Days.” The “Son of Man” prophecy alluded to one who would be divine (Daniel 7:13). John records Jesus’ “I Am” teachings. This was a direct reference to divinity as the sacred personal name for God (YHWH) was defined as “I AM WHAT I AM” (Exodus 3:14). So for Jesus to call Himself the “I Am” is a direct reference to His divine nature.

 Evidence of Jesus’ Transforming Power

 This may not be popular with some theologians and apologists, but I believe that the transformation of individuals that comes from a relationship with Christ is to be understood as an important aspect of Jesus’ identity. The fact that people are transformed shows that there is power in the one who was known as Jesus of Nazareth.

  

Why is the Doctrine Essential?

 John writes, “This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God” (1 John 4:2, NIV). It is clear that one must accept Jesus as God come in the flesh is important for one to be identified as a true Christian. Jesus’ divinity is mandatory, as well. Jesus Himself said, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16, NASB). This text shows that it is important to understand the divine nature of Jesus in order to be saved from sin. Therefore, it is important to understand that the Christ of faith and the Jesus of history are the one and same person. It is this historical Jesus Christ that can redeem a person from sin and set a person on a right path.

Jesus1

Bibliography

 All Scripture identified as (NASB) comes from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update. LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995.

All Scripture identified as (NIV) comes from The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011.

Osborne, Grant R. Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible Edited by Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988, page 1026.

Pliny the Younger. Letters 10.96. In Norman L. Geisler. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker Reference Library. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999.

Sanhedrin 43a. Babylonian Talmud. In Norman L. Geisler. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker Reference Library. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999.

Tacitus. Annals 15.44. In Norman L. Geisler. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker Reference Library. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999.

Is God a Sexist? Evaluating the Importance the Bible Places on Women

CRIPPLED_WOMAN_Jesus_raises_the_woman     Famed atheist Richard Dawkins writes, “the God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all of fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully” (Dawkins 2008, 51). It was as painful for me to write the previous text as it was for you to read it if you are a believer. There are many things that could be addressed in Dawkins’ wordy diatribe. For this article, we shall examine the term “misogynistic.” A misogynist is one who holds a hatred for women. Is this true of the God of the Bible? Does God hate women?

Women are Made Imagio Dei

To answer the question of God’s viewpoint of women, one only needs to examine the creation account. In Genesis, one reads, “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). Did you notice that males and females were created in the image of God? Some have postulated that only the man bears the image of God. However, think about this for a moment. Biologically, every person is born from a woman. If the woman did not bear the image of God, how could future males? Theoretically, this would create a degradation of the image until nothing would be left. If Adam bore the image of God and Eve did not, then Seth (Cain and Abel out of the picture now) would have born half the image of God. Then Seth’s son would have born a quarter of the image of God…and so on and so forth. Each generation would bear less of the image of God than the previous generation. But, this is logically and theologically absurd. The Scripture shows that both male and female bear the image of God.

Women were Appointed for Specific Tasks in the Old Testament

This article will not deal with the controversial issues surrounding women in pastoral ministry. The intent and purpose of this article is to present God’s view of women as presented in the Bible. With such a motive in mind, let the reader consider the fact that God used multiple women in the pages of the Bible for spectacular tasks.

 Miriam

In Exodus, one may learn of the prophet Miram. “Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing” (Exodus 15:20). Miriam led other women in giving praise to God.

Deborah

Deborah was not only a prophet, but a judge. “Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time. She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went up to her to have their disputes decided. She sent for Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead them up to Mount Tabor. I will lead Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands” (Judges 4:4-7). In the next verse the book of Judges records that Barak would not go into battle without Deborah by his side. If God did not trust women, God would not have called such a woman like Deborah.

Other female prophets

Consider the multiple other female prophets in the Bible. 2 Kings tells of the prophet Huldah, “Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam, Akbor, Shaphan and Asaiah went to speak to the prophet Huldah, who was the wife of Shallum son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe. She lived in Jerusalem, in the New Quarter” (2 Kings 22:14). Also consider Isaiah’s wife (Isaiah 8:3)…(wow 2 prophets in the same family!!!), Noadiah (Nehemiah 6:14), Anna (Luke 2:36), and Philip’s daughters (Acts 21:9). Hmm…something tells me that Dawkins didn’t read that far in the Bible.

Mary Magdalene

Let us not forget that the first person that Jesus chose to visit after His resurrection was Mary Magdalene. John writes, “Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her” (John 20:16-18). The fact that a woman was the first to see Jesus, and that this was reported by early Christians in a society that did not view women favorably, holds HUGE historical significance as the appearance to a woman would be an unlikely product of fiction.

Jesus’ Treatment of Women Compared to other Religious Leaders

gautam_buddha_in_meditation     Siddhartha Gautama

How does Jesus’ treatment of women compare to other religious leaders? Of Siddhartha Gautama (aka. “The Buddha”), Fincher writes, “At age 29, (Gautama) awoke among his harem and realized that his concubines no longer lured him with their beauty…He left them, made one final trip to look at his wife of 12 years, Yasodhara, and their newborn son, and then abandoned everyone (harem, wife, and son) to find enlightenment” (Fincher 2009, 224).

joseph-smith-photograph     Joseph Smith

What about Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism? Fincher writes, “In 1843, Joseph Smith betrayed his wife, Emma, by secretly marrying twelve women, two already married to other men. One wife, Lucy Walker, wrote an autobiographical sketch and revealed how this practice horrified her” (Fincher 2009, 224). This does not even consider the polygamy that Smith endorsed, along with some of the women being well under-aged.

russell1Charles Taze Russell

What about Charles Taze Russell, the founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses? Fincher writes, “Charles Taze Russell (1852-1916) married Maria Frances Ackley with an agreement that their union was a marriage of celibacy for the sake of partnering in their ministry…In their divorce proceedings, Maria testified to witnessing a sexual relationship between her husband and their foster child, Rose Ball, a teenager at the time who worked as Russell’s correspondence secretary” (Fincher 2009, 224). This “relationship” involved molestation.

jesus-on-shroud     Jesus of Nazareth

Jesus was unique in more than one way. Jesus of Nazareth elevated women to a high status. Jesus never was accused of any illicit behavior. As a matter of fact, those who knew Him best wrote of Jesus, “but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:19) and “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (1 Peter 3:18). Those kinds of things would not be written of Smith, Russell, and the like. Take, for instance, Jesus’ interaction with the woman at the well. “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth” (John 4:21-24). Fincher writes, “Which religious founder would you trust with your mother, your sister, or your wife” (Fincher 2009, 227)? Josh and Sean McDowell remind us, “(Jesus) affirmed Mary as she sat at his feet as his disciple. He gave great praise to the women who anointed him before his death…” (McDowell and McDowell 2012, 69).

The Importance of Women in the Church

Women were elevated to a new status in Christianity. Paul writes, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:26-29). It seems that this new freedom brought forth some of the more misunderstood teachings in Paul’s writings concerning women. In Christ Jesus, everyone becomes special. It matters not what nationality one claims. It matters not what color of skin one possesses. It matters not what socio-economic status one holds. Tall or short, skinny or plump, black or white, rich or poor, and male or female makes no difference in the kingdom of God. All individuals hold worth in the eyes of God through Christ Jesus. (Note: anyone who has worked in ministry knows that women have and always will be an integral part of ministry. If it were not for the women in church…let’s be honest…nothing would get accomplished.)

Conclusion  

Is God a sexist? If one can still ask that question after reading this article, then one needs to go back and read it over. Every person holds worth in the eyes of God whether that person be male or female. This does not mean that God tolerates sin. The sin problem is what led to the salvation solution. Paul wrote, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). There is no greater love in the entire world than the love that God has for each individual. Do you know the love of God? If not, check out our link “How to Know Jesus.”

Bibliography

 All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from the New International Version. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.

Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. New York: Mariner, 2008.

McDowell, Josh and Sean McDowell. 77 FAQs About God and the Bible: Your Toughest Questions Answered. Eugene: Harvest House, 2012.

Fincher, Jonalyn Grace. “Defending Femininity: Why Jesus is Good News for Women.” In Apologetics for a New Generation: A Biblically and Culturally Relevant Approach to Talking about God. Edited by Sean McDowell. Eugene: Harvest House, 2009.