On the Coherence of the Incarnation

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1. The Problem

According the the doctrine of the Incarnation (or the Hypostatic Union), Christ possesses both a divine and human nature. This however, seems to create a paradox; for to say that Christ is divine and human simultaneously, is to say that Christ possesses contradictory attributes. Thus, Christ would be weak and yet omnipotent – ignorant and yet omniscient – finite and yet infinite at the same time! This is surely counterintuitive and therefore many have charged the Incarnation as being a logically incoherent doctrine. John Hick writes, “…to say, without explanation, that the historical Jesus of Nazareth was also God is as devoid of meaning as to say that this circle drawn with a pencil is also square…” 1

2. The Solution

The charge of logical incoherence is a very serious one, for if it can be demonstrated that the Incarnation is a logically fallacious doctrine, then it must be false, necessarily. However, if a coherent model of the Incarnation can be offered – one which unites full deity and full humanity in the Person of Christ – then the charge of logical coherence fails. With the help of Millard Erickson, JP Moreland and William Lane Craig, I will sketch such a model using two planks: 1) The Logos was the rational soul of Jesus of Nazareth 2) The Logos always functioned within the limitations of His humanity.

a. The Logos as the Rational Soul of Christ

Genesis 1:27 states that man is made in the “image of God.” Although there is debate on what this means, I think Millard Erickson is correct when he argues that the image is, “…located within humans as a resident quality or capacity.” 2. That is, “the image” refers to all those qualities and capacities, in man, that directly reflect God’s own qualities and capacities.

Now if this is true, it follows that, prior to the Incarnation, the Logos (as a member of the Godhead) possessed all those properties which serve to constitute a complete human nature, lacking only physicality (i.e. a human body). Thus Moreland and Craig write, “…in assuming a hominid body the Logos brought to Christ’s animal nature just those properties that would serve to make it a complete human nature. Thus the human nature of Christ was complete precisely in virtue of the union of his flesh with the Logos.” 3

Now this model succeeds in uniting two complete natures in Christ – His divine nature being essential in virtue of His participation in the Godhead and His human nature being contingent, yet complete, in virtue of His union with flesh. Therefore, this first plank achieves precisely what it sought to do.

b. The Logos Functioning within the Limitations of His Humanity

If the Logos was indeed the rational of Christ, as proposed above, then the rest of the Incarnational puzzle seems to fall into place quite nicely. As Erickson writes, “By taking on a human nature, he [Christ] accepted certain limitations upon the functioning of his divine attributes…this should not be considered a reduction of the power and capabilities of the Second Person of the Trinity, but rather a circumstance-induced limitation on the exercise of his power and capabilities.” 4

So then, the incarnation is not really a matter of Christ “being” omnipotent and
weak simultaneously – the Logos remained omnipotent even after assuming flesh, but by doing so, He chose to operate with a very limited allotment of His divine capabilities. Thus, although He was inherently omniscient, Jesus could honestly say that He did not know the date of His return (Mark 13:32) since He chose to keep the scope of His knowledge within the confines of His human nature.

In short, Christ possessed the fullness of His divine attributes subsequent to the Incarnation, but by becoming man, He voluntarily chose to function within the limitations of humanity.

3. Conclusion

This model should not be taken as biblical certainty. It is merely a logically coherent model which demonstrates that the Incarnation is not in fact fallacious. If it is even possible that the 1) Logos assumed flesh 2) completed His human nature by doing so, and 3) Chose to function within the confines of humanity – then the charge of logical incoherence has failed and the Incarnation has been successfully defended.


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Notes:

  1. John Hick, The Myth of God Incarnate (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1977), 178.
  2. Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998), 523.
  3. J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 598.
  4. Erickson, Christian Theology, 752
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