Next to God's act of creation and the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, no miracle is more central to the Christian faith than the incarnation of the Son of God. In today's post, we want to define what is meant by the term "incarnation".
The term itself is composed of two Latin words: "in" and "carnos". To take the latter term first, "carnos" refers to "flesh". When I was in grade school, they would sometimes serve what was called "chilli con carne" (chili with meat). If we talk about the animal kingdom, we will refer to some animals as "carnivors" (literally "flesh eaters"). As for the prefix "in", much like our English preposition "in", refers to coming to be "in" something. Therefore, whenever we talk about the miracle of the incarnation, it refers to the Son of God coming into the world to become "in-the-flesh" (older theologians would sometimes call the incarnation by another term, "the enmanning"of the Son of God). If I were to offer a concise definition of the incarnation, it would be this: The Son, being truly God, joined to himself true humanity, with all its qualities, minus sin.
Major Biblical passages that speak of the incarnation
Key Old Testament texts on the incarnation
To begin with the Biblical texts I use to arrive at the above definition of the incarnation, one has to start at Genesis 3:15 "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.” Theologians refer to this text as the "protoevangelium" (the first mention of the Gospel). The ages-long battle between two seeds is taken to refer to Satan and Christ, and the followers of each. Whenever reference is made to "seed"', a close synonym is the term "descendant". So, even in the first mention of the Gospel, we already find a hint of God utilizing a human bloodline to bring about salvation.
Another Old Testament text that predicted Christ's incarnation is Isaiah 7:14 "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel." Isaiah wrote these words over 700 years before Christ came onto the scene. In Matthew and Luke's infancy narratives concerning Jesus, they both reference Isaiah 7:14 to express how the Holy Spirit would miraculously bring about the humanity of Christ in the virgin's womb (see Matthew 1:20-23 and Luke 1:35).
Then a final Old Testament text worthy of mention in regards to predicting the incarnation is Micah 5:2-3 “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity. 3 Therefore He will give them up until the time when she who is in labor has borne a child. Then the remainder of His brethren will return to the sons of Israel." What makes Micah's prophecy so important is that we not only see whence the Messiah will derive (Bethelehm); but also He being truly God and truly man.
Key New Testament texts on the incarnation
We have offered a definition of the incarnation as follows: the Son, being truly God, joined to himself true humanity, with all its qualities, minus sin. The above Old Testament texts affirm the promise of incarnation. What follows are New Testament texts which explain the fact of Christ's incarnation.
We begin by first considering the Gospel accounts. Matthew 1:20b-21 “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Luke 1:35 "The angel answered and said to her, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.'" John 1:14 "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.
In considering these three passages from the Gospel records, we are told "that" the incarnation took place in time and in space without an explanation of "how exactly" the Holy Spirit miraculously joined the humanity of Christ to His Person (what theologians call "the hypostatic union", that is, the uniting of a human nature to the Divine Person of the Son, who already possessed an eternal Divine nature).
The remainder of the New Testament passages that express Christ's incarnation are found in the New Testament letters or "epistles". Colossians 2:9 "For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form." Philippians 2:8 "Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." 1 Timothy 3:16a “By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness: He who was revealed in the flesh.” Hebrews 10:5b “Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, 'Sacrifice and offering You have not desired, but a body You have prepared for Me.”' 1 Peter 2:22 “who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth.”
The above passages round out what we find of major passages in the New Testament on the incarnation. One more text is worthy of mention, since it connects back to Genesis 3:15, namely Revelation 12:5 "And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up to God and to His throne." In striking brevity, John the Apostle records how Christ in His incarnation and virgin birth came the first time, ascended into Heaven, and is returning to set up His Kingdom here on earth. Note in the wider context of Revelation 12 how Satan battles to prevent the arrival of the Son of God into history - and fails. Note also how Satan will once again try to thwart the Son's return to set up His kingdom - and fail.
The incarnation of the Son of God is the focal point of the upcoming Advent season. Christ's coming into our world was necessary to provide salvation, the foundation for the Christian life, and by ever remaining man for our sakes. Followers of Jesus look forward to His soon return.
For unbelievers, the incarnation of Jesus Christ makes history and humanity accountable to repent and believe the Gospel message about Him. Author Kevin Zuber in his book, "The Essential Scriptures: A Handbook of Biblical Texts For Key Doctrines", notes this on page 132:
"The only reason to include such a doctrine so contrary to nature and experience is that this was the truth about His birth."
To paraphrase one notable thinker: "if it is even possible that God exists, and if this God created all that we know out of nothing, then events such as the raising of a dead man to life" (and we could easily include the incarnation) "is mere child's play."