Was Jesus God Incarnate?

Since historical questions are easily disputed, let's lay them aside for the most part and see if we can we make any sense of the belief that Jesus was an incarnate God.

One modern attempt to defend the notion that Jesus was God incarnate has been made by Thomas Morris, in The Logic of God Incarnate (Cornwell Univ. Press, 1986), in which he defends the proposition that “Jesus of Nazareth was one and the same person as God the Son, the second person of the Trinity.” (p. 13).

Initially, such a view raises certain questions. Christians like Morris have three successive beings to reconcile with each other: 1) The 2nd Person of the Trinity who existed before time; 2) Jesus, who is God-in-the-flesh--a unique and new being in history; and, 3) The resurrected and glorified Jesus who now is purportedly “sitting at the right hand of God.”

Now keep in mind that the God-man Jesus was a fully human being, so any resurrected God-man must have a body in keeping with his humanity, otherwise the human part of the God-man ceased to exist, died, or his was simply discarded. But it can't be that God would destroy a sinless man, the man Jesus. Therefore, the resurrected Jesus, being a God-man, is a new and unique being, and this dual natured being is unlike the previous 2nd person of the Trinity.

When I asked about this problem of the glorified Jesus, my former professor, Dr. Ron Feenstra, had no trouble accepting the conclusion that the 2nd person of the Trinity took on a human form and now must keep it for all of eternity. [He edited, along with Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., Trinity, Incarnation, and Atonement (Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 1989)]. I just find this whole belief extremely troublesome and implausible. If the human nature of Jesus is forever linked to the 2nd Person of the Trinity, then the full Trinity now includes a man, that is, the human side of Jesus. In heaven the 2nd Person of the Trinity must now forever live encapsulated within a human body (a glorious body, nonetheless, but a body). We now have an embodied God, forever! This whole thing seems contrived and is the result of believing, along with ancient superstitious people, that human beings could be gods (see Acts 14:11; 28:6).

The other possibility is that after the resurrection and ascension events of Jesus there are now two beings rather than one. In heaven there is the human Jesus, and then there is the 2nd person of the Trinity. There are now two beings who exist and arose out of one being, one person, here on earth. That is, the 2nd person of the Trinity discarded his human form to live for the rest of eternity unhindered, letting the human part of him to exist as a separate person in heaven with him. But incoherence sets in at this point, because the Chalcedon creed speaks of there being a “union” of the God-man such that the result is “but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ.” How can such a metaphysical union be separated into two beings? The traditional orthodox doctrine is that Jesus is one person!

But this God-man union is exactly what Morris is trying to defend. To do this he proposes a two-minds theory: “In the case of God Incarnate, we must recognize something like two distinct ranges of consciousness. There is first what we can call the eternal mind of God the Son with its distinctively divine consciousness… And in addition there is a distinctively earthly consciousness that came into existence and grew and developed as the boy Jesus grew and developed.” (p. 102). In this way the second person of the trinity could know what was going on in both the conscious and unconscious mind of Jesus although Jesus could be totally unaware that he is even there.

Morris has some major difficulties when he tries to work out this theory involving two minds, even though he uses the results of modern psychology. If there are two separate minds, each with its own separate consciousness, then a major question is this: Was the earthly Jesus conscious of the second person of the trinity, or not? If he wasn't conscious of the divine mind, then this accurately describes all human beings who are likewise unaware of a divine mind. Jesus would act and think like a human being in every respect. There would be no guarantee that his behavior is to be a model for us, nor would there be any guarantee that he spoke the very words of God to us. The only possible guarantee that he did so would be to claim the divine mind directed the human mind of Jesus to act and say the things he purportedly did. But at that point it's not really possible to say that this accurately descibes a human being "like us in every respect." For if God directed our human minds in the same way, then we too would be sinless and we too would speak the very words of God.

If the human side of the God-man was conscious of the the divine mind, then why didn’t he exhibit the attributes of deity, like omniscience (Mt. 24:36, Lk. 8:45-46), and omnipotence (Mt. 14:3-13; 26:53)? The reason Stephen T. Davis suggests is that Jesus couldn't do this and still be fully human: “At any point in his earthly ministry, I suspect, Jesus could have called on his omniscience (or omnipotence, for that matter), but had he done so, it would have been tantamount to his no longer being truly human.” [Logic and the Nature of God (Eerdmans, 1983), p. 126]. For having these attributes of divine consciousness would also eliminate the possibility that he was fully human, and as such he would not be "like us in every respect."

So on the one hand, if the human side of the God-man was not conscious of the divine mind, then how can his actions be guaranteed to be Godlike? But on the other hand, if he was conscious of the divine mind, or if the divine mind infallibly directed the human side of the God-man, then we no longer have a true human being who was "just like us in every respect."

This whole problem can be seen most forcefully when trying to understand what took place if and when the human and divine minds of Jesus ever came into conflict, as in the case of temptation. Which mind made the final decision in what to say or in how to act? How can one person have two minds but one will? Does the “divine will” over-ride the “human will”? Jesus himself said that human beings could sin in their thoughts alone (Matt. 5:22,28). Was Jesus able to fully act as a human being, or was his will to sin always restrained? Morris suggests that Jesus had free will, but that if he ever acted to sin the second person of the trinity would have stopped him from doing so. But if Jesus’ will was restrained in this way, then how can it be said Jesus was truly like us? He would have a divine consciousness that we don't have, and as such he didn't have the same choices and freedoms we have as human beings. Being restrained from sinning is not praiseworthy at all, because being praiseworthy demands that we acted on our own accord and we thought and did good things, not bad things. But apparently Jesus couldn’t totally act freely, so there’s nothing praiseworthy about what he thought and did as a human being.

We’re told that Jesus was temped (Matt. 4:1; Heb, 4:15). To be temped would entail having thoughts about sinning. One cannot be tempted to do something if there is no desire to do it. If someone tries to tempt me to rob a bank it cannot be done, because I do not have that desire, and never will. This is no temptation for me at all. Theologians have been trying to make sense of this whole idea of the distinction between temptation and the sinful thoughts that Jesus condemns, I think, unsuccessfully. But since Jesus was tempted to sin there seems to be some small imperfections in him, since to be tempted means to have desires that do not accord with the nature of God, especially when we take seriously the whole idea that there are no imperfections in the Godhead at all. John Hick: “Even unfulfilled beginnings of evil must themselves count as imperfections; for in order for the divine mind to overrule them there must have been something there that required to be overruled.” [1) Jesus exhibited what we’d now call a racist attitude toward a woman (Mark 7:27); 2) Jesus said, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone” (Mark 10:18); 3) he didn’t respect his parents like the law would demand (Mark 3:31-5; Luke 14:26), and 4) he used violence in the temple when he cast out the money changers (Matt. 21:12).[The Metaphor of God Incarnate].

Paul Copan understands the seriousness of this problem, but to solve it he introduces an ad hoc theory. Without any Biblical support, he claims Jesus was voluntarily ignorant of the fact that “he was necessarily good,” and as such he really was tempted to sin but couldn’t, because of his divine nature. [“That’s Just Your Interpretation,” (2001), pp. 138-143]. Just how Jesus could be divine and still lack the recognition that as a divine being he was necessarily good, Copan doesn't explain. Copan offers an analogy to explain himself. He answers by saying this is the same problem with how Jesus could know he was divine and yet not know the time of his purported second coming (Matt. 24:36). However, this doesn’t solve either problem. One bad analogy doesn’t solve another one. For he still hasn't answered how Jesus could be divine and yet not have divine knowledge.

“What we are left with is…God incarnate in the sense that God singled the human Jesus out for a special role—namely by not allowing him to go wrong. It follows that if God, in addition to being omnisciently aware of the full contents of someone’s mind, were to prevent her from making any wrong choices, that person would be another instance of God incarnate.” “Those who talked with Jesus were talking to a man whom God the Son was invisibly monitoring and preventing from going astray.” This, according to Hick, is the specific problem “that proved fatal for Morris’ theory: was Jesus free to commit sin?” [John Hick in The Metaphor of God Incarnate, p, 58, 60).

In light of these things we can see why E. P. Sanders wrote: “It lies beyond my meager abilities as an interpreter of dogmatic theology to explain how it is possible for one person to be 100 per cent human and 100 per cent divine, without either interfering with the other.” [The Historical Figure of Jesus (p. 134)].


Tommykey said...

If Jesus was really a flesh and blood human, does that mean as a child he did all of the things regular children do? Did he ever wet his bed? Have a nocturnal emission? Get into fights with other kids? Or did he just walk around with a halo around his head and a strange gleam in his eye?

Anonymous said...

Instead of playing Triune semantics, why not go back into the Bible and knock the "divinity" of Jesus out once and for all? The various genealogies (Matthew 1:11, Luke 3:31) show the rabbi as having three (3) relatives cursed by Yahweh never to have descendants who can inherit the throne of David (a prophecy prerequisite found, among other places, in Luke 1:32). Drag out Jeremiah 22: 28-30 for Coniah, 1st Chronicles 3:16 and Jeremiah 36:30 for Jehoiakim, and 1st Chronicles 29:1 for Nathan, and it becomes quite apparent that Jesus was not the "anointed" of Jewish lore.

Anonymous said...

Excellent excellent post! Major kudos.

The very concept of "human" and the very "concept of divine," by definition include certain attributes and exclude others. It is wholly incoherent to say of someone that he is 100% man and 100% God since the very definition of man contains certain limitations. All of this is very heavily couched (as you pointed out) in prevalent mythological beliefs at the time.

Anonymous said...

Was Jesus God Incarnate?

NO!, if the Christians read all the references that Jesus makes about him self and the references that EL:  makes to him its very obvious that they are separate, if he(Jesus) will be sitting at the right hand then isn’t that enough, and the parable that that stated he God would send his son to the workers at the vineyard, and there statement was look this is the owners son lets kill him and take possession, the references go on and on the answer is clear; cemetery students are having there minds cluttered with senseless information, Jesus never said, or referred to him self as God, and the miracles of healing and all other things that pertain to the miraculous, is none other than the Holy Spirit of God, giving him (Jesus) the ability to perform all the miracles, all of the so called profound teachings amounts to nothing, it can’t be verified by scripture. The intellectual has a need to explain, and need reasons why, they feel they need a answer, and how ridiculous is that, like God almighty needs some one to defend him, now that’s laughable, he needs some school to define him, and the most pathetic thing is this, that people listened, how sad for them. You cannot bring together all the different church’s to agree, so how can you expect there schools of thought to make sense, this one says I’m right and the others say there right, so who’s right? God is! And his representatives, if they really are his reps. And there’s also ways that you can prove if his reps. are valid, but that another post. And here goes some of my reiteration, the only thing I can gather is that you must have had the wrong teachers, and listen to the wrong school of thoughts, our God is great and he, is the same yesterday, today and forever, you bad taste comes from a bad influence. Think about this, trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not to your own understanding, and in all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths, if you ask him for wisdom he’ll freely give it, stop being mislead. You put a stop to it!

Anonymous said...

pville63 said: "lean not to your own understanding".

That can also be an excuse for a Muslim terrorist who believes in the Koran despite the intellectual difficulties with it. You cannot do otherwise than to lean on your own understadning. I repeat, you cannot do otherwise. Any rational response to this will be your reasoning. And if not, then it's blind faith. I repeat, it's blind faith, akin to the Muslim terrorists.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting points, John. The more one examines the idea of Jesus as "God incarnate," the more wackiness one will begin to uncover. See my blog Christianity As the Worship of Self-Contradiction, in which I note the Athanasian Creed's famous dictum that Jesus is "wholly God wholly Man." I list the following 20 points where this means that Jesus is both A and non-A:

* God is uncreated, but man is not uncreated
* God is divine, but man is not divine
* God is supernatural, but man is not supernatural
* God is perfect, but man is not perfect
* God is immutable, but man is not immutable
* God is almighty, but man is not almighty
* God is sovereign, but man is not sovereign
* God is omniscient, but man is not omniscient
* God is omnipotent, but man is not omnipotent
* God is omnipresent, but man is not omnipresence
* God is omnibenevolent, but man is not omnibenevolent
* God is infallible, but man is not infallible
* God is infinite, but man is not infinite
* God is eternal, but man is not eternal
* God is immortal, but man is not immortal
* God is incorporeal, but man is not incorporeal
* God is non-physical, but man is not non-physical
* God is immaterial, but man is not immaterial
* God is incorruptible, but man is not incorruptible
* God is indestructible, but man is not indestructible

If any one of these obtains, it is enough for to prove an internal contradiction in the very conception of Jesus. Hence Christians worship a literal contradiction. Paul Manata sought to refute these points by comparing Jesus to a sandwich. Leave it to Christian apologists to entertain with their ever-increasing levels of absurdity.


Anonymous said...

Then what is the correct school to put your faith in?

Anonymous said...

You are taking those statements out context. When Jesus came to us he came as a human person. When Jesus died and resurrected he became the perfect example of man, and was given the original body that God gave us before the fall of man in Adam. That was the body God intended to give us before we gave it up with your self greed.

Tommykey said...

So Carl, like I asked above, was Jesus ever a bedwetter as a child? Did he get into fistfights with other kids? If we are going to accept that he was fully human when he walked the Earth (and if he existed at all, then fully human is all he ever was) then as a child he should have engaged in many of the same behaviors.

Anonymous said...

It seems John, you missed the first part of the verse, and to chop it in half and not include the first part which is the prerequisite of the interpretation, trust in the Lord first, and lean not to your own understanding, it has to do with , listening to his way rather then our own, it bothers me that you missed that . As to likening me to a muslim extremist , that’s so far off base that its hard to find a answer, but I’ll try, muslims do not follow the base of there own beliefs and they teach there children at a young age to hate Jewish people, and killing is there dream, not mine, theirs is much like brain washing, the difference is I choose who washes my brain.

Then what is the correct school to put your faith in? Ray

that’s the whole point, there doesn’t need to be a school per say; the GOD of the universe made us and chooses us and then he hides from us, and makes us go and learn all the different schools of thought before we find the magnificence of life, doesn’t that seem to you to be a bit much? well if it does that’s because it’s a bit much for God also, learning meekness is a tough on the pride of man, it makes no sense to him. And finding God with your intellect, reasoning and 5 senses, is all but impossible, but Jesus said that the things that are impossible with man is, is possible with God, ask and you shall receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door shall be opened, now there’s the school and that’s the test!

Tommykey said...

And finding God with your intellect, reasoning and 5 senses, is all but impossible.

Well pville, intellect, reason and our senses are all we have to go on. I cannot force myself to believe in things that my intellect rejects.

I know that the Bible is not the word of God, and I know that the God of the Bible does not exist. I've already been there and found that I could not make myself to believe in myth and superstition just because it has survived into the present day.

Anonymous said...

I never really saw the problem with Jesus being fully human - but having some special place with God (whether he is God or not - well the texts are kind of leaning towards Messiah - but this was an early church doctrine). The problem is if he is part of trinity - in this post - and maybe Jesus is - how would I prove, dis-prove any of this to fact? Can't be done - can only be supposed we understand everything there is to know about the situation - which we don't (a lot of it is guess-work on our parts - from both sides).

I am not against the rationale of thr blog - I find it rather funny - but I think it is a way to try explain something that would be unexplainable in virtue (ie: God-hood).

Unknown said...

Clearly the theocracy offered to Moses in the mountain failed due to human frailty. Why cant God wear flesh and blood? Of course, God can give up any of the prerogatives of God in order to accomplish his plans. Obviously this could include becoming a helpless little baby or for that matter an adult with an apparent lack of knowledge of the unseen. So He chose to make a reality that which to us is an apparent contradiction -- that too is/was God’s prerogative.
I cannot figure out way to reconcile the apparent contradiction. That doesn’t make me a blind faith, brainwashed follower. Its just something that I am not privileged to understand right now. I find plenty of other reasons to believe the Bible in spite of the “logical” contradiction of God incarnate.
Accurate prophesy fulfilled, to me, proves the message of the Bible (Daniel, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Revelations, etc…).
Did Jesus wet the bed? I did, and in a strange way, I guess I hope he did to. In Gods plan what difference does it make? If Jesus is God, then we all have a lot of explaining to do. If he wasn’t God, then we are all living on a meaningless ball of rock and water called earth, and the Adolph Hitler is the moral equivalent to Mother Theresa. (I can’t possibly accept that)!
Messiah fills three critical roles: prophet, priest and king. God can do any of the tree, or all of the three. No one else ever could or did. I tend to think of the trinity like water. It comes in three forms, namely solid, liquid and gas.