IN Christendom the bridge between God and man is called “Incarnation.” The sense of the word “incarnation” is that God took upon himself the nature of man in the person of Jesus Christ. He thereby became a God-man.
Although the idea of a God-man is not foreign to paganism, yet that the Logos should become flesh belongs to Christendom alone, say these religionists. They maintain that pagan religions teach an apotheosis or glorification of man, that they do not teach an incarnation of the true God. According to the English church historian Charles Hardwick, if we purge pagan incarnations from all the lewd and Bacchanalian adjuncts that disfigure and debase them, still they come definitely short of the doctrine of incarnation as taught in Christendom, despite the striking similarities.
But merely to deny the doctrine’s paganity does not establish the teaching of incarnation as being of Christianity. In his book The Creative Christ, E. Drown associates Christendom’s concept of incarnation with pagan Greek mythology. He says: “This idea of substance . . . found its way into Christian theology from Greek sources. The result was that the Incarnation was too often interpreted in physical instead of in moral terms.”
Then there are objections of another character. An eminent professor, Dr. Charles A. Briggs, who was also a priest of the Protestant Episcopal Church, taught that the virgin birth was only a “minor matter connected with the Incarnation . . . [that it] cannot be so essential as many people have supposed.” To Adolf Harnack, German theologian and professor of theology, Jesus was not God in the flesh, but just another Jewish rabbi. Otto Pfleiderer, German Protestant theologian and professor ordinarius of theology, was amazed at the “countless parallels in the legends of pagan heroes and Christian saints,” including that of Jesus Christ.
That there should be conflicting opinions on this doctrine is not at all surprising, since the doctrine of incarnation finds no basis in the Bible, the only reliable authority for truth. (John 17:17) The ancient Jews in their long history never once declared any of their judges, kings, generals, priests or prophets to be gods. The Hebrews and the Jewish Christians utterly abhorred the defilement of heathen mythology. These facts render impossible the fanciful notion that Christian Jews absorbed the history of Jesus from pagan mythology. Neither the Bible nor faithful first-century Christians maintained the pagan concept that Jesus was a God-man. Therefore, when renegade Christians tried to sell the pagan God-man concept as Christian, they found the going rough. The doctrine itself was not crystalized until some three hundred years after Jesus’ day and not defined until A.D. 451 at the Council of Chalcedon. The noted American theologian, Henry P. Van Dusen, whose Presbyterian religion teaches that Jesus was a God-man, in his book World Christianity, page 75, calls Chalcedon’s definition of Christ’s nature “distilled nonsense.”
During the first two centuries there was considerable opposition to the doctrine of incarnation. The Ebionites, a Jewish Christian sect that began in the first century, maintained that Jesus had a natural birth, that he was not God incarnate. Arius, a presbyter of Alexandria, who lived toward the beginning of the fourth century, taught that Jesus was neither coeternal nor coequal with God, that he was the head of all creation, but not “of one substance with the Father.” Docetists, a sect of Jewish Christians that flourished in the second century, believed that Jesus’ body was merely apparent, a vision, a delusion, not material. Gnosticism was a fusion of independent “Christian” beliefs. Its contention was that evil is inherent in matter and that for that reason Jesus’ body could not have been material. Valentinus, the most prominent leader of the Gnostic movement, taught that Jesus’ ethereal body passed through Mary but was not born of her. Others said Jesus had two wills, one human, the other divine, and so forth.
It was from this hodgepodge of conflicting opinions that Christendom has received her incarnation doctrine. Since some thought Jesus was man and others maintained he was God, the council at Nicaea A.D. 325 headed by a pagan political emperor, namely, Constantine, decided on a God-man to please both sides. This doctrine, though unfounded in Scripture, is generally believed by Protestants and Catholics to this day. The Catholic Encyclopedia states bluntly: “Christ is God.” A Presbyterian Church publication speaks of Jesus as “God and man.”
WAS JESUS A GOD-MAN?
Regardless of what any council or man has said about Jesus’ nature, the only reliable source of religious truth is the Bible. This Word reveals that Jesus is God’s Son and as such he was not and is not God. Jesus himself said: “I am God’s Son.” To Mary the angel Gabriel said: “What is born will be called holy, God’s Son.” Nothing is said of a God-man or a man-God. Nowhere in the Bible is Jesus called a “God-man” or “God incarnate.” Such assumptions are strictly human illusions tainted with paganism.—John 10:36; Luke 1:34, 35; 2:21.
In the Scriptures Jesus is referred to as “the beginning of the creation by God.” He is God’s first creation, called the Word of God or Logos. After Adam’s sin, the Almighty God purposed to send this only-begotten Son of his to earth to redeem man from sin. He was to become the second perfect man or second Adam. This would necessitate his laying aside heavenly life to be born a man. No incarnation, but a perfect human birth. This was accomplished by holy spirit or the power of God, as Luke 1:26-38 shows. He was born of the maiden Mary and was called Jesus, who became “the man.”—Rev. 3:14; John 1:29; 19:5; 1 Cor. 15:45.
Was Jesus flesh and blood? John tells us: “The Word became flesh and resided among us.” Of Jesus Paul said: “Since the ‘young children’ are sharers of blood and flesh, he also similarly partook of the same things.” Had Jesus been a God-man, he would have been higher than angels and man. The Scriptures tell us that he was made “a little lower than angels.” Neither was he coequal with his Father, for he himself said: “The Father is greater than I am.”—John 1:14; Heb. 2:14, 9; John 14:28; Phil. 2:5-7.
If Jesus was an incarnation, then he was not the second Adam; his life, death and resurrection would all be a lie. The Christian faith would be in vain. We would be still in our sins without hope. Thank God his Word remains true! Christ is true. He was the second Adam, a perfect man who gave his soul “a ransom in exchange for many.” Those who teach that Jesus was a God-man have no Scriptural basis for saying so. No wonder, when faced with a discussion on this incarnation doctrine, called by The Encyclopedia Americana “the central doctrine of Christianity,” the clergy scurry for cover behind the feeble reply, “It’s a mystery.”—Matt. 20:28.