Luke 2. The Mystery of the Incarnation.
Key Notes: Seven mistaken views of Jesus as God and Man.
In the Virgin Birth (virgin conception) of Christ there are two mysteries:
• Where did the male component (22 somatic chromosomes and a Y chromosome) of the human being named Jesus come from? Jesus could not be a clone of His mother, Mary.
• How did God interact with a human body to result in the God-Man? Was it like the "ensoulment" of other human beings which we believe takes place at conception?
We cannot answer these questions and speculation is fruitless. The Bible only says that the "The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you" (Mary). God does not wish to satisfy our curiosity on these matters.
Easier questions have been posed, which have Scriptural answers for the most part, having to do with the nature of the incarnation--deity and humanity. These questions preoccupied the Church for the first four centuries after Christ, and virtually no new ones have come since. Hard spiritual and intellectual battles were fought between church leaders, usually in Church conferences, which led to rejection and banishment of the losers, but no wars were fought, and no one was killed in the process. But the conclusions have become so important, that they define what it means to be a Christian, as well as holding up the light to false doctrines that persist to this day. Many of the wrong solutions to the problem of the Incarnation are named after those who promoted them.
Views that emphasize Jesus' humanity at the expense of His Deity.
•Ebionites. Ebionites were basically unconverted Jews in the early Church of Jerusalem. They were strict monotheists, ascetic and exacting in their obedience to the Law. To them, Jesus was a godly prophet from Nazareth who kept the law perfectly.
•Arians. Arius (d.336AD) reasoned that the Father was the only Being absolutely without beginning. Jesus was a being created before time. Before His generation, He was not. His title "Son of God" is an honor; He is not part of the unchanging God, but is like the Father who begot Him. The Holy Spirit was similarly created. As a consequence, Jesus is not deity, and logically, not worthy of worship. Arius was condemned by the Council of Nicea in 325AD. The Nicean and the Athanasian creeds deny the Arian doctrine.
Arianism is a most insidious of Christian heresies. Unitarians came out of this school of thought. Jehovah's Witnesses are modern Arian preachers.
The Scripture contradicts it.
"In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God." Jn.1:1
"In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily." Col.2:9.
•Nestorians. Nestorius (d.451AD) could not accept the Catholic description of Mary as "God-bearing", or "Mother of God." He remarked "I cannot say God is two or three months old." His followers regarded Jesus at God's adopted son, a deified man, one on whom the Holy Spirit came with unique power. (Nestorius probably was not a heretic, but his followers were.)
Nestorians were well-represented in North Africa and the Middle East and it may be that their false teachings about Christ explain why that wing of the Church died out under the onslaught of Islam. "The gates of Hell" will not prevail against the Church. Matt.16:19
The Creed of Chalcedon (451AD) established the Biblical truth of Christ's deity in a way that remains authoritative to this day.
Views that emphasize Jesus' deity at the expense of His humanity.
*Docetists: (70–170AD). Jesus appears to be human, but matter is sinful and therefore He could not be really human. This is Greek philosophy applied to Christianity. Later, Gnostics expanded the idea that Jesus was an emanation from God, a messenger from outer space come to give them the true knowledge.
Docetism is a common error for Christians, too, because it is very hard to believe that true God could coexist with true man, with all our frailties and humiliations. Think of fleas, tooth-ache and diarrhea, It is the most prevalent of Christian heresies.
"...He had to be made like his brothers in every respect so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make expiation for the sins of the people." Heb.2:17
*Sabellians: Sabellius (250AD) taught that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are different masks worn by the One God. Modalism is a modern term for Sabellianism. Modalism is taught by some Pentecostals, who teach that Jesus is the only God there is. Thus Jesus is God appearing on earth as the Redeemer. In other places He will apear as Law-giver on the throne, and again as a Spirit-being. This error has been taught to Hindus by well-meaning Christians. Hindus think of God coming to earth at various times in history as saviors (avatars). Then Jesus becomes another avatar.
Christians try to illustrate the Trinity as being similar to steam, ice and water or a woman as mother, artist and tennis-player. These turn out to different manifestations of the same being and they are incorrect.
Jn.1:1 "...the Word was with God" tells us that Sabellius was wrong. "With" indicates community, fellowship. We believe that God is one essence with three Persons in loving communion with each other.
In Jesus' baptism, the revelation of the Trinity ( Matt.3:16,17) is clear evidence against a modal trinity. The "three-ness" of God is plainly seen with the Father speaking for the Son from Heaven and the Holy Spirit descending upon Him like a dove.
Errors confusing Jesus' nature as true God and true man.
*Apollinarians: Apollinarius (d.391 AD) argued that if Jesus had a rational soul, then He had a rational will, and wherever there is a human will, there is sin. Therefore he reasoned that Jesus' Logos (Divine nature) took the place of His human soul so that He could not sin. And the divine nature was so powerful as to overwhelm the human element. Thus Jesus is not truly human.
But He was "one who was tempted in all points as we are, yet without sin." (Heb.4:15). If He could not sin, then the temptation was not real.
*Eutychians; (Eutychius, condemned 451AD) believed that the divine and human natures combined to make a third, unique new nature. Then Jesus becomes something at least not human, perhaps not divine either. The Chalcedonian formula holds that Jesus had two natures indissolubly joined, not divided and not mixed.
The truth lies somewhere in the middle of the circle of these errors.
Phil.2:6–11 gives us an important view of the incarnation.
"...though He was in the form of God, He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow...and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father." (Phil.2:6–11).
In taking on humanity, Jesus emptied Himself (Phil.2:6–11) of the prerogatives ("the form") of deity, and appears to have given up the exercise of certain attributes like omniscience (the time of His return was hidden Mk.13:32), omnipresence (he was in one place at one time), omnipotence (He could have called for legions of angels but did not. Matt.26:53). He made a second step to take the form of a servant, and the third step to be obedient to death.
The Incarnation is functional, not philosophical or theoretical. It is meant to teach us important truth, not to befuddle our minds. It puts the emphasis of the Incarnation where it belongs: God humiliated Himself to come down to our human level, walked our dusty streets, listened to our profane talk, taught ignorant fishermen, and submitted to death to give us the promised salvation. No one but God can truly save us. No one but Man can truly understand us and judge us.
Thank God He came.