By: Samuel Nesan
As we consider Jesus’ divinity in the context of the incarnation, we are faced with the question of logical coherence. To say that Jesus was the incarnate deity, may be deemed logically problematic for two reasons:
Firstly, to say that Christ is both God and man might seem logically contradictory. After all, God is, by definition, infinite and able to accomplish all that is logically possible while being unable to err. On the other hand, a man is finite and very much limited in his capacity. In the words of Alexander Pope, “to err is human”. We are inevitably faced with the challenge of reconciling Jesus’ infinite divinity with his finite humanity. Would the incarnate Christ be subject to physical limitations? Could He err? These are but some of the questions we would have to wrestle with.
Secondly, the idea of God being “born” implies Him having a beginning. This is inherently problematic as God, by definition, has no beginning. To make matters worse, we hold on to the idea that God eventually died at Calvary. This raises questions as to who was sustaining the universe when Jesus died? The Trinitarian appeal to the remaining members of the Godhead provides little resistance to the objection, as it would seem that the unity of the Godhead had been ripped apart by mere men. This second problem, in many ways, does seem more damaging to the Christian concept of God than the first.
The key to resolving both these problems is essentially the same. It was summed up in the “Definition of Chalcedon” (A.D. 451) which stated that Jesus was “truly God and truly man….to be acknowledged in two natures”. This understanding of Christ as one person with two indivisible natures resolves both the aforementioned problems. It engages the first by affirming the logical problem in holding Christ to be both infinite and finite, but goes further to demonstrate how having two natures (infinite and finite) puts the issue to rest. For unlike Greek mythology, where demigods such as Hercules were half god and half human, Jesus is truly God and truly man. As such, despite being limited in His human nature (i.e. facing fatigue and hunger), Jesus was the fullness of God veiled in flesh and thus unable to err or fail. As Paul states, “for in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9, ESV).
To illustrate this, we believe the Bible is the “Word of God” (Mark 7:13). But is the Word of God we possess a physical form or is it immaterial in nature? In a sense, there is nothing intellectually problematic by claiming both! For instance, while the “Word of God” may have been revealed to Moses spiritually on Mt. Sinai, it ultimately came down to the people and to us in a physical form (The tablet and eventually, the Bible). If this is true of the “Word of God” through Moses, there is no problem in seeing why Jesus, also referred to as “the Word” (John 1:1), could not have possibly come to us in both a physical and immaterial form. This same principle can also be applied to the second problem which holds that God can neither be born or killed. If we find a printed date on the aforementioned Bible, would that indicate that God’s eternal word only came into existence on that stated date? Of course not! Likewise, if one were to burn the Bible (this is highly unrecommended), this would do no damage at all to God’s eternal Word! Though Jeremiah’s scroll was destroyed by his enemies, God simply reproduced the revelation and the only victim in that incident was the scribe that had to repeat his written assignment. Hence, it is logically coherent to affirm Jesus as God and yet as man in the context of Him possessing two natures.
This is perhaps what the prophet Isaiah was foretelling in his prophecy concerning the birth of Jesus: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given” (Isaiah 9:6, ESV). Notice that only the child (the human nature) is born while the Son (the Divine nature) is given. Something must already be in existence before it can be “given”. Hence, this is simply implying that the Son had a preincarnate existence. Isaiah would go on to say in the very same verse, that the child shall be called “mighty God” and thus eradicating all doubt as to the baby’s divine status.
Concerning His impending death, Jesus told his disciples at the Last Supper: “Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you” (1 Corinthians 11:24, KJV). It was the “body” (human nature) that was killed on the cross. There was no destruction suffered by the Godhead as there was no damage to Christ’s divine nature. It was the human nature that was put to death on that cross. Had the divine nature been terminated for three days, there would have been no meaning to Jesus’ words to the thief by His side: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Jesus’ death was the dignified sacrifice of God as a man. The sacrifice was humanly finite in that it could die in the place of those it came to save, it was divine in that it could atone for an infinity of sins. It was not how Jesus became God but God became Jesus. In the words of Charles Wesley:
“Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see; Hail, the Incarnate Deity:
Pleased, as man, with men to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel!
Hark! the herald angels sing, “Glory to the new-born King!”