Key passages about the Incarnation

This is another in a series of excerpts from “What Every Christian Should Know About the Trinity,” available through Amazon and other booksellers.

Let’s look briefly at six key passages of Scripture that help us understand what it means when the apostle John writes, “The Word became flesh” (John 1:14).

John 1:14 – “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We observed his glory, the glory as the one and only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

The eternal Son of God has always possessed a divine nature. He is with God in the beginning, and John makes it clear that Jesus was (and is) God (John 1:1). In the Incarnation, Jesus adds a real human nature and thus becomes the God-Man.

The word “dwelt” may be translated “tabernacled.” Just as the divine presence is with ancient Israelites in the pillar of cloud and fire, as well as in the tabernacle and the temple, Yahweh now manifests Himself in the person of Jesus Christ.

Romans 1:3-4 – “concerning his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who was a descendant of David according to the flesh and was appointed to be the powerful Son of God according to the Spirit of holiness by the resurrection of the dead.”

Paul recognizes Jesus’ humanity through His ancestry as a descendant of King David. His divine nature as the unique Son of God, however, is proven through His miraculous resurrection from the dead.

Romans 9:5 – “The ancestors are theirs [the Israelites], and from them, by physical descent, came the Christ, who is God over all, praised forever. Amen.”

Jesus’ human nature is linked to His Jewish lineage, and His divine nature makes Him “God over all.” 

A few translations try to soften this clear statement of deity. The Contemporary English Version, for example, renders it, “I pray that God, who rules over all, will be praised forever!” However, contextually, this reference to “God over all” applies to the person of Christ and is not a separate praise of God.

Philippians 2:5-7 – “Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited. Instead he emptied himself by assuming the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humanity.”

This passage reflects a primitive Christian hymn. From all eternity, Jesus is of the same essence as God and thus is God. Even though Jesus possesses the nature and prerogatives of deity in eternity past, He does not cling to His privileged position at the Father’s right hand. Rather, He humbles Himself, adding sinless humanity to His deity and thus becoming the God-Man.

Colossians 2:9 – “For the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily in Christ.” As the NIV renders it, “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.”

In this passage, the apostle Paul responds to heretical views that later find their place in Gnosticism – namely, the categorical denial that Christ has come in the flesh. Paul emphatically states that Jesus is full divinity wrapped in human skin. The Incarnation is central to Paul’s writings here and elsewhere.

1 John 4:2 – “This is how you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God …”

The apostle John counters first-century Docetics, a heretical group that embraces the deity of Christ but denies His humanity, arguing that Jesus only appears to be human (from the Greek dokeo, “to seem”). John makes Christ in the flesh a true test of Christian orthodoxy, arguing that every true “spirit” – a person claiming divine gifting for service – upholds the doctrine of the God-Man. 

These verses illustrate the significance of the Incarnation. As theologian Gerald Bray writes, “The Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father and fully equal to him in every respect, became a man so that he could unite us to himself, pay the price for our sins, and bring us back to God.”

Next: Incarnational heresies