The Incarnation

By James Rochford

The incarnation is the point in history when the second person of the Trinity laid aside the use of his attributes and took on human flesh.

In= Enter or inside

Carne= meat, flesh (e.g. “carnivore” or “reincarnate”).

Many passages teach the incarnation of Jesus. For instance, John writes, “The word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn. 1:14; cf. 1 Jn. 4:2; 1 Tim. 3:6). Paul writes, “In Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Col. 2:9), and he refers to Jesus as “the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5). Hebrews tells us that Christ became human “in all things” (Heb. 2:14, 17). Moreover, as we read through the NT, we see that Jesus was hungry (Mt. 4:2), thirsty (Jn. 19:28), slept (Mt. 8:24), grew physically and mentally (Lk. 2:40, 52), wept (Jn. 11:33, 35), suffered anguish (Lk. 22:44), had blood in his veins (Jn. 19:34), and eventually died in his human body (Lk. 23:46). Jesus was not like Clark Kent, merely appearing as a human but was really an invincible Superman. Instead, he really was a man.

Philippians 2:6-7 and Kenosis Theory

While he was on Earth, Jesus lacked the use of omniscience (Lk. 8:45; Mt. 24:36; Lk. 2:52), omnipotence (Mk. 6:5; Jn. 5:19), and omnipresence (Jn. 4:4). Cultists assume that Jesus could not have been God; otherwise, he would not lack these attributes. However, these passages make sense in light of the fact that Jesus gave up the use of his divine attributes, while he was on Earth.

Kenosis theory comes from the Greek word kenow (“emptied Himself”). This means that Jesus laid aside the use of his divine attributes—not the attributes themselves (Phil. 2:6-7). Instead of using his own divine attributes, Jesus depended fully on the Spirit to perform his miracles (Jn. 5:19; Lk. 4:18; Rom. 8:11; Mt. 26:53). In fact, the Bible repeatedly points out that Jesus’ miracles were due to the empowering of the Holy Spirit—not Jesus’ own power (Lk. 5:17; Acts 2:22; Acts 10:38).

We need to be clear: Jesus did not cease to have his divine attributes on Earth. Instead, he ceased to use these attributes.

We might compare this to an Olympic runner, who enters into a three-legged race. While the runner is still the fastest man on Earth, he has chosen to take on another person in addition to himself. This doesn’t subtract from his nature; instead, it adds to it. At any moment, the runner could cut the other person loose, and he would still be the fastest person on Earth. However, he willingly chooses to take on limitations for the sake of the race. In the same way, Jesus’ humanity didn’t subtract from his deity; instead, it added to it. Jesus added a human nature in addition to his divine nature. Philosopher Paul Copan illustrates:

Imagine a spy on a dangerous mission, carrying in his mind top-secret information valuable to the enemy. To avoid divulging answers in case he’s caught and tortured, he takes along a limited-amnesia producing pill with an antidote for later use. If the spy uses the amnesia pill, he would still possess the vital information in his mind; given these temporary conditions required to carry out his mission, he chooses to limit his access to the information that’s stored up in his mind. Similarly, during Jesus’ mission to earth, He still possessed the full, undiminished capacities of divine knowledge and power, and He had access to those capacities as necessary for His mission. But before the foundation of the world, Father, Son, and Spirit freely determined together that the Son would limit or restrain the use of those powers to accomplish His overall mission (John 17:5, 22–26), having access to knowing, say, the time of His return (Matt 24:36) and, as we’ll see, knowing that it was impossible for Him to sin or to be vulnerable to temptation (cf. Jas 1:13). However, (2) He didn’t lose essential divine attributes; rather, He voluntarily, temporarily suppressed or gave up access to using certain divine capacities and powers He possessed all along. Like a father holding back the full force of his powers while playing soccer or baseball with his kids, so the Son of God, before coming to earth, determined to restrain His divine capacities. Jesus’ human consciousness significantly interacted with His divine consciousness and wasn’t cut off from certain heavenly illuminations like the glow of divine light that streams through a cloth curtain. Jesus, however, didn’t regularly rely on His divine consciousness while on earth but primarily operated in His human consciousness, just like us, with the added depth of divine awareness. Being fully human, Jesus freely and fully depended on the Spirit’s power as He sought to carry out His Father’s purpose.[1]

The incarnation was not like putting an infinite amount of air into a balloon. It would surely pop! Instead, God—an immaterial Mind—entered a physical or material body. It is possible for a metaphysically infinite Being to inhabit a limited physical body. His qualitative infinite attributes are not hindered by a quantitative physical body. This explains why God made humans in his image. We are both persons—both minds. Since minds are immaterial, they can inhabit bodies without a problem.

Hypostatic Union

At the incarnation, two natures (full deity and full humanity), were inseparably united in one person (Jesus Christ). We are not saying that one nature contained two natures, or that one person was actually two persons. This would be illogical. Instead, we are saying that one person took on two natures.

Docetism (Pronounced DOSS-et-ism)

Docetism comes from the Greek dokeō, which means “to appear or to seem.” In this case, Jesus “appeared” or “seemed” to be human, when he actually wasn’t. This heresy denied the humanity of Christ, and it was very active in the first century church, due to proto-Gnostic teaching which was offended at the humanity of Christ. This is why Paul (Col. 2:9) and John (1 Jn. 1:1-3; 4:1-2) take pains to emphasize the humanity of Jesus.


[1] Copan, Paul, and William Lane Craig. Contending with Christianity’s Critics: Answering New Atheists & Other Objectors. Nashville: B & H Academic, 2009. 225-226.