Doctrine of Christ (Part 6): The Incarnation (6)

February 02, 2017

A Possible Model of the Incarnation (Cont’d)

Last time I began to describe a proposed model for understanding the deity and humanity of Christ. I emphasized that this is just a possibility. I don’t think anyone can pretend to know how God managed to become incarnate in Christ. But if we can provide a coherent model, one that is logically consistent and biblically faithful, then this will defeat the attacks or objections of Muslims, secularists, and cultists that it is impossible for Jesus Christ to be truly God and truly man.

The first plank of the proposed model is that with the Council of Chalcedon we postulate that in Christ there are two natures – one human and one divine – each complete and united in one person.

The second plank in my proposed model is that we postulate with Apollinarius that the Logos (the second person of the Trinity) was the rational soul of Jesus of Nazareth. What Apollinarius maintained was that if we are to avoid a duality of persons in Christ, the man Jesus of Nazareth and the divine Logos must share some common constituent that unites those two individual natures.

The orthodox Christological view is that there is a single hypostasis (or property-bearer or individual) which exemplifies or bears those two natures. That hypostasis is identified as the person that Christ is. There is a person who exemplifies or has these two individual natures – one divine and one human. The question is: how can this be? How can there be two complete individual natures that are possessed by one person? If there exists a complete individual human nature in Christ and a complete individual divine nature who is the Logos then how can there not be two persons – one human person and the other the divine person? You will remember that Apollinarius proposed that the Logos replaced the human mind of Jesus so that there was in Christ a single person – the Logos – who was united with a human body, much in the same way that a soul is united with its body in an ordinary human being. On Apollinarius’ view it is easy to see, I think, how a single hypostasis or person can exemplify the properties which are proper to each nature – the human mind of Christ just was the Logos.

Unfortunately, as you’ll recall from our survey of church history, Apollinarius’ view was defective as it stood. A complete human nature requires more than just a hominid body. On Apollinarius’ view the incarnation seemed to be a matter of Christ’s assuming not humanity but mere animality – he assumed an animal nature but not a human nature. Moreover you will remember that the opponents of Apollinarius rightly charged that such a view also undercuts the work of Christ as well as his person. Because if Christ did not have a truly human nature then he could not have redeemed humanity. If he had merely an animal nature then he could not have represented humanity before God and so redeemed humanity.[1] So Apollinarius’ view is defective and was condemned as heretical. But the question is: are these defects irremediable? Or could Apollinarius’ view be reformulated in some way so as to meet the canons of orthodoxy set down at the Council of Chalcedon? I think that these defects are remediable.

Apollinarius may have been misunderstood when his critics charged him with giving Christ a truncated human nature – a mere animal nature. Apollinarius argued that the Logos was not only the image of God but he was also the “archetype of man.” The Logos was the archetypal man. In this sense he already possessed human nature in his pre-incarnate state. Apollinarius’ opponents like Gregory of Nazianzus understood Apollinarius to mean that the flesh of Christ was pre-existent – that in his pre-incarnate state Christ somehow already possessed human flesh, which would be absurd. But Apollinarius might have been more subtle than this. That may not have been what he meant. What he may have meant is that the Logos contained perfect human personhood archetypally in his own divine nature. The result of this was that by assuming a hominid body the Logos brought to Christ’s animal nature just those properties which would serve to make it a complete human nature. Thus the human nature of Christ became complete precisely in virtue of the union of the flesh with the Logos. As a result of the union, Christ did indeed have a complete human nature comprised of body and soul, for that nature was made complete by the union of the flesh with the Logos who is the archetype of humanity.

This understanding of the incarnation draws strong support, I think, from the doctrine that man is created in the image of God, or as the Latin theologians put it the imago dei (the image of God). Man is created in God’s image. Clearly that is not a reference to our animal bodies. Human beings do not bear God’s image in virtue of our animal bodies because we share these sorts of bodies with other members of the biosphere – the animal kingdom. Rather, it is in virtue of being persons that human beings uniquely reflect God’s nature. God himself is personal, as we’ve seen in our discussion of the Trinity and of the attributes of God. So insofar as we are persons we resemble God. We reflect his nature. Thus God already possesses the properties necessary for human personhood even prior to the incarnation. All he lacks is corporeality. The Logos already possessed in his pre-incarnate state all of the properties necessary for being a human self. In assuming a hominid body he brought to it all that was necessary for a complete human nature. For this reason, in Christ the one self-conscious subject who is the Logos possessed both divine and human natures which were each complete.

I think that this reformulation or rehabilitation, if you will, of Apollinarius’ view nullifies the traditional objections brought against Apollinarius’ original formulation of it. For on this view, Christ is both truly God and truly man.[2] That is to say, he is all that God is and he is all that man is or ought to be. All he lacks is sin since his individual human nature, like Adam’s, is uncorrupted by sin.

To ward off any misunderstanding of what I am saying, let me underscore that what the Council of Chalcedon affirmed is that Christ has a complete human nature which is composed of body and soul. Christ had a rational soul and a human body. But it does not affirm that Christ had a merely human soul. From the fact that Jesus’ soul is not a created substance but is the divine Logos himself, it doesn’t follow that Christ’s human nature is not a created substance. If Christ’s individual human nature is, as Christian orthodoxy affirms, that body-soul composite that walked the hills of Galilee, that uttered the Sermon on the Mount, that was crucified, then the fact that Jesus’ soul is uncreated in no way implies that Jesus’ individual human nature was uncreated. On the view that I’m suggesting, the Logos, by assuming flesh in the virginal conception in Mary’s womb, brings into being a new substance, namely, Christ’s human nature which did not exist before – a substance which is contingent, created, finite, and all the rest.

Because Christ has a complete human nature and thus has fully identified with our humanity, then his atoning work on behalf of mankind is efficacious.

So I think that this rehabilitated Apollinarian Christology does lie safely within the bounds of orthodoxy that are marked out by the Council of Chalcedon even if it differs from what some of the framers of the Council of Chalcedon themselves may have held.

That is the second plank of the model.


Student: What you are saying is that he is the first and only creature, shall we say, of this kind that is wholly divine and wholly human?

Dr. Craig: Yes.

Student: Would it be wrong to consider that when Christ took on the heavenly body that then he . . . was he the same or different than prior to his incarnation?

Dr. Craig: By heavenly body, do you mean the resurrection body?

Student: The resurrection body – was that really God prior to his taking on the human flesh or something different?

Dr. Craig: We alluded to this a little bit last time we met. What I emphasized there was when you read 1 Corinthians 15 about our present earthly mortal body and the resurrection body that we will someday have, these are not two bodies. These are the identical historically continuous body. The way we get the resurrection body is by a transformation of the earthly body. Paul says that this mortal nature must become immortal. This corruptible nature must become incorruptible. This sin-oriented and dominated nature must be freed from the domination of sin and be under the power of the Spirit. So we must not think of the earthly body and the resurrection body that we will have as non-identical. They are identical in the sense that it is the same substance. But it undergoes a radical transformation. The clearest proof of that is the empty tomb. Jesus did not rise from the dead in a non-identical distinct body from the body that was crucified and lay in the tomb. When he appeared to the disciples he showed them the wounds in his hands and the spear wound in his side. These were markers to them that this is the same body – the same Jesus – that was crucified and buried that now appeared before them.[3] I would just say that this heavenly body is this body transformed.

Student: Speaking of Christ, prior to the incarnation and then post-incarnation and his resurrection, we have a different nature, I guess.

Dr. Craig: Well, yes, I think that is right, in that prior to the virginal conception in Mary’s womb, the second person of the Trinity had no human nature. He had a divine nature which, I think, archetypally, as I say, is an archetype of humanity in that it contains rationality, freedom of the will, self-consciousness, and all the rest. But he had no human nature. That came into being at the moment of the conception and then continues on into the resurrection and ascension.

Student: Jesus’ soul is uncreated. And then when he becomes incarnate he takes on a human nature. If the soul is uncreated what exactly is the human nature?

Dr. Craig: It is the body-soul composite.

Student: The body-soul composite?

Dr. Craig: Yes. Remember that is what the classical view of man is, according to Aristotle. Man is a rational animal composed of body and soul. That is the view that Chalcedon affirms as well – that Christ was like us in our humanity in that he had a rational soul and body.

Student: So the idea being that defined soul by taking on a human body then he gets all the things that we as humans have like why he hungers, thirsts, and sleeps.

Dr. Craig: Yes.

Student: OK. I guess that ties in a little bit with what was being said earlier. When he was resurrected then he still has the human nature but it is, for lack of a better word, perfected?

Dr. Craig: Yes! You got it! The resurrection is the glorification of the human nature. It is freed from sin, it becomes immortal, incorruptible, dominated by the Spirit. In heaven our human nature is glorified.

Student: Does the second person of the Trinity – Jesus Christ – have a human nature right now?

Dr. Craig: Yes. This is a good point. The lesson of the ascension is that the incarnation (this is a remarkable fact, maybe you haven’t thought about this before) is a permanent status taken on by the second person of the Trinity. It isn’t a temporary incarnation for thirty years or so here on Earth and then he goes back to being the way he was before. The incarnation and resurrection and ascension are God’s most powerful expression of ratifying the value of our human bodily material existence – that he would take this into his glorified and eternal state permanently. This is why orthodox Christianity never devalues the material and the physical in favor of the spiritual regarding the material and the physical as evil or somehow less worthy than the spiritual. The physical is created by God, it is affirmed and taken on by Christ in the incarnation, and taken into heaven in his resurrection and ascension.

Student: So he is in his glorified body today, and therefore no change really occurs for him when he comes back and we come behind him for the thousand-year reign on Earth?

Dr. Craig: Well, now this is a little more subtle question. Your first question was: does he have a human nature today? I would say yes. Then the question would be: then where is his body? Is it somewhere in outer space? Is it maybe in another dimension like in heaven or something?[4]

Student: He would need to reacquire it when he comes back to Earth for his thousand year reign.

Dr. Craig: Unless he’s got it in some other dimension or something of that sort. I know Christians who do believe that. They think that heaven is sort of like another dimension. We have three spatial dimensions and one temporal dimension, but there could be higher dimensions, other dimensions. Maybe Christ has his physical body in that way. I find that answer not very plausible.

Here is a possibility. These are all conjectures, but I think it is possible and would therefore remove any objection. Suppose that in the ascension of Christ, Christ leaves our spacetime continuum. He exits our spacetime manifold in which we exist. In that case, his human nature would not manifest itself as a physical body because he is not in space. Here’s an analogy. Think of a tuning fork. When you pluck the tuning fork it sets up vibrations that make a hum as you hear the sound waves reverberated. But if you take that tuning fork and you place it inside of a vacuum jar, even though the fork is still vibrating there won’t be any humming. It won’t manifest itself as sound because there is no medium to carry the sound waves. There is no change in the tuning fork, but the medium is gone for it to be expressed as sound. So suppose that Christ has a human nature but he doesn’t exist in space and therefore it isn’t manifested as a three dimensional body. But the return of Christ when he comes back again to Earth he will re-enter our three dimensional spatial manifold – spacetime continuum – and therefore his body will be manifested, and every eye shall see him. Everyone that crucified him – he will be manifested to all. I think that makes good sense of where Christ’s body is today.

I would just say this. One more thing. Support for this idea, I think, would come from the intermediate state in which we find ourselves when we die. When we die we go into a disembodied condition as souls that await our eventual resurrection does that mean we are no longer human? I think not at all. We don’t become angels during the intermediate state. We are still human beings because we had a human body. Our souls once were united with a human body. That would suggest that the soul doesn’t cease to be human in virtue of the body being temporarily stripped away. That would be rather similar to Christ’s disembodied state insofar as he exists outside our spacetime.

Student: Just for clarification, you made a statement earlier where you said Christ possessed all that was necessary for human nature.

Dr. Craig: Save corporeality.

Student: OK. I understand. Are you saying that Christ was a human being always?

Dr. Craig: No. Because to be a human being you have to have a human body. There are rational substances that are not human, like angels and demons. There could be extraterrestrials, like Klingons or something, that are not human even though they are rational substances. So Christ would not be a human being prior to the incarnation. But I am saying that he is the archetypal man in that he possesses these properties that are sufficient for human personhood like rationality, self-consciousness, freedom of the will, and so forth when conjoined with a human body.

Student: In regards to his body, after the resurrection he was here on Earth in his resurrected body. Why would it be any different? What I’m saying is . . .

Dr. Craig: Be different from what?

Student: Basically the same as you were saying that he is in the same resurrected body, that he didn’t quit being human incarnate but it was a resurrected body so he still has the same resurrected body in heaven. He would come back with the same resurrected body.

Dr. Craig: Yes. That is correct. The question is: is Christ in a bodily state right now?[5] As I say, one way to do this would be to say there is another dimension where his body is located. I find that implausible because the souls of the deceased which are disembodied (as we just said) go to be with Christ. Paul said in Philippians 2, My desire is to depart and be with Christ for that is far better. Yet in 2 Corinthians 5 he talks about when this earthly tent (this body) is destroyed we go into this state of nakedness which is the soul stripped of its body. Paul finds that state of nakedness uncomfortable. He’d rather not go through this disembodied condition. He would rather live until the return of Christ and receive his resurrection body immediately as those will who are alive at the time of Christ’s return. If that is right it is hard for me to see how disembodied souls can be communing with Christ if he’s physically present in a bodily condition. That would be really bizarre. Not impossible, maybe they have telepathic powers and can do something like that, but it would seem strange. So I’d rather prefer the suggestion I made earlier. But if you like that view better, that’s great.

Student: The thing for me that speaks to this is in Acts when Stephen is being stoned in Acts 7:55. It says, “But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” That would seem like that would be the resurrection body and that he is physically in heaven.

Dr. Craig: This is in Acts 7 – the vision that Stephen sees. Here’s what I would say. I don’t think what Stephen saw was literally the resurrection body; it was a vision such as you have in the book of Revelation where John sees visions of the heavenly throne room. The reason I say that is Stephen’s experience isn’t counted as a resurrection appearance in the New Testament. When Paul lists the resurrection appearances or the witnesses he doesn’t list Stephen. It is not presented here as a resurrection appearance story. Paul had a resurrection appearance on the road to Damascus. He says it was to one born out of time because the resurrection appearances had ceased with the ascension. There weren’t supposed to be any more resurrection appearances. This experience that Stephen had I think was a heavenly vision of the Son of Man. Notice that the other people around him didn’t see anything whereas with the resurrection appearances, if you’d been there you would have seen him because he was physically present and light rays bounce off his body and sound waves come from his mouth when he speaks. So I don’t think that the appearance to Stephen is a resurrection appearance.

Student: After the resurrection of Christ, as some point (I think before the ascension) disappeared and then he would appear in the middle of a room where the disciples were. It doesn’t say necessarily that he walked through walls.

Dr. Craig: Very good. Did you notice what he just said? So often you hear preachers or people say Jesus walked through the door or through the walls. It doesn’t say that. It just says he appeared in the midst of the room with the doors locked.

Student: So would this seem to say he maybe was in another dimension and simply came back to this one? Or is there a better explanation?

Dr. Craig: Either that or what I suggested earlier. He could step in and out of our spacetime continuum at different locations. So he can exit our spacetime continuum in Emmaus and step back in in Jerusalem without traversing the distance in between. Right? So I think this makes great sense of the idea that these resurrection appearances were miles apart and Jesus wasn’t walking in between them. He would vanish, he would appear. It has this sort of notion of him stepping in and out of space. So I think it fits either model. But that is a great example or illustration of what I’m talking about.

Student: I heard you mention earlier that in Mary’s womb that his nature was a new creation. Did I hear you say that correctly?

Dr. Craig: Yes.[6]

Student: Can you speak to the difference between this immaculate conception and a typical conception and are you breaking with a Traducian view of the creation of the rational soul here?

Dr. Craig: Yeah, I am. Let’s tease out the background of this question. First, we are not talking about the immaculate conception. We are talking about the virginal conception. Remember the immaculate conception concerns the Catholic doctrine that Mary was conceived without original sin and that is why Jesus did not have original sin – because Mary was immaculately conceived. In Jesus’ case we are talking about a virginal conception.

On my Apollinarian model you are quite right to say that the soul of Jesus was not the product of Mary’s soul much less Joseph’s. Mary gave him at most his physical body – her genetic material. But the soul would be the second person of the Trinity. This would be more in line with what is called a creationist model of the soul. The soul is a special creation of God at the moment of conception rather than is the causal effect of the souls of the parents which is the view that you alluded to called Traducianism. Traducianism holds that the parents’ souls beget the soul of their child.

Saying that this was an exception in Jesus’ case doesn’t mean you can’t be a Traducian about other people. This would be a miraculous event – a virginal conception. It could be a special creation of the human nature of Jesus. It wouldn’t be the creation of his soul because the soul would be pre-existent as the Logos. But it wouldn’t be Traducian.


In the interest of time, let me wrap up this section.

The principal problem with the proposal as I’ve described it thus far is that it seems to founder upon the human limitations evinced by Jesus of Nazareth according to the Gospel accounts. The church has typically dealt with the problem of Christ’s evident limitations by means of the device of reduplicative predication. As I explained last time, according to reduplicative predication properties are predicated of the person with respect to his individual natures.

This, I think, makes good sense with respect to some of the attributes. For example, you can say that Christ is omnipotent with respect to his divine nature but he’s limited in power with respect to his human nature. That seems to make perfectly good sense. Or you could say that Christ is eternal and necessary with respect to his divine nature, but he is mortal and contingent with respect to his human nature. So I think this device of reduplicative predication makes good sense for many of these attributes.

But for other attributes, reduplicative predication especially on the Apollinarian model that I’ve offered, doesn’t seem to work so well. For example, take omniscience. How can Christ be both omniscient and yet limited in knowledge if there is a single self-conscious subject in Christ? Or take his impeccability or his sinlessness. How can Christ be impeccable (that is to say, incapable of sin) with respect to his divine nature and yet be peccable (capable of sin) with respect to his human nature? It just doesn’t seem to make sense to use that device with respect to some of these properties.

The Scottish theologian A. B. Bruce objected concerning Apollinarianism,

There is no human nous [that’s the Greek word for “mind”], no freedom, no struggle; . . . the so-called temptations and struggles recorded in the Gospels are reduced to a show and a sham, and a cheap virtue results, devoid of all human interest, and scarcely deserving the name.[7]

If you just stop with the model as I’ve described it so far then I think A. B. Bruce’s objection will surely prove to be decisive. But as we’ll see next week, I think the model can be enhanced in such a way as to turn back this criticism. That will be the subject that we will explore together next Sunday.[8]



[1] 4:58

[2] 10:03

[3] 15:06

[4] 20:00

[5] 25:01

[6] 30:04

[7] A. B. Bruce, The Humiliation of Christ (New York: George H. Doran Company, n. d.), p. 46.

[8] Total Running Time: 36:45 (Copyright © 2017 William Lane Craig)