This article first appeared in the Christian Research Journal, volume 41, number 4 (2018). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal please click here.
Incarnation (quite literally, “coming in flesh”) is the greatest of all revelations. When Germanic invaders overwhelmed the Roman Empire in the West, Christianity established a new order called Europe. And the principle undergirding the new world order was codified in a singular word — revelation. Indeed, Augustine believed revelation to be the necessary precondition for all knowledge.1
The realization that revelation is axiomatic for knowledge led medieval thinkers to crown theology queen of the sciences. Peter Paul Rubens personified this elegantly in his seventeenth-century painting The Triumph of the Eucharist. Seated in a chariot propelled by angelic beings is theology —queen of the sciences. Walking alongside are philosophy, the wise and grizzled veteran, and science, a newcomer in the cosmic conversation. Theology is never absent philosophy and science.2 But philosophy and science absent revelation leads inexorably to the blind ditch of ignorance.3
The new world order that arose from the impotence of Greco-Roman thought was grounded in the premise that God has revealed Himself as creator and sustainer of the universe through general revelation, special revelation, and the apex of all revelations — Incarnation. In the words of the Beloved Apostle, “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14 NASB).
To the Allah of Islam, this is nothing short of blasphemous. God “begetteth not, nor is He begotten” (Q 112:3).4 The very notion is offensive. To Allah’s way of thinking, calling God “Father” and Jesus Christ “Son” suggests sexual procreation. “It is not befitting to (the majesty of) Allah that He should beget a son” (Q 19:35). “How can He have a son when He hath no consort?” (Q 6:101). “And exalted is the majesty of our Lord: He has taken neither a wife nor a son” (Q 72:3).
What Allah fails to understand, of course, is that the Bible does not use the term begotten with respect to the Father and the Son in the sense of sexual reproduction but rather in the sense of special relationship. Thus, when the apostle John spoke of Jesus as “the only begotten from the Father” (John 1:14 NKJV), he was underscoring the unique deity of Christ. Likewise, when the apostle Paul referred to Jesus as “the firstborn over all creation” (Col. 1:15), he was emphasizing Christ’s preeminence or prime position as the creator of all things (Col. 1:16–19).5 As such, Christians are sons of God through adoption; Jesus is God the Son from all eternity.
For followers of the Muslim Allah, the Incarnation of Jesus Christ entails the gravest of all sins. Why? Because the doctrine of incarnation — that Jesus Christ is God come in flesh — is tantamount to shirk — the unforgivable sin of assigning partners to God.6 Allah is direct and emphatic: “Allah forgiveth not (the sin of) joining other gods with Him; but He forgiveth whom He pleaseth other sins than this” (Q 4:116). Thus, while Muslims readily affirm the sinlessness of Christ, they dogmatically deny His incarnation as both insulting to the majesty of Allah and logically incoherent.7
But is it really? While many issues surrounding the Incarnation, such as the precise modes of interaction between Christ’s divine nature and His human nature, may transcend human understanding, the doctrine of Incarnation does not transgress the laws of logic. To understand the logical coherence of the Incarnation, one must first consider the imago Dei (image of God). Because God created humanity in His own image (Gen. 1:27), the essential properties of human nature (rationality, will, moral character, and the like) are not inconsistent with His divine nature. Thus, while the notion of God becoming a clam would be self-evidently absurd, the reality that God became a man is not.
Moreover, it is crucial to point out that though the Godman is truly human, he is not merely human. And though the divine Son of God took on all the essential properties of human nature, He did not take on that which is nonessential (e.g., sinful inclinations). Indeed, as Adam was created without a proclivity toward sin, so the Second Adam (Jesus) was untainted by original sin.8 And like His moral perfection, Jesus’ other divine attributes (omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, and so forth) were not undermined in the Incarnation.
While Jesus Christ voluntarily refrained from exercising certain attributes of deity, He did not divest Himself of a single divine attribute (John 1:14; Phil. 2:1–11; Col. 1:15–20; Heb. 2:14–18). With respect to His omniscience, for example, His human nature may have served as a filter limiting His knowledge as a man (e.g., Mark 13:32). Nonetheless, Jesus’ divine omniscience was ever accessible at the will of the Father.9 To put it directly, there is no incoherence in the biblical teaching that the eternal Son of God added humanity to His divinity such that He will forever remain one person with two distinct natures, neither confusing His natures nor becoming two persons.
It is more than intoxicating to reflect on the reality that as Christ is incarnate in the image of humankind, so humanity in Christ is being refashioned in the image of God. As Athanasius of Alexandria, widely regarded as the greatest theologian of his time, well said, “He was made man that we might be made God.”10 Or in the words of Peter, we “participate in the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4). This, of course, is not to say that we, though redeemed, possess God’s incommunicable attributes. Who among us can claim self-existence, immutability, eternality, omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, and absolute sovereignty? God is eternal,11 but humanity was created at a point in time12 and has but a brief mortal existence on the earth.13 God has life in himself,14 but man is dependent on God to sustain him.15 God is all-powerful,16 but man is weak.17 God is all-knowing,18 but man is limited in knowledge.19 God is everywhere present,20 but humans are confined to a single space at a time.21
Thus, far from being reproductions of God, human beings are more correctly portrayed as reflections of God. That humans are created in God’s image simply means that they share, in a finite and imperfect way, the communicable attributes of God. Among such attributes are personality, spirituality, rationality (including knowledge and wisdom), and morality (including goodness, holiness, righteousness, love, justice, and mercy).22
These attributes in turn give us the capacity to enjoy fellowship with God and to develop personal relationships with one another. Theologian Millard Erickson summed it up nicely when he wrote that the image of God in humanity comprises “those qualities of God which, reflected in man, make worship, personal interaction, and work possible.”23
The glorious reality is this. Despite the fall, you and I continue to be image bearers of God. This reflection of the divine image in us has been blemished, yet not obliterated. James, a relative of Jesus, affirmed this truth when he wrote that men are “made in God’s likeness” (Jas. 3:9). Through sanctification in Christ, God is renewing an image that is blemished and broken. We have taken off the “old self” with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its creator.24
Indeed, it is liberating for believers to revel in the reality that in the consummation of all things God will completely restore the imago Dei in fallen humanity. Had the incarnate Christ not come in the image and likeness of man, there would be no hope for humanity to be refashioned in the imago Dei.25 —Hank Hanegraaff
Hank Hanegraaff is president of the Christian Research Institute and host of the Bible Answer Man daily broadcast and the Hank Unplugged podcast. Hank has authored more than twenty books, including The Complete Bible Answer Book — Collector’s Edition, revised and updated (Thomas Nelson, 2016) and M-U-S-L-I-M: What You Need to Know about the World’s Fastest-Growing Religion (Thomas Nelson, 2017).
- See Augustine, The Trinity 2 and books 8–15; Confessions, books 10–11. See also R. C. Sproul, The Consequences of Ideas (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2000), 58–59.
- P. Moreland, “A Philosophical Examination of Hugh Ross’s Natural Theology,” Philosophia Christi, 21, 1 (1998): 33, www.reasons.org/articles/philosophiachristi#heading4.
- See Vishal Mangalwadi, The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011), 220–45.
- Q stands for Qur’an in parenthetical references. All Qur’an quotations are from Abdullah Yusuf Ali, The Meaning of the Holy Qur’an, tenth ed. (Beltsville, MD: Amana, 1999, 2001).
- Unless otherwise noted, Bible quotations are from the NIV.
- James R. White, What Every Christian Needs to Know about the Qur’an (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 2013), 66.
- The Qur’an teaches that though Jesus was a virgin-born (3:45–47 and v. 59; 19:16–22; 21:91; 66:12), sinless (19:19, 31; cf. 3:35–36), worker of miracles (3:49; 19:29–31; 5:110–15), and a wayshower for Muhammad (61:6), in the end he was only a man (2:116; 3:59, 64; 4:171–72; 5:17, 72–75, 116–17; etc.).
- The Lord God declared the creation, including Adam and Eve, to be “very good” (Gen. 1:31). The Bible repeatedly affirms the sinlessness of Christ (see, e.g., John 8:46; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 1 Pet. 2:22; 1 John 3:5).
- For a defense of the true deity of Christ, see Hank Hanegraaff, MUSLIM: What You Need to Know about the World’s Fastest-Growing Religion (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2017), 131–35.
- Athanasius, “The Incarnation of the Word of God,” 54.3, www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf204.vii.ii.liv.html.
- Psalms 90:2; 93:2; 102:12; Ephesians 3:21; Hebrews 9:14.
- Genesis 1:26–31.
- Job 7; James 1:10–11.
- John 5:26; see also Isaiah 43:10; 41:4; 44:6; 48:12; Revelation 1:8, 17; 2:8; 3:14; 21:6; 22:13; and Exodus 3:14 with John 8:58.
- Acts 17:28.
- Job 42:2; see also Jeremiah 32:17; Luke 1:37; 18:27.
- 1 Corinthians 1:25.
- Job 37:16; Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13–14; 41:22–23; 42:9; 44:7; 48:5; Jeremiah 17:10.
- Isaiah 55:8–9.
- Jeremiah 23:23–24; see also Psalm 139:7–12; Ephesians 1:23; 4:10; Colossians 3:11.
- Psalm 139:1–12.
- For a sampling of passages highlighting communicable attributes of God, see Leviticus 19:2; Matthew 5:48; John 4:24; 13:34; Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10; Hebrews 12:7–11.
- Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1985), 514.
- Colossians 3:9–10.
- Article adapted from Hanegraaff, MUSLIM, 162–66; Hank Hanegraaff, Has God Spoken? Memorable Proofs of the Bible’s Divine Inspiration (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011), 281–82; and Hank Hanegraaff, The Complete Bible Answer Book, Collector’s Edition, rev. and updated (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008, 2016), 269–71.