Archive for the ‘Incarnation’ Category

Incarnation without the Fall in St. Irenaeus

July 27, 2011

In the Third Book of his tome Against Heresies, St. Irenaeus writes,

…Luke points out that the pedigree which traces the generation of our Lord back to Adam contains seventy-two generations, connecting the end with the beginning, and implying that it is He who has summed up in Himself all nations dispersed from Adam downwards, and all languages and generations of men, together with Adam himself. Hence also was Adam himself termed by Paul “the figure of Him that was to come,” because the Word, the Maker of all things, had formed beforehand for Himself the future dispensation of the human race, connected with the Son of God; God having predestined that the first man should be of an animal nature, with this view, that he might be saved by the spiritual One. For inasmuch as He had a pre-existence as a saving Being, it was necessary that what might be saved should also be called into existence, in order that the Being who saves should not exist in vain.


This is a rich and mysterious passage. Below, I will speculate that this selection teaches a variety of interesting doctrines, including the eternal generation of the Son (which some scholars think the Saint did not teach) and that the Incarnation would happen without the fall.[1] I recommend Perry’s post Cur Deus Homo as pre-reading. For a short summary of my analysis below, skip to the Conclusion and Why This Matters.  (more…)

Could God save us from Annihilation without the Incarnation?

April 21, 2009

The following is a summary of a paper I wrote defending Athanasius’ view of the necessity of the incarnation. I argued that given certain definitions of God, humanity, and annihilation, it is not possible for God to save humanity from the post-mortem annihilation of the soul unless Christ becomes incarnate.

In his On the Incarnation, Saint Athanasius explains that part of the fallen human condition is the possibility that every human being will be annihilated. (more…)

Natural Consequences (5): Athanasius on the Law of Death

January 21, 2009

This post is an argument that Athanasius’ understanding of “the law of death” in his On the Incarnation is not that of God retributively punishing sinners for Adam’s transgression, and that Athanasius’ statements about how God could not “go back upon His word and that man, having transgressed, should not die” do not imply that God promised to impose capital punishment on humans.  I will also attempt to answer the question “who does Athansius think Christ pays the debt to on the cross?” (more…)

Conditional Election in the Incarnation

March 2, 2008

Defenders of unconditional election will generally deny that there are any examples of God choosing a person based on qualities internal to them in Scripture. Many of them will also assert that if God depends on human decisions (if He “waits on man to respond” as it is sometimes said) to accomplish salvation, then this robs God of his glory and sovereignty, because its really man’s choice that counts, not God’s.

Luke 1:28-30
“Hail Mary, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God…”

If defenders of unconditional election are correct about these two ideas, then why does it seem that in Christ’s incarnate economy, the very foundation of our salvation, God elects Mary based on a faith that she chooses to have? Notice the lack of “God elected you to accept grace” language; rather, its “God elected you because you accepted grace”. And if God conditionally elected in something as great as the Incarnation, why not think God conditionally elects in personal election of believers unto salvation?

Veneration of Mary in Scripture

March 1, 2008

The Virgin Mary is honored highly in Scripture:

Luke 1:28-30
Hail Mary, full of grace! The Lord is with you… for you have found favor with God.

Luke 1:41-3
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken her by the Lord.

Luke 1:48
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed…

Exodus 20:12
Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.

John 2:1-7
And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there. And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come. His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it. And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it.

1 Corinthians 11:1
Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.

In Luke, the angel Gabriel–a being of power and wisdom far exceeding that of ourselves–praises Mary and singles her out among all women as uniquely full of God’s presence and life. She found favor with God in a way that no other human being had ever found favor before her–through a paradigmatic, unwavering faith in Christ. He gives her the title “full of grace”–a name used elsewhere only of Jesus Christ (John 1:14). God’s act of recognizing Mary by incarnating himself in her is an honor that not even the highest order of angels could even claim.

Then Elizabeth is inspired by the Holy Spirit and praises Mary and exclaims that she is uniquely blessed among women. Note that this precedes her blessing of the Incarnate One who she bears in her womb. It is the sound of Mary’s greeting that brings John the Baptist to leap joyously. And Mary’s faith is commended a second time by an agent of God as uniquely valuable.

To top it all off, Mary is to be blessed by every generation. To say this about oneself in the context of divinely-inspired prophecy about the people of God implies that there is a kind of obligation we have to acknowledge the blessedness of the Virgin Mary.

Think also of how Christ himself honors Mary, granting her requests at the wedding, even going out of his way to command servants multiple times. Christ is simply obeying the ten commandments like we would expect the representative Jew to do in the process of fulfilling the law–he is honoring his mother. As imitators of Christ, we must imitate the honor that he gives to both his heavenly Father and his blessed Mother. She is truly “more honorable than the cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the seraphim”–the greatest servant of her Son, who showed the greatest faith and cooperation with grace of any mere human who ever lived.

Mary as Intercessor in Scripture

February 28, 2008

There are two places where Mary acts as intercessor in Scripture:

John 2:1-6
And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there. And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come. His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it. And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece…

Acts 1:12-14
Then returned they unto Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is from Jerusalem a sabbath day’s journey. And when they were come in, they went up into an upper room, where abode both Peter, and James, and John, and Andrew, Philip, and Thomas, Bartholomew, and Matthew, James [the son] of Alphaeus, and Simon Zelotes, and Judas [the brother] of James. These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.

In the Gospel of John, there are numerous events that are anticipatory of the new creation. This is clearly one such case: note the changing of water into wine, the fact that this is a marriage feast (Christ and the Church), and the manifestation of Jesus’ glory. Mary’s intercession comes in close association with the world to come.

In Acts, the scene is in an upper room, paralleling the Eucharist in Luke. This scene is a manifestation of the unity, authority, and glory of the Church, right after Jesus’ departure at a time of crucial decision and determination. Mary participates in the prayer that begins the first and greatest evangelistic outreach.

We already know that those in heaven are interceding for us (Rev. 5:8, 8:3-4). We already know that they are aware of what is happening on earth (Rev.6:9-11). The Saints have powers that are far beyond our present earthly abilities (Mat 17:1-3). It is okay to pray to (=ask of) angels that they would praise God with us (Psalms 103:20-21). If Mary’s intercession is so intimately connected with the new creation and the inbreaking of the kingdom of God (both of which we participate in) why not pray to her?

Was the Author of the Gospel of Mark an Adoptionist?

January 18, 2008

A reader who calls himself “Hokku” on David’s Blog suggested that the Gospel of Mark teaches an adoptionist Christology and that this can be argued for exegetically. Adoptionism is the view that Jesus’ divinity is to be understood in terms of a man being adopted, due to his virtue and moral excellence, into the divine life. Jesus did not pre-exist his birth as God or anything else; rather he was born as a man (some adoptionists deny the virginal conception) and raised to deity.

As someone who believes in Incarnational Christology, I disagree with this view, and I was interested in whether or not there are textual reasons for denying it, considering Hokku’s claims that it can be argued from the Gospel of Mark. Here are the comments that argued for adoptionism and my proposed responses. For those interested in reading this, I would appreciate evaluation/criticism.

Hokku wrote:

“And what we do see in Mark is Jesus being declared son of God at his baptism when the heavens open and the Spirit descends into him (note that it is as though Jesus becomes possessed by the Spirit — we see later in Mark that the Spirit “casts him out” into the wilderness, a violent term that Matthew and Luke change to “led”). The voice from heaven declares “You are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased,” which is a reflection of Psalm 2:7: “You are my son, today I have begotten you.” On his elevation, the ancient king of Israel was believed to become the son of God, and in Mark, Jesus becomes the son of God at his baptism, thus no need for or interest in birth stories and virgin births, both things Matthew and Luke added to the Markan text, which again is why their two stories are so divergent and discrepant — they had no Markan model to follow, as they do with the rest of Mark up to the point where the women run from the tomb in fear and say nothing to anyone.”

“If there is no virgin birth in Mark (and there is not), no birth narrative in which Mary is impregnated by the Holy Spirit (and there is not), no pre-existent Logos who becomes flesh (as in John), and Mark’s “heavenly” declaration that Jesus is/has become God’s son takes place and is emphasized at his baptism — and Mark states the “beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ” to be at the appearance of John and his baptism, then that alone provides substantial evidence. But further, we have the evidence of early Jewish Ebionite Christianity, as already mentioned, which held to a form of adoptionism, so we have extra-biblical evidence for this understanding as well.”

I wrote:


Here are a couple of possible problems that came to mind when I was thinking about the possibility of a Markan adoptionist Christology. I didn’t assume biblical inspiration or inerrancy or anything in making the arguments; I just tried to assume that the Markan narrative is somewhat internally consistent and had an audience of some kind. None of these is an argument that Mark’s beliefs were correct, just that its hard to see how we could claim that he had adoptionistic beliefs. None of the arguments is adequate by itself, but I think that taken jointly they make the adoptionist interpretation unlikely. Then again, Im not a biblical scholar, so I’d like your feedback. Tell me what you think:

1. When John speaks about the coming of Jesus in the prologue, he speaks of him as “The one who is more powerful than I” and says that he is not worthy to stoop and tie his sandals. This is hard to mesh with the idea that Jesus was not considered to be divine by the author of the Gospel of Mark prior to his baptism . How does an adoptionist exegesis explain Mark’s putting these words in John’s mouth in a way that isn’t ad hoc?

2. The language of John becomes even more problematic if we try to read it adoptionistically because if adoptionism is right, then Jesus had to prove his worthiness of divinity through effort and therefore to have had some kind of special life prior to his exaltation. This follows from the definition of adoptionism; after all, its not just any mortal who is worthy of becoming divine. This implies some kind of backstory that the readers of Mark would be familiar with. The existence of this backstory also seems to be implied by the total lack of clarification as to who Jesus is or where he comes from at the start of Mark’s narrative–something that other Jewish writers afford their readers when they are introducing an important character in their so-called salvation history. But if this assumption is granted–that according to the Christian story, Jesus had an incredible, powerful, or unusual life prior to baptism that made him worthy of somehow partaking of divinity–then invoking a virginal conception and Incarnation as being part of Mark’s background information becomes a lot more credible. It becomes one of many acceptable ways to explain Jesus’ worthiness to be given divinity (another way would be that he had some kind of incredible human virtue, a story that may have narrative difficulties of its own). But of course if he had divinity before the baptism via a virginal conception and Incarnation from pre-existence, then the argument for adoptionism collapses.

3. The actual events of the baptism and what immediately follows are peculiar if read through the lens of adoptionism. One big problem is where the author sees Jesus becoming exalted to divinity. Is it the Holy Spirit’s descent? This would be a strange place to identify the exaltation because the Holy Spirit seems to remain distinct from Jesus (the Spirit drives him into the wilderness in 12, implying a kind of distinction). If we were looking for evidence of exaltation, we would want to locate something that has specifically changed about Jesus’ position on the hierarchy of beings; but identifying the Spirit’s descent as embodying this is odd because of the subsequent distinction between the Spirit and Jesus. Also, there was a precedent in Jewish teaching for the descent of the Spirit being a royal anointing–giving a king rule over Israel–when accompanied by a washing in the river by a prophet; but its a huge stretch to see this as an enactment of divinization. Especially when we take into account John’s acknowledgment of the prior power and authority of Jesus, this is very awkward. Is the voice of the Father the point that we look to to see divinization happening? This is strange because the voice merely acknowledges, it doesn’t actually *do* anything from what we can tell. All the transformation that the author wants to get across seems to have already happened once the Holy Spirit comes down and rests over him. So where’s the exaltation to divinity from a previously non-divine state?

4. If we try to argue that the words “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well-pleased” are an acknowledgment of present exaltation to divinity, then this sits very awkwardly with Mark’s account of the transfiguration later on, where similar language is used. With the transfiguration we have to grant that the voice from the cloud is recognizing a status that has been in Jesus’ possession at least since the time of his baptism. It is thus an acknowledgment of a state that Jesus has had for awhile–not recognition of something that has just been obtained, much less an actual act of conferring authority or power verbally. But if we are willing to grant this with respect to the transfiguration account, then why not assume that Mark’s meaning is the same in both cases? This is simpler. Is the only reason that we should prefer your exegesis of Mark 1:11 that the phrase “you are my Son…” here occurs for the first time? At this point the argument has become a stretch.

5. Your arguments from the lack of an Incarnational narrative or a virginal conception narrative seem to assume that these ideas weren’t in the b
ackground of the minds of the readership, and that Mark’s choice not to include them implies that he didn’t believe in them–two assumptions that I don’t see any good reason to grant. The argument from the baptismal proclamation is awkward for reasons I’ve explained above. And your argument from how Mark positions “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” seems unpersuasive because (a) Mark could just mean that this is the beginning of his telling of the Gospel (which seems in no way problematic as a read) and (b) as I argued above, Mark seems to assume his audience has some prior knowledge of the story of Jesus, which would include supplemental material about how Jesus confers salvation, etc.–more Gospel.

6. Finally, there may be arguments available that Mark believes in Jesus’ divinity in a sense that is stronger than that of adoptionism–a pre-existent sense, or a fully-divine sense. If you would like, I can attempt to locate these for you.