Word made Flesh, literally

  • Question from MF, USA

    Why do we speak of three persons or incarnations of God, when the OT cites numerous different and separate incarnations of God between Creation and Christ? I.e., as the voice speaking to Abraham, the burning bush, as angels, and so on. Each time this happened, God needed in some way to be “incarnated” to be seen and heard in the physical realm. Why do we distinguish between these incarnations and the life of Jesus?

    This is a very technical question and it helps to understand that theological terms tend to be very precise in their usage. The Christian concept of the Trinity is ‘God in three persons’, not three incarnations. The Incarnation of the second person of the Trinity (the eternally begotten Son) as Jesus the carpenter from Nazareth, meant that God became a human being, i.e. took on a body. The phrase from the prologue of John’s gospel ‘the Word became flesh’ sums up the idea of ‘incarnation’. ‘Incarnation’ means ‘in flesh’, from the Latin word ‘caro’ (‘flesh’).

    In theological terms, the other ways in which people ‘meet God’, e.g. through a disembodied voice or a voice heard through a burning bush, or in a dream are known as ‘theophanies’, from the Greek words ‘theos’ (God) and ‘phainein’ (to show or reveal). In those instances in the Old Testament where humans interacted with God in His own nature (e.g. Adam in Eden, Moses on Sinai, the high priest in the Holy of Holies in the Temple), there is no mention of God having a physical body.

    Thanks for your question, MF.

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