Trinity: What are some common errors about Jesus’ incarnation as a man?
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies… – 2 Peter 2:1
Before we examine how the incarnation occurred, we will note some important truths about this doctrine, for the sake of precision.
First, the incarnation is not an idea borrowed from pagan mythology. In mythology there are stories such as Zeus begetting Hercules, and Apollo begetting Ion and Pythagoras. As a result, some have speculated that Christians stole the virgin birth story from such myths. This speculation must be rejected on three grounds. (1) Some such myths came after the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 and therefore could not have been the origination of the story. (2) The myths speak of gods having sex with women, which is not what the virgin birth account entails. (3)
The myths do not involve actual human beings like Mary and Jesus but rather fictional characters similar to our modern-day superheroes in the comics.
A contemporary account of the “virgin birth” of Augustus was told in the days when Jesus was born says: “When Atia had come in the middle of the night to the solemn service of Apollo, she had her litter set down in the temple and fell asleep, while the rest of the matrons also slept. On a sudden a serpent glided up to her and shortly went away. When she awoke, she purified herself, as if after the embraces of her husband, and at once there appeared on her body a mark in colors like a serpent, and she could never get rid of it; so that presently she ceased ever to go to the public baths. In the tenth month after that Augustus was born and was therefore regarded as the son of Apollo.1
Even the briefest glance shows how different this account is from God’s miraculous working in the womb of Mary to beget the God-man, Jesus who is Emanuel the Messiah.
Second, the Mormon teaching that God the Father had physical, flesh-and-bone sexual relations with Mary, thereby enabling her to conceive Jesus, is horrendously incorrect.
Third, the incarnation does not teach that a man became God. From the time the Serpent told our parents, “You will be like God,”2 there has been an ongoing demonic false teaching that we can be gods (e.g., Mormonism) or part of God (e.g., pantheism, panentheism, and New Ageism). Simply, the incarnation teaches the exact opposite, namely that God became a man.
Fourth, the second member of the Trinity did not come into existence at the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Rather, the eternal Son of God became the God-man Jesus Christ. Theologian Martyn Lloyd-Jones says it this way: The doctrine of the incarnation at once tells us that that is not what happened. A person, I repeat, did not come into being there. This person was the eternal Person, the second Person in the Trinity. When a husband and a wife come together and a child is born a new person, a new personality, comes into being. That did not happen in the incarnation.3
Fifth, while it is true in one sense that God did become a man, we must be careful to note that the second divine person in the Trinity became a man and that the entire Trinity did not incarnate as a human being. Lloyd-Jones explains:
But to me it seems always to be wise not to say that God became man. That is a loose statement which we had better not use. We often do say that, but believing as we do in the Persons of the Trinity, what we should say is that the second Person in the Trinity was made flesh and appeared as man. If we merely say, ‘God became man’, then we may be saying something that is quite wrong, and if people believe something wrong as the result of our statement, we cannot really blame them. We must be particular and we must be specific and we should always be careful what we say. . . .Jesus Christ has not been changed into a man; it is this eternal Person who has come in the flesh. That is the right way to put it.4
Therefore, by incarnation we mean that the eternal second person of the Trinity entered into history as the man Jesus Christ.
If you were God, would you have left the glory and pleasure of heaven to come down to this earth and suffer like Jesus did?