We run our website the way we wished the whole internet worked: we provide high quality original content with no ads. We are funded by your direct support for ReKnew and our vision. Please consider supporting this project.

The Incarnation: Paradox or Contradiction?

Et Verbum caro factum est

We’re in the process of flushing out the theology of the ReKnew Manifesto, and we’ve come to the point where we should address the Incarnation. This is the classical Christian doctrine that Jesus was fully God and fully human. Today I’ll simply argue for the logical coherence of this doctrine, viz. it does not involve a contradiction.

There is no denying that the Incarnation is paradoxical. It is hard, if not impossible, to conceive how a person could be, at one and the same time fully God and fully human. I don’t think this should surprise us too much, however. After all, we confront similar paradoxes in science as well as in our everyday life. For example, as I’m sure most of you have heard that physicists tell us that light has the property of waves in some circumstances and of particles in other circumstances, yet we have no way of understanding how this is possible. Even the nature of time and space is paradoxical if you think about it. We can’t conceive of time having a beginning, but neither can we conceive of it without a beginning. So too, we can’t conceive of space having an end, but we also can’t conceive of it not having an end. If things as basic to our experience as the nature of light, time and space are paradoxical, I don’t think we should find it too surprising that things surrounding God are mysterious.

At the same time, it’s important to distinguish between a paradox and a contradiction. When we can’t understand how two things can be conjoined, it is a paradox. A contradiction, however, is when two things that logically contradict each other are nevertheless conjoined. We are simultaneous asserting “A” and “not A.”  A “married bachelor” is a contradiction, for to be “married” means one is no longer a “bachelor.” By contrast, there is nothing in the meaning of having “wave properties” that logically rules out also having “particle properties.” We just can’t conceive of how these properties can be conjoined in one and the same reality (light), which is why light-wave duality is called a “paradox.”

So, is the teaching that Jesus is fully human and fully God a contradiction or a paradox?  If the very meaning of “God” entailed “not also human,” or if the very meaning of “human” entailed “not also God,” then we would indeed have a contradiction on our hands. But who can claim to know so much about God and humans that they can be confident they are logically contradictory? I would rather argue that we only know God on the basis of what he in fact has done. And since I have compelling reasons for believing that he in fact became a human, this is proof enough to me that any claim that “God” and “human” are mutually exclusive is a contradiction.

Having said this, I should add that I believe the way many theologians have worked out the doctrine of the Incarnation has involved contradictions. For example, many claim that if Jesus is fully God and fully human, he must be simultaneously omniscient and non-omniscient.  But how is this different than asserting “married Bachelor”?  I would rather argue that the Son of God set aside the exercise of his omniscience in order to become a human, for, I would argue, being non-omniscient is part of what it means to be human. I would argue the same for any other divine attributes that contradict the meaning of “human.” This is called “a kenotic” (or self-emptying) Christology, and I’ll say more about it in a subsequent blog.

I’ll end by noting that the distinction between paradoxes and contradictions is always important to keep in mind when theologizing.  While the line between paradoxes and contradictions can sometimes be blurry, I am personally convinced that a good many of the paradoxes that surround classical theology are in fact contradictions. For example, Reformed theologians argue that their belief that God predestines the free actions of humans and angels is a paradox. But I would argue that the very meaning of “free” means “not predestined” and the meaning of “predestined” means “not free.” I thus consider this teaching to involve a contradiction, which means it is meaningless.

In any event, whenever theologians appeal to a paradox or mystery, I encourage people to be a little suspicious. They may be correct, as when they claim this for the Incarnation.  But they may also be trying to conjoin things that are in fact logically contradictory.

Image by Lawrence OP via Compfight

Category:
Tags: , , , ,
Topics:

Related Reading

Neo-Molinism and the Infinite Intelligence of God

Classical Molinism holds that, since God is omniscient and knows all truths, he knows not only what every agent will do in the future, but also what every agent would have done in every other “possible world.” In this essay I argue that classical Molinism overlooked a whole category of truths that an omniscient God…

Reflecting on Henry and the Heart of God

Several years ago Jessica and Ian had their theology revolutionized by coming in contact with the vision of God and the warfare worldview that ReKnew ministries stands for. Tragically, this last September this wonderful couple learned that their precious 4-year-old son Henry had a massive brain tumor and that he had only months to live.…

Crucifying Transcendence

The classical view of God’s transcendence in theology is in large borrowed from a major strand within Hellenistic philosophy. In sharp contrast to ancient Israelites, whose conception of God was entirely based on their experience of God acting dynamically and in self-revelatory ways in history, the concept of God at work in ancient Greek philosophy…

What Does It Mean to Be Married to Christ?

The New Testament calls Christ the “bridegroom” and the church his “bride.” To understand what this means can change your life. We need to read this through the lens of first century Jewish marriage. In what follows we’ll highlight six aspects of first century Jewish marriages to see how each sheds light on the New…

Five Brief Philosophical Arguments for the Open View

Introduction I believe that sound philosophical arguments support the open view in which God doesn’t foreknow the future free decisions of humans. My main reasons for holding this view are biblical and theological, but since truth is one we should expect that the truths of Scripture and the truths of reason will arrive at the…

Reflections on the Supremacy of Christ (Part 2)

Whereas most Christians place the revelation of God in Christ alongside of other portraits of God and end up with an amalgamated image of God, we at ReKnew encourage believers to base their understanding of God completely on Christ, and especially on Christ crucified. And we encourage disciples to work to reinterpret through the lens…