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God Incarnate


What does the statement that Jesus is the Son of God mean? Jews and Muslims maintain that this claim makes Christianity polytheistic. Unitarians and Jehovah’s Witnesses, on the other hand, believe that the biblical designation Son of God indicates that Jesus was a unique being, in a special class by himself, but still a created being not possessing divinity in the same sense as the Father. This is not a new idea, but goes back to the Arian heresy of the first century AD. Even before that, the phrase Son of God was not commonly understood in the biblical sense. John’s Gospel was written to present Jesus as the Son of God to peoples who would have been confused by the title, Jews who used it as a title for the coming human Messiah, and Greeks whose mythology included many sons of gods. John’s Gospel was concerned with destroying those misconceptions and introducing the Son of God as no less than God Incarnate. Packer writes,

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[John] does not bring the term Son into his opening sentences at all, instead, he speaks first of the Word. There was no danger of this being misunderstood; Old Testament readers would pick up the reference at once. God’s Word in the Old Testament is his creative utterance, his power in action fulfilling his purpose. The Old Testament depicted God’s utterance, the actual statement of his purpose, as having power in itself to the effect the thing proposed. Genesis 1 tells us how at creation “God said, Let here be . . . and there was . . .” (1:3). “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made. . . . He spoke, and it came to be” (Ps 33:6, 9). The Word of God is thus God at work.

John takes up this figure and proceeds to tell us seven things about the divine Word.

(1) “In the beginning was the Word” (1:1). Here is the Word’s eternity. He had no beginning of his own; when other things began, he—was.

(2) “And the Word was with God” (1:1). Here is the Word’s personality. The power that fulfills God’s purposes is the power of a distinct personal being, one who stands in an eternal relation to God of active fellowship . . .

(3) “And the Word was God” (1:1). Here is the Word’s deity. Though personally distinct from the Father, he is not a creature; he is divine in himself, as the Father is. The mystery with which this verse confronts us is thus the mystery of personal distinctions within the unity of the Godhead.

(4) “Through him all things were made” (1:3). Here is the Word creating. He was the Father’s agent in every act of making that the Father has ever performed. All that was made was made through him. . . .

(5) “In him was life” (1:4). Here is the Word animating. There is no physical life in the realm of created things except in and through him. Here is the Bible answer to the problem of the origin and suntenance of life, in all its forms: life is given and maintained by the Word. Created things do not have life in themselves, but life in the Word, the second person of the Godhead.

(6) “and that life was the light of men” (1:4). Here is the Word revealing. In giving life, he gives light too; that is to say, all people receive intimations of God from the very fact of being alive in God’s world, and this, no less than the fact that they are alive, is due to the work of the Word.

(7) “The Word became flesh” (1:14). Here is the Word incarnate. The baby in the manger at Bethlehem was none other than the eternal Word of God.

And now, having shown us who and what the Word is—a divine Person, author of all things—John indicates an identification. The Word, he tells us, was revealed by the Incarnation to be God’s Son. “We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father” (1:14). The identification is confirmed in verse 18: “The only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father” (KJV). Thus John establishes the point at which he was aiming throughout. He has now made it clear what is meant by calling Jesus the Son of God. The Son of God is the Word of God. We see what the Word is; well, that is what the Son is. Such in the prologue’s message.

When, therefore, the Bible proclaims Jesus as the Son of God, the statement is meant as an assertion of his distinct personal deity. The Christmas message rests on the staggering fact the child in the manger was—God.

—J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 56–57.



Posted 2008·10·29 by David Kjos
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Posted in: Christmas · Christology · J I Packer · Knowing God · The Trinity

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