The Challenge of God’s Incorporeality and the Incarnation

Recently, I wrote a post called The Problem of God’s Visibility and Invisibility. I wanted to note the following quote by Marvin Wilson. He says:

“The claim that Jesus is God incarnate is foundational to traditional Christianity but is one of the most difficult concepts for Jews to understand. Going back to early Israelite history, Jews have had a fundamental theological resistance to the idea of God becoming a man. The command to make no image or physical likeness of God has generally led Jews to prefer keeping the worship of God as an abstraction. Jews usually avoid concrete representations or physical symbols of God. It is held that to believe in such would be a departure from the idea of pure monotheism and would compromise the teaching of God’s incorporeality. Christians, however, point to theophanies in the Old Testament. These temporary physical manifestations of God, they claim, indicate that God did occasionally choose to manifest himself in human form to his people. At the end of the day, however, both Jews and Christians subscribe to monotheism. Though paradoxical and mysterious to many, most Christians in the creedal tradition would be comfortable describing themselves as Trinitarian monotheists.”-Wilson, Marvin R,  Exploring Our Hebraic Heritage,  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Now, note here that Wilson says “Christians, however, point to theophanies in the Old Testament. These temporary physical manifestations of God, they claim, indicate that God did occasionally choose to manifest himself in human form to his people.”

The good news is we  resources that deal with the theophanies topic.

The Publishers description says here:

The language of ‘christophanies’ is used technically by scholars to refer to appearances of the incarnate Son of God after his resurrection, as narrated in the New Testament Gospels and Acts. At a more popular level, though, the term is increasingly applied to alleged appearances of the pre-incarnate Son in the Old Testament.

That Jesus appeared to – and was even recognized by – the likes of Abraham and Moses is usually argued from several scriptural trajectories. The New Testament suggests that God the Father is invisible, inviting us to ask who conducted the Old Testament appearances; the mysterious Angel of the Lord has often been interpreted as a manifestation of the divine Son; and several New Testament passages imply Old Testament appearances of and encounters with Jesus. It seems obvious, indeed orthodox, to affirm that Jesus has always been at work in communicating with and saving his world.

However, Andrew Malone argues that, while Christ-centred readings of the Old Testament abound, christophanies prove to be a flimsy foundation on which to build. Despite apparent success, any scholarship commending the idea does not withstand close scrutiny. Malone carefully sifts the evidence to show that the popular arguments should be abandoned, and that the pursuit of Old Testament christophanies ultimately threatens to undermine the very values it promotes. He concludes that it better honours the Trinity and the text of Scripture to allow that the Father and the Spirit, as well as the Son, were themselves involved in Old Testament appearances.

Another resource is:

Intrater notes the following:

“Is it true nobody can see God?”

John 1:18:  No one has seen God at any time

John 5:37: You have not…seen His form

Colossians 1:15: He is the image of the invisible God

1 Timothy 1:17: To the King eternal, immortal, invisible

1 Timothy 6:16: Whom no man has seen or can see

1 John 4:12: No one has seen God at any time

1 John 4:2: How can he love God whom he has not seen?

But,the patriarchs and prophets did see “someone” from time to time.

If this is the case, remember, Abraham saw this “someone” on several occasions:

Genesis 12:7— Then Lord appeared to Abram…

Genesis 17:1— And the Lord appeared to Abram…

Genesis 18:1— Then  the Lord appeared to him at the oaks of Mamre…

Gen. 26: 2: The Lord appeared to Isaac and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; 3 settle down in the land that I will point out to you.

Gen 26: 24: The Lord appeared to him (Isaac) that night and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you.”

In these appearances, the verb root and form in Hebrew are the same as in the appearances of God unto Abraham.

The word “appeared”  in Hebrew is the passive form of the verb to see. It clearly means that Abraham saw something, and could also be translated as “was seen by Abraham.”

To see Malone’s article called The invisibility of God: A survey of a misunderstood phenomenon, read here.

Also, note our articles called “But Jesus never said, ‘I am God.’ ” and The Jewish Background of the Incarnation in The Gospel of John