William Lane Craig
Does it make sense to say that Christmas marks the birth of God? This question evokes the primary theological debates of the fourth and fifth centuries – how Jesus Christ can be considered both human and divine. Below, Dr. Craig offers his understanding of how Jesus’ divine and human natures join together in a single person, how His human frailties and experiences were deep and meaningful, and how one can cogently hold to celebrating “the birth of God” at Christmastime.
Tonight I’ve been asked to speak on “The Birth of God.” The title is jarring because it seems unintelligible. How can God, the uncreated Creator of all things, have a birth? How can a being which is self-existent and eternal, the Creator of time and space, be born? It doesn’t seem to make any sense.
And yet at Christmas this is, in a way, precisely what Christians celebrate. The Christian doctrine of the incarnation states that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh. Jesus was thus truly God as well as truly man. He was born of the virgin Mary; that is to say, Jesus had a
conception but a perfectly
birth. Since Jesus was God in the flesh, his mother Mary is therefore called in the early Christian creeds “the Mother of God,” or the “God-bearer.” This isn’t because God somehow came into existence as a result of Mary’s conceiving or that Mary somehow procreated God. Rather Mary could be called the God-bearer because the person she bore in her womb and gave birth to was divine. Thus, Jesus’ birth in this sense was the birth of God.
But that only pushes the problem back a notch. For how
Jesus be both God and man, as Christians believe? If anything appears to be a contradiction, surely this is it! For the properties of being divine and the properties of being human seem to be mutually exclusive, to shut each other out. God is self-existent, necessary, eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present, and so on. But human beings are created, dependent, time-bound, and limited in power, knowledge, and space. So how can one person be both human and divine?
Birth of God – The Bible describes Jesus as both human and divine
Now in case the Christian hard-pressed by this question is tempted to avoid the problem simply by denying that Jesus was really divine or denying that he was really human, let me say that the Bible doesn’t leave that option open to us. The New Testament affirms both the deity and the humanity of Jesus Christ and so
the problem upon us. Take, for example, the opening chapter of John’s gospel. The gospels of Matthew and Luke open with the story of Jesus’ supernatural conception and virgin birth; but John’s gospel takes a more cosmic perspective, in which he describes the incarnation of the pre-existent Word of God. He writes,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.
Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.
There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. . . .
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John testifies concerning him. He cries out, saying, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’” From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.
Here John describes Jesus as “God,” the Creator of all things, who became flesh and entered human history about 2,000 years ago in the land of Judea. Thus, the implication is inescapable, as well as the problem it poses: Jesus was both human and divine.
As succeeding generations in the early church struggled to understand the doctrine of the incarnation, some people resolved this apparent contradiction only at the expense of denying one or the other pole of the biblical teaching. Groups such as the Gnostics or the Docetists, for example, denied that Christ was truly human. He merely
to take on human form; the flesh of Christ was merely an illusion or a disguise, and his supposed sufferings merely apparent. On the other hand, groups like the Adoptionists or the Eutychians denied instead the true divinity of Christ. Jesus of Nazareth was just a mortal man whom God adopted as His Son and assumed into heaven. In opposition to these groups on the left and on the right, the early church repeatedly condemned as heretical any denial of either Christ’s humanity
his deity. However contradictory or mysterious it might seem, theologians staunchly stood by the biblical affirmation that Jesus Christ was truly God and truly man.
Birth of God – The debate over the nature of Christ