The Incarnation: An Interdisciplinary Symposium on the Incarnation of the Son of God

By Stephen T. Davis; Daniel Kendall et al. | Go to book overview
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12 A Timeless God Incarnate

Brian Leftow

Christians hold that God became incarnate—somehow became the man Jesus of Nazareth. Many Christians have also held that God is timeless, that is, that though he is eternal, his life does not last through any stretch of time, long or short. The doctrine of divine timelessness has found many critics of late, and one line of attack has been that it is not compatible with the claim that God became incarnate. If this is true, of course, Christians must jettison it. For the incarnation lies at the core of Christian belief. Divine timelessness does not.

This chapter argues that divine timelessness and the incarnation are compatible. I begin by sketching what it means to say that God is timeless. I then present two plausible arguments that this claim is not compatible with the doctrine of the incarnation. With this done, I sketch enough of the orthodox doctrine of the incarnation to let me address the arguments. Finally, I use this material to show that the arguments fail. If they do, it is prima facie plausible that God can be both timeless and incarnate, for the arguments present perhaps the strongest reasons to doubt this.


I A Non-Temporal God

The orthodox view of the incarnation was hammered out in the theological debates culminating in the Council of Chalcedon (ad 451). In this period 'classical theism' ruled the theological roost. The church Fathers who worked out incarnational orthodoxy were those very Greeks (and Latins) whose fondness for such doctrines as God's simplicity and atemporality so many now chide. Thus it is a simple historical fact that those who defined orthodox Christian belief about the incarnation universally held that God is non-temporal.

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