Incarnation literally means “enfleshment,” or, slightly more fully, “embodiment in flesh.” In classical Christian theology, the incarnation refers to the event described in the Prologue to John’s gospel—the Eternal Word of God, the Logos, the Son of God, the second Person of the Triune Godhead, became a human being. Therefore, according to the doctrine of the Trinity, whereas the Father is God and the Holy Spirit is God, Jesus of Nazareth is now both God and human (100% of each).

The early Church interpreted John 1:14, “The Word became flesh,” not as a mythological idea nor as an allegorical image but as an actual, physical reality. God did not merely step into history, God became His own creation. He did not merely wear the creation as a cloak—He became the creation and fully participated in the reality of time, space, and history just as we do. In this event, the incarnation, the divine and immaterial God became intimately united with the human and material reality of human existence.

Most of us struggle with the concept; however, some cannot and do not embrace the idea of incarnation nor the doctrine of the Trinity. Early in the history of the Christian Church a group later referred to as the Gnostics violently opposed the classical Christian idea of the incarnation. They saw, and still see, a union between the divine (the spirit world) and the carnal (the material world) as a metaphysical impossibility.

Some of the New Testament writings display evidence that the Gnostic view was present, at least in its infancy stages, as early as the first century. John’s writings (his gospel as well as his letters) are among these as is Paul’s letter to the Colossians. The completed doctrine of the Trinity, which came to full expression in the 4th and 5th centuries of the Christian era, was gradually developed over the course of the first few centuries of the Church’s history as a direct response to this Gnosticism.

Most of us accept the incarnation and the doctrine of the Trinity as foundational components of our faith. However, many of us are unaware—or refuse to admit—that much of the nuanced detail of what we believe about the incarnation and what we embrace as the doctrine of the Trinity comes as much from the Church’s history and her Creeds as it does directly from the Bible.