The Doctrine of the Incarnations of God
Whether or not Jesus is God or an empowered representative serving on
God's behalf (which is closer to the Judaic concept of the messiah) and was
later deified by his followers, is subject to debate. In Acts 2:22, Peter
refers to Jesus as a "man certified by God." The doctrine of the godhood of
Jesus is questionable. (Matthew 12:18, 27:46; Mark 13:32; Luke 23:46; John
14:2, 17:21; Acts 2:22, 3:13).
Yes, Jesus says, "The Father and I are one" (John 10:30), but he also prays with his disciples, "As You and I are one, let them (the disciples) also be one in us" (John 17:21), implying this "oneness" is a relationship others may also experience. The biblical phrase about Jesus sitting at the right hand of God would also be meaningless if there were not two distinct individuals--God and Jesus: the Lord and His servant.
Dr. Victor Paul Wierwille, founder of The Way International, wrote an entire book on the subject, entitled: Jesus Christ is not God.
In his 1983 essay "A Jewish Encounter with the Bhagavad-gita," Harold Kasimow discusses ideas "which seem totally incompatible with the Jewish tradition. The most striking example is the doctrine of incarnation, a concept which is as central to the Gita as it is to Christianity. According to the Gita, Krishna is an incarnation (avatar), or appearance of God in human form.
"A study of the Jewish response to the Christian doctrine of incarnation shows that Jews, and I may add, Muslims have not been able to reconcile this idea with their own scriptural notion of God."
The existence of other sons of God--other messiahs and other incarnations of God--has been dealt with by one of the 20th century's leading Protestant theologians. Paul Tillich wrote in a 1978 essay, "Redemption of Other Worlds":
"...a question arises which has been carefully avoided by many traditional theologians...It is the problem of how to understand the meaning of the symbol 'Christ' in light of the immensity of the universe...the infinitely small part of the universe which man and his history constitute, and the possibility of other 'worlds' in which divine self-manifestations may appear and be received.
"Such developments become especially important if one considers that biblical and related expectations envisaged the coming of the Messiah within a cosmic frame. The universe will be reborn into a new eon. The function of the bearer of the New Being is not only to save individuals and to transform man's historical existence but to renew the universe. And the assumption is that mankind and individual men are so dependent on the powers of the universe, that salvation of the one without the other is unthinkable."
In other words, given the vastness of the universe and the possibility of other worlds, how can the divine incarnation on this small speck of dust be understood on a cosmic scale?
Tillich sees the basic answer to such questions "in the concept of essential man appearing in a personal life under the conditions of existential estrangement (from God)... The man...represents human history...he creates the meaning of human history. It is the eternal relation of God to man which is manifest in the Christ. At the same time, our basic answer leaves the universe open for possible divine manifestations in other areas or periods of being.
"Such possibilities cannot be denied. But they cannot be proved or disproved. Incarnation is unique for the special group in which it happens, but it is not unique in the sense that other singular incarnations for other unique worlds are excluded.
"Man cannot claim that the infinite has entered the finite to overcome its existential estrangement in mankind alone. Man cannot claim to occupy the only possible place for Incarnation. Although statements about other worlds and God's relation to them cannot be verified experientially, they are important because they help to interpret the meaning of terms like 'mediator,' 'savior,' 'Incarnation,' 'the Messiah,' and ; 'the new eon.'
"Perhaps one can go a step further. The interdependence of everything with everything else in the totality of being includes a participation of nature in history and demands a participation of the universe in salvation.
"Therefore, if there are non-human 'worlds' in which existential estrangement is not only real--as it is in the whole universe--but in which there is also a type of awareness of this estrangement, such worlds cannot be without the operation of saving power within them. Otherwise self-destruction would be the inescapable consequence.
"The manifestation of saving power in one place implies that saving power is operating in all places. The expectation of the Messiah as the bearer of the New Being presupposes that 'God loves the universe,' even though in the appearance of the Christ He actualizes this love for historical man alone."
Within the framework of Christian theology, then, Tillich sees the possibility of other incarnations of God on other worlds, as well as the salvation of nonhumans. This theology is almost Hindu in thought, recognizing that God has indeed incarnated many times, and on many different worlds, in many different universes. According to Hindu thought, there are billions of worlds and universes, endlessly being created and destroyed in time cycles lasting billions of years.
Today, our world is one. Nations are globally connected, as never before in human history. This was not the case two thousand years ago, where Palestine, China and South America were--for all intents and purposes--separate worlds. Tillich's theology also opens up the possibility of nonhuman--even animal--spirituality.
The Reverend Alvin Hart, an Episcopal priest in New York, says that John 14:6 is often mistranslated. The original Greek--ego emi ha hodos kai ha alatheia kai ha zoa; oudeis erkatai pros ton patera ei ma di emou--should read "I am the way, the truth, and the life, and none of you are coming to the Father except through me."
According to Reverend Hart, "...the key word here is erketai. This is an extremely present-tense form of the verb...You see? In Palestine, two thousand years ago, Jesus was the guru. If he wanted to say that he would be the teacher for all time, he would have used a word other than erkatai, but he didn't."
Dr. Boyd Daniels of the American Bible Society concurs: "Oh, yes. The word erketai is definitely the present tense form of the verb. Jesus was speaking to his contemporaries."
According to the Book of Mormon, God Himself specifically refutes the misconception that He can only make Himself known to one particular people at one point in human history, and leave only one set of written scriptures:
"Know ye not that there are more nations than one? Know ye not that I, the Lord your God, have created all men, and that I remember those who are upon the isles of the sea; and that I rule in the heavens above and in the earth beneath; and i bring forth My word unto the children of men, yea, even upon all the nations of the earth? Wherefore, murmur ye, because that ye shall receive more of My word?
"Know ye that the testimony of two nations is a witness unto you that I am God, that I remember one nation like unto another? Wherefore, I speak the same words unto one nation like unto another. And when the two nations shall run together, the testimony of the two nations shall run together also...And because I have spoken one word ye need not suppose that I cannot speak another; for My work is not yet finished; neither shall it be until the end of man...
"Neither need ye suppose that I have not caused more to be written. For I command all men, both in the East and in the West, and in the North and in the South, and in the islands of the sea, that they shall write the words which I speak unto them. For out of the books that will be written I will judge the world..."
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