Book Review: On The Incarnation

On The Incarnation, by Athanasius of Alexandria

If you know something about 4th century Post-Nicene Christian history, the odds are you know something of Athanasius [1].  He wrote a collection of canonical books that, for example, happens to be the first known list that has the New Testament books and only the New Testament books in them, though even in this book one can tell that he found other books useful and beneficial to read, like the Shepherd of Hermas.  He is also known for being the steadfast opponent of Arius, who had the heretical (but then popular belief) that Jesus Christ was a created being.  From all accounts, Athanasius was a somewhat combative fellow, and it was in light of that combativity that he wrote about the incarnation of Jesus Christ in a way that puts this belief in a debate in which the author gives plenty of tips for other people involved in the controversy between Christians and pagans and Jews about the nature of God and Creation.  All of this makes this book seem a lot less like most of the books that are written about the coming of Jesus in the flesh nowadays [2] and a lot more fierce and full of debating, not that I mind this.

As far as books go, this is a short one at a bit more than 100 pages, divided into nine chapters.  The author begins with a look at Creation and the Fall, inching up to the area of what would later be called original sin with his discussion of the corruption that happened to the nature of mankind as a result of sin (1).  After this the author spends a couple of chapters discussing the resulting dilemma of how God would restore mankind to the place that it had lost as a result of sin (2,3), doing so with a large amount of human reasoning about the inability of mere repentance to restore the corruption that had taken place.  After this the author spends a couple of chapters discussing the death (4) and resurrection of Jesus Christ (5), pointing out that three days was a good time for Jesus Christ to be in the grave so as not to have it thought of as a mere trick of cheating death but not being in the grave so long as to create doubt of resurrection.  The next three chapters of the book focus on issues of refutation, with a chapter devoted to the Jews (6), and two chapters focused on refuting the arguments of Gentiles against the Incarnation of Jesus Christ relating to their own heathen views (7,8).  After this the author concludes with a note about those he is writing to and a comment on the rewards of faith to those who believe (9).

Although I would not find all of the arguments that the author makes for the incarnation the same sort of arguments I would make, there is a lot to appreciate about this book.  In our day and age questions of Jesus’ first coming (this book does not deal with the second coming) usually involve seeing Jesus Christ as a cute and innocent baby or as being Christ on the cross paying the cost of the sins of mankind.  While this book looks at both of these elements, spending a great deal of time on questions of virginity as well as early visions of vows of chastity made by some believers, even in their youth, the author does a good job at pointing out how God coming in the flesh served, and still serves, as a challenge to the belief systems of the heathen as well to Jews, pointing out where the conflict regarding the identity of Christ would remain throughout the intervening centuries.  I may not have agreed with all of the author’s points, but I see him as a kindred spirit not least in his willingness to wrestle with the arguments that were made against Christianity and against its key doctrines about Christ, which the author, for all of his flaws, was ready and able to wrestle and argue about.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Book Reviews, Christianity, Church of God, History and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Book Review: On The Incarnation

  1. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Reblogged this on James' Ramblings.

  2. Laura says:

    This book has been on my list for a long time! Need to finally read it.

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