Athanasius began his treatment of the incarnation with creation and traced his argument with a similar outline to Genesis. He started here because God had created all things out of nothing (Genesis 1:1) and focused on humanity as his special creation (46). However, with this special-ness, humanity could pursue or reject God and they chose the latter. (47) As a result, the fall ruined humanity’s ability to do good (51). As a further consequence, humanity could not know God without sin hindering the relationship (61). Therefore, humanity needed redeemed from their estate. Thus, Christ became incarnate so that evil could be destroyed and humanity redeemed (72).

Christ & the Body

In order for Christ to redeem God’s people, he had to take “to himself a true body” (WSC 22). Although he became man that did not negate his divinity (72). In fact, his works proved his divinity to humanity (73). He came to the earth with the explicit mission to redeem his Father’s people. In order to do this, he died and rose again from the dead so that death would not have the final claim (81). As a result, his death removed the curse bestowed in Genesis which created a new community by providing a restored path to God (88). Although this sacrifice was powerful, he did spend time in the grave. While this fact is not the most attractive piece of Christianity, his time in the grave proved that he really died, thus giving his people all the more confidence that he overcame death (91). This conquering means that Christians no longer have to fear death, for God redeems their death in order that they might live (93). These events appear to be extraordinary, but the authenticity of these events is assured because God became man and thereby lived physically, died physically, rose physically, and ascended physically (96).

Gentile & the Body

Athanasius’ interaction with the “Gentiles” and proving why Jesus had to take to himself human nature is most intriguing for me as I consider my own discipleship (Chapters 43, 44). Like the Gentiles, I wonder why out of all the things Jesus could have come as, he chose a frail body like ours. Athanasius silences this question: Jesus did not come for his own glory, but to save God’s people (122). This reminder is powerful: Jesus deserves all glory from his people, and yet he chooses to come in an inglorious form to save them.

Redemption & the Body

Additionally, Jesus’ incarnation was the right means for redemption. In Genesis, sin did not simply bring death to the soul, but to the physical body as well. It is only proper for Christ to bestow life to the soul and body (125). This understanding is worldview-shattering as many evangelicals—including myself—seem to miss the importance of the next-to-final article in the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in … the resurrection of the body.” I know that God is relational and can be really known by us. However, the fact that he came as a person and redeemed us as a person is such a powerful reminder of his steadfast love for us and elevates the importance of the life we live now.

The Church & the Body

Athanasius’ understanding of the incarnation should challenge the church today. While most evangelicals would recognize the importance of Jesus becoming man, many do not recognize the actual extent of this belief. While his redemptive work is important, he also came so that all creation may know God (127). Jesus’ work redeemed souls, but it also redeemed all of creation because it, too, matters to God (128). This all-encompassing redemption means that all things will be renewed and, more broadly, that the church’s final destination is not a disembodied, eternal existence in heaven. The church’s final destination is an embodied, eternal existence on earth and heaven because Christ became incarnate and redeemed physical beings.

Athanasius of Alexandria. On the Incarnation of the Word of God. Translated by T. Herbert Bindley. 2nd ed. revised. London, UK: The Religious Tract Society, 1903.

This post was originally part of an academic paper submitted to Dr. Robbie Griggs in Sin, Christ & Salvation at Covenant Theological Seminary. It has been modified from its original version.