by Bill Nugent
In this Christmas season as we celebrate the birth of Christ we may pause to reflect on the doctrine of the incarnation. The incarnation is the Bible’s teaching that God became man. God took on a literal flesh and blood body in the person of His Son Jesus Christ. Christ is one in essence with the Father and is therefore divine. The incarnation came about in fulfillment of several Old Testament prophecies. One of the more prominent of these prophecies is recorded in Isaiah 9:6. “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called . . . The mighty God . . . The Prince of Peace.”
In the early centuries of the church, certain followers of Greek philosophies had no place for the concept of the incarnation. Much of ancient Greek thought regarded the physical world as inherently evil. They scoffed at the idea of God taking on human flesh and becoming a man in order to redeem mankind. God’s ways, however, are not in conformity with the ancient Greeks or any other pagan society. God says “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways” (Isaiah 55:9 NASB). Such Greek philosophical resistance is but one of many evidences against the unbeliever’s false claim that Christianity borrowed aspects of ancient philosophy in order to be accepted. Christianity did not compromise sacred doctrine to be accepted but steadfastly maintained the doctrine of the incarnation and the other Christian doctrines against all philosophical opposition.
One champion of the incarnation was Irenaeus of Gaul (115-202 AD). Irenaeus was born in Smyrna in Asia Minor and studied under the renowned champion of the faith, Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna. The churches of Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) were evangelizing Gaul (modern day France) and Irenaeus was sent there as a missionary. In 177 AD, Pothinus, the first bishop of Lyons, was killed under the persecution of Marcus Aurelius. Irenaeus succeeded him as bishop during this hazardous time.
Irenaeus served with distinction in evangelism, pastoral work and writing. He is said to have converted almost the entire population of Lyons. He also sent missionaries to other parts of pagan Europe.
His greatest written work is Against All Heresies in which he defended the incarnation against the Gnostics who denied it. He also defended other fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith such as the crucifixion of Christ wherein Christ willingly took upon Himself the punishment due us for our sins so that we can receive forgiveness. Irenaeus defended the resurrection of Christ and he explained the unity of the Old and New Testaments. The Christian faith Is the fulfillment of the main prophetic content of Judaism.
Every human religion, including the ancient Gnostics, have their sacred writings. The Bible, with its hundreds of prophecies and their fulfillments, is unique. The Bible is a kind of gold standard and has the ring of truth as no other book. The Bible is inspired by God and the multitudes of prophecies and their fulfillments are like God’s signature on His holy book.