Did Jesus, the Eternal Son, have a physical body before he came to earth as an infant in the Incarnation? I just wonder what to do with the texts in the Old Testament when we see the LORD walking in the Garden (Gen. 3:8), when he ate with Abraham (Gen. 18:1–8) and other similar verses. Thank you for your help in understanding these weighty biblical concepts.
First, let me deal with the two passages that you quote. In both, it may appear that God took on a body. Now, of course, God can do what he wants (consistent with his nature), so if he did take a bodily form, I don´t see that that would harm our faith. But I don´t think either of these passages indicate that.
In Genesis 3:8 we read, “And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.” Some would say that this is an anthropomorphism, which is to say, using human language to describe divine actions, and that he was not “walking,” since no form or substance is ascribed to him, but rather, that they heard his voice or presence as one who is walking. For example, we read in Isaiah 40:10, “Behold, the Lord God shall come with a strong hand, and his arm shall rule for Him.” We do not think of God as having a hand or arm; rather, these are anthropomorphisms for his strength. So also, when Adam and Eve hear the “sound of the Lord God walking,” it may refer simply to them knowing that he was there. And it can get even more complicated—the version of the Bible that I use most often says that “they heard the voice of God passing in the garden,” which is consistent with Hebrew text. Beyond that, the immediate reference seems to be to the Father, since he makes implicit reference to the Son in the third person in Genesis 3:15, so even if we took the reference to walking in a most literal sense, we should apply it to the Father, not the Son.
In the other passage, Genesis 18:1–8, there is no direct reference to God appearing as a man, but in verse 13 we read, “And the Lord said to Abraham,” and apparently it was one of the men (cf. v. 2) who was doing the speaking. I suppose that one could argue that it was the man speaking as God, but, it doesn´t say that; rather, it simply says, “And the Lord said.” Perhaps it was one of the men speaking, but speaking the word of the Lord. Or perhaps the Lord spoke directly at that point. Actually, either way it is God speaking through physical means, something we encounter elsewhere in Scripture, but this does not mean that God assumed a physical form to do so.
Now, to answer your question more directly, in John 1:14 we read, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” This verse clearly declares, in context, that the Son became flesh at the time of his incarnation. Again, in Philippians 2:5–7 we read, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.” The clear statement is that he “took the form of a bondservant,” that is, he came in human flesh. This is seen as well as in 1 Timothy 3:16, “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory.” When he says that “God was manifested in the flesh,” it is a direct reference to the incarnation of Christ Jesus at his birth. And, while it is not a direct reference, in 1 John 4:2–3 we are told, “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.” While this does not say that he was not in the flesh before he came into the world, it clearly implies it. So I think the scriptural testimony is clear—Christ Jesus did not have a body before his incarnation.
A final consideration. If Christ Jesus did have a body (as opposed to inhabiting a body) before his incarnation, what happened to it? The idea that Christ had a body prior to his incarnation and then something happened to it sounds like Gnosticism (not agnosticism!). That is, it implies that he could just dispense of a body and assume a new one in the womb of Mary. While, once again, God is not limited to our concepts, this still implies that bodies are not important in God´s scheme of things. But, Christ Jesus did not lose his body when he died, or when he rose again, and he will come in the same glorified body when he comes again (cf. Acts 1:11). And just as Job affirmed that he would see the Lord with the same body (Job 19:7), we too shall rise in our bodies to see the Lord Jesus when he comes (1 Thess. 4:15–17, Rev. 20:11–15). So, to imply that Christ Jesus had one body before his incarnation, and then assumed another body, seems to depreciate his body as if it were nothing.
As always, there is much more to be said, and, God alone is true! (I make mistakes and I sin, even in my interpretation of the Bible). So, if you have further questions, please write again.
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