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Bible and the incarnation

21 March 2014

Alec Graham reads an Evangelical study, and unfamiliar terms

The God Who Became Human: A biblical theology of incarnation
Graham A. Cole
IVP £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.70  (Use code CT477 )

ON PUTTING down this tightly packed work, having read it in its entirety, no one could feel anything but admiration for the author's thoroughness and clarity. He draws on and quotes a truly remarkable range of authors, principally Christian biblical scholars, and also some Jewish and Islamic ones.

The work belongs to the series New Studies in Biblical Theology, a series that has a markedly Evangelical standpoint. The author clearly shares these convictions, but not in any narrow or dogmatic way. He is, for instance, happy to recognise that on some points more than one position is tenable. Refreshingly, too, he illuminates some point under discussion by reference to, or quotation from, modern secular literature.

In this work, each part prepares the way for those that follow, and it is only by reading it through from beginning to end, not skipping bits or merely dipping into it, that one can appreciate the cumulative flow of the author's argument. This applies not least to the very first chapter, in which he sets out and explains the terms that he will use throughout the book. Besides "anthropomorphic" and "transcendent", terms with which one is familiar, he introduces "concomitance" in the sense of God's working alongside us; "anthropopraxism", to describe God's activity in ways analogous to human action; and "anthropopathism", in passages that speak of God's experience of human pain.

The reader should not be discouraged by these heavy-sounding terms; rather, master them or refer to them, and the author's tightly knit argument will unfold the more easily. It opens with a consideration of those passages in the Old Testament which have been held in some way to prefigure Christ's incarnation, notably some concerning Adam, Abraham and his descendants, Moses, Gideon, and Solomon. Particular attention is paid to notoriously puzzling passages in Genesis 18 and 32.

Passages in Isaiah, Amos, Hosea are examined, and also three later passages often held to be messianic. The view taken by the author isthat Christ's incarnation is not demanded by these passages, but is consistent with them. Also, he holds that in some passages a human agent is expected, in others a divine one, but never a divine human agent.

As for the New Testament, here the incarnation is clearly affirmed; he analyses key passages, usingsome of the categories with which the reader is already familiar. Particularly in the concluding chap-ters of this relatively short bookis treatment of the wider theo-logical significance of the incarnation.

This brief summary gives some impression of the riches to be found in this book, and may tempt others to taste them.

The Rt Revd Dr Alec Graham is a former Bishop of Newcastle.

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