Ask Alice about Catholicism
Why do Christians believe Jesus is God incarnate?

The key word is believe. The doctrine of the Incarnation is a belief, not a piece of evidence. No one can prove to you that Jesus is "one in being with the Father," and if they say they can, you ought to cross to the other side of the street.

The term "Son of God" is key to the Christian theology of Incarnation. In Hebrew scripture, "son of God" denotes a person with a special relationship to God. In the New Testament the term describes the unique relationship of Jesus to God. In the Jewish sense, then, angels are sons of God. So are the whole people of Israel and the king of the nation. Finally, Jews post-biblically began to refer to the anticipated Messiah as son of God. None of these Jewish usages implied a divine nature, only a privileged relationship.

In Christian usage the title is first applied to Jesus because he saw himself that way. God is his Father: It's repeated often enough that we might just as easily say Jesus saw himself as God's son. But did he mean "son" in the Jewish sense or the later Christian doctrine? We don't know. Clearly the gospel writers and Saint Paul used the title after Jesus' resurrection appearances to say something more about Jesus than anyone had claimed before.

Here's a brief rundown of how the term evolved for early Christians. First, they understood that Jesus views himself as the "Son in whom [God] is well pleased"—as testified by a heavenly voice at the accounts of his baptism and Transfiguration.

Next, they saw Jesus as the anticipated Messiah; as good Jews they used "son of God" for that awaited figure.

Third, as the church moved into the Gentile world, concepts like "messiah" began to lose their meaning. The world outside Judaism wasn't waiting for a saving hero. But the pagan world did employ "son of God" to refer to heavenly beings of various sorts. The term was a better fit to describe what Christians meant by Jesus.

As the church fathers mined scripture in search of understanding, they drew together traditions of prophecy, Wisdom, and Divine Word (the Logos) to see Jesus as sharing in the divinity of God both before his human birth and afterwards. At the Council of Nicaea in 325 Jesus was declared begotten of God before time began and "one in being with the Father."

Genesis 6:2; Exodus 4:22; Deuteronomy 32:8; 2 Samuel 7:14; Job 1:6; Psalm 2:7; Jeremiah 31:9; Hosea 11:1; Matthew 5:45; 7:21;11:25-27; 16:16; 26:63; Mark 1:1; 14:36, 61; Luke 10:21-22; John 1:1-18; 11:27; 20:31; Romans 1:3-4; Galatians 4:6; 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10; Hebrews 1:2-4

Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate), Second Vatican Council, 1965 (especially no. 4)

The Reality of Jesus: An Essay on Christology by Dermot A. Lane (Paulist Press, 1977)
Tradition and Incarnation: Foundations of Christian Theology by William L. Portier (Paulist Press, 1994)

Ask Alice a question.
Alice L. Camille
Alice Camille is a gem among contemporary writers on scripture and Catholic teaching. She has received numerous awards for her books, columns, and exegetical reflections. She received her Master of Divinity degree from the Franciscan School of Theology in Berkeley, where she also served as adjunct faculty in ministry formation, preaching and proclamation. Alice is an author, religious educator, and parish retreat leader. Learn more at

Before sending Alice a question, please check below to see if she has already responded to it. Also, please send only questions of general interest. Not all questions can be used. Thank you!
Got a question for Alice?

   Ask her now!

More questions...and responses

Where did Lent come from?

What’s so important about the Council of Trent?

What are the “Precepts of the Church”?

Do Catholics take the biblical creation story literally?

Why can’t a woman be ordained?

Why does the liturgy change?

Is Purgatory still “on the books”?

Why is it important to participate regularly in the Mass?

Why pray the rosary?

Why can people go to Mass on Saturday evening instead of Sunday?

Did King David compose the psalms?

Who were Jesus' “brothers and sisters”?

Is there really a Catholic Index of Forbidden Books?

What are the corporal and spiritual works of mercy?

Is a long or short discernment process better for someone interested in becoming a priest, nun, or brother?

What’s the difference between celibacy and chastity?

Is it “Catholic” to be vegetarian? Do Catholics care about animal suffering?

What does the Bible say about Judgment Day?

What’s that picture of Jesus with rays flowing from him?

What is the Triduum?

Who chose the "Seven Deadly Sins"?

"What should I believe about hell?"

Is the Mass a “holy sacrifice” or a “celebration”—or both?

Pulpit, lectern, ambo: What’s the difference?

What was the Reformation?

What is “discernment of spirits”?

Is environmentalism “Catholic” or a political football?

Why do Catholics believe in the Immaculate Conception?

Why are there parishes?

Do Catholics believe in ghosts?

Who was Saint Augustine?

What is "sanctuary"?

What is the Liturgy of the Hours?

How does God “answer” prayers?

What does “salvation history” mean?

Why do Catholics believe in the Assumption of Mary?

Why do priests wear vestments?

Do miracles still happen?

What do deacons do?

How is the Mass “prayer”?

What is Catholic decision-making?

Who wrote the gospels?

What is “original sin”?

How does the Catholic Church view other religions?

The "Five C's" of Confession

What's the difference between chapels, churches, cathedrals, and basilicas?

Where do the Stations of the Cross come from?

What's the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament?

When and where is it appropriate to bow inside Catholic churches?

Can I come back to the church?

Why does the priest talk after the readings at Mass?

What's the difference between catechesis and evangelization?

Didn't Saint Paul write all the letters attributed to him?

Are we supposed to believe in angels and demons in the 21st century?

Who are the saints and why do we pray to them?

Why pray for the dead?

Who are the "Doctors of the Church"?

How were the books of the Bible chosen?

What's the difference between saying "set" prayers and prayers in my own words?

What do Catholics have to believe?

Who were the prophets? Does God still call people to prophecy?

What is the lectionary?

Why do Catholics bless themselves, genuflect, and so on?

Did Jesus establish a church? How did we get from following “the Way” of Jesus to this big institution?

What do we mean by the church’s “magisterium”?

Is there salvation outside the Catholic Church?

What do people in religious life do for fun?

Why is celibacy important to religious life?

Vocation: For all of life, or only "religious life"?

What is contemplation?

Is my vocation from God or just my imagination?

What does the Bible say about discipleship?

How do I know whether be an order priest or a diocesan priest?

What do Catholics believe about scripture and tradition?

"Sin" is such a negative word. Can't we just talk about “failure”?

Should I read the Bible?

How can I be happy?

How can I live a holy life?