Did Jesus have a physical body before his incarnation?

Question

Did Jesus have a physical body before the incarnation? I'm mainly concerned about Gen. 3:8 and Gen. 18:2, 13.

Answer

Let's look at the Genesis texts in question and then very briefly at the incarnation.

Genesis 3:8: And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.

Some call this an anthropomorphism, which is simply using human language to describe divine actions (e.g. "face" in Num. 6:25; "mighty arm" in Psa. 89:10; "stretched out his hand" in Isa. 23:11; "his arm rules" in Isa. 40:10, etc.). Here in Genesis 3:8 God wouldn't literally be "walking" since no form or substance is ascribed to him. Rather, Adam and Eve heard his voice or presence as one who is walking, or more simply, that God was there. And more than likely this was God the Father since there is an explicit reference in the third person to God the Son in Genesis 3:15.

Genesis 18:2, 13: He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth.

The LORD said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh and say, 'Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?'"

In Genesis 18:2 two of the men appearing are angels (Gen. 18:22; 19:1; cf. Heb. 13:2), and the third is referred to as "Lord" (Gen. 18:13). This may be what we call a theophany or christophany: an appearance of God or the pre-incarnate Christ (cf. Gen. 32:22-30; Exod. 24:9-11; Deut. 31:14-15, etc.). Some argue that this wasn't even a theophany or christophany but just another angel who spoke the word of the Lord (cf. Acts 7:38, 53; Gal. 3:19; Heb. 2:2; Rev. 14:6-7, etc.).

This said, the incarnation didn't happen until the fullness of time (Gal. 4:4). In John 1:14 we read, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth." This verse clearly declares, that God the Son became flesh at the time of his incarnation (cf. 1 John 4:2-3). Again, in Philippians 2:5-7 Paul refers to God (Christ) as taking the form of a bondservant, that is, human flesh. Paul more fully expresses his view of the incarnation in 1 Timothy 3:16 writing, "Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory."

Clearly, Jesus didn't have a human body prior to the incarnation. But let's speculate a little. What if Jesus had a body before his incarnation? Well then, what happened to it? Did he have one body and then just throw it into a trash can and take another one at the incarnation? That is not a very biblical view of those created in God's image (Gen. 1:26-27). It sounds more like Gnosticism which devalues the body (see below).

Recall what Luke wrote: "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven" (Acts 1:11). The saints, just as Job affirmed (Job 19:26), will rise in their bodies to see the Lord Jesus when he returns (1 Thess. 4:15-17; Rev. 20:11-15). While this perishable body will put on the imperishable, and this mortal body will put on immortality (1 Cor. 15:53), it will still be the same recognizable body (cf. John 20:16, 27-28; 1 Cor. 15:6). So, Jesus only had one body.

For a more detailed explanation please see "Was there more than one incarnation?" below.

Related Topics

What is Gnosticism?
Was there more than one incarnation?

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).