Incarnation, Divine Timelessness, and Modality

  • Emily Paul University of Leeds
Keywords: Son of God, Incarnation, Atemporality, Modality, Divine Freedom


A central part of the Christian doctrine of the incarnation is that the Son of God ‘becomes’ incarnate. Furthermore, according to classical theism, God is timeless: He exists ‘outside’ of time, and His life has no temporal stages. A consequence of this ‘atemporalist’ view is that a timeless being cannot undergo intrinsic changefor this requires the being to be one way at one time, and a different way at a later time. How, then, can we understand the central Christian claim that the Son of God ‘becomes’ human? This paper examines one such explanation, drawn from a brief remark by Brian Leftow: the Word takes on flesh by exhibiting modal variation with regards to the incarnation. On this account, a timeless God ‘becomes’ incarnate simply due to variation across logical space: at some possible worlds He is incarnate and at others He is not. Modal variation need not, therefore, require temporality: it only requires variation across (static) possible worlds. I draw out the problems with Leftow’s modal claim under the heads of Ersatzism and Genuine Modal Realism about possible worlds, respectively. I argue that in both instances, Leftow’s desired cross–worldly variation of the Son’s incarnation cannot be achieved.  

How to Cite
Paul, E. (2019). Incarnation, Divine Timelessness, and Modality. TheoLogica: An International Journal for Philosophy of Religion and Philosophical Theology, 3(1), 88-112.