How Christ’s Incarnation Differs from the Hindu Idea of Avatar

Pregnant Mary Leaning on Manger

 

The doctrine of the Incarnation (God became man in Jesus of Nazareth) lies at the heart of Christianity; it’s a truth-claim celebrated all over the world at Christmastime. Historic Christianity affirms that Jesus Christ is a single person with both a fully divine nature and a fully human nature. As C. S. Lewis aptly put it, “The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.”1

Here are four biblical passages that testify to the truth of Jesus Christ’s Incarnation:

  1. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (John 1:14)
  2. “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” (Philippians 2:5–7)
  3. “For in Christ all the fullness of Deity lives in bodily form.” (Colossians 2:9)
  4. “This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.” (1 John 4:2)

But is Jesus Christ’s Incarnation unique among the world’s religions? Some would point to Hinduism’s concept of avatars as a very similar religious belief. Let’s examine briefly what Hinduism affirms concerning its idea of avatars and how that compares to the Incarnation.

Hindu Avatars
Prince Krishna is considered an appearance or the descent of a deity (an avatar) to the earth. In traditional Hinduism, Krishna is considered the eighth avatar of the Lord Vishnu. However, for Krishna devotees in Bhakti Hinduism this is reversed so that Vishnu becomes the avatar of Krishna. Here is Krishna from the Bhagavad Gita describing his cosmic divinity and his appearance as an avatar:

“Although I am unborn, everlasting, and I am the Lord of all, I come to my realm of nature and through my wondrous power I am born” (Bhagavad Gita 4:6).2

How the Incarnation Differs
While both Krishna and Jesus Christ are affirmed by their followers to be God Incarnate, they do differ in five key points:3

  1. The Incarnation of Jesus Christ took place in history where testimony is available for evaluation (see Luke 2:1–7; 3:1–2); whereas the historicity of Krishna is dubious and lacking any direct eyewitness testimony.
  2. The Incarnation of Jesus Christ was a once and for all event (see Galatians 4:4–5); whereas the Bhagavad Gita reveals that Krishna comes into the world age after age. Thus Hinduism’s avatars came in the past and many more are expected to come in the future:

“When righteousness is weak and faints and unrighteousness exults in pride, then my Spirit arises on earth. For the salvation of those who are good, for the destruction of evil in men, for the fulfillment of the kingdom of righteousness, I come to this world in the ages that pass” (Bhagavad Gita 4:7–8).4

  1. In historic Christianity the Incarnation happens once in the person of Jesus of Nazareth (the God-man; John 1:1; 1:14); whereas the avatars of the Hindu gods appear in various forms and figures including humans and animals.
  2. Orthodox Christology does not allow for the mixing or blending of the two natures of Jesus Christ (see the Chalcedonian Creed). But the Hindu avatars do mix and blend to the degree that true humanity is lost.
  3. The specific purpose of the Incarnation was to reveal God to humankind and to reconcile lost sinners back to God through Christ’s sacrificial atonement (see Titus 2:13); none of the Hindu avatars provides revelation nor do they in any way make atonement for human sin.

Thus while at first glance the Hindu idea of avatars seems similar to the Christian concept of the Incarnation, upon closer inspection the two ideas differ significantly. The Incarnation sets Christianity apart from all other religions of the world. It is unique to Christianity to discover a God who takes the initiative to put on flesh in order to redeem sinful human beings and Christmas is the special time of year for the church to celebrate this central and unique truth-claim.

 

Endnotes:
1. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1952), 154. In this quote, Lewis slightly rephrases a statement made by the ancient church father Athanasius (ca. 296–373).
2. Bhagavad Gita (London: Penguin, 1962), 61.
3. These points were influenced by Peter Toon, Jesus Christ Is Lord (London: Marshall, Morgan and Scott, 1978), 114–15.
4. Bhagavad Gita, 61–62.

  One thought on “How Christ’s Incarnation Differs from the Hindu Idea of Avatar

  1. December 22, 2015 at 7:50 am

    Reblogged this on Talmidimblogging.

  2. jamesbradfordpate
    December 22, 2015 at 11:20 am

    Reblogged this on James' Ramblings and commented:
    Reblogging for the information. I particularly liked this quote from the Bhagavad Gita: “When righteousness is weak and faints and unrighteousness exults in pride, then my Spirit arises on earth. For the salvation of those who are good, for the destruction of evil in men, for the fulfillment of the kingdom of righteousness, I come to this world in the ages that pass” (Bhagavad Gita 4:7–8).

  3. December 22, 2015 at 12:10 pm

    It’s a good article.

    A small clarification: Krishna was not a prince, he was a cowherd born to a simple family and was adopted. Rama was a prince and is also regarded as an avatar.

    • December 22, 2015 at 12:41 pm

      Krishna receives many titles and descriptions:

      In the Bhagavad Gita (“Song of the Lord”), Krishna appears as a prince who offers moral and spiritual guidance and reveals himself as the ultimate Supreme Being, Krishna. In summary, the Hindu sacred writings “portray him in various perspectives: a god-child, a prankster, a model lover, a divine hero, and the Supreme Being.”

      http://www.yogabasics.com/learn/krishna-the-prince-of-love/

  4. kalyaan
    January 5, 2016 at 11:48 am

    Krishna is not the only flesh based human as gods incarnate or gods son.

    They’re many saints who have done miracles like Jesus in India. You can check on Shiridi Sai baba and allakot Maharaj saints during 18th and 19th century helping mankind see kingdom of god.

    There are no comparison of sons of god. Godly men are all equal in the eyes of god. Only we would compare to form a bondly or ego to satisfy our thirst for recognition amoung fellow beings.

    • January 5, 2016 at 2:11 pm

      Kalyaan:

      Greetings.

      Thanks for your comments.

      Jesus Christ’s life, death, and miraculous resurrection are events rooted in history. Whereas the lives of the Hindu holy men are enveloped in mythology.

      As an Eastern mystical religion, Hinduism does not emphasize chronology. And modern-day Hindus show little interest in the “historical” Krishna the way contemporary Christians inquire about the historicity of Jesus.

      Scholar and Krishna devotee Mataji Devi Vanamali explains:

      “Hinduism is not a historical religion. If somebody were to prove conclusively that Krishna, Rama, and the various gods of the Hindu pantheon never existed, most Hindus would not mind in the least, and the religion would continue to flourish as it has done for so many centuries. However, to the devotees of Krishna, he is as real as any of their friends or relatives or children, depending on how they regard him—as friend, relation, child, or lover. This being so, most Indians have not bothered to verify his existence.”1

      Thus a major difference between Jesus Christ and the Hindu holy men (including Krishna) relates to history and the question of historical verification.

      Best regards.

      KS

      1. Vanamali, The Complete Life of Krishna: Based on the Earliest Oral Traditions and Sacred Scriptures (Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2012), xiii-xiv.

    • October 6, 2016 at 9:55 am

      Thanks.

      Ken Samples

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