Incarnation literally means embodied in flesh or taking on flesh. It is the conception and the embodiment of a deity or spirit in some earthly form[1] or an anthropomorphic form of a god.[2] It is used to mean a god, deity, or Divine Being in human or animal form on Earth. The proper noun, Incarnation, refers to the union of divinity with humanity in Jesus Christ.[1]

Abrahamic religions

Main article: God in Abrahamic religions


Christ Pantocrator, God incarnate in the Christian faith, shown in a mosaic from Daphni, Greece, ca. 1080–1100.

Main article: Incarnation (Christianity)

The incarnation of Christ (or Incarnation) is the central Christian doctrine that God became flesh, assumed a human nature, and became a man in the form of Jesus, the Son of God and the second person of the Trinity. This foundational Christian position holds that the divine nature of the Son of God was perfectly united with human nature in one divine Person, Jesus, making him both truly God and truly human. The theological term for this is hypostatic union: the second person of the Trinity, God the Son, became flesh when he was miraculously conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary.[3] Biblical passages traditionally referenced in connection with the doctrine of the Incarnation include John 3:1–21, Colossians 2:9, and Philippians 2:7–8.


See also: Allah, God in Islam, Kalam, Tawhid, and Tanzih

Islam completely rejects the doctrine of the incarnation (Mu'jassimā[4] / (Tajseem) Tajsīm) of God in any form, as the concept is defined as shirk. In Islam, God is one and "neither begets nor is begotten".[5]


Main article: God in Judaism

See also: Chabad-Lubavitch related controversies

According to many modern scholars, the Biblical and Talmudic view of God was anthropomorphic. God could sometimes appear in bodily form.[6] The Babylonian Talmud contains stories of earthly appearances of God, Elijah, Satan, and demons.[7]

Since the time of Maimonides, mainstream Judaism has mostly rejected any possibility of an incarnation of God in any form.[8]

However, some modern-day Hasidim believe in a somewhat similar concept. Menachem Mendel Schneerson, a prominent Hasidic leader, said that the Rebbe is God's essence itself put into the body of a tzadik.[9]

Druze faith

See also: Druze § Beliefs

Hamza ibn Ali ibn Ahmad is considered the founder of the Druze faith and the primary author of the Druze manuscripts,[10] he proclaimed that God had become human and taken the form of man, al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah.[11][12][13][14][15][16] al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah is an important figure in the Druze faith whose eponymous founder ad-Darazi proclaimed him as the incarnation of God in 1018.[11][12][17][18]

Baháʼí Faith

Further information: God in the Baháʼí Faith

In the Baháʼí Faith, God is not seen to be incarnated into this world and is not seen to be part of creation as he cannot be divided and does not descend to the condition of his creatures.[19] The Manifestations of God are also not seen as incarnations of God but are instead understood to be like perfect mirrors reflecting the attributes of God onto the material world.[20][21]


See also: Rebirth (Buddhism)

Buddhism is a nontheistic religion: it denies the concept of a creator deity or any incarnation of a creator deity. However, Buddhism does teach the rebirth doctrine and asserts that living beings are reborn, endlessly, reincarnating as devas (gods), demi-gods, human beings, animals, hungry ghosts or hellish beings,[22] in a cycle of samsara that stops only for those who reach nirvana (nibbana).[23][24][25]

In Tibetan Buddhism, an enlightened spiritual teacher (lama) is believed to reincarnate, and is called a tulku. According to Tulku Thond, there are three main types of tulkus. They are the emanations of buddhas, the manifestations of highly accomplished adepts, and rebirths of highly virtuous teachers or spiritual friends. There are also authentic secondary types, which include unrecognized tulkus, blessed tulkus, and tulkus fallen from the path.[26]


Main article: Avatar

Ten incarnations of Vishnu (Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Vamana, Krishna, Kalki, Buddha, Parshurama, Rama & Narasimha). Painting from Jaipur, now at the Victoria and Albert Museum

In Hinduism, incarnation refers to its rebirth doctrine, and in its theistic traditions to avatar.[27] Avatar literally means "descent, alight, to make one's appearance",[28] and refers to the embodiment of the essence of a superhuman being or a deity in another form.[29] The word also implies "to overcome, to remove, to bring down, to cross something".[28] In Hindu traditions, the "crossing or coming down" is symbolism, states Daniel Bassuk, of the divine descent from "eternity into the temporal realm, from unconditioned to the conditioned, from infinitude to finitude".[30] An avatar, states Justin Edwards Abbott, is a saguna (with form, attributes) embodiment of the nirguna Brahman or Atman (soul).[31]

Neither the Vedas nor the Principal Upanishads ever mentions the word avatar as a noun.[30] The verb roots and form, such as avatarana, do appear in ancient post-Vedic Hindu texts, but as "action of descending", but not as an incarnated person (avatara).[32] The related verb avatarana is, states Paul Hacker, used with double meaning, one as action of the divine descending, another as "laying down the burden of man" suffering from the forces of evil.[32]

The term is most commonly found in the context of the Hindu god Vishnu.[28][33] The earliest mention of Vishnu manifested in a human form to empower the good and fight against evil, uses other terms such as the word sambhavāmi in verse 4.6 and the word tanu in verse 9.11 of the Bhagavad Gita,[34] as well as other words such as akriti and rupa elsewhere.[35] It is in medieval era texts, those composed after the sixth century CE, that the noun version of avatar appears, where it means embodiment of a deity.[36] The incarnation idea proliferates thereafter, in the Puranic stories for many deities, and with ideas such as ansha-avatar or partial embodiments.[34][33]

While avatars of other deities such as Ganesha and Shiva are also mentioned in medieval Hindu texts, this is minor and occasional.[37] The incarnation doctrine is one of the important differences between Vaishnavism and Shaivism traditions of Hinduism.[38][39]

Avatar versus incarnation

The translation of avatar as "incarnation" has been questioned by Christian theologians, who state that an incarnation is in flesh and imperfect, while avatar is mythical and perfect.[40][41] The theological concept of Christ as an Incarnation into the womb of the Virgin Mary and by work of the Holy Spirit God, as found in Christology, presents the Christian concept of incarnation. This, state Oduyoye and Vroom, is different from the Hindu concept of avatar because avatars in Hinduism are unreal and is similar to Docetism.[42] Sheth disagrees and states that this claim is an incorrect understanding of the Hindu concept of avatar.[43][note 1] Avatars are true embodiments of spiritual perfection, one driven by noble goals, in Hindu traditions such as Vaishnavism.[43]

Serer religion

The Serer religion of West Africa rejects any notions of incarnation or manifestation of the supreme deity Roog (also called Koox in the Cangin language). However, the reincarnation (ciiɗ)[45] of the ancient Serer saints and ancestral spirits, called Pangool, is a well-held principle in Serer religion. These Pangool (singular : Fangool) act as intermediaries between the living world and the divine. When the Serers speak of incarnation, it is these Pangool they refer to, who are themselves holy by virtue of their intercession with the divine.[45][46][47]

See also


  1. ^ Buddha, a real person, is included as an avatar of Vishnu in many Hindu texts.[44]


  1. ^ a b "Definition of Incarnation". Retrieved 2022-05-28.
  2. ^ "Cambridge Dictionary: Incarnation". Cambridge Dictionary. Cambridge University Press.
  3. ^ "Incarnation". Encyclopædia Britannica.
  4. ^ Muhammad Abu Zahra, İslâm’da Siyâsî ve İ’tikadî Mezhepler Tarihi, History of Madhhabs in Islam, pp: 257 - 259, Fığlalı, Ethem Ruhi and Osman Eskicioğlu translation to Turkish, Yağmur, İstanbul, 1970.
  5. ^ Quran, (112:1-4).
  6. ^ Brand, Ezra. "Some Notes on the Anthropomorphization of God in the Talmud".
  7. ^ Brand, Ezra. ""He appeared to him as a [X]": Talmudic Stories of Incarnations of God, Eliyahu, Satan, and Demons". Retrieved 10 January 2024.
  8. ^ L. Jacobs 1973 A Jewish Theology p. 24. N.Y.: Berman House
  9. ^ Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 2, pp. 510-511.
  10. ^ Hendrix, Scott; Okeja, Uchenna, eds. (2018). The World's Greatest Religious Leaders: How Religious Figures Helped Shape World History [2 volumes]. ABC-CLIO. p. 11. ISBN 978-1440841385.
  11. ^ a b Willi Frischauer (1970). The Aga Khans. Bodley Head. p. ?. (Which page?)
  12. ^ a b Ismail K. Poonawala. "Review - The Fatimids and Their Traditions of Learning". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 119 (3): 542. doi:10.2307/605981. JSTOR 605981.
  13. ^ Minorities in the Middle East: A History of Struggle and Self-expression - Page 95 by Mordechai Nisan
  14. ^ The Druze in the Middle East: Their Faith, Leadership, Identity and Status - Page 41 by Nissim Dana
  15. ^ Encyclopaedic Survey of Islamic Culture - Page 94 by Mohamed Taher
  16. ^ Bryer, David R. W. (1975). "The Origins of the Druze Religion". Der Islam. 52 (1): 52–65. doi:10.1515/islm.1975.52.1.47. ISSN 1613-0928. S2CID 201807131.
  17. ^ Zaman, Muhammad Qasim; Stewart, Devin J.; Mirza, Mahan; Kadi, Wadad; Crone, Patricia; Gerhard, Bowering; Hefner, Robert W.; Fahmy, Khaled; Kuran, Timur (2013). The Princeton Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought. Princeton University Press. pp. 139–140. ISBN 9780691134840.
  18. ^ R. W. Bryer, David (1979). The Origins of the Druze Religion: An Edition of Ḥamza's Writings and an Analysis of His Doctrine. University of Oxford Press. p. 239. ISBN 9780030525964.
  19. ^ `Abdu'l-Bahá (1981) [1904-06]. Some Answered Questions. Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Baháʼí Publishing Trust. pp. 202–203. ISBN 0-87743-190-6.
  20. ^ Cole, Juan (1982). "The Concept of Manifestation in the Baháʼí Writings". Études Baháʼí Studies. monograph 9. Ottawa: Canadian Association for Studies on the Baháʼí Faith: 1–38. Retrieved 2020-10-11 – via Bahá'í Library Online.
  21. ^ Hatcher, W.S.; Martin, J.D. (1998). The Baháʼí Faith: The Emerging Global Religion. San Francisco: Harper & Row. p. 118. ISBN 0-87743-264-3.
  22. ^ Trainor, Kevin (2004), Buddhism: The Illustrated Guide, Oxford University Press, pp. 61–64, ISBN 978-0-19-517398-7
  23. ^ Peter Harvey (2012). An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices. Cambridge University Press. pp. 32–33, 38–39, 46–49. ISBN 978-0-521-85942-4.
  24. ^ Robert E. Buswell Jr.; Donald S. Lopez Jr. (2013). The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism. Princeton University Press. pp. 708–709. ISBN 978-1-4008-4805-8.
  25. ^ Edward Craig (1998). Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Routledge. p. 402. ISBN 978-0-415-18715-2.
  26. ^ Tulku Thondup (2011) Incarnation: The History and Mysticism of the Tulku Tradition of Tibet. Boston: Shambhala.
  27. ^ Thangaraj, M. Thomas (2008). "Religious Pluralism, Dialogue and Asian Christian Responses". In Kim, Sebastian C. H. (ed.). Christian Theology in Asia. Cambridge University Press. pp. 169–176. ISBN 978-1-139-47206-7.
  28. ^ a b c Monier Monier-Williams (1923). A Sanskrit-English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. p. 90.
  29. ^ Sheth 2002, p. 98.
  30. ^ a b Daniel E Bassuk (1987). Incarnation in Hinduism and Christianity: The Myth of the God-Man. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 2–4. ISBN 978-1-349-08642-9.
  31. ^ Justin Edwards Abbott (1980). Life of Tukaram: Translation from Mahipati's Bhaktalilamrita. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 335–336. ISBN 978-81-208-0170-7.
  32. ^ a b Paul Hacker 1978, pp. 415–417.
  33. ^ a b James Lochtefeld (2002), "Avatar" in The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Vol. 1: A-M, Rosen Publishing, ISBN 0-8239-2287-1, pages 72-73
  34. ^ a b Sheth 2002, pp. 98–99.
  35. ^ Paul Hacker 1978, pp. 405–409.
  36. ^ Paul Hacker 1978, pp. 424, also 405-409, 414–417.
  37. ^ James Lochtefeld (2002), "Shiva" in The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Vol. 2: N-Z, Rosen Publishing, ISBN 0-8239-2287-1, page 635
  38. ^ Lai Ah Eng (2008). Religious Diversity in Singapore. Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore. p. 221. ISBN 978-981-230-754-5.
  39. ^ Constance Jones; James D. Ryan (2006). Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Infobase. p. 474. ISBN 978-0-8160-7564-5.
  40. ^ Sheth 2002, pp. 107–109.
  41. ^ Matchett, Freda (2001). Krishna, Lord or Avatara?: the relationship between Krishna and Vishnu. 9780700712816. p. 4. ISBN 978-0-7007-1281-6.
  42. ^ Mercy Amba Oduyoye, H. M. Vroom, One gospel – many cultures: case studies and reflections on cross-cultural theology, Rodopi, 2003, ISBN 978-90-420-0897-7, p. 111.
  43. ^ a b Sheth 2002, p. 108.
  44. ^ Sheth 2002, p. 99.
  45. ^ a b Faye, Louis Diène, Mort et Naissance Le Monde Sereer, Les Nouvelles Edition Africaines (1983), pp 9-10, ISBN 2-7236-0868-9
  46. ^ (in French) Thaiw, Issa Laye, « La religiosité des Seereer, avant et pendant leur islamisation », in Éthiopiques, no. 54, volume 7, 2e semestre 1991 [1] Archived 2019-09-25 at the Wayback Machine
  47. ^ Gravrand, Henry, La civilisation sereer, Cosaan: les origines, vol.1, Nouvelles Editions africaines (1983), p 33, ISBN 2-7236-0877-8