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Table of Contents

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI

Part VII


Part IX


Part IV: The Virgin birth and the Incarnation


Chapter 2


     WE ARE privileged upon two occasions in Scripture to be given an insight into the events that accompany the introduction of a human soul into this world. The first occasion witnesses the appearance of the First Adam, and the second occasion witnesses the coming of the Second Adam. Other births are recorded in the Bible, but in no other case do we have details of the part that God Himself plays at the moment of the emergence of a vital living human being.
     The two events above are in themselves unique, and the individuals in question uniquely related to one another. They are therefore uniquely detailed. From the record of these two events we may learn certain things about the ultimate constitution of a living soul, and what we learn sheds a wonderful light upon the circumstances of the Incarnation. The two records are found in Genesis 2:7 and Hebrews 10:4-7.

     And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils
the spirit of life; and man became a living soul.                                                                       (Genesis 2:7)

     For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins.
     Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou
wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared for me:
     In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure.
     Then said I, Lo, I come . . . to do thy will, O God.                                                               (Hebrews 10:4-7)

     We have already noted, toward the end of the last chapter, that the word "prepared" in the Authorized Version could be more correctly rendered "perfected." We are given here a picture of the events in heaven at the moment when it was announced that Mary's full term had come. I think there can be little question that these events took place at the time of birth and not at the time of conception,

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since the whole implication of the Greek verb rendered "prepared" involves the idea of something brought to perfection rather than something about to develop. In Genesis 2:7 we have a picture of a created human body, perfect in every respect, but without the vitalizing principle which comes with the possession of breath or "spirit." The word rendered "breath" is also the Hebrew word for "spirit." God breathed into this body the spirit of life and Adam, drawing thus his first breath, became a living soul.
     If we take these two passages, Genesis 2:7 and Hebrews 10:7 together, we have a more complete picture of what happened when God in the Person of His Son entered into our world and was made man. At the moment when Mary's little baby drew its first breath and for the first time established itself as an independent bundle of life, God gave to it its appropriate spirit. In this instance, however, unlike the spirits of all other men which God gives to each after individually creating them (Zechariah 12:1 and Ecclesiastes 2:7), this child-spirit was the uncreated person of the Lord Jesus Christ. And thus was fulfilled that which Isaiah foretold with such careful regard to the use of words when he said: For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given . . . and his name shall be called . . . The Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). When the child was born, the Son was given to it as spirit, and thus the Word became flesh (John 1:1 and 14).
     From the formation of the First Adam we know that it required only the addition of a spirit to the body for the emergence of a living soul, and it seems clear that this compounding coincided with the drawing of Adam's first breath. From what we are told of the coming of the Second Adam we learn that Mary's baby became a living soul when the Son of God, hitherto existing as pure spirit, entered into that little body. And I think we may assume that this entering in, this Incarnation, was likewise coincident with the drawing of the first breath by which it attained its individuated existence.
     I think that on many occasions, when speaking definitively rather than descriptively, Scripture places more emphasis upon the whole man as a spirit-body entity, rather than a soul-body entity. Both the Old Testament and the Gospels, which reflect Hebrew modes of thought,
(32) take the soul quite reasonably as representative of the individual. The "resultant," rather than the two interacting components, is emphasized. But in the Epistles, where Greek modes of thought are more pronounced, though elsewhere in Scripture also, the spirit is singled out in a special way where we might have expected to find the word "soul."

32. Barr, J., The Semantics of Biblical Language, Oxford University Press, 1962.

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     Thus as a man receives his spirit with his first breath, so he surrenders it with his last (Acts 5:5,10). It is not the soul which is said to depart, but the spirit (Ecclesiastes 12:7). Even upon those occasions when an individual is raised from the dead, it is his spirit which returns to the body, not the soul (cf. Luke 8:55 and Ezekiel 37:5). It is the spirit which is formed by God (Zechariah 12:1), whether of the redeemed or the lost. And thus while God is the Father of the spirits of the saved (Hebrews 12 9), He is the God of the spirits of all flesh (Numbers 16:2). In death it is not the soul which cannot be retained by man's will but the spirit (Ecclesiastes 8:8), which God gathers unto Himself (Job 34:14,15). Once the spirit has left the body, the body is dead (James 2:26): nothing is said about the soul here. Stephen commended his spirit, not his soul, into Jesus' keeping (Acts 7:59). It is the spirits of just men made perfect which are in God's keeping, waiting to be clothed upon with a resurrected body (Hebrews 12:23). When Jesus died, He did not dismiss His soul but His spirit (Matthew 27:50). And it is the spirit, not the soul, which is born again (John 3:3,7). Body and spirit are to glorify God (1 Corinthians 6:20) and each is to be cleansed (2 Corinthians 7:1).
     Such passages as these seem clearly to favour the concept of man as fundamentally composed of a body derived by procreation from the parents, and a spirit directly created and appointed to that body by the Lord. At the appropriate time the body becomes a living soul by the admission of its God-given spirit. Until the spirit is given to the body, it is alive only in the physico-chemical or autonomic sense. Without any brain whatsoever, a decerebrate animal may still have the appearance of being alive. And sadly, even infants may be born and survive for months with no brain. Such decerebrates cannot live by themselves and most certainly have no consciousness. It is therefore quite possible for an organism to be "alive" vegetatively, and yet to be clearly without a soul. Decerebrate cats will raise their young and decerebrate birds will fly. Yet they have only reflexes to link them with the world around. The implications of this are very important, for it suggests that one cannot assume a fetus is soul-possessed merely because it is growing and moving, and even responsive to certain kinds of stimuli. Decerebrate animals have all of these things. The decerebrate cat twists and lands on its feet when dropped. This is a complex manoeuver, but entirely reflex and without thought. Sir Charles Sherrington
(33) said that activity, even though it depends upon a sense organ, very commonly does not involve mind at all (see further the appendix at the end of this Paper).

33. Sherrington, Sir Charles, ref.5, p.149.

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     The little body in Mary's womb into which Jesus entered to constitute it a living soul was holy; but as Luke (1:35) says, it was a "holy thing" not a holy person at that stage. It may be noted that the parallel account in Matthew is equally explicit in this matter. The angel tells Joseph to take Mary as his wife without hestitation "for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit". In the Greek the word that is not masculine, which one might expect if the conceptus is personal, but it is neuter. The two statements are perfectly in agreement, reinforcing the implication of foetal impersonality.
      It seems to me safer to suppose that the spirit which God gives to each newborn child to complete it as a living human being and to raise it above the level of a mere vegetative organism, must be given with the drawing of the first breath which marks the attainment of true individuated existence. It is often argued that since children are the gift of God it must necessarily follow that the occurrence of successful union of the sperm and the ovum to form a viable zygote is strictly a gift in this sense. But is this always so? What of the human zygotes that have been produced in the laboratory in a test tube?
(34) Do these zygotes have a God-given soul?
     Organs will develop if suitably cultivated (for example, adjacent to certain other cells) from appropriate colonies of cells which appear to be undifferentiated and which remain undifferentiated in the absence of the correct stimulus.
(35) This shows that there are laws governing the growth of cells into organs which can be rather precisely stated and are apparently as undeviating as the movements of an object under gravitational forces, for example. Living tissue, like non-living substance, is law-bound. God has ordained these laws and presumably has no need to "interfere" at every stage in order to maintain the system as a whole. In short, the system, once properly designed and set in motion, is self-regulating to a surprising degree. Thus the penetration of a spermatozoon into an ovum produces a living organism because this is the way God has appointed the natural law to operate. And just because it is a natural law, the effect follows the cause even when suitably performed in glassware in a laboratory. One cannot suppose that in the latter case God has

34. Test-tube fertilization. There seems little doubt that in vitro fertilization of human oocytes has been successfully accomplished, although subsequent development of the gametes was limited to a few divisions. R. G. Edwards, B. D. Bavister, and P. C. Steptoe reported on these experiments in "Early States of Fertilization in Vitro of Human Oocytes Matured in Vitro," in Nature, vol.221, 1969, p.623f.
35. Fischberg, M., and Blackler, A., "How Cells Specialize," Scientific American, September, 1961, pp.124ff.

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stepped in to "guarantee" a fruitful result. It is simply part of His duly appointed order: it is not in this aspect of procreation that God proffers His "gift." The gift must be much later, therefore, in the overall process of the emergence of a new human being. It is not at conception that the "giving" of the child is to be presumed, but at the drawing of the first breath.
     Is it not more likely that God has laid down certain natural laws for animals and human beings alike, by which a sperm which succeeds in penetrating an ovum will inevitably under normal circumstances result in its fertilization? Does God act specifically in every case to ensure this end result, or is this one of the many natural laws which characterize His whole creation and make it increasingly intelligible to us? Certainly the latter must be true in the procreation of animals. Is it not more likely that where man is concerned the direct creative "interference" of God is to be found rather in the giving of a human spirit as opposed to an animal spirit to the newborn when it draws its first breath? For surely a stillborn child is not a gift of God, if it has never become an independent source of life by drawing its first breath, even though up to that moment it may seem to have been alive and growing like any other fetus. This is equally true for the mind-less, decerebrate child.
      There is nothing here that is really cause for surprise. A fetus may have shown movement and vitality in the physico-chemical sense and yet never draw a breath after it is born and therefore never survive independently. Such movements in the womb are evidence only of apparently normal processes of prenatal development. They need not be evidence of the possession of a soul, for otherwise one has to suppose that God gives a created spirit to the developing fetus only to take it away again if the newborn child fails to draw its first breath. Would God create a human spirit to no purpose, creating it only to receive it back again unchanged?
     If the mere conception of a human zygote is a gift of God, then is not the calf zygote a gift of God, for it too results from a similar union of sperm and ovum? Unless there is something which happens uniquely in the case of the human being, it is difficult to see in what sense a human embryo is specifically a gift of God at this initiating stage. At some point in the process of propagation the human offspring must differ fundamentally from the bovine offspring. Since in Scripture soul-life is attributed to animals as well as to man, the difference cannot be in the mere acquisition of a soul at whatever stage it occurs.
(36) But we are also told that animals, like men, have spirits

6. See the original Hebrew of Genesis 1:20, 21, 24 and 2:19. For example where the Authorized Version has rendered the word for "soul" (nephesh) as "living creatures" or "moving creatures."

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(Ecclesiastes 3:21). Yet at this point we find a significant difference between animals and men, for here we are told that whereas the spirit of the beast goeth downwards, the spirit of man goeth upwards to God who gave it. When the animal draws its first breath, rendering it an independent source of conscious life, it too has somehow acquired a spirit; but the destiny of that spirit at death is not at all the same as the destiny of a human spirit at death, and therefore one must suppose that in spite of appearances to the contrary it is something entirely different. It seems to me that unlike the animal spirit, the spirit which enters a normal human child as he draws his first breath is uniquely God-given and that this is the true sense in which children are the gift of God. This "gift" confers upon the organism that which renders it more than merely a conscious animal. It becomes a person. As it matures, "person" becomes "personality." Where no personality does or can develop, the gift must surely have been withheld even though the first breath was drawn -- as in the case of a decerebrate child, for instance.
     We know that very precise laws govern the fertilization of the ovum by a spermatozoon. This is part of the natural order which is of God's creating, and they are not laws that apply uniquely to humans, but apply to all mammals and to many other creatures. But we also know that conception may lead to only partial development of a fetus which then aborts. The embryo or fetus that fails to mature has been alive in a true sense, performing its divisions and cell differentiations, but then somehow failing at a later stage. If the spirit enters at conception, does this kind of fetus have a soul which is simply "invalidated" somewhere along the line? Is soul-life involved here at all? Experiments purporting to show that fetal "memories" are recoverable from the womb, and even from a stage prior to the distinct formation of organs of "mind," have been rather discredited by the finding that the same psychological technique will not merely recover past "experiences," but future ones also!
(37) Such a technique is clearly suspect, and at the present moment we have absolutely no indication, as far as I know, of the existence of consciousness prior to birth that is not merely autonomic reflex activity.

37. Recovery of fetal "memories." This subject was discussed back and forth in Science in 1954. In an article entitled "The Living Out of 'Future' Experiences Under Hypnosis," Robert Rubenstein and Richard Newman of the Department of Psychiatry, Yale University School of Medicine, describe how under hypnosis a number of hypnotic subjects may live out future events. They naturally believe that this challenges the validity of hypnotic regression. (See Science, vol.119, 1954, p.472.)

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     Thus returning to Scripture, we can at least point to passages which seem to indicate that the soul emerges only when the spirit is given to the body, and that the spirit is given to the body when the child draws its first breath to become truly a person. When Mary's full term was come, the announcement was made in heaven. Then the Lord, the Jehovah of the Old Testament, immediately stepped forward, as it were, saying "Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God." And coming down from His glory He entered into that little body to become Jesus, the Second Adam, a true son of the First Adam, that He might reveal to us what the First Adam was really like and recover what man in Adam had surrendered.
     We are not quite finished, however. Scripture tells us that something else took place that day. In Hebrews 1:5, 6 it is written:

     For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my son, this day have I begotten thee?
And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son? . . . when he bringeth in the
first begotten into the world. . . .

     By combining this passage with one or two others we have this picture: When Mary's full time was come (Galatians 4:4), God sent forth the Lord Jesus Christ to be the spirit which would render that perfect little body a living soul. At one and the same time the Child was born and the Son was given. Of this promised Seed the Old Testament, when looking forward to the event, reveals that God had said, "I will be to him a Father." This is a prophetic statement and refers to a future circumstance.
     If I understand Scripture rightly, the implication of the use of a future tense here is that the Father-to-Son relationship was yet for a future time and did not pertain to the then present situation. Prior to the time that Jesus became man He was God with God, equal to and of one substance with Him. There was no question of greater and lesser such as is implied in a Father-Son relationship, and such as is explicitly stated by Jesus when, after the Incarnation, He said, "My Father is greater than I" (John 14:28). In some way when Jesus came down from His glory to become man, an entirely new relationship was established: and that very day He became the Son of the Father. As Hebrews 1:5 reveals, the future relationship predicted in the last of the verse became, that very day, a then present reality.
     I think from this we may conclude that when the Lord, hitherto a purely spiritual being, came to dwell in that prepared body, then emerged the soul to which reference is made in such passages as John 12:27 and Matthew 26:38; and that this "emergence" of soul coincided not with the conception but with the birth of Mary's child;

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and finally, that while the Lord had from the beginning been God with God, it was not until the day He became enmeshed in our world of time and space that the relationship of Father-to-Son was estabished for the first time, in order that we might recover our sonship through Him, He thereafter being the first of many brethren (Romans 8:29).

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Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

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