Table of Contents
Part IV: The Virgin birth and the
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
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
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,
1 of 8
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
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
32. Barr, J., The Semantics of Biblical
Language, Oxford University Press, 1962.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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."
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.)
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
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. . . .
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;
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).
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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