Part III: When the Word Became Flesh
And the angel came in
unto her, and said,
Hail, thou art highly favoured,
the Lord is with thee:
blessed art thou among women. . . .
Fear not, Mary:
for thou hast found favour with God.
I have implied
by several statements made previously that, at any time in history,
the Lord Jesus could have appeared as Man if God had chosen to
prepare a body for Him from any woman's seed as He did
Mary's seed. To this extent, physiologically considered, the
Incarnation might have taken place any time at all: long before
Mary or long after her, during the centuries that have intervened
from Eve right down to the present moment. It may therefore be
asked, "Why did the Lord appear just at that time?"
and "Why was Mary chosen and not one of her contemporaries?"
What particular circumstances converged to make that moment and
that individual so propitious? In what sense, if any, was Mary
herself unique so that she in particular should be chosen to
become "the mother of the Lord," as Elizabeth called
her (Luke 1:43)?
There are three main lines of inquiry
which are worth pursuing in this matter. First of all, she may
have had a unique kind of personality. After all, she was called
upon to bring up as a child one who was her Creator! Secondly,
she may have stood at a kind of 'genealogical
in her person (whether by marriage or by pedigree) both the Davidic
titular rights to his throne and his actual blood line: on account
of which two circumstances the Lord's claim to the throne of
David was validated in a very special way. For it must be assumed
that David had many other descendants by blood who nevertheless
had no such title. Thirdly, she may have been the last in a line
in which, for providential reasons, the genetic strain was particularly
pure and free from the damage of mutant genes such as are assumed
to be common to the rest of us, leaving us with damaged cells
in every organ and tissue of our bodies. In the body of the Lord
such damage, whether visible or invisible, is unthinkable.
Let us therefore examine these
three lines of evidence. Such an examination will show at once
that not one of these qualifying conditions is sufficient alone
to account for the choice of Mary. But where we find all three
of them converging in a single individual due to circumstances
that cannot reasonably be taken as purely accidental, then we
seem to have a clear demonstration of a unique situation entirely
appropriate for such a unique event as the Incarnation of God
in human form.
1. Mary as a special person.
Upon many occasions
the Lord pointedly played down those family relationships which
we count so important, especially in times of stress. We find
it disconcerting that He should never, according to Scripture,
have referred to or directly addressed his mother by this term
which seems to many of us one of the most beautiful words in
But this same avoidance of directing
attention to his mother, and his father also, is reflected in
the Gospel accounts in other ways as well. It is customary in
many societies, especially in the older ones that have changed
little, to give credit always for a notable son to the parents,
not to the child himself. When Saul desired to honour David
after his valiant defeat of Goliath, he did not ask "What
is his name?" He knew David well enough, for David had often
soothed his frayed nerves with his harp. What he asked was, "Whose
son is he?" For he wished, in accordance with an almost
universal custom, to reward his father, not David himself. Such
societies have always credited the goodness of a son to the worthiness
of his father (1 Samuel 17:55-58).
The reverse is also true, of course.
A man must be held partially accountable for his bad son. Thus
when Noah found what his son Ham had done to disgrace him, he
could not curse his son � for that was to curse himself!
So he cursed his son by cursing his grandson, Canaan (Genesis
1 Kings 11:11�13 we find that for his father David's sake,
Solomon is not punished for his disobedience (verse 10) but his
own son is punished. We are told this quite specifically: "Notwithstanding,
in thy days I will not do it, for David's sake thy father:
but I will tear [the kingdom] out of the hand of thy son."
In 2 Samuel 3:27-29 we have a further illustration in which Joab
is to be punished in his descendants.
3 of 24
By contrast, a woman who wished
to compliment a man upon the greatness of his son could not with
propriety address herself directly in such a fashion to the father
and so she would praise the mother instead. Just such an occasion
occurs in Luke 11:27 where a woman, recognizing the true greatness
of the Lord, said, "Blessed are the breasts that have nursed
thee." However, contrary to what was normal, the Lord rebuked
the speaker for drawing attention to Mary in her role as his
mother. For He said, "Yea, rather, blessed are they that
hear the Word of God and keep it."
Now we run into this anomalous
situation frequently in the Gospels. We begin with the Wise Men
from the East who came with their gifts and these they presented
not to Mary and Joseph (though doubtless Mary and Joseph took
care of them afterwards) but to the Lord Himself, babe in arms
though He was. And it is He, not Mary whom they worship (Matthew
2:11). The text is most specific. "They fell down and worshipped
Him. . ." and "unto Him" did they
present their gifts.
At the age of twelve we find Him
staying behind at the Temple when his parents began the return
journey to their home in Nazareth at the conclusion of the Passover
festival (Luke 2:41-52). Naturally when his parents discovered
his absence towards the end of the day, probably having assumed
meanwhile that He was among the many other children from the
village who would also be in the caravan, they anxiously returned
in search of Him. They found Him in the Temple after visiting
all the friends and relatives without success for three days.
They were excusably amazed that He had not given them some warning
as to his whereabouts. They were probably in fact not merely
troubled but even possibly angered a little, but the joy of rediscovery
dispelled their personal reaction.
Yet what must their surprise have
been when He virtually repudiated any claim upon Him that they
might have felt they had. It was his father's duty to teach Him
a trade, by Jewish custom. Yet He said with surprising pointedness,
"How is it that ye sought Me? Did you not realize that I
must be about my Father's business?"
Joseph knew that he was not the
Lord's true father, only a father by adoption. But his mother
must surely have still felt a certain possessiveness: after all,
He was only twelve years old. We are told,
however, that though
she (like Joseph) did not really understand what He meant, Jesus
did obediently return with them � and Mary "kept all
these sayings in her heart."
Then we come to the marriage in
Cana of Galilee (John 2:1ff.). At a crucial point in the celebrations,
the host found himself suddenly in the embarrassing position
of being out of wine. Perhaps Mary as a guest felt the embarrassment
as keenly as her host, for her whole family was there. And in
her concern she at once turned to her Son, expecting from Him
some special action to relieve the situation simply because she
was his mother. She said to Him, "They have no wine."
That was all. Nothing more. No spoken request that He do something.
Yet He knew it was actually a request. And He at once rebuked
her for a kind of familiar presumption. Jesus said to her, quietly
no doubt, "Woman, what have I to do with thee? Mine hour
is not yet come."
Now woman is a term of respect.
It does not in any way indicate a derogatory attitude. Nevertheless
it seems strange that He so consistently avoided the use of the
word Mother in direct address in public, though He must
surely have used the word in private as He grew up. That there
was no disrespect involved in the use of the term woman is
clearly revealed at the end of his earthly ministry � in
that last gracious act from the cross. Here He saw his mother,
largely forsaken � the family was never wealthy it seems,
and Joseph was dead; and his other brothers and sisters at this
time appear to have repudiated Him. He thus, in spite of the
agony of his position on the cross after several hours, turned
to one of the few of his disciples who refused to desert Him
and said to his mother, "Woman, behold thy son"! (John
19:26,27). Then to the disciple, the beloved John, He said, "Behold
thy mother"! And from that hour that disciple took her to
his own home. Not one of her other children had come to her aid
or offered her shelter. What a burden she had borne all through
her life. And now at the end she was as utterly forsaken as any
mother has ever been. Yet even here, despite her loneliness in
the last moments of her Son's life � so it must have seemed
to her � He still did not call her by that most endearing
of all names, Mother.
Again and again, Mary was thus
challenged by a kind of repudiation that could only appear (to
most women) like the worst kind of cruelty. Her whole life seems
to have fulfilled the prophecy spoken to her in the Temple by
Simeon, "Yea, and a sword shall pierce through thine own
heart also" (Luke 2:35). In Mark 3:31-35 we have the story
of his mother and his brethren coming to "rescue" Him
whom they all felt was killing Himself with overwork. It seems
they could not even get near Him! But he was soon notified of
their concerned presence: "Behold," the people said,
"thy mother and thy brethren outside seek
for thee." What
was his response? He asked, before the crowd, "Who is
my mother and my brethren?" Then, to make his point clearer,
He added, "Behold my mother and my brethren! Whosoever doeth
the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother,
my sister, my mother." No wonder his brothers and sisters
were not there at the end, as far as we know. . . . But
Throughout his whole ministry He
exemplified personally what He had told his disciples in Luke
14:26, namely, that all such relationships must be held very
lightly relative to our relationship to our Father in heaven
as his children: so lightly, in fact, that it must seem we hate
our parents relative to the love we have for God. It was, and
is, a hard saying.
In all these things we see the
Lord Jesus Christ restoring perspective regarding his true position
as a member of the human family, not simply the son of Joseph
and Mary. And we have proofs of Mary's extraordinary grace in
that she kept these things and pondered them in her heart (Luke
2:19, 51) even though she could not understand them. She seems
never to have raised her voice in protest, or sought in any way
to assert her rights as his mother. She accepted humbly her calling
as the "handmaid of the Lord" (Luke 1:38) and all that
her unique position imposed upon her. No mother of such a great
son was ever less possessive or less complaining.
Much has been made in a large part
of Christendom of the angel's statement, "Hail, highly favoured:
the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women" (Luke
1:28). Does this single Mary out uniquely?
In her song of praise when she
was reassured by her visit with Elizabeth as to the reality of
the visitation by the angel, she said, "All generations
shall call me blessed." This would seem to justify her subsequent
veneration under the title "The Blessed Virgin Mary."
But actually the Greek verb (makaridzo) "call me
blessed" means only "to count as blessed,"
exactly as it does in James 5:11 where the same word is used.
The blessedness of Mary at this early time in her life was not
due to herself but to the great fortune that had become hers
by reason of her humble submission and her faith in the word
of the Lord (Luke 1:45). As Elizabeth said to her, "Blessed
(the same word again) is she that believed." Moreover, the
angel had actually said to her, "Blessed art thou among
women," not "Blessed art thou above women."
Other women besides Mary had been
similarly declared "blessed" and indeed in the very
same words. Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite was one. "Blessed
above women shall Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite be;
blessed shall she be above women in the tent" (Judges 5:24).
It is applied to Leah in Genesis 30:13 in reference to her pregnancy,
and the Septuagint employs the same Greek word. Once again, using
this same Greek word,
Psalm 144:15 reads, "Blessed is the people whose God is
Thus as the New Testament everywhere
shows, nothing can be grounded in these declarations in behalf
of Mary's character which may not be claimed for the partakers
of grace generally. It is surely true that Mary was a gracious
woman indeed and doubly blessed by reason of the part she was
to play in the Incarnation. Yet the One of whom she was to be
a virgin mother was also the One by whom she, like all others,
was to be saved by grace. And she most gladly acknowledged the
source of her salvation. "My spirit hath rejoiced,"
she exclaims, "in God my Saviour" (Luke 1:47). Mary
was as much in need of a Saviour as any other sinner. She was
not saved by being the mother of a Saviour-Son but by becoming
a believer in her Son as her Saviour exactly as we do.
It is well to realize, perhaps,
the circumstances of the events surrounding the annunciation
and the nativity. She was a virgin, betrothed to Joseph, and
by Jewish custom already legally his wife though not living with
him until the wedding was actually celebrated. As she awaited
this ceremony, the angel came to her and announced that she had
been chosen of God to be the mother of the Messiah, the Son of
God. This was wonderful enough in itself, but it may not have
occurred to her then that she would become pregnant out of actual
wedlock. Perhaps she understood something of the angel's words
regarding the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit to mean she would
become pregnant supernaturally (Luke 1:34,35) in due time.
But it seems unrealistic to assume that she supposed at that
moment she would be called upon to endanger her marriage by appearing
in the light of a faithless wife to her betrothed. Her spirit
of submission, beautiful though it was (Luke 1:38), does not
necessarily require us to believe that she had any immediate
realization of what might be Joseph's natural reaction if she
should become pregnant before they had come together.
But when she went to stay for a
little while with her cousin Elizabeth in order to share with
her the great promise made to herself that she was to be the
mother of the Messiah (the hope of every Israelite woman, as
we see from Daniel 11:37) and when Elizabeth, under inspiration,
declared her already to be indeed "the mother of her Lord,"
Mary must have suddenly realized what the angel meant. The open
exultation of Elizabeth who, of course, knew that Mary was yet
unwed by law, overwhelmed her spirit and reassured her: and by
the end of her three month stay (Luke 1:56) Mary certainly knew
she was indeed pregnant.
Yet she still had not "known"
Joseph. Before leaving to visit Elizabeth, she may well have
shared the angelic visitation with Joseph
and perhaps both of them
pondered its meaning without anticipating what the immediate
consequences might be in terms of their betrothal. So as she
returned to Nazareth, she may indeed have wondered what Joseph
would say when he discovered she was already pregnant.
But the Lord had provided for this
potential hazard. Joseph may already have suspected that Mary
was pregnant, and at first have felt compelled to take steps
to dissolve the betrothal. But he was now assured by an angel
that he should receive his beloved not indeed in spite of
her condition, but rather because of it. This pregnancy was
a supernatural one.
Thus Joseph became her shield and
provided for both mother and child a normal family relationship.
And though Joseph was not the father of her child, he did perform
the two duties required of any adopting father. First, he gave
Him his name (a practice of very long standing � cf. Genesis
48:16); and secondly, he taught him his trade. Edersheim tells
us that it was deemed a religious duty, frequently and most earnestly
insisted upon, to learn some trade � provided it did not
minister to luxury or tend to lead away from personal observance
of the law. *
No father was truly a father who
did not teach his son a trade � even when the family was
well-to-do. Joseph could not better have demonstrated his adoption
of Jesus as his son than by teaching Him his own trade. That
he did perform both duties to ensure true adoption we know from
Matthew 1:25 (he, not she, called his name Jesus) and
by comparison of Matthew 13:55 with Mark 6:3 (where Jesus is
called the carpenter's son and where Jesus is Himself called
a carpenter!). One cannot doubt that Jesus was a good carpenter.
Did He not Himself say � without fear of contradiction �
that the yokes He makes are "easy" (Matthew 11:30)?
The Scriptures have hedged in the truth and built a firm fence
There is no doubt that Mary was
in an extraordinarily difficult position. She was indeed mother
to her Son but had to learn that she could never "own"
her Son in the sense that other mothers could (and do). On each
occasion upon which she might naturally have felt proud of having
borne such a Son, she was in one way or another rebuked. He rebuked
her by refusing to allow that she bore any special relationship
to Himself above any other of his disciples, whether men or women.
He never once (as we have
said) referred to her as his "mother," not even from
the cross in the one hour when her need of comfort must have
seemed most pressing. He committed her to a
* Edersheim, Alfred, The Life and Times
of Jesus the Messiah, New York, Herrick, 1883, vol.1, p.252.
beloved disciple John
. . . not even, be it noted, to his brothers or sisters * in
the flesh (Matt. 13:55,56). A sword did indeed many times pierce
her own heart. How could it be otherwise, her own motherly nature
being what it was, and his identity being what it was. When Joseph
died she must have felt alone in a very special way. Perhaps
Luke was her physician and confiding in him was a particular
comfort - which could account for the greater detail of the Lord's
birth and earliest days which appear in Luke's Gospel.
Yet, for all this,
it cannot be stated with certainty that there was no other "mother"
in Israel who might not, with God's grace, have responded to
the unique circumstances of Mary's life in an equally submissive
and beautifully resigned way.
It does not seem, therefore, that
Mary was chosen for spiritual or psychological reasons alone
� and, humanly speaking, certainly not by reason of her social
status, since her offering at the time of her ceremonial purification
after giving birth to a firstborn male child was the offering
appointed specifically for those who were to be numbered among
the financially impoverished (Luke 2:22�24 and Leviticus
12:8). It is a striking irony that the injunction in Leviticus
12:8 reads, "If she be not able to bring a lamb, then she
shall bring two turtle doves or two young pigeons." The
irony is that she brought two birds and a lamb. For the
Child she brought was indeed a sacrificial Lamb if she had but
realized it at that time.
We look, then, for some other contributing
reason for the choice of Mary and consider the possibility that
she was chosen particularly because of her pedigree. And here
we have two separate matters to examine: her title to the throne
of David and her right by natural descent, by blood line. And
it is in the latter we must ask also whether it is merely "continuity
of seed" from David or whether there might not be some more
profound "continuity" of a genetic nature that would
in a special way provide in Mary an ovum of particular purity.
2. Mary's pedigree.
It has for centuries
been noted with surprise by those not familiar with Jewish modes
of reckoning pedigrees that Mary, through whom the Lord's body
as to the flesh must be traced back to David's loins in order
to validate his right to David's throne, does not actually appear
* This circumstance was clearly foretold in
Psalm 69:8, "I am become a stranger unto my brethren, and
an alien unto my mother's children." Although the Rabbis
do not seem to have counted this Psalm as a messianic one, yet
verse 9 shows clearly that the reference was to the Lord when
it says, "The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up,"
etc., words particularly applied to the Lord Himself in John
in the only genealogies
we have relevant to the issue. Why did neither Matthew nor Luke
include her name when they traced the line from David to Jesus?
Both pedigrees end with Joseph, not Mary.
It is perhaps not so surprising
that Matthew did not include Mary. For there is some reason to
believe that Matthew's account of the circumstances of Jesus'
birth stemmed originally from the fact that Matthew was Joseph's
confidant. Joseph probably sought advice from Matthew when he
first heard rumours of Mary's condition. Matthew seems to have
been a lawyer, or if not a practicing one, at least a man trained
in the law, for he is elsewhere called Levi, i.e., lawyer
(Mark 2:14). From Joseph he learned much that was very personal
about Joseph's inward struggle � which he subsequently recorded
in his Gospel. To present Joseph's relationship in the Davidic
line seems to follow naturally from these circumstances.
By contrast we know that Luke was
a physician (Colossians 4:14), and what more natural, therefore,
than for Mary in her unusual condition to have sought him out
as her confidant. Certainly the account of the circumstances
surrounding the nativity in Luke's Gospel reflects Mary's point
of view and her personal experience. For this reason we might
surely have expected that Luke would have shown Mary's place
in the Davidic line. Clearly he was not merely a physician but
a historian with the mind of a scholar. He says (Luke 1:3) that
he had been involved in the circumstances "from the very
first," and if this is so he would surely have known Mary's
father's name. But instead of tracing Mary back to Heli, Luke
has stated that Joseph was the son of Heli (Luke 3:23)
which not only seems to prevent Heli from being Mary's father
but also contradicts Matthew 1:16 which makes Joseph to be the
son of Jacob. If the blood line from David to Jesus must be established
according to Jewish law, why was Mary's name omitted by both
writers, for certainly the blood line could not be traced through
Joseph since he was not the natural father of Jesus?
It is important to realize that
in Israel a blood line was always traced officially through males
only. No females are ever listed as actual links in the chain.
If a man happened to have only daughters and no sons to continue
his line, (226)
it was customary to set forth the daughter's husband as her representative
in the pedigree and so to enter his name as a son � not as
a son-in-law, as we would judge him to be. * Thus the line passes from the father to the son-in-law
to the grandson: not from the father to the daughter to the grandson.
Occasionally both the son-in-law
and the daughter (his wife) are
* According to Numbers 27:1-11 regulating
birth rights in a "daughters only" family, the one
stipulation was that a girl marry a man from her own tribe.
226. See Notes at the end of this chapter (page
simply passed over so
that a whole generation is omitted. The blood line is then shown
as passing directly from the father to the grandson. These practices
are exemplified in the two genealogies in question, as will be
seen in Appendix VI. This is the reason that Mary's name is omitted
in Luke's genealogy, while her husband's name stands in her place.
And this is the reason why her husband is shown not only as Jacob's
son (in Matthew) but as Heli's son (in Luke). Meanwhile, there
is no break in the blood line from Heli to Jesus, for although
Joseph had no connection, Mary is the physical link.
What we have here may be set forth
by adoption the son of Joseph, and Joseph by marriage to Mary
becomes the son of Heli, even though he remains a son of Jacob
his natural father: and all contradiction is resolved.
But now the question arises, How
do we know that Mary was the daughter of Heli? We don't. It is
a surmise on the basis of inference from other Scriptures, and
on the basis of certain traditions both Jewish and Christian.
These inferences, however, amount to virtual proof, "proof
from necessity." Let us examine them briefly.
According to rabbinical teaching,
the wife of Joseph was listed in the Jerusalem Talmud (Hagigah
Book 77,4) as Beth-Heli, i.e., daughter of Heli. This is
an important piece of evidence, because the Jews who made these
records can hardly have been prejudiced by Christian convictions.
Added to this testimony is the account given of Mary's parents
in the so-called apocryphal 'Christian' work called Protoevangelium
of James. This work is undoubtedly ancient and is quoted
or alluded to by a number of Church Fathers from the early fourth
century onwards. They speak as though it were a work long familiar
to their readers. It is attributed to James, the brother of the
Lord. It was apparently written either in Hebrew or Syriac (Aramaic?),
and a copy of it was brought from the Middle East by Guillaume
Postel (1503�1581) and translated into Latin. It was sent
to Oporimus, a printer in Basle, where a Protestant divine named
Bibliander, a professor of divinity at the University of Zurich
saw it through to publication in 1552. Postel asserts that it
was publicly read as a
canonical work in the
Eastern Church but rejected as such in the Western. *
Now the Protoevangelium
of James tells us that Mary's parents were named Joachim
and Anna of Bethlehem.† The
importance of this piece of information is that Joachim is a
shortened form of Eliakim (see, for example, 2 Chronicles 36:4).
Subsequently the name Eliakim seems to have been shortened to
Eli/Heli. The two lines of tradition therefore appear to converge
in their testimony to the fact that Mary was indeed the daughter
of Heli and thus continued in her body the seed line of David.
The early Church was almost unanimous in making this assumption
and the form in which Luke's genealogy appears is entirely concordant
with what we know of Jewish practices in such matters.
But there are certain statements
in Scripture not appearing in direct connection with the genealogies
of Matthew or Luke, which virtually settle the matter. First
of all, it is apparent from the angel's words to Mary in Luke
1:32 that she had a real title to David's throne. The angel said
to her with respect to her son, "He shall be great and shall
be called the son of the highest: and the Lord God shall give
unto him the throne of his father David." Now it is true
that this right might accrue to Him only by title through
Joseph who was also clearly a lineal descendant of David according
to Matthew. However, other Scriptures add somewhat to this simple
statement. Romans 1:3 assures us that "He was made of the
seed of David according to the flesh," and since
Joseph contributed nothing to this flesh we have to assume
that Mary was the link. The fact is re-affirmed in 2 Timothy
2:8 ("Jesus Christ of the seed of David"); and Acts
2:30 tells us that "of the fruit of his loins [i.e., David's]
according to the flesh [God] would raise up Christ to
sit on his throne." This was the fulfillment of Psalm 132:11
which reads, "Of the fruit of thy body will I set
[one] upon the throne."
The root of this fulfillment was
not through Joseph's loins, i.e., through Joseph's seed, but
via Mary. We can therefore say with assurance that the evidence
we have clearly reinforces the conclusion that Luke's genealogy
is the line of Mary's seed and the blood line from David to Jesus
the Messiah through her. This line, it may be said, passed through
some very precarious but providentially preserved channels, both
male and female, at the time of the Babylonian captivity. These
are complex but they are so important that they are carefully
explored in Appendix VI.
* A translation of this work by Alexander
Walker was published in the Scribner's edition of The Ante-Nicene
Fathers, vol.VIII, 1916, p.361-367.
† See chap. I. v. i; chap. II. V. i; chap. V. v. 9.
The evidence combined serves to show how God preserved
both the seed and the title, and joined the two in Joseph and
Mary in order to channel them and unite them in the Lord Jesus
Christ. The titular right to the throne of David was channelled
through Joseph according to Matthew, and the blood line of
David's seed was channelled through Mary according to Luke. The
circumstances which necessitated separating these two essential
components of full title to David's throne are discussed in the
above mentioned Appendix and they account for the need of two
distinct genealogies and for the apparent conflicts between them.
These same circumstances account, perhaps, for the divergence
of tradition (Jewish and early Christian) regarding the actual
name of Mary's father.
But Revelation 22:16 is also an
important additional testimony to the reality of Mary's role
according to Luke's genealogy. For Luke traces the line backward
from Mary's father Heli, through David, Abraham, Noah, and so
to Adam. But he does not stop here. He closes his genealogy with
the words "which was the son of Adam which was a son of
God" (Luke 3:38).
The last link in the chain is God
Himself, the Creator of the world and the Creator of man. God
therefore lies at the root of this long chain in the human family
tree from Adam to Christ. But who was this Creator? It was none
other than the same Christ Himself! By Him all things were created,
man included (Colossians 1:15f). Thus, through Mary's unbroken
line, the Lord Jesus Christ is shown to have been not merely
(by his bodily existence) the offspring of David, but
also (by his pre-existence as the Creator in whose image Adam
was made) the root of David as well. In Revelation 22:13
He said, "I am alpha and omega, the beginning and the end,
the first and the last." And then in verse 16, "I am
the root AND the offspring of David." *
So He, the Lord
Jesus Christ, now God made man, stands at the beginning and the
end of this chain of seventy-seven generations stretching from
Adam through Abraham, David, and Mary, to Mary's firstborn son
who was indeed the "Word made flesh."
Thus while the majority of encyclopedias
and dictionaries of the Bible take the position that there is
no absolute proof that Mary was the daughter of Heli or that
Luke's genealogy is really Mary's pedigree, and while this may
be strictly true as to absolute proof, the total
* Nestorius wrote: "Learn how close a
conjunction existed between the Godhead and the flesh of the
Lord visible in the child. For the same [person] was both child
and Lord of the child." [Quoted by Aloys Grillmeier, Christ
in Christian Tradition, Atlanta, John Knox Press,
1975, p.4571]. As the Son was "father" to Himself,
so the child was "Lord" to Himself.
evidence is so strong that it cannot
be seriously questioned. The blood line could not pass through Joseph
because Joseph was the father of Jesus only in a legal sense, "as
was supposed" (Luke 3:23), hos anomidzeto ().
This Greek verb (nomidzo) has the meaning
of "being by custom" when used in the passive voice as here.
The number of hedges
built around the stated relationships between Mary, Joseph, and
Jesus to preserve the exact truth and avoid mis-statement is
truly amazing. For example, Matthew 1:15, 16 tells us that Mattan
begat Jacob and Jacob begat Joseph � but it does not say
"and Joseph begat Jesus." The truth is hedged by the
words "and Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary of whom
was born Jesus, who is called Messiah."
Again, in Luke 1:13 we find the
words of the angel addressed to Elizabeth's husband with respect
to the birth of John the Baptist, recorded thus: "Thy wife,
Elizabeth, shall bear thee a son." But in Matthew
1:21 the words addressed to Joseph with respect to the birth
of the Lord Jesus are thus recorded: "She shall bring forth
a son." There is no "to thee" in this instance.
It is a small omission but what a profound truth is preserved
by it! Jesus was not a Son brought forth to Joseph but to the
Father in heaven.
In the East it was normal for a
father to rejoice publicly and to be congratulated by all on
the birth of a son. But here we find Mary rejoicing publicly
in the beautiful Magnificat (Luke 1:46�55). Of Joseph
we hear nothing in this respect. By contrast, and in harmony
with normal custom however, it is not Elizabeth but Zacharias
who rejoices publicly over the birth of John (Luke 1:67�79).
In Matthew 1:16 Jesus is said to have been
"of Mary" not "of Joseph." We find the words are:
"Joseph the husband of Mary of whom was born Jesus who is
called the Christ." It could be argued on the basis of the English
translation that the words "of whom" revert back to Joseph.
But the Greek is very clear on this matter, for the "of whom"
is ex hes ()
, i.e., feminine, not masculine. The intent of the writer is effectively
made quite clear.
We have noted that Jesus was by
no means an only child: he had brothers and sisters (Matthew
13:55,56). We have also noted that this
* In the Papyri the word is so used regularly
to signify "customary payments" in the form of dues.
The basic root is nomos, law, and in the New Testament
it has reference to social custom and to legal principle rather
than to natural law. The present context clearly shows that Joseph
was not the father of Jesus the Messiah. If he had been so, there
could be no possible reason to say any more than simply that
Jesus was the son of Joseph who was the son of Heli, etc., as
it is in the rest of the pedigree. In the New Testament the word
nomidzo appears fifteen times and always has the meaning
of "supposing," of supposition rather than actuality
(cf. Matthew 5:17; 10:34; 20:10; Luke 2:44; 3:23; Acts 7:25;
8:20; 14:19; 16:13, 27; 17:29; 21:29; 1 Corinthians 7:26, 36;
1 Timothy 6:5).
circumstance was anticipated
in Psalm 69:8. It is striking to find that the Word of God is
careful even here: "I am become a stranger unto my brethren,
and an alien unto my mother's children." The passage does
not say "and an alien unto my parents' children." While
He shared their mother, He did not share their father.
Whereas the angel went first to
Zacharias to announce the birth of a forthcoming son before Elizabeth
was informed (Luke 1:5�20), the same angel (Gabriel) appeared
first to Mary regarding the birth of hers (Luke 1:26�38).
For this was not Joseph's natural son in the sense that John
was the son of Zacharias. Hence in Luke 2:7 we are told that
Mary gave birth to her son, not to Joseph's son, or even
to their son jointly. Moreover, the angel had said to
Zacharias "Your wife Elizabeth shall bear thee a
son" (Luke 1:13) and this was the normal form of speech
in such angelic annunciations. Thus had God spoken to Abraham,
"I will bless [Sarah] and give thee a son also of
her" (Genesis 17:16). The son was brought forth by the woman,
but it was always the man's son. Nowhere else in Scripture,
I believe, is a woman ever said to have brought forth her
firstborn son as Mary is said to have done (Matthew 1:25
and Luke 2:7).
In Luke 2:33 we find the words,
"and Joseph and his mother marveled at those things which
were spoken of him." It does not say "his father and
his mother marveled . . ."
And so the truth is here always
guarded and kept in every way against the slightest contradiction
or possibility of misunderstanding. Thus was Mary's firstborn
child, by supernatural generation and by Joseph's adopting of
Him, certified as the Messiah of Israel and the Saviour of men.
As will be seen in Appendix VI,
the pedigree of Joseph followed a tortuous path but a firm one
to its end in the Person of Jesus Christ to whom now descended
the title to the throne of David. By marriage to Mary
and by the act of adoption, Joseph became the "father"
of Jesus according to law and thereby passed to Him his titular
rights, while Mary fulfilled through herself the promise made
to David that of the fruit of his own loins should one sit upon
his throne whose kingdom would be everlasting. Each parent conveyed
one aspect of the two kinds of claims the Messiah must validate
to possess rightfully the throne of David.
Mary's pedigree was not traced
through the first blood line from David but through David's younger
son Nathan � for reasons examined in Appendix VI. But she
was nevertheless truly of David's loins and bore David's "greater
son" (Matthew 12:42). What she could not pass to her son
came to Him through Joseph's marriage to her and by Joseph's
official adoption of Him as his son.
While it is possible that another
woman in Mary's day might have
fulfilled the position
that Mary did as the daughter of Heli and so of David, it seems
that we do have in these circumstances a special situation that
probably made her position unique. And with the death and bodily
resurrection of the Lord Jesus, the full title to the throne
of David has passed forever beyond the reach of any other human
3. The existence of a 'pure' line from
Adam to Mary.
We have considered
at some length the psychological and spiritual qualifications
of Mary, and the complete suitability of her pedigree from a
legal point of view. We have now to give some thought to the
suitability of her seed from the scientific point of view, genetically
considered. Some more cautious souls would say, Are you not trespassing
into mystery? Is this not unwarranted speculation? Do not such
secret things belong only unto the Lord? The answer has to be,
of course, It may indeed be so.
To one who has not given much thought
to the matter, it may seem manifestly absurd to even think about
it. But if one has thought about it, it soon becomes apparent
that there are some genetic problems that can hardly be dismissed
� once they have been raised. For there is no question that
the Lord Jesus Christ was both the sacrificial Lamb of God and
the High Priest who alone was worthy to present that sacrifice.
Both roles were undertaken by the one individual. And both sacrificial
victim and High Priest must be without spot or blemish, not to
outward appearance only but inwardly as God sees. This requirement
would seem to mean a body (for both Lamb and Priest) free entirely
of mutant genes.
A lamb offered according to the
Mosaic Covenant might be approved for sacrifice by man's limited
powers of observation and yet be far from perfect due to some
hidden defect. The Lamb who was to fulfill all these prototype
offerings in the Old Testament had to be not merely without blemish
apparent to the superficial view of man but without blemish in
the most absolute sense � in the sight of God. Such a body
that was to be offered for man's redemption could not conceivably
be one hiddenly marred in every cell by damaged genes.
Such damage would be in
every body cell, for it seems virtually certain that there are
very few individuals born today in whom, quite by chance, there
are no mutant genes. And it is equally safe to say that since
all mutant genes are damaged genes and are in some measure detrimental,
and since they will exist in every body cell, we are to that
extent defective, every one of us, as to our tissues and organs
� even though there may be no outward evidence of it.
The care which was to be exercised
by the priests who approved the lamb of atonement was precisely
set forth in Leviticus 22:17�23. The very health of the whole
depended upon minute
examination of the victim. Yet it was, after all, limited to
what man could see. The same must be said of the rigid examination
accorded to all those who presented themselves as candidates
for the priesthood. And this was even more true of anyone who
was to be chosen as High Priest. Such an appointee might be disqualified
for any disfigurement whatsoever, no matter how small it was.
Basing their procedure on the instructions given in Leviticus
21:17�24, the Jewish authorities began with the enumeration
of eleven characteristic blemishes that would exclude the holding
of any priestly office involving the approach to any altar. These
blemishes included blindness, lameness, facial disfigurement,
malformation of hand or foot, any extraneous growth, hunchback,
short stature, defective eyes, scurvy, running sores, and damaged
sex organs. Any one of these defects disqualified the individual
from officiating in the offering of sacrifices.
This Mosaic list of eleven disqualifying
blemishes was extended in the Talmud to 142. Later on the rabbis
added two more, raising the total to 144 � perhaps for mnemonic
purposes. All of them were, of course, external and manifest.
They could not know of the hidden blemishes which were internal.
Any neophyte who desired to serve
as a priest had to undergo an extremely rigid and probably sometimes
embarrassing personal examination before admittance. If he should
subsequently be injured, he might be reduced to a wholly subservient
role in the Temple services, such as preparing the wood for the
fires for example. Josephus notes that Antigonus cut off the
ears of Hyracanus who had been High Priest in order to ensure
that he would never be restored to this office again (Antiquities
of the Jews, XIV. xiii. 10).
I think we must assume that so
long as the nation of Israel had moral leadership, any candidate
for the high priesthood would also be judged as to the suitability
of his character. But in terms of strict rules and regulations
the emphasis was, of necessity, placed on physical suitability.
One Hebrew word above all others seems to have gathered under
its head these qualifying traits � physical, moral, and spiritual.
This was the word tamim. It has, in a broad sense, the
meaning of perfection. The passover lamb was to be tamim,
and so were all sacrifices offered to the Lord. Of the 89
occurrences of the word, 54 refer to physical perfection and
35 to perfection of character. The word is first used with reference
to Noah, a just man and perfect (tamim � Genesis 9:6).
The context of this reference may be particularly significant,
for we are told that Noah was not only a just man but also "perfect
in his generations."
The Septuagint translated the Hebrew tamim
by the Greek word amomos ().
And the New Testament employed this word in
Hebrews 9:14 when speaking
of the Lord Jesus who offered Himself without spot unto
God, and in 1 Peter 1:19 in speaking of the Lamb without blemish.
But in other places in the New Testament amomos clearly
has the sense of moral perfection or blamelessness.
The phrase "in his generations"
is really the deciding factor. In the Hebrew the word "generations"
(toledoth) is a word consistently referring to the matter of pedigree
in its 38 occurrences in the Old Testament. It is a word customarily written
in a plural form, probably because any pedigree assumes a plurality of
predecessors or descendants. The Septuagint rendering of the Old Testament
regularly translated toledoth by the Greek word genea ()
which signifies pedigree, line, descent, breeding, nation:
a word so used in this sense in Classical Greek to express the same idea.
A concordance will show at once that toledoth is always associated
in the Old Testament with pedigree, even as Matthew opens his Gospel (1:1)
with the pedigree of the Lord Jesus and refers to it under the heading,
"These are the generations of . . ."
It could therefore be argued with
good reason that at this critical point in human history the
life-line from Adam was being preserved in one man (and his family)
who qualified in his own person not only because he was a just
man but because of the purity of his seed from a genetic point
of view. Through Shem he passed it on to Abraham and through
Abraham to David. Through David's son Nathan the line passed
to Mary, and through Mary to the Lord Jesus Christ.
It was, of course, quite impossible
for the authorities in those days to know of hidden defects in
candidates under their scrutiny, whether youths for the priesthood
or offerings for sacrifice. But surely no such clemency could
possibly be permitted by God Himself as He looked upon his own
Lamb (John 1:29), and as He looked upon the High Priest who was
to offer it.
The Lord Jesus Christ was both
Lamb and High Priest: for "He offered Himself
without spot to God" (Hebrews 9:14). His perfection
of body and spirit must have been absolute. That He should have
damaged genes in every cell is surely an unthinkable thing. But
how could He receive such a body through a woman, coming as it
did after 6000 years and 76 generations of accumulated mutations?
Let us look briefly at what we
do know from Scripture, which is the only data we have as to
the requirements and the historical circumstances. And then let
us compare this with the known data of genetics which can be
set forth with some measure of assurance because they are based
for the most part on experimental verification.
First, then, the data of Scripture.
can be sure that since mutant genes are damaged genes, Adam had
no mutant genes when God created him. His body was perfect and
without spot or blemish.
(2) We can be sure that the
Lord Jesus Christ had no mutant genes in his body either. As
the Lamb of God, his body had to be perfect, without spot or
blemish (1 Peter 1:19). It had to be as perfect as Adam's body.
(3) We know from Scripture that
Mary's seed was supernaturally fertilized by the Holy Spirit,
and therefore that no damaged genic material was thereby contributed
to it. It was a "holy thing" (Luke 1:35).
(4) We know that Mary was only
76 generations from Adam, a fact of some importance in the light
of the rate at which genetic damage accumulates from generation
This is our
basic biblical data, though it has to be considered largely in
the terms of implications rather than explicit statements.
Bringing to bear on this biblical
data what we know from genetic research, we note the relevance
of the following.
1. Mutant genes
are damaged genes.
2. Mutant genes,
contrary to popular opinion, are remarkably rare. G. G. Simpson
has estimated that the chances of any one cell nucleus containing
five mutant genes would be of the order of 1 in 1022 or one in ten thousand
million million million! * To state it slightly differently,
if there were available for analysis ten thousand million million
million cells with a nucleus in each, only one of those cells
would be found with five mutant genes in it. All the rest would
have less than five mutant genes or none at all!
Since the ovum is a cell with a
nucleus, the composition of which will be much like all other
cell nuclei, this statistical estimate applied to it also. The
ovum which Mary presented might therefore conceivably have five
mutant genes (by this method of reckoning), but she might just
as easily have fewer than five or even none whatever.
At any rate, the damage is of an
extremely low order of magnitude relative to the number of genes
in the cell which are estimated
G., The Major Features of Evolution, New York, Columbia
University Press, 1953, p.96. Only where in-breeding enhances
the probability of damaged genes being paired is the percentage
likely to be higher. Bernard Rensch notes that H. J. Muller's
genetic analysis of marriages among close relatives has demonstrated
that every individual has an average of at least ten detrimental
hereditary characteristics in his genetic make-up [Homo Sapiens:
From Man to Demi-God, New York, Columbia University Press,
1972, p.11]. This is still a remarkably small number. Moreover,
it is based on our generation, and it should be remembered that
we today are not in the 76th generation as Mary was, but probably
at least in the 150th generation from Adam. Mutant genes have
had longer to accumulate and the mutagenic influences in our
generation are probably much higher. Mary's generation was almost
certainly less damaged than ours in this respect.
to be between 50,000
to 10,000: some would place the figure as high as 1,000,000!
And if there was a providential
filtering out in the process of cell division at the time of
fertilization, there might be none at all. Since one "parent"
was the Holy Spirit, there would certainly be nothing surprising
in the appearance of a body completely free of mutant genes.
Even natural generation must result in individuals now and then
being born in whom there are no inherited mutant genes in the
cell nucleus, though their cytoplasm would of course still be
carrying the mortogenic factor introduced by the male. It is
this cytoplasmic entail of sin that virgin conception
it is now known that a very large proportion of damaged genes
revert to the original undamaged state by some built-in repair
process which is only partially understood but clearly demonstrable.
(227) Thus the
figure of a possible five mutant genes would in any case probably
be on the high side in most individuals.
4. Because of
the nature of the chromosomes which carry the hereditary material
in the nucleus of each cell, all genes are found in pairs called
alleles. When a gene mutation occurs, only one gene of
the pair is affected. The undamaged allele or pairing gene neutralizes
the damaged gene. If, however, in the next generation the damaged
gene by chance is paired with another damaged gene at the same
position on the matching chromosome, the damage becomes manifest
in the developing organism. * The chance of this happening is
virtually nil unless the marrying partners are closely related
The Holy Spirit's
contribution could not possibly introduce any mutant genes, so
that there would be no reinforcement of any that Mary
herself might have contributed. In point of fact they would be
it seems clear that we have no right to suppose any damaged
genes would be allowed through the sorting process†
that precedes actual fusion of the nuclei of the two seeds in
Moreover, it is by no means necessary
to assume that such damaged genes were present at all. There
is no evidence that we are all loaded with mutant genes. The
evidence is quite to the contrary: mutant genes are rare to begin
with. In natural procreation chance alone must allow their reduction
by half in any case: and divine
227. See Notes at the end of this chapter
* A determined effort has been made here to avoid the use of
technical jargon which would have made the description of these
events easier but much less intelligible to the reader who does
not "speak the language." To the geneticist, the shuffling
processes involved here are very familiar.
† This sorting out process takes place at the time
of the expulsion of the first and second polar bodies from the
ovum after fertilization.
oversight of this process
of shuffling could very well assure that there were in fact none
in the woman's seed that was to be God's chosen vessel.
Furthermore, as we have already
seen earlier, the cytoplasm of the woman's seed would by its
very nature be entirely free of any mortogenic factor. The body
of the Lord Jesus Christ could thus be not only perfect in outward
appearance but perfect in its inner constitution also.
In conclusion, I do not think it
is necessary to introduce the doctrine of immaculate conception
in order to ensure that the Lord's body would be free from the
effects of original sin as it was being prepared for Him. (228)
While Herman Olshausen can hardly
have had Mary's genetic constitution in mind when he wrote his
Commentary on the New Testament, * it is remarkable how
apt his observation was when he said: "We must look upon
the incarnation of Christ as a fact for which preparation was
made by a vein of nobler life flowing through the whole line
of our Lord's ancestors." Mary's body came of a very pure
Taken together �
her character, her titular standing with respect to the throne
of David, and her pedigree � all help to explain what made
Mary God's choice. When Paul wrote to the Galatians (4:4) he
said, "When the fullness of time was come, God sent forth
his son, made of a woman, made under the law." The immediate
reference may be only to the period of gestation, but it could
also be to the period of world history in which those events
transpired, or it might even relate back to the fulfillment of
the predicted time interval of Daniel's prophecy (Daniel 9: 25).
Mary certainly satisfied in her person all the hedgings and fencings
that were essential for the mother of the Lord, in order that
his title to the throne of David might be unchallengeable and
that He might qualify as the Lamb of God without spot or blemish.
Perhaps this is one of the few
cases in Scripture where the reason for the choice of a particular
individual for a very special work of God is not hidden in the
secret councils of the Almighty but is revealed to us and to
our children (Deuteronomy 29:29). All three of the reasons we
have considered in this chapter may together answer the question,
228. See Notes at the end of this chapter
* Olshauen, Herman, Commentary on
the New Testament, translated by A. C. Kendrick, New York,
Sheldon, 1861, vol.I, p.168.
We now turn to a consideration of the moment of
incarnation and the change in relationship which took place between
the Lord Jesus Christ and his heavenly Father as a consequence
of his embodiment. In the history of the human race, indeed in
the history of the Universe, it was for this moment that both
the Universe and our race were created. The Incarnation was an
event when time and eternity were scarcely distinguishable. And
it was an event made possible by the very way in which God had
designed man's body and the processes of human reproduction.
The Incarnation was � and is � in fact, the key to the
Universe. It is also the key to man's origin, to man's constitution,
to man's history, to man's destiny.
There must have been a profound
silence among the angels in heaven when that moment arrived:
and not until Mary's firstborn had uttered his first cry did
the angelic hosts burst forth with the praises heard by the shepherds
226. (See page 9) It has been argued that Heli had at
least two daughters, for in John 19:25 reference is made to Mary's
sister. To have two Marys in the same family seems most unusual
unless (as sometimes happens) the later one is named after a
sister who has predeceased her. We know this was not true in
the present instance for both Marys are spoken of as alive together.
An alternative is to suppose that the Mary of John 19:25 was
really only a sister-in-law. This is fair enough in so far as
she would be called Mary's sister in Jewish terminology. But
such a sister-in-law cannot have been the wife of a brother of
our Mary because it is virtually certain that any brother of
Mary would have been mentioned somewhere in the record. She may
have been a sister-in-law by some less direct connection �
and this would still account for the wording of John 19:25. There
is also the fact that our Mary is called Miriam (Matthew 13:55)
whereas the Mary of John 19:25 is called Maria. The fact could
be made the basis of an argument for the existence of two daughters
of Heli, true sisters with variants of a common Jewish name.
227. (See page 19) Repair of DNA. On this subject see
A. M. Srb, Genes, Enzymes and Populations, New York, Plenum,
1973, p.223-235. A more readily accessible paper with some excellent
diagrammatic illustrations was published by P. C. Hanawalt and
R. H. Haynes, "The Repair of DNA," Scientific American,
Feb.,1967, pp.36�43. These authors wrote: "Modern industry
. . . involves intensive application of quality-control procedures
for the correction of manufacturing errors, since even the best
assembly lines can introduce faulty parts at an unacceptable
rate . . . Recent studies have demonstrated that living
organisms employ analogous processes for repairing defective
parts in their genetic material: deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA).
This giant molecule must be replicated with extraordinary fidelity
if the organism is to survive and make successful copies of itself.
Thus the existence of quality-control mechanisms in living cells
may account in large part for the fact that 'like produces like'
over many generations.
"Until recently it has been
thought that if the DNA in a living cell were damaged or altered,
for example by ionizing radiation, the cell might give rise either
to mutant daughter cells or to no daughter cells at all. Now
it appears that many cells are equipped to deal with some of
the most serious hazards the environment can present. . . . The
ability to recover from injury is a characteristic feature of
228. (See page 20) It is an over-simplification to say that
the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was the Roman Catholic
answer to this problem, yet essentially this is the case. This
doctrine teaches that Mary herself when she conceived was freed
by sanctification from the taint of original sin. It is interesting
to note that a precedent was believed to exist by reference to
Jeremiah 1:5 which speaks of that prophet being sanctified before
he "came out of the womb." Why could this not be true
also of Mary?
The doctrine was the result of
long and deep reflection upon the problem of how the Lord's body
escaped this stain; and it was formulated, of course, in the
absence of what is now known about the foetal relationship between
mother and child. Since that time, the Roman Catholic theologians
have at least officially favoured the position that by reason
of the immaculate conception of Mary herself, the sinful but
not the human connection between Adam's body and the Lord's body
was severed so that the latter was free of original sin but truly
human. During prenatal development the Lord's body was preserved
or was sanctified in the virgin's womb due to the presence of
the divine soul which infused it.
are some of the "feelings after the truth" that we
find from the writings of the earlier Church Fathers and up to
and including Reformation times as men struggled with the problem.
Athanasius (c. 296�373),
the great champion of orthodoxy against Arianism, held that Christ's
body was first redeemed and then sanctified to become the means
of our redemption. As he put it: "Although it was only after
He was made man for us and became our brother by similitude of
body, still He is called (and is) the 'first-born' of us, because
all men being lost according to the transgression of Adam, his
flesh before all others was saved and liberated as being the
body of the Logos [the divine Son]. And henceforth we, becoming
incorporate with It, are saved after Its pattern" [Apologia
Contra Arianos, Discourse II. lxi, in Ante-Nicene Fathers,
New York, Scribner, 2nd series, 1913, vol.IV, p.381, col.
b]. It will be noted that Athanasius did not for one moment suppose
that the Lord as Logos needed redemption, but only his body as
received from Mary.
wrote: "If the soul of Christ be derived from Adam's soul,
He, in assuming it to Himself, cleansed it so that when He came
into this world He was born of the virgin perfectly free from
sin either actual or transmitted. If however the souls of men
are not derived from that one soul [of Adam] and it is only by
the flesh that original sin is transmitted from Adam, then the
Son of God created a soul for Himself just as He creates souls
for all other men: but He united it not to sinful flesh but only
to the 'likeness of sinful flesh' (Romans 8:3)" [Letter
No.164, chap.7, 19, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, New
York, Scribner, 1st series, 1885, vol.1, p.521].
One observes the influence of Augustine's
thought on Roman Catholic theology which also holds that original
sin was excluded from the soul of Jesus by the sanctification
of it through the divine indwelling presence of the Logos.
In the eighth century, Felix
of Urgellis (died 818 in Spain) maintained that the Logos
united Himself with a human nature that was not sanctified, and
that therefore Christ had a corrupted nature although He never
actually committed sin. He believed this was a necessary condition
of his incarnation in order that He might be tempted in all points
like as we are, that is to say, that He might be tempted from
within also [quoted by W. G. T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology,
Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1969 reprint, vol.II, p.302].
It is important, as we have already noted,
to keep in mind that the words like as (represented in the Greek
by homoi-oteta) does not mean in exactly the same way � which would
have required some such form as homo-oteta [see ref. #223
Anselm (1033�1109) in
his Cur Deus Homo? [Bk. II, chap.17] has his companion
in conversation arguing that Christ's mother's body was somehow
purified "prospectively" by the power of Jesus' death.
With this Anselm seems to agree.
John Calvin (1509�1564)
wrestled with the problem. In his Institutes [II. xiii.
4] he wrote: "They betray their ignorance who argue that
if Christ is perfectly immaculate and was begotten of the seed
of Mary by the secret operation of the Spirit, then it follows
that there is no impurity in the seed of the woman, but only
in that of the man. We do not represent Christ as perfectly immaculate
merely because He was born of the seed of the woman unconnected
with any man, but because He was sanctified by the Spirit in
order that the generation might be pure and undefiled as would
have been true before Adam's fall."
If only he had known what we now
know, he might have seen how near to the truth was that which
he firmly denied!
Ursinus (1534�1583) in his Christian Religion
(Question 35) wrote: "Mary was a sinner: but the mass of
flesh which was taken out of her substance was by the operation
of the Holy Spirit at the same instant sanctified when it was
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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John Owen (1616�1683)
in his Discourse on the Holy Spirit [vol. II, published
in 1674] wrote: "The human nature of Christ, being thus
formed in the womb by a supernatural creative act of the Holy
Spirit was in the instant of its conception sanctified and filled
with grace . . . . [this] human nature, being not begotten by
natural generation, derived no taint of original sin or corruption
Francois Turrettin (1623�1687)
in his Institutio Theologae Elencticae [XIII. xi. 10]
wrote: "The Holy Spirit must prepare the substance cut away
from the substance of the virgin by a suitable sanctification
. . . by purifying it from all stain of sin . . . and this
in order that Christ may be born without sin. There is no need
of having recourse to the doctrine of the immaculate conception
of Mary (herself)."
John Howe (1630�1705),
a non-Conformist Puritan theologian, in his Oracles [II.
xxxvii] wrote: "It is a mighty confirmation of the natural
descent of sin with the nature of man in the ordinary way, that
when God designed the incarnation of his own Son, in order to
avoid the corruption of nature descending to Him, He then steps
out of the ordinary course; a consideration that hath weight
with it, that, if anyone allow himself to think, it must overbear
his mind in that matter, that surely there is some secret profound
reason in the council of God � whether obvious to our view
or not obvious � that the descent of corrupt nature was in
the ordinary way unavoidable; that when God had a design to incarnate
his own Son, when it was intended that God should be manifested
in the flesh, to avoid that contagion and corruption which in
the ordinary course is transmitted, He doth in this single instance
recede and go off from the ordinary course. Because the human
nature had been corrupted if it had descended in the ordinary
way, therefore the ordinary course of procreation is declined
and avoided: a most pregnant demonstration that in the ordinary
course sin is always naturally transmitted" [quoted by W.
G. T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, Grand Rapids, Zondervan,
1969 reprint, vol. II, p.2]. For all the complexity of his sentence
structure, it is clear that Howe was nearer than most of his
predecessors to recognizing the real significance of the virgin
Throughout these centuries men
had struggled with the problem. How could the Lord Jesus be truly
human without a truly human body, and how could He acquire a
truly human body without also acquiring the taint of original
sin? Many adopted the view that his body had to be, and indeed
was, sanctified either by his own entry into it or by the Holy
Spirit before He entered it. At first the relevance of the virgin
conception does not seem to have been clearly perceived. One
of the earliest of the Church Fathers, Justin Martyr (110�165),
illustrates lack of perceptiveness in this regard when he wrote:
"And our Lord Jesus Christ was born of a virgin, for
no other reason [emphasis mine] than that he might destroy
the begetting by lawless desire, and might show to the devil
that the formation of man was possible to God without human intervention"
[Fragments of the Lost Works of Justin on the Resurrection,
chap. III, Ante-Nicene Fathers, New York, Scribner, 1913,
vol. I, p.295]. To Justin, the virgin birth was a display of
God's miraculous power and a rebuke to Satan. That it could be
related to the present issue was not perceived. It was not until
considerably later that it began to be realized such a perfect
body was not preserved against the inheritance of original sin
by some act of cleansing but by the exclusion of natural generation.
Thus it slowly became apparent that the male seed had to be by-passed.
It is perhaps time now to explore afresh the significance of
the necessity of virginal conception in the light of modern knowledge.