Some have suggested that the physical body of the Lord Jesus was directly created by God from nothing. No physical or genetic link existed between Christ and Mary because God created the Lord’s body without using a mother’s ovum, just as He had done once before, in a different manner, with Adam in Eden. This, it is claimed, ensured Christ’s sinlessness when He became flesh.
This idea may be well intentioned, but it is wide of the mark for the following seven reasons:
- While Christ could have been a real man just like us even if His body had been created from nothing, our redemption required more than that. Christ must not only be a real man; He must also be a related man. In ancient Israel, only a near blood relative could perform the duty of redeeming his brother. Christ must be physically and genetically our relative for Him to fulfil His role as kinsman redeemer and deliverer (Heb 2:14-17). In other words, Christ’s link to the human race must not be merely ‘legal’, but also ‘physical’.
- Luke records that our Saviour was actually conceived in the womb of Mary. That is how He became flesh. The verb ‘conceived’ in Luke 1:31 is the normal New Testament and Septuagint word for the beginning of a pregnancy. The exact same verb is used of John the Baptist’s conception in the very same chapter (v24). Note carefully Gabriel’s words to Mary; “Thy cousin Elizabeth hath also conceived” (v36). So, although Christ’s incarnation in Mary’s womb was miraculous and did not involve a human father, the Scriptures plainly call it a conception. For the avoidance of doubt, this means that Mary’s ovum was involved.
- Genesis 3:15 refers to the Lord Jesus the “seed” of the woman. The Hebrew word for seed here is zera, a word that carries one of two meanings, depending on context: either ‘seed’ in a literal sense, or ‘descendant’ in a figurative sense. Either way, as the “seed of the woman”, Christ must have a genetic connection to Mary. Says Robert Gromaki, “How could Jesus be the seed of the woman (Gen 3:15) when the woman did not furnish the egg? How could it be said that a virgin conceived (Matt 1:23, cf Luke 1:31)?”1
- Galatians 4:4 says Christ was “made of a woman”. To ‘make’ is to generate or cause to be, and ‘of’ is the Greek proposition ek (out of). So, this expression “made of a woman” strongly indicates a physical and genetic link to Mary, not a totally separate ex nihilo creation.
- 1 Kings 8:19 states that Christ will come forth out of David’s loins. For Christ to sit on David’s throne in the millennial kingdom He must be from “David’s loins”, which would not be the case if His body had been created from nothing.
- Galatians 3:16 says Christ is the seed of Abraham. The Lord Jesus was a Jew, and he could only be truly Jewish if He had a genetic link to Abraham. In the words of J.C. Philpot: “He took the flesh of the virgin, or He could not have been the promised ‘seed of the woman’ which was to bruise the serpent’s head (Gen 3:15); or of ‘the seed of Abraham’, to which the promise was especially made (Gal 3:16), and from which the virgin Mary was lineally descended.”2
- In Luke 3:38 the Lord Jesus is said to be “of Adam”. As with all others in Luke’s genealogical tree, the Lord is listed as a descendent of Adam, another strong indication of a real physical link.
Norman Geisler states: “To deny [Christ’s] genetic connection with Adam is implicitly and logically to deny His humanity. Therefore, despite its appeal, the creation view is a grave mistake…Any denial that Mary’s genes were in Jesus is a denial of His true humanity and consequently our redeemability…Mary was not simply a conduit for something that, genetically, was totally foreign to her. Mary’s baby was ‘made’ from her (Gal 4:4), was ‘like’ her (Heb 2:17) and therefore shared her human nature, just as all physical descendants share the nature of their mothers.”3
Exactly how the virgin conception took place we are not told, but a number of related matters are clear:
- Our Lord was preserved from inheriting or being contaminated by any sin from Mary by the actions described in Luke 1:35: “The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, the power of the highest shall overshadow thee. Therefore also that holy thing that shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God”.
- After His conception, the Lord went through all the normal embryonic stages of development by all the normal means for 9 months (Luke 1:26, 36, 2:6-7). Christ had both a conception in Mary and a gestational connection to Mary. Mary was no mere incubator.
- The nature of Christ’s body resulting from the conception, was exactly the same as ours apart from sin. He was “as much a man as I am, but not such a man as I am”. Henry Craik rightly stated in 1848: “He was in all things made like unto His brethren, sin only excepted; that the flesh which He assumed was the flesh and blood of the children; that the physical or chemical properties of His body were the same as ours.”4 This explains the real human weariness, tiredness, sleep, hunger and thirst that the Lord experienced. He sleep was no mere pretence, nor was His weariness figurative. These were the real human experiences of a real sinless man.
A body hast Thou prepared Me
But does not Heb 10:5 say that God prepared a body for the Lord Jesus? Yes, but the Bible indicates that the fitting and framing of His body was accomplished, not by ‘creation from nothing’, but through the virgin conception (Isa 7:14). That is how His body was prepared. Nothing more than that should be read into Heb 10:5. Bear in mind that “a body hast Thou prepared Me” is a quotation, and a divinely sanctioned interpretive expansion, of the Hebrew sentence “mine ears hast Thou opened” from Psalm 40:6, where the emphasis is on the fact that the Lord came to do the will of God. To do God’s will, Christ must be endowed with a body. There is no justification for the view, either from Hebrews 10:5 or Psalm 40:6, that ‘the Lord took nothing from Mary’.
The idea that the Lord took nothing from Mary is one strand of a package of errors historically known as Valentinianism, named after a well-known and popular 2nd Century Egyptian gnostic called Valentinus (100-160AD). How do we know this? Because in a publication called Against Heresies, the ‘church father’ Irenaeus (130-202AD) refuted Valentinus’s belief that “Christ passed through Mary just as water flows through a pipe”.5 This is the first known historical reference to the ‘incubator theory’, making it a very old heresy indeed. Referencing Irenaeus’s comment about Valentinus, William Harvey (a 19th century writer) observed: “Thus we may trace back to the gnostic period [to Valentinus’s time] the Apollinarian error, closely allied to the Docetic, that the body of Christ was not derived from the blessed virgin, but that it was of heavenly substance, and was only brought into the world through her instrumentality.”6 Thus the idea that the Lord took nothing from Mary, far from being Biblical, is actually gnostic.
William Harvey’s comment about the Lord’s body being “heavenly substance” reminds us that care is needed when referring to the Lord’s humanity. If, now that the Lord Jesus has been exalted to heaven, reference is made to His “heavenly humanity”, meaning that there is a real “man in the glory” in a real human glorified body, that would be acceptable language. But the expression “heavenly humanity” should never be used to refer to Christ’s incarnational entry into this world, because His humanity involved Mary’s earthly substance. In comments on the meal offering in the 1st edition of Notes on the Book of Leviticus (1860), C.H. Mackintosh, one of the great Bible expositors of the 19th Century, caused some upset by referring the Lord’s manhood as “heavenly humanity”. Some leading brethren rightly objected to Mr Mackintosh’s turn of phrase, so the words were removed from the 1861 edition.7 William Kelly, a contemporary expositor with Mr Mackintosh, correctly taught that the Lord derived His human nature from Mary8 and that He was “of the very substance of His mother”.9
When drawing up the Westminster Confession of Faith in 1646, the authors included the following paragraph (Ch 8, Para 2): “The Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance and equal with the Father, did, when the fullness of time was come, take upon Him man’s nature, with all the essential properties, and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin; being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the virgin Mary, of her substance.” Note carefully the last three words: “of her substance”. This was inserted to refute Valentinianism, which certain Anabaptists had revived in the post-Reformation period.10 Theologians living at that time in history strove to uphold the truth that, in the words of a Matthew Poole (1624-1679), “…His body was formed in the womb of the virgin, and He was flesh of her flesh…” (emphasis added).11
The second man is the Lord from heaven
But does not 1 Corinthians 15:47 say “The second man is the Lord from heaven”? Surely this implies that the Lord’s manhood was of heavenly origin and took nothing from Mary?
First, even if 1 Cor 15:47 were speaking about the origin of the Lord’s body, it would be stretching it wildly to build Valentinianism on that verse. But, second, the expression “the second man is from heaven” actually refers to the glorified condition of Christ’s body now at the Father’s right hand, not to its origin at the time of the incarnation. The contrast in the verse is between Adam’s natural body and the Lord’s risen glorified body. Jack Hunter helpfully points this out: “the prominent idea [in 1 Cor 15:47] is not so much origin as association. The omission of the article before ‘earth’ and ‘heaven’ lays emphasis on what is characteristic. It is true that in origin Adam was ‘out of the earth’, but he was also ‘earthly’. It is true too that Christ came from heaven, but He clearly is ‘heavenly’. It would seem from the context that ‘the second man from heaven’ must refer to Christ in exaltation.”12 The next two verses confirm this: though we were born into the world with a body like Adam’s earthly body, in heaven we will have a glorified heavenly body like the one the Lord Jesus has now.
The silence of Scripture
Some will defend their rejection of both a real conception in Mary and a gestational connection to Mary by saying, “Where Scripture is silent, let us be silent.” But if Scripture is truly silent about what actually happened in the womb of Mary, whence their ‘incubator theory’? Besides, there is no shame in holding to a position on which Scripture is ‘technically silent’ (that is, where Scripture may not directly address an issue), providing it fits with the general tenor of Scripture and is clearly implied. For example: did the Lord Jesus ever marry? No, you say. But how can you be sure? Scripture is silent. Do you see where that kind of reasoning can lead? Clearly one can confidently answer this question in the negative because the general tenor of Scripture – both historical and theological – indicates that Christ never married. In the same way, the principles outlined in this article allow us to refute the ancient Valentinian heresy that the Lord took nothing from Mary.
J.N. Darby once wrote, “The true humanity of Christ is a fundamental truth, and His person and salvation are given up if it be touched. We cannot be too jealous of it, or count it too precious.”13 May the Lord help us to stand for the Biblical truth that the Lord Jesus was conceived in the womb of Mary, was connected to Mary, and is therefore physically and genetically related to us in His perfect, real and sinless humanity. Touching, as it does, on the nature of Christ’s person, the veracity of Scripture, and our own redeemability, there could scarcely be a more serious issue to contemplate.
Michael J. Penfold (firstname.lastname@example.org)
(This article appeared in the Believer’s Magazine in August 2019)
1. Robert Gromaki, The Virgin Birth (Grand Rapids, Kregel Publications, 2002), p 114
2. J.C. Philpot, Meditations on the Sacred Humanity of the Blessed Redeemer (Harpenden, Gospel Standard Strict Baptist Trust Ltd., 1978), p. 8
3. Dr. N. Geisler, Systematic Theology, Vol 3 (Bloomington, Bethany House Publishers, 2004), p. 572-573
4. Quoted by F.F. Bruce in A Mind for What Matters (Grand Rapids, W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990), p. 252
5. Irenaus, Against Heresies, Vol 1, Ch 7, Para 2 (Peabody, Hendrickson Publishers Inc., 1994), p. 325
6. Quoted by F.R. Montgomery in Irenaeus of Lugdunum (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1914), p. 134
7. J.N. Darby, Collected Writings, Vol 10 (Kingston-on-Thames, Stow Hill Bible and Tract Depot, no date), p. 135-6
8. William Kelly, Christ Tempted and Sympathising, (London: Weston, nd.), p. 5
9. William Kelly, Christ Tempted and Sympathising, (London: Weston, nd.), p. 7
10. W. Cunningham D.D., Historical Theology, Vol 1, 2nd ed., (Edinburgh, T & T Clark, 1864), p. 311
11. M. Poole, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol 3, (Peabody, Hendrickson Publishers, No date), p. 598
12. J. Hunter, What the Bible Teaches, 1 Corinthians (Kilmarnock, John Ritchie Ltd., 1986), p. 203
13. J.N. Darby, Collected Writings – Volume 10, p. 136