A Study of the Doctrines of the Church of God

Part Four: ``... who was born of the holy Spirit and the virgin Mary...''

by Jared L. Olar

In an article that appeared in the debut issue of Grace and Knowledge (``Let's Celebrate the Advent Season!'' pp.2-7), I presented historical and typological arguments in support of the propositions that Jesus was born in the seventh month of the sacred Hebrew calendar, and that celebrating His birth during the fall festival season would be a very good thing for any Christian to do. We who are members of the Worldwide Church of God (WCG), or of the churches that derive from the WCG, have long understood that the holy days of the month of Tishri are filled with symbolism and typology pointing to the Second Coming of Christ and the World to Come. Down through the ages, Christians as well as Jews have understood that many eschatological truths are inherent in the fall festivals. But we need to realise that the fall festivals are just as much about the First Coming of Christ as they are about the Second Coming. Furthermore, the Scriptures themselves indicate that the doctrine of the coming of the Son of God in the flesh is Christianity's central distinctive (I John 4:2). In this holy season, I think it is fitting that this installment of our series on the Creed devotes attention to the doctrines of the Incarnation, the Virgin Birth, and the Two Natures, and, of course, to what the WCG has had to say about them.

The WCG has from the very start confessed belief in the miracles of the Incarnation and the Virgin Birth. Our strong commitment to biblical truth made the acceptance of the Incarnation and Virgin Birth a simple matter of course-for the biblical testimony on those points is crystal clear. But, as I intend to show, we did not have as good an understanding of those doctrines as we do now. Probably one of the reasons is that in the past the majority of the literature that we produced on these subjects focused on such controversies as the actual date of Jesus' birth and the propriety of celebrating Jesus' birth on December 25 (or indeed on any date at all). Had we devoted equal attention to the doctrines of the Incarnation and the Virgin Birth, we probably would have avoided some of the confusion we had about just how Jesus is God in the flesh and whether it was possible for Him to sin.

To commence this discussion, here is the relevant passage from the WCG's current doctrinal statement:

``... As God manifest in the flesh for our salvation, [Jesus] was begotten of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary, fully God and fully human, two natures in one Person.''

``Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son ...''

The Apostles' Creed calls on Christians to confess their belief that Jesus Christ was ``born of the holy Spirit and the virgin Mary.'' The immediate biblical sources for this doctrine are the Birth Narratives of Matt. 1:16, 18-25 and Luke 1:26-56; 2:1-7. It is a fundamental and indispensable Christian doctrine that Jesus had no human father. Rather, as the result of the miraculous activity of the Spirit of God, He was conceived in the womb of a godly virgin, a young Jewess of the House of David named Mary (Hebrew Miryam). Matthew the Apostle made the controversial claim that this event was the fulfillment of a prophecy spoken in the eighth century B.C. by Isaiah the Prophet (Isa. 7:14; cf. Matt. 1:22-23). Non-Christian Jews and skeptics of every stripe have quite naturally objected that Isaiah meant nothing of the sort. Who is right? Is the Church correct to claim that this prophecy foretold the Virgin Birth of the Messiah?

To answer that question, there are two things to consider. First, has this text been properly translated? Many object that the Hebrew word almah does not mean ``virgin,'' but merely ``young woman.'' Second, the historical context of this prophecy was a political crisis during the reign of Ahaz, King of Judah (Isa. 7:1-2). Isaiah the Prophet reassured Ahaz that God would save him from his enemies (vv.3-9), and as proof he declared that ``the virgin'' would have a son named Immanu-El (vv.10-16). How can this refer to Jesus Christ, the critics ask, when Isaiah clearly said this promised boy would be born during the reign of Ahaz (cf. 7:16 and 8:4) ?

To begin, let us consider the Hebrew word almah.  The Jews who  anciently translated this passage into Greek chose the word parthenos  -which always means ``virgin''-as the equivalent of almah.  Did those  Jews properly understand Isaiah's meaning?  We can answer that question with  a clear and definite ``yes.''  In The Messiah in the Old Testament  (p.160), Dr. Walter Kaiser explains that there is no instance anywhere in  Hebrew literature of almah being used to refer to a married woman.   Therefore, it is improper to object that almah technically means ``young woman,'' because actual Hebrew usage requires us to accept the decision of the Jews who gave us the Greek Septuagint's rendering  parthenos , ``virgin.''

But how do we address the objection that Isaiah's prophecy was fulfilled during the reign of King Ahaz in the 700s B.C. ? For it is impossible to deny that Isaiah's language refers to a boy who would be born not all that long after the Immanu-El prophecy was spoken. And in truth the Church of God readily accepts that this prophecy did indeed come true in the reign of Ahaz. However, we also insist that the Immanu-El prophecy was not completely fulfilled at that time.

Let us examine this a bit more closely. A comparison of the language of Isa. 7:14-16 and Isa. 8:3-4 shows that the original fulfillment of the Immanu-El prophecy was the birth of Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz, son of Isaiah the Prophet (cf. 8:18). Now, some may complain that Isaiah's wife did not name her son Immanu-El. But that is of no great concern, because the fact that Mary named her son Jesus did not prevent Matthew from claiming that Jesus was the Immanu-El spoken of by Isaiah. Furthermore, in Isa. 9:6-7 we read yet another prophecy of the birth of a boy, and in this case the name is obviously symbolic. The same is true of Isa. 7:14-prophecy quite normally employs symbolism, and that is what we find in this instance. Another objection that may be raised is that ``the Prophetess'' was certainly no virgin by the time her son had been conceived in her womb. In answer to that, it can be pointed out that she must have been a virgin at the time that Isaiah uttered the words recorded in Isa. 7:14. She and Isaiah were betrothed, but had not yet consummated their marriage. Thus, there is no reason not to identify Isaiah's son Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz as the original Immanu-El.

But that event was not the complete fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy. This is shown by a consideration of three things: 1) the meaning of the name Immanu-El; 2) the relationship of this prophecy to Isa. 9:6-7; and 3) the cultural and historical context of Hebrew Messianic expectations. Let us consider each issue in order.

First, English versions of the Bible consistently spell the symbolic name of Isa. 7:14 ``Immanuel.'' This is understandable, but by spelling the name this way, the translators mask a fascinating feature of the Hebrew text. For the original text always shows this name as two separate words: Immanu El. That means we should either translate these words as a sentence-``God is with us'' (cf. Isa. 8:10)-or else recognise this name as nothing less than a title belonging exclusively to the God of Israel. We find this sort of thing all throughout the Bible: Yhvh Elohiym (``the Eternal God''), El Shaddai (``God Almighty''), El Elyon (``God Most High''), El Roi (``God Who Sees''), Yhvh Ropheka (``the Eternal Who Heals Us''), Yhvh Tzebaot (``the Eternal of Armies''), etc. Now we have Immanu El (``God Who Is With Us'').

Seeing these things, what are we to make of Isaiah the Prophet's announcement that a boy would be born whose mother would give him a name that can properly belong only to God? This can only be a prophecy of the Incarnation-somehow an almah would have a son who would be none other than God Himself. When we read that the mother would give him the name Immanu-El, we must conclude that ``the virgin'' would personally attest to the fact that her baby boy would be God Incarnate. Everyone agrees that the Incarnation did not take place when Isaiah the Prophet had a son named Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz by his wife ``the Prophetess.'' Therefore the son of Isaiah was merely an initial fulfillment-the full meaning of Isaiah's words pointed to something indescribably more important and more miraculous.

Second, when we compare Isa. 7:14 with Isa. 9:6-7, we find further evidence that the birth of Isaiah's son was not the complete and final fulfillment of the Immanu-El prophecy. In the first scriptural passage a birth is foretold, but in this second passage a birth is announced as having occurred. But here the child is given a name that is, if possible, even more significant and dramatic than ``Immanu-El'': Pele-Yoez-El-gibbor-Abi-ad-Sar-shalom (``Wonderful-Counselor-God the Mighty-Father of Eternity-Prince of Peace''). Just like the child mentioned in Isa. 7:14, this child bears a name that can belong to no mere mortal, but only to the God of Israel. Even more, the child will be a descendant of King David, will sit on David's throne, will usher in perfect government and justice, and will reign eternally.

Therefore, even though Isaiah's son fulfilled the Immanu-El prophecy, just a few pages later we find a description of the Messiah, the Son of David, reigning eternally in perfect justice, bearing an awesome name that identifies Him as none other than God Himself. This indicates that Isaiah himself wanted his audience to look beyond his own son as the true Immanu-El. For, like the Immanu-El prophecy, Isa. 9:6-7 is a prophecy of the Incarnation-and no such miracle occurred during the lifetime of Isaiah. It is interesting to note that according to Jewish tradition, Isaiah's father Amoz was a younger brother of Amaziah, King of Judah. That would make Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz a ``Son of David.'' Therefore, according to these two prophecies, we should expect that when God would at last be born as a human, His lineage would be traceable to King David.

Third, in order to grasp the full significance of the events and prophecies recorded in Isaiah 7-9, we need to place them in the broader historical and cultural context of Hebrew Messianic expectations. 1 The very first Messianic prophecy is recorded in Gen. 3:15, where we read God's announcement thatsomeday Mother Eve would have a male descendant who would undo all the wrong for which the Serpent is responsible. It is very significant that this scriptural passage calls the Messiah `` the Seed of the Woman.'' Why did God relate this announcement specifically to Eve? Why not to both of our primeval parents? After all, both of them were victims of the Serpent's meddling. Part of the reason was that the Serpent had (very typically) attacked our parents by taking advantage of one of their weaknesses: Eve was not there when God first gave the commandment about the forbidden fruit, so it was probably easier to inject doubt and confusion into her mind on that particular point-especially with her husband nowhere to be found when she desperately needed him. God knew that Eve needed to know that someday she would be avenged. Adam did not come to his wife's rescue-but the Second Adam, the Seed of the Woman, would succeed where the First Adam failed.

The second Messianic prophecy was announced not long after the Flood. In Gen. 9:27, Noah announced that God would ``dwell in the tabernacles of Shem.'' This effectively limited the promise of the Messiah from the general ``Seed of the Woman'' to the more specific ``Seed of Shem,'' and is also the first hint that the Messiah would be God Incarnate. Later on, in Gen. 22:18 the promise was limited to the lineage of Shem's descendant Abraham. Then in Gen. 49:10 the promise of the Messiah was limited to the Tribe of Judah. Finally in II Sam. 7:12-16, God announced His selection of the lineage of Judah's descendant David as the channel whereby He would send the Messiah. This deep and rich Messianic tradition, reaching far back into hoary antiquity, is the historical and cultural context that served as the background of the prophecies of Isaiah that we have been discussing. In this light, we can see an obvious connection between the promised ``Seed of the Woman'' of Gen. 3:15 and the promised Immanu-El of Isa. 7:14. In both prophecies there are two main characters: a woman and her male offspring. And in both prophecies the birth of this male offspring heralds deliverance and salvation.

Yet as marvelous as all of these things truly are, we still need to explain how the Immanu-El prophecy relates to the Virgin Birth. After all, since the original Immanu-El was the son of Isaiah, that means ``the virgin'' of Isa. 7:14 lost her virginity in order to fulfill her part in the prophecy. Why then should anyone interpret this prophecy as a claim that the Messiah's mother would conceive her Son as the result of a miracle and not from ordinary sexual relations?

To arrive at the answer to that question we need to examine another facet of the Messianic tradition. Our above survey touched upon just one aspect of Messianic prophecy-the Messiah Himself-but the Messianic tradition also has much to say about the Messiah's mother. Unfortunately the WCG has not really had much to say about Jesus' mother Mary. Most of what we had to say involved the traditional protest against what we and the Protestant churches have seen as an excessive focus upon Mary by Catholic and Orthodox Christians. As a result of our reaction against their devotion to Mary, I think that, as a rule, we do not have a deep enough appreciation for Mary's important place in God's Plan of Salvation. I myself have been pleasantly surprised to learn just how much the Bible has to say about Christ's mother.

As we have seen in Gen. 3:15, there is an inseparable link in Messianic  Prophecy between the concepts of ``Messiah'' and ``Messiah's mother.''  In  addition, Sacred History records four occasions when righteous women who had  previously been infertile were able to bear very special sons as the result  of divine intervention:  Isaac, son of Sarah (Gen. 18:1-15;21:1-3); Samson,  son of Manoah's wife (Judges 13:2-24); Samuel, son of Hannah (I Sam. 1:1-20);  and the son of the Shunammitess (II Kings4:8-17).  In Hebrew synagogue liturgy,  Gen. 18-22 and II Kings 4:8-37  have even been tied together in the annual cycle of Torah readings.  The story of the Shunammitess' son shows every sign of having been literarily structured so that its parallels to the story of Isaac would leap out at the reader.

Additional light may be shed upon this subject by consulting the synagogue  liturgy for the Feast of Trumpets (Rosh ha-Shanah), which includes the reading  of Gen. 21-22, I Sam. 1:1-2:10, and Jer. 31:2-22. As we have seen, the first  two of these scriptural passages tell the stories of the miraculous birth of Isaac and the miraculous birth of Samuel.  Jer. 31:2-22 shows us that the Messiah being born of a woman(v.22) makes possible the restoration and regathering  of the twelve tribes of Israel and the resurrection of the dead, including  the slaughtered innocents of Bethlehem who fell victim to Herod's paranoia  (v.15, cf. Matt. 2:16-18).  Amazingly enough, each of those scriptural passages  is closely linked in some way with important Feast of Trumpets themes:  Messiah's  advent (both first and second), as well as the regathering of the lost sheep  of the House of Israel and the resurrection of the dead, both of which result  from Messiah's advent (Rom. 11:12, 15).

Seeing all of these things, when we come to the narrative of Luke 1-2,  we must conclude that these earlier events foreshadowed what God would eventually  do in the case of the Messiah's birth.  That means the lives and deeds of Isaac, Samson, Samuel, and the Shunammitess' son served as types of the life and deeds of Jesus Christ.  But the same goes for Sarah, Manoah's wife, Hannah,  and the Shunammitess-they were types of the virgin Mary.  As if to remind us of all these stories of miraculous conceptions, to prepare us for what was about to occur, God performed that miracle one more time with Zechariah the Priest and his wife Elizabeth (cf. Luke 1:34-37).  But the next thing He did was even more amazing:  He caused a woman who had never had sexual relations to conceive.

In Luke 1:35 we read that the miracle of the Virgin Birth was God's means of fulfilling the prophecy of II Sam. 7:14-and so we see that in every possible sense, the Messiah would be God's very own Son, not just an ordinary human son of an ordinary human man. Now, the Messiah could have enjoyed the title ``Son of God'' without being either fully divine or being born as the result of a Virgin Birth. And yet that is exactly what God's inspired prophetic words had meant all along. The same is true of the Immanu-El prophecy: when Isaiah said that ``the virgin'' would conceive, the true and ultimate meaning of his words was that the Messiah would be born from a woman who had not had sexual relations at all. For Jesus' mother Mary is ``the Woman'' of Gen. 3:15, ``the virgin'' of Isa. 7:14, and ``the Prophetess'' of Isa. 8:3 (cf. Mary's prophecy in Luke 1:46-55, the Magnificat). Just as Jesus embodies the fullness of every conceivable Messianic expectation, so we can begin to see that His mother Mary embodies the fullness of the every conceivable expectation regarding Messiah's mother (not to mention being the finest exemplar of godly womanhood).

But the Scriptures have even more to say about the identity and importance of Mary. For instance, it is commonly assumed that Christianity is a religion that began with Jesus Christ-but a faithful reading of the Scriptures shows that Christianity in fact started with Mary. When she humbly accepted God's choice of her to be the mother of the Messiah, in the truest and most literal sense she began living out the Christian life-for Christianity insists that to obtain eternal life we must have Christ living and growing inside us (Col. 1:27; Gal. 2:20, 4:19). Mary was the pioneer, the first Christian on earth, setting the pattern of obedience (Luke 1:38) and faith (Luke 1:45) that each of us must follow. In the words of an old Irish song:

``Jesukin lives my quiet cell within.
Thou in me, Thou with me-
All is lie but Jesukin.
Jesu of the Skies, Thou little one, Thou my delight,
Thou in me dwelling,
Next my heart through every night.''

Even more, Mary actually typifies Israel-typifies the Church of God corporately-a holy Mother who has the very embodiment of salvation (that is, Jesus) growing and developing in Her so that She will miraculously bring forth righteous children (Isa. 54:1-17; Rev. 12:1-6, 13-17).It is Jesus, the blessed fruit of Mary's womb born some two millennia ago, who makes it possible for us to be born again into the very Family of God. Thus, Mary is the Second Eve, just as her Son is the Second Adam. In the words of Irenaeus of Lyons (disciple of Polycarp of Smyrna, himself the disciple of the Apostle John):

``The knot of Eve's disobedience was untied by Mary's obedience.What the virgin Eve bound through her disbelief, Mary loosed by her faith.''

It is right that, since a woman had a part in the coming of Death, so too a woman would have a part in the coming of Life. Eve was the Mother of all Living-as the Second Eve, Mary is the spiritual mother of every single Christian. In this light, read John 19:26-27-what was a physical reality for the Apostle John is a spiritual reality for every Christian, for individually each of us is ``the disciple whom Jesus loves.''

But there is yet another facet of the Messianic tradition that shines light upon the importance of Christ's mother, and it is closely related to the above themes of Jesus Christ living in us, and Mary as spiritual mother of all Christians. After God rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt, He told them to build a large gilded chest in which the stone tablets of the Torah would be kept-the Ark of the Covenant. Upon the lid of the Ark was the representation of a throne, known as the mercy seat . To the left and right of the mercy seat were two cherubim facing each other, their outstretched wings serving as a canopy over the mercy seat. The glorious Shekinah of God's Presence would manifest Itself above the mercy seat, but the seat itself was empty.

Christians have long recognised the Ark as a type of the Church corporately and of Christians individually-for by the holy Spirit, God's very Torah is kept inside us (Jer. 31:33), just as the tablets of stone were once stored in the Ark. However, this allegory applies just as much if not more to Mary, who had the embodiment of the Torah living in her womb for nine months. That would make Mary ``the Ark of the New Covenant.'' In support of this interpretation, Dr. Scott Hahn's Mary, Holy Mother draws attention to archaeological and anthropological research that underscores the remarkable similarities between the Ark of the Covenant and ancient Canaanite ``arks.'' Like the Ark of God, the pagan ``arks'' had lids topped by a throne and cherubim. But Canaanite ``arks'' differed from Israel's ark in one important way: Israel's mercy seat was empty, whereas the Canaanites always placed the image of a royal mother in their ``mercy seats.''

We can easily surmise why God did not want to have the image of a woman sitting atop Israel's Ark-for that would have encouraged Israel to adopt the perverted customs and teachings of the ancient pagan sex cults (and history shows that they really did not need that much encouragement!). But there is another reason Israel's mercy seat was empty: simply put, Christ had not yet been born of the virgin Mary-the woman meant to sit there had not yet been born. Now, however, we can be sure that Israel's royal mother Mary is manifestly qualified to take her rightful place on the throne Her Son has set for her (cf. I Kings 2:19). This is spectacularly proclaimed in John's vision recorded in Rev. 11:19 and Rev. 12:1-right after John saw the Ark of the Covenant in the heavenly Temple, the next thing he saw was ``a woman clothed with the sun.'' Israel's mercy seat is no longer empty-in the very place where God's glorious Presence was manifested, John saw the woman in whose womb God was present bodily.

Let us consider further the virgin Mary's role as Israel's royal mother. In Luke 1:31-32 we read that Mary is the mother of the promised ``Son of David,'' rightful heir to Israel's throne. In the Hebrew Scriptures we find the history of the Davidic dynasty traced in the books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles. One thing that stands out about the chronicles of the royal Davidic line is the repeated reference to the mother of the King of Judah. We hardly hear of the mothers of the kings in the break-away northern kingdom of Israel, but every time a new king was enthroned in Jerusalem the chroniclers of Judah made sure to mention the identity of the woman who served as Queen Mother of Judah. We must therefore conclude that the Queen Mother was very important in the political and cultural life of the House of Judah, and that an authentic Christianity cannot separate appreciation for the Son of David from appreciation for His mother.Thus, even as God prepared the way for the miracle of the Virgin Birth through the miracles He performed for Sarah, Manoah's wife, Hannah, and the Shunammitess; so also through the institution of the Queen Mother He prepared the way for the unveiling of Mary as both mother of the true King of Israel and spiritual mother of the Church. The virgin Mary's importance to the Church is signified by her being the only servant of God personally named in the Creed besides her Son Jesus. Seeing all these things, one can begin to understand the exclamation of Mary's cousin Elizabeth: ``Blessed are you among women!''

When we examine Isa. 7:14 within the broader context of Hebrew Messianism, we can understand that the ultimate fulfillment of the Immanu-El prophecy was not recorded in Isa. 8:3, but rather in Matt. 1:21-23. To our first parents God promised a Savior who would be ``the Seed of the Woman.'' To the House of Judah in the latter half of the 700s B.C. God promised a Savior who would be God-Who-Is-With-Us, the son of the Virgin. Finally, through the body of Mary, that righteous Daughter of David, God sent us our Savior Jesus Christ the Son of David, ``born of the holy Spirit and the virgin Mary.'' How precious and inexpressible a mystery, that the Logos used Mary to build Himself a tabernacle so that He could dwell with us!

`` ... and shall call His name Immanu-El ....''

As I pointed out last time, the only part of the WCG's current doctrinal statement pertaining to Jesus Christ that represents new and deeper doctrinal understanding (that is, for the WCG) is the assertion that Jesus is ``fully God and fully human, two natures in one Person.'' For the entirety of its history the WCG has affirmed and believed in the Incarnation and the Virgin Birth. However, only in 1992 did we first begin to understand the implications of those doctrines-that Jesus, as God in the flesh, must therefore be fully divine and simultaneously fully human. This doctrine is known as the Two Natures. The concept of ``two natures in one Person'' is known as the Hypostatic Union-that in a fundamental, mysterious way, Jesus' two natures are inseparably united.

Notice that our ``Statement of Beliefs'' mentions ``two natures in one Person.'' For better or worse, in Western Christendom the theological term ``Person'' (note the capital P) serves as the equivalent of the Greek word hypostasis, a difficult philosophical term which refers to ``that which makes something what it is.'' What I will say next is terribly important, so if necessary read it twice: it must be borne in mind at all times that neither hypostasis nor ``Person'' have anything at all to do with the modern English word ``person.'' For example, note the New King James Version's rendering of Heb. 1:3, which says that Jesus is ``the express image of [God's] person''-Greek hypostasis-that is, Jesus is the very image of that which makes God who and what He is. The Christian doctrine of the Hypostatic Union involves the assertion that both divine nature and human nature are at the most basic level ``that which makes Jesus who He is.'' Christ's human soul is fully unified with the divine hypostasis known as the Logos . To claim otherwise would imply that Jesus Christ suffered from multiple personality disorder. It would also effectively deny the Incarnation, for then God would not really have become a flesh-and-blood human being, but at most would only have inhabited or possessed the body of the man Jesus.

As seen from the previous editions of our ``Statement of Beliefs,'' it was not until 1995 that we fully accepted the doctrine of the Two Natures. This is not to say that we had consciously or deliberately rejected it-in fact, it seems we had not really thought about it at all. On the other hand, we did formerly teach that when ``the Word became flesh and set up a tabernacle among us,'' He had ``emptied Himself of His divinity .'' At first sight this seems to be consistent with the belief that Jesus is God in the flesh. But upon closer examination we find that such a statement is neither logical nor biblical.

In the first place, if the Word had really ``emptied Himself'' of all divinity, that means by becoming a human being He ceased being God. But that means Jesus would not really be God Incarnate. Without knowing it, we in the WCG were effectively denying the deity of Christ-all the while being firm in our belief that Jesus is God in the flesh. Sadly, this gave other Christians the opportunity to spread an unfair and deliberately misleading rumor that we did not believe in the divinity of Christ, that we denied the doctrine of the Incarnation. Of course that is utter balderdash. We have always believed in the Incarnation-but have also made assertions that were logically inconsistent with that doctrine.

In the second place, the idea that the Word ``emptied Himself'' is based on a very literal rendering of the Greek word kenosis in Phil. 2:7. True, that verb does technically mean ``to empty,'' but in the context Paul is speaking metaphorically or figuratively. It is important to notice that Paul says nothing here about Jesus ``emptying Himself'' of His divinity . It is also important to remember that Christians who have spoken Greek as their Mother Tongue have never seen this text as a statement that in the Incarnation the Word had ceased being divine. This mistranslation of kenosis in fact seems to have originated among English-speaking Christians with only the barest contact with the original Greek text of the New Testament. In the Greek language of the first century A.D., it had become acceptable to use the word kenosis not only to refer to the simple act of emptying something, but also as a reference to humility. And so in the New King James this verb is rendered ``made Himself of no reputation.'' There simply is nothing in Phil. 2:7, nor anywhere else in Scripture, about Jesus ``emptying Himself of His divinity.''

What took us so long to accept a belief that most Christians have been able to accept at least since the fourth and fifth centuries? Partly, it was a result of not having given the implications of the doctrine of the Incarnation enough thought (as seen by our confusion about the Greek verb kenosis ). But the primary cause was the conviction that we needed clear and explicit biblical affirmation of a doctrine in order for us to believe it. The Two Natures, like the Trinity, is not explicitly taught and explained in the Scriptures. However, the Scriptures do say several things that logically require one to believe that Jesus is both fully God and fully man. That is why Christianity eventually worked out this doctrine and explanation in the first place-and we have at last come to see that there really is no better way to profess a clear doctrine of the Incarnation. Any other doctrinal position does not do justice either to the Scriptures or to logic.

Another flaw in the WCG's old christology was the belief that the fact that Jesus had become a human being meant that it was possible for Him to sin. In this error, we had misread Heb. 4:15-having assumed something not even hinted at in the text, that Jesus is able to identify with our own sinfulness so well because He had to spend every moment of His mortal existence in a life-and-death struggle against monstrous urges to sin. Of course, we have since come to see that because Jesus was God in the flesh, it was simply impossible for Him to sin, even during His earthly existence. Unfortunately we used to overemphasise His humanity, because, as I explained above, we had unwittingly reached the false conclusion that the Logos had ceased being God when He became human.

Another factor that contributed to our misunderstanding of this issue is that we did not believe in Original Sin. Instead, we assumed that anyone who was flesh and blood-including Jesus, the Son of Man-had to endure constant temptation from the Devil. But we did not appreciate enough the fact that Jesus is the Second Adam-so when the Church says that Jesus is truly human, She means He is human the way Adam was before he sinned. In reality, that it was impossible for Jesus to sin makes Him more human than we are, not less human. Our problem is that we aren't human enough. That Jesus had no original sin is shown from the fact that, unlike what the rest of us face everyday, the Devil had to tempt Him in person. In exactly the same way, Satan had to tempt Adam and Eve in person. Prior to their sin, their bodies and souls did not possess that natural, innate, inescapable twistedness that is known as original sin. That only became a fact of human life after they had disobeyed God's commandment. But Jesus had no original sin. On the contrary, as we in the WCG have always understood, from the moment of His conception His soul was filled to overflowing with the holy Spirit. But what about His body? Surely the flesh He received from His mother Mary could not have been tainted by original sin.

However, the WCG has not yet addressed that issue. Partly this is because we have only accepted the doctrine of Original Sin for a few years and have not yet pondered all of its ramifications.But it is also in part the result of the above-mentioned belief that Christians must adhere only to doctrines that are explicitly taught in the Bible-and there are no explicit texts in the Bible addressing this issue. Of course by accepting the doctrines of the Trinity and the Two Natures, we have already conceded that it is not only permissible but in fact necessary for Christians to adhere to doctrines that are only implicitly taught in the Bible. It remains to be seen whether the WCG will ever address this issue, but one way or another Jesus' flesh had to have been entirely pure-for He is the Lamb of God, without blemish-so Mary could not have passed any original sin on to her Son.

God promised to deliver King Ahaz from his enemies, and as proof He caused Isaiah's wife to conceive and bear a son. But in this study, we have seen that the real purpose of the Immanu-El prophecy was to announce just how God would bring both Israel and the Gentiles deliverance from our enemies Sin and Death. That is exactly why ``the Word was made flesh and set up a tabernacle among us''-to provide us the way of escape from the endless cycles of futility of which Solomon, son of David, complained in Ecclesiastes 1:2-11 (remember that every year the House of Judah reads Ecclesiastes during the Feast of Tabernacles). Thanks to what Jesus did for us after He had erected His fleshly tabernacle, Christians can be fully assured that when their own tabernacles fall down, God will build permanent houses for them (II Cor. 5:1-10) so they will be able to dwell with Him forever-because through Jesus, God desires to save us to the Nth degree. That is what we read in the WCG's current ``Statement of Beliefs'': Jesus Christ is ``God manifest in the flesh for our salvation.'' Thanks be to God, I agree wholeheartedly with that statement-and to that of the Nicene Creed, which affirms that Jesus Christ is the Word ...

``... Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven.   And was made flesh, by the holy Spirit, of the virgin Mary:  and was made  man.''                    

To be continued ....


1 Much of this discussion reiterates in summary form material that is drawn from Dr. Walter Kaiser's The Messiah in the Old Testament, a highly recommended survey of the subject of Messianic Prophecy (see also ``The Gospel in Genesis,'' Grace and Knowledge no. 2, pp.9-14), and Dr. Scott Hahn's Mary, Holy Mother.


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On 11 Nov 2000, 14:32.