(This is part five of a multi-entry blog series exploring the Apostles’ Creed.)
We’ve covered the Father, Son, and the Spirit in the previous entries. This entry focuses in on something very specific about Jesus; he was:
“Born of the Virgin Mary,”
The interesting thing about this statement is that Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would be born of a virgin over 700 years before Jesus was born (Isaiah 7:14). Many people claim that the term used in this verse could also translate to “maiden” or simply “woman.” But what about the narrative in Luke where Mary specifically says she is a virgin in Luke 1:26-37? An angel appears to Mary and tells her she will have a child; Mary is perplexed and says, “How can this be since I am still a virgin?” (Luke 1:34) Some people might try to claim that the word virgin here can also mean “maiden.”
My first question is this: Why would Mary be surprised and say, “How can this be since I am a woman”? Does that make any logical sense? I’m pretty sure that, since Mary was engaged to Joseph, she knew where babies came from or at least understood that babies came from women.
Additionally, if you do some homework and look at the literal Greek, Mary says something like “How can this be since I have not known a man” which was an idiom for “How can this be since I have not had sexual relations with a man.” Mary had not “known” a man and that’s why she was surprised that she was going to have a baby.
Another verse that addresses Mary’s virginity is Matthew 1:18, which says that Mary was found to be with child “before they came together;” which is another way of saying they had not had sex. We also read that Joseph and Mary did not have sex until after Jesus was born (Matthew 1:24-25).
So why did Jesus have to be born of a woman and of God? Couldn’t Jesus have just floated down from Heaven? I’m going to rip off Wayne Grudem for just a minute here. In his book Systematic Theology (Chapter 26: “The Person of Christ”) he was a wonderful job explaining the significance of the “doctrinal importance of the virgin birth.” He says there are three reasons this is important:
1. “It shows that salvation ultimately must come from the Lord.” As Grudem states here, salvation is not the result of human good works and efforts. Salvation is the direct result of the will and power of God and can only come to us as a gift. This was made possible in the person of Jesus.
2. “The virgin birth made possible the uniting of full deity and full humanity in one person.” While it is possible that God could have sent Jesus to earth in a different way, this is the best way. Jesus could have floated down to earth, fully human and fully God; but then it would have been hard for us to understand how he could have been united with humanity since he had none of the same origins as us. On the other hand, Jesus could have been born of two human parents and then been filled with godliness early on in his life or even in the womb; but then it would have been hard for us to understand how Jesus could have been fully divine in he had all of the same origins as us.
3. “The virgin birth also makes possible Christ’s true humanity without inherited sin.” What’s interesting about this is that, according to tradition, original sin is passed from Adam and through the father to the children. Since Jesus did not have a human father, He did not inherit any original sin. (Additionally, although I will readily admit I don’t remember where I read this, in Jesus time you were not considered Jewish unless your mother was a Jew.) From Mary, Jesus inherited full humanity but was free from the legal guilt and moral corruption of Adam.
Was it necessary for Jesus to be fully human? You betcha! Once again Grudem does a great job answering this question, although I won’t go into detail for each point, but Jesus was fully human for representative obedience (Romans 5:18-19; 1 Corinthians 15:45, 47), the be a substitute for sacrifice (John 3:16; Hebrews 2:16-17), to be the one mediator between God and men (1 Timothy 2:5), to fulfill God’s original purpose for man to rule of creation (Matthew 28:18; Ephesians 1:22; Revelation 3:21), to be our example and pattern in life (1 John 2:6, 3:2-3; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Romans 8:29, 1 Peter 1:21; Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 3:10; Acts 7:60; 1 Peter 3:17-18, 4:1), to be the pattern for our redeemed bodies (1 Corinthians 15:42-44, 49; Colossians 1:18), and to sympathize as a high priest (Hebrews 2:18, 4:15-16). Just to name a few…
So, to conclude, we find that God united humanity and divinity in the unique person of Jesus Christ. He did this through a woman named Mary, who was considered a highly favored servant of God. Jesus inherited full divinity from His Father and fully humanity from His mother. He did this so that Jesus could be a substitute for our sins, and example for our lives, a preview of our resurrection, and a mediator (literally a “bridge”) between us and our Heavenly Father.