. The Real Christ...
The record of Christ’s conception and birth does not allow for the idea that he physically existed beforehand. Personal pre-existence is surely precluded by Heb. 2:11: “For he who sanctifies [Jesus] and those who are sanctified [us] have all one origin [ek evos pantes- lit. ‘out of one, all’; “are of the same stock”]”. The Lord Jesus had an origin- a hard concept to apply to God Himself. And further, that origin was the same origin as we have. Perhaps the reference is to Adam, or maybe to God. But the point is, our origin is that of Jesus.
Those who hold the doctrine of the ‘Trinity’ are driven to the conclusion that at one moment there were three beings in heaven, and one of them then became the child in Mary’s womb, leaving just two in heaven. We are therefore left to conclude from the ‘pre-existence’ belief that Christ somehow came down from heaven and entered into Mary’s womb. All this complex theology is quite outside the teaching of Scripture. The record of Christ’s beginning gives no reason whatsoever to think that he left heaven and entered into Mary. The lack of evidence for this is a big ‘missing link’ in trinitarian teaching.
The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary with the message that “you shall conceive in your womb, and bring forth a son, and shall call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest...Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? (i.e. she was a virgin). And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Spirit shall come upon you, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow you: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of you shall be called the Son of God” (Lk. 1:31-35).
Twice it is emphasized that Jesus would be the Son of God on his birth; evidently the Son of God did not exist before his birth. Again, the many future tenses need to be noted - e.g. “he shall be great”. If Jesus were already physically in existence as the angel spoke those words to Mary, he would already have been great. Jesus was the “offspring” of David (Rev. 22:16), the Greek ‘genos’ implying Jesus was ‘generated from’ David. He was born “of” Mary (Lk. 1:35).
Through the Holy Spirit (God’s breath/power) acting upon her, Mary was able to conceive Jesus without having intercourse with a man. Thus Joseph was not the father of Jesus. It must be understood that the Holy Spirit is not a person (see Bible Basics Study 2); Jesus was the Son of God, not the Son of the Holy Spirit. Through God’s use of His spirit upon Mary, “therefore also that holy thing” which was born of her was “called the Son of God” (Lk. 1:35). The use of the word “therefore” implies that without the Holy Spirit acting upon the womb of Mary, Jesus, the Son of God, could not have come into existence.
That Jesus was ‘conceived’ in Mary’s womb (Lk. 1:31) is also proof that he could not have physically existed before this time. If we ‘conceive’ an idea, it begins within us. Likewise Jesus was conceived inside Mary’s womb - he began there as a foetus, just like any other human being. Jn. 3:16, the Bible’s most famous verse, records that Jesus was the “only begotten Son” of God. Millions of people who recite this verse fail to meditate upon what it implies. If Jesus was “begotten”, he ‘began’ (a related word to “begotten”) when he was conceived in Mary’s womb. If Jesus was begotten by God as his Father, this is clear evidence that his Father is older than he - God has no beginning (Ps. 90:2) and therefore Jesus cannot be God Himself.
It is significant that Jesus was “begotten” by God rather than being created, as Adam was originally. This explains the closeness of God’s association with Jesus - “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself” (2 Cor. 5:19). Christ being begotten by God, rather than just created from dust, also helps explain his natural aptitude for the ways of God his Father.
Is. 49:5,6 contains a prophecy concerning Christ as the light of the world, which he fulfilled (Jn. 8:12). He is described as meditating on “the Lord that formed me from the womb to be his servant”. Christ was therefore “formed” by God in Mary’s womb, through the power of His Holy Spirit. Mary’s womb was evidently the place of Christ’s physical origin.
We have seen earlier that Psalm 22 prophesies Christ’s thoughts on the cross. He reflected that God “took me out of the womb...I was cast upon you from the womb: you art my God from my mother’s belly” (Ps. 22:9,10). In his time of dying, Christ looked back to his origins - in the womb of his mother Mary, formed by the power of God. The very description of Mary in the Gospels as Christ’s “mother” in itself destroys the idea that he existed before his birth of Mary.
Mary was an ordinary human being, with normal human parents. This is proved by the fact that she had a cousin, who gave birth to John the baptist, an ordinary man (Lk. 1:36). The Roman Catholic idea that Mary was not of ordinary human nature would mean that Christ could not truly have been both “Son of man” and “Son of God”. These are his frequent titles throughout the New Testament. He was “Son of man” by reason of having a totally human mother, and “Son of God” because of God’s action on Mary through the Holy Spirit (Lk. 1:35), meaning that God was his Father. This beautiful arrangement is nullified if Mary was not an ordinary woman.
“Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one...What is man, that he should be clean? and he which is born of a woman, that he should be righteous?...how can he be clean that is born of a woman?” (Job 14:4; 15:14; 25:4). This puts paid to any idea of an immaculate conception being possible, either of Mary or Jesus.
Mary being “born of a woman”, with ordinary human parents, must have had our unclean, human nature, which she passed on to Jesus, who was “made of a woman” (Gal. 4:4). The language of his being “made” through Mary’s agency is further evidence that he could not have physically existed without his birth by her. The Diaglott renders Gal. 4:4: “Having been produced from a woman”. The Saviour was to be “the seed of the woman” (Gen. 3:15) - which promise occurs in the context of the record in Genesis of many male-based genealogies.
The Gospel records frequently indicate Mary’s humanity. Christ had to rebuke her at least thrice for a lack of spiritual perception (Lk. 2:49; Jn. 2:4); she failed to understand all his sayings (Lk. 2:50). This is exactly what we would expect of a woman who was of human nature, whose son was the Son of God, and therefore more spiritually perceptive than herself, although he, too, shared human nature. Joseph had intercourse with Mary after Christ’s birth (Mt. 1:25), and there is no reason to think that they did not have a normal marital relationship from then on.
The mention of Christ’s “mother and his brethren” in Mt. 12:46,47 would therefore imply that Mary had other children after Jesus. Jesus was only “her first born”. The Catholic teachings that Mary remained a virgin and then ascended to heaven therefore have absolutely no Biblical support. As a human being of mortal nature, Mary would have grown old and died; apart from this we read in Jn. 3:13, “no man has ascended up to heaven”. The fact that Christ had human nature (see Heb. 2:14-18; Rom. 8:3) means that his mother must have had it too, seeing his Father did not have it. She saw herself as “the handmaid [female servant] of the Lord” (Lk. 1:38 cp. Ps. 86:16) - not ‘the mother of God’.
The whole record of the virgin birth makes a nonsense of the claim that Jesus pre-existed as a person before His birth. This has even been recognized by theologians: “Jesus’ virgin birth stands in an irreconcilable contradiction to the Christology of the incarnation of the preexistent Son of God” (1). James Dunn likewise denies the literal pre-existence of Jesus: “There is no evidence that any NT writer thought of Jesus as actively present in Israel’s past, either as the angel of the Lord, or as “the Lord” himself” (2). A pre-existent Jesus is merely a continuation of the old pagan idea that the gods came to earth and had relations with innocent women (cp. Acts 14:11). Or take C.F.D. Moule: "There is no doctrine of Christ's pre-existence in Acts, though there is ample stress on foreknowledge and God's predetermined plan (see, e.g., Acts 4:28; 9:15; 10:42; 13:27,48; 16:14; 17:31). Neither is such a doctrine entertained in the Gospel: the Lucan allusions to the virgin birth certainly do not imply it" (3).
The Genealogies Of Jesus
The genealogies of the Lord Jesus given at the beginnings of Matthew and Luke are surely impossible to square with the idea of His personal pre-existence before birth. How ever could the Gospel writers have seriously believed that, and yet written such genealogies? Are we really to imagine that they intended us to believe in the Lord's pre-existence when they wrote up the genealogies as they did? Marshall Johnson comments on them: "Jesus is Son of God not through the categories of pre-existence or metaphysical relationship between Father and Son, but through the line of OT patriarchs... Conzelmann seems correct when he describes Luke's conception of the title, Son of God, as connected with a subordinationism that reveals in itself a complete lack of the idea of pre-existence" (4). Or again: "Luke never suggests that Jesus existed before his birth, as a divine being or otherwise... Luke explicitly states that he wrote in order to confi rm what his readers had already been taught (Luke 1:4). If they had been taught that Jesus was a pre - existent divine being like God, this would seem an important teaching for Luke to confirm" (5).
(1) W. Pannenberg, Jesus- God And Man (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1968) p. 143.
(2) J.D.G. Dunn, Christology In The Making (London: SCM, 1980) p. 158.
(3) C.F.D. Moule, Forgiveness And Reconciliation (London: S.P.C.K., 1998) p. 74.
(4) Marshall Johnson, The Purpose Of The Biblical Genealogies (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2002) pp. 237,8.
(5) Delbert Burkett, 'Jesus in Luke-Acts' in Delbert Burkett, ed., The Blackwell Companion to Jesus (Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011) pp. 48,61.
Duncan Heaster has written over 20 books, some of which contain material relevant to The Real Christ. And there is a host of other relevant material...