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Note: This blog post is part of a series titled "Spiritual Male and Female." To view all parts, click the link below.
It is self-evident to biblical Christians that it takes two parents, male and female, to produce a child. The world is trying desperately to change that natural law, claiming that if we accept their differences, we are promoting inequality. They think we are mentally unbalanced; I think they are, for God has given us “a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7 KJV).
The Dual Meaning of Gennao
What is natural is also spiritual, for Paul says that “we know that the law is spiritual” (Romans 7:14). Therefore, the same laws of God apply in both realms. In the natural realm, a father begets and a mother gives birth. This is revealed in the Greek word gennao, whose double meaning is put forth by Dr. Bullinger in his note on the word “begat” in Matthew 1:2 KJV, where “Abraham begat Isaac.” Bullinger writes:
begat. Gr. Gennao. When used of the father, it means to beget or engender, and when used of the mother it means to bring forth into the world…
Translators seldom do justice to this word, usually rendering it “born again” regardless of whether the Scripture is speaking of a male or female doing the action. Only occasionally do they seem to get it right, such as in 1 Corinthians 4:15 (NASB),
15 For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I became your father [gennao] through the gospel.
The KJV reads more correctly, “for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.” Since the apostle was drawing a direct analogy to “fathers,” the translators had little choice but to comply with that context. However, in 1 Peter 1:23-25, both the NASB and the KJV misrepresent the word gennao by rendering it “born again.” The NASB reads,
23 for you have been born again [gennao] not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and abiding word of God. 24 For “All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls off, 25 but the word of the Lord abides forever.” And this is the word which was preached to you.
Peter says that we have been begotten, not by mortal seed but by immortal seed, which is the word of God. A child is not born by seed; he is begotten by seed. Natural seed is “perishable,” that is, mortal, and is like the grass that withers and like the flowers that fall away. But the seed that has begotten spiritual children is the “imperishable” seed of the “abiding word of God.”
The translators did not understand the message of sonship, and their mistranslation veiled the great truth that we are sons of God on account of being begotten by God Himself through the immortal seed of His word. The “word” is not merely the Bible, for many have read the Bible without hearing the word. We are begotten through out ears, not through our eyes. Hearing the word produced faith (Romans 10:17). Faith is the first evidence of being begotten by God.
Natural and Spiritual Seed
Because the message of sonship has been lost or misunderstood, many have thought that the sons of God are certain people who have been begotten by natural parents. They have thought that if they can trace their lineage to Adam or to Abraham or to Israel, they are one of the “chosen people.” But natural seed is incapable of begetting chosen sons. Peter’s proof of this is in the fact that such seed is “perishable.” In other words, no mortal is chosen.
Such misunderstanding causes many to put their faith in their godly ancestors, thinking that they have the ability to bring forth the sons of God by natural means and by mortal seed. They think that “children of the flesh” (as Paul calls them in Romans 9:8) are chosen, and so various groups dispute over who the real chosen people are, based on genealogy.
I understand this dispute very well, because I too engaged in it many years ago before true sonship was revealed to me. Knowing the true identity of Israel (as distinct from Judah) is important in understanding prophecy, but in the end, Scripture shows the failure of all flesh and its inability to bring forth the sons of God. Hence, we must go beyond the disputes about fleshly identity if we hope to become the sons of God who are legitimate heirs of Abraham.
Every truth has its place of importance in the world. It is difficult enough to discover truth but to be able to prioritize those truths is just as important. Denominations, for instance, tend to make certain beliefs (whether true or not) the true and only test of faith. By prioritizing their truth in this way, they tend to add it to faith as a qualification for salvation.
Historically, the Roman church slowly added many beliefs and doctrines that defined true believers. Their long creeds and requirements were finally disputed by the Protestant Reformers, who wrenched the church back to the original declaration that “by grace you have been saved through faith” (Ephesians 2:8). Though beliefs, doctrines, and creeds have their place, they should be placed in the realm of one’s understanding and spiritual growth—not as a test of faith.
If we have genuine faith in Christ, we are the sons of God. And if we have faith, we are the children of Abraham, for Paul says in Galatians 3:7,
7 Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.
Again, he says in Galatians 3:29,
29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise.
We all have natural fathers. Regardless of how godly they were, they were all mortal and imperfect since Adam. Natural fathers are very important but they are no substitute for our heavenly Father, nor can their seed be a substitute for God’s seed (the word, or gospel).
Just as one must be begotten by the seed of the word of God, so also must there be a mother to carry that seed to maturity and then give birth. There is no father without a mother, nor is there a mother without a father. It takes both to bring forth a son, both naturally and spiritually.
Mothers, too, are of two kinds: natural and spiritual. It takes a natural mother to bring forth a child of the flesh. It takes a spiritual mother to bring forth a (spiritual) child of promise—that is, the heir of the promise to Abraham.
The most important passage explaining this is found in Galatians 4:22-31, where we learn that Abraham’s two wives, Hagar and Sarah, allegorically represented two kinds of mothers: natural and spiritual. Hagar’s son, Ishmael, “was born according to the flesh”—that is, by “natural” childbirth. Sarah’s son, Isaac, “was born according to the Spirit” (Galatians 4:29).
The church as a whole was expected to be “like Isaac” (Galatians 4:28), and if so, they were “children of promise.” However, Paul wrote this epistle because some of those believers were reverting back to an Old Covenant mindset that yet pervaded Judaism and the temple in Jerusalem. Such believers were confused and did not seem to know who their mother was. For this reason, they were being seduced into submitting to the temple in Jerusalem.
Who Receives God’s Praise?
In Paul’s time, the main issue was circumcision. Physical circumcision, he said, was a sign of the Old Covenant, while heart circumcision was a sign of the New Covenant. Paul taught that one’s identity as a “Jew” (i.e., Judah, “praise”) was not as men claimed, but was what God found praiseworthy. Romans 2:28, 29 says,
28 For he is NOT A JEW who is one outwardly; neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. 29 But he IS A JEW who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise [i.e., his status as a member of the tribe of Judah] is not from men but from God.
Here Paul defines who is and who is not a Jew, or Judahite. He makes it clear that regardless of how men define the term, God defines a member of the tribe of Judah according to his New Covenant circumcision—not fleshly circumcision. Heart circumcision is praiseworthy in the sight of God, and so those who are called “Jews” based on their fleshly circumcision are not recognized by God as Jews. Neither does God “praise” them for their circumcision.
In Galatians 4:25, 26 Paul says plainly that the earthly Jerusalem is Hagar, not Sarah.
25 Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother.
Hence, the children of “the present Jerusalem” are identified with Hagar’s son, Ishmael, not Sarah’s son, Isaac. Obviously, Paul was not speaking of fleshly genealogy here, for the priests in Jerusalem were not physical Ishmaelites. Yet “allegorically speaking,” the priests of Aaron in Jerusalem were Ishmaelites on account of their dependence upon fleshly genealogy. They believed they were chosen on account of their descent—not only from Aaron and Levi but also from Abraham.
Their Old Covenant mindset alone was sufficient to identify them as Ishmaelites whose spiritual mother was the earthly Jerusalem. As such, they were NOT heirs of Abraham, nor could they claim to have the promises given to Abraham.
Abram and Abraham
If we extend the allegory, we also discover that Ishmael was not the son of Abraham. He was the son of Abram. We read in Genesis 16:15, 16,
15 So Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. 16 And Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to him.
Thirteen years later, God changed Abram’s name to Abraham, and only then was Isaac conceived in Sarah’s womb. Hence, Isaac was a son of Abraham. Genesis 17:1 and 5 says,
1 Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him… 5 No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I will make you the father of a multitude of nations.
Ishmael had his place in the divine plan, for Genesis 17:20 says,
20 And as for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I will bless him and will make him fruitful and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall become the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation.
Hence, Ishmael should be honored as well. However, Genesis 17:21 continues,
21 But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you at this season next year.
As the divine plan unfolded in Scripture and in history, we see that Hagar represented the Old Covenant, which was not an evil thing but a good thing in its own way. Ishmael himself was blessed with an inheritance in Arabia, wherein stood Mount Sinai (Galatians 4:25). In other words, Mount Sinai in Arabia (not the Sinai peninsula, as is commonly thought) was part of Ishmael’s inheritance.
Mount Sinai represented the Old Covenant, whereas Mount Sion (i.e., Mount Hermon, Hebrews 12:22 KJV, Deuteronomy 4:48) represented the New Covenant, for it was the place where Jesus was transfigured and which therefore represented the birth of Isaac, the sons of God.
The Jews rejected the Mediator of the New Covenant, deciding to remain under the Old Covenant. Their decision gave them an inheritance with Hagar and Ishmael, rather than with Sarah and Isaac. As such, they removed themselves from being inheritors of Abraham and chose instead to be inheritors of Abram and his son, Ishmael. So in 70 A.D. the Romans, described in Matthew 22:7 as God’s army, destroyed Jerusalem, and the process began of moving the Jews out of Judea. Some centuries later, with the rise of Islam, the new religion of Ishmael arising out of Arabia, God gave the earthly Jerusalem to the Ishmaelites. Why? Because the Jews had given the earthly Jerusalem to Ishmael by subjecting themselves to the Old Covenant of Mount Sinai.
Note: This blog post is part of a series titled "Spiritual Male and Female." To view all parts, click the link below.