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The virgin birth of Jesus is the central feature that defined His nature and character. It is also the fundamental pattern for the manner in which we ourselves may become sons of God. If the fourth-century church had understood the true implications of the virgin birth and the idea of Sonship, they might have avoided much turmoil and over-exuberant enforcement of the creeds formulated by the church councils.
But in order to trace the problem back to its roots, we must begin with the Book of Beginnings.
The Genesis Record
Genesis 1:27 tells us that God created man, male and female. This record is in the first of eleven family histories that Moses compiled, making up the book of Genesis. The first tablet is an overall account of creation, focusing upon the order of events within seven “days.”
Each tablet or manuscript is entitled, “This is the generations of….” (KJV). Up to the time of Abraham, tablets normally had their titles at the end, but in the time of Abraham, titles began to be written at the start of the tablet. Hence, the title identifying the first creation tablet is given not in Genesis 1:1 but at the end in Genesis 2:4 (NASB),
4 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made earth and heaven.
Genesis 2:7 is part of the second tablet giving a more detailed account of the creation of man. It shows how Adam was first created and how Eve was taken out of Adam (Genesis 2:21). It includes the marriage principle of unity in Genesis 2:24, along with the account of the original sin and its penalty. It concludes with the account of Cain, Abel, and Seth. The title of tablet 2 is found in Genesis 5:1,
1 This is the book of the generations of Adam.
We then begin the third tablet, or “book,” in Moses’ compilation, giving us the family records of Shem, Ham, and Japheth, as we read at the end in Genesis 10:1.
The First and Last Adam
The Apostle Paul compares Adam to Christ, telling us in 1 Corinthians 15:45-47,
45 So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit… 47 The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven.
Paul explains further in Romans 5 that the sin of Adam was overcome by the righteousness of Christ. Adam’s sin brought death into the world, which was then passed down to his descendants through his mortal and corruptible seed, making all of us mortal as well. Peter affirms this as well when speaking of a second begetting of seed which imparts immortality and incorruption (1 Peter 1:23, 24 25). Here the NASB mistranslates gennao as "born" rather than as "begotten."
The first Adam was said to be created; the last Adam was begotten by the Holy Spirit in what we know as the virgin birth. Hence, there is an inherent difference between the two Adams insofar as their origins are concerned. This means also that we who were born of earthly parents in a “natural” manner are tied to Adam’s creation. Paul refers to this “self” (NASB) as the “old man” (KJV). It is our earthly identity, or, more specifically, our soulish identity, because Adam was made “a living soul.”
The idea of Sonship is the revelation of a second begetting patterned after Christ’s own virgin birth. We are begotten by incorruptible and immortal seed, which is the living word that “abides forever” (1 Peter 1:25). The quality of this seed is what imparts immortality and incorruption. It begets “Christ in you the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27), and that holy seed, because of its Holy Spirit origin, is incapable of sin. So First John 3:9, properly translated, reads,
9 No one who is begotten of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is begotten of God.
Those ignorant of the Sonship idea misapply this verse, thinking that a true believer is suddenly made perfect when he makes his confession of faith. Such a view makes no distinction between the “old man” that was begotten by corruptible seed from Adam and the “new man” that was begotten by incorruptible seed from the Last Adam.
Soul and Spirit
One of the biggest hindrances to the truth of Sonship is not distinguishing between the soul and the spirit. Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:23,
23 Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We are tripartite beings, and the word of God is a sharp sword that divides and distinguishes between soul and spirit (Hebrews 4:12). Paul differed from the widespread Greek view that saw man as a duality of body and spiritual soul. The Greeks did not distinguish between the soul and spirit, and so they believed the soul was heavenly and divine. The Bible, however, says that the soul is from the earthly man (1 Corinthians 15:45, 47, 48).
Paul contrasts the soulish “man” from the spiritual “man” in the latter part of 1 Corinthians 3, where the word psuchikos, “soulish” (from psuche, “soul”) is often translated “natural.” Paul was not speaking of a worldly individual in contrast to a righteous man. He was speaking of the old man and the new man within each of us—two identities, each having a different father.
By the second century, when the church lost its Hebrew worldview through a massive Greek influx of new Greek converts, the majority of Christians appeared to be more influenced by Plato than by Paul. Paul’s views on the sovereignty of God were replaced by the Greek view of free will. The tripartite view of man was replaced by the dualistic view. The law as an expression of the nature of God was replaced by the Greek philosophical idea of good. Sin as an offence was replaced by a new definition of sin as ignorance, moving the solution out of the court room into a classroom.
One of the most basic shifts was to forsake the Hebrew worldview that a good God created matter and to adopt the Greek view that matter was inherently evil and created by the demiurge, an evil god (or “devil”). The Greek view that spirit is good and matter is evil caused them to believe that the goal of history was not to marry heaven and earth but to divorce them. Thus, all things could never be put under the feet of Christ, for matter was inherently incorrigible and could only be separated from God forever.
Greek dualism, then, despised the body and interpreted Paul’s statements about “the body of this death” (Romans 7:24) in ways that Paul never contemplated. Whereas Paul was teaching us the difference between the old soulish man and the new spiritual man, each begotten by a different father, the Greek mind interpreted this in terms of good spirit and evil body. This, in turn, caused many to reject the bodily resurrection of the dead and to reinterpret resurrection in more mystical terms that did not allow any return to a physical body.
For our present purpose, the Greek idea of a good spiritual soul in contrast to an evil material body undermined any serious understanding of Sonship. Their Greek assumption then prevented them from understanding the nature of Christ Himself, and the church found itself arguing about Christ’s human and divine natures through Greek lenses. Disputes broke out, each side calling their opponents heretics, when in fact, neither side had a clear grasp of the biblical truth about Sonship.
Paul makes it clear that when Adam sinned, he became mortal and that his mortality was passed down to his descendants through his seed. So Romans 5:12 says, “just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through [Adam’s] sin, and so death spread to all men, on which [eph ho] all sin.” Hence, all who have been begotten by mortal seed have themselves inherited mortality, the original disease that has resulted in corruption and sin. Our mortality makes our flesh weak and thereby causes us to sin.
In other words, we do not have a sinful nature as such; we have a mortal nature that sins.
Jesus’ virgin birth bypassed this problem. Not being begotten by corruptible seed from Adam, Jesus’ soul was sinless. The fact that His mother was of Adamic seed (and mortal) did not change this, because mortality is passed down through the seed of man, not through a woman. Being begotten by incorruptible seed, Jesus qualified as the spotless Lamb that was the Supreme Sacrifice for the sin of the world. If He had been begotten by Joseph or any other man, He would have been disqualified.
Mary’s role was to unite heaven and earth in marriage, at least in seed form, and when Jesus earthly ministry was complete, He received authority over heaven and earth (Matthew 28:18).
This pattern was thus laid down for all of the sons of God who would come afterward. All of us, whether male or female, play the role of Mary, for when the Holy Spirit overshadows us, we too are begotten with holy seed through our ears in hearing the word of truth. The Holy Spirit begets a “new creature” (2 Corinthians 5:17), which Paul also calls the “new man” (Ephesians 4:24 KJV) or “new self” (Ephesians 4:24 NASB).
The new man is begotten in our spirit, while the old man remains the conscious identity (mind) of the soul. Each has a will of its own. The main difference between us and Jesus is that Jesus’ soul was not begotten by Adamic seed, whereas our souls are Adamic. Our similarity is seen in our spiritual man, which, like Christ, is begotten in our virgin spirit and is perfect, incorruptible, and immortal.
Having two “men” within us, one soulish and one spiritual, we are then admonished to change our identity from the old man to the new. This involves a change of identity that is established in the divine court, much like a man may go to an earthly judge to change his name. It is a matter of law, because from that point on, the law, the court, and the Judge Himself officially recognize you as a different person.
The life of a son of God, then, is not about trying to cleanse the old man from sin or to perfect the old man. It is not about seeking to make the old man immortal, as if somehow one can overrule the sentence of God upon Adam. No, the old man has already been condemned to death. The path to immortality is not about granting favor to the old man of flesh. That old man must be crucified, not saved (Romans 6:6), for he received the death penalty from the beginning. Hence, being a son of God is about transferring our identity to a new man who is immortal and incorruptible inherently by virtue of the sanctity of the seed that has begotten that new man.
Paul says that we have been set free from the dictates of Sin commanding us to violate the law of God (Romans 8:2). Even though we still experience inner conflict between the two “men” residing in the same body, we are called to serve God and obey His law (Romans 7:25). We are to stop thinking that we are still subservient to the old slave master. We are no longer in agreement with him. We now “joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man” (Romans 7:22).
Our new creation man is inherently in agreement with his heavenly Father, even as Jesus was always in agreement with His Father. Like Father, like son. Jesus’ soul was in agreement with His Father from the beginning, of course, whereas our soul was not virgin-born and so it remains in conflict and disagreement with the law of God. Nonetheless, we are admonished to change our conscious identity from the old man to the new and then live our lives in agreement with the will of our heavenly Father in accordance with His laws.