Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Understanding the Times

There's Something About Mary
Ligon’s sermons the past two weeks and my own teaching at seminary this week (a course on Christology) has got me thinking about Mary. No, not the doctrine of her Immaculate Conception or her perpetual virginity or her role as Mediatrix: none of which are true according to the Bible. Rather, it is the honor that is due her as the mother of our blessed Lord Jesus. “Blessed are you among women” (Lk 1:42). We honor her as the mother of our Savior.

Because he took half of his chromosomes from the genetic material of Mary (the other half created by the Holy Spirit – “that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” [Matt 1:20]), it is not beyond possibility that Jesus might even have looked like Mary. Perhaps, at the time of his birth, Elizabeth said to Mary, “He looks just like you!” If she had said that he looked like Joseph it would have been mere politeness on her part because there would have been no genetic explanation for it!

Mary did not volunteer for this role. She was never asked for her compliance. There is covenant between God and Mary in which she promises to undertake the task. It is simply announced to her that she is pregnant. She was entirely passive. Although she contributes half of the genetic material, her role is passive. According to a variant reading of John 1:13 which some have supported, Jesus “was born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” The pregnancy that she experienced was an act of divine sovereignty. It is resplendent of her piety that her compliance in it is without question.

But another honor is due her – for her parenting. Jesus was not only true God; he was also a true man. He possessed all the properties of our human nature (apart from sin). In contrast to the heresy of Apollinarianism (which basically denied that Jesus had a human mind) orthodoxy has insisted that we should give full credence to Luke’s observation that as a child he “grew and became strong, filled with wisdom” (Lk 2:40; cf. 1:80). That means that he learned the Scriptures initially at least from his mother. B. B. Warfield suggested that the source Luke consulted in writing his Gospel account of the Nativity and the early life of Jesus was none other than Mary herself. How often, for example, did she relate to her son the words of Gabriel as to the identity of her unborn son.

One imagines that she taught him Bible stories of the lives and exploits of Abraham and Joseph and King David. She would have related the familiar lines of the Shepherd Psalm (Ps 23) and the role of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah. She might have recited to him promises of reassurance from favorite passages as she rocked him to sleep as a little boy. Since it is more than likely that Joseph died in Jesus’ early teenage years, it was Mary who contributed most to our Lord’s character formation during his transition from puberty to manhood. There is no doubt that the bond between them was unusually close and the tenderness with which he cares for her from the cross is among the most sublime in Scripture. One cannot imagine the pain that she experienced as the darkness of Calvary descended upon her beloved son.

Mary was not sinless. Her own redemption was by faith alone in the finished work of her son alone. But she was unique among women in the role that she performed. Of none other could it be said, “She is the mother of my Lord.” And we honor her appropriately.


Anonymous said...

Dr. Thomas,
I don't completely follow your argument that 1/2 of Jesus' chromosomes were created by the Holy Spirit and not from Mary (I know that normally 1/2 come from Mom and 1/2 from Dad). It seems to me that most orthodox confessions of faith would say that the entire human nature of Jesus came from Mary, which would include both sets of chromosomes.

The WCF 8.2 states, "..in the womb of the virgin Mary, of her substance.[12] So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures..."

The 39 Articles, heading 2 has almost exactly the same wording as the WCF.

I know in Calvin's day some of the anabaptists claimed that Jesus had a "heavenly body", or that it was just created in Mary completely. I believe this would compromise his true humanity in that he would be a re-creation and not one of us (yet without sin). If 1/2 of Jesus' nature was created, don't you have 1/2 of the same problem?

I enjoyed the post BTW - great lunch time reading!


Derek Thomas said...


I'm afraid the ref to to the WCF (8:2) is beside the point. It isn't saying what you think its saying by "of her substance". All humanity is compsed of half female and half male chromosomes. The father's side in Jesus case was not Joseph's and must have been supernaturally created by the Holy Spirit. The point is not new, though the reference to science (and chromosomes may be). For an outstanding treatment of this very issue I would point you to Donald Macleod's book, The Person of Christ (IVP).

Furthermore, (sorry to be analytical) there is a sense in which the totality of Jesus' human nature was created -- not ex nihilo (and neither was it for Adam, for that matter) but ex Maria.

Thanks for posting.


Anonymous said...

I see, you're right. The Y chromosome had to come from somewhere and Mary didn't have one to give. I guess I was created ex mom-and-dadus.


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