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Comments on an article entitled

 

THE VIRGIN BIRTH AND THE PERSON OF CHRIST

 

(The following comments were written in February 2005 in reply to a request to comment on the above article. I have now omitted certain references to attachments and literature)

 

The above article treats of a very important matter - the Person of Christ. His teaching and work are also important, but it is really his Person that gives authority to the teaching (Matthew 7:28/29) and value to the work (1 Peter 1:17-21).

 

As we know the Reformation established the authority of Scripture and using that authority the way of individual blessing was established (justification by faith), so that the penances, indulgences and the other things taught by the church of Rome to be necessary for salvation were set aside. Luther was the leader in this. Many of the idolatrous practices of the church of Rome were also discarded by the Swiss reformers. However there was no real recovery of the truth as to God's assembly until the 1800's. Mr Darby and others were the ones used to set in order the scriptural teaching as to this matter. However, they did not deal with the Romish teachings as to the Person of Christ. Mr Darby accepted the great orthodox truths (Letters Vol. 2 p.362), though he did not maintain a creed (C.W. Vol. 9 p 298 "I maintain no creed"). In practice his hymns and those of the Brethren generally did not use the language of the creeds, but rather those of Scripture. Mr Taylor was somewhat stronger and rejected the doctrines as to Christ in the so-called Athanasian creed (Letters Vol. 1 p. 325)

 

However, we know that Mr. Raven and subsequently Mr. Taylor and Mr. Coates brought in adjustments to what had been previously held, though I do not think that the whole matter of Christ's Person has yet been fully clarified, at least, not to my way of thinking. The so-called Open Brethren and the other parties such as Kelly, Lowe, Glanton, etc. still more or less rely on the Nicene and Athanasian creeds for their doctrine. These creeds were promulgated when the church publicly was sinking into idolatry and therefore I would not want to put my confidence in them.

 

The impression one gets from the article you have sent me is that the author is reading creedal doctrines into Scripture rather than learning from Scripture. In other words Scripture is made to agree with the dogmas propounded in the creeds. I recently read a book written a few years ago by, what I have reason to believe, is an Open brother, doing this very thing. I sympathise with his purpose, that is, to maintain the glory of Christ against ideas that would effectively make him a creature. However, in doing so he seemed to me to be effectively claiming all the Father's glory for Christ as well as Christ's own peculiar glory which He has as a man. This effectively gives him in aggregate more glory than the Father and must be wrong. In Philippians 2:11 we have a clause at the end: "to God [the] Father's glory". This should not be lost sight of in seeking to maintain the glory of Christ. I had a short but amicable correspondence with the brother concerned, though we did not arrive at agreement.

 

In putting the matter as simply as I can, Christ as to all that he was as a man here, that is, as to his physical and mental faculties (body and brain) He was essentially the same as us. He was in a flesh and blood condition (Hebrews 2:14). He had a body prepared for Him (Hebrews 10:5). Until that body was prepared He did not occupy it. Mary was not the Mother of God or carry God in her womb. What was in her womb is spoken of in Scripture as "that", not He (Matthew 1:20). In Luke 1:35 we have "the holy thing" spoken of. It is the popular evangelical view at the present time that a foetus (child) in the womb is a person. I am afraid I do not agree with that view. When I was a child my Mother had a miscarriage (her second one) and the aborted foetus was flushed down the toilet so I was told. This did not appeal to me at the time, but my parents pointed out that until the child had breathed it was not a living soul (Genesis 2:7). One has noticed that Christ said as to Judas; "[It were] good for that man if he had not been born", not if he had not been conceived (Mark 14:21). There is no idea in Scripture that a foetus will have a part in the resurrection and many never develop and only live in the womb for an hour or so. What I have just said is I understand what was generally held by Brethren. The more popular view seems to be more like that propounded in L. Ron Hubbard's book "Dianetics". I suspect that people think that if we hold the view that I do we are opening the door to abortions at any time for any purpose. However, if you accept the popular view you could not abort a foetus even if the Mother's life was in danger, because you would be killing a person in doing so.

 

However, what one has just said only covers what Christ is as a physical being - what goes into the grave and normally returns to dust when one dies, that is, one's physical and mental faculties (body and brain) - the outward man. However, as we know, there is another side to his Person. He came forth from (ek meaning out of) the Father (John 16:28). What came forth was what He was essentially - the inward man (2 Corinthians 4:16). He had the likeness of men and was found in figure as a man (Philippians 2:7/8) but He was essentially another order of man - a man out of heaven (1 Corinthians 15:47). As has been pointed out, if Christ had looked different from other men, say, had a halo round his head as in pictures, "the high priest would not have given thirty pieces of silver for singling Him out from his disciples" (Letter of Mr. Stoney in Recovery and Maintenance of the Truth: The Manhood of Christ section). Besides this, Mary wouldn't have mistaken him for the gardener in resurrection if He had looked different from other men. However, what distinguished Him from other men when here apart from the fact that He did no sin was the fact that He was full of grace and truth (John 1:14). It was said of Him: "Never man spoke thus, as this man [speaks]" (John 7:46) and so one might go on.

 

As to Christ's Person I think Micah 5:2 helps. It is said there: "Out of thee shall he come forth unto me [who is] to be Ruler in Israel: whose goings forth are from of old, from the davs of eternity". The first part is in the singular and speaks of Christ's earthly origin (the finite - limited - side). The Jews apparently did not see beyond this (Matthew 2:6). The second part is in the plural and speaks of the divine side of his Person (the infinite - unlimited - side). Plurals often point to what is unlimited as we have it in Genesis 1:8 "God called the expanse (not expanses) Heavens (a plural)". The earth is always in the singular.

 

I have run on quite a bit. I think I had better deal with your particular questions C.l, C.2 and C.3

 

As to C.1 one does not disagree with what the writer says generally, save that what was formed in Mary's womb was the vessel which was holy (as I have said above). A babe is not a separate living being till it is born and has breathed. The Jeremiah 1:5 passage to which the writer refers would take us back before conception and really involves God's foreknowledge and predestination. Again in Hebrews 7:10 we have it said: "For he (Levi) was yet in the loins of his father (Abraham) when Melchisedec met him". This does not mean that Levi was a person then.

 

C.2.1 am not happy about saying that in Christ there was a union of humanity and deity. Scripture does not speak of Him in this way. He was a man with the divine nature absolutely ("When I say, "the Word was God," I use "God" for a nature" JND C.W. Vol. 6 p. 46). I have understood that the two expressions in Luke 1:35 are a case of parallelism, that is, the two expressions are different aspects of the same thing. The Holy Spirit is the power of the Highest. Certainly Christ is not Son of the Spirit as the writer correctly says. However, the Spirit's intervention was necessary for a child to be born without a natural father. Verse 35 is the answer to Mary's question as to this in verse 34.

The question is: "What do we mean by human nature and divine nature"? Christians are made partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). There is human nature which is fallen (1 Corinthians 10:13). The idea that Christ took upon Himself human nature led to the idea that He had a sinful nature, but that He did not actually sin because He did not yield to sinful desires. As I understand it Christ had a holy nature and sin was abhorrent to him - He was "the holy one of God" (John 6:69).

 

C.3. Building on the statement of Elizabeth that Christ was her Lord, that He was so in the womb I do not believe is correct. Christ was not given a position of Lordship until after his ascension (Acts 2:36; Philippians 2:9-11), though the disciples rightly regarded him as Lord when here (John 13:13). However, when a child Christ was subject to his parents (Luke 2:51). He was not treated as Lord then. Statements in Scripture are often anticipatory. In John 17 what Christ said anticipated the completing of his work (compare John 17:4 with John 19:30 and also John 17:11 with John 20:17). As I believe the writer would agree we should not make too much of Mary nor too little of her. She was spoken of as blessed but not holy as the Romish Church does.

 

Then as to the other sections 3a i, ii, iii:-

 

3. That Christ in resurrection was given the glory that he had before the world was I do not doubt, but was this what is spoken of as the glory of deity? It was the Father that glorified Him (John 17:4/5). He did not give Him deity.

 

3. a.i. The word monogenes clearly points to the fact that Christ was a single generation, that is, the only begotten. Today we speak of a monorail (single rail), a monocle (single glass) and so on. Genes point to origin as in Genesis. There seems to be an effort in some quarters to get rid of this idea in John 1:14. Mr Coates alludes to it in his pamphlet in answer to the one by A.J.Pollock entitled "The Eternal Son" on page 33. If we were likely to be misled by the use of the word monogenes why does John (indeed the Spirit of God) use it? Sonship must involve an event: either birth or adoption. We receive sonship (are adopted) but not so Christ. He was Son by birth, both Mary's (Matthew 1:25) and God's (John 3:18).

 

3.a.ii. I am not aware that Christ generally went around positively asserting that He was Son of God. It is rather that He implied it by referring to God as his own Father (John 5:17). The sanhedrin had to get Him to acknowledge He was the Son of God by the voice of adjuration (Matthew 26:63). Further, a careful reading of John 5 shows that the matter of judging is committed to him because He is Son of Man (John 5:27). The point is that God has committed judgment to Christ because He is one of us and therefore we can't complain that we are being judged by one who will overawe us or doesn't understand us. Job was concerned about this (Job 9, particularly verses 32/33). It may also be pointed out that Christ does not actually speak of Himself as the I AM but simply says I AM (John 8:58). If you substitute the word God for I AM Christ's statement becomes meaningless. This is not so if God is substituted for I AM in Exodus 2. However, the use of I AM rather than I WAS does point to his timeless existence. One has thought of it as rather like what Paul says in Colossians 1:17 "he is before all" not "was before all.". I do not think that the glory that Christ had before the worlds was a shared glory, but rather a glory that was peculiar to Himself. Mr. Darby's note indicates that with the Father indicates in whose presence He had it and where He had it (presence and place) *. In saying this I appreciate that I am probably departing somewhat from the more usual view.

As has been pointed out Scripture does not say that the glory Christ had before the world was that of Sonship (see Mr Coates comments on page 13 of his pamphlet on the one by A.J.Pollock entitled "The Eternal Son"). In any case sonship is a relationship based on an event. Eternal Sonship is really a meaningless expression. Had Scripture intended us to use the expression Eternal Son Scripture would no doubt have used the expression and told us what we were to understand by it. Mr. Taylor (I believe rightly) squashed the idea that Christ had two Divine Sonships, that He was The Son (as God) and the Son of God (as Man) (Extract from The Divine Standard of Service in the Recovery and Maintenance of the Truth page 252, 1963 edition and 126, 1997 edition). To use the fact that because Scripture says the one who is identified as Son of God did certain things before his birth into this world that He must have been Son of God then is I believe wrong. By the same reasoning one could prove that He was Christ and Jesus then (Philippians 2:5). Further one could say He was Son of Man then (John 3:13; 6:62). One identifies a person by his name or office, but that is not proof that the name or office always applied to him. We may say: "When the Queen was a child", but this does not imply that she was Queen when a child (see F. E. R's piece on The Person of the Christ in the Recovery and Maintenance of the Truth page 152).

 

3.a.iii. Christ is an office; Son of God is a relationship. The writer says that the relationship of divine Father to the Son is essential to God. No Scripture is quoted to prove this and I can see no reason why it should be necessarily correct. Again, what does the writer mean by saying that humanity is to be raised into a position of divine sonship? The first order of man is set aside, not raised. Further, the sonship a Christian has part in is not identical with that of Christ. His Sonship is unique. He was begotten; we are adopted. God was his own Father; He was God's own Son (John 5:18; Romans 8:3). By saying God was his own Father the Jews took it that He made Himself equal with God. Because we are sons we are not equal with God. (Equal with God carries the idea of the same as God - see Young's concordance).

There is nothing about union of the divine Son and man in Scripture. I am afraid these ideas come from the thinking of theologians, rather than the Bible. As the writer says the doctrine of the person of Christ is the cornerstone of Christian orthodoxy and the church's teaching. As Mr. Darby pointed out the church does not teach, but is taught (see for instance The Faith once delivered to the Saints). When the writer says the church teaches what is He thinking of? Is it the Church of Rome? The writer correctly states that the facts must be taken from the statements of Scripture, but then goes on to state that more is involved. This implies that the statements of Scripture are not adequate and to my mind if this were true inspiration would be thrown into doubt. I have a book on the subject of the creeds which speaks of what is in the creeds as something "invented". I have no confidence in such inventions. Christ was not man and also Son of God. He, the man was Son of God (Mark 15:39)

On page 11 the writer speaks of the hypostatic union. These impersonal terms do not bring Christ before us as a living person but tend to dry up the soul. Others more able to do so than myself have pointed this out. The writer of the article we are considering leaves out matters which one would consider important such as the Man out of Heaven and the Mediator between God and Man. Mr Stoney wrote: "In Christendom the pious Christians think of Christ as God and not as Man, and they read of His miracles in the gospels to prove that He was God. They do not see that indirectly they are siding with Satan, who will tolerate any measure of religion so that the Man out of heaven is not paramount" (see letter in The Manhood of Christ section of Recovery and Maintenance of the Truth page 141). Rome lost Christ as the Mediator and substituted Mary and saints which, needless to say, was quite wrong. I do not believe we should introduce the ideas of omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence into Christ's life here on earth. What we get in Christ when here was what God was essentially as I think Mr Taylor said in one place ("What God is was there in its root principle" - Letters Vol. 1 p. 360). The three things just referred to are not what God is essentially (his nature and character), but refer to his power, knowledge and the extent of his influence. To think of these things as applying to Christ on earth generates all kinds of difficulties (see such passages as John 10:29; Mark 13:32). What came out in Christ when here was all that God is. In Christ all the fullness of the Godhead dwelt so that He was the image of God, or according to John's presentation: "He that has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9). One perhaps should say here that there are depths in Christ that are beyond us: "The love of the Christ which surpasseth knowledge" for instance (Ephesians 3:19). I think of ourselves and Christ as like taps that all look the same, but naturally we are finite like taps attached to a water butt. Turn on the tap and left on long enough the supply of water will run out. However, though Christ when here looked the same as other men he was like a tap linked to the mains behind which for practical purposes is an inexhaustible supply. This is only a human illustration I admit.

 

A few other points :-

 

(1) The opening paragraph states that Romans 1:4 tells us: "Jesus was declared to be Son of God in his resurrection". This is very questionable, as the Scripture says: "resurrection of [the] dead" (meaning of dead persons). I am inclined to think that Paul's statement means that Christ's acts in raising dead persons when here on earth by the Spirit demonstrated in a powerful way that He was Son of God. However, I would not claim that this is definitely the meaning of the passage. Note: J.N.D. says "marked out" rather than "declared". It may also be noted that Peter says that Jesus was made Lord and Christ in resurrection (Acts 2:36). Nothing about being declared Son of God.

 

(2) What is said at the top of page 3 is hardly right. All power is what is given to Christ as it says in Matthew 28:18. Christ is not given deity. Further, when Christ speaks of "the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" He is I believe speaking of three names, not one. He does not use "the singular name of Father, Son and Spirit" as the writer does. In Luke 9:26 Christ makes a similar statement, not as to name but as to glory: "He shall come in his glory, and [in that] of the Father, and of the holy angels". Just because glory is mentioned once we cannot assume that it is the singular glory of Son, Father and holy angels. No one I think would claim that the glory of the holy angels is identical with that of the Father and the Son. Revelation 14:1 is also a relevant passage.

 

(3) On page 6 under 2 the writer refers to Jesus' messianic status as Son of God as being established at three points in his course on earth. He appears to have overlooked what was said of Him on the mount of transfiguration (Matthew 17:5). Further, Christ's taking David's throne is still future. Psalm 2 has not yet been fulfilled. Today Christ is Lord (as typified by Joseph's exaltation in Egypt). In a coming day He will be given David's throne (Luke 1:32). Today He has sat down with his Father in his throne. He has not yet received his own throne (see Revelation 3:21; Matthew 25:31). He is still waiting (Psalm 110:1). Apart from these Scriptures it is evident he is not ruling in Israel yet. One of Mr. Darby's hymns goes: "Soon wilt thou take thy throne" The hymn starts: "We'll praise Thee, glorious Lord".

 

(4) As Mr Coates and others have said in dealing with the Person of Christ we are on holy ground. To make his Person the subject of controversy or human analysis is I think a dangerous line to be on.

 

(5) People tend to speak rather glibly about our Lord's deity and humanity without much thought as to what is meant by these expressions. Neither expression actually appears in the Scriptures. It is not the way Scripture speaks. As Mr Raven pointed out: "The expressions of Scripture are safer than human expressions, for the latter may fail you sometime" (New Series Vol. 11 p. 364). In any case if we can't find a Scriptural alternative to the expressions we use it should make us wonder whether we really have the teaching of Scripture correctly in our minds.

____________________________________________________________________________

 

* NIV reads: “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” The RSV and NEB have similar wording.

 

June 2011