The Sinlessness of Jesus Christ Part Two
The previous article in this series showed the Bible’s clear teaching that Jesus Christ was totally sinless. He never failed to conform perfectly to the holy character and will of God. He did not possess a sin nature, never committed a wrong act, never had a wrong thought, attitude, intent, or impulse, and never failed to do the good deeds that should have been done. This biblical teaching prompts some issues that must be addressed.
The Background of the First Issue
The first issue results from the combination of two truths. First, the Bible teaches that each human being who has been procreated through natural means since the fall of mankind is in a state of sin with a sin nature from the moment of conception in the mother. David stated, “I was shaped in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps. 51:5; see also Ps. 58:3; Isa. 48:8). Concerning these statements, Franz Delitzsch wrote:
David here confesses his hereditary sin as the root of his actual sin…the meaning is merely, that his parents were sinful human beings, and that this sinful state has operated upon his birth and even his conception, and from this point has passed over to him…That man from his first beginning onwards…is tainted with sin; that the proneness to sin with its guilt and corruption is propagated from parents to their children (Biblical Commentary on the Psalms, pp. 136–37).
This indicates that a human being’s sin nature is passed on at the moment of conception through the ancestral line of biological descent.
Second, the Bible also teaches that Jesus Christ, in the realm of His humanity, is a biological descendant of human ancestors as the result of His conception in the womb of His mother Mary. At least two things clearly signify Jesus’ biological heritage.
First, the Bible indicated that Jesus Christ is a biological descendant of Abraham. God made the following promise to Abraham: “in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 22:18). The Hebrew word translated “seed,” when applied to human beings, refers to “human, male ‘seed,’ ‘semen’: Lev. 15:16; 22:4; Nu. 5:13, 28, ” and also to “offspring” or “descendants” (H. D. Preuss, “zara,” Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, vol. IV, pp. 144–45). Thus, God was promising that He would bless all mankind through Abraham’s biological line of descent.
Walter C. Kaiser wrote that the word translated “seed” signifies “the whole line of descendants as a unit,” but is “flexible enough” to refer to “one person who epitomizes the whole group” (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, vol. I, p. 253). In line with this flexibility, the Apostle Peter implied that Jesus Christ is the ultimate “seed” of Abraham through whom the promise of Genesis 22:18 is fulfilled (Acts 3:25–26), and the Apostle Paul indicated that Jesus Christ is Abraham’s ultimate “seed” (Gal. 3:16, 19). Since God had promised to bring blessing for all mankind through Abraham’s biological line of descent, the writer of Hebrews asserted that when Christ became incarnated in order to help human beings, “he took on him the seed of Abraham” (Heb. 2:14–16).
The Greek word translated “seed” in these New Testament statements of Peter, Paul, and the writer of Hebrews has the same meanings as the Hebrew word for “seed” in Genesis 22:18, when applied to human beings: “the male seed or semen” and “descendants” (William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 769). In light of this, these New Testament statements imply that before it was begotten, the humanity of Jesus Christ existed in seminal form in Abraham’s body (cp. Heb. 7:5, 9–10), and, therefore, Jesus Christ is a biological descendant of Abraham.
Second, the Bible also indicates that Jesus Christ is a biological descendant of King David. God promised David that his house, kingdom, and throne would be established forever (2 Sam. 7:16). The Hebrew word for “house” in this promise signified a family. “If the ancestor after whom the house was named was a king,” then the word referred to a dynasty (Harry A. Hoffner, “bayith,” Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, vol. II, pp. 113–15). Thus, God promised that David’s family dynasty would be established forever. Since a dynasty is “a sequence of rulers from the same family” (The American College Dictionary, Text Edition), this promise was God’s guarantee that there would always be a biological descendant of David available to exercise his ruling authority.
God clearly indicated this through three other declarations. First, “My covenant will I not break, nor will I alter the thing that is gone out of my lips. Once have I sworn by my holiness that I will not lie unto David. His seed shall endure forever, and his throne as the sun before me. It shall be established forever like the moon, and as a faithful witness in heaven” (Ps. 89:34–37; see also vv. 3–4, 28–29). Here the Hebrew word for “seed” is the same as that noted earlier in God’s Genesis 22:18 promise to Abraham; therefore, God guaranteed that David’s biological line of descent would endure forever to exercise his ruling authority.
Second, God promised David, “There shall not fail thee a man in my sight to sit on the throne of Israel” (1 Ki. 8:25; see Jer. 33:17).
Third, “The Lord hath sworn in truth unto David; he will not turn from it: Of the fruit of thy body will I set upon thy throne” (Ps. 132:11:). The basic meaning of the Hebrew word translated “body” “seems to be ‘inside’ (a body or object)” [Cleon L. Rogers, Jr., “beten,” New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis, vol. 1, p. 650]. In some passages it refers to “the male procreative organs” (Job. 19:17; Mic. 6:7), and in such passages the expression “the fruit of the body” refers to the offspring that a man begets from inside his body (Ibid., p. 651). That is the meaning of the expression in Psalm 132:11 (Ibid.). God was promising that biological descendants of David, who existed in seminal form in his body, would sit upon David’s throne.
In the Old Testament, God foretold that He would set a righteous biological descendant of David upon his throne forever (Isa. 9:6–7; 11:1–12; Jer. 23:5–6; 33:15–17; Dan. 7:13–14). The Jews recognized that these prophecies referred to the Messiah, who would be a biological descendant of David and would abide forever. Some asked, “Hath not the scripture said that Christ cometh of the seed of David…?” (Jn. 7:42). The word for “seed” signifies that they understood that “The Christ promised by the OT will be the ‘descendant of David’ ” (Siegfried Schultz, “sperma,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. VII, p. 545). Others said, “We have heard out of the law that Christ abideth forever” (Jn. 12:34).
The apostles also recognized that these prophetic passages referred to the Messiah, and they were convinced that Jesus Christ was the biological descendant of David who would fulfill these messianic prophecies.
Peter indicated that Jesus Christ obtained His humanity through biological descent from David. After referring to Psalm 132:11, where God swore with an oath to David “that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne,” Peter then said, “This Jesus hath God raised up” (Acts 2:30, 32). The Greek terms translated “the fruit of his loins” express the meaning “one of his descendants” (Heinrich Seesemann, “osphus,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. V, p. 497).
After referring to David, the Apostle Paul said, “Of this man’s seed hath God, according to his promise, raised unto Israel a Savior, Jesus” (Acts 13:23). The preposition translated “of” denotes a “source” of something (A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, p. 576). Paul was claiming that a source of Jesus’ humanity was David’s biological line of descent.
In Romans 1:3, Paul wrote, “Jesus Christ our Lord…was made of the seed of David according to the flesh.” The preposition in the expression “of the seed” means “from within” (Ibid., p. 577). The verb translated “was made” means “come to be” (Arndt and Gingrich, Greek-English Lexicon, p. 157). The word translated “flesh” refers to “a human being” (Ibid., p. 751). Paul was claiming that Jesus Christ’s humanity came into existence from within David’s biological line of descent.
Paul asserted the same concept when he referred to “Jesus Christ, of the seed of David” (2 Tim. 2:8). Here again he used the preposition that means “from within.”
The angel Gabriel indicated that Jesus Christ would be the biological descendant of David who would fulfill the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. Concerning Him he said, “the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father, David” (Lk. 1:32). Gabriel’s testimony identified David as an ancestor of Jesus. J. A. Motyer related a twofold significance for this ancestry. First, “an unequivocally human ancestry secures the reality of the unequivocal humanity of Jesus,” and, second, “the reality of the descent of Jesus from David makes him the repository of the promises vouchsafed to but never secured by his famous ancestor” (“David,” New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, vol. 1, p. 427).
Jesus Christ identified Himself as “the offspring of David” (Rev. 22:16). The word translated “offspring” refers to a descendant of an ancestor (Arndt and Gingrich, Greek-English Lexicon, p. 155). Jesus was claiming to be the fulfillment of Isaiah 11:1, which foretold that the Messiah would be a descendant of David.
The Statement and Proposed Solutions of the First Issue
The combination of the two truths made evident by these facts prompts the following issue: Since a human being’s sin nature is passed on at the moment of conception through the ancestral line of biological descent, and since Jesus Christ, in the realm of His humanity, is a biological descendant of human ancestors as the result of conception in His mother Mary, how could He have been conceived without a sin nature?
In response to this question, it is important to note that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin. His humanity was conceived without a human father. “Like every mother, Mary provided the 23 chromosomes in her ovum,” but the Holy Spirit supernaturally prepared and supplied the other 23 chromosomes necessary for the conception of a human being (Lk. 1:30–35) [J. Stafford Wright, “son,” New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, vol. 3, p. 663].
The fact that half of the chromosomes of Jesus Christ’s humanity were provided by His human mother but the other half were supplied without a human father may indicate that the sin nature is passed on to human offspring through the father, not the mother. This would be in harmony with the biblical teaching that, in spite of the fact that both Adam and Eve committed the original sin of the human race, mankind fell and became sinful exclusively in Adam, not Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:6; Rom. 5:12–19; 1 Cor. 15:22). In this way, Jesus could have been a biological descendant of Abraham, David, and Mary without possessing a sin nature.
If the sin nature is passed on to human offspring through the father and the mother, then it must be concluded that the Holy Spirit supernaturally prevented Mary’s sin nature from being passed on to the humanity of Jesus when He caused conception to take place in her. The fact that Mary called God “my Savior” indicates that she recognized that she was a sinful human being, possessing a sin nature, and was the recipient of God’s gift of salvation (Lk. 1:46–47). Through such prevention by the Holy Spirit, Jesus could have had biological human ancestors without possessing a sin nature.