who was conceived by the Holy Spirit (Apostles Creed)
was incarnate of the Holy Spirit (Nicene Creed)
Jesus’ conception was miraculous
It is a perfectly acceptable Christian position to hold that Jesus’ conception was miraculous. The Bible is a mixture of history and metaphor, and if you study the mentions of Jesus’ conception (and there’s really only a couple of them) and you decide that this is history, you are in perfectly good company. It’s probably the majority Christian position historically. It doesn’t mean you are against science, just that God can break God’s laws of nature for God’s greater purpose.
Jesus’ conception happened normally
It is a perfectly acceptable Christian position to hold that Jesus’ conception happened in exactly the same way as every other conception. The Bible is a mixture of history and metaphor, and if you study the mentions of Jesus’ conception (and there’s really only a couple of them) and you decide that this is metaphor, you are in perfectly good company. The Bible has a meme for special people – they often have a miraculous conception and/or birth story, and so if you want to give a picture that Jesus’ is the most special of all – it makes sense to give him the most special conception story.
Matthew 1:22-23 has
All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel’,
which means, ‘God is with us.’
Matthew is quoting the Greek Septuagint (LXX) not the Hebrew Bible (now there’s another discussion worth having!). Isaiah 7:14 (LXX) is:
δια τουτο δωσει κυριος αυτος υμιν σημειον ιδου η παρθενος εν γαστρι εξει και τεξεται υιον και καλεσεις το ονομα αυτου εμμανουηλ
παρθενος (parthenos) is “virgin”. The original Hebrew for Isaiah 7:14
לָכֵן יִתֵּן אֲדֹנָי הוּא לָכֶם אֹות הִנֵּה הָעַלְמָה
הָרָה וְיֹלֶדֶת בֵּן וְקָרָאת שְׁמֹו עִמָּנוּ אֵֽל׃
There, עַלְמָה (almah) means “young woman”. In the original Hebrew, Isaiah didn’t say that a virgin would conceive; he said a young woman would conceive. [Some point out that παρθενος is also used, for example, five times to translate three different Hebrew nouns for Rebekah in Genesis 24, one of those being עלמה. James Barr noted in Typology of Literalism (1979) that the LXX of Genesis simply used παρθενος to translate the rare word עלמה, but that παρθενος is a suitable word for “young woman” and does not necessarily imply virginity. Such points do not strengthen the case for the first option, above].
Accepting that Jesus’ conception happened in the ordinary way can still mean that the Holy Spirit was active – “who was conceived by the Holy Spirit”.
No opinion on Jesus’ conception
It is a perfectly acceptable Christian position to hold no opinion whether or not Jesus’ conception was miraculous. The Bible is a mixture of history and metaphor, and sometimes, no matter how hard you study it, it is just not possible, 2,000 years later, to agree whether a particular story is history or metaphor. For some people classifying the genre of this particular story of Jesus’ conception is intensely significant. It is perfectly fine if for you that is not a concern that keeps you up at night.
Jesus half God half human
It is not acceptable to think that half of Jesus’ chromosomes are human and half of Jesus’ chromosomes are something else – divine, goddy chromosomes. Nor is it acceptable to think of Jesus as having only 23 chromosomes – only half of what humans have. Christians and non-Christians agree Jesus is fully human. Jesus has 23 human chromosome pairs; 46 human chromosomes. While we might disagree about how Jesus got those chromosomes – whether you hold to the first, second, or third option given above – we all agree on this final point: however he got them, Jesus is fully human with 46 human chromosomes.
This is the ninth post in a series on the Creed.
The first is Apostles’ Creed.
The second is I believe in God.
The third is a source of the Apostles’ Creed.
The fourth is I believe in the Father.
The fifth is Handing over the Creed.
The sixth is I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son
The seventh is Don’t use the creed in worship
They eighth is Truly God truly human
Image: Fra Angelico The Annunciation
- On the third day he rose again
- Let’s Stop Using These Words Together (3): God & Son
- Immaculate Conception
- What The Immaculate Conception is Not
- Holy Saturday