How Could Jesus Have Been Born “Immaculate”?
James R. Aist
When Adam chose to believe Satan instead of God and sinned (Genesis 3), two things happened that have affected all subsequent generations of mankind (Psalm 51:5; Psalm 58:3; Romans 5:12; Romans 5:17; and 1 Peter 1:18-19), not through a direct, genetic (biological) inheritance as we know it, but by a mysterious, spiritual inheritance that is associated with biological reproduction. First, we took on a “sin nature” (Colossians 3:9-10), or a predisposition to sin, that has been passed down to all subsequent generations, including ours. We have “inherited”, so to speak, from Adam, a “sin nature”, an inborn desire to reject God’s provision and follow our own path in life. This predisposition to sin is so pervasive as to render us, in our “natural-born” state, in rebellion against, and at enmity with, God. And second, we share in the guilt of the original sin of Adam that has been passed down to all of his descendants, because Adam was the representative of all mankind in his rebellion against God, just as Jesus, the second Adam, is the representative of all of Adam’s descendants who believe and trust in Him for their salvation (Romans 5:19; 1 Corinthians 15:22).
This sin nature and the guilt of Adam’s original sin that we are all born with present a dilemma that may seem irresolvable at first glance: the Lamb of God (Jesus) had to be “immaculate”; that is, without spot or blemish (1 Peter 1:19), entirely free of sin, the sin nature and the guilt of Adam’s original sin. So, how did Jesus escape inheriting the sin nature and the guilt of Adam’s original sin at His conception? All agree that Jesus did not inherit these from His Father, the Holy Spirit. But, what about Mary?
Let’s begin with the Roman Catholic solution to this dilemma. According to Roman Catholic doctrine, Mary did not ever have a sin nature or guilt of original sin because of the direct intervention of God; Mary was immaculate as a divine privilege. Of course, there is no clear, unequivocal biblical evidence to confirm this view. It appears to me that the Roman Catholic Church invented this doctrine to resolve the dilemma, because they could not discover, in either the Bible or in Roman Catholic tradition, any other suitable resolution. Apparently, the main Bible verse they use is Genesis 3:15, which says “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he will bruise your head, and you will bruise his heel.” They claim that this verse refers to a battle between Mary and Satan, but a natural reading of the verse indicates that the actual battle will be, instead, between Jesus and Satan. Nonetheless, if God did, in fact, solve this dilemma in this way, then it is not for us to declare otherwise apart from the biblical witness.
Another solution, associated with Protestantism, posits that the sin nature and the guilt of original sin are inherited from Adam, generation to generation, through the fathers only, as seems to be implied by Romans 5:17 and 1 Peter 1:18-19 when taken together: Since Jesus did not have a human father to pass the sin nature and the guilt of original sin on to Him (His father was the Holy Spirit) and the sin nature and the guilt of original sin are inherited through the fathers only, then He could not have inherited either the sin nature or any guilt of Adam’s sin. Once He was conceived in Mary’s womb by the Holy Spirit, He would automatically be the Lamb of God “without spot or blemish” (1 Peter 1:19). Problem solved. I have addressed this viewpoint more fully elsewhere (click HERE), and it does have its foundation in the biblical witness.
But, there is yet another feasible solution to the dilemma that I believe may be even more strongly and clearly supported by the biblical witness. This explanation requires knowledge and understanding that the Jewish followers of God, such as Abraham (and, for our purposes, Mary) had an opportunity to go to Heaven based on their looking ahead to the price to be paid by the Messiah for their sins (based on Old Testament messianic prophesies), just as we today have an opportunity to go to heaven by looking back to the price paid by the Messiah, Jesus, for our sins (based on New Testament fulfillment of Old Testament messianic prophesies). (For a more complete exposition of this biblical teaching, click HERE).
Now, to fully understand this third explanation, I will have to elaborate a bit, so bear with me if you will. Before Mary conceived, an angel spoke to her concerning who Jesus would be: “But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Listen, you will conceive in your womb and bear a Son and shall call His name JESUS. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest. And the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever. And of His kingdom there will be no end.” Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” The angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you. Therefore the Holy One who will be born will be called the Son of God. Mary said, “I am the servant of the Lord. May it be unto me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her (Luke 1:30-35, 38).”
The first point I want you to see here is that, in effect, the angel preached “the Gospel of Jesus Christ” to Mary: 1) He will be the promised Savior (The name “JESUS” means “savior” or “God saves.” See also: Matthew 1:21, “She will bear a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.”); 2) The Holy Spirit will be His father; and 3) therefore, He will be the Son of God. The second point is that, when Mary responded with “May it be unto me according to your word,” she was expressing agreement with, not only becoming pregnant by the Holy Spirit, but also with everything the angel had said concerning Jesus. Thus, it seems that Mary may have been the first person in the New Testament to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ and accept it by faith. The third point is that Mary apparently was saved before Jesus was conceived. This is a critical point, because, if this is true, then, when she was born again through her faith in Jesus, she instantly “became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith”, the righteousness of God in Christ (Genesis 15:6; Hebrews 11:7; Romans 3:22; 2 Corinthians 5:21). In other words, before Jesus was conceived, Mary may have already believed in Him (Luke 1:38) and, if so, she was already the righteousness of God in Christ and could not have passed on to Jesus either any guilt of Adam’s sin or a sin nature.
The gist of this explanation is that, if Mary was, in fact, saved before she became pregnant with Jesus, then there was no avenue whereby either the sin nature or the guilt of Adam’s original sin could have been passed on to Jesus, because Mary’s new nature in Christ (2 Peter 1:4 speaks of the “divine nature” of those who believe in Christ) would have already replaced her original sin nature (Colossians 3:9-10) and her righteousness of God in Christ would have erased her guilt of Adam’s original sin before He was conceived. If this explanation is, indeed, true and valid, then it’s a good thing the angel preached the Gospel to Mary before Jesus was conceived!
The “take home message” of this article is this, that one way or another, God saw to it that when Jesus was conceived, He was free of both the guilt of Adam’s original sin and of the sin nature. Add to that a sinless life (Hebrews 4:15) and we have a biblical explanation of how, when Jesus died on the cross, He could bear the sins of others (i.e., us). If He had had sins of His own to bear, then He would have died for His own sins, and our sins would still not be forgiven. In which case, it would not end well for us who believe and trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins and the salvation of our souls!
(To read more of my biblical articles, click HERE)