Tuesday, April 07, 2009

To Whom Did Mary Give Birth & Who Died Upon The Cross?

I won’t bother to get into the historical debate that surrounds these two topics but a word or two will be offered as “food for thought” regarding Mary giving birth to God the Son and a divine person dying upon the cross.

Did Mary give birth to a divine person, or just a human nature? If birth implies the origin of someone new, then only humanity came forth in the virgin birth since the person born of the virgin always existed. However, Mary carried a person (and not just an embodied nature) in her womb, and after her water broke, she then labored to bring forth the person she had carried. In common parlance we call that giving birth. Since a divine person was born, we must let that reality inform our understanding of birth (rather then let our understanding of birth redefine what occurred in that manger in Bethlehem). Birth need not precede the origin of a new person, precisely because the eternal Son of God, a person, was born of a virgin. It's really quite easy when we start with Scripture. Question 37 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it this way, or rather it simply assumes the point when making another:
“How did Christ, being the Son of God, become man? Answer: Christ the Son of God
became man, by taking to himself a true body, and a reasonable soul, being
conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost in the womb of the virgin Mary, of her
substance, and born of her, yet without sin.” (emphasis mine)
Who was born of of the virgin Mary is the question we should be asking, not what was born. Sure, Jesus became man by taking to himself body and soul but it was Christ who was born of Mary. Accordingly, Mary giving birth to her Savior-son is not ground for Protestant objection. Aside from that, no unbiblical Marian dogma can be rationally inferred from such teaching.

Now for the 2nd condundrum. Did God the Son die on the cross, or just his humanity? A divine person took upon a human body and soul in the incarnation. That body is now glorified but before that, it lay in the grave – dead, awaiting resurrection life. Accordingly, a divine person's body lay in the grave. The body died in the death of a person, which is what happens when any person dies. Yet does the soul ever die, whether divine or human? We are not annihilationists after all. Are things getting a bit clearer? What's the problem that a divine person died? When we die our bodies will lie in the grave but the soul will remain operative in the intermediate state. So then, how does the death of the Second Person impinge upon the doctrine of the Trinity? Was the death of the body sufficient to do away with Jesus’ sovereign rule over the universe anymore than his being born of a woman? Is death even sufficient to stop the Rich Man (from Luke 16) from trying to correct God? One would have to ask how the Lord managed prior to the incarnation if we may not say that the Second Person of the Trinity, at least in some sense, died upon the cross and his body lay in the grave.
The same person who was born, died - and is now risen and ascended to God's right hand.
Happy Easter!


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