Issue: 3rd quarter 2015

A Response to the Doctrine of Adoptionism, part 2

Part 2: Adoptionist Claims

Did God Commit Adultery?

One reason Adoptionists say that God cannot be the father of Jesus is that since Mary was betrothed to Joseph, if God impregnated Mary, He would be an adulterer. That claim ignores the difference between spirit and flesh, and how God has set up the laws by which He operates in the world. God did not have sex with Mary, nor have an adulterous affair with her. His impregnating Mary was an act of special creation.

It is a leap in logic to say that God’s impregnating Mary by divine creation was adultery. It is no more adultery than God giving a person revelation is a violation of the person’s free will because God interrupted the person’s thoughts. God does not need people’s permission to break into the physical world in an act of creation. In the case of God impregnating Mary, He did let her know what was going to happen so that she could properly deal with the situation she was going to be facing. She was accused of fornication, but she nevertheless willingly accepted the plan and will of God for her life.

Did God Break the Laws of Nature?

Some Adoptionists claim that God would have to break the laws of nature to impregnate Mary, but there is no justification for that claim. God’s creative acts do not break the laws of nature. God created the laws of nature to accommodate His creative acts, as we see throughout Scripture.

Do the Ancient Myths of “Gods” Impregnating Women Nullify the Biblical Record of God Impregnating Mary?

Adoptionists use the mythology of ancient civilizations, such as the Greeks, to say that it was common for people to believe that gods had impregnated women, and because of that, we should not believe that God literally impregnated Mary.

Actually, the Bible testifies that the ancient myths are based on truth—that “gods” really did impregnate women. There were certainly myths that were not factual, but behind those myths was a historic kernel of truth. The Devil is always trying to confuse people about what God does, and the fact that, historically, demons “impregnated” women (actually it was an act of demonic manipulation of the human genetics, but in the ancient world it was understood as impregnating), shows that it is not only possible, it has actually happened.

The fact that demons really did impregnate women adds credibility to the biblical record that God impregnated Mary. Actually, in the universal scheme of things, the contrast between the demons “impregnating” women and God’s impregnating Mary was an irony. The Devil desired to destroy the human race through the Nephilim, the fallen race his demons had created, but God desired to save the human race by the man He created—His only begotten Son.

According to Genesis 6:4, the Nephilim were a race that started with women impregnated by “the sons of God,” who were spiritual beings and who were thought of as “gods” by the ancient people. These Nephilim were “the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown” (Gen. 6:4). E. W. Bullinger correctly observes: “we have in these mighty men, the ‘men of renown,’ the explanation of the origin of the Greek mythology. That mythology was no mere invention of the human brain, but it grew out of the traditions, and memories, and legends, of the doings of that mighty race of beings…The fact that they were supernatural in their origin formed an easy step to their being regarded as the demi-gods of the Greeks” (Companion Bible; Appendix 25). So, far from casting doubt on the Bible’s testimony that God impregnated Mary by an act of special creation, the ancient myths add credibility to the biblical record.

When Did Jesus Become the Son of God?

Adoptionists deny that Jesus was born by divine conception, but they still have to deal with the fact that the New Testament calls Jesus “the Son of God” (actually, as we have seen, “the only begotten” Son of God). We want to answer two questions: When did the angel say Jesus became the Son of God; and when do Adoptionists say Jesus became the Son of God?

The Scripture testifies that Jesus became the Son of God when he was conceived in the womb of Mary, just as any normal child becomes a son or daughter at conception, not at a later time. The angel who spoke to Mary made this clear. He told Mary she would conceive in her womb (Luke 1:31), and her conception would happen because “the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35). Then the angel told Mary that it was because she had conceived by God that “for that reason the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). So when did Jesus become the Son of God? Like any other child, it happened when he was conceived. Adoptionists generally do not have a response for what the angel told Mary, because if Mary and Joseph had sexual intercourse that resulted in a child, that conception would not qualify their baby to be called the Son of God. Thus, the angel telling Mary that her baby would be called the Son of God is still more evidence for the divine conception of Jesus.

Adoptionists do not think that Mary conceived Jesus by divine conception and are left to decide how and when Jesus came to be called the Son of God. As we saw earlier in this paper, Adoptionists disagree among themselves about this, with the major opinions being: at his baptism; at his resurrection; at his ascension; or at his return to earth as king. Adoptionists find scriptures to support each of these four positons.

First, Adoptionists have to abandon any attachment to the normal position that a child becomes a son or daughter at conception and find a place that might qualify for Jesus to become a son. To that end, they generally settle on Psalm 2:7, “Today I have begotten you,” to mark when Jesus became the “Son.” But Psalm 2:7 is quoted in different contexts.

To say Jesus’ sonship occurred at his baptism, Adoptionists have to claim that Psalm 2:7 is quoted at the baptism, but the textual evidence is against that. There is one major Greek text, codex Bezae, as well as some Church Fathers, that quote Luke 3:22 with the reading, “You are my son, today I have begotten you.” However, that reading of Luke 3:22 is doubtful. The textual evidence points to the actual reading being “You are my Son, the beloved one, with you I am well pleased” (A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament by Bruce Metzger). For textual and contextual reasons, the vast majority of Greek scholars have concluded that the reading “You are my son, today I have begotten you” is not original. Of course there are scholars who disagree with the majority position, but to base a doctrine on a verse that the majority of textual scholars do not even think is original is very dangerous theology. The other Gospels do not have Psalm 2:7 being quoted at Jesus’ baptism either. Thus, to depend on an unlikely textual reading of Luke 3:22 to claim that Jesus was adopted at his baptism is to rely on a minor variant that is highly doubtful. Furthermore, Jesus could not have become God’s son at his baptism in any way that firmly qualified him to be referred to as the “only begotten” Son of God.

We need to study Psalm 2:7 carefully to see what God means when He has it quoted in different New Testament contexts. It is quoted by Paul to support the resurrection (Acts 13:33), and in Hebrews pointing to the ascension (Heb. 1:3-5). Also, of course, the context of Psalm 2 itself is important, and that points to Jesus coming into his kingdom at the time he became the “son.” The point is that God apparently had different things in mind when he referred to Jesus becoming His “Son.” Jesus had different relationships with God at different times in his life, and we need to recognize that without distorting it. To say that Jesus was not God’s Son at his birth but “actually” became God’s Son at a different time misses the point of why Psalm 2 is quoted in the New Testament in different places. Furthermore, it also misses the point for why the angel said that Jesus was the Son of God because of the way he was conceived.

Psalm 2 portrays God installing His Messiah as king, saying, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you.” Thus, it is clear that the “begetting” is not referring to any kind of birth but rather to the Messiah having a new relationship with God and the earth. In Psalm 2, that relationship is as king over God’s creation. We can now see why Psalm 2:7 is quoted in different contexts: it points out new relationships between God and the Messiah. Even if Psalm 2:7 was quoted at Jesus’ baptism, which we have seen is doubtful, it marked the start of God’s new relationship with Jesus in the fullness of his ministry, now with holy spirit upon him. Jesus again had a new relationship with God at his resurrection, thus Paul’s quotation of Psalm 2:7 in Acts 13:44. Jesus had still another new relationship with his Father and mankind when he ascended to heaven (Heb. 1:3-5), and he will have another new relationship with God and mankind when he comes back to earth and comes into the fullness of his kingdom, at that time completely fulfilling the prophecy of Psalm 2:7.

A major problem for Adoptionists is that none of these times when Jesus enters into a new relationship with God qualifies him to be the “only begotten” Son of God. None of the relationships besides Jesus’ birth actually involve “begetting.” The real reason Jesus is “the only begotten Son of God” is that Jesus was conceived in Mary as an act of God’s divine creation, as the angel pointed out in Luke 1:35.

The Genealogy of Jesus

Adoptionists generally claim that for Jesus to be a true descendant of David through Solomon, Joseph had to be the real father of Jesus because they claim that genealogy was passed down through the father’s side, not through the mother’s side. Thus, they assert that if God was the Father of Jesus, then Jesus was not a legitimate heir of David.

The actual fact is that we do not know exactly how lineage was traced in the Bible. This is a very important topic to the Jews and they have fought over it for millennia. There are cases in the Bible where the children were Jewish if the father was Jewish. But there are also cases in the Bible where the child was Jewish if the mother was Jewish. For example, in Ezra, the men who married foreign wives had to put away the wives and children. The problem at that time was that some Jewish men “have taken some of their [the pagans] daughters as wives for themselves and for their sons, so that the holy race has intermingled with the peoples of the lands” (Ezra 9:2 NASB). The solution was, “according to law,” to send away both the wives and their children: “So now let us make a covenant with our God to put away all the wives and their children, according to the counsel of my lord and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law” (Ezra 10:3 NASB). So those children who were forced to leave were not considered Jewish, even though the fathers were Jewish.

Furthermore, Jews today still disagree about how lineage is traced: Orthodox Jews and American Conservative Jews say lineage is traced through the mother. However, Karite Jews, who accept only the 5 books of Moses as authoritative, say it is through the father. Reformed Jews are bilineal: they say that if either parent is a Jew, the child is a Jew. Since the Jews themselves are not clear about how their lineage was traced, and the Bible has records of it being traced both through the father and through the mother, it is presumptuous of anyone today to say that Jesus could not be a literal descendant of David if Joseph was not his real father. Of course, there are arguments and counter arguments on both sides. For example, the Karite Jews point out that the lineage from “the house of the father” shows that the lineage was traced through the father. The Orthodox Jews reply that the phrase “house of the father” only referred to the family one belonged to, not how lineage was counted. They continue to assert that Jewish lineage was traced through the mother. The arguments go back and forth, and the issue has never been settled to anyone’s satisfaction, despite many centuries of arguing about it.

The debate over who is a Jew and how lineage is traced has lasted for thousands of years— since before Christ was born—and we will not be able to settle it here. What we can say is that there is good biblical evidence that genealogy can be traced through the mother, and that applies to Jesus as well. Even though Jesus was the Son of God by divine conception, the fact that Mary was his genetic mother through Solomon qualified him to fulfill the prophecies that he would be “the son of David.”

The Seed of the Woman

That legitimate heirship of the Messiah can be passed through the mother is shown by the very first prophecy of the Messiah in Genesis 3:15. God spoke to the Serpent, the Devil, and He called the promised Messiah “her seed.” The Hebrew word for “seed” is zera (Strong’s #2233 זֶרַע), and its primary meaning is “seed”; however, it was also used for “semen,” “offspring” and “descendants.”

God foretold that the Messiah was going to be a descendent of David even though He knew He was going to be the Father of the Messiah. The prophecies God gave were not fully understood by the Jews or anyone else until the New Testament was written, but that does not invalidate God’s plan, or the fact that the prophecies were spoken the way they were in a manner that left the door open for God to be the true Father of the Messiah.

It is important to note that when God was speaking to the Devil about the coming Messiah, He did not refer to him as the “seed” of the man, but as the “seed” of the woman. Since God was speaking to the Devil and could have either referred to the Messiah as the man’s seed or the woman’s seed, Genesis 3:15 is good evidence that God had already planned to Father the Messiah by impregnating a woman. Why would God tell the Devil that the Messiah was going to be the “seed” of the woman if the genealogy had to come through the man in order for Jesus to be a legitimate heir of David? That does not make sense. The reason the Messiah was going to be the seed of the woman was that God knew it would be a woman who would provide the direct ancestral link from Adam—and then, as it turned out, through David and Solomon, to the Messiah. This is also evidence that Matthew contains the genealogy of Mary, not Joseph, as we will see.

Matthew has Mary’s Genealogy; Luke has Joseph’s

To properly understand the birth of Christ, we need to understand that the genealogy in Matthew is Mary’s genealogy, not Joseph’s, and that Luke’s genealogy is Joseph’s and not Mary’s. Mary’s genealogy, in Matthew, comes through Solomon, thus granting the throne that God promised to David and to Solomon to come legitimately through the genetic line of David and Solomon, and also to fulfill the prophecy that the Messiah would be “her seed.”

It is well known that Matthew has 3 sets of 14 generations, but in counting the names in most translations, the last set of 14 is one name short, having only 13 names. The reason is simple: “Joseph” in Matthew 1:16 is the “father” of Mary, not the “husband” of Mary. That makes Joseph the 12th person of 14, and Mary, his daughter, is number 13, and Jesus is the 14th person in the list. The subject of setting forth the reasons that Matthew has Mary’s genealogy and Luke has Joseph’s genealogy is too big a single subject to handle in this paper on Adoptionism, but there is a much larger explanation of it in the Revised English Version commentary on Matthew 1:16. The Gospel of Luke has Joseph’s genealogy, and that is covered in some depth in the REV commentary on Luke 3:23.

(As Was Assumed) the Son of Joseph

The genealogy in Luke is the genealogy of Joseph. Mary is never mentioned in it at all. Whereas the genealogy of Mary in the Gospel of Matthew starts in the past and moves forward in history to Mary, who is the last person on the list before Jesus, the genealogy of Joseph in the Gospel of Luke starts with Jesus, then Joseph, and goes backward into history.

It is rather amazing that there is so much controversy over which Gospel genealogy is Joseph’s and which is Mary’s. In Matthew, Mary is the last one listed before Jesus, and makes number 13 in the final list of 14 people. Furthermore, as if in support of Mary, Matthew’s genealogy mentions four other women: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and “the wife of Uriah.” Luke, on the other hand, never even mentions Mary (or any other women), but starts with Jesus, then Joseph, then Heli, and then goes back in history to Adam. Luke 3:23 (REV) says: “And Jesus himself, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as it was assumed) of Joseph, the son of Heli.”

The confusion over the genealogies in Matthew and Luke is primarily caused by thinking that Matthew 1:16 says that Joseph is the husband of Mary, not the father of Mary. If the “Joseph” in Matthew 1:16 is the husband of Mary, then Matthew has Joseph’s genealogy, so it would only make sense that Luke would have Mary’s genealogy. But if “Joseph” in Matthew 1:16 is the father of Mary, then it is clear that Matthew has Mary’s genealogy and Luke has Joseph’s genealogy.

Adoptionists have a problem with Luke 3:23, which says that Jesus was “the son (as it was assumed) of Joseph.” Adoptionists want to assert that Jesus was not just “assumed” to be the son of Joseph, but that he actually was the son of Joseph. But there are problems with this. The text clearly says that Jesus was thought to be the son of Joseph, not that he was the son of Joseph. There would be no reason to even suggest that Jesus was the supposed son of Joseph if Jesus was truly his biological son. None of the other father-son relationships in Luke’s genealogy are described using the word “assumed” or “thought,” or any such word, for the simple fact that the father-son relationship was actual. Luke 3:23 indicates that Joseph was not the real father of Jesus, but people assumed he was.

The use of the word “assumed” in the genealogy of Jesus through Joseph was even more important in the first century when Luke wrote than it is today, because back then a large number of people really did think Joseph was the father of Jesus. That made it extremely important for Luke to make the point that Joseph was only assumed to be the father of Jesus, meaning that he was not the father. Luke’s description of Joseph’s presumptuous paternal role was also very important because the first two chapters of Luke reveal how Mary was a virgin betrothed to Joseph but that God impregnated her. It might confuse some people if they read that God impregnated Mary while she was still a virgin and then read a genealogy that seemed to make Joseph the father of Jesus. The word “assumed” avoided any confusion.

As Jesus’ adoptive father, it was very important to give Joseph’s pedigree in order to show that he was from the house of David and to explain how Joseph and Mary ended up in Bethlehem when Jesus was born. So to make sure there was no confusion about Joseph and how he entered the picture with Mary and Jesus, Luke gives Joseph’s genealogy, being careful not to contradict what he had said earlier about God being Jesus’ Father. He avoided the contradiction by adding that Joseph was only “assumed” to be the real father. Also, by saying in Luke 1 that God impregnated Mary, then in Luke 3 that Joseph was the assumed father of Jesus, Luke fits with all the other verses about the virgin birth, and the entire Bible gives us a singular witness of who Jesus really is—the only begotten Son of God.

A problem arises if we reject that God is the Father of Jesus but believe the Gospel records such as Matthew 1:25 and Luke 3:23 that show that Joseph was not the father of Jesus. Essentially, then the Bible would never tell us who Jesus’ father really is. That is an untenable position. For one thing, this would imply that Jesus would have been a bastard child, born by fornication with an unknown male. Also, why then would Joseph’s genealogy even be in the Bible? It seems clear that either God or Joseph must be the father of Jesus, and the biblical evidence shows that God is Jesus’ Father.

Why Would the Jews Call Jesus the “Son of God”?

There were times in the Bible when Jews who did not believe in a virgin birth called Jesus “the son of God” (cp. Matt. 26:63). Adoptionists say that this supports their assertion that Jesus did not need to be born by divine conception to be called the Son of God. We agree that a Jew did not have to believe in the virgin birth to call Jesus the Son of God. In the Jewish culture, if Jesus was the actual Messiah, then he would have been referred to as the Son of God just as Psalm 2:7 said. However, that the Jews would refer to their Messiah as the Son of God does not negate the fact that Jesus was also the Son of God by being the “only begotten” Son of God via divine conception. As we have seen, Scripture testifies that Jesus was the Son of God by divine conception, and he was also the Son of God to the Jews at the time because of verses such as Psalm 2:7.

Did Mary and Joseph Lie About Jesus?

Some Adoptionists assert that as Mary and Joseph lived life together they would have been forced to lie about who Jesus was if in fact he was the Son of God by divine conception. However, there is no actual reason to believe that. The word “son” in the biblical culture was used of adopted sons and even people who were being mentored by someone with more experience. There is simply no actual evidence in the Bible that Mary and Joseph lied about Jesus in any way.

Mary’s Behavior toward Jesus

There are a couple of records in the Bible where Mary’s behavior seems confusing to many Bible students, not just to Adoptionists. For example, if Mary knew Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God by divine conception, why, as Mark 3:21 records, did she go with her other sons to take charge of Jesus after he started his ministry? The Bible does not specifically say, but we have some ideas.

For one thing, Joseph was out of the picture by that time, most likely due to an early death, which is why he is not mentioned in the record in Mark 3 or any other record after Jesus started his ministry. That left Jesus’ brothers in charge of the family because Jesus had started his ministry and was not staying at home. But Scripture specifically states his brothers did not believe he was the Messiah (John 7:5). Furthermore, Jesus was not acting at all like the Messiah was “supposed” to act; in fact, even the Twelve Apostles were often confused by his words and actions. It is likely that Mary went along with her sons as part of the family and out of concern for Jesus. It is also likely that Mary herself, who knew that Jesus was human and therefore could make mistakes, wondered if he had gotten confused about his mission. Mary knew Jesus was the Son of God by divine conception but that did not give her special knowledge about his words and actions. She may have been as confused as the Apostles, and on many occasions likely more so. But that confusion would not have meant that Jesus had to be the son of Joseph—it simply would have meant that the actual mission of the Messiah was different from what people expected.

Paul on the Virgin Birth

Adoptionists sometimes claim that if Jesus really was divinely conceived, that fact would appear in the writings of Paul, who wrote more epistles than any other New Testament writer. However, there is no reason to conclude that. Paul repeated very few of the things covered in the Gospels, so why should he cover the virgin birth which had been aptly described in Matthew and Luke? Paul did say Jesus was the Son of God and enlarged upon that by saying that Jesus was a type of Adam, the Last Adam, that he did not have any sin, etc. The only way Jesus could have been those things, especially in light of what Paul wrote in Romans, was if he was the Son of God by divine conception.

(continue to part 3)

About the author

John W. Schoenheit

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