The virgin birth of Jesus is recorded in Matthew and in Luke (Matthew -25; Luke -38; 2:1-38), but neither gospel explains its meaning. The lack of explanation is surprising given that the virgin birth was no ordinary event. How ought we to understand it if no explanation is given for it? In Luke’s account of the virgin birth, one verse stands out, however:
Luke 1:35: And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy; the Son of God” (ESV).
Genesis 1:2: The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering [or brooding] over the face of the waters. (ESV)
The Holy Spirit’s overshadowing of Mary in Luke , has a parallel in Genesis 1:2 which says that at the creation of the world, “the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters”. Many OT scholars note that in the Hebrew text, “hovering over” literally means “brooding over” (the word “brooding” refers to a bird’s sitting on eggs to hatch them).
The two parallels between Luke 1:35 and Genesis 1:2 (namely, Holy Spirit // Spirit of God and
overshadowing // hovering/brooding) bring out a vital truth:
The overshadowing of Mary by the Holy Spirit hads to do with the new creation whereas in Genesis, the Spirit’s brooding over the as yet unformed earth has to do with the “old” (physical or material) creation.
The overshadowing of Mary by God’s Spirit indicates that the new creation is primarily a spiritual creation brought into being by being “born of the Spirit.”
The meaning of the virgin birth is brought out not only in Jesus’ teaching of being “born of the Spirit” (John 3:5) but also in Paul’s teaching of the “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15), a term that, like the virgin birth, would be unintelligible if it were given “out of the blue” without explanation or precedent.
There is no doubt that the word, “overshadow” (episkiazō) in the account of the virgin birth points back to the Spirit’s involvement in the Genesis creation (“the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters,” Genesis 1:2). Here the word “hovering” (Hebrew rachaph, used elsewhere only in Deuteronomy 32:11) brings out the idea of “overshadowing”.
The Spirit of God brought into being a new creation in Mary, replacing a sperm from Adam’s descendants. In this way Jesus is a descendant of Adam via Mary but also the beginning of a new creation by the creative power of the Spirit of Yahweh. This would explain Paul’s teaching of the “new creation” in God's anointed one (2 Corinthians ; Galatians ; cf. Revelation 21:5) and of Jesus as “the man of heaven” or “the spiritual man” (1 Corinthians -49).
Jesus came into being by the creative power of God’s Spirit. Hence believers are, as a result of being in God’s anointed one, incorporated into the new creation, becoming new persons through God’s transforming power. Just as Jesus was born of the Spirit at his birth, so everyone needs to be born of the Spirit, as is stated in the well-known words to Nicodemus: “You (plural) must be born from above” (John 3:7), and “Unless one is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (3:3); that is, he cannot inherit eternal life.
What God has accomplished in Jesus, He intends to reproduce in every human being such that he or she becomes a new creation or a new creature by being born of the Spirit into a new life that is lived by the power of God’s indwelling Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16; 2 Corinthians 6:16). God has in view that we grow into a “mature manhood, to the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians ).
In the New Testament, being a Christian is not just a matter of believing in Jesus or believing that he died for us, but is crucially a matter of becoming a new person who is like Jesus in the way he lives and thinks. This is what constitutes true believing or what Paul calls “the obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5; ). True faith includes obedience to the Father that mirrors the way Jesus lived in perfect obedience to Him. In the New Testament, any claim to faith is spurious if it is not accompanied by wholehearted obedience.
Chang, Eric H.H.. The Only Perfect Man: The Glory of God in the Face of Jesus Christ (p. 283).
Edited by Bruce Lyon