Holy Conception

Cover, A Christian Guide to Spirituality

“who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.” [1]

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Do you ever feel isolated from God?

This isolation is not an accident. In the absence of Christ, two gaps exist between God and humanity: a gap in being (infinite versus finite) and a gap in holiness [2]. Jesus’ conception by the Holy Spirit (Holy Conception) to bridge both gaps (Matt 1:18ff).

The first gap requires that a mediator be both divine and human. In bridging the first gap, the Holy Conception introduces the divinity of Christ before his birth. He is then born by the usual means. Jesus could then serve as a bridge between an infinite God and finite humanity [3]. As the angel told Mary: “nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37)

The second gap requires that any mediator between humanity and God be without sin—holy. Jesus also bridges the second gap by living a sinless life. This work starts when Mary assents to the angel’s request (Luke 1:38) and continues through Jesus’ lifelong work of teaching, healing, and reflecting God. Jesus’ work ended on the cross when he declared: “It is finished.” (John 19:30)

Jesus’ birth follows the promise-fulfillment motif in the Old Testament record. The prophecy—“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isa 7:14)—reminds us of several miraculous pregnancies. The pattern of prophecy and pregnancy (e.g. promise-fulfillment) occurs again in births of Isaac (Gen 17:17), Jacob [4], the prophet Samuel and of John the Baptist [5]. However, in the case of Jesus, the role of prophecy was amplified.

For example, in the case of Isaac, both the timing and means (miraculous pregnancy) were prophesied. For Jesus, the instrumentality (virgin birth—Isa 7:14), his character (Isa 9:6), covenantal role [6], the place of birth (Bethlehem—Mic 5:2), and his lineage (House of David—2 Sam 7:12–16) were all prophesied. The elaborate birth narratives of Matthew and Luke testify to the reality of the humble nature of Jesus’ birth. The prophecies point to his divine nature.

The Holy Conception also reminds us of the absolute and creative sovereignty of God. When God creates the heaven and the earth, he creates them ex nihilo—out of nothing (Gen 1:1) [7]. The idea that Jesus is conceived ex-nihilo (without a biological father) at birth and then resurrected after death expresses God’s absolute and creative sovereignty. It also suggests that, through Jesus Christ, God remains actively present in our lives too. This is very good news!


[1] The references in this chapter to the Apostle’s Creed are all taken from FACR (2013, Q/A 23). Another translation is found in (PCUSA 1999, 2.1—2.3).

[2] The need for an intermediary is first articulated by the prophet Job: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.” (Job 19:25)

[3] Heb 2:14, 17.

[4] Gen 21:1–3, 25:21.

[5] 1 Sam 1:20; Luke 1:5–25.

[6] Deut 18:18; Jer 31:33.

[7] For example: Sproul 2003, 111.


Faith Alive Christian Resources (FACR). 2013. The Heidelberg Catechism. Cited: 30 August, 2013. Online: https://www.rca.org/sslpage.aspx?pid=372.

Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PC USA). 1999. The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)—Part I: Book of Confession. Louisville, KY: Office of the General Assembly.

Sproul, R.C. 2003. Defending Your Faith: An Introduction to Apologetics. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

Also see:

Preface to A Christian Guide to Spirituality

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Purchase Book: http://www.T2Pneuma.com



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