Parthe* – what?

Professor Aw Swee Eng is a medical scientist who was Director of Nuclear Medicine of Singapore University. He  currently still teaches a very well attended Sunday school in Wesley Methodist Church Singapore. Here using the literary tool of questions & answers, Prof Aw taps into his medically trained mind in explaining difficult truths in a simple and  accurate way. He demonstrates how a man with his scientific background can accept the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation of Jesus the God-man.

How can Jesus be both God and Man?

By Prof. Aw Swee Eng

It was such a bright and breezy Christmas day that everyone was delighted to have lunch in the garden. The group that turned up for the traditional ‘do’ at the Loh household was lively and chatty. Mei-li helped her aunt prepare the salad, Teck Khim dished out the ice-cream. Aunt Li’s honey-baked ham and mince pies were favourites all round.

Lunch over, the group gathered in the living room. Flower vases were quickly put out of reach of window curtains lofted by the steady north-easterly.

“I have attended Christian meetings in my country but today was my first Christmas service. I have a question. The preacher said something that is not all clear to me. He said Jesus was God come as man.”

Uncle Loh nodded. “Yes, Sornchai, that was what he said.”

“Is Jesus an avatar?” asked Sornchai.

“A what?” Teck Khim exclaimed, eyebrow raised.

“Some religions teach that when a god wants to do something on earth he takes on the form of a human or animal. That form is the avatar of the god.”

“That’s fantastic. Tell me more.” Teck Khim slid off his pouf on to the rug, next to Sornchai.

“There was this boar avatar which raised up the drowning earth when it had sunk beneath the sea. There was a tortoise avatar who helped the gods get a special nectar so that they could live forever.” Sornchai smiled. “They’re just imaginary stories. Perhaps they were told to illustrate some spiritual truths.”

Uncle Loh spoke. “That’s the point. Jesus Christ is not the name of an imaginary man. He lived in history in a land which even today appears on the front page of newspapers – Israel. His life and death are truly remarkable but not what one would call fantastic. He was not at any time several miles high crossing the world in great strides. He grew physically on the food and water he took like any human being. When he fasted he experienced hunger (Matthew 4:2). Traveling tired him (John 4:6). He wept when sad (John 11:35) and felt distressed when facing the kind of death he knew he would have to undergo (Luke 12:50). Finally Jesus suffered physically and died, just like everyone else. When a spear was thrust into his side, blood and water flowed out of his dead body (John 19:34). You see, it does not matter if these avatars are real or imaginary because it’s the stories themselves that are important. With Jesus it is utterly important that he lived and died in history.”

“Mr Loh,” Elias asked, “you say the life of Christ is remarkable but not fantasy. Would you not call the virgin birth fantastic? To a number of people it’s incredible.”

“Excuse me, please,” a voice came from across the room. It belonged to Kay Tee, associate staff worker of a college fellowship. “The birth of Christ was a normal human delivery. The Bible says it was the conception that was miraculous.”

“Alright then,” Elias persisted, “would you not call a virginal conception fantastic?”

“No I would not,” replied Uncle Loh, with a twinkle in his eye. “I would consider it fantastic if Jesus Christ materialised from thin air or burst out of a cedar tree as an adult and fully clothed.” He turned to a passage in the Bible before continuing. “The One who was born in Bethlehem’s manger lived a unique life. Is it surprising that he should be uniquely conceived?

If anyone was surprised by the event it was Mary herself. Luke’s gospel tells us that she protested to the angel ‘How will this be, since I am a virgin?’ (Luke 1:34). How artlessly the Bible records this honest reaction of a young woman of deep devotion, engaged to be married. The story has the ring of truth. The angel’s reply was that Christ would be conceived by the work of the Holy Spirit on the womb of Mary (Luke 1:35). So, like us he was born. Unlike us he was born of a virgin.”

He paused for a moment, then went on.

“We have here an obvious supernatural event. Because it is not possible to repeat it if we cannot examine it in the laboratory. It must be received by faith but it is a reasonable faith. There is good historical evidence that it happened. It is not an abstract truth to illustrate some other truths and has nothing to do with avatars.”

Linda, teacher in a secondary school, leaned forward. “When Uncle Loh described how human Jesus was I recall the incident in St Mark’s gospel of Jesus sleeping from sheer tiredness during a storm at sea (Mark 4:38). He was lying on a cushion. This has impressed me that even the Lord appreciated something soft for His body to lie on.”

“That’s an interesting observation, Linda”, said Uncle Loh with a smile, “it would need a woman to note that.”

Elias raised another point. “Would Jesus be fully human seeing that, unlike us, he had only one human parent?”

“Adam and Eve did not have a human father or mother, yet were fully human”, noted Uncle Loh, matter-of-factly. Elias nodded in agreement.

Michael, Linda’s husband, who taught biology spoke. “In these days of genetic engineering I wonder whether people realise that Jesus was not a clone of Mary. That is to say that the body of our Lord did not come entirely from one of Mary’s cells. If he did, he would be genetically identical to Mary and would, of necessity, be a woman. Since Jesus was a man God must have supplied the male factor which was united to the egg provided by Mary. I have heard people say that perhaps the conception of Jesus by Mary was only a case of parthenogenesis,  which occurs naturally in a few plants and animals and can be artificially induced too.”

Teck Whatt pointed his finger, pistol-fashion, at his younger brother. “Before you ask ‘parthe-what?’ the word ‘parthenogenesis’ means forming a new plant or animal from an egg without the help of a sperm”. Teck Khim gave his brother a cherubic grin.

Sornchai, who had listened intently, spoke again. “That Jesus was a genuine human being I can see. But how could he at the same time be genuinely God?”

“Indeed it is a mystery,” Uncle Loh nodded, “Incarnation means ‘in-flesh-ment’. I am not in the least embarrassed to speak of the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ by means of the virginal conception. Every branch of human study has problems. It would be strange if the profound subject we are talking about were free of problems.”

“We know what a man is and what God is,” he continued, “and they are, by definition, incompatible. One is finite, the other infinite, one is sinful, the other holy, one is weak, the other almighty and so on. Yet the Bible reminds us that man is already made in the image of God. Of all creatures he is most like God. Before they sinned in Eden, Adam and Eve were most ‘human’, most like God’s image. No man or woman after the Fall has been what man is meant to be. To put it another way we are all not true human beings. It is hard to imagine God dwelling in a fallen humanity like ours. That is our psychological problem in accepting the incarnation.

Michael explained the kind of body that Jesus had. It was the body of a descendant of David just as the Bible prophesied the Messiah would be (Romans 1:2-3). That was because Mary was a descendant of David. Yet Jesus’ body was miraculously male. He became flesh through incarnation and not parthenogenesis.1)3 Parthenogenesis – means forming a new plant or animal from an egg without the help of a sperm Therefore Jesus did not belong to the sinful human race which He had come to rescue. Through this means and in a way beyond our understanding Jesus Christ was fully God who became fully man.”

“Did Jesus himself ever claim to be God?” queried Sornchai.

“Yes, he did. He did not say directly ‘I am God’ but what he said had the same meaning. He said God was his Father. The Jews conspired to kill him because they understood that he, being a man, was making himself equal with God (John 5:18). And those Jews were pretty good theologians. In John 5:23 Jesus said that all men should honour the Son even as they honour the Father. He also said ‘Believe in God, believe also in me.’ (John 14:1) What mortal dare use such language?”

“One thing puzzles me,” Elias remarked. “To me the Old Testament is so clear. In the book of Deuteronomy we read, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.’ (Deuteronomy 6:4) Yet Christians insist on talking about a Father, a Son and a Holy Spirit as if there were three Gods.”

“Not three Gods, Elias,” Uncle Loh replied. “Three Persons in one God – the triune God also known as the Trinity. Christians worship one God. They are monotheists not tritheists.”

“Then Christians are contradicting the Bible, at least, the Old Testament,” Elias retorted.

“Christians believe there are three Persons in the Godhead not because they can grasp it or explain it but because this is what God has revealed about himself in both Old and New Testaments. They are not, therefore, contradicting the Bible in believing what it does not teach.”

“What is the evidence from the Old Testament?” Elias asked.

“Let’s look at Deuteronomy 6:4 which you quoted and which says ‘the Lord our God is one Lord.’The same Hebrew adjective ‘one’ is found in Genesis 2:24 where Adam says that ‘a man shall leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.’

The word also appears in Genesis 34:16 where Jacob’s sons speak to a man called Shechem. They say ‘We’ll settle among you and become one people with you.’ The Jacobites and Shechemites could unite through intermarriage into ‘one’ people but consisting of many separate persons. The ‘one-ness’ is obviously a unity of more than one, a compound unity if you like. In every instance in the Old Testament where God is said to be ‘one’ this Hebrew adjective is used.

The message is clear. God’s ‘one-ness’ as a Being is not a simple ‘one-ness’. It is left to the New Testament to name the three Persons in the one Being as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. All three were present at the baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:16-17). The disciples were to baptise in the name (singular, not plural) of Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). And Paul, an orthodox Jew trained in Judaism, had no difficulty speaking of the grace of the Son, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 13:14)

Elias followed the argument closely but held his peace. Aunt Li spoke for the first time.

“I was thinking how sensible it is to believe what the Bible says about God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Here we are celebrating Christmas. Have we ever wondered how God could have come to earth in Bethlehem without leaving heaven unattended? It was because while the Son came the other two Persons remained. Have we ever thought how God who is eternal love could have exercised and satisfied His immense love before the universe was made? It was because the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit were sharing that love long before they created us to lavish their love upon us.”

A silence fell upon the room. Linda’s eyes moistened and she slipped an arm around Mei-li.

“My dear,” Uncle Loh beamed, “I don’t think we can end our discussion on a lovelier note than the way you have summed things up. May God bless us all with a true understanding of the meaning of Christmas.” END

*Parthonogenesis means forming a new plant or animal from an egg without the help of a sperm

Reprinted with permission  from Chats With Uncle Loh (chap.6 Parthe what?) www.chatswithuncleloh.com/studies.html
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1. 3 Parthenogenesis – means forming a new plant or animal from an egg without the help of a sperm

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