Christianity Facts From Fiction

Jesus, the ‘Son of God’ – Because He Was Born of the Holy Spirit?

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Azhar Goraya, Mexico

Jesus being born of the Holy Spirit in no way proves his divinity. The term only means that his birth was miraculous — a clear manifestation of the wondrous creative power of God — and one that was holy as opposed to illegitimate.

Contents

Executive Summary

Introduction

Analysis of the Passages about the Holy Spirit in the Birth of Jesus

Immediate Contradiction

Jesus Never Claimed to be Have been Born of the Spirit

Jesus – Not the Only One Conceived by the Spirit

What is the Holy Spirit that was Involved in the Birth of Jesus?

The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament

The Holy Spirit – Referring to an Angel of God

The Holy Spirit in Islam

Jesus – Born through the Spirit of God Like Adam

The Holy Spirit as the Angel Gabriel

In the Bible

In Islam

Interpretation of Jesus being Born of the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit – Involved in the Development of the Spiritual Faculties of Jesus

The Holy Spirit – A Refutation to the Allegation that the Birth of Jesus was Illegitimate

Conclusion

Executive Summary

The Gospels of Matthew (Matthew 1:18-20) and Luke (Luke 1:35) state that Jesus was born through the agency of the of Holy Spirit. It is telling that this is the opinion of the gospel authors themselves – Jesus never affirmed that he was born through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, according to the Old Testament, refers to the creative power of God, which is sometimes described as the Spirit of God (Psalms 104:30), and is involved in the creation of all things. For example, Elihu was said to have been created through the Spirit of God (Job 33:4), and Adam through the Spirit or Breath of Life (Genesis 2:7).

Moreover, the Holy Spirit can also refer to an angel (Psalms 104:4), specifically the Angel Gabriel, who features prominently in the birth of Jesus, bringing the news of his birth to Mary (Luke 1:26-38). The involvement of Gabriel, described as the Holy Spirit, in the birth of Jesus meant that his spiritual faculties were sharpened and catered to from the very beginning under the watchful eye of Gabriel.

Moreover, the claim that he was born through the influence of the ‘Holy Spirit’ was probably in refutation of the Jewish clergy who claimed that he was a Samaritan, i.e. of mixed parentage (John 8:39-48), and had thus been born illegitimately under the influence of the ‘Evil Spirit’, i.e. the Devil.  

Introduction

When Christians see that merely having the title ‘son of God’ isn’t enough to prove that Jesus is God, they sometimes present biblical passages which state that Jesus was conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit in an attempt to prove his divinity.

The term ‘son of God’ according to the Old Testament only means that someone is affiliated with God and is granted a divine mandate. Moreover, it is a term of endearment that God uses for His beloved ones.

As a result, Christians begin to hunt for ways in which they can demonstrate that Jesus was a different and truly unique ‘son of God’. In this case, they state that he was unique in that his birth was through the Holy Spirit. This, in their minds, means that he was divine.

Nevertheless, they would be wrong to believe so. Monotheism forms the base of our understanding about God and the history of His prophets – it cannot be sacrificed at the altar of trinitarian or polytheistic thinking. Moreover, there are perfectly credible, purely monotheistic interpretations for the involvement of the Holy Spirit in the birth of Jesus.

Analysis of the Passages About the Holy Spirit in the Birth of Jesus

The involvement of the Holy Spirit (πνεῦμα ἅγιον pneuma hagion) in the birth of Jesus is mentioned in two gospels, Matthew and Luke. Matthew states:

‘Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit… But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:18-20)

Luke states:

‘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.” (Luke 1:35)

Both Matthew and Luke indicate that the involvement of the Holy Spirit in the birth of Jesus was so that Jesus could be called ‘holy’ and pure. This is important – the authors did not state that the involvement of the Holy Spirit was so that he be called ‘divine’ or ‘God’. Its purpose had more to do with purification. 

We will see in what sense a little further on. 

Immediate Contradiction

This is not the place for a full-throated rebuttal of the idea of the Trinity. Nevertheless, there is a blatant contradiction here for believers in the Triune God.

If the Holy Spirit is taken as the third person of the triune God, then we cannot avoid the literal conclusion of this passage – Jesus is therefore the son of the Holy Spirit, and not the son of God the Father! Therefore, it would be wrong to refer to him as the son of God, rather Christians should rightfully declare him as the son of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus Never Claimed to be Have been Born of the Spirit

It is important to note that Jesus never commented on the involvement of the Holy Spirit in his birth anywhere in the four gospels. Therefore, he himself never presented the idea that his conception through the Holy Spirit was proof of his divinity. If Jesus never presented this as an argument for his divinity, why do Christians do so today?

Moreover, if this was such an important aspect of his divinity, why did only two of the four authors of the gospel mention it? The relative lack of information about this occurrence, in terms of the number of authors (Mark and John don’t mention it), how little the authors mention about it (only three verses between Matthew and Luke), as well as no mention of it being found on the recorded words of Jesus, weakens the entire base of the Christian argument. 

As mentioned before, the concept of pure monotheism, that there is one indivisible God, is the consistent message found across the thousand-year plus history of the Old Testament. It cannot be simply brushed away with such flimsy arguments and scarce source texts.  

Jesus – Not the Only One Conceived by the Spirit

If Jesus was divine because he was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, then what would we say about the divinity of others who were also conceived by the Holy Spirit?

Studying the Bible, we find that Jesus was not the only one conceived by or created by the Holy Spirit. 

For starters, all of creation is made with the power of the Spirit of God, or the Holy Spirit:

‘When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground.’ (Psalms 104:30)

Moreover, the Bible tells us about Elihu, one of the friends of Job, that he declared that he was created by the Spirit of God (Holy Spirit):

‘The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.’ (Job 33:4). 

In another place, an angel of God transmitted to Zechariah that his son, John the Baptist, would be filled with the Holy Spirit while ‘still in the womb’ (Luke 1:15). Therefore, John’s conception and birth was guided and influenced by the Holy Spirit as well.  

If Jesus is divine because he was conceived by the Holy Spirit, divinity must be extended to all of mankind, particularly Elihu and John the Baptist.

The Holy Bible
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What is the Holy Spirit that was Involved in the Birth of Jesus?

The Holy Spirit is a term that refers to a manifestation of the power of God. The Gospel of Luke mentions that the Holy Spirit refers to the power of God:

‘The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.’ (Luke 1:35)

The Holy Spirit is not limited to the New Testament, rather its existence and role is explained in the Old Testament.

The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament

In the Old Testament, the ‘Holy Spirit’ is referred to as ruah qados, with ruah רוּחַ meaning ‘spirit’ and qados קֹדֶש meaning ‘holy’. The two terms are not used together frequently. In fact, the term occurs only three times in the Old Testament:

‘Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.’ (Psalms 51:11)

‘But they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit; therefore he turned to be their enemy, and himself fought against them.’ (Isaiah 63:10)

‘Then he remembered the days of old, of Moses and his people. Where is he who brought them up out of the sea with the shepherds of his flock? Where is he who put in the midst of them his Holy Spirit.‘ (Isaiah 63:11)

The final reference shows that the term ‘Holy’ is a later addition to the general term ‘Spirit [of God]’. The ‘Holy Spirit’ that appeared to the Jews during the time of Moses is described in various terms, primarily as simply ‘the Spirit’:

‘I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take some of the power of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them. They will share the burden of the people with you so that you will not have to carry it alone.’ (Numbers 11:17)

There are other such phenomena that appeared during this time, all identified as being part of the supernatural power or special manifestation of God and His attributes. These can all be classified under the broader term of ‘Spirit of God’. These manifestations appear even after the events of Exodus. They are identified using specific terms as well as general concepts. For example:

  • God appears as a ‘Pillar of the Cloud and Fire’ (Numbers 14:14), which went before the Israelites while they were in the desert. 
  • He appears as a special manifestation, where he is said to ‘dwell’ in a certain place, such as the tabernacle or in Jerusalem (Exodus 25:8, Exodus 29:45-6). This has been identified as the ‘Shekina’ of the Lord in Rabbinic literature.
  • Similarly, there are passages that speak of the ‘Name of God’ coming to dwell on earth (Deuteronomy 12:11)
  • There is mention of an or the (both renderings are possible in Hebrew) ‘Angel of the Lord’, which sometimes is seen as speaking about God in the first person. For example, when Abraham was about to sacrifice his son (Genesis 22:11-12). 

What exactly does the term ‘Spirit of God’ thus refer to? It would be helpful to first understand how the term ‘Spirit’ (ruah) has been used in the Old Testament.

The term ruah (spirit) is used separately quite a few times in the Old Testament and has a variety of meanings. According to the New Bible Dictionary:

‘From earliest Hebrew thought rûaḥ had various meanings, all more or less equally prominent. 

1Wind, an invisible, mysterious, powerful force

2Breath (i.e., air on a small scale), or spirit, the same mysterious force seen as the life and vitality of man (and beasts). It can be disturbed or activated in a particular direction, can be impaired or diminished, and revive again. That is, the dynamic force which constitutes a man can be low (it disappears at death), or there can be a sudden surge of vital power. 

3Divine power, where rûaḥ is used to describe occasions when men seemed to be carried out of themselves — not just a surge of vitality, but a supernatural force taking possession. So particularly with the early charismatic leaders, and the early prophets — it was the same divine rûaḥ which induced ecstasy and prophetic speech. 

These should not be treated as a set of distinct meanings; rather we are confronted with a spectrum of meaning where the different senses merge into each other. 

It also becomes immediately evident that the concept rûaḥ is an existential term. At its heart is the experience of a mysterious, awesome power — the mighty invisible force of the wind, the mystery of vitality, the otherly power that transforms — all rûaḥ, all manifestations of divine energy.’ [1]

It seems that the ‘Spirit’ in reference to God referred to His work in the active sense, whether in the cosmic plane (creation of the world), supernatural plane (showing miracles in support of the righteous), or the inner-spiritual plane (guiding, inspiring and protecting common believers in their day to day tasks)

Moreover, it seems as if there was a gradual revealing of information in regard to the Spirit:

‘Initially also the rûaḥ of God was conceived more in terms of power than in moral terms, not yet as the (Holy) Spirit of God…Various developments are evident in subsequent periods. We can recognize a tendency to open up a distinction between the natural and supernatural, between God and man. Just as the vivid anthropomorphisms of the earlier talk of God are abandoned, so rûaḥ becomes more clearly that which characterizes the supernatural and distinguishes the divine from the merely human.’ [2]

In later texts, it seems to have come to be associated primarily with divine revelation:

‘The later prophets again spoke of the Spirit in explicit terms as the inspirer of prophecy (see Ez 3:1–4, 22–24; Hg 2:5; Zec 4:6). As they looked back to the preexilic period, these prophets freely attributed the inspiration of ‘the former prophets’ to the Spirit as well (Zec 7:12).

This tendency to exalt the Spirit’s role as the inspirer of prophecy became steadily stronger in the period between the OT and NT until in rabbinic Judaism the Spirit was almost exclusively the inspirer of the prophetic writings now regarded as Scripture.’ [3]

According to one opinion, ‘The adjective ‘holy’ appeared as that which distinguished the Spirit of God from any other spirit, human or divine’. [4]

In short, the term ‘Holy Spirit’ seems to be a later understanding of the original term ‘Spirit’, which is used to refer to the power of God in terms of both physical as well as spiritual phenomena. The ‘Holy Spirit’ can thus be said to be synonymous with the concept of the ‘Spirit of God’, involved in, amongst other things, the creation and the maintenance of life (Psalms 104:30), transmitting the word of God to prophets (Zechariah 7:12) and helping the righteous in their various activities (Judges 3:10).

Therefore, Jesus being conceived by the ‘Holy Spirit’ only meant that the special creative power of God brought him into being through a virgin. 

The Holy Spirit – Referring to an Angel of God

There is one other possibility, and that is where the ‘Holy Spirit’ is used as a term to refer to an angel of God. With this understanding, the passages about the birth of Jesus would mean that he was conceived through the influence and power of an angel of God.

There are several terms employed for angels in the Old Testament:

‘The Biblical name for angel, מלאך (Malak), meaning, according to derivation, simply ‘messenger,’ obtained the further signification of ‘angel’ only through the addition of God’s name, as מלאך יהוהo מלאך אלהים (Malak Yahweh ‘angel of the Lord, or Malak Elohim ‘angel of God’ Zech. xii. 8). Other appellations are בני אלהים, or בני אלים (Bani Elohimor Bani Elem Sons of God,’ Gen. vi. 4; Job, i. 6 [R. V. v. 1]; Ps. xxix. 1 [R. V. margin]); and קדושים (Qodoseem ‘the Holy Ones’ [perhaps equivalent to ‘fiery ones,’ ‘unapproachable’; see Holiness. K.], Ps. lxxxix. 6, 8 [R. V. 5, 7]).’ [5]

In the New Testament they are referred to as aggelosἄγγελος. 

As with the term ‘Spirit of God’, angels too are identified as being ‘holy’, both in the Old and the New Testaments. The Book of Psalms states:

‘Let the heavens praise your wonders, O Lord, your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones! For who in the skies can be compared to the Lord? Who among the heavenly beings (or the sons of God, from the Hebrew bani elem) is like the Lord, a God greatly to be feared in the council of the holy ones, and awesome above all who are around him?’ (Psalms 89:5-7)

And the Gospel of Luke:

‘For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.’ (Luke 9:26)

Angels have also been called ‘spirits’. It is stated in the Old Testament:

‘he makes his messengers winds (or spirits, from the word ruah), his ministers a flaming fire.’ (Psalms 104:4)

The same passage has been quoted in Hebrews as part of a description of angels:

‘In speaking of the angels he says, ‘He makes his angels spirits, and his servants flames of fire.’ (Hebrews 1:7)

There is also mention of an angel of the Lord appearing to Phillip in the Book of Acts. This angel is later identified as simply ‘the Spirit’ (ho pnuema):

‘Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Go south to the road — the desert road — that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’…The Spirit told Philip, ‘Go to that chariot and stay near it.” (Acts 8:26-29)

So, putting both together, angels could be described as ‘holy spirits’, and a specific angel as ‘the holy spirit’. 

This becomes even more plausible when one keeps in mind that the term ‘holy spirit’ is a later derivation of the original term ‘Spirit’. So, Jesus being born of the ‘[Holy] Spirit’ could easily refer to his birth having been brought about through the influence of an angel of God. 

Sometimes, people see the term ‘Holy Spirit’ capitalized and believe that it refers to something that is quite distinct and special. This is not the case. 

The oldest Greek manuscripts were written in Koine Greek and did not differentiate between upper and lower case letters. As such, the writing of the term ‘Holy Spirit’ in upper or lower case is based on the interpretation of the translator and conventions of the English language. It is not something that is derived directly from the text. 

The Holy Spirit in Islam

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The ‘Holy Spirit’ is known in Islam as Ruh-ul-qudus (روح القدس), where Ruh means spirit and Qudus means holy. It is a term that principally refers to the angel Gabriel, as well as the influence that he exercises on believers.

This influence generally manifests itself at its highest level as divine revelation, and moreover inner purity and inspiration. 

The general term ruh (Spirit) in the Holy Qur’an, much like its Hebrew counterpart ruah in the Old Testament, can have a wide range of meanings:

‘Ruh: The soul, spirit or vital principle; inspiration; revelation; Word of God; the Holy Qur’an; angel; joy and happiness and mercy of God.’ [6]

Jesus – Born Through the Spirit of God Like Adam

The Holy Qur’an concurs that the ‘Holy Spirit’, or more specifically, the ‘Spirit of God’ (Ruhullah), was involved in the birth of Jesus: 

وَالَّتِي أَحْصَنَتْ فَرْجَهَا فَنَفَخْنَا فِيهَا مِن رُّوحِنَا وَجَعَلْنَاهَا وَابْنَهَا آيَةً لِّلْعَالَمِينَ

 ‘And remember her who preserved her chastity; so We breathed into her of Our Spirit and We made her and her son a Sign for peoples.’ (21:92)

This ‘Spirit of God’ in the above verse is synonymous with the concept in the Old Testament – the active, creative force of God. 

The Qur’an in another verse identifies this ‘Spirit’ explicitly as the creative force of God, wherethe birth of Jesus is likened to the creation of Adam:

إِنَّ مَثَلَ عِيسَىٰ عِندَ اللَّهِ كَمَثَلِ آدَمَ ۖ خَلَقَهُ مِن تُرَابٍ ثُمَّ قَالَ لَهُ كُن فَيَكُونُ

 ‘Surely, the case of Jesus with Allah is like the case of Adam. He created him out of dust, then He said to him, ‘Be!,’ and he was.’ (3:60)

Here, Allah mentions that the creation of Jesus was like that of Adam, and that Adam was brought into creation through the word of God, identified as Kun (Be!). 

In another place, it states that God created Adam by breathing ‘His spirit’ into him:

وَإِذْ قَالَ رَبُّكَ لِلْمَلَائِكَةِ إِنِّي خَالِقٌ بَشَرًا مِّن صَلْصَالٍ مِّنْ حَمَإٍ مَّسْنُونٍ [] فَإِذَا سَوَّيْتُهُ وَنَفَخْتُ فِيهِ مِن رُّوحِي فَقَعُوا لَهُ سَاجِدِينَ

‘And remember when thy Lord said to the angels, ‘I am about to create man from dry ringing clay, from black mud wrought into shape; So when I have fashioned him in perfection and have breathed into him of My Spirit, fall ye down in submission to him.” (15:29-30)

The Bible also says that Adam was fashioned by God and granted life when the ‘Spirit of Life’ was inserted into him:

‘And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.’ (Genesis 2:7)

The word breath in Hebrew is נְשָׁמָה (neshamah), which also means spirit. [7] Therefore, the phrase could be seen as synonymous with ‘The Spirit of Life’. 

This could easily be a reference to the same spirit that in other, later texts, came to be identified as the ‘Holy Spirit’.

Thus, according to both the Old Testament and the Qur’an, Jesus and Adam were both born through the agency of the ‘Holy Spirit’. 

In short, the Qur’an states that Jesus came into being through the command of Allah. This command was encompassed in the word ‘Be!’. This creative force has been described as ‘the Spirit’ in other places. The fact his birth was miraculous, in that it didn’t follow the normal process, does not in any way change the fact that he was still a creation of God. He was created a human being and was not in any way divine.

The Holy Spirit as the Angel Gabriel

In the Bible

It has already been shown that the ‘Holy Spirit’ can refer to an angel. Which angel is perhaps not so important. Nevertheless, it appears that the most likely candidate is the angel Gabriel. 

Apart from Michael, the only other archangel who is named in the Old Testament is Gabriel. Gabriel is the messenger of God, who executes God’s will on earth. [8] His name means ‘God is my strength,’ or ‘mighty one.’ 

Moreover, it seems that he has a prominent role to play in conveying revelation to mankind. The Book of Daniel mentions that the angel Gabriel was instructed to explain the meaning of a vision to Daniel:

‘While I, Daniel, was watching the vision and trying to understand it, there before me stood one who looked like a man. And I heard a man’s voice from the Ulai calling, ‘Gabriel, tell this man the meaning of the vision.” (Daniel 8:15-16)

The New Testament explicitly mentions the angel Gabriel as having a profound role to play in the birth of Jesus. Gabriel is mentioned twice in this regard, both times in the Gospel of Luke. 

In the first instance, the author of Luke mentions that an ‘Angel of the Lord’ appeared to Zechariah and told him that he would be granted a son whose name would be John. When Zechariah asks how he can believe this, the angel replies:

I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news’. (Luke 1:19)

In another passage, the Angel Gabriel delivers the good news of the birth of Jesus to Mary (Luke 1:26-38). 

Therefore, if we interpret the ‘Holy Spirit’ as referring to an angel of God or its influence, the most likely candidate would be Gabriel.

In Islam

Although the ‘Spirit of God’ can refer simply to the creative power of God and is an adequate understanding of the gospel texts of the involvement of the ‘Holy Spirit’ in the birth of Jesus, there is another explanation that involves the angel Gabriel. 

The ‘Holy Spirit’ (Ruh-ul-Qudus) is commonly understood as referring to the angel Gabriel in Islam who, amongst other things, works to bring inspiration to believers. Moreover, the influence that Gabriel extends upon the world and especially believers is also referred to by the same name.

The Qur’an states that it was the ‘Holy Spirit’ who brought the revelation of the Holy Qur’an to the Prophet Muhammad (sa):

قُلْ نَزَّلَهُ رُوحُ الْقُدُسِ مِن رَّبِّكَ بِالْحَقِّ لِيُثَبِّتَ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَهُدًى وَبُشْرَىٰ لِلْمُسْلِمِينَ

[16:103] Say, ‘The Spirit of holiness (i.e. Gabriel) has brought it down from thy Lordwith truth, that He may strengthen those who believe, and as a guidance and glad tidings for Muslims.’

The Prophet Muhammad (sa) on numerous occasions identified this ‘Holy Spirit’ as the angel Gabriel.

Jesus was also strengthened and helped by the same Holy Spirit:

وَلَقَدْ آتَيْنَا مُوسَى الْكِتَابَ وَقَفَّيْنَا مِن بَعْدِهِ بِالرُّسُلِ ۖ وَآتَيْنَا عِيسَى ابْنَ مَرْيَمَ الْبَيِّنَاتِ وَأَيَّدْنَاهُ بِرُوحِ الْقُدُسِ ۗ أَفَكُلَّمَا جَاءَكُمْ رَسُولٌ بِمَا لَا تَهْوَىٰ أَنفُسُكُمُ اسْتَكْبَرْتُمْ فَفَرِيقًا كَذَّبْتُمْ وَفَرِيقًا تَقْتُلُونَ

[2:87] And verily, We gave Moses the Book and caused after him Messengers to follow in his footsteps;and to Jesus, son of Mary, We gave manifest Signs, and strengthened him with the Spirit of holiness. Will you then, every time a Messenger comes to you with what you yourselves desire not, behave arrogantly and treat some as liars and slay others?

The Bible also confirms that Jesus was strengthened by an unnamed angel on the night before his crucifixion (Luke 22:43) – this was most likely the angel Gabriel, known as the ‘Holy Spirit’. 

Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) was the divinely sent reformer of the age. He was sent in part to explain the truth about Jesus. He explains the concept of the Holy Spirit being the angel Gabriel, as well as his work and influence on man in the following words:

‘The role Gabriel performs regarding revelation is three-fold:

(1) When the seminal sperm is introduced into the womb for the creation of a person whom God’s grace (which does not stand in need of human help) wants to shape with the innate capacity to receive revelation, He casts a reflection of the light of Gabriel on what is still a sperm. It is then, through God’s grace, that the nature of this person develops its revelatory quality and is invested with spiritual sense organs.

The second function which Gabriel is required to perform is when, by God’s grace, the human love takes shelter under Divine love, the light of Gabriel is also activated and a reflection of this light falls on the heart of the genuine lover (of God). In other words, when the reflection of this light is cast on the heart of the true lover, a reflected picture of Gabriel is produced performing the functions of light, air and heat, which comes to stay in the heart of the recipient as a faculty to receive revelation. At the one end, it is imbued with the light of Gabriel and at the other, it enters the heart of the recipient. In other words, we may well call it Ruhul Qudus or its pictorial reflection.

The third function Gabriel performs is that when God’s Word finds expression in speech, he (Gabriel) becomes vibrant like the breeze and communicates the Divine word to the spiritual ear of the heart; or places it before the (recipient’s) visual field in the form of light that burns bright, accentuates the stimulating heat and guides the tongue to articulate the revealed words.’ [9]

Interpretation of Jesus being Born of the Holy Spirit

Keeping all of the aforementioned points in mind, let’s revisit the passages about the birth of Jesus. 

Matthew and Luke state that Jesus was born of the ‘Holy Spirit’.

The ‘Holy Spirit’ within a Jewish context refers to the ‘Spirit of God’, which is the active, creative force of God involved, amongst other things, in the creation of life. 

The meaning of the text would therefore be that Jesus was created by the special power of God. It was perfectly legitimate and sensible to use the term ‘Holy Spirit’ to explain how Jesus would be born to a virgin. In short, it was a miracle. Moreover, it was the clearest way of explaining to Mary, a Jew, the miracle of the birth of her son. 

The miracle was possible because the ‘Spirit of God’ (a term used to refer to His attribute of creation), who brought into being all life— that mysterious and awesome force which exists in all animate life — would allow Mary to conceive without the agency of a male. As we accept the miracle of life in other cases, so too should the miracle of the birth of Jesus be accepted by virtue of the same attribute.

This is a perfectly acceptable, monotheistic interpretation of the passage above that does not require any recourse to trinitarianism, nor calls one to abandon monotheism by accepting Jesus as a divine ‘son of God’. 

Moreover, the author of Luke states that the agency of the ‘Holy Spirit’ was so that Jesus could be called ‘holy’:

‘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.’ (Luke 1:35)

It seems that the ‘Holy Spirit’ was involved in the proper development of his spiritual faculties so that he could be deemed holy or that he be recognized as being pure and holy by his peers. 

The Holy Spirit – Involved in the Development of the Spiritual Faculties of Jesus

Regarding the preparing of his spiritual faculties, this has already been adequately expounded in the explanation of the Promised Messiah (as). Gabriel is involved in the birth of children by nurturing their spiritual faculties so that they may become the recipients of divine revelation later on in life. 

The Holy Spirit – A Refutation to the Allegation that the Birth of Jesus was Illegitimate

Secondly, it is also possible that the involvement of the ‘Holy Spirit’ in the birth of Jesus was to refute allegations against the purity of his birth.

The passage in Luke, i.e., ‘therefore the child to be born will be called holy’, could be understood as a refutation of the propaganda of the Jews, who were adamant that Jesus was born out of wedlock. They claimed therefore that his birth was ‘unholy’. 

The Jewish leaders opposed to Jesus claimed that they were of the seed of Abraham, and not born of sexual immorality. By contrast, they claimed that Jesus was a Samaritan (John 8:39-48). The Samaritans were a group of Semites who were of a mixed race and were thus not accepted by the Jews as being one of them, as evidenced by John 4:9 (‘For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans’). Jesus also didn’t consider them as Jews, instructing his followers to not preach to them (Matthew 10:5). Needless to say, the relationship was not an amicable one:

‘In the time of Jesus, relations between Jews and Samaritans were again very tense. Besides the fact, as we have seen above, that the Samaritans were not regarded as descendants of the patriarchs, the legitimacy of their worship of Jahwe was also disputed. Consequently they were precluded from participation in the Jerusalem cult; marriages with them were forbidden; and association with them was restricted by numerous prohibitions. They were virtually put in the same category as the non-Jews (Gentiles).’ [10]

So, during his life, we find that there were attacks on the purity of his lineage. The Holy Qur’an also confirms this objection of theirs:

وَبِكُفْرِهِمْ وَقَوْلِهِمْ عَلَىٰ مَرْيَمَ بُهْتَانًا عَظِيمًا

[4:157] ‘And because of their disbelief and their uttering against Mary a grievous calumny,’

It is possible that the Jews of the time referred to those who were born of lawful wedlock as being born of the ‘Holy Spirit’, and all others as lacking this trait.

Going back to the Old Testament, we find that children born of lawful wedlock were referred to as the ‘Seed of God’ (Malachi 2:15). In Genesis, God states that the seed of the serpent, or in other words, the ‘Seed of the Devil’ would be cursed (Genesis 3:16).

There is another allusion to this idea in a different phrase. The term בֵּן בְּלִיַּעַל (bēn beliy∙yǎ∙ʿǎl) means ‘son of wickedness’ and is sometimes understood as referring to wicked or rebellious individuals (Deuteronomy 13:14). Nevertheless, ‘Belial’ was also understood by some Jews as being the proper name of Satan, thus rendering the translation of the term as ‘Son of Satan’:

‘In the late Hellenistic-Roman period, some Jewish groups (including the early Christians), in line with the theology of the Book of the Watchers (1 En. 1–36), claimed belief in the angelic origin of evil. At a certain point, these groups took the term Belial as one of the names of the chief demon — the devil.’ [11]

Right after attacking his lineage by calling him a Samaritan, the Jews accused him of ‘having a demon’ (John 8:48). He was previously accused of driving out evil spirits through the power of Satan himself (Matthew 12:24). It seems that the connection between these two points is that the Jews thought that as he was born illegitimately, his birth had been through the influence of Satan and not God. He therefore had come to be possessed by or exercise control over demons, as he shared an affinity with them.

The Bible thus clearly presents a motif of being born of God and born of the Devil. In one sense, those born legitimately would be termed as being born ‘of God’ or ‘of the Holy Spirit’ and being ‘from heaven’, whereas others would be termed as being ‘born of the Devil’ and being ‘from the earth’.

This idea finds support in the book of James, where the author equates blessings and true knowledge as being from ‘Heaven’ and all evil as being ‘earthly and demonic’:

‘Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.’ (James 3:15).

Modern Christian commentators have also held the same view, that some people are transgressors from the very womb because of the actions and decisions of their parents:

‘Let none wonder that these wicked men dare do such things, for wickedness is bred in the bone with them; they brought it into the world with them; they have in their natures a strong inclination to it; they learned it from their wicked parents, and have been trained up in it by a bad education. They are called, and not miscalled, transgressors from the womb; one can therefore expect no other than that they will deal very treacherously; see Isa. 48:8. They go astray from God and their duty as soon as they are born, (that is, as soon as possibly they can); the foolishness that is bound up in their hearts appears with the first operations of reason; as the wheat springs up, the tares spring up with it.’ [12] 

There is a biblical basis for believing that people are inclined to evil from their births, owing to the actions of their parents. The idea is nothing new for Christians, who believe in Original Sin and the subsequent fall of mankind. But it seems that the Jews had a similar idea as well, though one that did not extend all the way to Adam nor one that polluted all of his progeny. 

The Bible states:

‘The wicked go astray from the womb, they err from their birth, speaking lies.’ (Psalms 58:3)

‘Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.’ (Psalms 51:5)

‘You have never heard, you have never known, from of old your ear has not been opened. For I knew that you would surely deal treacherously, and that from before birth you were called a rebel.’ (Isaiah 48:8)

There are also references to the ‘curse of the bastard’, where the progeny of an illegitimate union would be barred from the grace of God for several generations:

‘No one born of a forbidden union may enter the assembly of the Lord. Even to the tenth generation, none of his descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord.’ (Deuteronomy 23:2)

There are also direct references to these ideas amongst the Jews as recorded in the gospels. About a man who was healed and subsequently spoke in favour of Jesus, the Jews commented:

‘You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!’ And they threw him out.’ (John 9:34)

The prevalence of these ideas is found in a conversation between Jesus and the Jewish leadership in a passage from John:

‘They answered him, ‘Abraham is our father.’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did…You are doing the works your father did. They said to him, We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father — even God.’ Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me…You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires…'(John 8:39-44)

The Jews equated legitimate birth as being ‘born of God’, and consequently of being the ‘children of God’. The opposite would thus also be expected to be true – illegitimate birth would be classified as being ‘born of the Devil’, with the progeny of such a union being deemed as being ‘sons of the Devil’. This idea is supported in the Dead Sea Scrolls as well:

‘In the Dead Sea Scrolls sonship describes membership of the community of God’s elect or of the race ruled by Belial. On the one side are the בני אור ‘sons of light’, and on the other the בני חושך ‘sons of darkness’. The former are also בני אמת ‘sons of truth’, or בני צדק ‘sons of righteousness’, בני רצון ‘sons of the (divine) good-pleasure’, or בני חסד ‘sons of grace’. The latter are בני השחת ‘sons of the pit’, בני עולor בני עולה ‘sons of iniquity’ or בני אשמה ‘sons of guilt’. A man’s walk corresponds to the sphere in which he lives and by which he is shaped. The ‘sons of Belial’ stand under the dominion of Belial, are led by the angel of darkness and wickedness, and walk in the ways of darkness. The ‘sons of his (God’s) covenant’ are guided by the prince of light and walk in the ways of light.’ [13]

Because Jesus was born of a virgin, it cannot be said that he was born of lawful wedlock as was traditionally understood – Mary was not married when she conceived. Yet, his birth was not owed to any sort of illegitimate relationship. This is perhaps why the writers of the gospels emphasized that he was born through the influence of the ‘Holy Spirit’, or why God sent an angel with this specific message. 

The Holy Qur’an has done the same. In response to the allegation of the Jews that Jesus was born of an unholy union or under the influence of Satan, the Qur’an states:

وَالَّتِي أَحْصَنَتْ فَرْجَهَا فَنَفَخْنَا فِيهَا مِن رُّوحِنَا وَجَعَلْنَاهَا وَابْنَهَا آيَةً لِّلْعَالَمِينَ

[21:92] And remember her who preserved her chastity; so We breathed into her of Our word and We made her and her son a Sign for peoples.

The Qur’an affirms that Mary had preserved her chastity and had not committed any evil in that regard. 

The Promised Messiah (as) explains under the explanation of this verse how the conception of children are deemed to be under the influence the Holy Spirit or of Satan based on their thoughts and intentions during the act of conception. He writes:

‘The translation of these verses is that Mary protected her private areas from all strangers. Meaning, when she adopted the highest level of purity, We granted her a gift in the form of a child who was born through the breath of the Holy Spirit. This refers to the idea that that there are two types children that are born in the world: 

  1. Those who are born under the influence of the breath of the Holy Spirit. These are those children who are conceived while the woman is of pure nature and thought. These children are pure and Satan has no part in them. 
  2. Secondly, those women whose conditions are predominantly foul and impure. So Satan places his influence upon their children, like the verse points to: 

وَشَارِكْهُمْ فِي الْأَمْوَالِ وَالْأَوْلَادِ

In this verse, Satan has been addressed and told to become a partner in their wealth and their children. 

Meaning, that they will gather together illicit wealth and give birth to impure children. It is incorrect to think that that Hazrat Isa (as) was unique in any way in being infused with the Holy Spirit, and that others had no share of it. Rather this though, God forbid, takes one practically to disbelief. The truth of the matter is only this that the Holy Qur’an has mentioned that there are two things that are involved in the birth of man:

  1. One, the involvement of the Holy Spirit, when the thoughts of the parents are not overcome by impurity and uncleanliness. 
  2. And the involvement of Satan, when their thoughts are overwhelmed by impurity and filthiness. This is also indicated in the verse:

وَلَا يَلِدُوا إِلَّا فَاجِرًا كَفَّارًا

and they will not give birth but to a sinner and a disbeliever.

So doubtless, Hazrat Isa (as) was part of those people who were not born under the touch of Satan or the breath of the Devil. His birth without a father was another matter, which was not related at all with the Holy Spirit…the children of the Holy Spirit are those who are conceived in the womb while their mothers are perfectly pure and their fathers are completely pure of thought. Their opposite are the children of Satan. All of the books of God bear witness to this.’ [15]

In addition, the Qur’an specifically refers to Jesus being born of the ‘Holy Spirit’ because he was the only prophet of God whose birth had been objected to by his people as being illegitimate. The passages which speak of his birth through the Holy Spirit are thus a refutation, and not presented as an exaltation of his status beyond that of other prophets or as a declaration of his divinity. All the prophets of God have enjoyed the special succor of the Holy Spirit from the moment of their conception. 

The Promised Messiah, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) clarifies:

‘The Holy Spirit has a connection with all prophets and holy personalities; how then is the Messiah (Jesus) unique in this matter? The answer to this is that he is not unique at all, rather the greatest and mightiest portion of the Holy Spirit was granted to our Lord, Muhammad, the Chosen One, may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him. Since the vicious Jews had slandered Jesus by saying that his birth was not through the Holy Spirit but throughSatan, meaning that his birth was illegitimate, hence, in order to remove the stain of this slander, God placed emphasis on the fact that the birth of the Messiah (Jesus) was through the agency of the Holy Spirit…This discourse is merely in refutation of the false belief of the Jews that the birth of the Messiah (Jesus) is through the touch of Satan, meaning illegitimate…’ [15]

Conclusion

Therefore, merely stating that Jesus was born of the Holy Spirit in no way proves that he was divine. The term only means that his birth was miraculous — a clear manifestation of the wondrous creative power of God — and one that was holy as opposed to illegitimate.

About the Author: Azhar Goraya is a graduate from the Ahmadiyya Institute of Languages and Theology in Canada. He is currently serving as an Imam of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Mexico. He is also the Central American Coordinator for The Review of Religions en Español.

ENDNOTES


[1] Wood, D. R. W., & Marshall, I. H. (1996). New Bible dictionary (3rd ed.) (1125). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press)

[2] Wood, D. R. W., & Marshall, I. H. (1996). New Bible dictionary (3rd ed.) (1126). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.

[3] Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Baker encyclopedia of the Bible( 987). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House.

[4] Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (986). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House.

[5] The Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906. Vol. 1, pg. 583. http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/1521-angelology

[6] Dictionary of the Qu’ran, Malik Ghulam Farid, pg. 347

[7] Thomas, R. L. (1998). New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek dictionaries: Updated edition. Anaheim: Foundation Publications, Inc.

[8] Jewish Encyclopedia, vol. 5, pg. 541, under “Gabriel”. 

[9]

وحی کے متعلق جبریل کے تین کام ہیں۔

اوّل یہ کہ جب رِحم میں ایسے شخص کے وجود کے لئے نطفہ پڑتا ہے جس کی فطرت کو اللہ جلّشانہٗ اپنی رحمانیت کے تقاضا سے جس میں انسان کے عمل کو کچھ دخل نہیں ملہمانہ فطرت بنانا چاہتا ہے تو اس پر اسی نطفہ ہونے کی حالت میں جبریلی نور کا سایہ ڈال دیتا ہے تب ایسے شخص کی فطرت منجانب اللہ الہامی خاصیت پیداکر لیتی ہے اور الہامی حواس اس کو مل جاتے ہیں۔

پھر دوسرا کام جبریل کا یہ ہے کہ جب بندہ کی محبت خدائے تعالیٰ کی محبت کے زیر سایہ آپڑتی ہے تو خدائے تعالےٰ کی مربّیانہ حرکت کی وجہ سے جبریلی نور میں بھی ایک حرکت پیدا ہو کر محب صادق کے دل پر وہ نور جا پڑتا ہے یعنی اس نور کا عکس محب صادق کے دل پر پڑ کر ایک عکسی تصویر جبریل کی اس میں پیداہو جاتی ہے۔جو ایک روشنی یا ہوا یاگرمی کا کام دیتی ہے اور بطور ملکۂ الہامیہ کے ملہم کے اندر رہتی ہے۔ ایک سرا اس کا جبریل کے نور میں غرق ہوتاہے اور دوسرا ملہم کے دل کے اندر داخل ہوجاتا ہے جس کو دوسرے لفظوں میں روح القدس یا اس کی تصویر کہہ سکتے ہیں۔

تیسرا کام جبریل کا یہ ہے کہ جب خدائے تعالیٰ کی طرف سے کسی کلام کا ظہور ہو تو ہوا کی طرح موج میں آ کر اس کلام کو دل کے کانوں تک پہنچا دیتا ہے یا روشنی کے پیرایہ میں افروختہ ہو کر اس کو نظر کے سامنے کر دیتا ہے یا حرارت محرکہ کے پیرایہ میں تیزی پیداکر کے زبان کو الہامی الفاظ کی طرف چلا تا ہے۔

(توضیح مرام،  روحانی  خزائن، جلد ۳، صفحہ ۹۳ تا ۹۴)

(Taudih-e-Maram, Ruhani Khazin, vol. 3, pg. 93-93; “Elucidation of Objectives” Eng. Trans. pg. 67-68)

[10] du Toit, A. (1998). The New Testament Milieu. Halfway House: Orion.

[11] Freedman, D. N., Myers, A. C., & Beck, A. B. (2000). Eerdmans dictionary of the Bible (162–163). Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans.

[12] Henry, M. (1996). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible : Complete and unabridged in one volume. Peabody: Hendrickson.

[13] Theological dictionary of the New Testament. 1964- (G. Kittel, G. W. Bromiley & G. Friedrich, Ed.) (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

[14]

ترجمہ ان آیا ت کا یہ ہے کہ مریم نے جب اپنے اندامِ نہانی کو نامحرم سے محفوظ رکھا۔ یعنی غایت درجہ کی پاکدامنی اختیار کی تو ہم نے اُس کو یہ انعام دیا کہ وہ بچہ اس کو عنایت کیا کہ جو رُوح القدس کے نفخ سے پیدا ہوا تھا۔ یہ اس بات کی طرف اشارہ ہے جو دنیا میں بچے دو قسم کے پیدا ہوتے ہیں (۱) ایک جن میں نفخ رُوح القدس کا اثر ہوتا ہے۔اور ایسے بچے وہ ہوتے ہیں جب عورتیں پاکدامن اور پاک خیال ہوں اور اِسی حالت میں استقرار نطفہ ہو وہ بچے پاک ہوتے ہیںاور شیطان کا اُن میں حصہ نہیں ہوتا۔ (۲) دوسری وہ عورتیں ہیں جن کے حالات اکثر گندے اور ناپاک رہتے ہیں۔ پس ان کی اولاد میں شیطان اپنا حصہ ڈالتا ہے جیسا کہ آیت وَشَارِكْهُمْ فِي الْأَمْوَالِ وَالْأَوْلَادِ؂ اسی کی طرف اشارہ کر رہی ہے جس میں شیطان کو خطاب ہے کہ ان کا مالوں اور بچوں میں حصّہ دار بن جا۔یعنی وہ حرام کے مال اکٹھا کریں گی اور ناپاک اولاد جنیں گی۔ ایسا سمجھنا غلطی ہے کہ حضرت عیسیٰ کو نفخ رُوح سے کچھ خصوصیت تھی جس میں دوسروں کو حصّہ نہیں۔ بلکہ نعوذ باللہ یہ خیال قریب قریب کفر کے جا پہنچتا ہے۔ اصل حقیقت صرف یہ ہے کہ قرآن شریف میں انسانوں کی پیدائش میں دو قسم کی شراکت بیان فرمائی گئی ہے (۱) ایک رُوح القدس کی شراکت جب والدین کے خیالات پر ناپاؔ کی اور خباثت غالب نہ ہو (۲) اور ایک شیطان کی شراکت جب اُن کے خیال پر ناپاکی او پلیدی غالب ہو ۔اِسی کی طرف اشارہ اس آیت میں بھی ہے کہ وَلَا يَلِدُوا إِلَّا فَاجِرًا كَفَّارًاپس بلا شبہ حضرت عیسیٰ علیہ السلام اُن لوگوں میں سے تھے جس مس شیطان اور نفخ ابلیس سے پیدا نہیں ہوئے اور بغیر باپ کے ان کا پیدا ہونا یہ امر دیگر تھا جس کو رُوح القدس سے کچھ تعلق نہیں۔۔۔رُوح القدس کے فرزند وہی ہیں جو عورتوں کی کامل پاکدامنی اور مردوں کے کامل پاک خیال کی حالت میں رحم مادر میں وجود پکڑتے ہیں۔ اور اُن کی ضد شیطان کے فرزند ہیں۔ خدا کی ساری کتابیں یہی گواہی دیتی آئی ہیں۔ 

(تحفہ گولڑویہ ، روحانی خزائن، جلد ۱۷، صفحہ ۲۹۷ تا ۲۹۸)

(Tuhfa Golarwiyya, Ruhani Khazain, vol. 17, pg. 297-298)

[15]

رُوح القدس کا تعلق تمام نبیوں اور پاک لوگوں سے ہوتا ہے پھر مسیح کی اس سے کیا خصوصیّت ہے؟ اس کا جواب یہی ہے کہ کوئی خصوصیّت نہیں بلکہ اعظم اور اکبر حصہ روح القدس کی فطرت کا حضرت سیدنامحمد مصطفی صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم کی حاصل ہے۔ لیکن چونکہ یہود شریر الطبع نے حضرت مسیح پر یہ بہتان لگایا تھا کہ ان کی ولادت رُوح القدس کی شراکت سے نہیں بلکہ شیطان کی شراکت سے ہے یعنی ناجائز طور پر اس لئے خدا نے اس بہتان کی ذبّ اور دفع کے لئے اس بات پر زور دیا کہ مسیح کی پیدائش رُوح القدس کی شراکت سے ہے ۔۔۔ یہ کلام محض یہودیوں کے خیال باطل کے دفع کے لئے ہے کہ مسیح کی ولادت مسّ شیطان سے ہے یعنی حرام کے طور پر۔ ۔۔ 

(تحفہ گولڑویہ، روحانی خزائن، جلد ۱۷، حاشیہ در حاشیہ، سفحہ ۳۲۴)

(Tuhfa Golarwiyya, Ruhani Khazain, vol. 17, Sub-Footnote, pg. 324)

(See Also Ahmadi aur Ghair Ahmadi mein Kya Faraq Hei, pg. 489-490, Ruhani Khazain vol. 20)