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Sunday, November 04, 2012

The natural conception of Jesus

The first principle of the gospel is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. In this post, I want to give some of the reasons for my belief that Jesus is literally the Son of God. It is my understanding that He was conceived by his mortal mother according to natural law — the same natural law by which my wife conceived our nine children — and that God the Father is His earthly father, just as much as I am the father of my children. My faith in the Lord Jesus Christ includes unqualified acceptance of His divine paternal lineage.

According to natural law

In his book Jesus the Christ, James E. Talmage wrote: “That Child to be born of Mary was begotten of Elohim, the Eternal Father, not in violation of natural law but in accordance with a higher manifestation thereof; and, the offspring from that association of supreme sanctity, celestial Sireship, and pure though mortal maternity, was of right to be called the ‘Son of the Highest.’” (As quoted in Doctrines of the Gospel, Religion 430-31, 2004.)

Talmage wrote Jesus the Christ on assignment from Joseph F. Smith's First Presidency and the completed manuscript was approved by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. The book was published in 1915 by the Church. The copy I bought in 1966, was part of a missionary reference set. It names Joseph F. Smith, Heber J. Grant, George Albert Smith, and David O. McKay as successive copyright owners. Even today, the book is published by the Church as a reference for full-time missionaries.

Details not yet revealed

The Savior's mortal conception ranks among the most sacred and private events in the history of earth. I accept what is published about it by today's apostles and prophets. Details beyond that are, I feel, none of my business.

In a recent Ensign article, Quentin L. Cook notes that "nonbelievers find it hard to accept ... the Savior’s virgin birth and Resurrection. They view these events with ... skepticism." (Ensign, April 2009.) He also warns that "obsessive focus on things not yet fully revealed, such as how the virgin birth or the Resurrection of the Savior could have occurred,... will not be efficacious or yield spiritual progress." (Ensign, May 2012.)

In my mission we were occasionally asked about the virgin Mary's conception of Jesus. Those of us with a copy of Jesus the Christ had a good answer. And apparently the Church is still happy to have Elder Talmage answer that question for full-time missionaries.

A doctrinal answer

The Teachings of Presidents of the Church series is designed to help Church members answer questions about Church doctrine. The Heber J. Grant volume has this to say about the conception of Jesus:

"We believe absolutely that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, begotten of God, the first-born in the spirit and the only begotten in the flesh; that He is the Son of God just as much as you and I are the sons of our fathers." (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Heber J. Grant.)

An official answer

In a doctrinal exposition, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve declared that “Jesus Christ is the Son of Elohim both as spiritual and bodily offspring; that is to say, Elohim is literally the Father of the spirit of Jesus Christ and also of the body in which Jesus Christ performed His mission in the flesh.” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith; also Ensign, April 2002.)

Fundamental doctrine

Eleven years ago, the Church published these words from Ezra Taft Benson: "The most fundamental doctrine of true Christianity is the divine birth of the child Jesus. It is a doctrine not comprehended by the world, misinterpreted by [many] Christian churches, and even misunderstood by some members of the true Church. The paternity of Jesus Christ is one of the mysteries of godliness. It may only be comprehended by the spiritually minded....

"Jesus Christ is the Son of God in the most literal sense. The body in which He performed His mission in the flesh was sired by that same Holy Being we worship as God, our Eternal Father. He was not the son of Joseph, nor was He begotten by the Holy Ghost. He is the Son of the Eternal Father!" (Ensign, Dec. 2001.)

20 Comments:

Blogger R. Gary said...

Last month, over at By Common Consent, one of my very first blogging friends, J. Stapley, posted his thoughts about "Folk belief." This post is my response to his misleading and completely unsupported claim that the natural conception of Jesus has "not been taught through formal channels for many, many decades and the church has made statements against the idea."

11/04/2012 07:32:00 AM  
Blogger Jared L. said...

Natural means natural - sex. No other course would be natural. But here's the thing - if it has not been fully revealed, then how is it known it was natural?

11/04/2012 08:38:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Jared L.: Knowledge about such things comes only from God through his authorized servants. This post outlines my "beliefs" which are based on what is published by today's apostles and prophets. I hope that answers your question.

11/04/2012 09:27:00 AM  
Blogger Jared L. said...

Quentin L. Cook, in the citation you provided, appears to think that knowledge about such things has "not [been] fully revealed" from God through his authorized servants. If sex is the answer, then he would be wrong: it *has* been fully revealed.

Are we not cursed who trust in the teachings of men (2 Nephi 28:31), whomever they may be, unless those precepts are revealed from heaven?

Is not knowledge only gotten through the Holy Ghost, by which we may know the truth of *all* things (Moroni 10:5, Moses 6:61)?

How else can you you know if the General Authorities teach that which comes from God, if it is not by personal revelation to you?

Therefore, knowledge of such things comes through personal revelation, to each of us individually, or it is not knowledge.

11/04/2012 09:58:00 AM  
Anonymous J. Stapley said...

I don't believe that sexual conception of Jesus has been taught for decades. I actually think this post is misleading. Here is FAIR's write-up with some relatively recent denunciations of the idea.

11/04/2012 10:44:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Jared L.: In September of 1830, the First Presidency had not yet been organized, but Oliver Cowdery was the Second Elder of the Church. The question arose concerning who might receive revelations for the Church when Oliver Cowdery took the Prophet Joseph Smith to task for not accepting certain revelations that had been received by others. In answer to the Prophet Joseph's prayer about this matter, the Lord revealed section 28 of the Doctrine and Covenants and gave the following instructions to Oliver Cowdery (see verses 2-3, 6-7):

-------------- quote --------------
"No one shall be appointed to receive commandments and revelations in this church excepting my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., for he receiveth them even as Moses.

"And thou shalt be obedient unto the things which I shall give unto him, even as Aaron, to declare faithfully the commandments and the revelations, with power and authority unto the church. . . .

"And thou shalt not command him who is at thy head, and at the head of the church.

"For I have given him the keys of the mysteries, and the revelations which are sealed, until I shall appoint unto them another in his stead."
-------------- end quote --------------

Quentin L. Cook hos not disagreed with any of his Apostolic associates. But apparently he expresses a valid concern about some who view certain teachings of his associates with "skepticism."

--

J. Stapley: You are correct when you say that "it is not too difficult to find 19th and even some 20th century examples of Church leaders teaching [about] this idea," both for and against it. And if "the Church" were defined by everything said by anyone in authority since 1830, then you might have a point.

But I don't think that is how "the Church" is defined.

To me, "the Church" is defined by what is right now being published by today's apostles and prophets. All of the statements included in the above original post are quoted from the Church's official web site, LDS.org. In that context, the Church teaches the natural conception of Jesus and has made NO statements against the idea.

11/04/2012 12:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the doctrine is a natural extension of the Mormon belief in corporeal bodies for resurrected beings. If the Father is inseparable from His body and if the conception of Jesus was "natural", then physical sex is the logical conclusion. Of course, this then begs the question of a "virgin" birth. The alternative is artificial insemination.

Perhaps the doctrine of a "virgin birth" is more about the idea that no mere mortal was the father of Jesus than about Mary's sexual history.

11/05/2012 04:27:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Anonymous: I am satisfied with the explanation quoted above that it was "not in violation of natural law but in accordance with a higher manifestation thereof."

This "higher manifestation" explanation was written by an Apostle of the Lord, on assignment from the First Presidency. It was approved by the First Presidency and the Twelve and has been published by the Church continuously since 1915. Today, it is approved for the use of full-time missionaries as a source of doctrine about the Savior's life.

11/05/2012 06:42:00 AM  
Anonymous DB said...

Nobody's being very clear about what they're talking about (especially R. Gary) so it would be helpful if they would clarify exactly what they mean when they refer to conception, reproduction, natural, etc. "Sexual reproduction" refers only to creating offspring by combining genetic material from two parents. This makes no reference to the mechanical process of fertilization or conception and does not necessarily involve sexual intercourse. Most species of fish and amphibians reproduce sexually but without sexual intercourse. Various forms of artificial insemination with mammals are also examples of sexual reproduction that do not involve sexual intercourse. Today, it is entirely possible for a virgin woman to give birth to her own offspring or even someone else’s offspring. I’m certain that Heavenly Father could facilitate that as well. If you consider Christ’s conception to have occurred through sexual reproduction, with Mary being the mother and Heavenly Father being the father, but not through sexual intercourse, please state so. If you consider Christ’s conception to have occurred through sexual intercourse, please state so.

Personally, I believe the provided quotes from general authorities refer to the conception of Christ as having occurred through sexual reproduction but make no reference to sexual intercourse. In fact, these general authorities also claim that Mary was a virgin at the time of Christ’s birth, thereby stating their belief that Christ’s conception was a result of sexual reproduction but not through sexual intercourse. This is consistent with J. Stapley’s statements in his post on folk beliefs where he is referring to the folk belief that Christ’s conception was a result of sexual intercourse.

And knowledge about such things does not come only from God through his authorized servants. God may reveal this or any other knowledge to anyone. God only reveals knowledge to his authorized servants that is intended to be passed on to the general populace.

11/05/2012 08:09:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

.

Re: "God only reveals knowledge to his authorized servants that is intended to be passed on to the general populace."

It seems like you, not being an authorized servant, feel you are free to go on and on to the general populace in a blog comment about things about God that He has not revealed.

When we are talking about something as personal and private as the conception of a baby, I should think we would show a little more respect.

11/05/2012 11:55:00 AM  
Anonymous DB said...

Of course I'm free to do that. It's called free agency. We are all free to discuss ideas and beliefs that have never been supported by revelation. Is there something wrong with that?

Now, please point out what you found in my comment to be disrespectful and also please point out what you found in my comment that I went on and on about that God has not revealed.

11/05/2012 01:35:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

DB: You may not have noticed that in my post and in my comments I have not used a certain three-letter word that has been so freely tossed around by others when discussing this subject. At the same time, you may also have missed my statement in the original post that the Savior's mortal conception ranks among the most sacred and private events in the history of earth. When we are talking about something as personal and private as the conception of a baby, I think we should be willing to follow the example of today's apostles and prophets and be discreet. In fact, because this is my blog, that is my request.

11/05/2012 02:22:00 PM  
Anonymous DB said...

So, R. Gary, are you going to explain to us what you mean by the "natural conception of Jesus"? You disagreed with J. Stapley when he wrote that the belief that Mary was not a virgin is a folk belief. So, is that what you believe, that Mary was not a virgin?

11/07/2012 05:52:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

DB: The passage quoted in the original post from Jesus the Christ by James E. Talmage is found in the middle of a paragraph. If we look at the whole paragraph, your question is answered:

“His message delivered, Gabriel departed, leaving the chosen Virgin of Nazareth to ponder over her wondrous experience. Mary's promised Son was to be "The Only Begotten" of the Father in the flesh; so it had been both positively and abundantly predicted. True, the event was unprecedented; true also it has never been paralleled; but that the virgin birth would be unique was as truly essential to the fulfillment of prophecy as that it should occur at all. That Child to be born of Mary was begotten of Elohim, the Eternal Father, not in violation of natural law but in accordance with a higher manifestation thereof; and, the offspring from that association of supreme sanctity, celestial Sireship, and pure though mortal maternity, was of right to be called the ‘Son of the Highest.’ In His nature would be combined the powers of Godhood with the capacity and possibilities of mortality; and this through the ordinary operation of the fundamental law of heredity, declared of God, demonstrated by science, and admitted by philosophy, that living beings shall propagate—after their kind. The Child Jesus was to inherit the physical, mental, and spiritual traits, tendencies, and powers that characterized His parents—one immortal and glorified—God, the other human—woman.”

That is what I believe.

11/07/2012 07:47:00 AM  
Anonymous DB said...

No, that doesn't answer my question and it doesn't answer how you interpret what Elder Talmage wrote. Please just answer yes or no, do you believe that Mary was a virgin when she gave birth to Jesus? Yes or no?

If you do believe that she was a virgin, how is it that you disagree with J. Stapley?

11/07/2012 09:59:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

DB: As our scripture says: "A virgin shall conceive and bear a son." (Isa. 7:14, Matt. 1:23; 2 Ne. 17:14.) Or, as James E. Talmage says in Jesus the Christ: "Mary the Virgin gave birth to her firstborn, the Son of the Highest, the Only Begotten of the Eternal Father, Jesus the Christ."

Jesus is the Lord. He is God's own Son. His mother was a virgin. It happened in accordance with a higher manifestation of natural law, not in violation of natural law. No interpretation of "higher manifestation" has been given by today's authorized servants. Which means, in my opinion, that it is none of our business.

11/07/2012 01:05:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Not mine. Not yours.

11/07/2012 01:05:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

DB: Both of your recent comments along with my thoughts about them are here.

11/07/2012 05:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Dave C. said...

The simple fact of the manner is that none of us truly knows how the Savior was conceived. Why not? Because as was stated in the Jesus the Christ quote stated in the second paragraph of this post, "not in violation of natural law but in accordance with a higher manifestation thereof."

He was conceived by higher laws that we do not comprehend. We cannot comprehend how it happened because God's ways are not our ways. The best description we can give it is "immaculate or miraculous conception."

11/25/2012 09:20:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Dave C.: Please note this paragraph from Bruce R. McConkie's book, Mormon Doctrine:

"From the moment of her conception, Mary, the mother of our Lord, in this false Catholic view of things, is deemed to have been free from the stain of original sin. This supposed miraculous event is called the doctrine of the immaculate conception. After reciting the universal prevalence of so-called original sin, Cardinal Gibbons says: 'The Church, however, declares that the Blessed Virgin Mary was exempted from the stain of original sin by the merits of our Savior Jesus Christ; and that, consequently, she was never for an instant subject to the dominion of Satan. This is what is meant by the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.' (James Cardinal Gibbons, The Faith of Our Fathers, p.220.) The virgin birth has reference to the birth of Christ and is a true doctrine; the immaculate conception has reference to the birth of Mary and is a false doctrine."

12/22/2012 06:31:00 AM  

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