The Humanity of Jesus: Living As A Man

ManDoes Jesus gender make any difference? The fact is that Jesus was born a Jewish male, but could he have been born a woman? Does his gender have any Christological significance whatsoever? That is the question we want to explore in this post. As we discuss Jesus humanity we must acknowledge that he was male, but I want to say more than that. Jesus had to be born male.

Such a conclusion has not always been consensus of the modern church. While church history has largely recognized the importance of Jesus maleness, the modern church contends with it. In the 1920s Elizabeth Stuart Phelps presented a very effeminate Jesus, almost feminine, in support of her feminist reinterpretation of Jesus. The LBI Institute published a new, and revised, version of the gospels in 2003 featuring Judith of Nazareth. Kristen Wolf wrote The Way: A Novel in 2011 as a fictional rewrite of the story of Jesus, as a young girl forced to pretend to be a man named Jesus. If these blatant rewrites of Jesus as a woman are extreme, note that among translation scholarship there is a milder trend to neuter Jesus. The translators of The New Testament and Psalms: An Inclusive Version assuming that Jesus’s maleness has no value, have simply excluded the language of “Son of God” from their version. The editors write in the preface:

If the fact that Jesus was a man, and not a woman, has no Christological significance in the New Testament, then neither does the fact that Jesus was a son and not a daughter. If Jesus is identified as “Son,” believers of both sexes become “sons” of God, but if Jesus is called “Child,” believers of both sexes can understand themselves as “children of God.” (The New Testament and Psalms: An Inclusive Version, xviii).

The TNIV of 2011 too sometimes chooses to use the general language of “human being” to speak of Jesus, instead of “man.” For example, The TNIV on 1 Timothy 2:5 reads:

For there is one God and one mediator between God and human beings, Christ Jesus, himself human.

The 2011 version of the NIV states, in contrast:

 For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.

Even when the maleness of Jesus is not being outright challenged, it is being assumed irrelevant to his role as Messiah. The Bible, however, does not assume this. In Scripture and in God’s plan Jesus is purposefully male.

In his book The Man Christ Jesus, Bruce Ware lists twelve reasons why Jesus’s maleness is important, I will here highlight nine of those reasons. He writes that Jesus’s male identity is important both for “the reality of his incarnational identity and [for] the accomplishment of his incarnational mission” (95). A quick survey of these twelve reasons will do us well.

First, Jesus is revealed to be the “eternal Son.” That is to say, in his pre-incarnate state Jesus had an identity marker as “Son.” In John 5:18 Jesus’ sonship identifies him as equal with God, this is why the Pharisees state they are ready to kill him (“making himself equal with God). There is, then, something uniquely divine about this role of his, and something uniquely inherent to his identity. John 1:14 states that Jesus’s incarnation is “from the Father,” identifying hierarchical roles within the godhead itself. Jesus is referred to as one “begotten” from the Father (see John 1:18; John 3:16; John 3:18). The language of begetting is not referring to origin or birth, but carries the idea of generation from the same kind. So theologians speak of the “eternal generation of the Son.” The Son has always been the Son, and the Father has always been the Father.

The very fact that God chooses to reveal himself as “Father” and not “mother” and Jesus is “son” and not “daughter” is important for their identity. God is not basing his revelation off of the family model, but rather basing the family model off of his own model. So Ephesians 5 reveals that marriage has the purpose to point people to Christ, to the gospel. Christ is the groom and his bride is the church. So likewise, we should see that the Fatherhood of God and the Sonship of Jesus are not modeled off our earthly roles, but rather our earthly roles reflect what God has revealed of himself. It is true, of course, that God is Spirit, and as such does not possess gender, per se. And yet we see that God reveals himself as he does, and so we must acknowledge God as Father, and Jesus as Son. We will see that this has important implications for us.

Second, Christ came as the “Second Adam.” To undo the failures of Adam in the Garden, we see that he came like Adam. After the Fall God holds the man responsible for sin, not the woman (Gen. 3:9; See also Rom. 5:12-19; 1 Cor. 15:21-22). The woman sinned first, but note that in these passages she is not mentioned. God ordained that Adam would be the leader in his home but he fails here and it is Adam who is held responsible for the sin of the world. So in coming to rescue man Jesus comes as the “Second Adam” to undo what the previous head could not. Ware writes, “As Adam was head over his race, bringing it bondage and death, so now Christ is head over his race, bringing it liberation and resurrection life” (98).

Third, the Abrahamic Covenant requires that the savior would be a male descendant of the Patriarch. Genesis 17 makes clear that the promise of redemption will come to the world through Abraham’s son. The “son of promise” is depicted in verse 16, and in verse 19 God again reiterates that Sarah will have a son “and you shall call his name Isaac.”

Fourth, the Davidic Covenant anticipates a male descendant of David. “The Son of David” is a great messianic label anticipating the coming of God’s chosen servant who will rescue his people. 2 Samuel 7:12-13 read without any ambiguity. Ezekiel 34 and 37 carry this same anticipation of a male.

Fifth, the promise of the new covenant of Jeremiah 31:31-34 is grounded in the “man of sorrows” of Isaiah 53:4-6. At the Last Supper Jesus takes up the cup, stating plainly that it is his shed blood: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:21). The New Covenant is made possible because of this “man of sorrow.” Again Jesus maleness is part of what qualifies him to fulfill this promise.

Sixth, the savior is the “Second Moses.” Deuteronomy 18:15 anticipates one like Moses. In Acts 3:22 Peter sees this second Moses clearly as Jesus.

Seventh, Jesus is our great High Priest. Hebrews 7:27-28 reveals that the law required the Priest to be a male. Jesus, however, is the perfect male and therefore the perfect High Priest. He did not have to make offering for his sins, but he did have to be male.

Eighth, Jesus is King of Kings. That famous Christmas passage found in Isaiah 9:6-7 reveals that the promised Messiah was coming as a King, not a queen. He sits on the throne of David as King of Kings. Jesus testifies to his role as King in Matthew 19:28, anticipating a day when he will sit on his “glorious throne.” Revelation 19:11-21 anticipates this returning King as well.

Ninth, Jesus maleness matters because he comes as “The Son of Man.” Again we see the masculine stress on the messianic promises of the Old Testament. Daniel 7:13-14 refers to the Son of Man as one who will be given “dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him.” This is the label Jesus applies to himself, perhaps more so than any other. The term appears eighty-four times in the Gospels. Jesus is a man, and he had to be one.

There is much more that we could say here. In fact, Dr. Ware unpacks these themes and “reasons” in greater detail and he is only scratching the surface. The point here is not in any way to diminish the significance and importance of women. God has created women in his image. They are equal in essence to men. They are made to be helpers, not servants, of men. And yet God chooses male language to speak of himself. That is because God has prescribed male headship. The Bible is clear about male headship in the home and in the church. We see this with Adam; we see it in the New Testament among Paul’s writings. God holds men responsible to represent his people. This headship ultimately is meant to point all of us, all who are the “bride of Christ” to our head: Jesus.

Jesus’s maleness is important to who he is and what he accomplished. We affirm what the Bible teaches here. Though our modern egalitarian sensibilities might cringe at this news, it is good for us that Jesus came as a male. For, in so doing he is able to fulfill the promises of the Old Testament, and able to represent us as his people.

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