Timothy S. Morton
The topics concerning the biological components of human ancestry and reproduction as we understand them today in relation to the Bible are little discussed among Christians, especially Bible Believing Christians. One will be hard pressed to find any significant written material on the subject. This is a curious omission since the Bible speaks a great deal of the human "seed" and generational lineage. What does the Bible say about these biological and family relationships and does its claims line up with what mankind knows about reproduction and genetics today? Furthermore, what about the believers who are "hyper-literal" in their reading of the Bible (those who claim to take every word of the Bible fully literal unless it is "impossible" to do so), can their hyper-literalism withstand scrutiny? Can hyper-literalism actually be detrimental to sound doctrine and Bible study? Is their a progressive revelation from the Lord of natural things as well as spiritual? Has something that was considered a Bible "fact" by believers for millennia actually been proven wrong? We will consider these revealing questions in the following chapters.
It may come as a surprise to many but the most basic biological question, asked from as far back as history will take us, was not fully and definitively answered until around 1900 AD! That question—"Where do babies come from"— perplexed man for millennia. Today many in the west assume it has long been common knowledge that the male has his part with his "sperm," the female has her part with her "egg," and when the two come together, a child sharing traits or genes of both is conceived. Nine months later the child is born into the world. As matter-of-fact as this sounds to us today, this entire concept is only around 150 years old.
Consider a moment that for 5900 (of the 6000) years of recorded history no one understood the natural biology of how children are conceived. Yes, people came up with many sometimes crazy ideas, but no one could prove any of them. Aristotle, the (supposed) great philosopher didn't know; Leonardo DaVinci the genius didn't know; Isaac Newton, the great physicist and mathematician didn't know; nor did even Charles Darwin the silly evolutionist know (he claimed to know where man came from...apes...but didn't have a clue how children are actually conceived). It was one of mankind's great mysteries.
The most common idea in the mid-east and western world throughout the millennia was "the man supplied the seed and the woman the fertile ground" for the seed to grow in. This was a belief that had its roots in simple observation. Mankind understood that "seed" had to pass from the man to the woman before she could conceive a child. Men by nature can't bear children, but even though they are naturally equipped to carry them, neither can the woman conceive a child without the man. She is completely barren until a man passes his seed to her where it could grow.
This contention was so prevalent that it still has many adherents today. If one does a simple internet search he will find that many people in the Muslim nations of the Middle-East, and even some in Europe and America still insist the woman is merely the "field" or "soil" where the man plants his "seed." This belief makes the mother essentially a surrogate mother. She contributes no inherent traits or characteristics of herself since she is not really a true parent of the child. So strong was this belief "that British women had absolutely no legal rights over the children who emerged from their bodies until 1878. From then, small adjustments were made over the years until women gained equal parental rights in the Guardianship Act of 1973." (source)
Technically, according to this view and the way most think of "blood" relationships, a person would NOT be a "blood relative" of his mother. She would merely be an incubator to grow the already complete human seed of the father. As an ancient Greek said, four centuries before Christ (as found in The Seeds of Life by Edward Dolnick),
The woman you call the mother of the child
Is not the parent, just a nurse to the seed.
the new-sown seed that grow and swells inside her.
The man is the source of life—the one who mounts.
She, like a stranger for a stranger, keeps
the shoot alive unless god hurts the roots.
This view still held sway twenty centuries later when King James of England's royal physician said in 1618,
'The woman hath a womb ordained by nature as a field or seed-plot to receive and cherish the seed."
Yes, this is the same King James who commissioned the "King James Bible" of 1611, thus we see the prevailing thought on "human reproduction" at the time the King James Bible was translated; the whole person came solely from his/her father. The mother just supplied the place and nutrients for him/her to grow.
This is also one of the key reasons a person takes their father's surname. Since people believed the child was only of the father, he/she rightly carried only his name. (However, the mother did have considerable power in declaring who the father actually was!)
Nevertheless, this male seed propagation idea brings several questions, "How does the man get the seed?" "Where does the seed come from?" "What does the Bible say about it?" And so on.
As for how does a man get his seed or where do individuals come from, one suggestion that held sway for many years was every individual that will ever live was created when God created Adam. It held that man is too sinful to be the conduit of (pro)creation so God had to create all men at once. Thus, within the man's "issue" were tiny, immature humans bundled in a tiny seed pod waiting to be planted in the woman's "fertile soil" to grow and be born. To continue the perpetuity, each tiny human also had an even smaller tiny, immature human in him waiting for his day, and on and on into infinity. Humans were much like the nested gift boxes some get at Christmas: a box, in a box, in a box,.... The adherents of this view also had Bible to back them up. Look at Hebrews 7:9-10
"And as I may so say, Levi also, who receiveth tithes, payed tithes in Abraham. For he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchisedec met him."
Levi is said to be "in" his ancestor's "loins" and actually performed actions with him while there! Fascinating! Furthermore, Heb 7:5 goes even farther and says all the Jews came out of the "loins of Abraham." This fits perfectly with the male seed propagation and all humans created with Adam ideas. The entire Jewish race was dwelling inside Abraham's "loins" taking part of all the things he did. By the same reasoning every individual who ever lived (and ever will live) were in the loins of the first man, Adam when he was created (Gen 2:7).
Here the question arises, "What actually are loins?" They are the part of the anatomy primarily around the waist or pelvic area. John the Baptist wore a "leathern girdle about his loins" (Mat 3:4). Beside being used as a term representing strength or vigor (Job 40:6, etc.), it is sometimes used as a figure of speech for the reproductive organs. Their first mention in Gen 35:11 is an instance of this where God tells Jacob, "...kings shall come out of thy loins." The loins are made of flesh. This is made clear in Acts 2:30 when speaking of David Peter said,
"...and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne;"
So was Christ, at least His human body "flesh", inside David's body like Levi was in the loins of Abraham?....There is more to this than you first thought, isn't there?
If taken strictly literal, these Bible verses raise an obvious and huge problem for the hyper-literalists. If the whole person of Levi was in the person of Abraham, and how could he really be called "Levi" if he wasn't, then no woman was involved with his existence and "personhood." Levi is said to be in Abraham decades before his mother was born! Now there is a paradox!
Paul gets into this same thought in 1 Corinthians 11 where he is dealing with the roles the Lord has established for men and women, he says,
For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man...Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God. (1Co 11:8-12)
Notice in verse 8 how the "man is NOT OF the woman; but the woman [IS] OF the man." Then notice verse 12 where it says, "For as the woman is OF the man, even so is the man also BY the woman." Two entirely different concepts relating to the male and female roles of human existence are expressed. A woman is "of" a man but a man is not "of" a woman. Yet all know that every man since Adam has come "by the woman."
"Of" is defined as "a primary preposition denoting origin." That is, the woman originates from the man. This can be said of Eve because she was taken from Adam. "By" is defined as "a primary preposition denoting the channel of an act." That is, the object by or through something else comes about. However, "by the woman" in vs 12 cannot refer to Adam since no woman had any part of his coming into the world, but it does refer to every man since, since they were all bore by a woman. Thus, verses 8 and 9 refer to the original man and woman, Adam and Eve, but verses 11 and 12 refer to all men and women.
Since in verse 11 where it says, "Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman," and the last part of vs 12 where it says the man is "by the woman" cannot refer to Adam but only to the rest of humanity, the first part of the verse 12 cannot be limited to Eve. The woman being "of" the man refers to all women. So to put it all together the passage can very easily read as all woman originate ("of") from a man (immediately their father but ultimately Adam) while all men after Adam are bore or channeled through ("by") a woman. With this the question arises, how does a woman "originate" with the man since Eve?Again, the answer for millennia was the man begats the complete "seed" of every individual, male or female, and the woman then bares it, thus all women come from a man: their father.
Now, we can better understand why many Jews and Christians over the centuries believed in male seed propagation. They had plenty of Bible if taken strictly literal to back them up.
We have not even yet mentioned how the Scriptures use the term "seed." What a typical seed is, is common knowledge. Any grade school kid can tell you that a seed is the small part of something one plants to let it grow into maturity and then make more seeds. "Mighty oaks from little acorns grow." All the information needed for the seed to grow to maturity is already there; it is complete and whole. All it lacks is the "fertile ground" to supply the nutrients and allow it to germinate and mature. The first mention of "seed" in the Bible bears this out (Gen 1:11),
"And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so."
Each tree yields seed after its own kind, which produces more trees. Here you may say, "Everyone knows this, what about people, do they have a seed?" Indeed they do. Not only people, though, even serpents have them. Look at Genesis 3:15,
"And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel."
Here both the woman, Eve, and the serpent, Satan, are said to have a "seed." The woman's seed we later learn is ultimately the Lord Jesus Christ, and the serpent's seed is the "antichrist," "man of sin," or "beast." Nevertheless, it is said, here, that a woman can actually have a seed, but...look at the next mention, Genesis 4:25,
"And Adam knew his wife again; and she bare a son, and called his name Seth: For God, said she, hath appointed me another seed instead of Abel, whom Cain slew."
It says Eve was "appointed" a seed. To "appoint" is "to place" or "bring" so the verse can easily be saying Eve's seed was not originally hers but was given to her by God through Adam. The seed must come from a man first. The same can be said of other places where women are said to have a "seed" (Gen 16:10, etc.) This also explains how it is always men who "begat" their children (Gen 5:4, etc.). Believers for millennia understood that men generate or sire the seed to the woman which she later bares (Gen 4:1). Once the woman receives the seed, it can be considered hers by possession, but not by origination.
In the Scriptures women are NEVER said to "begat" a child, they are said to only "bare" it. Begetting ("begat") children is ONLY said of the father.
Considering the above, it is clear that the Bible indicates a "patriarchal" view towards human reproduction and family relations. Genesis 3:16 also speaks of this with, "and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee." This is actually part of the curse. Furthermore, the Lord said of Abraham, "For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him..." indicating he is the head of the household—the patriarch.
Obviously, every human has a "human nature." It is actually what makes one human, even the Lord Jesus Christ has one. Sadly, though, except for Christ, everyone's nature is a sinful, fallen nature; it fell when Adam fell because in the same way Levi was in Abraham, we were all in Adam when he sinned (Rom 5:21) and his guilt is imputed to us. This makes us "by nature the children of wrath..." (Eph 2:3). Christ, however, though fully human, does not have a fallen, sinful nature even though He also is a descendant of Adam and was born into this same evil world. What is the difference? Why do we have a fallen nature and Christ doesn't? The reason subscribed to by most Bible Believers is it is because Christ did not have a human father to pass Adam's guilt and fallen nature to Him. He was virgin born.
It appears the virgin birth of Christ served two key functions. One was to enable the second person of the Godhead, the Word, to be born into the world as a man. The second was to bypass the sin and fallen nature of Adam since the Scriptures indicate they are passed by the male; the father. Since Jesus had no human father, this sin, guilt, and fallen nature did not pass to him. He inherited a full human nature from his mother, Mary, but she, being female, did not pass along Adam's guilt or a tainted nature. The passing of Adam's fallen nature to one's "seed" by the father only could be called "male guilt propagation."
The implications are obvious. If one believes Jesus did not inherit (or have imputed to Him) Adam's guilt and nature because He had no human father, he is claiming Adam's guilt and nature only passes through the male. This gives even more credence to the argument for male seed propagation. If Adam's guilt only passes through the male, then the contention the actual person, or at least the essence of a person, does as well clearly gains more support.
All is clear. From the passages we listed above and others similar, plus the general tenor of the Scriptures concerning human lineage and reproduction, it was completely reasonable and even Scriptural for believers to claim the entire person was complete in the father as a "seed," that this seed was placed into the woman where it was nurtured to grow, and then the woman bore the child, bringing another individual into the world.
If you, dear reader, lived from two centuries to two millennia earlier, what we have presented above is almost certainly what you would believe about human reproduction, and you would likely be very confident that is the way the Bible presents it. You would reason if one takes all the Bible's words that appear to speak on this matter fully literal, male seed propagation is the only explanation that fits the bill...and you would be correct. However, the Lord has allowed mankind to discover many new facts over the last couple centuries that challenge this long standing contention. They do not challenge the Scriptures themselves, but they do challenge this "histoical" understanding of them. We will examine these revelations in the next chapter.