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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Essential Virginity

One of the most hotly-contested biblical concepts today (and by "today" I include "at this time of year") is the doctrine of the Virgin Birth. We hold that Jesus was born of a virgin (Isa 7:14; Luke 1:27), that He had no earthly father but was produced by the Holy Spirit (Matt 1:20; Luke 1:35) impregnating Mary who had "never known a man" (Luke 1:34). This, of course, is outside of the realm of "normal". I mean, no human being actually comes into being that way. Ergo, clearly, the story is not true. And, look, it is certainly tradition, but can't we just all agree to disagree on this one? Does it really matter in the overall scheme of Christianity? One of the primary schisms between conservative Christianity and liberal Christianity was specifically this point -- the Virgin Birth. But is it really that important?

First, let's keep the question clear. We're talking about virgin conception, not anything beyond that. "Virgin Birth" is a bit misleading in that regard. Second, we're not talking about either the "Immaculate Conception" -- the claim that Mary was sinless, tacitly impossible since she referred to Jesus as her "Savior" (Luke 1:47) -- or the perpetual virginity of Mary, a second Roman Catholic (but not biblical) doctrine. Neither is in view here. Just whether or not Jesus was born of a woman who had never had sexual relations with anyone, but was fathered by God. Just that far.

Detractors (starting from the position of denying miracles because if miracles are possible, there is no problem with this one), argue that "virgin" (Isa 7:14; Matt 1:23) should be translated "maiden" and that all that "virgin" stuff isn't necessary. The fact that "maiden" referred to an unmarried woman who was expected to be a virgin is irrelevant. Clearly the disciples simply worked in a "virgin birth" because that was so popular at the time among the followers of pagan deities and, hey, if they can have a god of virgin birth, we can, too. Never mind that the whole Mithras connection is a fabrication. Still, can't we just get along? How important is this Virgin Birth thing?

It is, as it turns out, not peripheral. It is essential.

1. The Bible teaches it. Included in that, the authors of the Gospels believed it. Beyond and because of this, the Church has always believed it. Never, prior to the Enlightenment, was there a question regarding that particular claim of Scripture. Thus, if there was no Virgin Birth, then the Bible is not reliable and the Holy Spirit failed to lead His own into all truth until the 19th century or so.

2. The Virgin Birth is necessary for our understanding of Christ. First, it is only in this Divine-Father-and-human-mother scenario that we can get to the biblical identity of Christ as both human and divine. If He was the product of human father and mother, He was only human. Second, the Virgin Birth is essential to explain how Christ did not inherit the sin nature. Scripture teaches that He "in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin." (Heb 4:15) No other human can make that claim because all other humans are born with a sin nature (Rom 5:12; Psa 51:5).

Consider the alternative. Yes, Scripture refers to the Virgin Birth, but let's say it never happened. As it turns out, then, Mary was a ... sexually immoral woman, either with Joseph or another man. Jesus was born out of wedlock and the Pharisees' accusation of Him being an illegitimate child (John 8:41) was valid. Jesus was a product of sin, complete with a sin nature. If He managed to live out a sinless life, then it is a distinct possibility than any other person could do the same. However, that "if" would be a massive one and we'd likely have to actually rule it out because 1) no one else has ever done it and 2) the Bible says it can't happen. Well, now, we're starting to run into real problems here. Apparently the Bible is not reliable. After all, it claims the Virgin Birth and, yet, we've ruled it out. The Bible says that Jesus was sinless but that's not likely, either. And, oh, by the way, if He was not sinless, He is also ruled out as ... wait for it ... Savior (Heb 7:27). So, if the Virgin Birth is a myth, we have a failed Holy Spirit who could not lead us into all truth for thousands of years, an unreliable "Word of God", and, ultimately, a non-Savior.

Given the impact if the Virgin Birth is a lie, it is not a side issue. Jesus's divinity, His sinlessness, His ability to save, and the reliability of both the Bible and the Holy Spirit all hinge on this point. That makes it a fundamental issue.


Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Just another reason why Mormons cannot be Christian. They believe that Mary was impregnated through sexual intercourse with their man-god. They claim that she was virgin to mortal man, though, so she was still a virgin. This was the problem that led me to leave the Mormon Church. My point was that it doesn't matter if she had sex with a mortal or immortal man -- if she had sex she isn't a virgin.

I wrote an article about the "Non-Virgin Virgin Mary" of Mormonism:

Like you did, Dr. James Orr discussed the importance of the virgin conception:
Doctrinally it must be repeated that the belief in the virgin birth of Christ is of the highest value for the right apprehension of Christ’s unique and sinless personality. Here is One, as Paul brings out in Romans 5:12, who, free from sin Himself, and not involved in the Adamic liabilities of the race, reverses the curse of sin and death brought in by the first Adam, and establishes the reign of righteousness and life. Had Christ been naturally born, not one of these things could be affirmed of Him. As one of Adam’s race, not an entrant from a higher sphere, He would have shared in Adam’s corruption and doom - would Himself have required to be redeemed. Through God’s infinite mercy, He came from above, inherited no guilt, needed no regeneration or sanctification, but became Himself the Redeemer, Regenerator, Sanctifier for all who receive Him.

Stan said...

Indeed, it is essential, not peripheral.

David said...

Another point you hinted at is that if Jesus was some man's son, He is not sufficient to pay for all of our sins. If He was all human, and still somehow lived a sinless life, His death was merely sufficient to save Himself. Only His diety makes Him capable of mass propitiation.

Stan said...

Yes, indeed. Well, almost. If He was a human who lived a sinless life, He wouldn't need salvation. However, One sinless man's death for sin would cover one sinner's sin. It takes God to cover more. (And, thus, His deity is another essential element.)

Stan said...

You gotta love the naysayers (because, after all, we were told to). In this case it's the "Jesus never said" folk. "Jesus never said that the Virgin Birth was essential, so it's not." To my readers, I know that this can sound compelling, but I need to make a few points here.

1. Jesus is the Son of God, the Word made flesh (John 1:14). As such He is the Word of God. In that light, all of Scripture is Jesus's Words.

2. There is a logical fallacy called the "argument from silence". The argument holds that since X is not mentioned in the available texts or evidence, it cannot be true. An argument from "Jesus never said" (especially when referring solely to the Gospel texts) is an argument from silence, a logical fallacy.

3. Taking only the things Jesus said that were recorded in the synoptic Gospels -- Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John -- we know 1) that He said and did far more than was recorded (John 21:25) and 2) you will find that Jesus never said a lot of things we know to be true, that we know we need to believe. He never mentioned rape, bestiality, or other sexual immoralities we know are immoral. He never commented on the immorality of the Roman government which we know was deeply reprehensible. He never claimed that we are saved by grace through faith apart from works (Eph 2:8-9), the heart of the Christian gospel without which Paul said there was no other gospel (Gal 1:6-7) (and he called it "the gospel of Christ"). We know that Jesus said not one word about His resurrection being an essential element of the faith; that was Paul (1 Cor 15:12-19). An argument based on "Jesus never said" will eliminate basic Christianity.

I know the "Jesus never said" argument sounds very ... "Jesusy". But be careful. Think about it. It is not biblical (Jesus was the Word of God), logical (Argument from silence fallacy), nor beneficial (eliminates core Christian doctrine). Don't buy it.

Craig said...

I saw something on Facebook with a skeptic saying that the virgin birth was just too much and the response was asking if they had any problem with the "virgin birth " of the universe. It's an interesting comparison.

Stan said...

Hadn't heard that one before. Yes, interesting.

On the whole problem of "miracles are too much", C.S. Lewis contended that if there is a God, miracles wouldn't be "too much"; they would a given. The only time miracles are a problem is if there is no supernatural God.

Stan said...

So, Craig points out how we believe in the virgin birth of Christ while the skeptic believes in the virgin birth of the universe and I reply that I hadn't heard that before. Then I go to and see the quote from Glen Scrivener: "Christians believe in the virgin birth of Jesus. Materialists believe in the virgin birth of the cosmos. Choose your miracle."

Craig said...

How 'bout that.