Today, we are beginning a series on one of the most controversial beliefs of Christianity – the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. James Orr, writing in The Fundamentals said this:
The Virgin Birth is assailed with special vehemence, because it is supposed that the evidence for this miracle is more easily got rid of than the evidence for public facts, such as the resurrection. The result is that in very many quarters the Virgin birth of Christ is openly treated as a fable. Belief in it is scouted as unworthy of the twentieth century intelligence. (James Orr, The Fundamentals, ch 30)
In Orr’s day, there was a concerted effort by a group of scholars to question the core of Scriptural interpretation, and it must be said that some of the observations made by these scholars were observations that needed to be made. Unfortunately, they approached the Scriptures with a hostility and condescension that caused many more conservative believers to basically curl up in a ball and retreat from the discussion. As a result, we of a more conservative nature do not actively consider the belief structures we have inherited from the ancient church through the medieval church, and as a result we do not truly appreciate the nature of what the Scriptures actually say.
I have intentionally pointed out that we have inherited our ancient beliefs through the medieval church because it is there that we find many of the errors and misconceptions we have in our beliefs.
At the very beginning of this series, I need to emphasize that a belief system not capable of questioning should never be acceptable to you. If teachers tell you that you cannot question or doubt something, then by all means question it. A belief that cannot stand up to scrutiny and criticism is not worth accepting.
We must be willing to question and deconstruct our inherited beliefs because that which we inherit often has additions and subtractions from what God originally inspired. Our purpose in any doctrinal pursuit should not be to defend what we already know but to construct our beliefs based on the strength of the Scriptures.
(Defending a position you already hold is called deductive interpretation. Taking the Scriptures as your source, understanding them as correctly as possible and then forming your beliefs is called inductive interpretation. I make no apologies for being an inductive reader of the Scriptures.)
Making a Necessary Distinction
With our introductory thoughts out of the way, let’s now consider what has come to be known as “The Virgin Birth” because there is a distinction to be made here
We need to begin by using correct terminology. Theologically, the idea of the virgin birth has far more to it than simply that Mary was sexually pure when she became pregnant with Jesus. In fact, the classic view of the virgin birth goes much further and makes some fairly extraneous claims. Millard Erickson writes:
Some theologians, particularly Catholics, interpret the virgin birth as meaning that Jesus was not born in normal fashion. In their view, he simply passed through the wall of Mary’s uterus instead of being delivered through the normal birth canal, so that Mary’s hymen was not ruptured. Thus, there was a sort of miraculous Caesarean section. (Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd edition p. 759)
Let’s just be very clear here. The Scriptural witness to the virgin birth contains nothing of this nature, and it is purely conjecture based on an existing belief – called “the perpetual virginity” of Mary. Without getting into too much detail, this is one of the most obvious examples of what I mentioned about beliefs coming through the medieval church. The medieval church, in controlling a number of other facets of life, developed a number of extra-biblical beliefs about Mary which in turn precipitated doctrinal additions. The result is something that bears no resemblance to the biblical narrative of Jesus’ conception.
To distinguish the position we will develop from the Scriptures from this erroneous belief, we will follow the example of the theologian Dale Moody and use the term miraculous conception rather than virgin birth.
Now, with all that said, tomorrow we will begin looking at the Biblical witness.