Sunday, December 20, 2009

Is "virgin birth theology" optional?

This morning's Sunday School discussion got me thinking.

Some scholars who say they are Christians say "yes," they can be Christians and deny the virgin birth. Obviously, they aren't standing with those of us who embrace the Apostles' Creed and the veracity of the gospel accounts. They're thinking quite pragmatically, and claiming that the "virgin" part of the Christmas story in Matthew and Luke was not central in importance, nor can it be verified by an extrabiblical source.  They're wondering why Mark, the first gospel written, doesn't even mention that Jesus was born of a virgin. (And, although I didn't hear this stated, I have to wonder if they believe Joseph's call to obedience--and chastity--would have held out until Mary had given birth.)

Now to fast forward--we learned awhile back that the Resurrection of Christ is a verifiable fact--that is, it is corroborated by other literature, by a hefty amount of witnesses, and even by the "seemingly contradictory" internal evidence of the gospel accounts. (No one trying to prove something would have had such different impressions; they were simply recording what they observed, from each individual's perspective.)

The virgin birth story, however, is not quite so easy to prove. I can tell you what the angel said--that "nothing is impossible with God," but if you don't have faith in the biblical account, and in the ability of God to do miracles, you're likely to shrug me off, to deny it altogether, or to come up with some outlandish "spontaneous generation" theory. (And BTW, we learned that when select species from the animal kingdom do "spontaneously generate" a new life without coitus, they give birth to a female, never a male. Of course, we don't have the ability to do this as humans, though one episode of the TV show House might have you believe otherwise.)

As our teacher, Doug, outlined today, the virgin birth in the Jewish culture, where people were waiting for the Messiah, was an affront. For if Jesus was the one foretold in the Hebrew Scriptures, then He would demand absolute allegiance. He would be Emmanuel, God with us. And He would literally change everything.

Today, for 21st century humans, it is just as difficult to accept a virgin conception as it would have been for 1st century Jews. "On the other hand," (as Tevye often says in "My Fair Lady") the author of Luke is trustworthy with historical notations that can be checked. If we think about it, we must realize that there was no need for the early church to invent a virgin conception--in fact, their claim created problems from the start. There are few details recorded about the life of Jesus, aside from the gospels, and both Matthew and Luke unabashedly claim a virgin conception. Finally, this story is simply too fantastical for the early church to have invented it. And if one accepts the Incarnation, God becoming man to dwell among us, the virgin birth is no longer unreasonable.

I can't take credit for the above reasoning--it all came from our Sunday School teacher, Doug, today. And I'll post his citations below. I can tell you that I believe in the virgin birth with no apology. And as a protestant who was largely steered away from thinking too much about Mary, the mother of Jesus, I have to admit I've become somewhat more enamored with her in the last several years. (I believe her life serves as a shining example, and that she may have been the first Christian.)

I guess what gets me most is that she said "yes" to God's mission, without hesitation, even though it might cost her everything, including her very life. (And that Joseph did, too, for that matter!) I'm also thrilled to see that unlike Zechariah (who questions God), she does not lose her voice when she asks "how can this be?" It tells me that questions are not an affront to my Creator--disbelief and ridicule are. Mary "pondered all these things and treasured them in her heart."

When I really stop to think about the virgin birth account, I think that much of our skepticism comes from a willful decision not to believe. Jehovah God has revealed himself throughout history, and the predictions of the Hebrew Scriptures have been fulfilled in the coming of a Messiah--his birth, his death, and His resurrection.

Not much more to say, except that because of the virgin birth, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, my Christmas will be a merry one, indeed. I hope you can say the same.

1. Craig L. Blomberg, 1997. Jesus and the Gospels, Broadman & Holman: Nashville
2. Craig L. Blomberg, 1992. Matthew, (The New American Commentary), Broadman Press: Nashville
3. Darrel I. Bock, 1996. Luke, Volume 1, 1:1-9:50, (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Moises Silva, Ed.), Baker Books: Grand Rapids
4. Leon Morris, 1992. The Gospel According to Matthew, Eerdmans: Grand Rapids
5. Tom Wright, 2004. Luke for Everyone, Westminster John Knox Press: Louisville

No comments:

Post a Comment