Category Archives: Virgin birth

Celebrations smother the truth of Christmas

(image courtesy paper model kiosk)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

Some of these details were published in my article, Make-believe and celebrations: Christmas message ignored, (Online Opinion, 24 December 2018).

Is this the truth about the origins of Christmas? Adam Gopnik of The New Yorker wrote: ‘Christmas—whether it is observed for religious or seasonal reasons or just for the hell of it—is in its origins and in its imagination and its implications indissolubly syncretist’ (Why wage a war on Christmas? 2018).

Syncretism is ‘the attempted reconciliation or union of different or opposing principles, practices, or parties, as in philosophy or religion’ (dictionary.com 2018. s.v. syncretism). So Gopnik’s view on Christmas origins is that of someone who wants to combine opposing principles or beliefs. Is that where Christmas began? Is it a mixture of beliefs of the pagan gods, Santa and his reindeer, profiteering and the baby in the manger?

It is unlikely that syncretism will get to the core of Christmas origins. It will not be joyous but toxic. O’ Come Let Us Adore Him is not likely to be a prominent theme.

In 2017, objections to Christmas came from a different quarter. The Sunshine Coast Daily in Queensland reported:

A ‘JESUS ban’ in public schools has sparked fury from [Sunshine] Coast MPs, after reports kids swapping Christmas cards, making Christmas tree decorations or bracelets could be censored.

The Australian reported an unofficial policy from the Queensland Department of Education and Training had identified junior evangelism as an issue to be stamped out, following a Departmental review into GodSpace religious instruction materials.

“The notion of trying to take pictures of Jesus out of Christmas cards is ludicrous,” Fairfax MP Ted O’Brien said, fuming at the reported edict.

“What do they think Christmas stands for? Are they going to try and take Christ out of the word Christmas next?

“I don’t think Australians should cop such political correctness. I think it’s ridiculous”….

The department [of Education] “expects schools to take appropriate action if aware that students participating in RI are evangelising to (sic) students who do not” in Queensland public schools.

“This could adversely affect the school’s ability to provide a safe, supportive and inclusive environment,” the report read.

Examples of evangelising reported as being in the review and two other previous reviews included exchanging Christmas cards referring to Jesus’s birth, making Christmas tree decorations and beaded bracelet gifts in order to share the good news about Jesus (Sawyer 2017).

Image result for image Christ in Christmas(image courtesy The Leo House)

In the profiteering and commercialism of Christmas, what is the truth that is missed?

The charade that covers up these truths

Is the biblical Christmas story wrapped in history or myth? To unwrap this, see my article, The Virgin Birth: Fact, Fiction, or Something Else?

In this season, lost is the realisation that Christmas is first of all a celebration of the birth of the Saviour. He is all but forgotten – thoughtlessly smothered in the haste, commotion, partying and flamboyant marketing of this season.

Please don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting that Christmas should be only solemn, sombre, grim religious observances without any cheer. It should be a time of real joy and gladness as exemplified in the Christmas carol with words by Isaac Watts and music by George Frederick Handel:

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

This is not manufactured sentiment and wild revelry that characterises the way the community celebrates Christmas.

This Christmas truth is covered up

What do Santa, reindeer, lights and Christmas trees disguise?

(1) The virgin birth, including its prophetic fulfillment

Even from within the church, former Roman Catholic priest, John Dominic Crossan objected: ‘The stories of Jesus’ birth are religious fiction, or parable, if you prefer…. This does not mean that they have no value, but … they are not to be read as literal history’ (Crossan & Watts 1999:10).

Objections are at the core of the Christmas story. Even Mary was a doubter herself about the virgin conception. The angel Gabriel appeared to a virgin in Nazareth who was pledged to marry Joseph. Gabriel’s message was that Mary was ‘highly favoured. The Lord is with you’. Those words disturbed Mary and she was ‘greatly troubled’ by what the words meant.

The angel told her that she would conceive and give birth to a son to be called Jesus. He will be ‘the Son of the Most High’, given the throne of his father David, and reign over Jacob’s descendants forever. This kingdom will never end (Luke 1).

Then Mary’s fears rose like today’s sceptics. ‘How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’ The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God’ (Luke 1:34-35).

Why is there resistance from Mary down to Dom Crossan in the late twentieth century?

(a) In a materialistic, commercial age dominated by naturalistic explanations, many find it more difficult to believe in a virgin conception than Jesus’ walking on water. Since God is so omnipotent he could speak the heavens and the earth into existence (Gen 1:1), doubt about God’s powerful actions has crept into our society through evolutionary theories. A flow on is resistance to the virgin birth.

(b) No matter one’s worldview, we live in a miraculous world where God’s providence means ‘he causes his sun to shine on evil people and good people. He sends rain on those who do right and those who don’t’ (Matt 5:45 NIRV). It would be sound thinking during this Christmas season to understand the everyday miracles we need to survive, including the air we breathe and the power of gravity. What happens when the rains are not sent by almighty God – for his reasons?

(c) Genuine Bible prophecy is held in low regard. This miraculous event was prophesied in the Old Testament (OT). The history of the Western world turns on this result, the division of BC to AD.

The Christ child’s birth in Bethlehem was prophesied in Micah 5:1-2 that he would be born in Bethlehem, 700 years before his birth. And it happened as predicted.

Yet sceptics respond with this type of question: ‘Where is the evidence that “Messianic prophecies of the OT weren’t manufactured after Jesus birth, life and death by his disciples”?

Paul Williams, British blogger and convert to Islam, posed this question:

There is evidence they [Jesus’ disciples] did [make stuff up] from time to time. Consider Matthew 2 [v.23] for example:

“There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, ‘He will be called a Nazorean.’

There is no such prophecy anywhere in the Bible (in Jimmy Akin, Did Matthew *Invent* A Prophecy About Jesus? 2012, emphasis in original).

It’s important to note How Matt 2:23 cites the OT: ‘… what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled …’ The specific quote is not found in any OT prophet. Was Matthew wrong with this statement?

An answer is found in what Matthew stated. He did not quote a specific prophet but referred to ‘prophets’. It would be fruitless to try to find a particular prophet who stated this about Nazareth when Matthew used the general, ‘prophets’. Geisler & Howe (1992:328) provide evidence of how Jesus fulfilled the righteous requirements of the OT law, which included fulfilling the Nazarite vow.

One fact removes the possibility that Jesus’ disciples read the OT prophecy back into the NT – after the fact. This evidence is in the Dead Sea Scrolls found at Qumran, Israel, on the west bank of the Dead Sea. In 1946-47, Bedouin shepherd boys found every book of the OT except Esther in desert caves. Here is proof that the Messianic prophecies predated the incarnation of Jesus. Copies of Isaiah, Psalm 22, Daniel 9 and other OT prophecies have been dated to 335-100 BC by paleography, scribal and carbon 14 dating – secular methods. This was a significant find because it demonstrated the fulfillment of the prophecies was not manipulated by Jesus’ disciples.

Related image(image courtesy imgurmax.pw)

Isaiah 7:14 prophesied: ‘Therefore the Lord himself will give you [plural] a sign: the virgin [or, young woman] will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel [meaning, ‘God with us’]. This was confirmed – not invented – in Matthew 1:22-23.

You couldn’t believe the academic and other theological gymnastics that surround the meaning of ‘virgin’, with some wanting to translate it as a ‘young woman’ and not inferring virginity. In Isa 7:14, the Hebrew word used is almah whose root meaning could be either ‘maiden’ (virgin) or ‘young woman’.

Here is one example of the resistance to the virgin conception from Bob Seidensticker (2013):

“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (Matt. 1:23).

Matthew documents the fulfillment of a prophecy written 750 years earlier. Powerful evidence of the truth of the Bible?

Well … no. The first reason is the reason by which anyone would reject a claimed prophecy: the evidence of the fulfillment is not independent but comes only through authors (of Matthew and Luke) who one must assume had read the prophecy. They had motive and opportunity to claim a fulfillment where none existed.

But was that quote from Isaiah even a prophecy of a messiah? You’d expect something like, “The LORD God understands the burdens of His people and will send a savior. And ye shall know him by this sign: the virgin will give birth to a son” and so on.

Here’s what that chapter of Isaiah is actually talking about. In the early 700s BCE, Syria and Israel allied with nearby countries for protection against Assyria, the local bully that was vacuuming up smaller states. Judea refused to join the alliance. Syria and Israel, fearing a potential enemy at their rear, moved to conquer Judea.

God spoke through the prophet Isaiah to tell the king of Judea that, with faith, his enemies would be destroyed. Isaiah gives him a sign: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (7:14). Before the boy is old enough to understand right from wrong, Syria and Israel will be destroyed.

In speaking to this opposition to Isa 7:14 being fulfilled in Jesus, Messiah and Emmanuel, it is important to note that OT prophecies mostly have a double fulfillment:

‘Few laws are more important to observe in the interpretation of prophetic Scriptures than the law of double reference. Two events, widely separated as to the time of their fulfillment, may be brought together into the scope of prophecy’ (Pentecost 1958:56).

See the excellent article by David Jeremiah that explains this more fully: ‘The principle of double fulfillment in interpreting Scripture‘.

This is the case with Isa 7:14. The immediate relevance of this verse is spelled out in the context. It dealt with the Lord speaking to King Ahaz. The son born to the young woman,’before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right’, was a sign that the land of the two kings that Ahaz dreaded would be deserted and the Lord would bring prosperity to Ahaz and his people (Isa 7:15ff).

Was this son born to a virgin or young woman?

Old Testament scholar, Gleason Archer (1982:269), stated, ‘It is … not as precise a word for virgin as the Hebrew bethulah’ (see Gen 24:16). However, for the seven times the singular almah is used in the Hebrew OT, the word always refers to a woman who has had no sexual relations – a virgin. We know from the Isa 7:14 fulfillment in Matt 1:24 that Joseph had no sexual liaison with Mary ‘until she had given birth to a son’.

When the Hebrew OT was translated into Greek (the Septuagint) about 250 BC by seventy Jewish scholars, parthenos was used to translate almah, which can only be translated as virgin and not young woman. This also is the case in Matt 1:23 where the Greek for ‘virgin’ is parthenos. The Greeks used numphe for bride or young woman.

Why is the virgin birth important in the records of the first Christmas? Am I nit picking in emphasising Jesus’ virgin birth rather than his birth to a young woman? Not at all! There are at least five reasons why the virgin birth is important to Christianity (suggested by Don Stewart):

https://i0.wp.com/www.whytehouse.com/usa/png10/Flower18.png?w=625  Because Mary ‘was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit’ (Matt 1:18), it guaranteed his heavenly identity of being God the Son.

https://i0.wp.com/www.whytehouse.com/usa/png10/Flower18.png?w=625  Jesus lived a sinless life since there was no sexual liaison between a male and a female for his conception. With a human father, he would have inherited a sinful nature. The sin nature is passed down through the male as it was Adam who was responsible for the first sin of disobedience (Gen 3; Rom 5:12). The virgin birth guarantees that Jesus ‘appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin’ (1 John 3:5). No sinful human being could guarantee cleansing from sin.

https://i0.wp.com/www.whytehouse.com/usa/png10/Flower18.png?w=625  For the cleansing of human sin, God required a perfect sacrifice in the OT (Ex 12:5) and the sinless Jesus, with his crucifixion, was a sin offering for Christian believers (2 Cor 5:21). Hebrews 7:26 confirms that Jesus was a high priest who truly meets our need because he was the ‘one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens’. This was possible because of his virgin birth.

https://i0.wp.com/www.whytehouse.com/usa/png10/Flower18.png?w=625  Christ’s unparalleled attributes are revealed in Scripture. Don Stewart’s summary of this uniqueness is:

What the virgin birth does is show the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. No one else has ever come into the world the same way as Jesus. The unique and miraculous nature of Jesus carried on through His entire life. His birth was a miracle, His public ministry consisted of miracles, Jesus miraculously lived a sinless life, He miraculously came back from the dead, and left this world in a miraculous way. From His entrance into this world until His departure, the life of Jesus Christ was a miracle.

https://i0.wp.com/www.whytehouse.com/usa/png10/Flower18.png?w=625  The historically reliable Bible confirms Jesus’ virgin birth. See my articles: (a) Can you trust the Bible, part 1? (b) Can you trust the Bible, part 2? (c) Can you trustthe Bible, part 3? (d) Can you trust the Bible, part 4?

With commercialised Christmases, these core elements are ignored and replaced.

(2) The meaning of nativity

Nativity is a special name for a baby’s birth place. If I was born in Brisbane, you could say my nativity was in Brisbane. However, it predominately refers to Christians’ pointing to the birth place of Jesus Christ. Nativity ‘comes from the French word nativité, which also means “birth.” The Latin root word is nativus, “born or native“’.

Often Christian nativity scenes include the Christ child in the manger, Mary and Joseph, shepherds, some barn animals, three magi and angels.

Should there have been angels in the first nativity scene? Luke 2:8-9 informs us that the shepherds were out in the fields watching their flocks at night when an angel appeared to announce the Messiah’s arrival. The shepherds ‘were terrified’. So the angels should not appear in a nativity scene.

As a passing comment, to talk about angels appearing today could cause great anguish amongst many because we don’t believe in that such characters. They are made for movies!

To the contrary, the Bible teaches that ‘angels are only servants—spirits sent to care for people who will inherit salvation’ (Heb 1:14). We hear about the dark side of evil angels (demons) today, but discussion of angels is far from our thinking of reality.

The late Billy Graham wrote a book on Angels: God’s Secret Agents. He said angels are real, are not the product of our imagination, and ‘if we had open spiritual eyes we would see not only a world filled with evil spirits and powers—but also powerful angels with drawn swords, set for our defense’.

Corrie ten Boom, who harboured Jews and others in her house’s basement in Holland during the Nazi Holocaust, wrote:

Are there angels here on earth? What do they look like? Do they have any influence on the history of mankind? Do they really have anything to do with the lives of human beings? The Bible writers believed in them and thought they were important because they wrote about them hundreds of times, much more than about evil spirits and Satan. So why do we hear so little about them these days? (God is Still a God of Miracles)

These dimensions of the Christmas story are ignored, by-passed or laughed at when commercialisation crushes Christmas.

(3) The star guided the magi

Image result for image star Bethlehem magi(image courtesy Crystalinks)

Often in nativity scenes, there are three wise men (magi) accompanying the manger, Jesus, Joseph and Mary. The setting is in a stable. Jesus may have been born in such a place but it is as probable that he was born in a house’s lower level where there were animals sheltering for the night.

Luke 2:7 states: ‘She gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn’. It was in the kataluma (Greek word), which is best understood as ‘the guest room’. It was not a commercial lodging for which Luke had a word, pandokheion, which he didn’t use.

Which new mother with her firstborn would want to give birth in a public inn?

Even though the wise men often show up in nativity scenes for Jesus’ birth, the evidence points to the magi visiting Jesus later. It is difficult to create a time line for their visit to Jesus. We know the situation when King Herod found out about the city where the Messiah was born and sent the magi to find him:

Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in that entire region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. (Matt 2:16).

This is an indicator that Jesus was a young child, under 2-years of age, when Herod realised he had been deceived by the magi and then issued this edict to kill all male children in that age group.

Can the star that guided the wise men be identified? While the regular Greek word for ‘star’ was used, the text of Matt 2:1-11 doesn’t name the star. It appeared only to the magi, so it would be reasonable to assume it was no ordinary star because of its purpose of identifying the location of the baby Messiah.

(4) Jesus born to die a sacrificial death

Every human being is born to die: ‘Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment’ (Heb 9:27). What was subdued in emphasis at that first Christmas was what the angel told Joseph, husband of Mary.

An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins (Matt 1:21-22).

However, Jesus of Bethlehem was born to be Jesus, the crucified One, who ‘will save his people from their sins’. This is glossed over at Christmastime. The real meaning of Easter is like a hand in glove event with Christmas.

I met a person recently who said: You Christians always (hyperbole) talk about sin. Please quit it! The reason sin (breaking God’s law) is an issue is because it is what separates all sinners from God. We needed a sinless, perfect sacrifice to bridge the gap between a holy and just God and human beings. Jesus, the baby in the manger, grew to become that sacrifice so that all who believe (trust) in Jesus may receive forgiveness and eternal life.

These are God’s requirements and not those any human being formulated.

(5) The baby was the wonderful counsellor, mighty God, everlasting Father and prince of peace (Isa 9:6).

Related image

(image courtesy flickr.com)

This prophecy from Isaiah has a question that needs answering among the Christmas glitz.

How can the second person of the Trinity, God the Son, be prophesied to be the ‘everlasting Father’? At first sight, it sounds contradictory. How can the Son be the Father?

It is doubtful ‘everlasting Father’ is the best translation of the Hebrew, abiad, which literally means ‘Father of eternity’. The first part of Isa 9:6 stresses the incarnation, ‘For to us a child is born, to us a son is given….’ So ‘Father of eternity’ refers to the ‘Author of eternity’, from the beginning of time/creation to the consummation of all things. ‘This title points to Christ as Creator of the world’ (Archer 1982:268) as indicated by John 1:3, ‘All things came into being through Him….’

(6) The baby who started Christianity and its peaceful spread

Christianity spreads through peaceful proclamation. Any other way is an aberration, e.g. the Crusades, John Calvin’s endorsement of the death penalty for Servetus who was not a Trinitarian, and support of slavery. Christianity is not spread through force or violence.

Even an atheist/agnostic such as scientist, Richard Dawkins, inferred the benefits of Christianity. A Fox News headline was, ‘Atheist Richard Dawkins warns against celebrating the alleged demise of Christianity in Europe’. Why would Dawkins, an anti-Christian, say this?

‘Before we rejoice at the death throes of the relatively benign Christian religion, let’s not forget Hilaire Belloc’s menacing rhyme: ‘Always keep a-hold of nurse – For fear of finding something worse….

Dawkins has previously voiced concern over the decline of the Christian faith, “in so far as Christianity might be a bulwark against something worse,” which he echoed in his tweet’.

Matthew 5:9 blessed are the peacemakers(image courtesy pinterest)

The baby born to the virgin Mary at Bethlehem is the Messiah who is the ‘prince of peace’ and Christianity’s spread worldwide is based on its theology, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God’ (Matt 5:9).

Conclusion

As illustrated above, all kinds of excuses and revelry – whether deliberate or going with the flow – have made the Christmas season one of celebrations while the truth is smothered.

This truth includes the Messiah born to the virgin Mary in Bethlehem, a Saviour who was prophesied by OT prophets.

He was born to die – not a normal death – and shed his blood on a Golgotha cross to provide salvation for the world.

This same Jesus will return triumphantly: ‘For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first’ (1 Thess 4:16 NIV).

Works consulted

Geisler, N & Howe, T 1992. When critics ask: A popular handbook on Bible difficulties. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books.

Pentecost, J D 1958. Things to come. Findlay, Ohio: Dunham Publishing Company.

Sawyer, S 2017. No Christ in Christmas next? School ‘Jesus ban’ sparks fury. Sunshine Coast Daily (online), 27 July. Available at: https://www.sunshinecoastdaily.com.au/news/no-christ-in-christmas-next-school-jesus-ban-spark/3205543/ (Accessed 21 December 2018).

Seidensticker, B 2013. Virgin Birth of Jesus: Fact or Fiction? Patheos: Cross Examined (online), 3 December. Available at: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/2013/12/virgin-birth-of-jesus-fact-or-fiction/ (Accessed 21 December 2018).

Copyright © 2018 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 21 December 2018.

Image result for colored line dividers public domain

Perpetual virginity of Mary promoted by false document

File:Blessed Virgin Mary.jpg

(Blessed Virgin Mary, courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

Did Mary, the mother of Jesus, remain a virgin all of her life?[1] That’s the meaning of the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary as promoted by the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches today, some early church fathers, and some Protestants in the early Reformation period.

A Roman Catholic explanation is:

When Catholics call Mary the “Blessed Virgin,” they mean she remained a virgin throughout her life. When Protestants refer to Mary as “virgin,” they mean she was a virgin only until Jesus’ birth. They believe that she and Joseph later had children whom Scripture refers to as “the brethren of the Lord.” The disagreement arises over biblical verses that use the terms “brethren,” “brother,” and “sister.”
There are about ten instances in the New Testament where “brothers” and “sisters” of the Lord are mentioned (Matt. 12:46; Matt. 13:55; Mark 3:31–34; Mark 6:3; Luke 8:19–20; John 2:12, 7:3, 5, 10; Acts 1:14; 1 Cor. 9:5).[2]

Here is how some Roman Catholics argue:

1. Roman Catholic support for The Protoevangelium of James

A person online wrote:

Are we to ignore The Protoevangelium of James written in 150 AD? I know you will because it doesn’t fit your theory 1900 years later. The Origin of Alexandria’s commentary on Matthew 10:17 written in 249 AD? He is wrong because______________????? I could go on and on throughout history and quote some of the greatest Christian theologians/teachers of the Christian Church to rebut your theory but you have decided you are right and everyone else is wrong.

So, once again, what makes your interpretation right(?) and the historical writings and interpretations of The Protoevangelium of James, Origin of Alexandria, Wycliffe and Calvin (who you love to quote on your website when they agree with your personal doctrine) wrong??[3]

The Protoevangelium of James (The Infancy Gospel of James) is a fake that is in the Pseudepigrapha/Apocrypha. It is a false document attributed to Jesus’ brother, James. Early writers used this tactic to try to gain credibility for what they wrote. And Tom used it to support his unbiblical view of the perpetual virginity of Mary.

Tom has created a straw man argument of my view. I do not support the use of a false document to augment the case for Mary’s perpetual virginity.

2. Some of the early reformers supported perpetual virginity of Mary

Surely it’s a killer blow for the Protestant rejection of the perpetual virginity of Mary for a RC person to isolate the Reformers and their support of the perpetual virginity. This is how one of them did it:

The Reformers on the Perpetual Virginity of Mary:[4]

Martin Luther

It is an article of faith that Mary is Mother of the Lord and still a virgin. … Christ, we believe, came forth from a womb left perfectly intact. (Weimer’s The Works of Luther, English translation by Pelikan, Concordia, St. Louis, v. 11, pp. 319-320; v. 6. p. 510.)

John Calvin

(On the Heretic Helvidius) Helvidius displayed excessive ignorance in concluding that Mary must have had many sons, because Christ’s “brothers” are sometimes mentioned. (Harmony of Matthew, Mark and Luke, sec. 39 [Geneva, 1562], vol. 2 / From Calvin’s Commentaries, translated by William Pringle, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1949, p.215; on Matthew 13:55)

[On Matt 1:25:] The inference he [Helvidius] drew from it was, that Mary remained a virgin no longer than till her first birth, and that afterwards she had other children by her husband . . . No just and well-grounded inference can be drawn from these words . . . as to what took place after the birth of Christ. He is called “first-born”; but it is for the sole purpose of informing us that he was born of a virgin . . . What took place afterwards the historian does not inform us . . . No man will obstinately keep up the argument, except from an extreme fondness for disputation. (Pringle, ibid., vol. I, p. 107)

Under the word “brethren” the Hebrews include all cousins and other relations, whatever may be the degree of affinity. (Pringle, ibid., vol. I, p. 283 / Commentary on John, [7:3])

John Wesley

‘I believe that He [Jesus] was made man, joining the human nature with the divine in one person; being conceived by the singular operation of the Holy Ghost, and born of the blessed Virgin Mary, who, as well after as before she brought Him forth, continued a pure and unspotted virgin’ (‘Letter to a Roman Catholic’, The Works of Rev. John Wesley, vol 10, p. 81).

3. Was it plagiarised information about the Protestant details?

I asked:[5] Did you obtain your information here from https://www.ewtn.com/faith/teachings/maryc2.htm? You seem to have done that. Why don’t you acknowledge your sources?  If you have not read these actual documents to get these quotes and have obtained them from another source you have not acknowledged, then you have plagiarised from that source. If you obtained your citations from this website, it is a global RC television network. It comes with a decided agenda to promote RC theology.

See the article on ‘Theotokos: A Theological Encyclopedia of the Blessed Virgin Mary’ and the assessment of statements by Luther, Martin. The article begins: ‘Luther’s opinions on Our Lady are not wholly consistent, not altogether free from tension. They are abundant and it would be possible to select a series of extracts that would make him look like a Catholic’.

Of course you can find statements from Luther that would make him look like a RCC adherent. After all, that was the system he had left and his theology was in transition. There will be examples of contradiction in this process at various stages of his movement away from the RCC. I know that when I moved from being a cessationist to being a supporter of the charismatic gifts, there were (and could still be) contradictions in my statements. That’s called growth and change.

Pulling out some pro-RCC statements from Luther is a questionable tactic when he was a man in process of transitioning from one theological system to another.

As for John Calvin and John Wycliffe, they should have known better because of the biblical evidence that contradicts their positions. Scripture states that Jesus had siblings. Matt 13:55-56 (NLT) states, ‘Then they scoffed, “He’s just the carpenter’s son, and we know Mary, his mother, and his brothers—James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas.  All his sisters live right here among us. Where did he learn all these things?”’

The perpetual virginity of Mary is a misnomer perpetrated by the RCC.

She was a privileged lady but not in such a prominent position that causes schools in my electorate to be named in this kind of way to exalt her: Our Lady of the Way Catholic Primary School, Petrie, Qld, Australia.

The exalted Mary, mother of Jesus, cannot show the way to eternal life. That’s for Jesus alone (John 3:16 NLT; Acts 4:11 NLT). The Scriptures describe Mary: ‘Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”’ (Luke 1:28 NLT)

4. Logical fallacies and promotion of perpetual virginity

(The Vladimir Eleusa icon of the Ever Virgin Mary. The Aeiparthenos (Ever Virgin) title is widely used in Eastern Orthodox liturgy. Courtesy Wikipedia)

 

Example 1

I wrote: Some of the RCC doctrines that are contrary to biblical Christianity have been exposed over and over. See: https://www.gotquestions.org/Catholic-Biblical.html.[6]

This was one person’s RC reply:[7]

Gotquestions.org is a website run by Protestant,  evangelical, fundamental, and non-denominational people. Of course they are going to be anti-Catholic. It comes with a decided agenda to refute RC theology!!

Why aren’t Protestant beliefs or your beliefs that you promote on your website contrary to biblical Christianity that have been exposed over and over?

Here Tom55 has committed a genetic logical fallacy.[8] His genetic fallacy, a fallacy of reasoning, is based on what Tom sees as a defect in the origin of a claim, i.e. GotQuestions.org is a Protestant, evangelical, fundamental, non-denominational website. What he did in perpetrating this fallacy is:

  1. The origin of a claim about the perpetual virginity of Mary is from a Protestant, evangelical source;
  2. The claim is wrong because of that source.

This sort of reasoning is erroneous because blaming the source does not deal with the evidence for the issue. In the link I gave above it gave the example of, ‘Bill claims that 1+1=2. However, my parents brought me up to believe that 1+1=254, so Bill must be wrong’.

Of course there are examples where the origin of a claim is more relevant to its being true or false when, for example, a reliable expert in a field is more likely to be correct than a person with little expertise. I have had 5 open heart (valve replacement) surgeries. I would trust my cardiac surgeon’s knowledge on the need for a valve replacement than the knowledge of a lay person because of his expertise in these matters.

However, to claim that denial of the perpetual virginity of Mary is wrong because it comes from a Protestant, evangelical site, avoids the issue of the evidence. Tom committed a genetic logical fallacy. We cannot have a rational conversation when Tom does this.

Example 2

It was stated, ‘PS – when a poster starts complaining about the formatting style of his opponent, it usually means that his argument has run OUT of steam’.[9]

My response was: [10] When I complain about your shouting on an internet forum, it has zero to do with conceding defeat but bringing to your attention the need for etiquette when we speak to one another online. This was a red herring logical fallacy that did not deal with the fact that he was using capital letters, bold and enlarged font. He would not agree that he was wrong with his etiquette on a forum.

Example 3

Can you show me one single verse of Scripture that states that Scripture is our final authority??
I can show you verses that make this claim about the Church – but not about Scripture . . .

Matt 16:18-19 – Jesus told Peter that WHATEVER he ordained on earth would also be ordained in Heaven.

Matt. 18:15-18 – Jesus told Apostles that WHATEVER he ordained on earth would also be ordained in Heaven.

2 Thess 2:15 – Paul tells his readers to stand firm in the TRADITIONS they taught – WHETHER by oral statement OR by letter.

Luke 10:16 – Jesus tells hid disciples that whoever listens to THEM or rejects THEM – listens to HIM or rejects HIM and the ONE who sent Him.

Eph. 1:22-23 – Paul refers to the Church the FULLNESS of Christ.

Scripture is the written Word of God and is Authoritative – but NOWHERE does it claim to be our SOLE Authority.[11]

Notice what he continues to do! He screams at me with capitals, bold font and underlining.

Now to his rejection of the sole biblical authority.

Are you so blind[12] that you cannot see that ‘all Scripture’ that comes with the authority of being breathed out by the perfect Lord God who has absolute, sovereign authority of the universe has less authority than the early church fathers and popes?

N T Wright wrote an article, How Can the Bible Be Authoritative?[13] In his conclusion, Wright wrote an excellent summary of scriptural authority:

I have argued that the notion of the ‘authority of scripture’ is a shorthand expression for God’s authority, exercised somehow through scripture; that scripture must be allowed to be itself in exercising its authority, and not be turned into something else which might fit better into what the church, or the world, might have thought its ‘authority’ should look like; that it is therefore the meaning of ‘authority’ itself, not that of scripture, that is the unknown in the equation, and that when this unknown is discovered it challenges head on the various notions and practices of authority endemic in the world and, alas, in the church also.

Seems to me that your push for the authority of the church violates God’s authority that is exercised through Scripture.

See the article, ‘What is sola scriptura?

Example 4

Tom55 wrote on the forum: ‘Once again. You love to quote the Church Fathers on your website when they agree with you but avoid them when they prove you wrong…. How dishonest and sad’.[14]

I couldn’t let him get away with that one:[15] You have responded with a straw man fallacy. It is erroneous reasoning that falsely presents my view!

I use the church fathers when they agree with the Bible. When they invent something opposed to the Bible, as with the Evangelium of James (pseudepigrapha – fake stuff), I expose it. That’s what any sound exegete of Scripture should do. Seems as though you don’t want to venture into that realm of where the church fathers promote doctrines contrary to Scripture, but you reject the church fathers’ views in favour of the RCC’s position…. I have a brain that I use in reasoning. You are misrepresenting me with your erroneous reasoning.

5. What is the origin of perpetual virginity?

First page of the Gospel of Judas (Page 33 of Codex Tchacos)(copy of Apocrypha, courtesy Wikipedia)

 

It is understood[16] that the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary originated with The Protoevangelium of James (dated about AD 150) which also is known as The Infancy Gospel of James. What is the nature of this writing? Is it from the pen of James?

Gregory Elder’s assessment of this document is:

It was almost certainly not written by the James, the “brother” or “kinsman” of Jesus mentioned in the Bible. The earliest reference to the book appears in a third-century document and it was probably written in the middle of the second century A.D.

No Christian church today regards it as scriptural, and it is agreed to be apocryphal. That said, it is relatively early as Christian documents go, and it has some very interesting stuff in it.

The relatively short document is written in Greek, and it apparently was quite interesting to the early church communities, as more than 130 copies of it have survived, suggesting a wide readership for a day when handwriting was the only way to disseminate texts (Professing Faith: The Protoevangelium is noncanonical but influenced Christian beliefs 2014).

Here is a table of some contradictions between The Protoevangelium of James and the Bible (from, Is the Perpetual Virginity of Mary a Biblical View?)

 

Protoevangelium of James The Bible
1 Gabriel is called an archangel (Chapter 9:22), which was a common designation for Gabriel in apocryphal literature written after the first century. (For example, see Revelation of Paul, The Book of John Concerning the Falling Asleep of Mary, and The Apocalypse of the Holy Mother of God.) The Bible never identifies Gabriel as an archangel, but Michael is described as an archangel in Jude 1:9. The idea of Gabriel as an archangel seems to be a misconception that began in the second century.
2 Mary’s response to the angel is different than what is recorded in Scripture. “What! Shall I conceive by the living God, and bring forth as all other women do?” (Chapter 9:12). Luke 1:34 states, “Then Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I do not know a man?’”
3 Elizabeth fled the Bethlehem region with her son John (the Baptist) to the mountains because of Herod’s wrath when he decided to kill all the baby boys around and in Bethlehem (Chapter 16:3). Concerning John the Baptist, Luke 1:80 states, “So the child grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel.” It was Joseph, Mary, and Jesus who fled from Bethlehem because of Herod (Matthew 2:13–15).
4 Jesus was born in a cave outside the city of Bethlehem (Chapters 12:11–14:31). Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the town of David, according to Luke 2:4, 11 and Matthew 2:1.
5 The angel of the Lord, when speaking to Joseph in a dream, said to take Mary but does not mention having her as a wife. The priest chastised Joseph and accused him for taking Mary as a wife secretly by the priest. Joseph takes her home but is reluctant to call her his wife when they go to Bethlehem (Chapters 10:17–18, 11:14, 12:2–3). Matthew 1:19 reveals that Joseph was already Mary’s husband (they were betrothed) before the angel visited him in a dream. Matthew 1:24 points out that after the angel visited Joseph, he kept her as his wife.
6 Mary wrapped Jesus in swaddling cloths and hid him in a manger at the inn to keep him from the massacre by Herod’s men (Chapter 16:2). Mary and Joseph were warned of Herod’s plot by an angel, and they fled to Egypt (Matthew 2:13–14).
7 Wise men came to Bethlehem and inquired of Herod where the Child was born (Chapter 21:1–2). Wise men came to Jerusalem to inquire where the child king was (Matthew 2:1).

 

This comparison should lay to rest any support of the pseudo ‘Infancy Gospel’ of James as a genuine document to be followed in its support of the perpetual virginity of Mary.

The Protoevangelium of James (The Infancy Gospel of James) is a fake that is in the Pseudepigrapha. It is a false document attributed to Jesus’ brother, James. And this RC promoter dares to use it to support his unbiblical view of the perpetual virginity of Mary.

6. Evidence for Jesus’ brothers and sisters

Matthew 13:55-56 (ESV) states,[17] ‘Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?’

Here is the scriptural support for the other children, brothers and sisters, of Jesus. The brothers (adelphoi) are named as James, Joseph, Simon and Judas, but the sisters (adelphe) are not named. The origin of his brothers (whether by Joseph and Mary after Jesus’ birth; step brothers of Jesus, etc), in my view, has not been determined in any definitive way.

Some commentators consider them to be sons and daughters to Joseph and Mary, born later than Jesus’ birth. Others think of these brothers and sisters as from a previous marriage by Joseph. We know from a verse such as Mark 6:3 (ESV) that Jesus is called ‘the son of Mary’, but this verse again states that Jesus is the ‘brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon’.

Norman Geisler & Thomas Howe summarised the biblical evidence in a more than adequate way when they examined MATTHEW 13:55-56. Was Mary a perpetual virgin, or did she have other children after Jesus’ virgin birth?

PROBLEM: Roman Catholicism teaches that Mary was a perpetual virgin, that is, that she never had sexual intercourse, even after Jesus was virgin born. Is it true that when the Bible refers to Jesus’ “brothers and sisters” (Matt. 13:56) it means cousins or close relatives?

SOLUTION: It is true that the words for brother and sister can mean close relative. This must be determined by the context and from other Scriptures. And in the case of Jesus’ brothers and sisters, the context indicates they were his real half brothers and sisters.

First, nowhere does the Bible affirm the doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity. Like the Roman Catholic doctrine of Mary’s sinlessness (see comments on Luke 1:46), there is no statement anywhere in the Bible that supports this teaching.

Second, when “brothers and sisters” are used in connection with father or mother, then it does not mean cousins, but actual blood brothers and sisters (cf. Luke 14:26). Such is the case with Jesus’ brothers and sisters. Matthew 13:55 says, “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary? And His brothers James, Joses, Simon, and Judas?” (cf. Mark 6:3)

Third, there are other references in the Bible to Jesus’ “brothers.” John informs us that “even His brothers did not believe in Him” (John 7:5). And Paul speaks of “James, the Lord’s brother” (Gal. 1:19). On another occasion Mark refers to “His [Jesus’] brothers and His mother” (Mark 3:31). John spoke of “His mother, His brothers, and His disciples” (John 2:12). Luke mentions “Mary the mother of Jesus, with His brothers” being in the Upper Room (Acts 1:14) [Geisler & Howe 1992:346].

I find nothing in Scripture to confirm the perpetual virginity of Mary.

When examining this issue, we need to deal with biblical evidence and not tradition, whether RC or Protestant.

7. Roman Catholic and other commentaries affirming perpetual virginity

One RC person online wrote:

Mary’s perpetual virginity bears witness to the uniqueness and Christ and to the divinity of Christ.

Denying the perpetual virginity of Mary subtly denies the divinity of Christ in the womb.[18]

There is not a word in Scripture that supports such a view. It’s a doctrine invented and perpetrated by the RCC. Even Roman Catholic priest, Fr Angelo Mary Geiger, associates the perpetual virginity of Mary with Jesus’ divinity in this statement:

The essential truth of the Virgin Birth, as taught continually by the Fathers and defined by the Church, does not concern the presence or absence of pain during Jesus’ birth. The central truth of the Virgin Birth is that Christ was born of Mary miraculously, as a sign and confirmation of His divinity (Geiger 2007).

Johannes Quasten wrote: ‘The principal aim of the whole writing [Protoevangelium of James] is to prove the perpetual and inviolate virginity of Mary before, in, and after the birth of Christ’ (Patrology 1:120–121, cited in ‘Mary: Ever Virgin’, Catholic Answers 1996-2017).[19]

St Augustine wrote of Mary: ‘A Virgin conceiving, a Virgin bearing, a Virgin pregnant, a Virgin bringing forth, a Virgin perpetual. Why do you wonder at this, O man?’ (Sermon 186.1).[20]

See the interaction on Catholic Answers, ‘Was Mary a perpetual virgin?’ (February 24, 2016).

Mark Lambert (2012) concluded that

from a modern perspective this doctrine [of Mary’s perpetual virginity] may to many seem fantastic. Without the theology it may seem unnecessary, with an anachronistic perspective it may seem misogynist, with a scientific perspective it might seem impossible. Yet with the information handed down to us from the early Church, we have to ask ourselves why would they make it up? If it wasn’t true, isn’t it just too complicated to make up? And for what purpose? Would it really bother anyone if it wasn’t the case? Logically, it seems that once one can accept the possibility of the virgin birth of Jesus of Nazareth and the necessity of that fact for the reality of the Incarnation, the historical evidence to support the claim is more than adequate (Lambert 2012).

The idea that because early church fathers affirmed Mary’s perpetual virginity, this means that it is true, commits the appeal to tradition logical fallacy.

8. Assessment by a few Protestant commentators

How do these Protestant commentators conclude with the evidence for Jesus’ brothers and sisters? Are they siblings, half-brothers and sisters, cousins, or in some other relation to Mary and Jesus?

8.1   William Hendriksen

He wrote of Matt 1:24-25 about ‘the case against Mary’s perpetual virginity ’ and stated that

a. According to both the Old and the New Testament sexual intercourse for married couples is divinely approved (Gen. 1:28; 9:1; 24:60; Prov. 5:18; Ps. 127:3; 1 Cor. 7:5, 9). Of course, even there, as in all things, self-control should be exercised. Incontinence is definitely condemned (1 Cor. 7:5; Gal. 5:22, 23). But no special sanctity attaches to total abstention or celibacy. b. We are definitely told that Jesus had brothers and sisters, evidently together with him members of one family (Matt. 12:46, 47; Mark 3:31, 32; 6:3; Luke 8:19, 20; John 2:12; 7:2, 5, 10; Acts 1:14). c. Luke 2:7 informs us that Jesus was Mary’s “firstborn” (Hendriksen 1973:144).

Taken together, these three arguments provide ‘the evidence [that] becomes conclusive. The burden of proof rests entirely on those who deny that after Christ’s birth Joseph and Mary entered into all the relationships commonly associated with marriage’ (Hendriksen 1973:145).

An RC response by Fr. Geiger is:

The virginity of Our Lady after the birth of Jesus concerns the fact that Mary never had marital relations with St. Joseph and therefore, of course, conceived no other children. Her whole life was that of consecrated virginity. Most Protestants do not hold this position. They argue that the brethren of the Lord referred to in the Gospel are the other children of Mary. The short answer to this problem is that the brethren in these passages refer to relatives such as cousins, and not siblings born from the same mother (Geiger 2007).

8.2   R C H Lenski

In his commentary on Matthew 12:46, he wrote:

Who “his brothers” are, in the writer’s opinion has not been determined. Modern commentators answer: the sons of Joseph and Mary who were born later than Jesus. But here and elsewhere they act as though they were older than he. Others think of sons of Joseph by a former marriage. In Mark 6:3 Jesus is called “the son of Mary” in a marked way (compare John 19:26) and is kept distinct from the brothers and the sisters. In Acts 1:14 Luke writes: “Mary, the mother of Jesus and his brothers” – not “her sons.” Still others, for instance, the Latin Church since Jerome and older Protestant theologians and some interpreters of our day, think of the sons of Clopas, a brother or a brother-in-law of Joseph. Thus these brothers would be first cousins of Jesus (Lenski 1943/1961:502).

8.3   D A Carson

Commenting on Matthew 12:46-47, he wrote:

The most natural way to understand “brothers” (v. 46) is that the term refers to sons of Mary and Joseph and thus to brothers of Jesus on his mother’s side. To support the dogma of Mary’s perpetual virginity, a notion foreign to the NT and to the earliest church fathers. Roman Catholic scholars have suggested that “brothers” refers either to Joseph’s sons by an earlier marriage or to sons of Mary’s sister, who had the same name…. Certainly “brothers” can have a wider meaning than male relatives (Acts 22;1). Yet it is very doubtful whether such a meaning is valid here for it raises insuperable problems. For instance, if “brothers” refers to Joseph’s sons by an earlier marriage, not Jesus but Joseph’s firstborn would have been legal heir to David’s throne. The second theory – that “brothers” refers to sons of a sister of Mary also named “Mary” – faces the unlikelihood of two sisters having the same name. All things considered, the attempts to extend the meaning of “brothers” in this pericope, despite McHugh’s best efforts, are nothing less than farfetched exegesis in support of a dogma that originated much later than the NT (Carson 1984:299).

While Lenski doesn’t know who the brothers and sisters of Jesus have as parents, Hendriksen and Carson acknowledge them as children of the one family of Joseph and Mary.

None of these commentators supports the perpetual virginity of Mary. The RC opposition would say: Of course you would expect that. They are Protestants who do not respect the tradition of the universal church from the time of Jesus. My response is: Each of these commentators and Geisler and Howe examine the exegetical evidence in Scripture to arrive at their decisions. If the evidence led to perpetual virginity, they would, in all honesty, accept such a view. However, Hendriksen’s statement reaches a profound conclusion that is substantiated by the evidence:

9. There is no perpetual virginity of Mary

Image result for image perpetual virginity public domain(courtesy Creed 101)

 

‘The evidence becomes conclusive. The burden of proof rests entirely on those who deny that after Christ’s birth Joseph and Mary entered into all the relationships commonly associated with marriage’ (Hendriksen 1973:145).

The RCC has not demonstrated that Joseph and Mary did not enter into the marriage relationship and have children after the birth of Jesus.

Mary’s virginity at the time of Jesus’ conception assures us that Jesus was not infected by sin and is uniquely God’s Son. However, it is not related to Mary’s perpetual virginity.

It is a straw man fallacy that the denial of Mary’s perpetual virginity denies Christ’s divinity in the womb. Christ’s divinity is guaranteed by the divine manifestation and confirmation by God himself that Jesus is the unique Son and Messiah. This happened at Jesus’ baptism: ‘Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased”’ (Luke 3:21-22 ESV).

This is God from heaven proclaiming Jesus as his Son and with Jesus, God is ‘well pleased’. Do you remember who declared Jesus’ divinity? It was not linked to Mary’s perpetual virginity.

According to Luke 3:21-22, it is God, out of heaven proclaiming Jesus as His Son, the Son of the Most High God, as Gabriel had said He was, Immanuel, God with us.  And the Father is also proclaiming His perfection saying He is well pleased with everything about Him.

Concerning the birth of Jesus, Matthew 1:22-23 (ESV) states,

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us).

This is a quotation from the prophet Isaiah 7:14 and is fulfilled in Jesus’ virgin birth where he was called Immanuel, which means, ‘God is with us’. Thus, Jesus’ divinity is not related to any perpetual virginity of Mary but to a declaration by God Himself and biblical teaching that Jesus is eternally the Son.

See my articles in defence of the virgin conception and birth:

Flower16 The virgin birth of Christ

Flower16 The Virgin Birth: Fact, Fiction, or Something Else?

Was Jesus God prior to his virgin birth? See the content of the article,

Flower16What is the doctrine of eternal Sonship and is it biblical?’ (Got Questions Ministries).

Flower16 I commend to you the excellent summary of the biblical material in context that does not support Mary’s perpetual virginity, ‘Did Jesus have brothers and sisters (siblings)?’ [Compelling Truth]

10. Works consulted

Carson, D A 1984. Matthew, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol 8, 3-500. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Regency Reference Library (Zondervan Publishing House).

Geiger, F M 2007. The Virgin Birth of Jesus is a dogma of faith, in Michael: A journal of Catholic patriots for the Social Credit monetary reform (online), 01 January. Available at: http://www.michaeljournal.org/articles/roman-catholic-church/item/the-virgin-birth-of-jesus-is-a-dogma-of-faith (Accessed 24 April 2017).

Geisler, N & Howe, T 1992. When critics ask: A popular handbook on Bible difficulties. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books.

Hendriksen, W 1973. New Testament commentary: Exposition of the Gospel according to Matthew. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic.

Lambert, M 2012. The perpetual virginity of Mary. De Omnibus Debitandum Est (blog). Available at: http://marklambert.blogspot.com.au/2012/09/the-perpetual-virginity-of-mary.html (Accessed 27 February 2017).

Lenski, R C H 1943/1961. Commentary on the New Testament: The interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel. Minneapolis MN: The Wartburg Press/Augsburg Publishing House (Hendrickson Publishers, Inc. edn.).


Notes

[1] Much of the information in this article is based on my interaction on the Christian forum, Christianity Board 2016-2017. ‘When did the universal Church first mentioned in 110AD stop being universal?’ (online). Available at: http://www.christianityboard.com/topic/23002-when-did-the-universal-church-first-mentioned-in-110ad-stop-being-universal/page-24 (Accessed 3 February 2017).

[2] ‘Brethren of the Lord’ 1996-2017. Catholic Answers (online). Available at: https://www.catholic.com/tract/brethren-of-the-lord (Accessed 9 April 2017).

[3] ChristianityBoard.com, ‘When did the universal Church first mentioned in 110AD stop being universal?’ (online), Tom55#726.

[4] Ibid., BreadOfLife#707.

[5] Ibid., OzSpen#711.

[6] Ibid., OzSpen#692.

[7] Ibid., tom55#715.

[8] Ibid., OzSpen#722.

[9] Ibid., BreadOfLife#729.

[10] Ibid., OzSpen#730.

[11] Ibid., BreadOfLife#731.

[12] Ibid., OzSpen#733.

[13] NTWrightPage 1991. How can the Bible be authoritative? Vox Evangelica, 21, 7-32. Available at: http://ntwrightpage.com/2016/07/12/how-can-the-bible-be-authoritative/ (Accessed 3 February 2017).

[14] ‘When did the universal Church first mentioned in 110AD stop being universal?’ (online), tom55#744.

[15] Ibid., OzSpen#745, #746.

[16] Ibid., OzSpen#742.

[17] Ibid., OzSpen#724.

[18] Christianity Board 2017. ‘It’s not in the bible … sola scriptura’ (online), Mungo#6. Available at: http://www.christianityboard.com/topic/23615-it-is-not-in-the-biblesola-scripture/ (Accessed 24 April 2017).

[19] Available at: https://www.catholic.com/tract/mary-ever-virgin (Accessed 27 February 2017).

[20] See also: http://www.churchfathers.org/category/mary-and-the-saints/mary-ever-virgin/ (Accessed 27 February 2017).

 

Copyright © 2017 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 24 April 2017.

The virgin birth of Christ [1]

https://i1.wp.com/www.clipartlord.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/nativity-scene3.png?resize=363%2C288

(image courtesy clipartlord.com)

By Spencer D Gear

What does it take to understand and believe in the virgin birth of Christ?  Wayne Grudem’s assessment is: “Certainly such a miracle [as the virgin birth] is not too hard for the God who created the universe and everything in it — anyone who affirms that a virgin birth is ‘impossible’ is just confessing his or own unbelief in the God of the Bible” (1994, p. 532).

Doubters & Believers

Ex-bishop, John Shelby Spong, does not disappoint in affirming Grudem’s prediction:

There was no biologically literal virgin birth, no miraculous overcoming of barrenness in the birth of John the Baptist, no angel Gabriel who appeared to Zechariah or to Mary, no deaf muteness, no angelic chorus that peopled the heavens to announce Jesus’ birth to hillside shepherds, no journey to Bethlehem, no presentation or purification in Jerusalem, and no childhood temple story.  Indeed, in all probability Jesus was born in Nazareth in a very normal way either as the child of Mary and Joseph, or else he was an illegitimate child that Joseph validated by acknowledging him as Joseph’s son.  All that can be stated definitely is that the echoes of the status of illegitimacy appear to be far stronger in the text than the suggestion that Jesus was Mary’s child by Joseph. (1992, pp. 157-158)

This is speculation, a la Spong!  Out of the mind of Spong, produces what Grudem predicted — a confession of Spong’s unbelief in the God of the Bible.  He confirms this when he writes that “no recognized New Testament scholar, Catholic or Protestant, would today seriously defend the historicity of these [birth] narratives [in the Gospels]” (1992, pp. 44-45).  Really?  It’s too bad that Spong doesn’t give an even-handed approach to the historicity of New Testament material and a recognition of scholars outside of his liberal theological persuasion.  Even in Spong’s own generation, today, an eminent scholar and professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary, Dr.Craig Blomberg (1987), has provided verification of The Historical Reliability of the Gospels.

He wouldn’t be given credence by Spong because Blomberg is an evangelical who would be regarded with suspicion.  After all, Blomberg, being a professor at an evangelical seminary, would be one of those “fundamentalist Christians [who] distort the Bible by taking it literally” (Spong, 1992, p. xvi).  Spong regards himself as one of those “liberal Christians [who] distort the Bible by not taking it seriously” (1992, p. xvi).  What an admission of his presuppositions regarding the authority of Scripture!

Blomberg (1987), while acknowledging that his is “a ‘minority report’ among biblical scholars worldwide” (p. 255), endorses  the historical veracity of the Gospels:

The gospels may be accepted as trustworthy accounts of what Jesus did and said.  One cannot hope to prove the accuracy of every detail on purely historical grounds alone; there is simply not enough data available for that.  But as investigation proceeds, the evidence becomes sufficient for one to declare that what can be checked is accurate, so that it is entirely proper to believe that what cannot be checked is probably accurate as well.  Other conclusions, widespread though they are, seem not to stem from even-handed historical analysis but from religious or philosophical prejudice. . .  It has been argued here that the gospels must be subjected to the same type of historical scrutiny given to other writings of antiquity but that they can stand up to such scrutiny admirably.  (1987, pp. 254-255)

In these reliable historical documents, the virgin birth of Christ  is affirmed.  However, the virgin birth comes with questions that need to be asked and reasonable answers given.

J. Gresham Machen did that admirably in the early twentieth century.  “The eternal Son of God, He through whom the universe was made, did not despise the virgin’s womb! What a wonder is there! It is not strange that it has always given offence to the natural man,” [Machen (1930 [1974], p. 394)]  This described the awesome event of God becoming man in the person of Jesus Christ through the virgin conception. The natural man’s questions seem to evoke natural responses from those who do not accept the authoritative claims of the Scripture.

John Dominic Crossan (1994a), of the Jesus Seminar, embarks on his reasoning against the virgin birth:

The prophecy in Isaiah [7:14] says nothing whatsoever about a virginal conception. It speaks in Hebrew of an almah, a virgin just married but not yet pregnant with her first child. In the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures the term almah was translated as parthenos, which in that context meant exactly the same thing — namely a newly married virgin. (p. 17, emphasis in the original)He adds:

I understand the virginal conception of Jesus to be a confessional statement about Jesus’ status and not a biological statement about Mary’s body. It is later faith in Jesus as an adult retrojected mythologically onto Jesus as an infant. . . He is not necessarily the firstborn child of Joseph and Mary. He could just as easily be their youngest. (1994, p. 23) Marcus Borg (1994a), another with a history of association with the Jesus Seminar’s views,  rejects the historical birth details about Jesus:

In the opinion of most mainstream scholars, the stories of [Jesus’] birth and childhood are not historical. . . but [are] symbolic narratives created by the early Christian movements. . . It is highly doubtful that these tell us anything about his birth. (pp. 23-24)Luke Timothy Johnson’s (1996) assessment of  retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong’s view is that “Mary was ‘really’ a teenaged girl who was raped and became pregnant with an illegitimate child. She was then taken under the protection of Joseph” (p. 33).
Johnson (1996) is convinced that “Spong is not so much interested, however, in what ‘really happened’ as he is in freeing Christianity from its dogmatic entanglements, which he more of less identifies with fundamentalism. Spong is hostile to the birth narratives” (p. 33). Spong (1992) wrote:

In time, the virgin birth account will join Adam and Eve and the story of the cosmic ascension as clearly recognized mythological elements in our faith tradition whose purpose was not to describe a literal event but to capture the transcendent dimensions of God in the earthbound words and concepts of first-century human beings (p. 45).Johnson’s (1996) comment is perceptive and pointed: “Having a bishop with opinions like these is a bit like hiring a plumber who wants to ‘rethink pipes'” (p. 33).

Some of the difficulties with Isaiah 7:14

What are the problems with the prophetic passage from Isa. 7:14 that cause so much scholarly angst for translators and commentators?  Matthew 1:22-23 reads: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ –which means, ‘God with us’ ” (NIV). This is a reference to Isaiah 7:14: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (NIV).

The verse from Isaiah is controversial in its interpretation. The main difficulty is seen in two different ways of translating it:

The first way according to the  NRSV is: “Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” The Revised Standard Version, New English Bible, Revised English Bible, Good News Bible and the New Jerusalem Bible also support this kind of translation.
The second view, as with the NIV, reads: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (also supported by the Amplified Bible, King James Version, New American Standard Bible, English Standard Version, the New Living Translation and the New American Bible.)

The supposed conflict in these two different translations is demonstrated: Was this prophesied child, who would be called, “Immanuel,” born to a “young woman” or was she “a virgin”? The difference has considerable implications. If she were a young woman, it does not guarantee that she was a virgin.

The issues include:

1.    The Hebrew word in Isaiah 7:14 that is translated, “young woman” or “virgin” is “almah.” If we are going to defend the virgin birth, we must be honest with this word’s meaning. “Almah” does not actually indicate virginity, but probably means “a young woman of marriageable age.” The Hebrews used the word “bethulah” if they meant “virgin” (Machen, 1930 [1974], p. 288). However, there are some other ramifications.

It is “reasonably clear in its context” in Matthew that “Mary is the virgin; Jesus is her son, Immanuel” (Carson, 1984, p. 77). The problem is exacerbated by the translation of the Hebrew word, “Almah,” in Isa. 7:14. Briefly, the issues include:

Almah is not precisely equivalent to the English word ‘virgin’ (NIV). . , nor is it precisely equivalent to ‘young woman’ . . .   Many prefer the translation ‘young woman of marriageable age.’ Yet most of the few OT occurrences refer to a young woman of marriageable age who is also a virgin.” (Carson  1984, p. 77)

That is generally so, until we meet exceptions such as Prov. 30:19, which reads, “the way of a man with a maiden” (NIV). Here we “cannot be certain the word necessarily means [virgin].” But “it is fair to say that most OT occurrences presuppose that the almah is a virgin” (Carson, 1984, p. 77).

2.    The other Hebrew word, “Bethulah,” that is often translated “virgin … can refer to a married woman” as in Joel 1:8 (Carson, 1984, p. 77).
There is an additional problem. In about 250 B.C., the Hebrews completed the translation of the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek, known as the Septuagint (LXX). The translators, for the Hebrew “almah,” used the Greek word, “parthenos,” which is the one that is used in Matt. 1:23 and Luke 1:27 for Mary the “virgin.” However the LXX translation is about 300 years earlier than the gospel writings. Had the meaning, therefore, changed during these three centuries?

Genesis 34:4 indicates that Dinah is a “parthenos” (LXX). However, the previous verse affirms that she is not a virgin. Why, then, would one want to translate “parthenos” in Matthew and Luke as “virgin” instead of “young woman”? “Virgin” is the preferred translation in the gospels because “the overwhelming majority of the occurrences of “parthenos” in both biblical and profane Greek require the rendering ‘virgin'” (Carson, 1984, p. 78).

Matt. 1:25 makes Mary’s virginity very clear: ” But he [Joseph] had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus” (NIV). This works on the assumption that Mary was a virgin at the time of her marriage to Joseph.

How do we resolve this issue?

We must be honest with the text. The most satisfactory explanation of Isaiah 7:14 seems to be:

1.    We must read Isaiah 7:1-9:7 as a unit. In that context we discover that:

2.    There is a double fulfilment. One is in Isaiah’s day for the tribes of Judah and Ephraim.

The Lord’s wrath and judgment would come against these tribes, inflicted by the Assyrian invasion. God’s foes would be destroyed and there would be salvation for the remnant “and the promise of a glorious hope as the Davidic monarch reigns and brings prosperity to his people (9:1-7; 11:1-16)” (Carson, 1984, p. 79)

3.    The promised Immanuel (Isa. 7:14) would be more than a temporal deliverer. There would be a second fulfilment. He would possess the land (Isa 8:8), defeat all opponents (8:10), appear in Galilee of the Gentiles (9:1)

As a great light to those in the land of the shadow of death (9:2). He is the Child and Son called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” in 9:6, whose government and peace will never end as he reigns on David’s throne forever (9:7)” (Carson. 1984, p. 79).4.   We can conclude that the Immanuel of Isa. 7:14 is a Messianic figure.
Matthew, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, grasped that clearly. He wants to leave no doubt about the nature of Jesus’ conception to the virgin. He adds that Joseph had no sexual intercourse with Mary until after Jesus was born. Matt. 1:25 literally says that he “was not knowing her” until she gave birth to a son. This is an old Jewish way of saying that he did not have sexual intercourse with her after she had given birth. “The ‘until’ clause most naturally means that Mary and Joseph enjoyed normal conjugal relations after Jesus’ birth” (Carson, 1984, p. 81).

We know this because Matt. 12:46 and 13:55 speak of Jesus’ mother and brothers. This is a clear refutation of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity.

Conclusion

The doctrinal importance of the virgin birth is critical because:
1.    “It shows that salvation ultimately must come from the Lord;
2.    “The virgin birth made possible the uniting of full deity and full humanity in one person (John 3:16; Gal. 4:4);
3.    “The virgin birth also makes possible Christ’s true humanity without inherited sin” (Grudem, 1994, pp. 529-530).

And Mary said to the angel,
“How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
And the angel answered her,
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you;
therefore the child to be born will be called holy — the Son of God.”
Luke 1:34-35 (ESV)

Endnotes

1.    This is a very brief edition of this profound subject on the virgin birth of Christ.  A longer treatment is at: “http://spencer.gear.dyndns.org/2011/11/01/the-virgin-birth-fact-fiction-or-something-else/he virgin birth of Christ: Fact, fiction or something else”.

3.    The references below include those for both this brief version and the fuller edition of this article.

References [3]

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Barnett, P. (1997). Jesus and the logic of history. Leicester, England: Apollos (Inter-Varsity Press).

Barnett, P. (1999). Jesus & the rise of early Christianity. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.

Blomberg, C. L. (1987). The historical reliability of the gospels. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press.

Blomberg, C. L. (1995). Where do we start studying Jesus? In M. J. Wilkins & J. P. Moreland (Gen. Eds.), Jesus under fire. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

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Borg, M. (1994b). Portraits of Jesus. In H. Shanks (Ed.), The search for Jesus: Modern scholarship looks at the gospels (p. 87). Washington, D. C.: Biblical Archaeology Review.

Borg, M. J. (1997). The God we never knew: Beyond dogmatic religion to a more authentic contemporary faith. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.

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Carson, D. A. (1984). Matthew. In F. A. Gaebelein (Gen. Ed.), The expositor’s Bible commentary (Vol. 8), (pp. 1-599). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Regency Reference Library (Zondervan Publishing House).

Carson, D. (1991, 1 July). U.S. News & World Report.
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Copan, P. (Ed.) (1998). Will the real Jesus please stand up? A debate between William Lane Craig and John Dominic Crossan. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books.

Crossan, J. D. (1992). The historical Jesus: The life of a mediterranean Jewish peasant. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.

Crossan, J. D. (1994a). Jesus: A revolutionary biography. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.

Crossan, J. D. (1994b). In J. Lyon (1994). Gospel truth: Will Christians accept a revolutionary portrait of Jesus that is based on scholarship, not faith? Chicago Tribune Magazine (17 July 1994).

Crossan, J. D. (1995). Who killed Jesus? Exposing the roots of anti-semitism in the gospel story of the death of Jesus. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.

Downing, F. (1992). Cynics and Christian origins. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.

Elwell, W. A. (Ed.). (1984). Evangelical dictionary of theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House.

Franzen, A. E. (1993, 11 December). Seminar examines Jesus’ words. Milwaukee Sentinel, p. 8A.

Funk, R. (1991). The gospel of Mark (red letter edition). Sonoma, California: Polebridge Press.

Funk, R. W. (1998, July/August). The coming radical reformation. The Fourth R, Vol. 11,4. Retrieved on August 5, 2000 from: http://www.westarinstitute.org/Periodicals/4R_Articles/Funk_Theses/funk_theses.html.

Funk, R. W., Hoover, R.W. and the Jesus Seminar (1993). The five gospels: The search for the authentic words of Jesus. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company (A Polebridge Press Book).

Gay, P. (1966 [1977]). The Enlightenment: An interpretation. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Geisler, N. (1976). Christian apologetics. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House.

Geisler, N. L. & Brooks, R. M. (1990). When skeptics ask. Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books.

Grudem, W. (1994). Systematic theology: An introduction to biblical doctrine. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press.

Hengel, M. (1983). Between Jesus and Paul. London: SCM.

Jenks, G. (1998, December). Biblical tyranny? Letter-to-the-editor, Focus [an Anglican newspaper published in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia].
Jesus Seminar Forum.  Retrieved on May 13, 2000 from: http://religion.rutgers.edu/jseminar/.

Jeyachandran, L. T. (1999). Was Jesus typical or exceptional? Just thinking, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.  Retrieved on July 23, 2000, from http://www.gospelcom.net/rzim/jt/wjtoe.htm.

Johnson, L. T. (1996). The real Jesus: The misguided quest for the historical Jesus and the truth of the traditional gospels. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.

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Klooster, F. (1977). Quests for the historical Jesus. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1977.

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Latourette, K. S. (1975). A history of Christianity: A.D. 1500 – A.D.1975 (vol. 2). New York: Harper & Row, Publishers.

Lyon, J. (1994, July 17)). Gospel truth: Will Christians accept a revolutionary portrait of Jesus that is based on scholarship, not faith? Chicago Tribune Magazine.

Machen, J. G. (1930 [1974]). The virgin birth of Christ. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House.

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Copyright (c) 2007 Spencer D. Gear.  This document last updated at Date: 7 October 2015.

The Virgin Birth: Fact, Fiction, or Something Else?

Nativity Prophecy
christart

By Spencer D Gear

This is a Christmas story with a difference:

IN THE SLIT-EYED WORLD OF A COUNTRY VILLAGE, THE BOY’S MOTHER, MIRIAM conceived him mysteriously. Promised in marriage to Yosef the builder, she found herself pregnant without explanation — she had known no man, not intimately. Steeped in the malice of small town talk, she knew not to tell the story she believed — God’s archangel Gabriel had visited her at the village well one early-spring morning as she lifted her jar to climb back home.

He had looked very much like an actual man, a lot like her elder brother Amos, who had been her favorite but had died in agony with a breathing demon — tuberculosis — when she was nine. The angel had Amos’ startling eyes, a light brown, but his voice plainly said, “I’m Gabriel, from God, to ask if you’ll agree to let him make on you his only son.”
When she hesitated, assuming that this was some evil joke, the voice spoke again: “You’re free to refuse, and I’m free to tell you that should you accept, your life will last much longer than most, and long years of it will feel like no pain other humans know, not even your mother with the demon that ate her breast like bread.”

But before he finished that, she looked well past him the rim of the skyline back of his shoulders — and there was an odd cloud forming itself in the shape of a dark bird rushing toward her. She met the angel’s eyes again, gave an awkward nod and said, “I’m Miriam. Let me be God’s slave.”
So the boy grew up — she called him Yeshu from his full name, Yeshua — in the same narrow town: one narrow lane, two rows of rock houses, sealed with mud and roofed with branches daubed with mud, and each house full of the mouths he could hear saying “Bastard, Miriam’s bastard boy, God’s big baby!’

His mother’s story had leaked out somehow, likely through Yosef, who claimed that he had dreamed it but nonetheless married her, took in Yeshu and made other sons and daughters on her body. All of them grudged the favors their mother gave Yeshu as her eldest child; he was only half their brother.

By the time Yeshu grew to full manhood — the blacksmith in Yosef’s building concern and the best smith in Galilee — he was still called bastard in Nazareth whispers. He had never heard Yosef deny the charge, nor even his mother, who told him only, “They’re not completely right.”  So when he entered his 30th year, still single because he felt polluted, he left town to take baptism from his cousin John in the Jordan River well south of home. The main need licking at Yeshu’s heart was to find the father he had not yet known and never quite would.” [1]

That’s the birth of Jesus according to Time magazine.

I. Introduction

Especially at Christmas time, we are faced with one of the biggest miracles associated with Christ — his virgin conception. This is most often called his virgin birth and that’s the term I will use, but really it was a miracle of conception. The question I will ask and try to answer  is: “Is the virgin birth of Christ, fact, fiction or something else?”

John Dominic Crossan of the Jesus Seminar says:

“When I look a Buddhist friend in the face, I cannot say with integrity: ‘Our story about Jesus’ virginal birth is true and factual. Your story that when the Buddha came out of his mother’s womb, he was walking, talking, teaching, and preaching (which I must admit is even better than our story) — that’s a myth. We have the truth; you have a lie.’ I don’t think that can be said any longer, for our insistence that our faith is fact and that others’ faith is a lie is, I think, a cancer that eats at the heart of Christianity.” [2]In the New Testament we read:
Matthew 1:23, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” –which means, “God with us” (NIV).
Luke 1:26-35:

In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.  The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.  But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.  You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (NIV).

Both Matthew and Luke confirm that Jesus was to be born to Mary, who was a virgin. There is no mention of the virgin birth in Mark and John. The conception was by the power of God and there was no biological father. But can you believe this report? Virgins conceiving without sexual intercourse! Sounds preposterous or at least it like the movies and not reality. [3]

Besides, how could you possibly check to see if this was the truth? “It is very possible that Mary, the mother of Jesus, told people, including Matthew and Luke, about this strange occurrence, but can one accept it as true without simply deciding to believe something unbelievable?” [4]
I don’t have statistics for the Australian clergy and their views of the virgin birth, but I don’t have enough confidence to believe that they are much different from the USA. A poll was conducted of 7,441 Protestant clergy in the U.S. and these were the results of those who do not believe in the virgin birth:

  • American Lutherans 19%
  • American Baptists 34%
  • Episcopalians (Anglicans) 44%
  • Presbyterians 49%
  • Methodists 60% [5]

But “there is a massive gap between the beliefs of mainline and liberal clergy and their congregations. A Harris poll of a randomly selected group of 1,011 adults found that 91% of U.S. Christians believe in the Virgin Birth.” [6]

This is what we are confronted with at Christmas time

II.    To make life interesting, throw in these views of the virgin birth.

A.    The Roman Catholic Church (RCC)

The Roman Catholic version is that “Mary was a virgin at the conception of Jesus and remained a virgin after his birth, and throughout her life the ‘brothers’ were in fact step-brothers fathered by Joseph in a previous marriage.” [7] This is known as the perpetual virginity of Mary.
But the RCC goes further than believing that Mary was always a virgin, by believing in the “immaculate conception.” This is “an article of faith for Roman Catholics. The Mother of God, [as they call her] the Virgin Mary, did not have original sin because of the direct intervention of God.” [8]


B.    The Eastern Orthodox Church

Generally, the Eastern Orthodox version is “that Mary remained a virgin; Jesus’ ‘brothers’ were in fact his cousins.” [9]

C.    The Mormon Church

Two early Mormon leaders said:
    Orson Pratt: “If [Jesus] were begotten by the Holy Ghost, then He would have called him His Father.” [10]
    Brigham Young: “When the Virgin Mary conceived the child Jesus, the Father had begotten him in his own likeness. He was not begotten by the Holy Ghost.” [11]

However, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints seems to be moving away from this doctrine. Pratt and Young “taught that Mary conceived after God engaged in sexual intercourse with her. However, this is no longer widely taught within the church, and is not formal dogma.” [12]

The Pratt and Young versions are easily refuted.  Matthew 1:19-20 states, “Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.  But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.

The Bible is clear. It was the Holy Spirit’s miraculous conception and NOT impregnation organised by God the Father. [13]

D.    The Liberal Churches

“Typically teach that Jesus was the first child of many conceived by Mary and Joseph via sexual intercourse, as any other human [being]. In the Nazareth area this often happened before marriage. A couple lived together in a type of trial marriage until the woman became pregnant or had a child. At that point, they got married.” [14]These are a few modern examples of this Liberal view:

  • John Dominic Crossan (Jesus Seminar):

“The prophecy in Isaiah [7:14] says nothing whatsoever about a virginal conception. It speaks in Hebrew of an almah, a virgin just married but not yet pregnant with her first child. In the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures the term almah was translated as parthenos, which in that context meant exactly the same thing — namely a newly married virgin.” [15]He writes further:

“I understand the virginal conception of Jesus to be a confessional statement about Jesus’ status and not a biological statement about Mary’s body. It is later faith in Jesus as an adult retrojected mythologically onto Jesus as an infant. . .  He is not necessarily the firstborn child of Joseph and Mary. He could just as easily be their youngest. . .” [16]

  • Marcus Borg (again from the Jesus Seminar):

“In the opinion of most mainstream scholars, the stories of [Jesus]] birth and childhood are not historical… but [are] symbolic narratives created by the early Christian movements. . .  It is highly doubtful that [these birth stories about Jesus] [17] tell us anything about his birth.” [18]

  • Ex-Bishop John Shelby Spong of the USA Episcopal (Anglican) Church, Newark, New Jersey, wrote that
    “Mary was ‘really’ a teenaged girl who was raped and became pregnant with an illegitimate child. She was then taken under the protection of Joseph. Spong is not so much interested, however, in what ‘really happened’ as he is in freeing Christianity from its dogmatic entanglements, which he more of less identifies with fundamentalism. Spong is hostile to the birth narratives.” [19]

Spong’s scepticism continues:

“In time, the virgin birth account will join Adam and Eve and the story of the cosmic ascension as clearly recognized mythological elements in our faith tradition whose purpose was not to describe a literal event but to capture the transcendent dimensions of God in the earthbound words and concepts of first-century human beings.” [20]    Luke Johnson responded with precision: “Having a bishop with opinions like these is a bit like hiring a plumber who wants to ‘rethink pipes.'” [21]

III.    What happened after the time of the New Testament?

After the New Testament was completed, what were the views on the virgin birth by the writers of the early Christian church?

A. Some early Christian writers:

We have three very important leaders and writers in the 2nd century who confirm that the virgin birth was the teaching of the early church.

1.    Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, Syria

Ignatius “was martyred no later than A.D. 117, [and] mentions the virgin birth clearly in several passages. He says that it is one of the “mysteries to be shouted aloud.” [22]  In another passage, Ignatius confirms that the “virgin birth forms part of a summary of the chief facts about Christ.” [23]
Ignatius was arguing against some false teachers of the docetists. “The Docetists sought to keep Christ a purely spiritual being, free of any contamination by a material body. This led them to deny the reality of Christ’s material body and to state that only a phantom suffered on the cross.” [24]
To refute these heretics, “it was not necessary to prove the virgin birth of Christ, but only to prove His real birth. ‘Born of a woman’ would have been sufficient. . .  Apparently the opponents themselves accepted the virgin birth as over against an ordinary birth.” [25] But Ignatius still confirmed the virgin birth.

“Ignatius clearly gives the impression that in his day the virgin birth was far beyond the reach of controversy, both in Antioch [Syria] and Asia Minor. . . The testimony of Ignatius, therefore, is unequivocal. At about A.D. 110 belief in the virgin birth was no new thing; it was not a thing that had to be established by argument, but had its roots deep in the life of the Church. . .  Ignatius was no [new Christian], but bishop of the church at Syria Antioch, the mother church of Gentile Christianity. . .  Belief in the virgin birth must have been prevalent long before the close of the first century. [26]        2.    Aristides

He wrote a defence of the faith, dated about A.D. 140 [27] and “regarded the virgin birth as one of the fundamental facts of Christianity.” [28]

               2.    Justin Martyr

Justin wrote about the middle of the 2nd century and considered “the virgin birth as of fundamental importance, and defends it at length against Jewish and pagan objections.” [29]  He gave it as part of a formula for casting out demons. He wrote: “For every demon that is exorcised by the name of this very One, son of God and firstborn of all creation, and born through a virgin and become a man subject to suffering.” [30]
“The other ‘Apostolic Fathers’ [of the church] do not mention the virgin birth” [31] but this is not reason to say that they rejected this fundamental doctrine. These other writers make it clear that the virgin birth was accepted by the church. So why the need to defend it if they were addressing other matters?

    B. The Early Christian Creeds (statements of fundamental beliefs)

               1. The Apostles’ Creed
This was produced in Gaul (France) in the 5th or 6th century, but it dates back to a Roman baptismal confession as early as A.D. 200. [32]  Part of it reads:

“I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ, his only son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried . . .” [33]

    2.    The Nicene Creed

This dates from a church council in the city of Nicea, Asia Minor (Turkey today), that was called to refute the views of a church leader and heretic, Arius, who attacked the Trinity. [34] It reads:

    “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ . . . [who] for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man . . .” [35]

    3.    Council of Chalcedon

It met in Chalcedon, Asia Minor (today’s Turkey) in 451. Is Jesus fully man and fully God? That was the big issue of the day. The Chalcedonian Creed came out of this Council. Part of it reads:

“Our Lord Jesus Christ, perfect in Godhead and perfect in manhood, truly God and truly man, of rational soul and body, of the same substance with us according to the manhood, like us in respects, without sin . . . born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God…” [36]    4.    The Small Catechism of Martin Luther (of about the year 1529) says:

“Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary . . .” [37]

            4.    The Westminster Confession of Faith

This is the doctrinal statement of the Presbyterian and Reformed denominations and was formulated in 1646 in Scotland: [38].  It says: “The Son of God, the second person of the Trinity . . . being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, of her substance.” [39]
    Therefore, we can clearly say that throughout the history of the church, there has been a sustained belief in the virgin birth of Christ. How much more evidence do we need?  But there have always been people who have denied it and tried to explain it away. They are in droves today.

 

IV. How do we respond to objections to the virgin birth?

Many religions have claimed miraculous births in association with their founders. For example, the founder of Taoism (many Chinese are Taoists), the ancient Chinese wise man, Lao-tse, was supposed to have been “born at the age of seventy-two with wrinkled skin and white hair.” The followers of Taoism could not possibly believe that a person as wise as Lao-tse could be born a mere infant. [40]
Could this be the same kind of thing with Jesus? Could some early Christians have invented the story of the virgin birth to endow Jesus with greater glory? [41]

A.    How can we know anything from history is true?

    How do you decide if any document from history is reliable? It doesn’t matter whether you are checking a history book about Captain Cook’s visit to Australia or the New Testament.  Historians use these criteria:

  • How close in time is the document to the event in question?
  • Does the author have a reputation for truthfulness?
  • Is the document internally consistent?
  • Was the author a direct participant in the event in question?
  • Does the document report events that are clearly impossible?
  • Is the document consistent with other documents?
  • Are the events mentioned in the document referred to anywhere else? This is known as multiple attestation.
  • Does the document show evidence of systematic bias?
  • If we have only a copy of the original document, is the copy an accurate reproduction of the original? [42]

Is it possible to know what really happened in the past? It is possible. “The process is not easy; we may not know all of it, nor all the details of it; but we can know some of it, and that is all that is required.” [43]

How does the NT turn out as an historical document? Some people don’t like it when I refer to the Bible as an historical document. “They argue that the New Testament is a piece of religious literature and that, as such, it may not be used as a source of historical information.” [44]

However, if you read the first 4 verses of Luke’s gospel, you will discover that the NT “claims to be a source for historical information.” [45] Luke 1:1-4 reads:

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught. (ESV)

This is not the place to defend the trustworthiness of the Bible, and the NT especially.  However, the NT has been shown to be “remarkably accurate in what it says about the ancient world.” Take Luke as an example. He mentions “thirty-two countries, fifty-four cities, nine islands, and several rulers.” In all of these historical facts, he “never made a mistake.” [46]

Renowned archaeologist, Nelson Glueck, says it boldly:

“As a matter of fact, however, it may be clearly stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted [i.e.. contradicted] a single biblical reference. Scores of archaeological findings have been made which confirm in clear outline or exact detail historical statements in the Bible.” [47]

Staunch defender of the Christian faith, Dr. Norman Geisler, concludes, “There is no reason that the New Testament should not be accepted as a reliable historical document which gives us valuable information about the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth.” [48]

B.    Does the New Testament contain myths?

It cannot be both a reliable historical document and contain myths! Surely that is a reasonable statement!  However, theologian and historian, Burton Mack, claims that the “apocalyptic portrait of Jesus in the Book of Mark” is a myth and “lies behind much of the ills of Western society.” [49]  To him, if it has anything to do with the supernatural second coming of Jesus Christ; it is myth.

Rudolf Bultmann said that if it contained “supernatural, transcendent powers” or “miracle” it was a myth. [50]  Burton Mack hit the nail on the head when he said, “Scholars and miracles don’t mix well.” [51]
So, these writers, by their presuppositions — they are anti the supernatural — turn history into myth. This is their belief before they look at a shred of evidence. They go to the Bible with the view — miracles cannot happen. That’s not fair to the documents by imposing your own view on them.

Bultmann puts it bluntly:

“The conception of the world we call mythological because it is different from the conception of the world which has been formed and developed by science since its inception… Modern science does not believe that the course of nature can be interrupted or, so to speak, perforated, by supernatural powers.” [52]

Bultmann’s famous statement is:

“It is impossible to use electric light and the wireless and to avail ourselves of modern medical and surgical discoveries, and at the same time to believe in the New Testament world of spirits and miracles.” [53]    When you come to the Bible with your own pre-set views (as with Bultmann, the Jesus Seminar fellows, and others), it’s not surprising that you find a Jesus congenial to your views; you can’t allow the Bible to speak for itself. The mythological view is nothing more than the invention of naturalists who want to explain all things naturally and scientifically. The supernatural is OUT.

C. The difficulties with Isaiah 7:14

Matt. 1: 22-23 says, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ –which means, ‘God with us.'”
This verse quotes from Isaiah 7:14, which reads in the NIV, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”

This verse from Isaiah is highly controversial. The main difficulty is seen in two different ways of translating it:

One of these ways:
NRSV: “Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” The RSV, NEB, REB, GNB and the Roman Catholic NJB also support that kind of translation.

The other way of translation is:
NIV: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (also supported by Amplified Bible, KJV, NASB, NLT, ESV, and the Roman Catholic NAB).

Notice the difference between these two translations!  Was this prophesied child, who would be called Immanuel, born to a “young woman” or to “a virgin”? The difference has enormous consequences. If she were a young woman, it does not guarantee that she was a virgin.

Here are some of the issues:
The Hebrew word in Isa. 7:14 that is translated, “young woman” or “virgin” is almah. If we are going to defend the virgin birth, we must be honest with what is going on here. We must admit up-front that almah “does not actually indicate virginity, ” but means “a young woman of marriageable age.” The Hebrews used the word bethulah if they meant “virgin.”[54] Or, did they?

It is “reasonably clear in its context” in Matthew that “Mary is the virgin; Jesus is her son, Immanuel.” [55] The problem comes with the translation of the Hebrew word, almah. Briefly, here are the issues:

1.    “Almah is not precisely equivalent to the English word ‘virgin’ (NIV), nor is it precisely equivalent to ‘young woman’… Many prefer the translation ‘young woman of marriageable age.’ Yet most of the few OT occurrences refer to a young woman of marriageable age who is also a virgin.” [56]

That is until we get to Prov. 30:19, which reads, “the way of a man with a maiden” (NIV). Here we “cannot be certain the word necessarily means [virgin].” [57]  But “it is fair to say that most OT occurrences presuppose that the almah is a virgin.” [58]

2.     There’s another Hebrew word, bethulah, that is often translated “virgin,” but in Joel 1:8 it “can refer to a married woman.” [59]

3. There’s an additional problem. In about 250 B.C., the Hebrews finished translating the the OT into Greek. This is known as the Septuagint (LXX). They translated almah with the Greek word, parthenos, which is the word that is used in Matt. 1:23 and Luke 1:27 for Mary the “virgin.”

However, “Genesis 34:4 refers to Dinah as a parthenos even though the previous verse makes it clear she is no longer a virgin.” [60]  Therefore, some even want to translate parthenos in Matthew and Luke as “young woman” instead of virgin. “This will not do [because] the overwhelming majority of the occurrences of parthenos in both biblical and [secular] [61] Greek require the rendering ‘virgin.'” [62]

Matt. 1:25 makes Mary’s virginity very clear. It reads: ” But he [Joseph] had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.”

How do we resolve this issue? We must be honest with the text. I find this to be the most satisfactory explanation of Isaiah 7:14:

  • We must read Isaiah 7:1-9:7 as a unit. In that context we discover that:
  • There is a double fulfilment: One in Isaiah’s day for the tribes of Judah and Ephraim. There would be the Lord’s wrath and judgment against these tribes executed by the Assyrian invasion. God’s foes would be destroyed and there would be salvation for the remnant “and the promise of a glorious hope as the Davidic monarch reigns and brings prosperity to his people (9:1-7; 11:1-16).” [63]
  • But the promised Immanuel (7:14) would be more than a temporal deliverer. There would be a second fulfilment. He would possess the land (8:8), defeat all opponents (8:10), appear in Galilee of the Gentiles (9:1)
  • “As a great light to those in the land of the shadow of death (9:2). He is the Child and Son called ‘Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace’ in 9:6, whose government and peace will never end as he reigns on David’s throne forever (9:7).” [64]
  • We can conclude that the Immanuel of Isa. 7:14 is a Messianic figure.

Matthew, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, grasped that very clearly. Matthew wants to make Jesus’ conception to the virgin very clear. He adds that Joseph had no sexual intercourse with Mary until after Jesus was born. Matt. 1:25 literally says that he “was not knowing her [65] until she gave birth to a Son.” This is an old Jewish way of saying that he did not have sexual intercourse with her until when? Until after she had given birth. “The ‘until’ clause most naturally means that Mary and Joseph enjoyed normal [sexual] [66] relations after Jesus’ birth” [67]
We know this because Matt. 12:46 and 13:55 speak of Jesus’ mother and brothers. This is a clear refutation of the Roman Catholic doctrine of Mary’s “perpetual virginity.”

    How do we respond to the Roman Catholic views?
Was Mary always a virgin?  As I’ve just explained, the Bible clearly answers: Mary and Joseph had children after Jesus’ birth. Therefore, Mary was not a virgin perpetually.
As for Mary having no original sin, we must note these facts:

  • Mary was a very human woman;
  • She was a virgin at the time she gave birth to Jesus Christ;
  • The angel said to Mary, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you. . .  Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.” (Luke 1:28, 30 NIV). She was a favoured woman, chosen by God for a special task, but she was still a woman with human frailties.
  • There is not a shred of evidence that Mary was sinless. All of us are born in sin — with original sin from Adam. So was Mary.
  • I cannot find the teaching on “immaculate conception” anywhere in the Bible.

V. So, did the virgin birth happen?

There are two hypotheses: [68]

  • The virgin birth happened; OR
  • The virgin birth did not happen.

    That’s profound, isn’t it?
If the virgin birth did not happen:

  • That makes Matthew and Luke (or the sources they used to write their gospels), people who invented the story. They were liars.
  • What would motivate them to lie? There is no plausible motivation.
  • Matthew’s and Luke’s sources would have been God-fearing Jews who would have seen themselves as a continuation from the Old Testament.
  • Would such people have made up the virgin birth? No! That would have been blasphemous. They had plenty of miraculous birth stories in the OT (e.g. birth of Isaac to Abraham and Sarah), but they always involved a biological father.
  • The idea of making up a virgin conception would have been the farthest thing from their minds. It did not fit Jewish thinking in the first century A.D.
  • There were pagan parallels like Zeus who “seduced a maiden and fathered a son by her.” Some who oppose the virgin birth claim that the Gospel writers borrowed the idea of a virgin birth from these pagan myths. This is crazy thinking because:
  • First, the early Christians wanted nothing to do with paganism. They wanted to show themselves very different from the pagans. They would not want to be identified in any way.
  • Second, there were no actual pagan virgin birth stories. The pagans told of gods who “seduced women and had offspring. The women may have been virgins before intercourse, but they most certainly were not virgins afterwards. The miraculous thing about the New Testament virgin birth story is that Mary was a virgin both before and after conception. This story could not be copied from pagan parallels because it is not found in any pagan accounts.” [69]

This points to a serious problem in the hypothesis that the virgin birth did not happen:

  • Matthew and Luke would have lied;
  • No godly Jew would have invented it;
  • The pagans would not have invented it as they had nothing close to a virgin conception.

Therefore, the most likely explanation is (wait for it!) that there was a virgin birth as reported in the Gospels. But this hypothesis is only acceptable if we are convinced of three things:

  • There is an almighty God;
  • Miracles are possible;
  • And historical sources (like the Gospels) are sources of truth. [70]

VI. What’s the big deal about the virgin birth?

I must make it very clear.  Any teaching that does not include the virgin birth in its doctrine of Christ, is missing a critical fact of Jesus’ life.

  • HOWEVER, HOWEVER — nowhere does it say that you must believe in the virgin birth to be saved. I know of young children who have been genuinely saved as small children. My wife, Desley, became a Christian when she was about 8 years of age. She tells me that “she probably did not know what a virgin was.”  If a young child becomes a Christian, there is every possibility that that child has no idea what a virgin is.
  • BUT, it seems to me that any growing Christian who is reading the Word of God and growing in the knowledge of the Lord, will surely conclude that the virgin birth is the clear teaching of the Bible. To deny the virgin birth, is to deny what God has declared and
  • “The uniqueness of Jesus’ birth was a ‘sign’ that he was not only a human son, but the long-awaited God-sent Messiah on a special mission.” [71]

What a miraculous, moral statement this was about Christ’s special holiness. He was fully human, born of a woman. But “Jesus had no fallen human father.” From his conception, he “was set apart from sinners for the redemption of sinners.” [72]  He was sinless.

Anybody else born through the natural processes of sexual intercourse between a male and a female, since the fall of Adam and Eve into sin, is born a sinner (see I John 1:8-10). I John 3:5 says this of Jesus, “You know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin” (NIV).  “At the beginning of his human existence Jesus’ supernatural conception draws attention to his supernatural sinlessness.” [73]

If you are to be honest before God, it is critical that your beliefs about Jesus and life in general are true. Your questions also need to have satisfying answers.

VII. Conclusion

There are significant implications for us at Christmastime if we accept or reject the virgin birth. For modern people, these are not academic issues. Put it this way: “If [Jesus] is not who the Bible declares him to be, then we are simply fooling ourselves if we hold to traditional, [biblical] beliefs” [as I do]. [74]
If we cannot believe that Jesus was born to the Virgin Mary, without sexual intercourse, how can we believe lots of other things about Jesus?

  • Was he really God, the Messiah?
  • Can we believe that he died for our salvation on the cross?
  • What about his miracles?
  • Can you believe anything about Jesus from the Gospels?
  • If this Bible cannot be trusted, we are in deep trouble. You might as well quit your faith now;.
  • It should not be surprising to us that the authority of the Scriptures is under attack today — both inside and outside the church.

If the devil can convince people that the Bible is full of lies or myths, his bondage of these people continues. Don’t be surprised when the Bible is attacked. This has been the devil’s strategy throughout history. He’s doing it today through people like Crossan, Spong, Robert Funk and clan. There is solid evidence to refute them and uphold orthodox Christianity (see “Can you trust the Bible?“).

If Spong, members of the Jesus Seminar, and other theological liberals treated the history of Julius Caesar, Napoleon, or Captain Cook (who discovered Australia in 1770) like they treat Jesus, genuine historians would laugh at them. And we must do the same.

Let’s note three important points:

1.    The four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were written by “an apostle or [by somebody who] directly represented an apostle.” [75] We are dealing with writers who were eyewitnesses of Jesus life and ministry, or by those who represented eyewitnesses.

That sounds fine with Matthew and John who were Christ’s disciples. But what about Mark?  Papias, bishop of Hierapolis (in Roman Asia), in the first part of the 2nd. century, described the writing of Mark’s gospel this way: “Mark was Peter’s ‘interpreter’ in the sense that he wrote a Gospel based on what he had heard Peter teach regarding ‘the things said and done by the Lord.'” [76], [77]
Papias said that this was “based on information he received from John the Elder.” [78] This was probably John the apostle, but it could be a later John. [79] So we can safely say that Mark’s gospel “is authored by John Mark under the guidance of the Apostle Peter.” [80]  There is evidence that Peter and Mark had a close relationship (see Acts 12:12; 1 Peter 5:13). [81].

But what about Luke? He wasn’t an apostle.

Of all the Gospel writers, it is “Luke alone” who partially tells us “his method of research and the nature of his research materials.” [82] Let’s look at the first four verses of Luke ch. 1:

“Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught” (NIV).

This introduction has similar characteristics to secular Greek writers of the day.  The most striking parallel is with the famous Jewish/Roman historian, Josephus. [See Appendix A for the example by Josephus.]
Note some quick points about this introduction by Luke:

  • Though Luke was not a companion of Jesus [in fact, he was a companion of the Apostle Paul as we see from the Book of Acts], he tells us that he had been provided with documents that had been:
    • “handed down to us,” by whom?
    • “Those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.”

The grammar that Luke uses indicates that these “eyewitnesses and ministers of the word” were “one group. Initially they were ‘eyewitnesses’ of the historical Jesus, then they were ‘ministers of the word.'” [83]

  • The Greek is clear that these “eyewitnesses and ministers of the word ” are one and the same with the “many [who] have taken to draw up an account of the things. . .” [84]

Also note that these “account[s]” have not been delivered by word of mouth (oral tradition), but have been written down. The word for “an account” is “used for written history in the Hellenistic [Greek] period.” [85]

  • Also, Luke has “carefully investigated everything” and has written an “orderly account.” [86]

Therefore, we can safely say that the gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were dealing with writers who were eyewitnesses of Jesus life and ministry, or by those who represented eyewitnesses. [87]

The Bible does not provide ONE account of these events of Jesus’ life, but FOUR accounts that agree in the main facts.

2.    Read the New Testament and then read the secular and Jewish historians of the first and second centuries. Guess what? The NT evidence agrees with the secular historians. I’m talking of Roman historians such as Josephus, Tacitus and Suetonius. [88]

Remember Norm Geisler’s estimation of the New Testament after examining the evidence? “There is no reason that the New Testament should not be accepted as a reliable historical document which gives us valuable information about the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth.” [89]

3. Let’s be very practical about the implications if we do NOT believe and accept the virgin birth.

  • This modern world is in deep trouble.

In my many years as a counsellor and counselling manager, I saw  rebellious youth in their droves who were wrecking families, ransacking houses, shooting up on drugs, sexually molesting and raping others, jumping into bed with just about anybody – out of control.  Look at the suffering in Kosovo, Chechnya, the Middle East; the horrible persecution of Christians in the Sudan, China, Vietnam & Cambodia; and other disasters around the world.  Surely what happened on September 11, 2001 in the USA epitomises the mess we are in as cultures.

There is much suffering and disintegration in families in Australia. Governments are assaulting the biblical principles on which our land was founded.  The state Governments legalisation of prostitution is just another example. The legislating of defacto relationships, easy divorce, slaughtering 100,000 unborn children by abortion every year, killing the elderly and others through euthanasia, the crisis of youth suicide, etc., etc.
This world is without hope and bankrupt.

  • If the virgin birth is not true, the Bible is false.

Should we accept the Jesus Seminar’s version of Jesus as “simply a wise teacher, a religious sage, a pious spinner of tales and proverbs, a revolutionary figure, a Jewish peasant and Cynic preacher, or a spirit-person”? [90]

But that kind of Jesus can’t offer genuine hope to a degraded world like Australia today. More than that, what hope is there if Jesus is an historical myth?  He’s no more powerful than Peter Pan.

  • We need a reason for living today.

We must have a purpose for life. Jesus said, according to John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (NIV).

This is the Jesus who brings light out of darkness. He is the one who forgives ALL of your sin if you will come to him for such. Millions have done so down through the centuries. If you want moral guidelines for life, Jesus will give them to you.

I have found that serving Jesus is very demanding (with lots of persecution from the intolerance of tolerance). But to reject him, brings a shockingly higher price.

What I am saying is that all that Jesus offered in the world of the first century, is available to you and me today.  But you can only begin that life by repenting of your sin, trusting Christ alone as your Saviour and Lord. He can offer such magnificent salvation because he was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life and died on the cross as a substitute for your sins. [91]
When I read this Christmas passage from the first chapter of Luke, I am provoked to consider the amazing grace and favour of God. Why did the angel Gabriel go to Mary, the virgin, living in a back-water town like Nazareth? It can only be put down to the grace of God.[92]

Why would God make a promise to the Israelites who had turned their back on God, time and again? I read in Judges 13:1, just prior to the birth of Samson, “Again the Israelites did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, so the Lord handed them over to the Philistines, who kept them in subjection for forty years” (NLT).

Why would God waste his time with such wasters (an Aussie expression for those who waste the valuable moments of life on frivolous pursuits)?
The only thing that I can conclude from the Scriptures is the reason why God even bothers to deal with you and me — his  grace towards sinners.
“What caused Mary to accept as truth the unbelievable message which the angel brought? Again we come back to the grace that God had given her?” [93]

It is so easy for the Christmas season to become no more than ho-hum for us. We are drowned with commercialism and all of the fake stuff like Santa, red-nosed reindeers, the tinsel, trees and flashing lights. This is not the real meaning of Christmas.

Anytime, but especially at Christmastime, we need to be reminded that it was God’s love and grace that moved him to send Jesus into the world, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born to the Virgin Mary. There is no point in the baby in the manger without the Christ on the cross.

Prominent church leader of the 5th century, St. Augustine, put it simply but profoundly: “If [people] [94] had not sinned, Christ would not have come.” [95]

Praise God from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him all creatures here below;
Praise Him above ye heavenly hosts;
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

Appendix A: Another explanation of Isaiah 7:14

Matthew 1:22-23 reads: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ –which means, ‘God with us.’ ” (NIV).  This verse quotes from Isaiah 7:14, which reads in the NIV, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”  This verse is highly controversial. The main difficulty is seen in two different ways of translating it:

One of these ways:

NRSV: “Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” The RSV, NEB, REB, GNB and the Roman Catholic NJB also support that kind of translation.

The other way of translation is:

NIV: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (also supported by Amplified Bible, KJV, NASB, NLT, ESV, and the Roman Catholic NAB).

Notice the difference between these two translations? Was this prophesied child, who would be called Immanuel, born to a “young woman” or was she “a virgin”? The difference is enormous. If she were a young woman, it does not guarantee that she was a virgin.

Here are the issues:

  • The Hebrew word in Isa. 7:14 that is translated, “young woman” or “virgin” is almah. If we are going to defend the virgin birth, you must be honest with what is going on here. We must admit up-front that almah “does not actually indicate virginity, ” but means “a young woman of marriageable age.” The Hebrews used the word bethulah if they meant “virgin.” [96]
  • So, some well-meaning Christians explain it this way: “When a group of [Jewish] rabbis translated this verse into Greek in what is known as the Septuagint Version of the Hebrew Scriptures (about 285 BC), they used a Greek word that can only mean ‘virgin.’ Likewise, when Matthew quoted this verse in his Gospel (Matthew 1:23) and applied it to Jesus, he used the same Greek word that can only be translated ‘virgin.'” [97] That word is the Greek, parthenos. If Matthew wanted to use the Greek word for “young woman” he could have chosen the feminine of neos (as in Titus 2:4), which reads: “Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women (neas) to love their husbands and children.”

Matthew could have used that word, but he didn’t.  Instead, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he chose parthenos, which definitely means “virgin” in the NT.

  • But here’s another problem: In several other places in the OT, the Septuagint translated other Hebrew words besides almah by using the Greek, parthenos. [98] In other words, these words that simply mean “young woman” or “maiden” are translated by parthenos. For the Septuagint, parthenos didn’t necessarily translate a word that is meant to mean “virgin” exclusively.

For example, Gen. 24: 43, [99] reads in the NIV: “See, I am standing beside this spring; if a maiden comes out to draw water and I say to her, ‘Please let me drink a little water from your jar.'” Isaac was NOT looking for a virgin, he was wanting a young woman, a maiden, to draw some water for him. But the Septuagint translates with the Greek, parthenos. So, parthenos can be translated to mean “young woman” or “virgin.”

Where does that leave us? From my examination of the evidence, I believe J. Gresham Machen is correct when the says that, in the OT, we are left to conclude this:

    “The Septuagint is inclined to use the Greek word for ‘virgin’ in a rather loose way, or in places where no special emphasis upon virginity appears. The word, therefore, might well have crept into the translation of [Isa. 7:14] without any special cause, or certainly without influence from any Jewish doctrine of a virgin birth of the Messiah.” [100]

Machen published one of the finest studies in defence of the virgin birth in 1930. It has not been successfully refuted, to my knowledge. He concluded that “there is not the slightest direct evidence” in Judaism prior to Christ and after the OT was written, that supports the Jewish “expectation of a virgin birth of the Messiah.” [101]

So, does that mean that Jesus was NOT virgin born? Not at all. But you can’t support it by appealing to Isaiah 7:14 only, if you want to be honest with the text of Isaiah. To interpret any verse in the Bible, we must look at the verses and chapters that surround a given verse. We call this the context. And too often we Christians are weak in looking at the context.
If we do that to Isaiah 7:14, what do we find? The child born to this “young woman” was someone more than an ordinary person.

  • He was to be a “sign” (v. 14);
  • Some want to interpret this passage to mean that the child is either the son of the prophet Isaiah or the son of Ahaz, king of Judah. Something more is meant by Immanuel “than a child of the prophet or of Ahaz [the king] or of any ordinary young woman of that time.” [102]

“Immanuel” means “God with us.” The “Immanuel” of chapters 7 & 8 of Isaiah, the “child” of Isaiah 9; and the “branch” of Isaiah 11 are surely referring to a person — a mighty, divine person. In fact, Isaiah 9:6, calls him, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” and “the government will be on his shoulders” (NIV). [103]
We can minimise the “young woman” and say she isn’t a virgin, based on Isa. 7:14, but you cannot wipe away the almighty God, Immanuel. When you take these chapters together, any objection that wants to make this “son” of the young woman look anything like an ordinary human being, must be thrown out. When you take Isaiah chapters 7-11 together, you have a magnificent description of a divine person who would be born to a young woman. The one who would be the “Mighty God.”

This harmonises wonderfully with the virgin birth of Matthew 1 and Luke 1.

Even though an examination of Isaiah 7:14 alone comes to the conclusion that this was referring to the “young woman,” that is not the end of the story.  Matt. 1:23 gives the knock-out blow. This woman was indeed the parthenos. In Matthew and throughout the NT, this word always refers to a virgin. In Matthew 1, it refers to Mary the virgin who gave birth to Jesus, supernaturally conceived by the activity of the Holy Spirit.

Appendix C

See William Hendriksen, The Gospel of Luke (New Testament Commentary). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1978, p. 53, for a comparison of Luke 1:1-4 with the prologue of the work of Josephus, Against Apion (in Antiquities).

See also I. Howard Marshall, The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1978, 39.

Endnotes

1. “Jesus of Nazareth Then and Now,” Reynolds Price, Time, December 6, 1999, 58-59. This is the feature story in the issue, the cover title being, “Jesus at 2000: Novelist REYNOLDS PRICE offers a new Gospel based on archaeology and the Bible.”
2. John Dominic Crossan’s “Opening Address” in the debate with William Lane Craig, “Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?” in Paul Copan (ed.), Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1998, 39.
3. Based on Winfried Corduan, Reasonable Faith: Basic Christian Apologetics. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993, 217.
4. Ibid.
5. Jeffrey Hadden, results of a survey of 7,441 Protestant ministers published in PrayerNet Newsletter, November 13, 1998, 1, cited in Current Thoughts & Trends, March 1999, 19, from B. A. Robinson, www.religioustolerance.org/virgin_b.htm, retrieved on November 28, 999, 6.
6. Patrick Campbell, The Mythical Jesus, 41, in Robinson, 6.
7. Robinson, 1.
8. T. J. German, “Immaculate Conception,” in Walter A. Elwell (ed.), Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1984, 550.
9. Robinson, 1.
10. Orson Pratt, The Seer. Washington, D. C.: no publisher named, 1853-54, 159.
11. Journal of Discourses. London: Latter-day Saints’ Book Depot, 1854-56, 1:50-51.
12. Robinson, 1.
13. I was alerted to these quotes by Pratt and Young and the general refutation of the Mormon view by Ron Rhodes & Marian Bodine, Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Mormons. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 285-287.
14. Robinson, 1.
15. John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994, 17.
16. Ibid., 23.
17. The original said, “They.”
18. Marcus J. Borg, Meeting Jesus AGAIN for the First Time. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994, 23-24.
19. In Luke Timothy Johnson, The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996, 33.
20. J. S. Spong, Born of a Woman: A Bishop Rethinks the Birth of Jesus. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992, 45, in Robinson, 6.
21. Luke Timothy Johnson, 33.
22. Ignatius, Ephesians, xviii.2 — xix.1: For our God, Jesus Christ, was conceived in the womb by Mary, according to a dispensation, of the seed of David but also of the Holy Ghost… And hidden from the prince of this world were the virginity of Mary and her child-bearing and likewise also the death of the Lord — three mysteries to be cried aloud — the which were wrought in the silence of God” [Derived from Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers, Revised Texts with short Introductions and English Translations, 1907, in Machen, note 16, 6. In Ignatius, Smyrna 1:1-2, he speaks of the Son of God as “truly born of a virgin…” (in Lightfoot, quoted by J. Gresham Machen, The Virgin Birth of Christ. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1930 (copyright Harper & Row, Publishers, Incorporated; Baker Book House, 4th printing, 1974), note 16, 6.
23. Ignatius, Symrna, 1:1-2, in Machen note 17, 6.
24. Earl E. Cairns, Christianity Through the Centuries: A History of the Christian Church. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981, 74.
25. Machen, 7.
26. The original said, “neophyte.”
27. “The date cannot be fixed with certainty, but the work bears marks of antiquity,” (Machen, 6, note 13). Aristides, “The Apology, except for a fragment, was unknown until 1889, when a Syriac translation was discovered by J. Rendel Harris. Soon after, J. Armitage Robinson discovered that a Greek text had been preserved within the romance of Barlaam and Josaphat. For the reconstruction of the Apology and comprehensive discussions of Aristides, see especially Harris and Robinson, “The Apology of Aristides,” second edition, in Texts and Studies, I, I, second edition, 1893″ (Machen, note 12, 6. Machen gives references for where the Aristides details can be obtained.)
28. Machen, 6. Machen says that “the virgin birth is found in all three recensions — Armenian, Syriac and Greek. Without doubt it had a place in the original text” (Machen, note 14, 6).
29. Ibid., 5.
30. Justin Martyr, Dialogue, 85 (Goodspeed, Die altesten Apologeten, 1914, p. 197), in Machen, note 11, 5.
31. Machen, 7.
32. Ibid., 3. Machen says the older form of the Roman confession says simply, “Born of the Holy Ghost and the virgin Mary,” instead of “conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary.” Machen says that the “oldest form of all” may be “born of [or ‘through’] Mary the virgin,” but this is a question of “minor importance for the present discussion [on the virgin birth]” (footnote 3, Machen, 3).
33. Mather & Nichols, Dictionary of Cults, Sects, Religions and the Occult. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1993, 331-332, in Robinson, 2.
34. See Cairns, 133-135
35. Mather & Nichols, 331-332, in Robinson 2. The Athanasian Creed is thought to date to the fifth or sixth century in Gaul (France), but its date, author and place of origin are not sure [Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of Christianity (Vol. 1, Beginnings to 1500, Revised Edition). New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1975, 208. The Athanasian Creed says: “We believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man; God of the substance of the father, begotten before the worlds; and man of the substance of his mother, born in the world” (Mather & Nichols, 331-332, in Robinson 2.)
36. Latourette, 171.
37. Mather & Nichols, 331-332, in Robinson, 2.
38. “Completed in November 1646, it was “setting forth the Reformed system of theology and church government.” It had “extensive use in Presbyterian churches both in Great Britain and America” (Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of Christianity (Vol. II: Reformation to the Present, Revised Edition). New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1975, 821).
39. William Cunningham, Historical Theology (Vol. 1). Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1862, reprinted 1969, 311.
40. Corduan, 217-8.
41. Suggested by ibid., 218.
42. These bullet points are direct quotes from ibid., 174-175.
43. Ibid., 179.
44. Ibid., 185.
45. Ibid.
46. Norman Geisler and Ron Brooks, When Skeptics Ask: A Handbook on Christian Evidences. Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books, 1990, 103. These four points are based on ibid., 103.
47. Nelson Glueck, Rivers in the Desert. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Cudahy, 1959, 136, in ibid., 179.
48. Ibid., 103.
49. Gregory A. Boyd, Cynic, Sage or Son of God? Wheaton, Illinois: A Bridgepoint Book (Victor Books), 1995, 10.
50. R. Bultmann, “Is Exegesis without Presuppositions Possible?” in S. M. Ogden (ed. and trans.), Existence and Faith: Shorter Writings of Rudolf Bultmann. Cleveland: Meridian; New York: World, 1966, 291-92, in Boyd, 42.
51. B. Mack, A Myth of Innocence: Mark and Christian Origins. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988, 208, in Boyd, 224.
52. R. Bultmann, Jesus Christ and Mythology. New York: Scribner’s, 1958, 15, in Boyd, 42.
53. R. Bultmann, “New Testament and Mythology,” in H.W. Bartsch (ed.) and R.H. Fuller (trans.), Kerygma and Myth (Vol. 1). London: SPCK, 1964, 5, in Boyd, 301, n. 88.
54. Machen, 288.
55. D. A. Carson, “Matthew,” in Frank A. Gaebelein (Gen. Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Vol. 8). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Regency Reference Library (Zondervan Publishing House), 1984, 77.
56. Ibid.
57. Ibid.
58. Ibid.
59. Ibid.
60. Ibid., 78.
61. The word used in Carson was “profane.”
62. Carson, 78.
63. Ibid., 79
64. Ibid., 79.
65. NASB margin.
66. Carson used the word, “conjugal.”
67. Carson, 81.
68. The following line of argument is based on Corduan, 218-220.
69. Ibid., 219.
70. Ibid., 219-220.
71. Gordon R. Lewis and Bruce A. Demarest, Integrative Theology (Vol. 2). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990, 273.
72. Ibid.
73. Ibid.
74. Michael J. Wilkins and J. P. Moreland (gen. eds.), Jesus Under Fire. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995, 11.
75. Corduan, Reasonable Faith, 238. In arriving at the total of books in the New Testament that were considered authoritative, Corduan claims that during the debates within the church to determine the New Testament canon, “the most important question was about authorship. . . Was the book written by someone who was an apostle or directly represented an apostle? If so, it could be included; if not, it would be rejected” (ibid.).
76. Paul Barnett, Jesus & the Rise of Early Christianity: A History of New Testament Times. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1999, 305.
77. Papias described the writing of the Second Gospel:

“Mark became Peter’s interpreter [hermeneutes] and wrote accurately all that he remembered, not, indeed, in order, of the things said and done by the Lord. For he had not heard the Lord, nor had he followed him, but later on, as I said, followed Peter, who used to give teaching as necessity demanded, but not making, as it were, an arrangement of the Lord’s oracles, so that Mark did nothing wrong in thus writing down single points as he remembered them. For to one thing he gave attention, to leave nothing out of what he had heard and to make no false statement in them” [Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.3.4. We are indebted to early church historian, Eusebius, History of the Church, for Papias’s words, in Paul Barnett, ibid., 304-305].

 78. Barnett, ibid., 304.
79. Paul Barnett says that, “According to Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5.33.4, Papias was ‘a hearer of John,’ by which he must mean John the apostle. However, Eusebius HE [History of the Church] 3.39.12, who is our immediate source for Papias’s words, attributes his information not to John the apostle but to a later disciple, John the Elder. Note, though, that Irenaeus was a century and a half closer to these events than Eusebius was” [Barnett, ibid., n18, 325].
80. Boyd, 233. For further references, see Boyd, ibid., n15, 364.
81. Barnett describes it as “a surrogate father-son relationship” (Barnett, 379).
82. Robert L. Thomas and F. David Farnell, The Jesus Crisis. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1998, 271.
83. Barnett, 378. “Ministry of the Word is equivalent to the witness and message about Jesus.” This is seen in Luke 1:2, where “eyewitnesses from the beginning” and “servants of the Word” (NIV) are “not two different functions. They are inwardly related. Because these men were eye-witnesses they had an essential qualification for the ministry of the Word, namely, acquaintance with the pragmata, with the facts concerning Jesus Christ, about whom the Word is the witness and message” [Gerhard Kittel (ed.), Geoffrey W. Bromiley (trans. & ed.), Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Vol. IV). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967, 115]. Literally, the Greek of Luke 1:2 reads: “As delivered to us the [ones] from [the] beginning eyewitnesses and attendants becoming of the Word” [The Zondervan Parallel New Testament in Greek and English. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Bible Publishers, 1975, 163].
84. Barnett, ibid.
85. Ibid.
86. Barnett says that this means that this is “a single consolidated version made up of narratives that may have been abbreviated or in some way incomplete” (ibid.).
87. Who were Luke’s sources? He doesn’t say, but Barnett supports Luke and the hypothetical Q document as sources [ibid., 379].
88. Geisler & Brooks, 202-204.
89. Ibid., 103.
90. Wilkins and Moreland, 231.
91. Some of the above ideas suggested by ibid., 231-232.
92. The following observations about the grace of God are paraphrased from Wayne Dobratz, Sermon Outline on Luke 1:26-38, “The Making of a Miracle,” from Clergy/Leaders’ Mail-list No. 964 (brief), clergy@pastornet.net.au, 18 December 1999, 2.
93. Ibid.
94. He used the term, “Man.”
95. In Dobratz, 1.
96. Machen, 288.
97. Dr. David R. Reagan, “The Virgin Birth: Its Essentiality to the Faith,” www.lamblion.com/Web09-20.htm (retrieved on November 28, 1999), 2.
98. Machen, 297.
99. Joseph Henry Thayer, The Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, first Zondervan printing 1962, 489.
100. Machen, 297.
101. Ibid. He wrote:

“It must be remembered that such a doctrine [of the virgin birth] is entirely without attestation elsewhere. To find merely in the Septuagint translation of almah by ‘virgin,’ a translation that appears in another passage where there is no suspicion of any doctrinal significance, and that is paralleled by the occasional use of the same Greek word to translate a simple Hebrew word for young woman, is surely venturesome in the extreme. There is not the slightest direct evidence, therefore, in support of the view that there was in the pre-Christian Judaism of the time subsequent to the Old Testament any expectation of a virgin birth of the Messiah” (p. 297).

102. Ibid., 291.
103. Based on ibid., 292.

To God be the glory!

 

Copyright (c) 2007 Spencer D. Gear.  This document last updated at Date: 7 October 2015.