By Spencer D Gear PhD
On Christmas Eve 2020, a Christian friend sent me an email in which he asked:
Have you ever wondered if Paul even knew about Jesus’ virgin conception? He never mentions it. Interesting! I wonder if I went back in time to that era and proposed to Paul that Jesus must have had a special conception event, because he did not carry the sin nature which we are all cursed with – whether Paul would have thought about it and agreed with the proposition?
1. Dangerous Appeal to Silence
This is an interesting and provocative question from my friend that is worthy of consideration for those who have a high view of Scripture, as I do. Did Paul know about the virgin conception?
It is perilous to reason from silence. It’s a logical fallacy and so is erroneous reasoning:
This logical fallacy essentially takes an appeal to authority and flips it around. The appeal to authority says that because an authority A says x, then x must be true; the argument from silence says that because an authority A didn’t say x, then x must be false. In effect, the silence of the authority regarding some particular claim is taken as evidence against the claim itself.
The problem with the Appeal to Silence fallacy is that it appeals to silence to defend a case. Instead, we should examine the evidence. Even though no virgin birth is quoted in Paul, he did quote from the Gospel of Luke, which he regarded as Scripture, and that Gospel included the virgin birth (see 1 Tim 5:17-18; Luke 1:26-38 ERV).
First Timothy 5:17-18 in the ERV states:
The elders who lead the church in a good way should receive double honor—in particular, those who do the work of counseling and teaching. As the Scriptures say, “When a work animal is being used to separate grain, don’t keep it from eating the grain” [Deut 25:4] And the Scriptures also say, “A worker should be given his pay” [Luke 10:7].
2. Paul regarded Luke 10:7 as Scripture.
It is good for us to remember Luke was a contemporary with Paul and was present in Rome at the end of Paul’s life where Paul wrote, “Luke is the only one still with me” (2 Tim 4:11). In Acts 28:16, it is stated, “When we came to Rome, Paul was allowed to live alone. But a soldier stayed with him to guard him.” Who are the “we”? Acts 16:10 seems to identify “we” as the writer of the Book of Acts, Luke. The NET Bible footnote comment for this verse was: “This marks the beginning of one of the “we” sections in Acts (16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:1-28:16). These have been traditionally understood to mean that the author was in the company of Paul for this part of the journey.”
Paul quoted two passages as “scripture”, one from the Old Testament and one in the New Testament. “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing” refers to Deuteronomy 25:4, and “The laborer is worthy of his wages” refers to Luke 10:7. It’s clear that Luke’s Gospel was already common knowledge and accepted as scripture by the time this letter was written.”
Because of Paul’s association with Luke, if Paul disagreed with Luke’s view of the virgin conception in Luke 1:26-38, I would have expected Paul (an eminent defender of the faith) to expose Luke’s fraudulent teaching. I can’t come to that conclusion, based on the evidence. It’s only by inference.
Steven Lewis gives the absence of the virgin birth in Paul’s epistles as an example of the Appeal to Silence Fallacy:
Paul never mentions the virgin birth of Jesus in his epistles, and thus some conclude that Paul must not have known about or believed in the virgin birth and that this must have been a later invention. But why would we expect Paul to mention this specific detail? Was the virgin birth so relevant to Paul’s message that it would have been ridiculous for him not to include it? This would be a difficult case to make! It is much more likely that Paul knew a great deal about Jesus that he did not include in his letters, possibly including knowledge of the virgin birth.
It is good for us to remember there is no record in the Gospels of the specific destruction of the Jerusalem temple in AD 70. There is no siege of Jerusalem either. I don’t find anything about the deaths of Paul, Peter or James. Did they happen or do I have to rely on external sources? Again, I won’t commit the logical fallacy of arguing from silence.
3. Do not interpret a Bible verse in isolation
In my understanding of hermeneutics (biblical interpretation), it is dangerous to interpret a verse in isolation from the rest of Scripture.
Copyright © 2020 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 25 December 2020.