The Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ: All or Nothing
- “The answer to that question would explain history for me.” – Atheist Larry King on his show’s 25th anniversary (June 5, 2010), on whether Jesus was virgin born.
The importance of the virgin birth can hardly be overestimated; it has been a universally held belief of the Christian Church for 2,000 years, and for excellent reasons.
Nevertheless, many unbelievers, critics, liberal theologians, and skeptics of all stripes have assailed it as a theological invention or religious fable. For example, because of the personal will to disbelieve or an unjustified anti-supernatural bias, a belief in the virgin birth is often held to exist in the same genre as pagan myths; such a belief probably began with the second century Platonic philosopher Celsus. One of the most popular approaches attempts to show alleged parallels between the biblical virgin birth and claimed divine birth stories in the ancient pagan world (or of dying and rising “savior” gods). However, as several scholars have demonstrated conclusively, the relationship is at best superficial – the biblical account is too distinct to have a common origin with paganism. For example, in the ancient pagan stories, the impregnation is always physical, and this includes even modern religions like Mormonism.
Controversial liberal bishop and author John Shelby Spong’s Born of a Woman: a Bishop Rethinks the Virgin Birth and the Treatment of Women by a Male-Dominated Church is one example in this skeptical genre. Ironically it’s as good an example of myth-making as one can find. Other notable examples include Jane Schaberg’s, The Illegitimacy of Jesus (which Spong relies upon) and the book by Uta Ranke-Heinemann and Peter Heinegg, Putting Away Childish Things: The Virgin Birth, the Empty Tomb, and Other Fairy Tales You Don’t Need to Believe to Have a Living Faith.
It is likely that the virgin birth has been subject to such attack and ridicule because of its unparalleled importance to the Christian faith, being of no less significance than the physical resurrection of Christ himself from the dead. In contrast to the claim of the last book title above, without the virgin birth, Christians do not have a living faith; they do not have any faith at all. Why?
If Jesus Christ was not virgin born, then by definition he was produced by normal human procreation. If so, this makes him a normal human being just like every other person. The implications of this for all of Christology and biblical theology are devastating. If Christ was not virgin born, then he was not sinless, but a sinner like all other humans. If he were a sinner, he would require salvation from sin. If he was a sinner, he could not be God incarnate. If he was not God incarnate, he could not be the atoning Savior for sin. If he was not the atoning Savior for sin, we are still in our sins and the whole edifice of Christian theology crumbles. If we are still our sins, we are without hope.
The apostle Paul makes the same argument for the physical resurrection of Christ from the dead: “and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.” (1 Corinthians 15:17).
Without the virgin birth, there can be no doctrine of justification – no being declared righteous by God on the basis of grace through faith alone in Christ alone. If the sinless Lamb of God has not died for sin, there can be no forgiveness of sin, let alone a declaration of Christ’s righteousness to the believer. Without the virgin birth, logically, there can be no doctrine of the incarnation, propitiation, atonement, regeneration, calling, conversion, adoption, union with Christ, reconciliation, etc.
Messianic prophecy itself suffers a fatal blow because the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 cannot be fulfilled and therefore Jesus Christ was not the Messiah. Indeed, all prophecy relating to the incarnation, atonement, and related subjects would then be false (Genesis 3:15, Isaiah 53, Psalm 22, etc.) In addition, Jesus’ role as the ultimate Priest, Prophet, and King is destroyed. The doctrine of biblical inspiration and inerrancy also falls. In denying the virgin birth, so much of the Bible becomes mistaken that it cannot possibly be the divinely inspired, inerrant word of God.
In other words, if we deny the virgin birth, Christianity must be false. However, among all the known religions that have ever existed, only Christianity can logically and evidentially be considered a genuine revelation from God. Christianity is the only religion in the world with solid evidence to back up its claims. Almost every other religion is accepted based on subjective claims or upon blind faith contrary to fact. Even the relatively few religions that appeal to history such as Islam and Mormonism are often disproved by history.
To illustrate, I have a PhD in comparative religion; my master’s thesis was on Nichiren Buddhism/Buddhism and my PhD dissertation on Hinduism. In addition, I have written an encyclopedia on over 60 new religions, three texts on Islam, and have Masters degrees in both apologetics and biblical studies. I have spent the last 40 years studying religion of one kind or another. I can state categorically that only biblical Christianity is absolutely true. Further, in terms of uniqueness and magnificence, there is no one even remotely approaching Jesus Christ and never will be. Anyone who wishes can prove this simply and personally by an attentive reading of the Gospels. I know factually that Christianity alone is fully true and that if Christianity is not true, there is no absolute religious truth anywhere. Period.
If Christianity is false, philosophical agnosticism and practical atheism become true by definition. In sum, if we deny the virgin birth, agnosticism and atheism are all that’s logically left to us. The great reformer Martin Luther was correct when he said that in the end there are only two religions in the world: the religion of works and the religion of grace. Likewise, when all is said and done here, it’s either the incarnation or agnosticism and atheism.
- On the historicity of the Gospels see e.g., F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?; Craig Blomberg, The Historic Reliability of the Gospels; Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: the Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony, Mark D. Roberts, Can We Trust the Gospels?: Investigating the Reliability of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
- The Platonic philosopher and noted Christian critic Celsus (circa 178 A.D.) acknowledged Christian belief in the virgin birth although attributing it to what he believed were similar mythic stories in other religions; Origin (Contra Celsus) responded colorfully that Celsus wrote more like a buffoon than a philosopher.
- Among these are J.M. Robertson’s Pagan Christs, Kersey Graves’ The World’s Sixteen Crucified Saviors or Christianity Before Christ, and Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth and The Masks of God.
- For example, Dr. Ronald H. Nash, Christianity & the Hellenistic World. For a brief critique see John Ankerberg, John Weldon, Handbook of Biblical Evidences. Also see, “Alleged Similarities between Jesus and Pagan Deities,” The Divine Evidence.com; http://thedevineevidence.com/jesus_similarities.html.
- This is true even in modern Mormonism. Modern Mormonism, which is also pagan, believes that the physical Earth god “Elohim” (“The Father”) had physical sex with the Virgin Mary in order to produce Jesus Christ. For example, former Mormon and leading authority on Mormonism Sandra Tanner comments: “While Mormon leaders assert that they believe in the virgin birth they have changed the definition. The LDS Church teaches that God the Father has a physical, tangible, resurrected body and that God literally sired Jesus in the same physical sense that any other man begets a child. Consequently “the virgin birth” is redefined to mean Mary had intercourse with a god, not a mortal, in order to literally conceive the baby Jesus.” She proceeds to cite nine standard Mormon authorities in evidence. For example, Mormon doctrinal theologian and apostle Bruce McConkie taught that: “God the Father is a perfected, glorified, holy Man, an immortal Personage. And Christ was born into the world as the literal Son of this Holy Being; he was born in the same personal, real, and literal sense that any mortal son is born to a mortal father. There is nothing figurative about his paternity; he was begotten, conceived and born in the normal and natural course of events, for he is the Son of God, and that designation means what it says.” (Mormon Doctrine, by Bruce McConkie, p. 742) Sandra Tanner, “LDS Leaders Define Their Concept of JESUS CHRIST,” Utah Lighthouse Ministry; http://www.utlm.org/onlineresources/ldsleadersconceptofjesus.htm. Emphasis original.) For additional documentation and the pagan nature of Mormonism see the website of former Mormons Jerald and Sandra Tanner, Utah Lighthouse Ministry (utlm.org) or John Ankerberg, John Weldon, What Do Mormons Really Believe?, Chapter 3.
- Spong speculates that Mary may have been raped and engages in much invention, not to mention a priori argumentation. “Is there any possibility that the narratives of our Lord’s birth are historical? Of course not. Even to raise that question is to betray an ignorance about birth narratives.” (p. 59, emphasis added) A few days prior to his untimely death, the late expert on cults and new religions, Walter Martin, debated Bishop Spong on the John Ankerberg Show, and that tape can still be ordered. For a critique of Spong’s overall theology and worldview, see Michael Bott and Jonathan Sarfati, “What’s Wrong with Bishop Spong,” Creation.com; http://creation.com/whats-wrong-with-bishop-spong.
- Since a being that was both undiminished deity and full humanity in one person was required to both satisfy infinite holiness and adequately represent true humanity.
- Given the chronological restraints on the appearance of the Messiah cited by the prophet Daniel in chapter 9.
- For example, see attorney Craig A. Parton’s critique of non-Christian religion, Religion on Trial and the noted scholar Dr. John Warwick Montgomery’s Tractatus Logico-Theologicus (fourth edition) modeled structurally on Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus which, point by point, logically shows biblical Christianity as “the only ultimately verifiable and satisfying solution” to religious truth claims. (p. 8) His writing spanned some 35 years.
- For example, Timothy Keller, The Reason for God; CS Lewis, Mere Christianity; Lee Strobel, The Case for Faith: A Journalist Investigates the Toughest Objections to Christianity; http://apologetics315.blogspot.com/; http://www.classicapologetics.com/about.html; http://historicalapologetics.org/collection/
- (Of course, they are disproved by other information as well.) I am unaware of any non-Christian religion that is historically verified as true. Religions with numerous historical errors of fact cannot logically comprise a divine revelation from a God who is infinitely righteous and truthful, a God who does not lie (Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18) and is incapable of error. On Islam see the information at JAshow.org and below; on Mormonism see the information at Utah Lighthouse Mission, http://utlm.org.On Islam, for example, consider first that the Bible and its history are proven true on the basis of the objective evidence for its divine inspiration (such as genuine messianic and other prophecy); Jesus physical resurrection from the dead proving the truth of his authority and thus his view of the Old Testament as the inerrant word of God (John 17:17, cf. John Wenham, Christ and the Bible; Norman Geisler (editor) Inerrancy); archaeological findings which typically corroborate (and never disprove) the biblical text, often when a given text was once thought to be in error; scientific and medical prevision, etc. In many places the Quran, written at least 500 years after the New Testament, has borrowed from the biblical text (Old Testament and Gospels) but has significantly changed the history. For example, it claims that Jesus never died nor was crucified on the cross (Sura 4:15) and that Abraham was a Muslim, not a Jew (Sura 3:67). Because the Bible is proven true historically as a divine revelation and yet the Quran contradicts it at many places, the Quran cannot rationally be considered a divine revelation unless God contradicts himself – which is logically impossible for an infinite being who is rational. (See: “Historical Errors of the Qur’an”; AnsweringIslam.org; http://answering-islam.org/BehindVeil/btv7.html; Also: “Historical and Reality Errors in the Koran,” Light Shines in the Darkness.com