Book Plunge: The Virgin Birth of Christ

What do I think of Richard Shenk’s book on the virgin birth (Which I do affirm) published by Paternoster books? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Readers of my work and friends of mine know that one of my favorite subjects to refer to is the virgin birth and about my constant statement about affirming the virgin birth, which I do affirm. I figured it was about time I did a podcast on the topic and that I called in someone who would do that. A quick search on Amazon led me to this book by Richard Shenk.

The virgin birth, as Shenk points out, is often a shibboleth of sorts. It’s a test. It’s where the battle lines are drawn. For Christians, the virgin birth is a sort of test of orthodoxy. Once that one falls, so many other pillars will just start falling. For atheists and non-Christian skeptics, it’s a test of incredulity. The virgin birth is obviously something stupid to believe.

That last part is, of course, ridiculous. I often like to ask skeptics about this who claim we know so much better in the age of science, at what point in history did men and women realize there was a connection between sex and babies? Believe it or not, we knew it pretty early on in our history. Joseph was not a biologist and we know a whole lot more about pregnancy than they did back then, but he knew enough to know what it took to make a baby and he knew he hadn’t done that.

Shenk says that this is one of the first great gifts of the virgin birth. It blows right through naturalism if true. It shows that God has acted in the world in a unique miracle.

Yet there’s more. We want to know why a virgin birth took place. For many of the church fathers, there were two reasons. One is to avoid Jesus being born of concupiscence. Many of you might not be familiar with that word. Fortunately, he tells us what it is. On p. 33, he refers to an evil concupiscence as the fulfilling of evil desires. For some in the early church, sex was purely for procreation. To use sex for other reasons was to give heed to evil desires.

We can’t have Jesus come that way, but such a view does not find a home in the Scriptures. How can you have such a view when Paul says in 1 Cor. 7 that married couples ought not to abstain from sex for a time except for prayer and by mutual consent and even then for a short time only. Nothing at all says, “Come together and have sex only when you want children.” Sex is presented as a great good throughout the Bible to be enjoyed by husband and wife.

Well, maybe it’s to avoid original sin. Still, there’s nothing in the Scriptures that really demonstrates that sin passes down through a paternal line. It’s an interesting theory, but Shenk doesn’t think it holds up.

Yet there’s also another problem with Jesus’s birth. What about the sin of Jeconiah? He was said that he would be childless and his descendants would not rule? I personally think this applied to only his immediate descendants and that we see a reversal in Haggai 2 when Zerubbabel is given the signet ring to show ruling again, but Shenk works with this to argue a virgin birth helps bypass that. It’s a long theory and best explained by reading the book. There’s also a theory that God chose this route to hide from the devil who the seed would be in Genesis 3:15. I’m not convinced, but it is interesting.

Shenk says one real purpose of the virgin birth is to show that Jesus is fully God and fully man. If Mary had not known a man and gave birth, then this is showing that this is no ordinary child. This child can truly be said to be conceived of the Holy Spirit.

Shenk also compares old creation and new creation at this point. In Genesis 1, the Holy Spirit hovered over the waters preparing for God to act in the world. In the birth of Jesus, the Holy Spirit overshadows Mary preparing for the new birth of the Messiah in her.

Many church fathers and Catholics see the relation between Eve and Mary as well. This is a reversal in that Mary succeeds where Eve fails. The information on 2 Timothy 2:11-15 is quite fascinating at this point and worth considering for those who read it. Basically, Shenk thinks that Paul is seeing Mary as redeeming the mistake of Eve and thus restoring honor to the women.

There’s also the honor of adoption. Joseph is an adopted father of Jesus in the text and this is the method used by God to get Jesus into the royal lineage. Adoption is something that we should be concerned about in an age of abortion.

And finally, there is also our virgin birth. Oh not that we will be physically conceived without the help of a man and a woman together, but that we will be conceived spiritually not that way, but by a new birth in Christ. Christ gives us a new birth without the aid of our parents at all, though of course parents can help, but they are not essential to a child becoming a Christian. The virgin birth reminds us that a birth from above is given to all of us in Christ.

This book will give you a newfound appreciation of the virgin birth. It is also a relatively short book. There is a slight section on perpetual virginity, but aside from that even most Catholics and Orthodox I think could appreciate it.

And of course, I affirm the virgin birth.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Joseph The Skeptic

What kind of man was Joseph? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Last time we wrote about the virgin birth of Mary. Tonight, we’re going to be looking at Joseph. We said that the virgin birth would have only brought shame to Christianity. Now for the days of Mary and Joseph, a betrothal like they had was legally binding and it would require a divorce to get out of it. So Joseph hears from his wife-to-be that she is pregnant and that it is by the Holy Spirit. As we know from the text, his response was to say “Praise the Lord!” and take her in immediately excited that he gets to be the earthly father of the Messiah and the Son of God!

That doesn’t sound right does it?

No. Joseph’s response was that he was going to divorce Mary in private. He did not want to publicly humiliate her, which does show his nature very well. Joseph is an honorable man and he does not want to lower the honor of Mary any more than necessary. We can often think that God specifically chose Mary to be the mother of Jesus, but let us always keep in mind that Joseph would have been just as much chosen to be the earthly father.

Now why did Joseph have this desire to divorce her privately? It is because despite what people think, Joseph was a rational man and he knew even in this age where everyone was obviously ignorant of science, exactly what it took to make a baby and he knew that he had not done that with Mary. If he had not done that with Mary, for some strange reason, he did not punt immediately to a miracle. Instead, he just figured there had been some other man. We do not know if he believed it was a rape of some kind or if he thought that Mary had cheated on him. Either way, he wanted to be honorable to her.

What did it take to convince him otherwise? It took something else that would be just as miraculous. It wasn’t until an angel showed up and spoke to him that he decided to take Mary to be his wife and as the text says, he had no relations with her until the time came that Mary gave birth. (Personally, I find it difficult to think that Mary was a perpetual virgin. I just simply suspect Joseph was a guy just like most any other guy, that and the fact that Jesus had brothers and sisters.)

Still, when he heard from God, Joseph too responded appropriately, and let’s remember that he too made a sacrifice. He was sentencing himself to the life of a pariah. If it was not assumed that Mary had someone been unfaithful to Joseph, it would just as much be assumed that Mary and Joseph just didn’t have the self-control to wait and came up with this bizarre story of a virgin birth instead of admitting the simple fact. This would have been something that would have been talked about at social gatherings. People would point at Mary and Joseph and have people know that that was the couple that had that illegitimate child.

And this would be the kind of life that Jesus would grow up with as well.

When we read the Christmas story, we can often read about the birth and move on past that. We miss so much that would have gone on around the birth of Jesus. While we do not have as much as we’d like, let’s consider the kind of reputation Jesus would have had even before he started his ministry. That shame was part of the sacrificial life of Christ as well and we should remember it when we face our own shame, for as the Hebrews writer tells us, he despised the shame of the cross for the joy that came afterwards. When we consider our shame, let’s remember we too have joy awaiting us and be faithful.

In Christ,
Nick Peters