Are there good reasons to affirm Jesus was born of a virgin? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
A few months ago I was on the Unbelievable? forum and someone was there speaking about the “mysterious silence of Paul” as it’s often thought to be. You would think that if there was such a reality as the virgin birth, that Paul would have mentioned it. A friend of mine and I pointed out that this is not so. After all, just because you believe in something does not mean you have to affirm it everywhere you go. I’ve written many blog posts that do not mention the virgin birth. I’ve interviewed many scholars and nowhere in our conversations do we mention it many times. I’ve heard many sermons that never mention the virgin birth.
Of course, this doesn’t say why Paul wouldn’t mention it. Aside from some times in Acts, we do not get much of the oral tradition of Paul, except for when he is quoting creeds. Paul no doubt had a strong oral tradition and preached for years in the areas he visited. It would be foolish to think that everything he taught could be found in the letters. In Paul’s world, he lived in a high-context society, which meant a strong background knowledge was assumed. There was no need to repeat in a letter much information that had already been shared save to make a rhetorical point, and Paul apparently never saw the need to repeat in a letter that Jesus was virgin born.
But we still need more.
Okay. Well one point worth mentioning is how radically different Matthew and Luke are in their birth narratives. This does not mean they can’t be harmonized, but it does present an interesting scenario. If Luke was just copying Matthew, why would he differ so radically from him? If Luke is not using Matthew, then we have the case that we have two independent accounts. Having independent accounts definitely helps out a historical claim.
Of course, we still need more.
The virgin birth would also just reek of paganism. Now I don’t think the pagans had stories of virgin births really, but they did have stories of unusual births. They did have accounts that certainly showed Zeus to be a player who wanted to have sex with every attractive female he saw. Christianity however did have its roots in Judaism, at least at the start, and Matthew is the most Jewish of the accounts. If Matthew is wanting to present the Gospel to Jews, he’s certainly not going to give something to them that they would think was borrowed from the pagans. That’s the last thing that would convince them.
In fact, Matthew would likely not want to mention this as at all much like Mark and John didn’t.
So why didn’t they?
Well John has an even more exalted beginning, but let’s look at Mark. Mark is supposed to be the account of Peter told through Mark. If so, Peter was not there at the birth of Jesus. Peter is giving an account of the ministry of Jesus and not giving a life story. Matthew and Luke are giving a little bit more. Still, this doesn’t answer why Matthew would not want to mention the virgin birth.
Probably because it would give shame to Jesus.
To say this would give credence to the charge that Jesus was illegitimate and that there was something odd about his birth. In a Jewish culture, this could be taken care of by stoning the woman. Mary would have been better going with most any other story. It would have been more believable to say she got raped by a Roman soldier or to say that she and Joseph just couldn’t wait until the wedding. Instead, she gives an account that she was pregnant by the divine action of YHWH. Now if you’re pregnant out of wedlock and you’re a Jew, the last thing you want to do is to instigate God in the action.
And yet this is the story that was presented.
Also, some people might argue that today, we happen to know that virgins don’t give birth. Well check this out. They knew that back then today. There has not been a time since the supposed rise of science that we have made the new discovery that it takes sex to make a baby. This is nothing new. Everyone knew it. Jewish parents would just as much talk about the birds and the bees as any other parents would today. We can say that the account is miraculous, but let us not say that it was based on ignorance and today we know better. The ancients knew quite a bit about sex and its connection with babies.
If the virgin birth was not true, then we would have an account that would be shameful and would be seen as a direct affront on YHWH Himself. Why is it the account is in there? I think David Instone-Brewer sums it up well in The Jesus Scandals. It’s in there because it’s true and something had to be said to answer charges of illegitimacy.
In the end, I conclude that the virgin birth is a true account and matches with the life of Jesus. This is why I affirm the virgin birth.