Why I Affirm The Virgin Birth

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.

Yes. Seriously.

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.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Jesus Scandals

What did I think of “The Jesus Scandals?” Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Back around Easter, I was listening to the radio program “Unbelievable?” when I heard that there was a give away of David Instone-Brewer’s book “The Jesus Scandals.” I was quite anxious to get it and thus entered the contest to win one of a number of copies given away. Fortunately, I happened to be one of the names drawn. It was only recently found out that the American winners had not yet received their copies so just a week or so ago, I got my copy.

The idea of the Jesus Scandals is that the gospels are more authentic due to the scandalous facts about the life of Jesus. Some of these we might not really think about in our Western society. For instance, I have a number of male friends who are not married. At this age, that can be common. In the time of the Jews, this was something to be avoided. After all, everyone was expected to be married and if you weren’t, there had to be some strongly negative reason for that. The main one that would be pointed to would be Jesus’s parentage. (Yeah right. Born of a virgin?) If your atheist friends are skeptical of this, it would not have been any different in a Jewish society. I have often been asked “Would you believe your spouse if she was pregnant and said it was of the Holy Spirit?” I would be hard-pressed in that situation and would probably be like Joseph and need a dream from God to believe otherwise.

We must keep in mind after all that the Bible only gives us snapshots of what happened. When Mary told Joseph about what happened, we can be sure that Joseph did not believe it immediately since it took a dream from God to stop his plans from divorcing her. Imagine then how it would be for Jesus in His ministry, especially when it was asked whose son He was and have the questioner be told “The son of Joseph, you know, THAT Joseph.” Jesus had a huge black mark against Him.

Yet in the gospels, none of this is denied. The virgin birth is there to explain what happened and it would hardly have drawn sympathy. It would have made more sense to say something like “It was a tragedy that this young Jewish woman named Mary was raped, but the child grew up anyway and Joseph was a noble father who raised him like his own.” No. Instead, it goes for the route that skepticism would go against, and that was that Jesus was of divine origin.

Why would the gospels contain such scandalous events? Because they could not be denied. These were events that were known by the common populace. The gospel authors had to explain them. They chose an odd way by affirming each of them, including the crucifixion and resurrection. I think a work like this could be read in tandem with J.P. Holding’s “The Impossible Faith” to great benefit.

I do appreciate that Instone-Brewer has a chapter on disabilities in there. As many know, my wife and I both have Asperger’s, and it made me consider that both of us would be shunned in the time of Jesus, but as we know today, we are not shunned. We were both on the Theopologetics podcast to talk about how the church can be more receiving of those with disabilities. Such a talk would not take place in the time of Jesus. That we do have this talk today shows how far we’ve come.

Instone-Brewer also shows his scholarly knowledge of the Rabbinic writings, but does so in a way that’s not overbearing. The reader will not need a strong knowledge of the literature to know what Instone-Brewer is talking about. Fortunately, for those who do want more knowledge, he includes a list of recommended books in the back.

The chapters are also short enough that one could use them as a springboard at a church discussion group or could use the idea at a discussion around the water cooler. Each chapter can be read in only a few minutes and can provide plenty of food for thought for interesting discussion. Also, at the end of each chapter, Instone-Brewer includes an application piece that is relevant to what we are doing today.

I do think this book would be an interesting one for the person wanting to know more about the historical Jesus. The book uses the criterion of embarrassment to indicate that something is more likely to be true if it’s embarrassing to the cause. Aside from that, there won’t be much on historicity, but that was not the goal of this particular book.

This book thus comes with my recommendation. Do yourself a favor and buy it, or with Christmas coming, buy it for that non-Christian friend you have.

In Christ,
Nick Peters