Happy Easter to everyone! Today is Resurrection Sunday, and, as I type this, I’m in my apartment watching a movie about Matthew’s Gospel regarding the life of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I’ve been so blessed this weekend to engage in reading on the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. While the Creed contains so much information on the Trinity and includes the “Filioque” clause (the subject of my thesis project in the Master of Theology program here at seminary), it’s also provided a means to study the life of Jesus and be reminded of my Lord – who He is, how He came to take on flesh, how He lived, how He died, and His resurrection by God the Father.
Today’s discussion pertains to the Virgin Birth. The Virgin Birth has a strong hold in the minds of most Christians who believe that it’s one of the many things that separates the birth of Jesus from the birth of so many others who claim or have claimed divinity, deity, or godhood. At the same time, however, there is a debate between conservatives who hold strongly to the Virgin Birth and “progressive” Christians (as they call themselves) who seem to think that the Virgin Birth is, on the face of it, ludicrous and more symbolic than literal. Luke Timothy Johnson brings up this controversy but then seeks to point out the errors in both positions:
“For ‘biblical Christians,’ the virgin birth is listed as one of the fundamental doctrines at the same level as the divinity of Christ as a test of a wholehearted obedience to the ‘inspired word of God’ (another of the fundamentals), no matter how hard to understand or accept for the modern mind. For ‘progressive Christians,’ an equally vehement rejection of a literal virgin birth has become the test of a ‘reasonable’ Christianity, as opposed to a pre-Darwinian obscurantist fanaticism passing itself off as Christianity” (Luke Timothy Johnson, “The Creed: What Christians Believe and Why It Matters,” Kindle Edition. Doubleday: September 2004, pages 156-157).
Next, Johnson goes on to point out the errors of Christians who interpret the Virgin Birth literally: “Those claiming an absolute fidelity to Scripture prove to be typically selective, ignoring (or explaining away) those passages of the New Testament that speak plainly about Jesus having brothers and sisters (see Mark 6:3), including an important leader of the early church, James, ‘the brother of the Lord’…the conservative’s defense of the virgin birth does not really celebrate God’s capacity to work wonders in creation but instead limits that capacity. How absurd to think that the God who is able to create all things through the Word cannot enter humanity through the Word and through the processes of sexuality that God has created as good! What Matthew has Jesus say to the Sadducees on the matter of the resurrection life can be said equally to both sides of this sad disputation: ‘You are wrong because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God’ (Matt 22:29)” (Johnson, page 157).
To be fair to Johnson, he does attack progressives, claiming that they downplay the Virgin Birth because they shun the supernatural. He’s not just pointing out conservatives, but the statement above is used here because this is the crux of the problem with Johnson’s argument: he assumes that the existence of brothers and sisters in the biblical text means that Jesus could have been conceived naturally by Mary and Joseph.
In short, Jesus wasn’t conceived by a human man, but by the Holy Spirit. When it comes to sound theology, the Bible serves as our guide – and nowhere in the text is it ever implied that Jesus could have been conceived by normal, human, reproductive means. There are a few clues that bring us to this conclusion.
First, the existence of brothers and sisters means little when stacked up against the argument of the Virgin Birth. We’re not talking about Virgin BIRTHS (plural), but instead, one single virgin birth! In other words, Jesus could have been conceived by the Holy Spirit, with other children coming along after Jesus’ birth. This seems to fit the biblical evidence, which states that Joseph “kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called his name Jesus” (Matthew 1:25, NASB).
Next, Matthew 1:25 is not the only text that upholds the Virgin Birth; other biblical evidence confirms that Jesus’ birth came about by the Holy Spirit, not human means: 1) the angel’s words to Joseph in a dream (Matthew 1:20), and 2) the Isaiah prophecy from the Old Testament (Matthew 1:23; cf. Isaiah 7:14). This doesn’t take into account Joseph’s “about face” from wanting to quietly divorce her to following through with the marriage (Matt. 1:19, 24). And this evidence doesn’t consider Mary’s own words to the angel in Luke 1:34, where Mary asks, “how can this be, since I am a virgin?” Translated using the Greek text, Mary asks, “how is this, since I don’t know a man?” The Greek word “ginosko” is the Greek counterpart of the Hebrew word “yada” in the Old Testament.
It’s true that we don’t know exactly what the “overshadowing” of the Holy Spirit is all about, but we know that the Lord was responsible for the birth of Jesus because Joseph and Mary did not have intimate relations until some months after the birth of Jesus. The Bible refers to Jesus as “holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners” (Hebrews 9:26) and that, had Christ been conceived by the intimate union of Joseph and Mary, He, too, would be condemned by the law and unable to be the spotless, unblemished Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Even without being the product of the intimate union of two humans, Jesus still took on flesh (Hebrews 2: 14-16) but remained “begotten” by God the Father (Hebrews 1:5, quoting Psalm 2:7; Hebrews 5:5, John 1:14,18; 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9).