The Virgin Birth: Fact, Fiction, or Something Else?

Nativity Prophecy
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By Spencer D Gear

This is a Christmas story with a difference:

IN THE SLIT-EYED WORLD OF A COUNTRY VILLAGE, THE BOY’S MOTHER, MIRIAM conceived him mysteriously. Promised in marriage to Yosef the builder, she found herself pregnant without explanation — she had known no man, not intimately. Steeped in the malice of small town talk, she knew not to tell the story she believed — God’s archangel Gabriel had visited her at the village well one early-spring morning as she lifted her jar to climb back home.

He had looked very much like an actual man, a lot like her elder brother Amos, who had been her favorite but had died in agony with a breathing demon — tuberculosis — when she was nine. The angel had Amos’ startling eyes, a light brown, but his voice plainly said, “I’m Gabriel, from God, to ask if you’ll agree to let him make on you his only son.”
When she hesitated, assuming that this was some evil joke, the voice spoke again: “You’re free to refuse, and I’m free to tell you that should you accept, your life will last much longer than most, and long years of it will feel like no pain other humans know, not even your mother with the demon that ate her breast like bread.”

But before he finished that, she looked well past him the rim of the skyline back of his shoulders — and there was an odd cloud forming itself in the shape of a dark bird rushing toward her. She met the angel’s eyes again, gave an awkward nod and said, “I’m Miriam. Let me be God’s slave.”
So the boy grew up — she called him Yeshu from his full name, Yeshua — in the same narrow town: one narrow lane, two rows of rock houses, sealed with mud and roofed with branches daubed with mud, and each house full of the mouths he could hear saying “Bastard, Miriam’s bastard boy, God’s big baby!’

His mother’s story had leaked out somehow, likely through Yosef, who claimed that he had dreamed it but nonetheless married her, took in Yeshu and made other sons and daughters on her body. All of them grudged the favors their mother gave Yeshu as her eldest child; he was only half their brother.

By the time Yeshu grew to full manhood — the blacksmith in Yosef’s building concern and the best smith in Galilee — he was still called bastard in Nazareth whispers. He had never heard Yosef deny the charge, nor even his mother, who told him only, “They’re not completely right.”  So when he entered his 30th year, still single because he felt polluted, he left town to take baptism from his cousin John in the Jordan River well south of home. The main need licking at Yeshu’s heart was to find the father he had not yet known and never quite would.” [1]

That’s the birth of Jesus according to Time magazine.

I. Introduction

Especially at Christmas time, we are faced with one of the biggest miracles associated with Christ — his virgin conception. This is most often called his virgin birth and that’s the term I will use, but really it was a miracle of conception. The question I will ask and try to answer  is: “Is the virgin birth of Christ, fact, fiction or something else?”

John Dominic Crossan of the Jesus Seminar says:

“When I look a Buddhist friend in the face, I cannot say with integrity: ‘Our story about Jesus’ virginal birth is true and factual. Your story that when the Buddha came out of his mother’s womb, he was walking, talking, teaching, and preaching (which I must admit is even better than our story) — that’s a myth. We have the truth; you have a lie.’ I don’t think that can be said any longer, for our insistence that our faith is fact and that others’ faith is a lie is, I think, a cancer that eats at the heart of Christianity.” [2]In the New Testament we read:
Matthew 1:23, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” –which means, “God with us” (NIV).
Luke 1:26-35:

In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.  The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.  But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.  You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (NIV).

Both Matthew and Luke confirm that Jesus was to be born to Mary, who was a virgin. There is no mention of the virgin birth in Mark and John. The conception was by the power of God and there was no biological father. But can you believe this report? Virgins conceiving without sexual intercourse! Sounds preposterous or at least it like the movies and not reality. [3]

Besides, how could you possibly check to see if this was the truth? “It is very possible that Mary, the mother of Jesus, told people, including Matthew and Luke, about this strange occurrence, but can one accept it as true without simply deciding to believe something unbelievable?” [4]
I don’t have statistics for the Australian clergy and their views of the virgin birth, but I don’t have enough confidence to believe that they are much different from the USA. A poll was conducted of 7,441 Protestant clergy in the U.S. and these were the results of those who do not believe in the virgin birth:

  • American Lutherans 19%
  • American Baptists 34%
  • Episcopalians (Anglicans) 44%
  • Presbyterians 49%
  • Methodists 60% [5]

But “there is a massive gap between the beliefs of mainline and liberal clergy and their congregations. A Harris poll of a randomly selected group of 1,011 adults found that 91% of U.S. Christians believe in the Virgin Birth.” [6]

This is what we are confronted with at Christmas time

II.    To make life interesting, throw in these views of the virgin birth.

A.    The Roman Catholic Church (RCC)

The Roman Catholic version is that “Mary was a virgin at the conception of Jesus and remained a virgin after his birth, and throughout her life the ‘brothers’ were in fact step-brothers fathered by Joseph in a previous marriage.” [7] This is known as the perpetual virginity of Mary.
But the RCC goes further than believing that Mary was always a virgin, by believing in the “immaculate conception.” This is “an article of faith for Roman Catholics. The Mother of God, [as they call her] the Virgin Mary, did not have original sin because of the direct intervention of God.” [8]


B.    The Eastern Orthodox Church

Generally, the Eastern Orthodox version is “that Mary remained a virgin; Jesus’ ‘brothers’ were in fact his cousins.” [9]

C.    The Mormon Church

Two early Mormon leaders said:
    Orson Pratt: “If [Jesus] were begotten by the Holy Ghost, then He would have called him His Father.” [10]
    Brigham Young: “When the Virgin Mary conceived the child Jesus, the Father had begotten him in his own likeness. He was not begotten by the Holy Ghost.” [11]

However, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints seems to be moving away from this doctrine. Pratt and Young “taught that Mary conceived after God engaged in sexual intercourse with her. However, this is no longer widely taught within the church, and is not formal dogma.” [12]

The Pratt and Young versions are easily refuted.  Matthew 1:19-20 states, “Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.  But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.

The Bible is clear. It was the Holy Spirit’s miraculous conception and NOT impregnation organised by God the Father. [13]

D.    The Liberal Churches

“Typically teach that Jesus was the first child of many conceived by Mary and Joseph via sexual intercourse, as any other human [being]. In the Nazareth area this often happened before marriage. A couple lived together in a type of trial marriage until the woman became pregnant or had a child. At that point, they got married.” [14]These are a few modern examples of this Liberal view:

  • John Dominic Crossan (Jesus Seminar):

“The prophecy in Isaiah [7:14] says nothing whatsoever about a virginal conception. It speaks in Hebrew of an almah, a virgin just married but not yet pregnant with her first child. In the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures the term almah was translated as parthenos, which in that context meant exactly the same thing — namely a newly married virgin.” [15]He writes further:

“I understand the virginal conception of Jesus to be a confessional statement about Jesus’ status and not a biological statement about Mary’s body. It is later faith in Jesus as an adult retrojected mythologically onto Jesus as an infant. . .  He is not necessarily the firstborn child of Joseph and Mary. He could just as easily be their youngest. . .” [16]

  • Marcus Borg (again from the Jesus Seminar):

“In the opinion of most mainstream scholars, the stories of [Jesus]] birth and childhood are not historical… but [are] symbolic narratives created by the early Christian movements. . .  It is highly doubtful that [these birth stories about Jesus] [17] tell us anything about his birth.” [18]

  • Ex-Bishop John Shelby Spong of the USA Episcopal (Anglican) Church, Newark, New Jersey, wrote that
    “Mary was ‘really’ a teenaged girl who was raped and became pregnant with an illegitimate child. She was then taken under the protection of Joseph. Spong is not so much interested, however, in what ‘really happened’ as he is in freeing Christianity from its dogmatic entanglements, which he more of less identifies with fundamentalism. Spong is hostile to the birth narratives.” [19]

Spong’s scepticism continues:

“In time, the virgin birth account will join Adam and Eve and the story of the cosmic ascension as clearly recognized mythological elements in our faith tradition whose purpose was not to describe a literal event but to capture the transcendent dimensions of God in the earthbound words and concepts of first-century human beings.” [20]    Luke Johnson responded with precision: “Having a bishop with opinions like these is a bit like hiring a plumber who wants to ‘rethink pipes.'” [21]

III.    What happened after the time of the New Testament?

After the New Testament was completed, what were the views on the virgin birth by the writers of the early Christian church?

A. Some early Christian writers:

We have three very important leaders and writers in the 2nd century who confirm that the virgin birth was the teaching of the early church.

1.    Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, Syria

Ignatius “was martyred no later than A.D. 117, [and] mentions the virgin birth clearly in several passages. He says that it is one of the “mysteries to be shouted aloud.” [22]  In another passage, Ignatius confirms that the “virgin birth forms part of a summary of the chief facts about Christ.” [23]
Ignatius was arguing against some false teachers of the docetists. “The Docetists sought to keep Christ a purely spiritual being, free of any contamination by a material body. This led them to deny the reality of Christ’s material body and to state that only a phantom suffered on the cross.” [24]
To refute these heretics, “it was not necessary to prove the virgin birth of Christ, but only to prove His real birth. ‘Born of a woman’ would have been sufficient. . .  Apparently the opponents themselves accepted the virgin birth as over against an ordinary birth.” [25] But Ignatius still confirmed the virgin birth.

“Ignatius clearly gives the impression that in his day the virgin birth was far beyond the reach of controversy, both in Antioch [Syria] and Asia Minor. . . The testimony of Ignatius, therefore, is unequivocal. At about A.D. 110 belief in the virgin birth was no new thing; it was not a thing that had to be established by argument, but had its roots deep in the life of the Church. . .  Ignatius was no [new Christian], but bishop of the church at Syria Antioch, the mother church of Gentile Christianity. . .  Belief in the virgin birth must have been prevalent long before the close of the first century. [26]        2.    Aristides

He wrote a defence of the faith, dated about A.D. 140 [27] and “regarded the virgin birth as one of the fundamental facts of Christianity.” [28]

               2.    Justin Martyr

Justin wrote about the middle of the 2nd century and considered “the virgin birth as of fundamental importance, and defends it at length against Jewish and pagan objections.” [29]  He gave it as part of a formula for casting out demons. He wrote: “For every demon that is exorcised by the name of this very One, son of God and firstborn of all creation, and born through a virgin and become a man subject to suffering.” [30]
“The other ‘Apostolic Fathers’ [of the church] do not mention the virgin birth” [31] but this is not reason to say that they rejected this fundamental doctrine. These other writers make it clear that the virgin birth was accepted by the church. So why the need to defend it if they were addressing other matters?

    B. The Early Christian Creeds (statements of fundamental beliefs)

               1. The Apostles’ Creed
This was produced in Gaul (France) in the 5th or 6th century, but it dates back to a Roman baptismal confession as early as A.D. 200. [32]  Part of it reads:

“I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ, his only son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried . . .” [33]

    2.    The Nicene Creed

This dates from a church council in the city of Nicea, Asia Minor (Turkey today), that was called to refute the views of a church leader and heretic, Arius, who attacked the Trinity. [34] It reads:

    “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ . . . [who] for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man . . .” [35]

    3.    Council of Chalcedon

It met in Chalcedon, Asia Minor (today’s Turkey) in 451. Is Jesus fully man and fully God? That was the big issue of the day. The Chalcedonian Creed came out of this Council. Part of it reads:

“Our Lord Jesus Christ, perfect in Godhead and perfect in manhood, truly God and truly man, of rational soul and body, of the same substance with us according to the manhood, like us in respects, without sin . . . born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God…” [36]    4.    The Small Catechism of Martin Luther (of about the year 1529) says:

“Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary . . .” [37]

            4.    The Westminster Confession of Faith

This is the doctrinal statement of the Presbyterian and Reformed denominations and was formulated in 1646 in Scotland: [38].  It says: “The Son of God, the second person of the Trinity . . . being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, of her substance.” [39]
    Therefore, we can clearly say that throughout the history of the church, there has been a sustained belief in the virgin birth of Christ. How much more evidence do we need?  But there have always been people who have denied it and tried to explain it away. They are in droves today.

 

IV. How do we respond to objections to the virgin birth?

Many religions have claimed miraculous births in association with their founders. For example, the founder of Taoism (many Chinese are Taoists), the ancient Chinese wise man, Lao-tse, was supposed to have been “born at the age of seventy-two with wrinkled skin and white hair.” The followers of Taoism could not possibly believe that a person as wise as Lao-tse could be born a mere infant. [40]
Could this be the same kind of thing with Jesus? Could some early Christians have invented the story of the virgin birth to endow Jesus with greater glory? [41]

A.    How can we know anything from history is true?

    How do you decide if any document from history is reliable? It doesn’t matter whether you are checking a history book about Captain Cook’s visit to Australia or the New Testament.  Historians use these criteria:

  • How close in time is the document to the event in question?
  • Does the author have a reputation for truthfulness?
  • Is the document internally consistent?
  • Was the author a direct participant in the event in question?
  • Does the document report events that are clearly impossible?
  • Is the document consistent with other documents?
  • Are the events mentioned in the document referred to anywhere else? This is known as multiple attestation.
  • Does the document show evidence of systematic bias?
  • If we have only a copy of the original document, is the copy an accurate reproduction of the original? [42]

Is it possible to know what really happened in the past? It is possible. “The process is not easy; we may not know all of it, nor all the details of it; but we can know some of it, and that is all that is required.” [43]

How does the NT turn out as an historical document? Some people don’t like it when I refer to the Bible as an historical document. “They argue that the New Testament is a piece of religious literature and that, as such, it may not be used as a source of historical information.” [44]

However, if you read the first 4 verses of Luke’s gospel, you will discover that the NT “claims to be a source for historical information.” [45] Luke 1:1-4 reads:

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught. (ESV)

This is not the place to defend the trustworthiness of the Bible, and the NT especially.  However, the NT has been shown to be “remarkably accurate in what it says about the ancient world.” Take Luke as an example. He mentions “thirty-two countries, fifty-four cities, nine islands, and several rulers.” In all of these historical facts, he “never made a mistake.” [46]

Renowned archaeologist, Nelson Glueck, says it boldly:

“As a matter of fact, however, it may be clearly stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted [i.e.. contradicted] a single biblical reference. Scores of archaeological findings have been made which confirm in clear outline or exact detail historical statements in the Bible.” [47]

Staunch defender of the Christian faith, Dr. Norman Geisler, concludes, “There is no reason that the New Testament should not be accepted as a reliable historical document which gives us valuable information about the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth.” [48]

B.    Does the New Testament contain myths?

It cannot be both a reliable historical document and contain myths! Surely that is a reasonable statement!  However, theologian and historian, Burton Mack, claims that the “apocalyptic portrait of Jesus in the Book of Mark” is a myth and “lies behind much of the ills of Western society.” [49]  To him, if it has anything to do with the supernatural second coming of Jesus Christ; it is myth.

Rudolf Bultmann said that if it contained “supernatural, transcendent powers” or “miracle” it was a myth. [50]  Burton Mack hit the nail on the head when he said, “Scholars and miracles don’t mix well.” [51]
So, these writers, by their presuppositions — they are anti the supernatural — turn history into myth. This is their belief before they look at a shred of evidence. They go to the Bible with the view — miracles cannot happen. That’s not fair to the documents by imposing your own view on them.

Bultmann puts it bluntly:

“The conception of the world we call mythological because it is different from the conception of the world which has been formed and developed by science since its inception… Modern science does not believe that the course of nature can be interrupted or, so to speak, perforated, by supernatural powers.” [52]

Bultmann’s famous statement is:

“It is impossible to use electric light and the wireless and to avail ourselves of modern medical and surgical discoveries, and at the same time to believe in the New Testament world of spirits and miracles.” [53]    When you come to the Bible with your own pre-set views (as with Bultmann, the Jesus Seminar fellows, and others), it’s not surprising that you find a Jesus congenial to your views; you can’t allow the Bible to speak for itself. The mythological view is nothing more than the invention of naturalists who want to explain all things naturally and scientifically. The supernatural is OUT.

C. The difficulties with Isaiah 7:14

Matt. 1: 22-23 says, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ –which means, ‘God with us.'”
This verse quotes from Isaiah 7:14, which reads in the NIV, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”

This verse from Isaiah is highly controversial. The main difficulty is seen in two different ways of translating it:

One of these ways:
NRSV: “Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” The RSV, NEB, REB, GNB and the Roman Catholic NJB also support that kind of translation.

The other way of translation is:
NIV: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (also supported by Amplified Bible, KJV, NASB, NLT, ESV, and the Roman Catholic NAB).

Notice the difference between these two translations!  Was this prophesied child, who would be called Immanuel, born to a “young woman” or to “a virgin”? The difference has enormous consequences. If she were a young woman, it does not guarantee that she was a virgin.

Here are some of the issues:
The Hebrew word in Isa. 7:14 that is translated, “young woman” or “virgin” is almah. If we are going to defend the virgin birth, we must be honest with what is going on here. We must admit up-front that almah “does not actually indicate virginity, ” but means “a young woman of marriageable age.” The Hebrews used the word bethulah if they meant “virgin.”[54] Or, did they?

It is “reasonably clear in its context” in Matthew that “Mary is the virgin; Jesus is her son, Immanuel.” [55] The problem comes with the translation of the Hebrew word, almah. Briefly, here are the issues:

1.    “Almah is not precisely equivalent to the English word ‘virgin’ (NIV), nor is it precisely equivalent to ‘young woman’… Many prefer the translation ‘young woman of marriageable age.’ Yet most of the few OT occurrences refer to a young woman of marriageable age who is also a virgin.” [56]

That is until we get to Prov. 30:19, which reads, “the way of a man with a maiden” (NIV). Here we “cannot be certain the word necessarily means [virgin].” [57]  But “it is fair to say that most OT occurrences presuppose that the almah is a virgin.” [58]

2.     There’s another Hebrew word, bethulah, that is often translated “virgin,” but in Joel 1:8 it “can refer to a married woman.” [59]

3. There’s an additional problem. In about 250 B.C., the Hebrews finished translating the the OT into Greek. This is known as the Septuagint (LXX). They translated almah with the Greek word, parthenos, which is the word that is used in Matt. 1:23 and Luke 1:27 for Mary the “virgin.”

However, “Genesis 34:4 refers to Dinah as a parthenos even though the previous verse makes it clear she is no longer a virgin.” [60]  Therefore, some even want to translate parthenos in Matthew and Luke as “young woman” instead of virgin. “This will not do [because] the overwhelming majority of the occurrences of parthenos in both biblical and [secular] [61] Greek require the rendering ‘virgin.'” [62]

Matt. 1:25 makes Mary’s virginity very clear. It reads: ” But he [Joseph] had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.”

How do we resolve this issue? We must be honest with the text. I find this to be the most satisfactory explanation of Isaiah 7:14:

  • We must read Isaiah 7:1-9:7 as a unit. In that context we discover that:
  • There is a double fulfilment: One in Isaiah’s day for the tribes of Judah and Ephraim. There would be the Lord’s wrath and judgment against these tribes executed by the Assyrian invasion. God’s foes would be destroyed and there would be salvation for the remnant “and the promise of a glorious hope as the Davidic monarch reigns and brings prosperity to his people (9:1-7; 11:1-16).” [63]
  • But the promised Immanuel (7:14) would be more than a temporal deliverer. There would be a second fulfilment. He would possess the land (8:8), defeat all opponents (8:10), appear in Galilee of the Gentiles (9:1)
  • “As a great light to those in the land of the shadow of death (9:2). He is the Child and Son called ‘Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace’ in 9:6, whose government and peace will never end as he reigns on David’s throne forever (9:7).” [64]
  • We can conclude that the Immanuel of Isa. 7:14 is a Messianic figure.

Matthew, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, grasped that very clearly. Matthew wants to make Jesus’ conception to the virgin very clear. He adds that Joseph had no sexual intercourse with Mary until after Jesus was born. Matt. 1:25 literally says that he “was not knowing her [65] until she gave birth to a Son.” This is an old Jewish way of saying that he did not have sexual intercourse with her until when? Until after she had given birth. “The ‘until’ clause most naturally means that Mary and Joseph enjoyed normal [sexual] [66] relations after Jesus’ birth” [67]
We know this because Matt. 12:46 and 13:55 speak of Jesus’ mother and brothers. This is a clear refutation of the Roman Catholic doctrine of Mary’s “perpetual virginity.”

    How do we respond to the Roman Catholic views?
Was Mary always a virgin?  As I’ve just explained, the Bible clearly answers: Mary and Joseph had children after Jesus’ birth. Therefore, Mary was not a virgin perpetually.
As for Mary having no original sin, we must note these facts:

  • Mary was a very human woman;
  • She was a virgin at the time she gave birth to Jesus Christ;
  • The angel said to Mary, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you. . .  Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.” (Luke 1:28, 30 NIV). She was a favoured woman, chosen by God for a special task, but she was still a woman with human frailties.
  • There is not a shred of evidence that Mary was sinless. All of us are born in sin — with original sin from Adam. So was Mary.
  • I cannot find the teaching on “immaculate conception” anywhere in the Bible.

V. So, did the virgin birth happen?

There are two hypotheses: [68]

  • The virgin birth happened; OR
  • The virgin birth did not happen.

    That’s profound, isn’t it?
If the virgin birth did not happen:

  • That makes Matthew and Luke (or the sources they used to write their gospels), people who invented the story. They were liars.
  • What would motivate them to lie? There is no plausible motivation.
  • Matthew’s and Luke’s sources would have been God-fearing Jews who would have seen themselves as a continuation from the Old Testament.
  • Would such people have made up the virgin birth? No! That would have been blasphemous. They had plenty of miraculous birth stories in the OT (e.g. birth of Isaac to Abraham and Sarah), but they always involved a biological father.
  • The idea of making up a virgin conception would have been the farthest thing from their minds. It did not fit Jewish thinking in the first century A.D.
  • There were pagan parallels like Zeus who “seduced a maiden and fathered a son by her.” Some who oppose the virgin birth claim that the Gospel writers borrowed the idea of a virgin birth from these pagan myths. This is crazy thinking because:
  • First, the early Christians wanted nothing to do with paganism. They wanted to show themselves very different from the pagans. They would not want to be identified in any way.
  • Second, there were no actual pagan virgin birth stories. The pagans told of gods who “seduced women and had offspring. The women may have been virgins before intercourse, but they most certainly were not virgins afterwards. The miraculous thing about the New Testament virgin birth story is that Mary was a virgin both before and after conception. This story could not be copied from pagan parallels because it is not found in any pagan accounts.” [69]

This points to a serious problem in the hypothesis that the virgin birth did not happen:

  • Matthew and Luke would have lied;
  • No godly Jew would have invented it;
  • The pagans would not have invented it as they had nothing close to a virgin conception.

Therefore, the most likely explanation is (wait for it!) that there was a virgin birth as reported in the Gospels. But this hypothesis is only acceptable if we are convinced of three things:

  • There is an almighty God;
  • Miracles are possible;
  • And historical sources (like the Gospels) are sources of truth. [70]

VI. What’s the big deal about the virgin birth?

I must make it very clear.  Any teaching that does not include the virgin birth in its doctrine of Christ, is missing a critical fact of Jesus’ life.

  • HOWEVER, HOWEVER — nowhere does it say that you must believe in the virgin birth to be saved. I know of young children who have been genuinely saved as small children. My wife, Desley, became a Christian when she was about 8 years of age. She tells me that “she probably did not know what a virgin was.”  If a young child becomes a Christian, there is every possibility that that child has no idea what a virgin is.
  • BUT, it seems to me that any growing Christian who is reading the Word of God and growing in the knowledge of the Lord, will surely conclude that the virgin birth is the clear teaching of the Bible. To deny the virgin birth, is to deny what God has declared and
  • “The uniqueness of Jesus’ birth was a ‘sign’ that he was not only a human son, but the long-awaited God-sent Messiah on a special mission.” [71]

What a miraculous, moral statement this was about Christ’s special holiness. He was fully human, born of a woman. But “Jesus had no fallen human father.” From his conception, he “was set apart from sinners for the redemption of sinners.” [72]  He was sinless.

Anybody else born through the natural processes of sexual intercourse between a male and a female, since the fall of Adam and Eve into sin, is born a sinner (see I John 1:8-10). I John 3:5 says this of Jesus, “You know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin” (NIV).  “At the beginning of his human existence Jesus’ supernatural conception draws attention to his supernatural sinlessness.” [73]

If you are to be honest before God, it is critical that your beliefs about Jesus and life in general are true. Your questions also need to have satisfying answers.

VII. Conclusion

There are significant implications for us at Christmastime if we accept or reject the virgin birth. For modern people, these are not academic issues. Put it this way: “If [Jesus] is not who the Bible declares him to be, then we are simply fooling ourselves if we hold to traditional, [biblical] beliefs” [as I do]. [74]
If we cannot believe that Jesus was born to the Virgin Mary, without sexual intercourse, how can we believe lots of other things about Jesus?

  • Was he really God, the Messiah?
  • Can we believe that he died for our salvation on the cross?
  • What about his miracles?
  • Can you believe anything about Jesus from the Gospels?
  • If this Bible cannot be trusted, we are in deep trouble. You might as well quit your faith now;.
  • It should not be surprising to us that the authority of the Scriptures is under attack today — both inside and outside the church.

If the devil can convince people that the Bible is full of lies or myths, his bondage of these people continues. Don’t be surprised when the Bible is attacked. This has been the devil’s strategy throughout history. He’s doing it today through people like Crossan, Spong, Robert Funk and clan. There is solid evidence to refute them and uphold orthodox Christianity (see “Can you trust the Bible?“).

If Spong, members of the Jesus Seminar, and other theological liberals treated the history of Julius Caesar, Napoleon, or Captain Cook (who discovered Australia in 1770) like they treat Jesus, genuine historians would laugh at them. And we must do the same.

Let’s note three important points:

1.    The four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were written by “an apostle or [by somebody who] directly represented an apostle.” [75] We are dealing with writers who were eyewitnesses of Jesus life and ministry, or by those who represented eyewitnesses.

That sounds fine with Matthew and John who were Christ’s disciples. But what about Mark?  Papias, bishop of Hierapolis (in Roman Asia), in the first part of the 2nd. century, described the writing of Mark’s gospel this way: “Mark was Peter’s ‘interpreter’ in the sense that he wrote a Gospel based on what he had heard Peter teach regarding ‘the things said and done by the Lord.'” [76], [77]
Papias said that this was “based on information he received from John the Elder.” [78] This was probably John the apostle, but it could be a later John. [79] So we can safely say that Mark’s gospel “is authored by John Mark under the guidance of the Apostle Peter.” [80]  There is evidence that Peter and Mark had a close relationship (see Acts 12:12; 1 Peter 5:13). [81].

But what about Luke? He wasn’t an apostle.

Of all the Gospel writers, it is “Luke alone” who partially tells us “his method of research and the nature of his research materials.” [82] Let’s look at the first four verses of Luke ch. 1:

“Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught” (NIV).

This introduction has similar characteristics to secular Greek writers of the day.  The most striking parallel is with the famous Jewish/Roman historian, Josephus. [See Appendix A for the example by Josephus.]
Note some quick points about this introduction by Luke:

  • Though Luke was not a companion of Jesus [in fact, he was a companion of the Apostle Paul as we see from the Book of Acts], he tells us that he had been provided with documents that had been:
    • “handed down to us,” by whom?
    • “Those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.”

The grammar that Luke uses indicates that these “eyewitnesses and ministers of the word” were “one group. Initially they were ‘eyewitnesses’ of the historical Jesus, then they were ‘ministers of the word.'” [83]

  • The Greek is clear that these “eyewitnesses and ministers of the word ” are one and the same with the “many [who] have taken to draw up an account of the things. . .” [84]

Also note that these “account[s]” have not been delivered by word of mouth (oral tradition), but have been written down. The word for “an account” is “used for written history in the Hellenistic [Greek] period.” [85]

  • Also, Luke has “carefully investigated everything” and has written an “orderly account.” [86]

Therefore, we can safely say that the gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were dealing with writers who were eyewitnesses of Jesus life and ministry, or by those who represented eyewitnesses. [87]

The Bible does not provide ONE account of these events of Jesus’ life, but FOUR accounts that agree in the main facts.

2.    Read the New Testament and then read the secular and Jewish historians of the first and second centuries. Guess what? The NT evidence agrees with the secular historians. I’m talking of Roman historians such as Josephus, Tacitus and Suetonius. [88]

Remember Norm Geisler’s estimation of the New Testament after examining the evidence? “There is no reason that the New Testament should not be accepted as a reliable historical document which gives us valuable information about the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth.” [89]

3. Let’s be very practical about the implications if we do NOT believe and accept the virgin birth.

  • This modern world is in deep trouble.

In my many years as a counsellor and counselling manager, I saw  rebellious youth in their droves who were wrecking families, ransacking houses, shooting up on drugs, sexually molesting and raping others, jumping into bed with just about anybody – out of control.  Look at the suffering in Kosovo, Chechnya, the Middle East; the horrible persecution of Christians in the Sudan, China, Vietnam & Cambodia; and other disasters around the world.  Surely what happened on September 11, 2001 in the USA epitomises the mess we are in as cultures.

There is much suffering and disintegration in families in Australia. Governments are assaulting the biblical principles on which our land was founded.  The state Governments legalisation of prostitution is just another example. The legislating of defacto relationships, easy divorce, slaughtering 100,000 unborn children by abortion every year, killing the elderly and others through euthanasia, the crisis of youth suicide, etc., etc.
This world is without hope and bankrupt.

  • If the virgin birth is not true, the Bible is false.

Should we accept the Jesus Seminar’s version of Jesus as “simply a wise teacher, a religious sage, a pious spinner of tales and proverbs, a revolutionary figure, a Jewish peasant and Cynic preacher, or a spirit-person”? [90]

But that kind of Jesus can’t offer genuine hope to a degraded world like Australia today. More than that, what hope is there if Jesus is an historical myth?  He’s no more powerful than Peter Pan.

  • We need a reason for living today.

We must have a purpose for life. Jesus said, according to John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (NIV).

This is the Jesus who brings light out of darkness. He is the one who forgives ALL of your sin if you will come to him for such. Millions have done so down through the centuries. If you want moral guidelines for life, Jesus will give them to you.

I have found that serving Jesus is very demanding (with lots of persecution from the intolerance of tolerance). But to reject him, brings a shockingly higher price.

What I am saying is that all that Jesus offered in the world of the first century, is available to you and me today.  But you can only begin that life by repenting of your sin, trusting Christ alone as your Saviour and Lord. He can offer such magnificent salvation because he was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life and died on the cross as a substitute for your sins. [91]
When I read this Christmas passage from the first chapter of Luke, I am provoked to consider the amazing grace and favour of God. Why did the angel Gabriel go to Mary, the virgin, living in a back-water town like Nazareth? It can only be put down to the grace of God.[92]

Why would God make a promise to the Israelites who had turned their back on God, time and again? I read in Judges 13:1, just prior to the birth of Samson, “Again the Israelites did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, so the Lord handed them over to the Philistines, who kept them in subjection for forty years” (NLT).

Why would God waste his time with such wasters (an Aussie expression for those who waste the valuable moments of life on frivolous pursuits)?
The only thing that I can conclude from the Scriptures is the reason why God even bothers to deal with you and me — his  grace towards sinners.
“What caused Mary to accept as truth the unbelievable message which the angel brought? Again we come back to the grace that God had given her?” [93]

It is so easy for the Christmas season to become no more than ho-hum for us. We are drowned with commercialism and all of the fake stuff like Santa, red-nosed reindeers, the tinsel, trees and flashing lights. This is not the real meaning of Christmas.

Anytime, but especially at Christmastime, we need to be reminded that it was God’s love and grace that moved him to send Jesus into the world, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born to the Virgin Mary. There is no point in the baby in the manger without the Christ on the cross.

Prominent church leader of the 5th century, St. Augustine, put it simply but profoundly: “If [people] [94] had not sinned, Christ would not have come.” [95]

Praise God from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him all creatures here below;
Praise Him above ye heavenly hosts;
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

Appendix A: Another explanation of Isaiah 7:14

Matthew 1:22-23 reads: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ –which means, ‘God with us.’ ” (NIV).  This verse quotes from Isaiah 7:14, which reads in the NIV, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”  This verse is highly controversial. The main difficulty is seen in two different ways of translating it:

One of these ways:

NRSV: “Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” The RSV, NEB, REB, GNB and the Roman Catholic NJB also support that kind of translation.

The other way of translation is:

NIV: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (also supported by Amplified Bible, KJV, NASB, NLT, ESV, and the Roman Catholic NAB).

Notice the difference between these two translations? Was this prophesied child, who would be called Immanuel, born to a “young woman” or was she “a virgin”? The difference is enormous. If she were a young woman, it does not guarantee that she was a virgin.

Here are the issues:

  • The Hebrew word in Isa. 7:14 that is translated, “young woman” or “virgin” is almah. If we are going to defend the virgin birth, you must be honest with what is going on here. We must admit up-front that almah “does not actually indicate virginity, ” but means “a young woman of marriageable age.” The Hebrews used the word bethulah if they meant “virgin.” [96]
  • So, some well-meaning Christians explain it this way: “When a group of [Jewish] rabbis translated this verse into Greek in what is known as the Septuagint Version of the Hebrew Scriptures (about 285 BC), they used a Greek word that can only mean ‘virgin.’ Likewise, when Matthew quoted this verse in his Gospel (Matthew 1:23) and applied it to Jesus, he used the same Greek word that can only be translated ‘virgin.'” [97] That word is the Greek, parthenos. If Matthew wanted to use the Greek word for “young woman” he could have chosen the feminine of neos (as in Titus 2:4), which reads: “Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women (neas) to love their husbands and children.”

Matthew could have used that word, but he didn’t.  Instead, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he chose parthenos, which definitely means “virgin” in the NT.

  • But here’s another problem: In several other places in the OT, the Septuagint translated other Hebrew words besides almah by using the Greek, parthenos. [98] In other words, these words that simply mean “young woman” or “maiden” are translated by parthenos. For the Septuagint, parthenos didn’t necessarily translate a word that is meant to mean “virgin” exclusively.

For example, Gen. 24: 43, [99] reads in the NIV: “See, I am standing beside this spring; if a maiden comes out to draw water and I say to her, ‘Please let me drink a little water from your jar.'” Isaac was NOT looking for a virgin, he was wanting a young woman, a maiden, to draw some water for him. But the Septuagint translates with the Greek, parthenos. So, parthenos can be translated to mean “young woman” or “virgin.”

Where does that leave us? From my examination of the evidence, I believe J. Gresham Machen is correct when the says that, in the OT, we are left to conclude this:

    “The Septuagint is inclined to use the Greek word for ‘virgin’ in a rather loose way, or in places where no special emphasis upon virginity appears. The word, therefore, might well have crept into the translation of [Isa. 7:14] without any special cause, or certainly without influence from any Jewish doctrine of a virgin birth of the Messiah.” [100]

Machen published one of the finest studies in defence of the virgin birth in 1930. It has not been successfully refuted, to my knowledge. He concluded that “there is not the slightest direct evidence” in Judaism prior to Christ and after the OT was written, that supports the Jewish “expectation of a virgin birth of the Messiah.” [101]

So, does that mean that Jesus was NOT virgin born? Not at all. But you can’t support it by appealing to Isaiah 7:14 only, if you want to be honest with the text of Isaiah. To interpret any verse in the Bible, we must look at the verses and chapters that surround a given verse. We call this the context. And too often we Christians are weak in looking at the context.
If we do that to Isaiah 7:14, what do we find? The child born to this “young woman” was someone more than an ordinary person.

  • He was to be a “sign” (v. 14);
  • Some want to interpret this passage to mean that the child is either the son of the prophet Isaiah or the son of Ahaz, king of Judah. Something more is meant by Immanuel “than a child of the prophet or of Ahaz [the king] or of any ordinary young woman of that time.” [102]

“Immanuel” means “God with us.” The “Immanuel” of chapters 7 & 8 of Isaiah, the “child” of Isaiah 9; and the “branch” of Isaiah 11 are surely referring to a person — a mighty, divine person. In fact, Isaiah 9:6, calls him, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” and “the government will be on his shoulders” (NIV). [103]
We can minimise the “young woman” and say she isn’t a virgin, based on Isa. 7:14, but you cannot wipe away the almighty God, Immanuel. When you take these chapters together, any objection that wants to make this “son” of the young woman look anything like an ordinary human being, must be thrown out. When you take Isaiah chapters 7-11 together, you have a magnificent description of a divine person who would be born to a young woman. The one who would be the “Mighty God.”

This harmonises wonderfully with the virgin birth of Matthew 1 and Luke 1.

Even though an examination of Isaiah 7:14 alone comes to the conclusion that this was referring to the “young woman,” that is not the end of the story.  Matt. 1:23 gives the knock-out blow. This woman was indeed the parthenos. In Matthew and throughout the NT, this word always refers to a virgin. In Matthew 1, it refers to Mary the virgin who gave birth to Jesus, supernaturally conceived by the activity of the Holy Spirit.

Appendix C

See William Hendriksen, The Gospel of Luke (New Testament Commentary). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1978, p. 53, for a comparison of Luke 1:1-4 with the prologue of the work of Josephus, Against Apion (in Antiquities).

See also I. Howard Marshall, The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1978, 39.

Endnotes

1. “Jesus of Nazareth Then and Now,” Reynolds Price, Time, December 6, 1999, 58-59. This is the feature story in the issue, the cover title being, “Jesus at 2000: Novelist REYNOLDS PRICE offers a new Gospel based on archaeology and the Bible.”
2. John Dominic Crossan’s “Opening Address” in the debate with William Lane Craig, “Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?” in Paul Copan (ed.), Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1998, 39.
3. Based on Winfried Corduan, Reasonable Faith: Basic Christian Apologetics. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993, 217.
4. Ibid.
5. Jeffrey Hadden, results of a survey of 7,441 Protestant ministers published in PrayerNet Newsletter, November 13, 1998, 1, cited in Current Thoughts & Trends, March 1999, 19, from B. A. Robinson, www.religioustolerance.org/virgin_b.htm, retrieved on November 28, 999, 6.
6. Patrick Campbell, The Mythical Jesus, 41, in Robinson, 6.
7. Robinson, 1.
8. T. J. German, “Immaculate Conception,” in Walter A. Elwell (ed.), Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1984, 550.
9. Robinson, 1.
10. Orson Pratt, The Seer. Washington, D. C.: no publisher named, 1853-54, 159.
11. Journal of Discourses. London: Latter-day Saints’ Book Depot, 1854-56, 1:50-51.
12. Robinson, 1.
13. I was alerted to these quotes by Pratt and Young and the general refutation of the Mormon view by Ron Rhodes & Marian Bodine, Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Mormons. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 285-287.
14. Robinson, 1.
15. John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994, 17.
16. Ibid., 23.
17. The original said, “They.”
18. Marcus J. Borg, Meeting Jesus AGAIN for the First Time. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994, 23-24.
19. In Luke Timothy Johnson, The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996, 33.
20. J. S. Spong, Born of a Woman: A Bishop Rethinks the Birth of Jesus. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992, 45, in Robinson, 6.
21. Luke Timothy Johnson, 33.
22. Ignatius, Ephesians, xviii.2 — xix.1: For our God, Jesus Christ, was conceived in the womb by Mary, according to a dispensation, of the seed of David but also of the Holy Ghost… And hidden from the prince of this world were the virginity of Mary and her child-bearing and likewise also the death of the Lord — three mysteries to be cried aloud — the which were wrought in the silence of God” [Derived from Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers, Revised Texts with short Introductions and English Translations, 1907, in Machen, note 16, 6. In Ignatius, Smyrna 1:1-2, he speaks of the Son of God as “truly born of a virgin…” (in Lightfoot, quoted by J. Gresham Machen, The Virgin Birth of Christ. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1930 (copyright Harper & Row, Publishers, Incorporated; Baker Book House, 4th printing, 1974), note 16, 6.
23. Ignatius, Symrna, 1:1-2, in Machen note 17, 6.
24. Earl E. Cairns, Christianity Through the Centuries: A History of the Christian Church. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981, 74.
25. Machen, 7.
26. The original said, “neophyte.”
27. “The date cannot be fixed with certainty, but the work bears marks of antiquity,” (Machen, 6, note 13). Aristides, “The Apology, except for a fragment, was unknown until 1889, when a Syriac translation was discovered by J. Rendel Harris. Soon after, J. Armitage Robinson discovered that a Greek text had been preserved within the romance of Barlaam and Josaphat. For the reconstruction of the Apology and comprehensive discussions of Aristides, see especially Harris and Robinson, “The Apology of Aristides,” second edition, in Texts and Studies, I, I, second edition, 1893″ (Machen, note 12, 6. Machen gives references for where the Aristides details can be obtained.)
28. Machen, 6. Machen says that “the virgin birth is found in all three recensions — Armenian, Syriac and Greek. Without doubt it had a place in the original text” (Machen, note 14, 6).
29. Ibid., 5.
30. Justin Martyr, Dialogue, 85 (Goodspeed, Die altesten Apologeten, 1914, p. 197), in Machen, note 11, 5.
31. Machen, 7.
32. Ibid., 3. Machen says the older form of the Roman confession says simply, “Born of the Holy Ghost and the virgin Mary,” instead of “conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary.” Machen says that the “oldest form of all” may be “born of [or ‘through’] Mary the virgin,” but this is a question of “minor importance for the present discussion [on the virgin birth]” (footnote 3, Machen, 3).
33. Mather & Nichols, Dictionary of Cults, Sects, Religions and the Occult. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1993, 331-332, in Robinson, 2.
34. See Cairns, 133-135
35. Mather & Nichols, 331-332, in Robinson 2. The Athanasian Creed is thought to date to the fifth or sixth century in Gaul (France), but its date, author and place of origin are not sure [Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of Christianity (Vol. 1, Beginnings to 1500, Revised Edition). New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1975, 208. The Athanasian Creed says: “We believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man; God of the substance of the father, begotten before the worlds; and man of the substance of his mother, born in the world” (Mather & Nichols, 331-332, in Robinson 2.)
36. Latourette, 171.
37. Mather & Nichols, 331-332, in Robinson, 2.
38. “Completed in November 1646, it was “setting forth the Reformed system of theology and church government.” It had “extensive use in Presbyterian churches both in Great Britain and America” (Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of Christianity (Vol. II: Reformation to the Present, Revised Edition). New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1975, 821).
39. William Cunningham, Historical Theology (Vol. 1). Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1862, reprinted 1969, 311.
40. Corduan, 217-8.
41. Suggested by ibid., 218.
42. These bullet points are direct quotes from ibid., 174-175.
43. Ibid., 179.
44. Ibid., 185.
45. Ibid.
46. Norman Geisler and Ron Brooks, When Skeptics Ask: A Handbook on Christian Evidences. Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books, 1990, 103. These four points are based on ibid., 103.
47. Nelson Glueck, Rivers in the Desert. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Cudahy, 1959, 136, in ibid., 179.
48. Ibid., 103.
49. Gregory A. Boyd, Cynic, Sage or Son of God? Wheaton, Illinois: A Bridgepoint Book (Victor Books), 1995, 10.
50. R. Bultmann, “Is Exegesis without Presuppositions Possible?” in S. M. Ogden (ed. and trans.), Existence and Faith: Shorter Writings of Rudolf Bultmann. Cleveland: Meridian; New York: World, 1966, 291-92, in Boyd, 42.
51. B. Mack, A Myth of Innocence: Mark and Christian Origins. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988, 208, in Boyd, 224.
52. R. Bultmann, Jesus Christ and Mythology. New York: Scribner’s, 1958, 15, in Boyd, 42.
53. R. Bultmann, “New Testament and Mythology,” in H.W. Bartsch (ed.) and R.H. Fuller (trans.), Kerygma and Myth (Vol. 1). London: SPCK, 1964, 5, in Boyd, 301, n. 88.
54. Machen, 288.
55. D. A. Carson, “Matthew,” in Frank A. Gaebelein (Gen. Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Vol. 8). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Regency Reference Library (Zondervan Publishing House), 1984, 77.
56. Ibid.
57. Ibid.
58. Ibid.
59. Ibid.
60. Ibid., 78.
61. The word used in Carson was “profane.”
62. Carson, 78.
63. Ibid., 79
64. Ibid., 79.
65. NASB margin.
66. Carson used the word, “conjugal.”
67. Carson, 81.
68. The following line of argument is based on Corduan, 218-220.
69. Ibid., 219.
70. Ibid., 219-220.
71. Gordon R. Lewis and Bruce A. Demarest, Integrative Theology (Vol. 2). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990, 273.
72. Ibid.
73. Ibid.
74. Michael J. Wilkins and J. P. Moreland (gen. eds.), Jesus Under Fire. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995, 11.
75. Corduan, Reasonable Faith, 238. In arriving at the total of books in the New Testament that were considered authoritative, Corduan claims that during the debates within the church to determine the New Testament canon, “the most important question was about authorship. . . Was the book written by someone who was an apostle or directly represented an apostle? If so, it could be included; if not, it would be rejected” (ibid.).
76. Paul Barnett, Jesus & the Rise of Early Christianity: A History of New Testament Times. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1999, 305.
77. Papias described the writing of the Second Gospel:

“Mark became Peter’s interpreter [hermeneutes] and wrote accurately all that he remembered, not, indeed, in order, of the things said and done by the Lord. For he had not heard the Lord, nor had he followed him, but later on, as I said, followed Peter, who used to give teaching as necessity demanded, but not making, as it were, an arrangement of the Lord’s oracles, so that Mark did nothing wrong in thus writing down single points as he remembered them. For to one thing he gave attention, to leave nothing out of what he had heard and to make no false statement in them” [Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.3.4. We are indebted to early church historian, Eusebius, History of the Church, for Papias’s words, in Paul Barnett, ibid., 304-305].

 78. Barnett, ibid., 304.
79. Paul Barnett says that, “According to Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5.33.4, Papias was ‘a hearer of John,’ by which he must mean John the apostle. However, Eusebius HE [History of the Church] 3.39.12, who is our immediate source for Papias’s words, attributes his information not to John the apostle but to a later disciple, John the Elder. Note, though, that Irenaeus was a century and a half closer to these events than Eusebius was” [Barnett, ibid., n18, 325].
80. Boyd, 233. For further references, see Boyd, ibid., n15, 364.
81. Barnett describes it as “a surrogate father-son relationship” (Barnett, 379).
82. Robert L. Thomas and F. David Farnell, The Jesus Crisis. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1998, 271.
83. Barnett, 378. “Ministry of the Word is equivalent to the witness and message about Jesus.” This is seen in Luke 1:2, where “eyewitnesses from the beginning” and “servants of the Word” (NIV) are “not two different functions. They are inwardly related. Because these men were eye-witnesses they had an essential qualification for the ministry of the Word, namely, acquaintance with the pragmata, with the facts concerning Jesus Christ, about whom the Word is the witness and message” [Gerhard Kittel (ed.), Geoffrey W. Bromiley (trans. & ed.), Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Vol. IV). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967, 115]. Literally, the Greek of Luke 1:2 reads: “As delivered to us the [ones] from [the] beginning eyewitnesses and attendants becoming of the Word” [The Zondervan Parallel New Testament in Greek and English. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Bible Publishers, 1975, 163].
84. Barnett, ibid.
85. Ibid.
86. Barnett says that this means that this is “a single consolidated version made up of narratives that may have been abbreviated or in some way incomplete” (ibid.).
87. Who were Luke’s sources? He doesn’t say, but Barnett supports Luke and the hypothetical Q document as sources [ibid., 379].
88. Geisler & Brooks, 202-204.
89. Ibid., 103.
90. Wilkins and Moreland, 231.
91. Some of the above ideas suggested by ibid., 231-232.
92. The following observations about the grace of God are paraphrased from Wayne Dobratz, Sermon Outline on Luke 1:26-38, “The Making of a Miracle,” from Clergy/Leaders’ Mail-list No. 964 (brief), clergy@pastornet.net.au, 18 December 1999, 2.
93. Ibid.
94. He used the term, “Man.”
95. In Dobratz, 1.
96. Machen, 288.
97. Dr. David R. Reagan, “The Virgin Birth: Its Essentiality to the Faith,” www.lamblion.com/Web09-20.htm (retrieved on November 28, 1999), 2.
98. Machen, 297.
99. Joseph Henry Thayer, The Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, first Zondervan printing 1962, 489.
100. Machen, 297.
101. Ibid. He wrote:

“It must be remembered that such a doctrine [of the virgin birth] is entirely without attestation elsewhere. To find merely in the Septuagint translation of almah by ‘virgin,’ a translation that appears in another passage where there is no suspicion of any doctrinal significance, and that is paralleled by the occasional use of the same Greek word to translate a simple Hebrew word for young woman, is surely venturesome in the extreme. There is not the slightest direct evidence, therefore, in support of the view that there was in the pre-Christian Judaism of the time subsequent to the Old Testament any expectation of a virgin birth of the Messiah” (p. 297).

102. Ibid., 291.
103. Based on ibid., 292.

To God be the glory!

 

Copyright (c) 2007 Spencer D. Gear.  This document last updated at Date: 7 October 2015.

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