Monday, November 24, 2008

What I Believe About the Virgin Birth

One of the most important elements of the Nativity story that we Christians celebrate each year is the significance of the virgin birth of Jesus. It is central not only to our understanding of Christmas, but to our belief in the incarnation. The incarnation is the doctrine that teaches us that God took the form of humanity in the person of Jesus. Philippians 2.5-11 gives a great perspective on the incarnation. And although the incarnation is the most significant thing that we get from the virgin birth, it is not the only thing.

The virgin birth is prophesied in Isaiah. The prophet tells the people that a virgin will conceive and bring forth a son (Isaiah 7.14). In the Gospels we learn that this prophecy was fulfilled in Mary, the mother of Jesus. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit. There was not a human father. Joseph, the betrothed husband of Mary, would serve as an adoptive, or surrogate, father for Jesus, but Jesus was literally the Son of God.

This event was so significant that many have chosen to exalt Mary as a “blessed mother.” Two cautions should be observed here. First of all, Catholics and others have sometimes exalted Mary to a place equal with Jesus. The Scripture does support claims that Mary was more holy, more blessed than others, but we would do well to give her too much authority or power in the spiritual cosmos. Secondly, in reaction to what is seen as an over-blown Catholic veneration of Mary, many Protestants, and especially evangelicals, have diminished or ignored the importance of Mary. A balance is called for here on both sides of the issue.

But what of the doctrine of the Virgin Birth itself? What should we believe about the Virgin Birth?
  • Although I do not believe that a virgin birth is required to believe in the divinity of Jesus, I do believe that Mary was a virgin when Jesus was conceived. I have a very high view of Scripture and that means that I choose to believe what the Bible says about this issue.
  • I do not believe that Mary was born of a virgin. This common dogma is essentially unnecessary. If Mary were born of a virgin it does exalt her, but it does nothing to bring glory to Jesus. There is nothing in the Bible to support this view.
  • I believe that Mary was not always a virgin. After the birth of Jesus I believe that she married Joseph and that there were several children born in that family. There is no reason to believe that the other children were either miraculously conceived or born of another mother.
  • I do not believe that the virgin birth implies that there is anything inherently sinful about sexual relationships. There are rules and guidelines that God gives for sex, but we should not infer that Mary’s virginity is what made Jesus sinless.
  • I believe that Jesus’ miraculous birth sets the stage for his life and ministry. He was- and is- the Son of God. The events of the first Christmas echo through the ages so that we can know and experience “peace on earth.”

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