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Christian beliefs

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The virgin birth of Jesus: Fact or fable?

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Conflicting quotations showing the diversity of beliefs about the virgin birth:

bullet"The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus by the Supreme Being as his father, in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter." Thomas Jefferson, 1823. 1
 
bullet"There can be no doubt as to the Church's teaching and as to the existence of an early Christian tradition maintaining the perpetual virginity of our Blessed Lady and consequently the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. The mystery of the virginal conception is furthermore taught by the third Gospel and confirmed by the first." Catholic Encyclopedia 2
 
bullet"Larry King, the CNN talk show host, was once asked who he would most want to interview if he could choose anyone from all of history. He said, 'Jesus Christ.' The questioner said, 'And what would you like to ask Him?' King replied, "I would like to ask Him if He was indeed virgin-born. The answer to that question would define history for me'." From Just Thinking, RZIM, Winter 1998. Cited by ChristianAnswers.net 3
 
bullet"Although the virgin birth cannot be understood as a historical-biological event, it can be regarded as a meaningful symbol at least for that time." Hans Küng, "On Being a Christian," 4
 
bullet"Matthew's Gospel was written in about AD 80-90 for Christians who were not of Jewish provenance - that is, Gentiles who had no knowledge of Isaiah's original Hebrew. For them, the passage announced, unambiguously, the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy: the miraculous birth of a divine being. But the prophet himself and readers of his original Hebrew sentence regarded it as a quite specific allusion to the historical circumstances of Isaiah's age - and would have found its mutation in Greek into one of the foundations of Christian doctrine quite baffling." Geza Vermes, discussing Isaiah 7:14 5
 
bullet"The virgin birth of Jesus Christ is the root from which everything the New Testament says about him grows. ... Both Luke and Matthew state it up front as a fact, which they are convinced explains the unusual nature of the man, Jesus, and the amazing things he said and did." 6
 
bullet"The virgin birth is an underlying assumption of everything the Bible says about Jesus. To throw out the virgin birth is to reject Christ's deity, the accuracy and authority of Scripture, and a host of other related doctrines that are the heart of the Christian faith. No issue is more important than the virgin birth to our understanding of who Jesus is. If we deny Jesus is God, we have denied the very essence of Christianity." John F. MacArthur, Jr. 7

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Overview:

From about 80 CE to the present time, most Christian faith groups have taught that Yeshua of Nazareth (Jesus Christ) was conceived and born by his mother Mary, while she was still a virgin. They believe that this happened by the action of the Holy Spirit, without an act of sexual intercourse. 

Further:

bulletRoman Catholicism has taught the doctrine of perpetual virginity -- that Mary lived, gave birth to Jesus, and remained a virgin through her entire life.

bulletIslam also teaches that Mary was a virgin when she conceived Jesus.

bullet Some of the early leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- by far the largest of the Mormon denominations -- taught that God has a physical body, and that he came down to earth, engaged in sexual intercourse with Mary, and conceived Jesus. However, this was never made an official church teaching and is rarely heard today, outside of statements by anti-Mormon groups who often mistkenly claim that God engaging in sexual intercourse with Mary is current LDS Church teaching.

The Anglican Communion, Eastern Orthodoxy, Protestant faith groups and Roman Catholicism have taught the "virgin birth," although the term "virgin conception" would be much more accurate. This has long been one of the Christianity's foundational beliefs, along with the inerrancy of the Bible; the God's inspiration of the authors of the Bible; the atonement, resurrection, and the anticipated second coming of Jesus, etc. All of the commonly used major ancient church creeds have also mentioned the virgin birth.

There is an incompatibility between belief in the virgin birth and the messiahship of Jesus:

bulletThe virgin birth implies that the actual father of Yeshua was the Holy Spirit.
bulletNumerous places in the Hebrew Scriptures state that the coming messiah was to be of the House of David.

Thus:

bulletIf Yeshua is the messiah, then he could not have been born of a virgin; he would have had to have a father who was of the House of David, and

bulletIf Jesus was born of a virgin, then he could not have been the messiah, because his father -- the Holy Spirit -- was not a human descendent of the House of David.

Scientists have observed that virgin conceptions (parthenogenesis) occurr in nature, but only in much smaller animals that humans; it has never been observed as ocurring in humans, except in unique births as mentioned in religions myths and documents.

Most modern liberal theologians have generally rejected the virgin birth. They regard it as a religious myth that was added to Christian belief in the late first century CE and was partly based on a Greek mistranslation of the book of Isaiah from the original Hebrew. Its purpose was to make Christianity more competitive with contemporary Pagan religions in the Mediterranean region, most of whom featured their founder having being born of a virgin. Without the claim of a virgin birth, it is unclear whether Christianity would have been able to compete with Mithraism and other Pagan religions in the Roman Empire; it might not have survived.

Conservative Christians generally acknowledge that the virgin birth/conception happened as a historical event. Some denominations believe that it was necessary in order to prevent Jesus from inhereting the original sin passed down from Adam and Eve.

Various polls have found that about 80% of American adults believe in the virgin birth of Jesus. This exceeds the total number of American adults who identify themselves as Christian or Muslim. In fact, 47% of non-Christian adults also believe in the virgin birth. 8

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Topics covered in this section:

bulletThe Virgin Birth in Bible passages & church creeds.

bulletWhat about "a virgin shall conceive" passage in Isaiah?
 
bulletBrief review of various Christian denominations' beliefs on the virgin birth
 
bulletDetailed explanation of the beliefs of:
bulletConservative Christians & Muslims
 
bulletMany liberal Christian theologians, skeptics, etc.
 
bulletRoman Catholics
 
bulletThe Church of Christ of Latter-day Saints (The largest Mormon denomination)
 
bulletBeliefs of clergy and the public. Alternate explanations
 
bulletItems related to the virgin birth:
bulletThe Immaculate Conception: A Catholic doctrine related to the Virgin Birth

bulletWere Jesus' "brothers" and "sisters" full siblings, half siblings, cousins or friends?

References

  1. L.M. Graham, "Deceptions and Myths of the Bible", Citadel Press, New York, NY, (1991), P. 304. Out of print. However, a used copy may be obtainable from Amazon.com online book store
  2. "The Virgin Birth of Christ," New Advent, at: http://www.newadvent.org/
  3. "Isn't the virgin birth of Jesus Christ mythological and scientifically impossible?," ChristianAnswers.Net, at: http://www.christiananswers.net/
  4. Hans Küng, "On being a Christian," Image, (Reprinted 1984). Page 456. Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
  5. Geza Vermes, "Matthew's Nativity is charming and frightening... but it's a Jewish myth," Telegraph, 2004-DEC-19, at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/
  6. R.C. Girard & Larry Richards, "The Life of Christ," Thomas Nelson (2007), Page 7-8.
  7. John F. MacArthur, Jr, cited in R.C. Girard & Larry Richards, "The Life of Christ," Thomas Nelson (2007), Page 8.
  8. Nicholas D. Kristof, "Believe it or not," New York Times, 2003-AUG-15.

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Copyright © 1996 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2011-DEC-16
Written by. B.A. Robinson
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