Not Born to a Virgin – Why I Don’t Believe in the Virgin Birth

this-collar-is-too-tightThis is the third post in a series called: “This Collar Is Too Tight: Heresies From a Southern Minister.”  The short explanation of this series is this: the institutionalized Church spends a lot of time defining who’s in and who’s out. Biblically, I find that a lot of the “measures” used don’t hold up. I’m making the argument for a larger acceptance of theological diversity in the Christian Church.

 

Let me tell you the tale of a great Savior.

As tradition tells the tale, this Savior will come and usher in the end of days. He will replace the evil forces that rule the world. In their place will be the rule of God.

This Savior will be born of a virgin.

Sounds a bit like the Immaculate Conception, right?

Well, no.

It’s actually from the Zoroastrian tradition which was established centuries and centuries before Christianity. Honestly? That is just basic “Introduction to World Religions” stuff.

And, no.

The Immaculate Conception isn’t about Jesus; it is about Mary, his mother.

Catholic tradition holds that it was Mary’s conception that was immaculate in that she was conceived free of original sin – thus, an immaculate conception.

So, let’s get the language correct: immaculate conception is not the same thing as virgin birth.

Ultimately, I don’t believe in either of them.

In titling this series, I almost decided to put the “heresies” part in quotation marks, because I don’t see most of the points I’m making as actual heresies because lots of modern scholars and plenty of other minsters actually believe the same things.

I just realized these articles would be treated as heresies; thus, the name.

The virgin birth is actually only mentioned in one New Testament book, Matthew (Luke describes Mary, pre-conception, as a virgin but does not address it in relationship to the birth).

In Matthew, the scripture is referencing an Old Testament text – which proves to be an unfortunate reality in a couple of ways for those who insist you must believe in the virgin birth if you wish to be Christian.

The first problem is that the text it is referencing, Isaiah 7:14, is actually part of a larger narrative. And that larger narrative is about a war that was about to happen. God, through the prophet, was trying to comfort the King of Judah about the war by telling him that a child would be born and, before that child could know the difference between good and evil, the two kings planning to attack him will no longer be kings.

That child? His name will be called Immanuel and he will be born unto a virgin.

We’re talking some 700ish years before Jesus.

This wasn’t about Jesus.

There’s actually another problem.

It has to do with the Hebrew used in Isaiah 7:14 that is interpreted as “virgin.”

It probably doesn’t mean “virgin.”

There was another word that very specifically meant “virgin.”

That is not the word used here.

The word used in this text probably means something closer to “maiden.”

Which is why some modern translations now say “maiden” rather than “virgin” in Isaiah 7:14.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t believe in a virgin birth. I’m just saying that I don’t – and there’s a whole bunch of scholars who helped me come to this conclusion.

It’s reasonable.

And it doesn’t threaten my belief in God or my ability to try to follow Jesus’ teachings, particularly the one about loving God and everyone.

I’m just saying that the Church should make more room for people who don’t follow the mainline and traditional dogma.

It’s the loving thing to do.

And, it’s reasonable.

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2 comments

  1. No, no no. I can agree with your better translation of the work in Matthew and totally disagree with your conclusions, but changing that single word does nothing to change the meaning of Mt 1 or Lk 1. In both cases the text makes clear that Mary had never been with a prior to Jesus’ conception. Whether this constitutes a virgin birth can be debated, but the only way to reject a virgin conception is to reject the beginning of both Gospels.

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  2. Yeah, it seems to me that virgin birth narrative was a later legendary embellishment to the earlier narrative. Paul doesn’t talk about it. Both gospel according to Mark and John do not talk about it. If Markan priority is true, then virgin birth is a later addition to the narrative. It seems to me that the earliest gospel will only have Jesus entering scene suddenly from his native place of Galilee for his baptism much similar to how Elijah suddenly makes his entrance into the narrative from his place of Tishbe in 1 Kings 17.

    Even in the two accounts that have the account of virgin birth (Matthew and Luke), it could be alternately read as Jesus born as the son of Joseph and Mary. Andrew Lincoln’s book, ‘Born of a Virgin?: Reconceiving Jesus in the Bible, Tradition, and Theology’ deals with those passages in an alternate lens of interpretation (https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0802869254). Personally I don’t see the reason why one could believe that Jesus was the son of Joseph and Mary and at the same time, believe that he was empowered by the Spirit of God to do miraculous works and reveal God’s wisdom.

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