Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Should We Care About the Virgin Birth?


But at least one pastor has a few comments that seem to indicate otherwise. In this post, Paul Janssen's main point is to ask his readers about the role the virgin birth plays in their Christian lives. But in the process he mentions two things that pretty much all of us know: (1) that pre-Christian religions had virgin births; (2) that Matthew mistranslated Isaiah 7:14 when he substituted "virgin" for the OT's broader, "young woman". He doesn't say for sure, but Janssen is apparently skeptical of the NT's accounts.

Well, I took issue with the post in a comment there that I figured might be worth reproducing here for those of you who are generally interested in this issue or who share his assumptions. I hope it helps:

    Three things:

    (1) What other virgin births are you thinking of, specifically?

    (2) You say that most of us are aware of Matthew's mistranslation of Isaiah 7. For one thing, properly speaking it would be the LXX's mistranslation more than Matthew's, since he sticks very close to the LXX in that quote.

    But more importantly, the Gk. parthenos, which most certainly means "virgin" in English, is quite a reasonable translation of the Hebrew almah. Almah only occurs a handful of times in the Hebrew Bible, but in all but one case it most certainly refers to an unmarried woman (i.e. a "virgin"), and in only one case is it possible for it to refer to a married young woman, [and even there] it really could go either way (that reference escapes me right now, because my old computer broke so I don't have my BibleWorks, and my good commentaries are in my office!).

    All that to say this: to say that all of us recognize that Matthew has mistranslated Isaiah 7:14 is, well, wrong for both of the reasons that I gave

    (3) I should also add that Matthew 1:18-25 paints the picture of Jesus basically being adopted by Joseph- that is where the text wants us to go, I think, despite that it doesn't actually use the word "adopted". Remarkable then, isn't it, that our Lord's adoption into the line of David is seen as enough for him to be truly David's son, no less than if he were physically born of a descendant of David. Why is this remarkable? Because, of course, we Gentiles were not in the line Abraham, yet we receive the promises given to him. We sinners were also not the true sons of God, but we were adopted by the Father. If adoption is good enough for Jesus, it is good enough for us. Virginal conception points to the nature of our Lord and to the precedent he sets for us in beautiful ways.

(HT: Kevin DeYoung, who responded in greater length and detail on his blog- my version is something like the cliffnotes of his.)


fliptop said...

Please, be careful.
My blog post asked people what role the virginal conception of Jesus plays in their faith. Did I make reference to the (mis) translation of Matthew? Sure. Scholars disagree about this; I find the "mistranslation" argument more plausible than the argument you put forth. Did I aver that other religions (and non-religions) posit virgin births? Yes -- because they did. I did not claim that they were the same as the Christian story. I only used that fact to indicate that the notion of virginal conception is not unique to Christianity. That's all. Please be cautious about mischaracterizing the thoughts of others, and taking their posts out of context. You seem to have taken a non-polemical blog and turned it into "fighting words."

Kevin offered up a mostly reasonable reply, and I encourage people to read it. I have since responded to his reply.

Andrew Faris said...

Paul (if that is, in fact you- I don't mean to be ridiculous, but I have no way of knowing is all!),

Glad that you would come respond! A few things:

1) I offered my reply directly on your blog at first and got no response from you. My comments there and here are just about exactly the same. I get that you can't reply to every comment, but I was one of the only ones that dissented there. Why not reply there first?

2) I didn't really mean it in an overly polemical way. If I've misread you, I apologize, but am I wrong in assuming (as Kevin did, by the way) that you had at least some intention of casting doubt on the virginal conception? If not, why do you mention the two things I pointed to here and then say that defending inerrancy could be especially important to some as the other reason for its importance?

3) I did mention that your post's main point was to simply ask about the role of the virginal conception in people's lives. I did that so as to not purposely misrepresent you. I just figured that you're not the only one making the arguments that you make (and you say as much in your comment here), so I figured this time of year that readers of this blog could be interested in a response to those points. That was really all I was going after.

4) If you have replied, where is it? I can't find it on your blog or on Kevin's.

Sorry if it seemed polemical- I was just trying to be direct, and I figured no one was going to think other than that this is reasonable adults discussing a text.


in said...

Where do you crazy guys get off insisting Jesus was fully human, when only half his dna was, that makes him half human, and don't run to Adam & Eve because that won't float, the humanity to which God addresses himself and covenants with isn't any but that creation of male and female.

fliptop said...

You have pointed to one of the two central mysteries of the Christian faith: the dual nature of Christ, which means that he was, at the same time, fully human and fully divine. (Or fully God and fully man, if you prefer the substantives) The other being the triune nature of God. I wonder what divine DNA looks like. I confess I don't even get why you would think we'd run to Adam & Eve. While I think there is a lot of room for dialogue on many of the core beliefs in Christianity (and I mean dialogue in a positive sense here!) these two mysteries are really at the core. Thus, if one denies the triune nature of God (in some form), one is not a Christian. Maybe a unitarian, maybe something else. Not a wicked heathen, mind you; but not a Christian believer. So it is for the dual nature of Christ. Deny it, and you can certainly still be a wonderful person, and charitable and compassionate and all sorts of admirable things. But not a Christian believer. I've known several people over the years who have WANTED to believe one or both of these mysteries, but have not been able to muster belief. We have fine relationships and talk often; their lack of belief is no reason to treat them uncharitably. I hope you don't feel I've treated you uncharitably.

Jared Totten said...


Even if Jesus was both God and man, this does not translate to Jesus only having 50% human DNA. God is spirit, so there is no DNA there. Immaterial does not have material DNA!

So Jesus had 100% human DNA. This is why we say he was fully human. So even if we could go back and test or measure Jesus DNA and humanity, we would not measure his divinity in the same way.