I am fully aware that authoring this post makes me a heretic, as that term is defined by many Christians. Whatever.
In order to be a Christian, I had to believe, as a matter of faith, that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin. You see, if Jesus wasn’t born of a virgin, then he couldn’t be God. That would mean that he could not die on the cross for our sins, come back from the dead, and so forth.
Thus, the Evangelical Christian religion hinges entirely on this one question:
Was Jesus Christ born of a virgin?
For any practicing Christian, the answer to that question must be a resounding: Yes! Otherwise, if there is doubt, then the entire belief system collapses. That was certainly the case with me.
So, the question becomes:
What evidence do I have that Jesus was born of a virgin?
In my mind that evidence is wanting. I have seriously studied the scriptures, as you can tell if you read this blog. For me to doubt the virgin birth does not take very much at all. I only really need to doubt one thing: The conversation between Mary and the Holy Spirit in Luke 1:26-38 (NIV), which reads:
26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 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, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[a] the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”
38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
Now, it is pretty obvious that there are some serious problems here. First of all, the only witness to this entire conversation was Mary. Second, the account was only written down around 70 years after the actual events at the earliest. Thus, Mary, Joseph, and everyone else involved in the events were all dead. The (supposed) added credibility of having Elizabeth (Mary’s relative, possibly an aunt) witness to the divine incarnation is evaporated once I understand that Elizabeth (who was older than Mary) was dead and gone before all of this got written down.
My father told me what he considered his “great heresy”. It went basically like this:
There was a nice Jewish girl named Mary. She was desperately and hopelessly in love with this young Jewish man. They lived in a small town called Nazareth in an ancient time. Because they both lived within a rigid, terrifying cruel religious culture, they knew their relationship was doomed: Mary had been given by her father in an arranged marriage to an older man named Joseph. Mary and the young man both knew if they consummated their love, that they could be stoned. If Mary became pregnant that would be the ultimate catastrophe. Yet the temptation proved to be too great for them. In an awkward compromise, the young man only penetrated Mary very gently and very shallowly, to avoid breaking the hymen. Nonetheless, he transmitted his seed, and Mary conceived.
When Mary became pregnant, they were both terrified. They came up with an insane plan: Mary would insist that she was a virgin! Thus, the conception must be divine! Knowing that her only other choice was either death or a life of terrible hardship, Mary agreed.
The plan worked beyond her wildest imagination! The priest examined Mary and declared her a virgin. Everyone acknowledged the miracle. Joseph even agreed to support Mary and her son without having relations with her. Mary took the secret with her to her grave. Not even her own son knew the truth.
There is a rule of logic know as Occam’s Razor. This rule states that, when faced with two explanations for an event, choose the one which is simpler, and requires the fewest assumptions. In order to believe Mary’s account, we must assume:
- God, the creator of the universe, the pre-existent, single cause of everything, craves an intimate and personal relationship with me, and is capable of monitoring my every action, including my own thoughts.
- God has a very strong opinion about the way in which I should live my life, and has codified those preferences in the old testament law contained in the bible.
- God will punish the slightest infraction of that law with an eternity in a place of torment.
- Although I had no active participation in the event, I am nonetheless damned to eternal torment due to the original sin by my ancestors, Adam and Eve.
- God decided in order to satisfy his own wrath to horribly torture and kill his own son (also divine).
- If I believe all of that with no doubt, I will no longer be damned. Instead, I will go to a wonderful place when I die.
Six assumptions in other words. In order to believe my father’s account, I only need to believe this:
- A teenage girl who was angry about an arranged marriage had sex with a random guy and lied about it.
Not sure about you, but I’m going with the simpler explanation.
If I may.. please be careful about the use of the razor. that is a trap that is based on bias and presuppositions. To say that all that happened with Mary and Joseph is not the simplest one to believe. There is so much assumption in that explanation that it actually requires more faith to believe than the clear explanation that God gave. You would have to know when Mary died, did she die before she could have told the disciples the story Matthew, mark Luke John? that is highly unlikely, for John was at the cross with her and in fact Jesus told John that he was to take care of her because she was now his mother. Could not James the brother of Jesus shared to virgin birth story? these seem far more simple to believe than Joseph and Mary sneaking around. That razor logic is a trick. From the beginning the simplest explanation is the one you have. When you begin to create scenarios, you simply create an infinitely number of stories that make the original seem complex. The simplest is always what you begin with..Jesus was born of a virgin, until you have clear proof that this was not done at that time, with these people, and for this reason, the most simple answer is the God of creation chose to miraculously invade the earth through virgin birth so that He could redeem man kind…
I find that it takes vastly less faith to believe that an angry teenage girl had illicit sex, got pregnant and lied about it, especially considering the options available to Mary in the repressive religious culture of the time. In fact, I completely understand how Mary would come to this conclusion, assuming that my father’s theory is correct. Of course, there is no way to actually know. As I pointed out on the blog, the only witnesses to the conversation between Mary and God was Mary (and presumably God, if you believe the account). In terms of Mary telling the story to the disciples, of course she did. That’s the whole point of the scenario. My father’s hypothesis works precisely because it accounts for every single fact contained in the New Testament accounts concerning the birth of Jesus.
Remember, please, that I do not have to prove any of what I am saying is true in absolute terms. In fact, I acknowledge that I cannot do so. I am in a constant, persistent state of doubt about everything. The burden of proof is not upon me for this reason: I am not trying to prove that anything is true.
That’s not the case with Evangelical Christianity, though: This religion makes hard, specific, historical, factual claims, which become tenets of faith. The virgin birth is one of these. I maintain that the burden of proof falls upon religion (upon you, actually) to prove the truth of the facts that you expect me to believe as a Christian. And, having weighed the evidence, I conclude that for me (and I think any reasonably intelligent, rational person who objectively examines the evidence), the idea that the virgin birth is an established absolute fact beyond a shred of doubt is quite frankly absurd.
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