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.