Friday, February 1, 2008

15 Reasons NOT to Believe in a Literal Virgin Birth

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...FYI, courtesy of a liberal Catholic. Enjoy. Debunk.

1.) The Virgin Birth story appears to have taken decades to develop. It does not appear to have been known to (or believed by) St. Mark or St. John or St. Paul.

It is inconceivable that any of these would have omitted mention of the Virgin Birth had they known of it and believed in it.

2.) If a natural explanation of something is reasonable, an unnecessary supernatural explanation ought not to be presumed. And such an explanation does exist; see #12 below. We should not assume He has used supernatural means when the same result could be accomplished by natural means. God does not usually, if ever, do this.

3.) A virgin birth would have violated the laws of nature God Himself made, reflecting His own nature.

4.) It cannot be proven that any virgin birth has ever occurred.

5.) The Theotokos herself referred to Joseph as Jesus’ father (Luke 2:48) and she ought to have known.

6.) Luke 4:22 and Matthew 13:54-55 show us that many people believed Joseph was Jesus’ father.

7.) In Mark 3:21, we read, “When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’” (NIV) Would Jesus’ mother ever think He was out of His mind if she knew He had been conceived supernaturally and born amid miraculous circumstances?

8.) St. John refers to Jesus as the son of Joseph (1:45; 6:42) without any qualification.

9.) There are amazing similarities between the story of Jesus’ conception and birth and the stories of other figures, both real and mythical. We should not have a double standard, according to which we reject others’ virgin birth stories but expect them to accept our.

10.) In that period, nobody expected a biography to be literally true in all details. Points considered true were often illustrated by fiction. Thus, the important question to ask is, what truth does this story seek to convey to us?

11.) If God wanted us to believe in virgin births, He would from time to time produce them. But there are no miracles today. If there were, we might use those to vindicate belief in the Virgin Birth. But since such events do not occur today, it is reasonable to suppose that miraculous parts of the Gospels are fiction. (It’s God’s fault if we are deceived in this deduction, because He and He alone could be responsible for absence of miracles today.)

12.) Early Christians were competing with other religions which made extravagant claims for their gods. Christians felt the need to do the same, to grab people’s attention and persuade them of Jesus’ greatness. Many of these figures, as adults, also fasted for 40 days, died violently, and were resurrected from the dead. Christians clearly borrowed from these other stories so their deity would be able to compete.

13.) Several other aspects of the birth narratives, besides the virgin birth, are clearly at least partly fiction or symbolic, such as the behavior of the star, for example. If we do not believe in a literal star, why believe in a literal virgin birth? Furthermore, some elements of the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke cannot be reconciled. Did Mary and Joseph live in Bethlehem and only moved to Nazareth later (Matthew), or did they live in Nazareth before they journeyed to Bethlehem? Did the Holy Family fee to Egypt in haste (Matthew) , or did they wait around for 8 days to have Jesus circumcised and presented in the Temple on the fortieth day and return to Nazareth afterwards? Clearly some fiction has been inserted here.

14.) Matthew and Luke have different genealogies of Christ. At least one of them is considered to be traced through Joseph’s line, suggesting that he was Jesus’ biological father. Many scholars “feel” that both genealogies are meant to be Joseph’s.

15.) There is no theological necessity for a literal virgin birth. You can still assert the presence in Him of the divine nature. You can still assert the hypostatic union. You can still say He was born free of original sin (the way Catholics assert Mary is).

13 comments:

-C said...

There is no need for me to debunk or to cast stones at the beliefs of others.

This person believes something other than what I believe.

It is only my job to pray for this person.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

When a doctrine of the Orthodox Church is attacked, as it is here, we should be ready to defend it.

That's not necessarily YOUR job, personally, okay. Nevertheless, it's a job to be done.

-C said...

The Church does not need me to defend it - or anyone else for that matter - because it is the Truth. My defending the Orthodox position will not make it any more true. And someone attacking it will not make it any less true.

What IS MY job is to love God with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength, and my neighbor (all of them, actually - even the ones who don't share my beliefs) as myself.

That's all I'm saying. It's not our job to fight, but to love.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

What you say is true. But it isn't the whole truth. Certainly, the Truth needs no defence, especially from such as we. However, there are some *people* who do, who are snookered by this kind of stuff. I know because I spent a long time as one of them. I wanted to believe little-"o" orthodox Christianity, but such argument as these prevented me for many years. It would have been a wonderful mercy for me, a marvelous service, if somebody, loving me with all his *mind* as well as heart, had been able to debunk this stuff for me and set me straight sooner.

That's why I'm inviting people to do it here.

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

Ok. I'll bite, for one, anyway.

#1: The Virgin Birth was taught within decades of the event(s) in question; why did no one speak *against* it if it had not happened? It's beyond the purview of St. Mark's gospel, of course; but it's certainly implied by St. Paul (Gal 4:4) and St. John (1:13--language which presupposes the Virgin Birth).

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Yes. Thank you, Fr. Gregory. I thought that, together with #13, was perhaps the strongest of the 15arguments.

St. John, of course, live long enough to have possbily been aware of St. Luke's Gospel.

As for St. Luke, he was a disciple and fellow-traveler of St. Paul, so it isn't likely he would preach something of which St. Paul disapproved!

One could postulate heaven only knows how many reasons the birth and infancy narratives are not mentioned specifically outside of the two gospels. Nobody really KNOWS for sure. People who say it's because the doctrine was invented decades later are only telling us what they are imagining.

Any more takers? We've still got 14 more arguments going begging.

orrologion said...

The biography I wrote for the Colloquium on Orthodoxy for Lutherans and the one for business development presentations at my job neither mention the fact that I have green eyes and brown hair or the fact that I am part American Indian - but they are all true facts. The purpose of my writing those documents was not to discuss these other things, so they are not mentioned.

Also, there was a difference in the early church between proclaimed dogmas and the 'private' ones as can be seen from the fact that catechumens were not allowed to see the last half of the Divine Liturgy, they also saw a baptism/chrismation for the first time when they went through it.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

#2 If a natural explanation of something is reasonable, an unnecessary supernatural explanation ought not to be presumed ... We should not assume He has used supernatural means when the same result could be accomplished by natural means.
* * *

ANY way of unting human nature with divine nature is going to be miraculous! That is, even if you disbelieve the virgin birth, any other mechanism you stipulate for how this might be accomplished will have to be supernatural.

Besides, who says we should prefer the natural to the supernatural, and why? In matters scientific, yes, that would be correct scientific method. But in matters theological, is seems a mere prejudice. Or else a confusing of disciplines and their respective methods.

Anonymous said...

"It's not our job to fight, but to love."

That sounds so nice, but I'm thankful that saints such as Paul, Irenaeus, the Three Hierarchs, Maximus the Confessor, Gregory Palamas, and countless others fought as they loved.

I have heard it said many times that the responsibility to defend the Orthodox faith rests upon each member of the Church.

That being said, it is not the job of each person to enter into debates. Defending the faith can be as simple as humble proclamation.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

3.) A virgin birth would have violated the laws of nature God Himself made, reflecting His own nature.

* * *

This is a Roman Catholic idea, not an Orthodox one. Fr. John Romanides says it better than I can:

Between God and the world no natural law exists because God Himself rules and sustains all things. if we observe a stability of natural phenomena in nature, it is not because of some natural law as a kind of fate or predestination. On the contrary, it is because of the stable will and trustworthy action of God. Thus, God...does not perform miracles through the intervention of the supernatural in the natural, or by the elevation of eternal laws supposedly established by Him"

--The Ancestral Sin, p. 64 (Section B1 in the Chapter, "God's Relations With the World")

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

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4.) It cannot be proven that any virgin birth has ever occurred.

Well, in frogs in can.

So what? The very existence of God can’t be proven by the standards of science. In science and in the Church, we use very different criteria, as appropriate to each, and equally valid for each, but not interchangeably valid. We do not investigate scientific matters by religious methods, nor Christian life by scientific ones.

5.) The Theotokos herself referred to Joseph as Jesus’ father (Luke 2:48) and she ought to have known.

Even the person who proposed this argument acknowledged it is weak. Most adoptive parents are called “Mother” or “Father”.

6.) Luke 4:22 and Matthew 13:54-55 show us that many people believed Joseph was Jesus’ father.

Sure. So what? How were they supposed to know about anything else, or believe it if it had been told them?

7.) In Mark 3:21, we read, “When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’” (NIV) Would Jesus’ mother ever think He was out of His mind if she knew He had been conceived supernaturally and born amid miraculous circumstances?

Not what the passage says. (Note to self: Always check the Greek, especially when the New International Version is used, because it is so notoriously inaccurate.) It doesn’t say His family came; it says says “those by Him”, meaning those close to Him, which the King James translates as, “His friends.” His family doesn’t show up until 10 verses later, which in the Gospel of Mark is a long time. Those friends, then, came to take Him, for they said He had “gone forth”. “From Himself” is probably to be understood (although interestingly, that isn’t how Strong sees it).

http://www.blueletterbible.org/cgi-bin/c.pl?book=Mar&chapter=3&verse=21&version=KJV#21

They came to take charge of Jesus because, see previous verse, He could not so much as eat bread on account of the crowds and they thought that was just crazy.

But none of this has anything remotely to do with the virgin birth.

8.) St. John refers to Jesus as the son of Joseph (1:45; 6:42) without any qualification.

Not so. Sometimes people’s arguments are downright disingenuous. (Note to self: always check out the references people give you!)

In 1:45, Philip, not John, says it to his brother: “Philip finds Nathanael, and say to him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

In 6:42, it is not John, but “the Jews” murmuring against Him who say, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? how is it then that he says, I came down from heaven?” Whereupon Jesus reaffirms what He has already said repeatedly in this very chapter, and will say several times more before the end of the chapter: that He has been sent into the world by His Father in heaven.

If anything, this chapter more supports the virgin birth than tends to disprove it. And well it should, when we remember that Jesus’ mother had gone to live with St. John after the Crucifixion. St. Luke is said to have interviewed her, but St. John lived with her! Of all the Apostles, he would be in the best position to know about the virgin birth.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

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9.) There are amazing similarities between the story of Jesus’ conception and birth and the stories of other figures, both real and mythical. We should not have a double standard, according to which we reject others’ virgin birth stories but expect them to accept ours.

Oh, yes, we should have a “double standard.” Or rather, a unique standard, which is Christ Jesus, the Only-begotten of the Father. It is He who makes the virgin birth believable, and – note carefully – not vice versa! Nobody else begins to measure up to him, to be able to make some other virgin birth story believable.

10.) In that period, nobody expected a biography to be literally true in all details. Points considered true were often illustrated by fiction. Thus, the important question to ask is, what truth does this story seek to convey to us?

This is always the question to be asked of every passage in Scripture. However, this does not necessarily mean denying its literal sense. St. Luke assures us that he does know what he is talking about, that he is going to tell it just as he received it, and that it is the truth: “Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.” (Luke 1:1-4) Either he was lying or he wasn’t. Tradition says he was skinned alive and then crucified on an olive tree, so if he was lying, he attested to his lie with a great deal of pain and suffering, not to mention arduous labor as an assistant to St. Paul.

11.) If God wanted us to believe in virgin births, He would from time to time produce them.

HUH? How many times is He supposed to become incarnate???

And who says there are no miracles today? I just posted (January 31) two photographs of a minor one. I’m sorry if miracles are not found among some groups, but the Orthodox Church is certainly no stranger to miracles.

12.) Early Christians were competing with other religions which made extravagant claims for their gods. Christians felt the need to do the same, to grab people’s attention and persuade them of Jesus’ greatness. Many of these figures, as adults, also fasted for 40 days, died violently, and were resurrected from the dead. Christians clearly borrowed from these other stories so their deity would be able to compete.

None of these other deities had an *historical* resurrection, complete with credible, living, human witnesses who had seen the dead deity alive again. None came healing multitudes of people and driving out other deities before him. Really, there was no competition.

Christians see the phenomena of these other, similar stories the other way around: not that Christians borrowed from them, but that they represent the human spirit’s groping its way toward the Truth, which finally arrived in person, in Jesus, the Christ.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

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12.) Early Christians were competing with other religions which made extravagant claims for their gods. Christians felt the need to do the same, to grab people’s attention and persuade them of Jesus’ greatness. Many of these figures, as adults, also fasted for 40 days, died violently, and were resurrected from the dead. Christians clearly borrowed from these other stories so their deity would be able to compete.

I've already commented on this, but should add that the idea Christians were borrowing these stories is no more than somebody’s conclusion, i.e., somebody's imagination. We are free to view that as plausible or implausible.

13.) Several other aspects of the birth narratives, besides the virgin birth, are clearly at least partly fiction or symbolic, such as the behavior of the star, for example. If we do not believe in a literal star, why believe in a literal virgin birth? Furthermore, some elements of the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke cannot be reconciled. Did Mary and Joseph live in Bethlehem and only moved to Nazareth later (Matthew), or did they live in Nazareth before they journeyed to Bethlehem? Did the Holy Family fee to Egypt in haste (Matthew) , or did they wait around for 8 days to have Jesus circumcised and presented in the Temple on the fortieth day and return to Nazareth afterwards? Clearly some fiction has been inserted here.

First of all, it seems to me the stories in Matthew and in Luke can indeed be reconciled. It took those Magi some 18 months to get to Bethlehem, and the Holy Family didn’t flee until after their visit. How do we know it took them approximately that long? Because Herod had inquired very diligently of them exactly when the star had appeared. Then it took a while longer, after he had sent them to Bethlehem, to realize they weren’t coming back to report anything to him. And based upon what the Magi had told him, Herod had all the infants slaughtered who were two years of age and under.

As for the star, it was called a star because it looked like one, of course. I am told (but have no time to research it for myself) that the patristic interpretation is that it was actually an angel. I’m also told, but again have no time to research it, that the Zoroastrians (whose priests the Magi were) believed a new star was added to the universe every time a child was born, but that this star was actually the person’s angel. Jesus Himself may be alluding to such a belief in Matthew 18:10.

Okay, so we don’t take this particular item as literal, not a star in an astronomical sense. An angel, such as the shepherds also saw. Yes, there are certain parts of Scripture it isn’t proper to take literally, such as that God has hands that shaped Adam, or has eyes or ears or a face or a strong right arm or feet or a front and back side, or that He sleeps or that He doesn’t sleep or that He has wrath in anything like the sense that humans have. Such literal understandings all conflict with (for starters!) the fact that God is spirit. But understanding some passages non-literally does not mean we are free to dispense with every passage’s literal meaning. In the case of the virgin birth, the literal meaning is necessary (see #15 below).

14.) Matthew and Luke have different genealogies of Christ. At least one of them is considered to be traced through Joseph’s line, suggesting that he was Jesus’ biological father. Many scholars “feel” that both genealogies are meant to be Joseph’s.

Tracings of Joseph’s genealogies do not necessarily imply that Joseph was Jesus’ biological father. St. Luke specifically mentions (3:23) “And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph,”

15.) There is no theological necessity for a literal virgin birth. You can still assert the presence in Him of the divine nature. You can still assert the hypostatic union. You can still say He was born free of original sin (the way Catholics assert Mary is).

But there is indeed a necessity for the virgin birth (or more specifically, virginal conception). His conception and birth must not be accomplished in the same manner as everyone else’s, for that is how our debased condition is passed down. Had Christ been generated in the same way as the rest of us, He would have been under the power of death, the same as the rest of us, for death is literally in our genes. Instead of conquering death by dying, He would have been conquered by it, just like the rest of mankind, including His mother. Taking His humanity from her enabled Him to die; but being fathered by God, thus retaining His divinity unimpaired, allowed Him to rise again – and to remain sinless, so as not to fall into mortality after all.

St. Ignatius of Antioch writes, “the virginity of Mary eluded the ruler of this age, as her child did also.” (Ephesians, 19)

St. Irenaeus explains, “The power of the Most High overshadowed her. Therefore, what was born of her is also a holy thing and Son of the Most High God and Father of all Who brought about that Being’s Incarnation and showed foremost a new kind of generation. Since by the former generation we inherited death, by this new generation we may inherit life.” (Refutation, 5, I, 2)