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Must we believe in the virgin birth of Jesus?

Many professing Christian theologians have jettisoned belief in practically all the “hard-to-believe” sections of the Bible. Gone is the belief that God created the heavens and the earth and all therein in sixth twenty-four-hour days. Gone is the belief that Moses, by the power of God, parted the waters of the Red Sea. Gone are Elijah’s chariots of fire and Jesus’ miracles.

For many theologians, the Bible’s declaration that Adam and Eve were real, literal people is too much to swallow. Tremper Longman, a professor of religious studies at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California, and a noted evangelical, claims that a person would have to be guilty of a “highly literalistic reading” of the first two chapters of Genesis in order to believe in a literal Adam. Unfortunately, Dr. Longman’s reasoning for rejecting a literal Adam is used by many to reject all of the supernatural events recorded in Scripture.

Take, for instance, the virgin birth of Christ. One has to admit that such an event is not just a little out of the ordinary, and yet Matthew was very explicit in detailing what occurred: “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’” (Matthew 1:18–21, ESV). Matthew intended his hearers to comprehend that no human father was involved with the conception of Jesus. Is this, too, only a “myth”?

John Shelby Spong, a retired Episcopalian bishop, revealed his contempt for those who believe in the virgin birth of Christ: “When one Episcopal bishop told me that he accepted the virgin birth story literally because ‘if God wanted to be born of a virgin, he could have arranged that,’ or when another said, ‘If God created ex nihilo, the virgin birth would be a snap,’ I thought to myself, ‘How will the church survive in this world with that lack of scholarship among its leaders?’ In those statements the bishops were asserting their belief in a God who was in fact a manipulative male person, who would set aside the processes of the world to produce a miracle in order to bring his divine presence into a human enterprise called life, from which this God was clearly separated. They also revealed no knowledge whatsoever of the biblical studies that have, for at least a century, thrown new light on the interpretation of these birth narratives.” Spong believes that the Virgin Birth is merely a myth to reveal God’s concern for the universe.

Must we believe in the Virgin Birth to be truly Christian? Many would doubtlessly argue that not believing is regrettable but does not mean one is not a Christian. Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary provides a needed correction to such an opinion: “This is not a hard question to answer. It is conceivable that someone might come to Christ and trust Christ as Savior without yet learning that the Bible teaches that Jesus was born of a virgin. A new believer is not yet aware of the full structure of Christian truth. The real question is this: Can a Christian, once aware of the Bible’s teaching, reject the Virgin Birth? The answer must be no.”

Baptist theologian Millard Erickson gives us this to think about: “If we do not hold to the virgin birth despite the fact that the Bible asserts it, then we have compromised the authority of the Bible and there is in principle no reason why we should hold to its other teachings. Thus, rejecting the virgin birth has implications reaching far beyond the doctrine itself.” I wonder–could not the same be said about creation?