Friday, March 14, 2008

Why I'm Not a Fundamentalist -- Part 2, Virgin Birth

From Part 1
For some reason last night I found myself thinking about the 5 fundamentals of Christian Fundamentalism. And I have never been accused of being a fundamentalist. But I thought more of us need to respond to fundamentalism beyond a rejection of it. So over the next little while (maybe by Easter) I intend a 5 part series on why I am not a fundamentalist.

I note that Wikipedia links the Virgin Birth with the Divinity of Jesus. This is different from many lists of the fundamentals I have seen (most times I have just seen Virgin Birth listed). And although the two are linked, they are not totally tied together.

But we will focus on the Birth part here. The Divinity of Jesus is a wider matter. For now I will say that virgin Birth can be irrelevant to Divinity (in that Divinity/Son of God can happen without the Virgin Birth or conception through Holy Spirit).

I am one of those who thinks that arguments about Virgin Birth and the historicity of the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke are totally missing the point of Christmas as a faith celebration. Of course if I were a Biblical literalist then I would have to accept the Birth narratives and the virgin birth as fact.

Virgin and/or miraculous birth stories are a part of many mythologies. They are a common way of talking about what made this person (most of the time a man) special. When read in context, the passage Matthew uses as his proof text likely doesn't even appear to be talking about the coming Messiah or a virgin.

And let us be totally honest. No one was recording the events of Jesus birth, much less the pregnancy of a young girl nine months beforehand. There is no eyewitness to the conception or Annunciation (or the birth for that matter) involved in writing the Gospels. There is no sensible reason to believe either Luke or Matthew talked to anyone involved in the birth.

There is however reason to believe that Matthew and Luke had theological/philosophical/polemical reasons to create (or develop and pass on) a miraculous birth story for Jesus. The Gospels are all written with eyes that have experienced resurrection. Everything in them points to that resurrection experience. They are not historical, verbatim narratives.

Truth be told. I don't care if Mary was a virgin or not. I doubt the virgin birth as historical. I don't insist it didn't happen. I just think that isn't the key point of the Christmas story (just as I don't think historicity is ever the point of Scripture).

Does the Incarnation lose anything if Mary wasn't a virgin? Not in my opinion. So once again I obviously can't be a fundamentalist. But I can be a faithful follower of The Way anyhow (even if I have been called heretic for doubting the fundamentals).


  1. You might also google the name Percy Seymour with birth+ christ+exploding+myth.

    Seymour is a South African astronomer who wrote a book detailing what he thinks the Magi saw and why they were searching where they did, when they did, and for what/whom.

    It's best to read the whole book, which makes a painstaking and, i think accurate, case for the actual date (as nearly as can be determined) of Jesus' birth as mid September.

    What is important to your thesis here, Gord, is that the Magi were seeking an infant messianic figure whose birth sign would have been Virgo (yep, the Virgin). There's far more to it than that, but Seymour makes a convincing case for the "Virgin birth" notion being attached to Jesus as it was, by virtue of the astrological coincidence.

    He also carefully (obsessively, in fact) details what led the Magi to their journey and why Herod and pretty well everyone else didn't see anything unusual in the sky when the Magi so evidently did.

  2. I'm in agreement here too Gord. To me, it's just never mattered whether the whole virgin thing was true or not.

    When I was in theological college, one of my classmates was tossed out of his family Christmas dinner for daring to question the virgin birth. He came from a very fundamentalist family and they simply would not hear of any challenge to scripture. How sad for my classmate, and for his family, who might have actually had an opportunity for a good theological discussion.

  3. For a much fuller treatment of Percy Seymour's thesis, go to: