THE VIRGIN BIRTH
Paul E. Kretzmann
A universal confession
For about eighteen centuries after the ascension of Christ and the founding of the Christian Church the fact of the virgin birth was not called into question and the comforting doctrines drawn therefrom were universally accepted. Throughout the Christian Church the words of the Apostolic Creed: “Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary,” were confessed and believed.
But the era of rationalism, of believing only what reason admitted to be true, ushered in a new conception of Bible criticism, and this played havoc with our doctrine. One critic attacked the idea of a supernatural origin of Jesus and tried to find a natural explanation of the event. Another declared that Joseph was the father of Jesus. A third calmly treated the stories of Christ’s nativity as myths. In this manner, the entire Bible account was soon discredited, both the fact of the virgin birth and the doctrine of the necessity of the sinless birth of the Savior being denied. It is stated that the modern world cannot believe in, and therefore has no place for, miracles. This standpoint evidently overthrows the entire Bible and the history of the Church, both of which are replete with miracles. Some have maintained that the virgin birth has no doctrinal significance anyway, not the physical basis of Christ’s existence, but the moral and spiritual character of His personality being involved in redemption. But such statements reveal the fact that they are very well aware of the vital connection between the doctrine of the virgin birth and faith in the divinity of Christ. A third class of critics favors the mythological explanation, declaring that legends and myths have ever sprung up in connection with the development of all religions. Unfortunately the critics themselves disagree, some of them assuming a Hebrew, others a Greek, others an Indian origin of the story. Besides, their examples are poorly chosen, a divine paternity by carnal intercourse being assumed in the majority of cases. And a recent writer has shown all these theories to be untenable and not analogous, besides referring to the fact that the heathen myths in connection with such stories are of an incredibly vile and immoral character, while nothing can equal the simple, chaste, convincing language of the Bible narrative. The final argument of the critics that historical and textual criticism has proved consecutive editing of New Testament stories and the presence of material foreign to essential Gospel sources, reveals the intention they are anxious to put into execution, namely, to destroy the faith of Christians in the truthfulness of the Bible story.
The Word of God
Let us, in combating these attacks, rely upon the weapon which Christ Himself indicated to us, namely: “It is written.” It is plainly written, Isaiah 7:14, that the Messiah should be born of a virgin, for the Hebrew word there used, both according to its etymology and according to usage, designates not merely a “woman of marriageable age,” but a virgin, a maiden that has not known man. Dr. Stoeckhardt has proved this meaning even in the passage Proverbs 30:18-20 [Der Prophet Jesaias. Die ersten zwoelf Kapitel, 84 Clarke, Commentary, 5, 40]. The virgin birth is most decidedly taught in the passage above, Matthew 1:20-25, as well as in Luke 1:34-35. It agrees, moreover, with the prophecy, Genesis 3:15, where the Seed of the Woman alone is named as the crusher of the Serpent’s head. It finds its final confirmation in the fact that St. Paul refers to it in the most self-evident way, when he speaks of the Son of God as having been made of a woman, Galatians 4:4.
Higher Criticism refuted
In the light of these plain passages we have every reason to say: “Therefore these learned men and critics are the falsifiers, visionaries, and writers of legends, not the apostles and evangelists. Their historico-critical research is plain fraud. From the view-point of their unbelief, indeed, they cannot do otherwise. Theirs is the experience of the Jews: With seeing eyes they see nothing, and with hearing ears they hear nothing, and they have their reward. The devil thanks them for it.” [Synodalbericht, Mo. Syn., Mich. Dist., 1904, 29].
We shall retain the doctrine of the virgin birth as a necessary part of our faith. We believe that it is essential for a full appreciation of the supernatural, the divine character of the Savior. “In order to constitute a divine-human personality, the divine Being had to enter into the procreative depths of humanity and select and assume a human nature of His formation and purifying, and unite Himself personally with it. It must be bone of our bone, flesh of our flesh, soul of our soul, in order to be organically connected with the human race; but it must be our nature lifted out of itself, separated, purified, transmuted — a human nature that, strangely and mysteriously enough, could be ‘tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin.'” [Keyser, The Rational Test, 97, 98]. Christ “indeed is become a real, true, natural man, but not conceived and born in sins, as other children of Adam. For that reason His mother had to be a virgin whom no man had touched, in order that He might not be conceived and born under the curse, but without sin, and the devil might have no right or power over Him. … Such mercy we celebrate to-day in order to thank God that He purified our unclean, unholy conception and birth through His holy conception and birth, took the curse from us, and brought the blessing upon us. We by nature have a filthy, sinful conception and birth, but Christ has a pure, holy conception and birth, and through His holy conception and birth our unclean nature, flesh, and blood are blessed and sanctified.” [Luther, 13, 2676, 2679. Cp. Pieper, Christliche Dogmatik, 2, 76. 77]. The fact of the sinless humanity of Christ, guaranteed to us by the virgin birth, made His being placed under the Law, His perfect fulfilment of the Law, and thus His entire work of redemption possible.