Monday, December 31, 2007

Can a Christian Deny the Virgin Birth?

After reading a very good article on Dr. R. Albert Mohler's Blog by the same title, I have decided to unpack the concept a little more. Can a Christian deny the Virgin Birth? There is a lot that must be unpacked from this statement. The question itself leads to other questions that must be carefully considered and answered before this one can be answered itself. Here are several. What is the doctrine of the Virgin Birth? Is the doctrine of the Virgin Birth required for salvation (or, can someone who denies the Virgin Birth be rightly called a Christian)? What defines a Christian (or what minimal doctrines are required to be believed in order for Christianity to be "bestowed")? Who decides a person is a Christian? Be prepared for a long read. This topic would make a great seminary paper, but on account of time, I will keep this as brief as possible.

First, let us consider the doctrine of the virgin birth. The doctrine of the virgin birth must be considered complicit with but distinct from the doctrine of the immaculate conception. Immaculate conception holds that however the Christ was conceived, he was conceived without sin. This means both that there was no sin in the commission of the conception (however that came about), and that no original, human, sin nature was passed on to him through conception. One may wonder how sin nature could be conferred upon the Christ through conception. This can be complicated so, again, I will be as brief as possible.

There are three main theories of how sin nature is conferred (this assumes that we all believe that we are affected by sin nature, which some cults and sects do not). The first is that original sin is passed on by sexual intercourse. This means that anyone conceived through sexual intercourse (as all of us have been) has been born in sin (this is taken particularly from Psalm 51:5, "Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me."). This is a literal reading of David's lament over sin with Bathsheba. Another possible support for this theory comes from Leviticus 15:18, "When a man lies with a woman and there is an emission of semen, both must bathe with water, and they will be unclean till evening." The question here is does this uncleanness represent something inherently sinful, or just something set apart (holy). Could it also be that David, in his lament, was using hyperbole (overstatement) to describe himself?

The second theory of how sin is conferred is via blood. Sin nature is held with life in the blood. Because each child inherits DNA and genes and the human biological condition through his or her parents, each also inherits sin nature. Some believe that Christ was prevented from receiving the blood of his parent(s) and therefore cannot have a sin nature. The problem with this view is that if Mary was truly his mother (rather than only a carrying/birthing vessel), her biological information had to be passed along to Christ, which would have, according to this view, inferred sin.

The third theory is that original sin is transmitted through headship, through the spiritual fatherhood of one man to his children. Since Adam, the first man, sinned, all of his children are tainted, from one father to each of his children, throughout time. Since this has nothing to do with the physical sex act but rather spiritual headship and fatherhood, The only way to keep the Christ from sin would be to not let him be sired by any man. I find this to be the best view. Since Christ was conceived through a work of the Holy Spirit, and not through a sexual union, Christ was not tainted by the headship of Adam. He was a new creation of God, similar to Adam himself.

The Virgin Birth, on the other hand, deals with the sex act directly. It makes plain that Jesus, the Christ, was born to a woman who had never had sexual relations. This is confirmed through
Isaiah 7:14, "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel." This is also corroborated through
Matthew 1:23 "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel"--which means, 'God with us.'"

Many have heard that the Hebrew word commonly translated "virgin" could mean any young woman of marriageable age. The problem with this view comes when we consider the above views of the transmission of sin. If we are to translate the word as a young woman, allowing the possibility of sexual conception, Jesus is brought under the headship of Adam and has the same sin nature as the rest of humanity. This means the denial of a number of other doctrines like the sinlessness of Christ, the divinity of Christ, etc. So we may see here that both the immaculate conception and the virgin birth are essential to the orthodox view of the Christian faith.

The next question we must wrestle with is how necessary is this theory of the virgin birth to a Christian? Can someone be a Christian and not believe in this doctrine? This raises a further question, do we believe what the Bible presents or not? If we do not believe Scripture, then we do not believe in the basis for doctrines or the basis of the orthodox faith. What is left, then is an esoteric and ephemeral faith that saves us from nothing and leads us to nothing. If that is the case, what's the point? If, however, we believe that what the Bible presents as true is true, then we must believe each of the things it says (within a historical-grammatical framework).

If the Bible says that Christ was conceived through the work of the Holy Spirit and was born to a virgin sans intercourse, and we believe that what the Bible says is true, then we must say that we believe that Christ was born of a virgin. If we don't believe this one point of Scripture, then we can't believe Scripture. If it lies in one point, it must lie in others, especially because so much of what the Bible says is predicated upon other things it says. There cannot be inconsistencies.

If we do not believe all of what Scripture says about Christ, we do not believe in the Christ of Scripture. this brings us to another problem . . . idolatry. Idolatry is, of course, the worship of another god/goddess, or even the self. It is submitting to the control of another god besides YHWH (the tetragrammatical name of the one true God). Since Christ is one of three co-existing and co-eternal persons of the Trinity, and the Trinity is YHWH, to disbelieve in the Scriptural representation of the second person of the Trinity is to blaspheme against YHWH. To believe anything else, apart from what Scripture and the orthodox church teaches about Christ is idolatry (and heresy).

Heresy is another topic that must be touched on. Heresy is the belief in or proclamation of something about God that is clearly antithetical to the teaching of Scripture and the teaching of doctrinal truth that is developed from Scripture by the church. Heretics (practitioners of heresy) are cut-off from the fellowship of the church spiritually and are supposed to be physically (although this is not always the case in our society). They are cut-off from salvation by God. So there is both a physical, earthly aspect of punishment, and an eternal one. Heretics should be urged to turn from their error and embrace the truth of Scripture, which is God's own revelation of himself. Since God has revealed that Christ was born of a virgin, if one disbelieves this, he/she is a heretic.

Okay, now that we have examined what makes one not saved, let us examine what makes one saved. Contrary to the recent phenomenon of sinner's prayer salvation, the vast majority of Christians became such (throughout history) by responding to a sudden realization of the reality of God and their inability to please him. Rather than one prayer amending all, these people became catechumens; students of the Bible and the church. This is the same idea as confirmation. Students learned what the Bible said about God and the doctrines of the church. Once they were able to show that they knew and accepted these things, they were "confirmed" as being believers. Later in Church history, the amount of required learning was relaxed, but the "evidence of the Holy Spirit" was often required before a congregation would accept the new believer. Might I suggest that both ought to be required in the modern church? What must be seen is that salvation is not only tied to conviction, but also believed facts. Scriptural Doctrines must be believed for salvation. It must be stated here, however, that this is a process, and those who have not learned all the doctrines should not consider themselves necessarily unsaved.

What is the minimum amount of doctrines, then, that must be believed in order to be saved? I think this is a wrong question. Why would we ever want to settle for a minimum knowledge of anything? Do you want to go to a doctor who got by with the minimum knowledge of medicine? Do we want to pass with an "E for effort?" In reality, I am not sure a satisfactory list can be created. I would accept that there are a few basics that all Christians need. But I would not say these are "enough" for salvation. Christians must believe in the triunity of God, the sinlessness of the Trinity, the fallenness of man (and therefore themselves), the virgin birth, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, the immanent and bodily return of Christ, the church as God's instrument on earth and containing God's chosen people for his glory, and Scripture as God's divine revelation to men, written by men through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. I am sure there is much more that should be said.

So after all this has been said, who says who can be a Christian. God, of course. But he does not usually show his favor on individual believers as he did in Jerusalem on Pentecost. Therefore, it is the church's job to properly train and vet all "Christians."

In the end, by answering all these preliminary questions, we should be able to answer the first question. Can a Christian deny the virgin birth? We should see through the above considerations that the answer is a vehement "NO!" A true Christian must (and will) believe what the Scriptures say about Jesus, including his virgin birth. This is what the Bible teaches and what the church believes. It is God's revelation about himself. Therefore any dissident belief is heresy and disqualifies that individual from communion with other believers and from everlasting life. Belief in the virgin birth is crucial to Christianity.

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