A good question: What do you make of the virgin birth?
One question, four answers
‘God became one of us’
I once heard a preacher say: ‘Jesus is not a “chip off the old block”. Jesus is the “old block”.’ That phrase has stuck with me, and it explains why I believe the virgin birth is so important.
The mystery of Christmas is that God became one of us. Jesus Christ is not just another human being, born of two human parents. Jesus is the unique and divine Son of God, fully man and fully God. By being conceived of the Holy Spirit, we’re shown this truth: Jesus is not just like God – Jesus is God, the second person of the Trinity. Jesus is not just a ‘chip off the old block’ – Jesus is the ‘old block’.
Most objections to the virgin birth are along the lines that virgins don’t generally have babies. Mary was certainly aware of this, as was Joseph, who wanted to leave Mary quietly after the scandal of her pregnancy. But then, if Jesus’ life was full of the miraculous, why shouldn’t his birth be? Ordinary men don’t usually feed 5,000 people with a child’s packed lunch, walk on water, calm a storm, heal the sick or raise the dead. Nothing about Jesus of Nazareth makes sense if Jesus is just another ordinary man. But if Jesus is God, then anything is possible. If God can create this spectacular world of beauty and wonder from nothing, then one virgin birth, a few healings, an impromptu slap-up meal or two, and a resurrection are child’s play…
Matt Stone is Minister of Herringthorpe United Reformed Church, Rotherham, South Yorkshire
CARLA A GROSCH-MILLER
‘It is a non-question for me’
Before I emigrated to the UK, I was senior minister of a church in Oak Park, on the western edge of Chicago. Christmas Eve was our big service, when our attendance would almost double to over 300. The church was a 19th-century Queen Anne structure with a huge, sloped-floor sanctuary and curving pews. One year, while preaching, almost as an aside, I said something to the effect that believing in the virgin birth need not be a stumbling block; it was adiaphora, not essential to faith. From a back row of that cavernous space, an older woman shouted: ‘Thank God!’ Afterwards, she confessed that she had never been able to swallow that particular piece of Christian dogma. It was liberating to hear a minister say that it wasn’t necessary.
I am not a literalist, although I was raised in the literalist Evangelical Free Church. Mary’s virginity is a nonquestion for me. Though not a biblical fact checker, I am convinced that the Bible is full of truth: deep truth about what it is to be human and connected to the Pulse of Love that Connects All Things, which we call God. The modern, scientific viewpoint (which I also respect and draw on) emphasises the material ‘factness’ of things. But there is much to life that cannot be held or measured as facts. Those things are explored and passed on as stories that convey meaning, wisdom and values…
Carla A Grosch-Miller is a practical theologian, educator and poet. Her books include Psalms Redux: Poems and prayers (Canterbury Press, 2014) and Lifelines: Wrestling the Word, gathering up grace (Canterbury Press, 2020). urcshop.co.uk
‘God begins something new’
The mystery and miracle of Christmas is that the baby who is born is no one less than God come among us in human form – fully human, and fully divine. God, through the Holy Spirit, is absolutely involved in the life of Jesus from the moment of his conception, to his birth, life, death on a cross, resurrection and ascension, as the Creed reminds us. That is why the story of Jesus is the story of God’s salvation for the world – God’s mission. And the Church that lives by that story in worship, discipleship and mission is its continuation. That is what makes the Church, as the creation of the same Holy Spirit, the body of Christ – the tangible, ongoing, recognisable human presence of Jesus in the world.
If I didn’t believe that Jesus is as fully divine as he was human, I wouldn’t trust my life to him. Nor would I gather with the church to worship him every week: that would be a ghastly mistake, as God alone is worthy of worship! So the incarnation is fundamental to my response to what God has done in Jesus.
According to Matthew and Luke, the virgin birth is the sign of the truth of the incarnation. Did it happen that way, and must I believe it? I do believe it. Three things are very clear to me from the evidence we have: Joseph is not the father of Jesus; the virgin birth is not based on a mistranslation of the word that can mean ‘virgin’ or ‘young woman of marriageable age’; and Christmas is not a tale of the gods having sexual intercourse with virgins (which would make Mary no longer a virgin!), as in other religious myths…
Lawrence Moore is Mission and Discipleship Consultant for the United Reformed Church’s North Western Synod and founder of iChurch
‘It can unite our two communities’
As a Muslim, I believe in Mary (or Maryam) and in Jesus, as a holy prophet who was born of her by a virgin birth, miraculously.
Mary is a role model for all women and is the only woman mentioned in the Qur’an by name. A whole chapter is dedicated to Mary, as the mother of Jesus, and the virgin birth (Surah 19), and Mary is also mentioned in several other Qur’anic chapters. Mary is venerated in Islam. She is one of the most important and righteous women in our faith. According to the Qur’an, Allah (God) chose Mary above all women of all nations. The Qur’an states: ‘Behold! The angels said: “O Mary! Allah hath chosen thee and purified thee – chosen thee above the women of all nations.’” (Surah 3:42).
As Muslims, it is incumbent on us to believe in the virgin birth of Jesus. The first miracle mentioned in the Qur’an is the infant Jesus defending his mother and speaking prophecy, when Mary was accused of bringing a child to the temple out of wedlock. The Qur’an mentions Jesus 25 times and highlights many of his other miracles. The Qur’an frequently speaks of Jesus as the ‘Son of Mary,’ emphasising the virgin birth. This miracle baby is believed by Muslims to be a prophet of God, a mercy to all…
Anjum Anwar is a teacher. She worked as Dialogue Development Officer for Blackburn Cathedral from 2007 to 2016
These are extracts from an article that was published in the December 2019/January 2020 edition of Reform