Wednesday, April 12, 2006

In what sense is the Virgin Birth referring to reality?

The dignity of Mary as theotokos remains unaffected by historical investigations of the infancy stories and their findings, and especially by the thesis that the accounts in Luke and Matthew are legendary ... Even though rumors circulated by opponents regarding the strange circumstances of the origin and birth of Jesus might have played a part in the development of the story, the relevant findings do not permit us to insist on the historical facticity of the virginity of Mary after the conception and birth of Jesus, at least in a medical sense. If we try to make this the real theme of the story of the birth of Jesus (cf. Isa. 7:14 LXX), we are false to the purpose of the narrative. Gynecology is not the issue, but Christian pneumatology. If the story as a whole is legendary, we have to interpret the details in terms of the christological aim and not as facts isolated from the context or from the general interpretative frame. The case is different if historical facticity is at issue, as in the case of the statements about the resurrection in 1 Cor. 15:3ff.

(Pannenberg, W., Systematic theology Vol. II, [Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1994], p. 318)

How do you respond to this line of reasoning?

I’m going to be honest with you; no ‘I’m a sophisticated theologian’ mask today. My default setting is simply this: ‘true’ must equal ‘absolutely historical’. I can’t help it, and a part of me doesn’t want to apologise. Perhaps it’s the remnants of a modernist upbringing, or my early association with a Fundamentalist expression of faith, casting its shadow over my automatic and internal hermeneutical procedure.

And yet another part of me is embarrased by such simplistic thinking, namely, the ‘foaming mouthed anything goes liberal’ part of me. This section of my brain had to read the passage above a few times to understand what was being said, but I get it now. The truth of the story is in its purpose, limited to its genre of expression, found in the symbolism, and says something about the identity of Christ as the Son of God without answering questions of gynaecology. And this makes a good deal of sense.

But the conservative in me reacts: ‘To bring into question the facticity of the virgin birth (here, its gynaecological aspect) calls its theological message into question (the pneumatological and christological), for the one is based on the other, and the result is to make the theological message a lie.

The funny thing is, I’m more than happy to do this with the creation narratives, but a part of me feels, with the virgin birth, that we are treading on sacred ground, and so I want to just take off my shoes and worship. At least, this is how the contemplative in me responds.

I know I’m probably far too theologically ‘unsophisticated’, but when I read a text like the one above, a struggle for power takes place inside.

What do you think? Is the historical facticity of the virgin birth essential to its ‘truth’, or merely a genre-bound contingent carrier of theological truth? Or have I formulated this question wrongly? Perhaps, my broad question is ‘In what sense is the Virgin Birth referring to reality?’


At 4/12/2006 1:06 PM, Anonymous Steve Sensenig said...

You hit on some things I wrestle with, too. And I actually understand completely the feeling of not wanting to mess with the virgin birth because it might have a domino effect.

I'm still there. I think to say that the account of the virgin birth is somehow not historically accurate does lead to a huge question mark, then, of what we can believe historically in the gospel accounts.

If the virgin birth is not historically true, then are any of the miracles in the gospels historically true? And if not, is the resurrection not historically true? And if it's not, then Paul wrote that we have absolutely no hope.

That doesn't answer your questions at all, but to say that I respect the questions, and the above ramblings (mine, not yours) show the point I'm at in deciding whether it is absolutely necessary to believe the virgin birth is historically accurate.

steve :)

At 4/12/2006 1:25 PM, Anonymous Chris Weimer said...

At a crossroads again, I see. Perhaps you can see why it is so easy for some fundamentalists to vehemently and rabidly reject critical scholarship on such myths as the creation account. It has to be either all or nothing.

The human mind is a very powerful thing - people can reject what is before their very eyes and blindly trudge forward into the fire where they hope they won't be burned.

Faith is an oddity - despite all the evidence contrary, faith alone is a justification for some to believe. It becomes a mantra - I believe there is a higher power - and they cannot let go of it.

Through thorough can critical scholarship, such as you have done here, you start realizing that not all you were taught is actually true.

You start with the basics - the creation account, the deluge, progress a bit, the patriarchs, the exodus, the conquest of Canaan, and then a bit more, exaggerated claims on David and Solomon, inconsistencies in accounts in Samuel, Kinds, Chronicles - before you know it, the Old Testament is like any other sacred writ of other religions. Perhaps a good collection to read for personal insight, but as far as history goes, it's not the most accurate.

And then what happens when you move into the New Testament? I remember one professor who would utterly destroy the entire Old Testament, but when I mentioned the NT (not that it was too appropriate anyway) she refused, and said, chillingly echoing your words, that she would not tread such sacred ground.

But hey! Let's go there. Is the virgin birth historically accurate? I think honestly we can come to the conclusion that either a) it doesn't matter to real theology, or b) no, it's a late invention. The prior is one of those reality-defying faith statements, valid only in the post-modern world. The latter is all presuppositions and biases set aside.

So what are you to do if you accept the latter? Well, you have a couple of options. You could refuse the whole shebang - probably not too rational, though it is the logical conclusion of the fundy motto "all or nothing". I wouldn't recommend it. You could opt for a slightly less objectional but more heretical position, like the Adoptionist position. You wouldn't need the Virgin Birth for that. Or you could relegate it all to the role of all the other sacred texts - a text which is for the most part only a good story with a good moral.

Can you absolutely divorce your faith from your scholarship? Or will you do so, but despite the evidence for the contrary, make the leap of faith and believe it anyway, citing, as Jim West does, that historicity has nothing to do with actual theology?

With any endeavor, I do wish you good luck, and hope my little advice may prove worthwhile.

At 4/12/2006 3:40 PM, Anonymous Chris T. said...

I react exactly the same way you do. Almost the same parts of me working to get on their soapbox. :-) And I find the creation similarly unproblematic.

I think the early church got this one right more or less. I'm no sophisticated Mariologist, but the Virgin Birth and the centrality of Mary's free assent to the Incarnation and the work of birthing and raising Jesus is hard to deny.

The Immaculate Conception is a whole 'nother issue. That I have a hard time assenting to.

At 4/12/2006 3:42 PM, Anonymous T.B. Vick said...

Hmmm. . . There are so many theological issues to unpack with the virgin birth. The deity of Christ actually comes into play within this theological framework.

I agree with Pannenberg when he declares, "If the story as a whole is legendary, we have to interpret the details in terms of the christological aim and not as facts isolated from the context or from the general interpretative frame. The case is different if historical facticity is at issue, as in the case of the statements about the resurrection in 1 Cor. 15:3ff.’"

To deny the historical facticity of the virgin birth means that one must now account for Jesus' nature (i.e. human/deity) and also for the the doctrine of original sin within that nature - granting that Jesus had human parents altogether.

I affirm the historical facticity of the virgin birth, but can only do so by faith. I cannot possibly see how historically this doctrine could be disproven, since it seems to very much be a doctrine one must believe by faith and not by fact.

But to actually reject the historical facticity of the virgin birth certainly means that we now must confront a "different" Jesus, and different meaning behind Jesus (i.e. christilogical aim).

I tend to think that this doctrine (the historical facticity) is an essential and to reject it one is actually rejecting a lot of other things which accompany it - by necessity.

At 4/12/2006 5:54 PM, Anonymous Claire Joy said...

Okay... probably embarking on one of those "open mouth, insert foot" modes... but I'm with the group who doesn't think it matters.

For me, God is bigger than all of the little boxes we try to stick him (her) in. In an attempt to gain converts, the early church had to have the bestest God on the block. Other religions had their own versions of miraculous births, so had to have one too. Trying to understand and follow the teachings and examples of Jesus is what consumes me and develops my walk with God.

I guess what I'm saying is God didn't need to be born of a virgin to manifest in human flesh. But if that was what He chose to do, then He certainly had the ability to pull it off.

At 4/12/2006 8:10 PM, Anonymous jim said...

I suppose its the same question one deals with in trying to understand the resurrection (esp. as a pastor at Easter!) and what in reality happened there?

I'm more inclined to believe in the historical reality of the resurrection than I am of the virgin birth, but then I always wonder, if I can believe the one why should I find it so hard to believe the other?

At 4/13/2006 12:06 AM, Anonymous Volker said...

"Is the historical facticity of the virgin birth essential to its ‘truth’, or merely a genre-bound contingent carrier of theological truth?"

1. What indications do the Gospels, and the infancy narratives in particular, offer that they are a GENRE that transports symbolism and legends? I cannot see that Pannenberg started from the text and identified the genre (whether it is of symbolic nature etc.), and then drew conclusions regarding how to interpret it. It seems to me that he started with his reasoning that the virgin birth could be a legend and then claimed that the Gospels are a genre that is prone to symbolism.
In the case of the creation narrative this may be different as the Hebrew indicates that we are dealing with a poetic text (so I am told).
So, it is not a case of being liberal or conservative, but a case of scholarly honesty and right method.

2. Is there a difference between "theological truth" and "historical truth"? If the "theological truth" is that Jesus was born of the virgin Mary, is it possible that this is a historical lie (including the account how Joseph wanted to leave Mary etc. - this is not just about gynecology!)? I find this a bizarre concept of truth. However, it may theolgically (and historically!) true that God created the world, but it may be historically (and theologically) wrong that he created the world in seven 24hr-days.

At 4/13/2006 1:20 AM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Thank you all for your comments so far, I've very much enjoyed reading them. It being so late here now, I'll write responses tomorrow, and so I wish you all a good night ...

At 4/13/2006 2:38 AM, Anonymous Volker said...

Hi Ben,
what makes you believe that Matthew and Luke were not intending to offer an explanation about the origin of Jesus?

Isn't this text doing the very thing that you deny?:

Luke 1:31 "And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. ... 34 Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" 35 The angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. ... 37 For nothing will be impossible with God."

And as far as your reading of them "on their own terms" is concerned, here are "their own terms":

Luke 1:1-4 "Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, 3 I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed."

I think reading these texts "on their own terms" means acknowledging their assumed unity of theological and historical truth. Alternatively, we could bring forward that the authors were either not able or not willing to accept that historically there was no evidence that Jesus was "the Son of God", so therefore they had to disregard the eyewitnesses and make up a couple of stories with miracles (including the virgin birth).
I think disregarding the very strong statements of Luke 1:1-4 is quite a different matter than taking the word "Paul" in, say, 2 Tim. as a pseudonym.


PS I intended to italicize a couple of words in the bible quote, but somehow that didn't work. Do you have an idea why, Chris?

At 4/13/2006 2:45 AM, Anonymous dan said...

I think Volker raises a good point when he mentions the issue of genre.

Genesis 1-11 is an entirely different genre of literature than the birth narratives. Furthermore, the first chapters of Genesis have a very different relationship to the rest of the book of Genesis, whereas the same cannot be said about the birth narratives in relation to the gospels in which they are presented.

So, as a literary critic, you can fudge around with how you read Gen 1-11 a whole lot more than you can with the birth narratives.

At 4/13/2006 2:40 PM, Anonymous Ben Myers said...

Thanks for your excellent reply to my comment, Volker. I can see where you're coming from when you suggest that reading Matthew and Luke "on their own terms" must entail an acceptance of historicity.

But I think it's crucial here to distinguish between reading these texts "on their own terms" from the perspective of a modern scientifically-minded reader, and reading them "on their own terms" from the perspective of a first-century Jewish Christian.

It seems to me that we're reading our own worldview back on to these texts if we simply assume that the writers must have really been interested in modern biological questions. These questions may interest us; but it would have to be proven (not assumed) that the first-century writers were even capable of understanding their own stories in terms of such questions.

Might it not be possible that questions of Jesus' biological origins simply lay outside the horizons of the first-century Christians? If this is the case, then to ask what they thought about Jesus' biological origins would be like asking what they thought about microwave ovens or iPods.

In other words, it seems to me that we can accept fully and cheerfully the "truth" of these stories without feeling any need (or justification) to interpret them as biological accounts.

At 4/13/2006 3:05 PM, Anonymous Volker said...

Thanks for your rejoinder, Ben.
You differentiate our “modern biological questions” from those of the first century. However, I cannot see what is “modern” about the question that we are discussing. After all it’s about sex…and reproduction – and that is basic to all human societies at all times.

So, was the question after Jesus’ biological origin one of “their” questions or was it outside the horizon of first-century Christians? Well, here is the question, formulated by first-century Jewish Christian Mary: “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” If this is not about biology, what is it then? I think our question today does not differ from Mary’s question at all.

At 4/13/2006 6:38 PM, Anonymous David Wilkerson said...

Volker and Ben,

I have to agree with Volker here. I think the writers believed in the historicity of what they wrote/passed on. I also think that it is nearly impossible for us to. It is a straightforward issue of when two people had sex. We and the ancients are on a level playing field here except their (Luke's) claim to be more knowledgeable than us about the matter.
But contra Volker, I think Pannenberg is not referring to the genre of literature the author sat down to write purposefully. Rather what genre do we put this sort of narrative in as we compare it to other ancient sources. It is the 'miraculaous birth of a king narrative' or 'god seduces a woman' variety. We never take these things as historical. So their 'truth' (if any) is nothing more than their claim of the unique qualities of the subject made elsewhere or known to history be it Cyrus or Hercules or Jesus.
Now Paul's argument about the resurrection has to do with 'facticity' as it is a non-fictive claim from a letter. I think the resurrection narratives in the gospels don't carry this same need for facticity.

This goes for the creation accounts as well. It is just 'inerrancy-lite' to say they are 'not scientific' or we are being 'modernists' when we read them. It is unhistorical to ask what we would mean if we wrote these stories in an effort to evade their historical claims. They are poetry to be sure, but they were surely considered history by most every contemporary even their creators. We read them as cosmogony stories which express a truth about the writer's god and his relationship with the world. So the truth we are affirming is not entirely the same as the truth the writer affirmed.
This sort of bifurcation is seen clearly when we look at the Genesis stories which show why a ethnicity is corrupted because of a past ancestor. To us it is folklore to explain present relationships, but to the writer he clearly beleived the ancestor existed and the nature of the people is determined by it. Hopefully, we don't believe his history or his characterization of the people in that case. Here we are just affirming that this ethnicity doesn't believe in Israel's God. So the truths we affirm often go against the writers' purpose and somtimes must do so.
I think many inerrancy deniers are too comfortable with their position, and are still practicing the Chicago Statement "true in all they affirm". If it means true in all that God affirms fine (but perhaps meaningless to us), but if it means true in all that the writers affirm than it really is no different from inerrancy and often an effort in anachronistic interpretation to make them say what we want or wish they would say.

At 4/13/2006 6:41 PM, Anonymous C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

Why are you guys so excited about fighting the fundamentalist modernist wars all over again? These questions had all been explored and expounded in detail before I was born.

Anyway, I am convinced that Volker is on the right track here and will be content to just sit on the sidelines and watch this little drama.


At 4/13/2006 7:37 PM, Anonymous joel hunter said...

David W is rightly pushing on "inerrancy deniers" to face the full implications of the radical self-attestation of Jesus to be the truth. Mustn't faith--to be faith--stare across the nihilistic abyss and cling only to Christ?

And so the big question is: Who is Jesus Christ? Not what does he do. Not how does he do what he does. But: who is this person?

Are we not in a muddle over very simple questions because we children of the reformation have the work of Christ (as crucial as that is) filling up our field of vision, so much so that we reduce the person of Christ to his work, of christology to soteriology? But who does this work and how can I know him unless he presents himself to me, unless he is Present? And so our struggle with knowing the historical Jesus is fundamentally different than those like Matthew and Luke and those they have written about, for they knew Jesus as present in an unambiguous way that we cannot. There was no question of their reducing christology to Christ's work, as if it were something brought about by an impersonal force or power.

How is Christ near to us today, not as some historical force, but in his person? So the resurrection of the God-man cannot be set aside "spiritually" or symbolically, or we rub out the very possibility of his presence. Comparatively, the virgin birth seems to be of a different order, but even if it is only a piece of heuristic theologizing, it does help us grasp the necessity of Jesus present in history (he is man) as well as present eternally (he is God). Perhaps the virgin birth is the first confession of a nascent christology? And yet if christology is the primary, decisive beginning for theological reflection, then doesn't it begin with the resurrection? For only if he is risen can he be present in word and sacrament.

At 4/14/2006 12:09 AM, Anonymous Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

In the end, Chris, one may believe anything. But is that belief actually Christian?

Is one to take the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed on the same level as a short bibliography of modern critical works? Not if one belongs to one of the Christian traditions that take that Creed as the definition of what it is to actually be Christian.

The rules of the club don't change because some non-members think they should....

At 4/14/2006 1:56 AM, Anonymous Ben Myers said...

Thanks for your excellent response to all this, Chris. One point that interests me is that no one so far has mentioned Mariology, which is really very much in the background (or rather foreground) of all this.

So when Todd "complicates matters further by pointing to the consequences of the VB to Jesus’ divinity and the doctrine of original sin", it's at least worth mentioning that even to raise questions along these lines is already the beginning of a full-blown Mariology.

Protestants often don't acknowledge the extent to which Mariological dogma already lies latent in Luke's birth narrative (or at least in a certain interpretation of this narrative). If we want to make Jesus' "divinity" or "sinlessness" in any way dependent on a Virgin Birth, then we should realise that we're implicitly adopting a very specific kind of Mariology in the process.

At 4/14/2006 2:03 AM, Anonymous DWright said...

You said: "The truth of the story is in its purpose, limited to its genre of expression, found in the symbolism, and says something about the identity of Christ as the Son of God without answering questions of gynaecology. And this makes a good deal of sense."

I guess I wonder why, for the Christian, one wouldn't seek to affirm this quote and affirm that the story is also historically accurate.

In other words, the story is not told with a gynecological purpose, it really is there to say something theological about the identity of Christ. And it's true. Is this unsophisticated?

Take the story of the transfiguration. The theological intent seems clear: It declares the supremacy of Jesus as the Christ who fulfills Israel's hopes of a great prophet and Messiah. Christ is above Moses. He is above Elijah. That is the theological purpose. But: did Moses and Elijah really appear, did Jesus' face really start to shine, were his clothes really whitened?

These certainly are phantastic elements. They are surpassingly strange events. Is it necessary for the history to have actually been there to convey the theological meaning? Maybe not.

But it seems to me that Christians generally are already operating with assumptions that presuppose theological meaning and actual history intertwined. To say that God speaks, that he reveals himself is to say that that theology and history intersect. To say that he acts redemptively in history is to say the same.

So why couldn't the transiguration have actually happened and mean what it means?

The belief that God uses material/temporal symbols (historically real symbols) is a belief that he stoops to speak to us in ways that we can understand (material and historical and human or humanly comprehendable). The ultimate example is the incarnation.

One can "get" the theological purpose of such symbols without believing that they are true symbols in history.

But to believe that this kind of speech/revelation by God has never actually happened in history, is from a Christian (or Jewish) standpoint theologically unrecognizable. Then God has never disclosed anything of himself at all. Nor has he ever done anything redemptive.

So, at minimum Christian faith involves the notion, I believe, that God can and has acted in this way.

The question still remains how many times he has done so (in terms of the instances we have in scripture).

But what are the criteria for accepting some/rejecting others?

In the case of the creation account, we've got science giving us information that can reasonably lead us to believe that the symbol here has a theological meaning and also historical truth--but the historical truth of the symbol is a complicated thing in this case.

But in most other cases, we don't have any information of this sort.

With the virgin birth, we have no information that helps us "clarify" just how this symbol is (or isn't) a historical and real symbol. But here is where the presupposition that God does speak/act/reveal through fully real and historical symbols kicks in. The virgin birth would be fully consistent with many other things Christians accept as real history (as shaped by divine interaction), so why not believe in it?

This does not strike me as particularly fundamentalist or unsophisticated. But if it is, maybe this shows that fundamentalist (or traditional/orthodox) Christians get some things right in their interaction with the text that others don't--such as full employment of the historical/incarnational idea presupposed in God's revelation as protrayed in scripture.

Well, those are my thoughts on it . . .

At 4/14/2006 2:55 AM, Anonymous Volker said...

Very well put, nelmezzo!

At 4/14/2006 5:11 AM, Anonymous joel hunter said...

Whether the resurrection is probable explanation of the historical evidence that lends credibility to the historical nature of the VB, or rather transcends it, is a question.

Yes it is. I should have just stated that the primacy of the resurrection is simply following Paul's christology. The whole of the newer testament proclaims the crucified and risen One. It is Christ's resurrection that validates his divinity and sacramental presence. I see no other way to avoid the Scylla of wysiwyg positivism and the Charybdis of historicism when trying to grasp the virgin birth.

I think your original "contemplative" intuition is a good one: the question of the virgin birth's "facticity" or "credibility" should never even arise if we've got our christological house in order, which I think centers on the question of "Who is Jesus?" and not "How did God come to be incarnate?". I think Paul is our model for doing that.

At 4/14/2006 6:02 AM, Anonymous joel hunter said...

Oops, and one other thing. Islam recognizes Jesus's virgin birth. But he is not recognized as divine. Affirming the VB buys you no theological insurance per se. The resurrection is sense-bestowing, it seems to me, and theologically primordial.

At 4/14/2006 9:18 AM, Anonymous David Wilkerson said...

Joel, splendid job on the resurrection comments. I think we are thinking similarly here. It is what gives the rest its meaning. Primordial...yes! I was just going to call it the whole ball of wax.

Interestingly, Paul (who is earlier then our written gospels) has no need of the VB. Christ takes on the likeness of humanity (Phil 2) and is born of a woman (Gal 4) and is a descendant of David (Rom 1). He is "declared the Son of God by his resurrection" (Rom 1:3-4). Now compare Luke 1:35 "The Holy Spirit will come upon you....and FOR that reason [he] shall be called the Son of God". Luke is using the VB to justify what the early proclamation linked to the resurrection. Perhaps it was language similar to Paul's use of "likeness" of sinful flesh in Phil 2 and Rom 8:3 that necessitated Luke's accounting for Jesus' unique flesh. But it appears to be a progression at any rate as Brown points out. The main synoptic tradition had previously put it at the baptism, and John moved it further still to eternity. But it all STARTS, repeat STARTS, at the resurrection.

Therefore (turns to Chris) I agree on the historical necessity of the resurrection. I hope I didn't make you think otherwise.(My skeptical statements concerning the resurrection are not about its certainty but its exact nature.) The resurrection is certainly the only reason we are not trapped with just texts and liturgy. I guess by saying we can't get to 'history' from the Scriptures even by the Spirit, I only meant to say that with the Spirit's help in reading we are led not to a perfect history or even to a reliable historical reconstruction in which to believe, but simply to a confrontation with the risen Christ.
This spares us, I hope, your proposed journey into the world of historical probability. Having met God firsthand, we as believers are not now going to the Scriptures looking for maybe. We are fully engaging and accepting the text attempting to know only Christ. Not a Christ who we think was "probably" raised from the dead but the one who by faith we are certain we have already known. So we are certain that any truth we find in the Scriptures points to Him.

Well, you know....maybe, if I'm right.

And finally, Nelmezzo: "I guess I wonder why, for the Christian, one wouldn't seek to affirm this quote and affirm that the story is also historically accurate."

We never got into particulars here I think assuming we all knew the difficulties and weren't interested in harmonization struggles. One problem is we have two stories not one. A small list of difficulties(google it): the star, the census, the slaughter(think Josephus), Joseph's "house" in Bethlehem (in Matt), lack of VB mention elsewhere in the gospels, lack of mention in Paul, possible rejection of details in John 7, Jesus' family seems unaware of the episode, John the Bap seems unaware of their relationship, the return to Nazareth vs. flight to Egypt, illegitmacy tradition in Mark with no birth narrative, the heavy theological structuring of the narrative. That's the problems which makes accepting the narratives as historical.
Now if the question is strictly the VB not the details of the narrative, then no one is questioning God's ability to have acted so. Indeed Raymond Brown affirms it because he believes the 'strange birth rumors' and virgin birth go back deep in the tradition. Like you he says, why not?! (Of course Brown was also concerned with getting the imprimatur on the inside cover.)
I wonder if that is the case considering Paul's silence, but even if true I wonder if the VB was only there to account for and on account of his resurrection. So we have perhaps come full circle.

At 4/14/2006 4:58 PM, Anonymous Steve Sensenig said...

Ben Myers, in expressing surprise that the subject of Mariology had not come up, said, If we want to make Jesus' "divinity" or "sinlessness" in any way dependent on a Virgin Birth, then we should realise that we're implicitly adopting a very specific kind of Mariology in the process.

I'm not sure I see the necessary connection. If the virgin birth has everything to do with God intervening in history to enact a miraculous conception, is there anything significant to study about the mother? She was merely the vessel (contra Roman Catholic dogma) of God's working, and from that standpoint, it could have been any virgin living at that time.

Is there some other significance I'm missing?

At 4/14/2006 7:08 PM, Anonymous DWright said...

David Wilkerson: Thanks for your remarks. I re-read the thread in light of "We never got into particulars here I think assuming we all knew the difficulties and weren't interested in harmonization struggles." and it helped me get some of the probable background to Chris' original question in better focus.

My intial response was directed more toward Chris’ final paragraph,
"What do you think? Is the historical facticity of the virgin birth essential to its ‘truth’, or merely a genre-bound contingent carrier of theological truth? Or have I formulated this question wrongly? Perhaps, my broad question is ‘In what sense is the Virgin Birth referring to reality?’"

I was more responding in a general way to the idea of a disjunction between theological truth and history. I just wanted to have said that the union of genre-carried theological truth [for some genres—those which seemingly purport historicity] and historical facticity is at heart of scripture’s self-understanding--they are its incarnational principle, which is bound up with its own rationale for even existing. As such, a disjunction between theological truth and historical facticity is not the presupposed norm in scripture. To say this, of course, does nothing to disprove the existence of such disjunctions. [Of course, there are also many genres in scripture where theological truth is conveyed outside of historicity].

However, I realize now that Chris was probably speaking much more specifically to the “details of the narrative” of the VB. Those details is where the going get tough.

So I’m interested in asking: Chris (or David Wilkerson, or anybody else here): do you see issues of the historical details of the VB (and surrounding material) as defeaters for historicity? [We haven’t even touched what constitutes historicity—clearly the gospel writers have different, although recognizable, notions of proper historiography than we do].

At 4/15/2006 3:34 AM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Crikey, it's hald past three in the morning - right, response to your comments is postponed!

At 4/15/2006 5:25 AM, Anonymous Ben Myers said...

G'day Steve. Yes, Protestant theologians have long recognised the Mariological connection. There are discussions of this, e.g., in Brunner's The Mediator, Barth's CD I/2, Berkouwer's The Work of Christ, and Pannenberg's Jesus -- God and Man.

To give only the most conservative example: Berkouwer argues that the confession of the virgin birth precedes Mariological developments, but he still insists that the Mariological development is unavoidable if the virgin birth is made the "foundation" of Christ's deity.

At 5/03/2006 3:16 PM, Anonymous Patrik said...

Interesting discussion. I did not read every post in detail, but it seems no one has mentioned the theological argumetns aginst the virgin birth, namely that a person born from a virgin by holy spirit would not, strictly speaking, be a true man. Tillich, for example, argues along these lines IIRC.

And in the jewish context, what would a virgin birth mean? I can't answer that, but I guess it would be something else than in a greek environment.

At 11/04/2007 11:00 PM, Anonymous Alice C. Linsley said...

The Church fatehrs underwstood that the blood of Jesus is the blood of Mary. The Theotokos is "the woman" God spoke to the serpent about in Genesis 3.

At 10/27/2009 12:47 PM, Anonymous Jerry said...

In view of your post, you may find these articles on virgin birth of interest and coming from an unusual angle

and, similarly TheologyWeb:

Forum — General Theistics 101
Thread — Does the Bible teach that Mary was a virgin when Jesus was conceived?

(Best to click on arrow on right which will take you to the last post. Posts by Antony and Ben Lomond relevant.)


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