Modernism and the Virgin Birth of Christ

By Wayne Jackson

John Dominic Crossan is no stranger to those who are familiar with modern attacks against the Bible. Crossan, a professor at DePaul University, has served as co-chair of the infamous Jesus Seminar—a conglomerate of infidelic, self-styled “intellectuals” who aim to create a “Bible” that conforms to their own faithlessness.

Crossan, who has been called “the greatest scholar alive on the historical Jesus,” knows nothing about Christ save that which is revealed in the New Testament—for that represents basically the whole of the concrete information about Jesus. And the professor has demonstrated time and again that he knows precious little of that.

These publicity-hungry sensationalists have an ingrained bias against the concept that the Bible is a supernatural production. They seek, therefore, to divest it of its miraculous elements. In the jargon of liberal scholar Rudolph Bultmann, they want to “de-mythologize” and thus “sanitize” the sacred documents (1954). They propose to remove those “legends” (e.g., the virgin birth, Jesus’ miraculous deeds, and the Lord’s resurrection) from the ancient text.

In a recent issue of the notoriously liberal journal, Bible Review, Professor Crossan, commented upon Jesus’ birth. He wrote: “I consider him the normally born child of Mary and Joseph” (2001, 45).

To argue such a position is to ignorantly or deliberately ignore the evidence of history and to invent a scenario that has no higher basis than skeptical fantasy. Consider the following factors.

(1) There are two accounts of the virgin birth of Jesus in the New Testament. One of these was authored by Matthew (chapter one), and the other was composed by Luke (chapter one). There is strong evidence that each of these accounts is characterized by the utmost reliability. The fact that Matthew was a Jewish publican (a tainted occupation for a Jew) argues for the integrity of his report. No fabricator would have chosen the identity of one possessed of such a despised reputation to make a defense of Jesus as the Messiah of Old Testament prophecy.

Luke’s credibility as a historian has been defended brilliantly by such renowned scholars as Sir William Ramsay, who began his academic career as a skeptic but was turned around by the hard facts of evidence. The ancient historian had investigated carefully the background of Jesus (Luke 1:3) and he argued vigorously for the fact of the Lord’s virgin birth. As a doctor (Colossians 4:14), he would have resisted the notion of such an event had there not been compelling evidence for it.

(2) In tracing the legal genealogy through Joseph (as per Jewish custom), Matthew employs the term “begat” thirty-nine times (vv. 2-16). However, when he arrives at the connection between Joseph and Jesus, the term is conspicuously dropped. Rather, Matthew simply says of Mary, “of whom [feminine, singular in Greek] was born Jesus” (v. 16). Joseph is excluded from any involvement in Christ’s birth.

(3) The New Testament writers make it clear that Joseph and Mary were only betrothed (Matthew 1:18; Luke 1:27), which required sexual abstinence, as the notable Jewish scholar, Alfred Edersheim, observed (1957, 151). Mary was said to be with child “before they came together” in sexual intimacy, and the conception is attributed to a miracle effected by the power of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18,20; Luke 1:35).

(4) The fact that Joseph was “minded to put away” Mary (Matthew 1:19) clearly shows he knew he was not the father of the child. When the angel informed Mary of her impending conception, she expressed amazement. “How shall this be, since I have never been intimate with a man?” (Luke 1:34)—so the force of the Greek text.

(5) Mary is specifically designated as a “virgin” (Greek parthenos [Matthew 1:23; Luke 1:27]), which term indicates a sexually pure woman. There are many examples in classical Greek where the meaning of “purity” is associated with parthenos. Euripides said, “My soul is virgin” (Hippolytus 1006). Aeschylus spoke of water that flows from a “pure spring” (Persae 613). When a young girl named Atalanta reached the age of puberty, she expressed the wish “to remain a virgin” (Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 2.9.2).

The Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) speaks of a “virgin sister . . . who is not espoused to a man” (Leviticus 21:3). Another text records the case of “young virgins, that had not known man by lying with him” (Judges 21:12). The virgin birth of Christ was prophesied by Isaiah seven centuries before the event came to pass (Isaiah 7:14).

(6) After Joseph became convinced of Mary’s virginal conception, he took her as his wife, but still had no sexual contact with her until after Jesus’ birth. This is the force of the imperfect tense form, “knew her not” (Matthew 1:25).

(7) If Mary knew that Joseph was Jesus’ natural father, why did she not rescue her Son from the cross, having been nailed there because of his claim that he was the Son of God? (cf. John 10:36; Mark 14:62). Did she allow him to suffer horribly and die for what she knew was not the truth? How corrupt are the modern infidels who would cast the ancient saints into such a despicable mold.

Some of exceedingly superficial reasoning skills may be persuaded by the likes of Crossan. Those who carefully survey the historical record, and who can reason logically, will not.

Sources/Footnotes
  • Bultmann, Rudolph. 1954. Kerygman and Myth: A Theologocial Debate. London, England: Billing & Sons.
  • Crossan, John D. 2001. Bible Review, February.
  • Edersheim, Alfred. 1957. Sketches of Jewish Social Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.