The Bible Doesn't Say That by Dr. Joel M. Hoffman

The Bible Doesn't Say That by Dr. Joel M. Hoffman

Author:Dr. Joel M. Hoffman
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 9781466864566
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Published: 0101-01-01T00:00:00+00:00


24

THE VIRGIN BIRTH

Was there really a virgin birth in the Bible? No and yes, in that order.

The virgin birth of Jesus to Mary is a cornerstone of Christian belief, and has been for nearly two thousand years. Yet for all its centrality, it remains a matter of controversy not just because of the boldness of the claim that a virgin woman conceived and gave birth, but because of two different kinds of confusion about the text. The result is that some people (wrongly) claim that both the Old Testament and the New Testament refer to Jesus’s birth to a virgin Mary, while other people (wrongly) claim that the virgin birth is just a mistranslation. The truth is more nuanced and more interesting.

On one hand, the Gospels of Matthew and Luke are clear on the matter.

According to Matthew 1:18, Jesus is born to Mary, who becomes pregnant before having sex with her betrothed, Joseph: “When Jesus’s mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.” We recall from our chapter 6 that this is the second part of Matthew’s answer to the unasked question “Who is Jesus?”

The literal translation of the language here, from the NRSV, in theory leaves open various possible interpretations: for instance maybe Mary and Joseph were having sex before they lived together. So do other common translations, including the KJV, which attributes Mary’s pregnancy to the time before she and Joseph “came together.” But the text is clear, in spite of the euphemism for sex. Joseph and Mary had not yet had sex when Mary became pregnant.

To drive home the point, Matthew 1:19–20 explains that Joseph worried about marrying the now-pregnant Mary, but an angel explains to him that he shouldn’t be concerned, because the “child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” Again, this leaves open the technical possibility that the child, though not Joseph’s, belonged to another man, but only if the angel was lying. And we find nothing in the text to support that suggestion.

Luke is even more direct. Luke 1:27 indicates specifically that Mary is a virgin. In verse 31, a visiting angel tells Mary that she will conceive, and she wonders, in verse 34, how that is possible since she is still a virgin—literally, “has not known a man.” The angel assures her in the following verses that she will conceive by power of the “Holy Spirit,” and, furthermore, that unlikely pregnancies are well attested, because nothing is too difficult for God. It’s still possible to try to find an out: Mary is a virgin when the angel visits, but maybe she doesn’t stay a virgin; maybe “know a man” isn’t exactly the same thing as having sex; and more. But these are clear attempts to force a reading onto the text that isn’t there. This is a passage about a virgin giving birth.

So that part is clear. Both Gospels report that Jesus was born to a virgin Mary.



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