December 25, 2009

FROM THE ARCHIVES: WHO'S YO' DADDY?:

Whose Child Is This?: The early church's opponents claimed Jesus was illegitimate. Its heretical fringe said he wasn't human. The doctrine of the Virgin Birth set them both straight. (Richard Longenecker, 12/22/00, Christianity Today)

When they tell their stories of Jesus' birth, Matthew and Luke have little in common. Matthew dwells on the fulfillment of prophecy, the visit of foreign astrologers, and the slaughter of the innocents. Luke, by contrast, reports the poetic utterances of Zechariah, Mary, and Simeon, and focuses on Mary's relatives and the visit of the shepherds.

Matthew 1:18-2:23 and Luke 1:5-2:52 are quite different. Neither writer seems to have known the other's account. Yet Matthew and Luke make one major point in common�that Jesus was born of a virgin through the power of the Holy Spirit. This agreement, amidst otherwise diverse presentations, suggests that a common tradition regarding the Virgin Birth existed before either writer recorded his story.

How did a divine mystery, agreed on by the Gospel writers, become the subject of debate?

From at least Ignatius of Antioch (writing about A.D. 110) to the nineteenth century, almost all Christians accepted the Virgin Birth as both a fact of history and a datum of theology. Believers expected marvelous events to accompany God's actions, and so the miraculous served to support faith. In addition, the Virgin Birth fit nicely with church teaching about Jesus' being the Son of God and having a sinless nature.

After the eighteenth-century intellectual revolution we call the Enlightenment, however, the miraculous created suspicion rather than faith-even among Christians. This stemmed from more than mere rationalism or the association of miracles with credulity. It also arose from the conviction that God works in and through a history like our own-and a history studded with miracles is not the kind of history we know. So in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries many scholars refused to believe that Jesus was conceived any differently from anyone else. Furthermore, the doctrine of the Virgin Birth seemed impossible to reconcile with the true humanity of Jesus.

(Originally posted: 12/24/04)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at December 25, 2009 12:00 AM
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