The Virgin Birth – There’s Nothing Marvelous about a Myth

Every Christmas, Christians and non-Christians alike seem to revisit the doctrine of the virgin birth. Conservative Christians rightly affirm that belief in the virgin birth of Christ is a test of orthodoxy and of one’s view of the Scripture.[1] However, we must go beyond the doctrinal affirmations that arise from the narratives of Matthew and Luke, and marvel at the wonderful thing that was accomplished in the Incarnation. The Christmas story is not marvelous because it is miraculous. Our faith must not become merely about affirming biblical propositions our doctrinal checklist. Of course, the virgin birth is miraculous and the events did happen, but the Christmas story is much more than historical facts. The Christmas Story is marvelous because of what the miracle means for us – that in Christ, God the Son became a man and made his dwelling among us – That this God/Man, Jesus, became a worthy substitute for your and my sin.

And this is where “progressive” Christians get it wrong. One of the arguments against believing in the virgin birth is that it doesn’t really matter whether or not the story is true. They argue that we can affirm the Christmas story without affirming the history of the events. It is the MYTH that matters, not the historical facts. The meaning, they argue, is in the story and “metaphor is so much more powerful than historicity.”[2]

I understand the argument. After all, myth can have an important function for us. For example, I believe in Santa Claus. I really do. But I believe, not because of what I know about the North Pole, being on the Nice list, or whether reindeer really know how to fly. I “believe” because the metaphor is powerful in itself. I believe because the stories remind me of the value of giving and of the wonder of childhood and the nostalgia of Christmases past. And what I believe, I also know to be a myth. The story of Santa Claus is “true” apart from my knowledge of how much cookies and milk one man can actually consume.

Myths are powerful and so it’s no surprise that many people, even professing Christians, treat the nativity story like they do the myth of Santa Claus. They find value in believing apart from the facts of the miracle itself. Thus the nativity becomes a sweet little story about a baby and angels and shepherds and wise men – that reminds us of the value of giving and family and caring for others who have less than we do. And all those things are good and valuable – but they are not MARVELOUS!

The Biblical story is marvelous and its marvelousness is dependent on the facts of the story. The grace of God in the Incarnation and, later, the death and resurrection of Christ is only marvelous if true. There is no value in this story if it’s only a myth. But what if we did treat the story as a MYTH, a legend, a sweet little story? What if, as some suggest, Matthew and Luke included the story as a metaphor? Dear, Bible reader, I give you this story about a virgin birth, a child who was God with us, a child who grew up to die on a cross and rise again to save people from sin. I give you this story as a metaphor. I wrote this story to show you how much God loves you – but God didn’t ACTUALLY do this for you. See, the Christmas story and the virgin birth is a key event in the HISTORY of God’s dealing with us – it’s marvelous because it is a TRUE story.

But perhaps there is something deeper here. We not only disagree on the facts of the story, but on its meaning.  From my observation, those progressives who argue that the nativity is myth don’t really claim the metaphor has anything to do with salvation from sin at all. This is where they get it so wrong. The Christmas Story is not a sweet story, or even a moving story (the way a Hallmark movie or an episode of Touched by an Angel is moving). It is not some inspiring story to teach us lessons about personal sacrifice, or giving to other, or good will toward one another. It’s a marvelous story because it’s about God’s sacrifice, God’s gift to us, God’s good will toward sinners who receive grace instead of judgment.

And, truth be told, the reason so many get the virgin birth wrong, is that they don’t believe the gospel itself. If it is not “Christian” to agree with the Bible’s definition of sin, if we can be Christian and reject the concept of God’s wrath, if people can be saved without regard to faith in Jesus, if we can be Christian without an atonement, then why on earth would we need to believe something as foolish as the Virgin Birth?!?

The truth is, the Christmas message of a virgin birth is scandalous. Not because a teenage girl got pregnant out of wedlock.  Not even because the concept of a virgin birth is so utterly unscientific and unreasonable to the contemporary mind. But because this child came “to save his people from their sins” by dying on a cross and satisfying the wrath of God on our behalf.  And if you don’t need that, then you don’t need some antiquated notion of a virgin birth.

 

 



[1] See, e.g., the helpful article from Albert Mohler, “Must Christians Believe in the Virgin Birth?” http://www.ligonier.org/blog/must-christians-believe-virgin-birth/

[2] Susan Strous, “Taking the Christmas Story Seriously – But Not Literally,” https://progressivechurch.wordpress.com/2010/12/23/taking-the-christmas-story-seriously-%E2%80%93-but-not-literally/

 

Comments

  1. says

    Anyone who has trouble believing in the virgin birth would have even greater trouble explaining how it is that they do believe that Jesus rose from the dead. It irks me that many people stumble over some miracles but accept that a dead man rose from the dead and lives forevermore. The supernatural, miraculous acts of God are the fabric of our faith, and that fabric is full of holes if our faith fails at multiple places in the record of God’s supernatural acts (the Bible).

  2. Christiane says

    It is thought in the tradition of the Church that St. Luke had access to Mary (Our Lord’s mother) for information because of the very personal details which he incorporates into the Nativity narrative

    It is also true that St. Luke was a physician, and certainly not one to foster erroneous myths

  3. says

    An often overlooked aspect of Luke’s Gospel is that since the time of Antiochus IV Epiphanes the Greeks had been hated with an intensity difficult for us to appreciate today. The acceptance of Luke, a Greek, into the community of believers who were nearly all Jews testifies to the power of the GOSPEL.

  4. Bill Luebbert says

    For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who don’t believe, no proof is possible. Stuart Chase

    I read this article and must have entirely missed the point. Are you in fact saying the Virgin Birth is a myth? If you are, I want nothing to do with your “religion.” Are you trying to destroy Christianity? You are on the path of doing so with this article.

    “The truth is, the Christmas message of a virgin birth is scandalous. Not because a teenage girl got pregnant out of wedlock. Not even because the concept of a virgin birth is so utterly unscientific and unreasonable to the contemporary mind.” Your statement, is declaring that the OT prophesies of Christ’s virgin birth to be false. And if you truly believe that, then you can’t accept Christ as the Messiah. Why, because the OT prophesies were not fulfilled, you as much as called them false.

    If what you say is true, then you are unaware of Hebrew history and it laws and customs. Joseph would not have gotten Mary pregnant out of wedlock. Not considering his lineage. I suppose next you’ll say that no angel came to Joseph and said “be not afraid to wed Mary even though she was with child.” If you are, then you are calling the NT a lie.

    Again, if I have missed the point, it really doesn’t matter if you take the time to put it into words I can follow. Your whole aim in this article dangerous path to take and has the potential to cause so much confusion, it would have been better if you hadn’t written it at all.

    Until you have absolute proof that Christ wasn’t born on the 25th of December, and that also have absolute proof that Mary was made pregnant by Joseph; you need to leave the Virgin Birth in tact and not destroyed. And another thing, his birth was and is to signify that God sent a Savior. This is the time when we focus on his birth. When Easter arrives when we focus on Christ’s sacrifice. Keep the two events separate.

  5. Todd Benkert says

    Bill, you need to reread the article. I am in fact saying the opposite of what you are suggesting I’ve said.

    It is those who do not believe in the miracles of Scripture who see the virgin birth as a myth and meaningful apart from historocity. I am arguing that the fact of the virgin birth is necessary to the gospel and that there is no gospel without it. Many do in fact reject the virgin birth because it conflicts with their worldview in the same way that they reject the gospel. The point of the closing paragraph is that if you reject the gospel, you don’t need the virgin birth. People find the nativity story scandalous because it confronts them with the reality of their own sin.

    The marvelousness of the story, however, is that Jesus came so save me from my sin — and for that, the virgin birth is necessary.

    • says

      And, yes, that PDF is the text of Lewis’s essay “Myth Became Fact”. I’m not sure why whoever transcribed it to PDF left off Lewis’s name.