Hello, all. My name is Jim Gifford (I post as Jim G. on SBC Voices) and this is my first post as a contributor to Voices. A week or so ago, Dave Miller asked if there would be any non-Calvinists that would want to contribute and I volunteered. I will be contributing postings largely in theology from time to time. I’ll do my best to stay away (most of the time) from the C-A debates, as there are things I think that are far more important and more fun.
A little about me: I currently live near Charlotte, North Carolina after living my whole life (until this May) in West Virginia. I graduated from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary with a PhD in systematic theology last year. I teach theology online for Liberty University and Lancaster Bible College, as well as residentially for New Life Theological Seminary and Carolina Graduate School of Divinity. I am married with three children, all of which are adoptees from East Asia (South Korea and China). I will be doing a lot of adoption advocacy on the blog also.
My first post is on the virgin birth. It is a bit of a different take, so please comment.
Traditional evangelical Christianity tends to interpret the life and work of Christ in terms of the OT. In my opinion, it has slightly erred from the scope of the NT on this point. The NT authors were largely writing to people who were intimately familiar with the OT practices. One of the purposes of the NT books was to help people see the real meaning behind the familiar OT rituals. Nowhere does the NT demand Christ conform to the OT rituals. The NT authors show that they were patterns of the true sacrifice, Jesus.
Thus, the American Evangelical churches usually explain the virgin birth something like this logical sequence:
All humanity needs saving from sin
A perfect sacrifice is required to save people from sin
Jesus, in order to be the perfect sacrifice, had to be virgin born (conceived)
This is completely backwards logic. Jesus is God incarnate. He did not HAVE to be perfect for any reason. He, by virtue of being God, WAS (IS) perfect. Thus the perfection of Jesus should not be the end of a logical sequence of events; it must be the beginning. This is an illustration of how we explain salvation backwards, and in doing so drive a wedge between the Father and Son. Look at the middle statement in the above sequence. Where does that statement come from? Is it even a biblical idea? I’m not completely sure it is. Here’s why:
Salvation for the human race is contained in Jesus. He does not meet the criteria. He IS the criteria. He, due to his divinity, is perfect. The spotless sacrifices of the Old Testament do not teach that the ultimate sacrifice HAD to be perfect. They teach that the ultimate sacrifice WOULD be perfect. Perfection is not the requirement. The God-man (who is perfect already) is the requirement. The pseudo-perfection of the OT animals does not make perfection a requirement. It only illustrates perfection as an attribute of the God-man.
Thus the virgin birth is not necessary to preserve the perfection of Jesus. Jesus, as the God-man, WAS and eternally IS perfect. His assumption of real humanity did not mar his perfection. How could it? If anything, the traditional teaching on the virgin birth subtly implies that Jesus is somehow humanly quantitatively different from us in that he did not inherit something the rest of us inherit. (Sin here is the only exception: Jesus was without sin – actual or original) That is an incredibly dangerous line of thinking, because it suggests that he does not quite come down to our level, but remains untouched by the corruption and misery that continually enslaves us.
Then why the virgin birth? Look at the context of where it is mentioned in Isaiah 7:14. Wicked King Ahaz was too proud to ask God for a sign that God would deliverJerusalem. Isaiah, in his righteous anger, exclaimed that God would give a sign—a virgin would conceive and bear a son and call him Immanuel (God with us). The virgin birth is therefore the ultimate sign that this is God with us—in the human flesh of Jesus of Nazareth. His virgin birth is the ultimate sign of his deity and his resultant sinless perfection. The virgin birth is not the guarantee of Jesus’ perfection. It is the sure sign of the deity (and therefore perfection) already present.
Remember, God doesn’t REQUIRE a perfect sacrifice; God (in Christ) IS the perfect sacrifice. This, I believe, is the proper biblical way to interpret the virgin birth. Please feel free to comment and interact with me if anything seems unclear.