Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Jesus Was Born of a Virgin (31 Days with Jesus - Day 3)

The Mediterranean Sea, off Caesarea in Israel


34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.

- Luke 1:34-35

While I am not Roman Catholic, I do have many friends who are. These friends are my brothers and sisters in Christ. In my biblical and theological studies I have been helped by many Roman Catholic scholars. Names such as Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, Thomas Aquinas, Francis Beckwith, and Pope John Paul stand out to me. (BTW, John Paul was a brilliant phenomenological philosopher. And, BTW, my middle name is "Paul.")

One of them, Father Stephen Rooney, is a local priest in the Monroe area. Stephen graciously invited me to speak at the RC Unity Service in January 2001. I will never forget that evening for two reasons.

First, St Michael's was packed out as I spoke on the Jesus-unity Father Rooney and I have, using the "Stations of the Cross" that encompassed the sanctuary to illustrate this. I found that I could affirm the truth of every "station" except for the "Veronica" story (the woman who, according to legend, wiped Jesus' bloody face with her cloak).

Secondly, that was the evening my father died. He was suffering and dying as I was speaking. My friend Stephen knew about this, and was praying for me as I spoke.

The current Pope, Benedict, is also a great scholar. His recent book defends, among other things, the virgin birth of Christ. Benedict reasons like this. (From The Infancy Narratives.)

1. Christian teaching affirms that "Jesus was the son of God and was not conceived through sexual intercourse but by the power of the Holy Spirit, one part of the divine trinity."
2. The story of the virgin birth is not just a reworking of earlier Greek or Egyptian legends and archetypal concepts but something totally new in history.
3. God is a Creator. God creates. God invents. This is part of the nature of God.
4. God is omnipotent.
5. Therefore God's creative word is able to bring about something completely new. (See my recent God's Commands are Authoritative Words that Have Illocutionary Force.)

Benedict's reasoning is grounded in the understanding of the power of God. An all-powerful being is, by logical extension, able to bring about any logically possible state of affairs. "If God does not also have power over matter, then he simply is not God," Benedict writes. "But he does have this power, and through the conception and resurrection of Jesus Christ he has ushered in a new creation."

Could the story of Jesus' virgin birth been invented by early Christians to spice up the Jesus story? New Testament scholar Ben Witherington writes:

"I would argue that it is highly unlikely Christians would make up a story about a virginal conception, precisely because it would lead to the charge of Jesus' illegitimacy by opponents of the Christian movement. There must have been some historical substance to this tradition for both Matthew and Luke to refer to the matter, independently of each other and in differing ways." (See Witherington's article "Misconceptions About the Virginal Conception: Our lack of access to narratives about Jesus' birth shouldn't lead us to assume the miracle of his conception didn't happen.")

I'm with Pope Benedict who states that the virgin birth is an unequivocal truth of Christian faith.

Jesus was born of a virgin.