|Pine trees, 5500 feet elevation, Bozeman Pass, Montana|
(In Mere Christianity C.S. Lewis referred to the birth of Christ as "The Great Invasion.")
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
Father Stephen Rooney, a local priest in the Monroe area, graciously invited me to speak at the Roman Catholic Unity Service in January 2001. I will never forget that event for two reasons.
First, 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.
Second, St Michael's was packed out as I spoke on the Jesus-unity Father Rooney and I have. I used the "Stations of the Cross" that encompassed the sanctuary to illustrate this. I affirmed the truth of every "station" except for the "Veronica" story (the woman who, according to legend, wiped Jesus' bloody face with her cloak). One of my affirmations was, of course, the virgin birth of Christ.
The Pope at that time was Benedict. He had just published a book that defended, among other things, the virgin birth. 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. (Contra the intellectually embarrassing "Zeitgeist" mini-phenomenon.)
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 post 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, "Misconceptions About the Virginal Conception: Our lack of access to narratives about Jesus' birth shouldn't led us to assume the miracle of his conception didn't happen.")
Jesus was born of a virgin. This is an unequivocal truth of Christian faith.