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Oh Holy Night
In Defense of the Faith
Tuesday, December 24, 2013
Wendy Wippel

Today more than 2 billion Christians are gearing up to celebrate the birth of a baby. A very special baby. A 'one of a kind' baby—Jesus-- the only baby in history to be born of a virgin. Or maybe not. 'Cause apparently it’s out of fashion to really believe that.

A current article about the Christmas story on BeliefNet calls the Christmas story a "Religious Santa Claus Tale" that shouldn’t be taken literally.

Nicholas Kristof, columnist for the New York Times, once said that the doctrine of virgin birth was evidence that Christians were stupider than the general population. He also offered that even his long-time Presbyterian grandfather believed the story in Matthew to be nothing but “pious legend”.

And indeed, a recent survey found that a large majority of mainline denominational pastors (Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists) did not believe in the virgin birth, with substantial numbers of other clergy in the English-speaking world sharing that skepticism.

Bishop John Sprong, an Episcopal Pastor whose website calls him the “definitive voice of progressive Christianity today”, completely dismisses the whole story.

"In time, the virgin birth account will join Adam and Eve... as clearly recognized mythological elements in our faith tradition whose purpose was not to describe a literal event but to capture the transcendent dimensions of God in the earthbound words and concepts of first-century human beings."

According to Sprong,

“I do not know of a reputable New Testament scholar in the world today, Catholic or Protestant, who treats the birth stories about Jesus in Matthew and Luke as literal history.”

Sprong does eventually admit that you might find one (a believer, not necessarily a reputable scholar) at places like Liberty University. Spring finishes with,

“The days of treating the birth narratives as history are simply over in scholarly circles and I think it is time we said so publicly.”

Harry Emerson Fosdick, noted emergent thinker said,

"Of course I do not believe in the virgin birth... I do not know any intelligent minister who does."

Professor B. Tatum (author of In Quest of Jesus), called the virgin birth;

"theological fiction."

Robert Funk, the founder of the Jesus Seminar, wrote:

“The virgin birth of Jesus is an insult to modern intelligence and should be abandoned.”

And all these people claim to be Christ-followers.

Which begs the questions: isn’t the virgin birth in the Bible? What are these people thinking?

Well, some of them try to say that it’s really not.

Brian McLaren makes a big deal out of the random fact that neither Paul nor John ever mentions it.

Others say that the word translated “virgin” in Isaiah 7:14, Almah, really just means a young woman. (The RSV, in fact, changed it to that: in 1952.) And they say that nobody ever thought it meant anything else until 900 years after Christ.

It’s true that the word Almah is sometimes used to mean young woman. It’s not an incredibly specific word. But it is never used to mean a married woman, and in that culture an unmarried woman was presumed to be a virgin.

But wait, there’s more.

The Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek about 250 BC, and the word used consistently in that Greek version (the Septuagint) is Parthenos. A very famous tourist site in Athens is the building called the Parthenon. It was, in its heyday, a temple of virgin priestesses.

And Parthenos has only one meaning: virgin.

And besides, the verse says that the “virgin bearing a child” will be a sign. (And there’s nothing real unusual about a young, non-virgin unwed mothers. Is there.)

Some say that it was always meant to be not history, but allegory. According to Brian McLaren, within evangelical churches there is;

“a group of equally loyal and reverent people who would say that the virgin birth is not to be accepted as an historic fact, that the virgin birth as a mythological and symbolic way of saying we have met in this Jesus a God presence that human life could never have produced”.

And then there are those who say it just doesn’t matter.

Rob Bell, the Michigan Uberpastor of a Megachurch that Time magazine termed the “Hipper-Than-Thou-Pastor” and “the next Billy Graham”, posed this question:

“What if tomorrow someone digs up definitive proof that Jesus had a real, earthly, biological father named Larry, and archeologists find Larry’s tomb and do DNA samples and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the virgin birth was really just a bit of mythologizing the Gospel writers threw in to appeal to the followers of the Mithra and Dionysian religious cults that were hugely popular at the time … Could you still be a Christian? Is the way of Jesus still the best possible way to live? Or does the whole thing fall apart? If the whole faith falls apart when we reexamine and rethink one spring, then it wasn’t that strong in the first place, was it?”

Well, yes, Rob, it actually does matter. And it’s fortunate for us that it does. What Matthew says, quoting Isaiah is;

"Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins. So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us." (Matthew 1:20 NKJV)

The Child was born so that all this was done. Namely, that the Child would save His people from their sins.  And the reason He was able to do this was reflected in the Child’s name.

Emmanuel. God with us.

The child born in Bethlehem was God Himself. And no merely human child could have “accomplished all that was spoken the by prophets." No human child could have saved His people from their sins.

The hopes and fears of all the years were met in Bethlehem that night.

And God blessed us, every one.

Merry Christmas!

Wippel" href="http://www.omegaletter.com/content/?Bio_Wendy_page">About Wendy Wippel

Last week: Wippel" href="http://www.omegaletter.com/articles/articles.asp?ArticleID=7734">The Christmas Coup



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