Even though Rob Bell believes in the virgin birth of Christ in Velvet Elvis, he plays down the virgin birth:
“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 of Jesus, whose gods had virgin births? But what if, as you study the origin of the word ‘virgin’ you discover that the word ‘virgin’ in the gospel of Matthew actually comes from the book of Isaiah, and then you find out that in the Hebrew language at that time, the word ‘virgin’ could mean several things. And what if you discover that in the first century being ‘born of a virgin’ also referred to a child whose mother became pregnant the first time she had intercourse? What if that spring were seriously questioned? Could a person keep on jumping? Could a person still love God? 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?”
Luke’s account of the virgin birth of Jesus answers some of Bell’s questions.
First, The Supernatural Birth of Jesus’ Forerunner in Luke 1:5-25 (See Part 1 and 2).
Then, The Supernatural Birth of Jesus in Luke 1:26-56.
The following comparisons from John’s birth are repeated by Luke. But there are also some very significant contrasts that exalt Christ above John.
A. The parents who experienced a supernatural birth are introduced (1:26-27).
There are many stark contrasts that display God’s grace in the comparison of the births of John and Jesus. Luke in his gospel portrays Christ as seeking and saving the lost. These contrasts highlight this message.
The angel this time is sent to Galilee of the Gentiles, not Judea, to Nazareth, not Jerusalem, to a poor, uneducated Jewish girl, not a religious priest in Herod’s temple. To receive God’s grace you don’t have to live on the right side of the tracks or be affluent or educated.
By way of contrast to John’s parents, Mary and Joseph are very young. She is betrothed which took place shortly after puberty. The young teenage parents are not officially married, yet. This was the Jewish way of cutting down on unwanted teenage pregnancies. Let them marry as teenagers. The teens of Jesus’ day were already very mature making this a better situation than today. Joseph and Mary are in the second of the third phase in Jewish weddings:
The first phase: The parents picked the future mates for their children and entered into a contract which was signed by the two sets of parents of the future couple.
The second phase: This is the one year waiting period to test their purity. This phase is much more binding than our engagement period. This betrothal could only be broken by divorce or death. This was where Joseph and Mary were in their relationship. That is why when Joseph discovers that Mary is with child he is devastated. He knew he was not the father. Joseph decides to put her away, quietly divorce her in Matthew 1:18-25.
The third phase: The ceremony and the consummation of the marriage in the one flesh relationship. Mary is still a virgin at this point in the story.
B. The announcement of a supernatural angel (1:28-35).
Whereas John will be great because he was the forerunner of Jesus, the angel tells Mary that her son will be great because He will be the Son of God.
Just as John’s birth was a fulfillment of OT prophecy, so was Jesus (Isa 7:14). The prophecy in Isaiah provides no supernatural sign if it is a prophecy of only a young woman giving birth. This happens ever day. The sign pointing to immanuel (God with us) is the prophecy of a supernatural birth of a virgin who has never know a man sexually. This is the way Gabriel interprets Isaiah 7:14 in Matthew 1:23. I think I will stick with Gab’s hermeneutics rather than Bell’s questioning approach.
Whereas John was filled with the Holy Spirit in his mother’s womb, Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit in His mother’s womb. Gabriel told Mary that the Holy Spirit would “overshadow” her. This word was used to describe the presence of God in the holy of holies in the OT Jewish tabernacle (Exodus 40:35). Mary’s womb became the holy of holies for the Son of God (Warren W. Wiersbe).
Robert J. Miller, associate professor of religion at Juniata College, raises an old argument that the virgin birth of Jesus was stolen from mythology, such as Zeus impregnating women who gave birth to important persons. Miller said, “The notion that Jesus had no human father because he was the Son of God . . . was originally a pagan notion. Gentiles in a pagan culture expect a man whose life embodied divinity to have a divine father and a mother. The virgin birth thus corresponds to what Gentile Christians expected in a biography” (Born Divine. Santa Rosa, Calif,: Polestar, 1995, 246).
There are two major problems with this view:
1. Zeus, the mythological god of the Greeks, lusted after many women, even raped women, and in the myths caused them to give birth. God the Father was fulfilling OT Scripture and is perfectly holy.
J. Gresham Machen wrote the definitive argument for the Virgin Birth in 1930 which has never been answered. Here is Machen’s response to this denial of the Virgin Birth, “Zeus may have union with Danae . . . a satisfaction of his lust for the human maid . . . Could anything be more utterly remote from the representation in Matthew and Luke than these stories of the amours of Zeus” (The Virgin Birth of Christ. Grand Rapids, Mich.” Baker,1965, 338). Christianity did not steal this immoral version of God and incorporate it into the birth of Jesus’ narrative.
2. Zeus was a mythological god; he was not real. He was like a comic superhero. Batman or Spiderman don’t impregnate real women.
C. The giving of a supernatural sign (1:36-38).
Mary’s sign, though she did not request one like Zacharias, was the supernatural pregnancy of Elizabeth followed by a much assuring promise: “For with God nothing shall be impossible.”
D. Mary’s response is in contrast to Zachariah’s and should be our response.
1) We should surrender to the will of God no matter what the price (1:38).
The Talmud, which is a 2nd Century compilation of Jewish law and ethics includes the record that Mary was the mistress of a Roman soldier named Panthera and that Jesus was illegitimate. This story had spread and by the time of Christ’s ministry, the Pharisees said to Him, “We be not born of fornication, we have one Father, even God” (John 8:41). If the Virgin Birth is not true then this view is a viable option.
If the Virgin Birth of Christ is not true then Mary was a tramp who ran around on her future husband and contrived this incredible story of a virgin birth instead of the example of virtue that Luke describes to be.
2) Belief (1:45) in her God who does the impossible.
Do we have to fully understand God in order to believe in Him or what He says in His Word? I do not comprehend the Trinity that there is one God who is three person nor Jesus the God/man who is one person with two natures. Neither do I completely understand the Virgin Birth, but Mary believed her son was both the son of man and the Son of God by means of the Virgin Birth. I don’t even completely understand the New Birth, much less the Virgin Birth. But Jesus said to Necodemus, “You must be born again” and Nicodemus questioned, “How?” What is interesting is Jesus’ response in John 3. Jesus did not explain how. Jesus did simply said, “Whosoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:15).
3) Praise for Him (1:46-56)
Elizabeth praises God that Mary the mother of my Lord (Jesus in Mary’s womb) should come and visit her (1:43). Mary praises her Lord who is also her savior (1:46-47).
I love the Christmas song, Mary, did you know. The first line captures Mary’s praise:
Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy
Would one day walk on water?
Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy
Would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your Baby Boy
Has come to make you new;
This Child that you delivered
Will soon deliver you.