December 18, 2004
Was Mary A Virgin?
Last week TIME and Newsweek published
similar cover stories raising doubts about the virgin birth of Jesus.
"Secrets of the Nativity: Why the Story of Jesus Birth Inspires So Much
Scholarly Interest and Faith" was the TIME headline.
Secrets? What secrets? Surely Scripture is clear, I
thought at first. Well, not really.
The Gospels of Mark and John do not mention the birth
of Jesus. And "Matthew and
Luke diverge in conspicuous ways on the details of the event," writes TIME.
"In Matthew's Nativity, the angelic Annunciation is
made to Joseph, while Luke's is to
Mary. Matthew's offers wise men and a star and puts the baby Jesus in a
house. Luke's prefers shepherds and a manger. Both place the Birth in
Bethlehem, but they disagree
totally about how it came to be there."
As a journalist, I never saw any conflict in these
accounts. Scholars agree that Matthew was written before Luke.
Luke was a companion of Paul from his second missionary journey to his
imprisonment in Rome. I assume he read Mark and Matthew, but had his
own questions about the birth of Jesus. So he interviewed Mary, a unique
source of the detailed Christmas story we know best.
Luke's Gospel begins, "Many have undertaken to draw up
an account of the things
fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from
the first were
eyewitnesses... Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated
everything from the
beginning, it seemed good to me to write an orderly account..."
However, TIME's account while adorned with sacred hymns
("Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child/ Holy Infant so Tender and Mild"
raises doubts about the accuracy of the story as we have known it.
Some Jewish sources allege Mary committed
adultery with a Roman soldier,
Panthera, which critics say is the reason Matthew has Joseph considering
"quietly," before his dream in which an angel says "what is conceived in her
is from the Holy Spirit."
Jane Schaberg, a feminist critic at the University of
Detroit, has theorized that when Mary was betrothed to Joseph, someone raped
her. "The Holy Spirit, in Schaberg's version, transmutes a ritually taboo
pregnancy into an occasion of glory and the birth of the Holy Child," says
Stephen Patterson of Eden Theological Seminary "lists
divinely irregular conceptions in
stories about not only mythic heroes such as Perseus and Romulus and Remus
but also flesh-and-blood figures like Plato, Alexander and Augustus, whose
hagiographers reported he was fathered by the god Apollo while his mother
To put it plainly, such critics claim that the Gospel
writers imagined the Holy Spirit and
Mary engaged in the sort of physical divine-human interaction found in Greek
and Roman myths.
Raymond Brown, the deceased author of a landmark book,
"The Birth of the Messiah," and a Sulpician priest, angrily retorts: "Every
line of Matthew's infancy narrative echos Old Testament themes. Are we to
think that he accepted all that background but then violated horrendously
the stern Old Testament (rule) that God was not a male who mated with a
Newsweek finds it odd that Jesus never referred to his
virgin birth and that Mary herself "appears unaware of her son's provenance
and destiny." Mark 3:21 reports that
Jesus' family tried to stop Jesus' ministry, saying, "He is out of his
mind." If Mary believed
Gabriel, didn't she know he was not mad, but the Messiah? And wouldn't she
have told his brothers?
Good questions for which orthodox scholars I
interviewed had no answers.
Matthew explains the virgin birth as fulfilling "what
the Lord said to the prophet, `The
virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call
him Immanuel.'" He
quotes Isaiah 7:14.
Critics note that Hebrew word, "almah" translated as
"virgin" actually refers to a "young
girl, who might be a virgin or not. Prof. Eugene Merrill of Dallas
Theological Seminary, retorts "The Old Testament did not have a word for
'virgin,' but when it was translated
into Greek, 200 years before the birth of Christ, the Greek word for virgin,
`parthenos,' was used. (The Parthenon was a temple where virgins were set
apart for worship of the gods.)"
Prof. David Scholer, of Fuller Theological Seminary,
argues, "God the creator entered
human history. Events like the Resurrection, which stretches what we know as
human beings, and the virgin birth, we can accept as supernatural events
that show the power
Newsweek reports that eight out of ten Americans agree.
2021: Column 2074: Reaching Age 80
Do Not Leave Afghanistan
Executions for Murder
A Case for Pro-Life
The Death Penalty?
Christian Choices Matter
The Biblical Sexual Standard
The Addictive Nature of Pornography
Abortion Becoming Illegal
Protecting Girls from Suicide
The Worst Valentine:
Pornography: A Public Health Hazard
Sextortion Kills Teens
Cohabitation: A Risky Business
same sex marriage,
abortion and infanticide,