apologetics, Apologetics of Christ, Historical Christianity, The Bible

Guest Post: Rev. Kent Wartick on “The Virgin Birth”

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,

and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us). Matthew 1:28 ESV.

Familiar words to most Christians, aren’t they? Along with His Death and Resurrection, the virgin birth of Jesus is among the most celebrated and unifying events in all of Christianity. Nativity scenes can be found in front of Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, and all sorts of churches of all denominations. The virgin birth is counted as among the fundamental doctrines of Christianity, and was important enough to be counted as one of the twelve articles of the Apostolic Creed. For centuries, the account that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin woman, Mary of Nazareth, was undisputed, at least as far as any known challenges can be documented.

But, then, along came the Enlightenment. With it came the idea that science and reason were the test of Scripture and all truth, and not the reverse. Therefore, if Scripture says that Jesus was born of a virgin, and that is not logical nor scientifically provable, then it must be rejected. Thus, the Jefferson “Bible” excludes any reference to the virgin birth as well as Jesus’ miracles, Deity, resurrection, etc.  As time went on, through the historical critical method and other destructive methods of using reason not to teach but to judge Scripture, the Enlightenment principle of reason and science over Scripture slowly infiltrated the thinking of many churches. Surveys confirm this infiltration.

1998: A poll of 7,441 Protestant clergy in the U.S. showed a wide variation in belief. The following ministers did not believe in the virgin birth:

  • American Lutherans- 19%
  • American Baptists- 34%
  • Episcopalians- 44%
  • Presbyterians- 49%
  • Methodists- 60%

2007-DEC: The Barna Group sampled 1,005 adults and found that 75% believed that Jesus was born to a virgin. 53% of the unchurched, and 15% of Agnostics and Atheists believe as well. Even among those who describe themselves as mostly liberal on political and social issues, 60% believe in the virgin birth. (Source for surveys.)

It is a great travesty in the Church today that many clergy find themselves looking at their positions only as a job, and will say what they must to preserve their positions. From the source of the polls previously cited comes this quote:

“…one Hampshire vicar was typical: ‘There was nothing special about his birth or his childhood – it was his adult life that was extraordinary….I have a very traditional bishop and this is one of those topics I do not go public on. I need to keep the job I have got.’

Such hypocrisy and blatant deceit is unworthy of anyone, let alone one who claims to proclaim the Word of God and represent Him to the people. yet such is the state of much of the clergy, as indicated by the above polling figures. No wonder the Church is in such disarray, and seems so powerless in the world today!

If Christianity is only a “nice” way of life that is only about love and compassion, then I suppose the virgin birth is not so essential, But if Christianity is an intimate and personal relationship by faith with the Creator of the Universe, then Who that Creator is makes all the difference. And if being born of a virgin is something He says about himself, even once, in His Book, then it might be best if we believe it. After all, wouldn’t you like to know a bit about, say, the pedigree of a dog or horse that you were to buy, or even more so, wouldn’t you like to know all about a future spouse that you profess to love before marriage?  (Please forgive the analogy, which is not meant to cheapen God, spouses, dogs, or horses).

The virgin birth of Christ—and I would say, the historical fact that Jesus was conceived by a miracle like unto creation itself—does not travel alone. It ties intimately into other doctrines-the Holy Trinity, the Deity of Christ, the substitutionary atonement, the inspiration, inerrancy, and infallibility of Scripture, and more. “Scripture cannot be broken”, Jesus said in John 10:35. Even so, the most basic teachings of the Christian faith cannot be broken off and accepted like items on a buffet table. They are all one. Accept all of them-or none of them. That is the challenge that the catechumen, the seeker, the growing disciple of Christ is faced with. Finally, you see, the importance of the virgin birth is found, like all things, bound in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ.

As far as the prophecy quoted by Matthew, namely Isaiah 7:14, much ink has been spilled on this by scholars with more degrees than I have. Some modern Bible translations, notably the NRSV, CEB, TEV and others use “young woman” to translate the Hebrew word almah.   Others, such as the NASB, ESV, NKJB, TNIV  (=NIV 2011), use the more traditional “virgin.” The LXX also translates the word “virgin.” While the matter is not as simple as some might make it, certainly I would think that the Septuagint scholars would have known Hebrew and Greek well enough to have chosen a different word besides the Greek word for “virgin” if “young woman” would have been indicated. They had no agenda to support a virgin birth or not. The same cannot be said of some modern translators. The sainted Dr. William Beck  wrote a study on this subject, available at www.wlsessays.net/.

Human reason helps us put all of these things together systematically from Scripture; but human reason cannot accept and believe them itself. That, too, is a special creative work of the Holy Spirit. What a delight to know that God wants everyone to know Him as He reveals Himself in Scripture. It is through the very words of Scripture that God creates faith. Through those Holy Spirit given and empowered words He keeps one in the faith.  As I stand in awe that God chose this supernatural way to join our human race, so I stand in awe that He created faith in my heart, and has kept that faith to this day. All glory and praise to Him forever!

Finally, though, the virgin birth is a matter of faith. For the individual, it is a matter of personal faith whether one accepts what Scripture says about the miraculous conception and birth of Jesus or not. But the virgin birth is also a matter of THE Faith; that is to say, it is an article of Christian doctrine that is beyond dispute. To accept it is to accept a fundamental, essential doctrine of all Christianity. To reject it is to put one outside the bounds of the Christian faith. I pray that this Advent and Christmas season you will join with me, and with all the Christian world, in celebrating the supernatural way that God chose to enter our human race to bear our sin and be our savior.

Rev. Kent Wartick is the pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Kent, Ohio. He has been preaching for over 26 years in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. He’s my dad, and an inspiration for the faithful.

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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick has an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. His interests include theology, philosophy of religion--particularly the existence of God--astronomy, biology, archaeology, and sci-fi and fantasy novels.

Discussion

14 thoughts on “Guest Post: Rev. Kent Wartick on “The Virgin Birth”

  1. dude your dad lives in Kent, OH?

    I live in Canton and my girlfriend’s sister goes to KSU. I might have to visit your dad’s church sometime to hear a message!

    Posted by Andrew Marburger (@AndrewMarburger) | December 18, 2012, 7:55 AM
  2. So if the virgin birth is a ‘historical fact’ why does one need faith?

    Posted by c | December 18, 2012, 8:10 AM
  3. Maybe it is because of the fact that I am looking at my email close to the time you post, but I am honored to be the first one to “like” this one. As a Baptist pastor, if sickens me to know that there are those who fill pulpits and claim to be preachers and teachers of Truth, yet deny one of the most core truths of scripture. It wasn’t just the fact that He lived a perfect life; he was BORN that way. He didn’t earn the right to be our Savior; He was BORN Savior of the world.

    You’ve got a great dad, brother.

    Posted by Anthony Baker | December 18, 2012, 9:45 AM
    • Thanks for your kind words.

      It is indeed distressing to see the rationalism which has tended to invade the church. Notice that I use the term “rationalism” intentionally here. I am obviously of the persuasion that we need evidence for beliefs, that arguments should have sway, that evidence can indeed cause changes in belief systems. But to allow one’s belief system to become “rationalistic” is to say that our own mind rules the universe. It is to say that we can solve everything, that all things have to make perfect sense to us.

      I can’t help but look out at the cosmos, at the size of a universe which is too big to even comprehend, and realize that this rationalism is a vain endeavor. Use reason? Yes. Think that my mind can comprehend all truths? No.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | December 18, 2012, 7:25 PM
  4. Your father writes a great guest post, JW. I see a family resemblance. :) And he is so right: Too many Christians of all kinds, whether laity or clergy or religious, don’t seem to know even the basic contents of the faith. And don’t have faith! How sad! How appalling! But how easily remedied, as far as knowing the faith. Then there is that step, after or while learning the contents of the faith, that is the prayer for the grace, for the gift of faith. God hears the prayer of our hearts and He will not fail to give us that most precious gift if we will but ask Him for it. How tragic that so many do not ask! How heartbreaking that so many of us do not ask our Father Who art in Heaven to give this gift to others, asking for them perhaps before they are even able to conceive of asking for themselves.

    Peace be with you, JW, with you and your family in this Advent season as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary on Christmas Day, Jesus the Word made flesh for the salvation of the world, Christ our King, True God and true man, Who reigns forever and will return at the end of all time. Amen.

    Posted by Disciple | December 18, 2012, 6:40 PM
  5. Funny how my comment asking what’s wrong with being a garbage man wasn’t posted but used to edit the original post… that may be worse than the original comment.

    Posted by C | December 19, 2012, 2:49 PM
  6. I am hesitant to post this. I really appreciate your dad’s post. I had just one detail that, for me does not detract from his point, but it could distract from it. But here it is…

    In my opinion, the truth of Isaiah 7:14 is different than the orthodox Christian thinks, even while it actually makes the case for faith in the virgin birth of Jesus all the more. So big picture, your father’s point is right on the money for me… I just disagree on a small detail.

    My study of Isaiah 7:14 brought me to the conclusion that the word used for virgin means “young woman, typically a virgin.” So, not necessarily a virgin. The significance is that Isaiah 7:14 was to be a sign for when Israel’s and Syria’s Kings would forsake their lands (7:16). This did not happen in Jesus’ time, but was a prophecy to Ahaz, who had no faith. The prophecy was to be fulfilled for Ahaz to see. However, Ahaz forsook God rather than wait for the prophecy. He asked Assyria for help, and those kings were killed instead. It seems that God did not have to fullfil the prophecy at this point, and no person of his day is definitely identified as the prophecied Immanuel. However, I do believe that a double-fulfillment of the scripture was meant, and that Mary was in fact the final fulfillment of this prophecy, and so 7:14 did in fact refer to her, but the word used does not only mean “virgin,” though Mary was.

    As for the LXX referring to the virgin, my study of Cainan has brought me to doubt the LXX when controversies about it arise. I believe that details of it were either conspiratorially translated, or (more likely) were changed at some point after its faithful translation. I will not go into detail here, but include a link to the results of my research: http://geocreationism.com/history/cainan-and-the-bible-family-tree.html

    So, if the LXX’s use of the word virgin is overkill, then what conclusion to draw? Mine is that God was able to use a mistranslation within the LXX to fulfill His will. My proof that He does things like this is the 3 matzahs of Passover. Jesus is clearly the middle matzah, broken and risen, with stripes and piercings, yet Jewish men made up this custom of the Affikomen for Passover. It isn’t even Biblical! I believe the same happened here. The word in 7:14 was mistranslated in the LXX by men to say “virgin,” (I believe on purpose) robbing it of part of its meaning, yet bringing out its significance to Jesus even more, albeit unwittingly because they really had no idea that God was going to do the virgin birth for real. So when you see “virgin” in an English translation of 7:14, it accurately describes what God did, but “young woman, usually a virgin” is the more accurate literal translation of the Hebrew.

    Posted by Mike | December 20, 2012, 10:46 AM

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