N.T. Wright and the Virgin Birth

I was halfway through preparing a longish post on my recent experience of the “Jews and Christians reading the Bible” course at ACU when my laptop went flat, so I turned back to my reading. Happily I came across this article by N.T. Wright on the Virgin Birth, published on the ABC Religion and Ethics site before Christmas.

The birth narrative in Matthew was one passage we looked at in the course. Those critical of using historical critical methods to read the Scripture often reach their position of criticism because the methods seem to undercut our orthodox faith. But need it be so? If we are convinced that the hisstorical basis of our faith is important, studying the history of our texts should not be a “no go” area.

This essay by Wright is short but to the point. I commend it to you for consideration.

About Schütz

I am Catholic, married to Cathy, father of Maddy & Mia. Since 2002, I have been the Executive Officer of the Ecumenical & Interfaith Commission of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. I was once a Lutheran pastor, but a "year of grace" and soul-searching led me into the Catholic Church. It was a bumpy ride, but with the support of my (still Lutheran) wife, I was finally confirmed on June 16, 2003.
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109 Responses to N.T. Wright and the Virgin Birth

  1. Hannah says:

    Hello David, I have read the article in question and like it but what I think Wright does not deal with is the Genesis aspect of the story. He links Matthew (Mathew is the author of the Godspel of the fulfilment quotations) to Old Testatment story but somehow omits the Genesis (or maybe prehistory) part of this idea of “Virgin Birth.” Perhaps its because we cannot know what it might have been like before original sin. Birth before OS is unknown to us and therefore we have no language to express it. Just perhaps like we have little language to express “Immaculate Conception” We have no language of human making to speak of time pre OS. what we have is God creating and declaring that it was very good. The little language we have of the human is one of passivity and disobedience.
    Perhaps the Virgin Birth belongs to the “what might have been”
    The Immaculate Conception of Mary and the Virgin Birth of Jesus need to be linked together and understood (as much as possible) as something that God had in mind for us but we messed up and will not not know this side of heaven.

    • Schütz says:

      Actually there is a strong textual link between Matthew’s opening and the opening of Genesis – the first words, in Greek, are: “the book of the genesis of Jesus Christ…”

      • Hannah says:

        Sorry david but I dont know Gk or Hebrew so perhaps I should excuse myself from this discussion, but from the little that I do know, (in English Gospel) Matthew links Jesus all the way to Abraham, the father of faith, but it is who John does link Jesus to “the beginning”
        The Vrgin Birth of Jesus as with the Immaculate Conception make sense and even can be worked through even if there is no faith. How? by phenomenological approach. exploring the phenomenon of the event and its evidence.
        Using this approach, studying the “Virgin Birth”means collecting the information, impartial, using the tools of study, then it becomes possible to approximate a something. But ultimately the final step of the phenomenalogical approach is the faith dimension, without the faith dimension the whole study of religion becomes an exercise in data gathering.
        I think Wright using the phenomenelogical approach can say “if thats what God deemed appropriate who am I to object?”

      • Peregrinus says:

        It’s an aside, and perhaps a trivial one, but was this true at the time? I.e. is the word “genesis” used by Matthew here in the Greek the same as the name commonly given to the first book of the Tanakh at that time?

  2. Alex Caughey says:

    The Son’s relationship with The Father would not be compromised, nor diminished were The Son’s mother, Mary not virgin and the birth of The Son, the result of sexual union between a loving couple (Joseph, and Mary).

    We should make a distinction between ontological reasoning, and biological realities when attempting to fathom the mystery of the virgin birth, per the orthodox statements of faith laid down in Nicaea and Chalcedon.

    Jesus’ son ship with The Father is not dependent upon the virgin birth, any more than Jesus’ divinity is dependent upon his parents being Joseph, and Mary.

    The Father’s methodology in begetting The Son, whom we know as Jesus of Nazareth is not the foundation of our faith that Jesus, is The Saviour rather that The Son was crucified, died and resurrected into new life. For if The Christ were not resurrected then our faith is in vain.

    “Thou art My Son, Today I have begotten Thee. And again. I will be a Father to Him. And He shall be a Son to Me.” ~Hebrews 1:5

    Christ’s Resurrection Was A Concrete Event ~by Pope John Paul II

    Dear Brothers and Sisters,

    1. In the liturgical season running from Easter to Pentecost, the Church is recollected in contemplation of the risen Christ. Thus she relives the primordial experience that lies at the basis of her existence. She feels imbued with the same wonder as Mary Magdalen and the other women who went to Christ’s tomb on Easter morning and found it empty. That tomb became the womb of life.

    Whoever had condemned Jesus, deceived himself that he had buried His cause under an ice-cold tombstone. The disciples themselves gave in to the feeling of irreparable failure. We understand their surprise, then, and even their distrust in the news of the empty tomb. But the Risen One did not delay in making himself seen and they yielded to reality. They saw and believed! Two thousand years later, we still sense the unspeakable emotion that overcame them when they heard the Master’s greeting: “Peace be with you.'”.

    2. The Church is based on their extraordinary experience. The first proclamation of the Gospel was nothing other than the testimony of this event: “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses!” (Acts 2:32). The Christian faith is so linked with this truth that Paul did not hesitate to declare: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor 15:14). Along these lines the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “The Resurrection of Jesus is the crowning truth of our faith in Christ, a faith believed and lived as the central truth by the first Christian community, handed on as fundamental by Tradition; established by the documents of the New Testament; and preached as an essential part of the Paschal mystery along with the cross” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 638).

    Christ’s Resurrection is the strength, the secret of Christianity. It is not a question of mythology or of mere symbolism, but of a concrete event. It is confirmed by sure and convincing proofs. The acceptance of this truth, although the fruit of the Holy Spirit’s grace, rests at the same time on a solid historical base. On the threshold of the third millennium, the new effort of evangelization can begin only from a renewed experience of this Mystery, accepted in faith and witnessed to in life.

    3. Regina caeli, laetare! Rejoice, Holy Virgin, because He whom you bore in your womb is risen! Dear brothers and sisters, let us try to relive the joy of the Resurrection with Mary’s heart. Even in the darkness of Good Friday she prepared herself to receive the light of Easter morning.

    Let us ask her to obtain for us a deep faith in this extraordinary event, which is salvation and hope for the world.

    From an address given by Pope John Paul II before reciting the Regina caeli on Sunday, 21 April 1996.

    • John Nolan says:

      @ Alex

      Unfortunately what you are saying, however elegantly expressed, is heresy.

    • Schütz says:

      Thanks for the address from JPIi, Fr Alex.

      I think we need to be clear about something. Wright’s point is that the “story” of the Virgin Birth (or rather, conception) would not have been necessary to invent if in fact it had not actually happened that way. There was no tradition in Judaism that the birth of the Messiah would happen that way. Similarly, there was no necessity for the early Church to “invent” such a claim – if it were not actually true – to bolster the emerging belief in Christ’s Divinity. (In “The Resurrection of the Son of God”, he actually says much the same thing about the resurrection.)

      The implication is that if the Virginal Conception (and the resurrection, for that matter) was neither tradionally neccesary as proof of the Messiah, nor strictly logically necessary for his divinity (as you point out), then the only reason for the consistency of the idea in two otherwise quite separate accounts (as well as the placing of his birth in Bethlehem) would point to a strong conviction on the part of the Evangelists that this was actually the way it happened. IOW, theology had to catch up with the facts, not the other way round!

      • Stephen K says:

        In other words, all that N T Wright can say (and is saying) is that its theologial non-necessity means there is no reason to think the Gospel writers invented the virgin birth, but the presumption must be that they believed it to be actually true.

        • Peregrinus says:

          Well, there’s also the fact that the nativity narratives of Mt and Lk are completely different from one another in almost every detail. This suggests that they didn’t draw on one another, or on any common third source, for their accounts of the nativity. But one of the few details on which they agree is the virgin birth. The conclusion is that they are recording a belief which was already established in the Christian community.

          • Stephen K says:

            And if we accept that some years passed between the writing of Mark and the other synoptics the possibility – perhaps no more than that – that the community belief only arose or crystallised in time for Matthew and Luke’s Gospel, arises; or alternatively (and especially if one thinks the Synoptics were contemporaneous), that distinct emphases or formulations existed for different Christian communities, meaning the virginal conception may not have been universally accepted or certainly universally thought significant. Which all means that we can really only say some early pre-Gospel Christians believed in the virginal conception. It’s a shame Mary did not write a Gospel herself, right at the very beginning.

            • Peregrinus says:

              And if we accept that some years passed between the writing of Mark and the other synoptics the possibility – perhaps no more than that – that the community belief only arose or crystallised in time for Matthew and Luke’s Gospel, arises; . . .

              Not necessarily. The fact that Mark doesn’t mention the virgin birth doesn’t mean that he doesn’t know of it. Mark has no nativity or infancy narrative at all; he jumps straight in to the public ministry of Jesus, and he intersperses passages of teaching and passages describing the working of signs with a minimal narrative framework. The gospel is terse, spare – to our eyes, startlingly so. So we should be slow to place to much weight on the significance of an omission from Mark

              Paul, after all, writing before all the evangelists, also does not mention the virgin birth (or, if he does allude to it, he does so in very elliptical and ambiguous ways). But Paul tells us almost nothing about the person or life of Christ, and not a great deal about his teachings. He focuses almost entirely on the theological significance of the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus. His failure to mention the virgin birth (or, indeed, any other biographical details) is consistent with (a) his not knowing of it, or (b) his knowing of it, but it not being germane to his purpose in writing. Something similar could be going on with Mark.

              . . . or alternatively (and especially if one thinks the Synoptics were contemporaneous), that distinct emphases or formulations existed for different Christian communities, meaning the virginal conception may not have been universally accepted or certainly universally thought significant. Which all means that we can really only say some early pre-Gospel Christians believed in the virginal conception.

              On the historical evidence, we can’t say either that belief in the virgin birth was universal in the early church, or that it was not. Nor can we say that it was understood in the same way by different communities which did have that belief. But we can say that it seems to have been fairly well established in the early church. Both Matthew and Luke, coming from very different traditions about the birth and infancy of Jesus, know of and accept the belief in the virgin birth. So it wasn’t an isolated belief.

              Of course, we also know that there were those who rejected the virgin birth, e.g. the Ebionites. Since the Ebionites originated within the church, we have to say that there were some in the church who did not accept the virgin birth. And it’s possible – though this is speculative – that there were others, but they never ended up as schismatics, and eventually came to accept the dominant orthodoxy.

              It’s a shame Mary did not write a Gospel herself, right at the very beginning.

              I’m sure there’s a Dan Brown novel in that thought!

          • Schütz says:

            Not completely different, Perry. They both agree on two odd points:

            1) that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, despite the fact that everyone knows that he came from Nazareth

            2) that Jesus was virginally conceived – a point that both authors seem to have arrived at from different sources by the way they tell their different stories.

        • Alex Caughey says:

          Stephen,

          Well said, your sound reasoning speaks plainly.

      • Alex Caughey says:

        David,

        According to the Isaiah prophecies, yes, it would have been necessary to invent the virgin birth, to ensure that the birth of Jesus was a unique event evidencing the arrival of The Messiah.

        We are obliged to revisit the matter of the interpretation of the ancient Hebrew word, ‘almâh’ (????) which has caused so much agony for the theologian.

        “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel,” (Isaiah 7:14).

        “Almah” translates as young woman, of marriageable age. It is automatically assumed that a young Hebrew woman of marriageable age is a virgin thus, the emphasis shifts to virgin away from young woman.

        Judaism asserts that the Hebrew word ‘almâh’ does not mean virgin, as it has almost always been translated in Christian versions of Isaiah 7:14. Yet surprisingly, the first known translation of this word as ‘virgin’ (Greek: parthenos) is not Christian but pre-Christian Hebrew: a translation into Greek more than a century before the birth of Jesus, and known as the Septuagint (LXX). There lies yet another dilemma for the theologian.

        Hercule Poirot might well have said that The Immaculate Conception was a splendid rewrite of a script calculated to confirm that The Messiah is the presence of God among us per the The Immanuel Prophecy.

        To recap JP11’s words, when he quoted Paul of Tarsus:

        “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor 15:14). Along these lines the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “The Resurrection of Jesus is the crowning truth of our faith in Christ, a faith believed and lived as the central truth by the first Christian community, handed on as fundamental by Tradition; established by the documents of the New Testament; and preached as an essential part of the Paschal mystery along with the cross” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 638).

        • Schütz says:

          The “Immaculate Conception”, Father, is, as you know, nothing to do with the Virginal birth…

          According to the Isaiah prophecies, yes, it would have been necessary to invent the virgin birth, to ensure that the birth of Jesus was a unique event evidencing the arrival of The Messiah

          But this verse played no part in Jewish expectations regarding the Messiah.

  3. Stephen K says:

    Peregrinus got me thinking about this whole question of the virginal conception. N T Wright kind of argues that he doesn’t approach the question directly but by the back door, the resurrection. He is in effect saying that he does not approach it by the direction of not having a problem with the resurrection because he believes in the virginal conception. He is saying that because he believes in the resurrection, he doesn’t have a problem with the virginal conception.

    I suspect he argues this way because he may think (1) the resurrection is more attested or attestable or “possible”; and because he definitely thinks (2) the resurrection event is more crucial to faith.

    Whatever, I suspect part of the controversy, as well as the things N T Wright himself has suggested, arises from a lack of reliability about what is essentially an unverifiable, unwitnessed event. In other words, we somehow find ourselves with a proposition, that not only can be lumped to some extent with other fantastic myths, but that creates some ambiguities over Jesus’ authentic humanity. And if the earliest proponents of the belief came by it honestly directly from Mary or those who knew her, as opposed to taking it for granted that it was true, then no-one wants to be seen calling Mary deluded or a liar.

    But what if…what if Mary honestly believed she “knew not man”, believed she had seen and heard and felt an angel, and the Spirit filling her, but actually had seen, heard and felt someone who assaulted her and had blacked out all negative memory in the shock of trauma. Hence the sincere conviction of an angelic visitation – an automatic defence mechanism – and the reaction of Joseph. I don’t want to describe all the darker possibilities, but would it not account for the story in Luke and Matthew, the tradition’s roots, namely, stemming from Mary’s genuine recollection and substitution of annunciation in the place of a frightening violation; hence the vigour of the tradition. Mary was telling (her) truth – it was natural to believe her and no-one can be accused of duplicity, invention, manipulation or falsehood in the moral sense.

    Here we may have the solution to the problem posed by the virginal conception. In other words it did not happen but Mary in a true sense did not “know man”. And, in a symbolic way, it might even be considered equally fitting that Incarnation, Jesus’ humanity was authentic in every sense, every dimension, born a true son of Adam as well as of God. No-one knows who the earthly father was, nor did Mary remember it, hence for all intents and purposes he had no earthly sire.

    Poor Mary, if she should have been so abused! how blessed that she thought and imagined something divine! How free we can find ourselves from the burden of relying on magical or fantastic displays of the non-natural! The Jesus we are challenged to approach and embrace is the suffering, scourged Victim, and not the offspring of a Zeus-like YHWH.

    • Hannah says:

      Im sorry Stephen but you really do skate on thin ice. So Jesus is born or rape? Thats how God wants His beloved son ( God embodied, second person of the trinity) to be engendered by the violence of rape? Yes Jesus is the suffering servant, but the sufferings he took on board are your sins and mine and those of the rest of the world. Yes even those who rape but His birth was proclaimed by Angels, anticipated for eons,infinite purity.
      Mary did not “escape” from her inner being or into the fantastical, her “yes” was needed.
      Sorry I dont want to participate in your writings. They are too coloured in poverty of spirit.

      • Peregrinus says:

        I understand your feelings, Hannah, and I’m not unsympathetic to them. I too find Stephen’s suggestion challenging and shocking.

        But consider: is not the whole notion of the Incarnation challenging and shocking? The thought that Jesus was born in a stable; that he started life as a refugee and an exile; that he was a humble person of no status or significance in the world; that he was derided as insane, even (it seems) by his own family; that he was murdered in the most humiliating fashion. In the Incarnation, God embraces, enters into and conquers our brokenness; the mess we have made of the world and of our own lives and even of our own nature. To be blunt; if the paschal sacrifice starts with a murder, cannot the Incarnation start with a rape?

        The main objection to Stephen’s speculation is that it is, well, completely speculative. There isn’t a shred of evidence from any source to support it.

        You can’t avoid a suspicion that it’s chief attraction (for some, if perhaps not for Stephen) is that it avoids the need for a “miraculous” conception. On this point, I think I’m with Wright; if I can affirm the Resurrection, there seems no need to avoid affirming a miraculous conception or birth.

        But there is another attraction, which is the way Stephen’s suggestion speaks to our understanding of virginity. As the father of a daughter (who is as yet only 11, so this is all hypothetical) the notion that a woman’s virginity is something important and that, if and when she ceases to be a virgin, she thereby loses something significant, is greatly disturbing to me. Sexuality is a great gift from God, and loving and committed relationships are wonderful, necessary, important, etc. Any of us can, and many of us have, made mistakes in our sexual lives, let ourselves or others down, acted unwisely or wrongly, fallen short of what we are called to, and so forth. These are failings which we need to acknowledge and repent of. But, like any other sin, they can be repented of and they can be forgiven, completely washed away by the grace of God. The notion that the loss of virginity, however it occurs and in whatever circumstances, itself something to be regretted, something from which no complete recovery is possible, is not one that appeals to me. It strikes me as a fetishisation of inexperience; this is not a good thing.

        It seems to me that Mary’s physical virginity is important for its sign value; it points to the special nature of the conception of her son. But it tells us nothing important about Mary. Would Mary be any the less pure, any the less immaculate, any the less unspotted and sinless, if in fact she were raped, at any time in her life? No, must be the answer; not at all; not to any extent. What characterizes Mary is her complete and faithful acceptance of what God calls her to. Any violence ever done to her, however horrifying, could not possibly detract from that in any way.

        In other words, Mary’s virginity, whether we understand that as an unbroken hymen or a virginal attitude or both, matters not in itself but because of what it points to; Mary’s embrace, in her words and in her life, of God’s will for her, and in particular of his call for her to be the bearer of God. And, for all that I’m not convinced by Stephen’s suggestion, I don’t see it as attacking or undermining that.

        • Hannah says:

          NO Pere the whole story of the incarnation and place of birth is not challenging to me “The main objection to Stephen’s speculation is that it is, well, completely speculative. There isn’t a shred of evidence from any source to support it.”
          My main objection is that it is insulting to Jesus and His Mother and if it becomes permissible to insult Jesus and His Mother on what is supposed to be a good catholic db then what can be expected from other sites.
          It seems to me that Stephen feels he has found a place where he can sprout his anti catholic bias and Alex surprises me.

          • Peregrinus says:

            I can’t accept, Hannah, that it is an insult to any woman to say that she has been raped, or that she was made pregnant through rape, or that it is an insult to any person to say that his (or her) conception was the result of rape. Attitudes like this, however well-intentioned, magnify the harm done by rape.

            • Hannah says:

              Pere I have just got home so did not see your post earlier, but Pere you just dont know what you are talking about. And I said nothing about “a woman made pregnant though rape” we are talking about the Virgin Birth of Jesus and your your irreverent codswollop.
              As for Jesus being conceived in rape situation, you should be ashamed of yourself. I have admired your writings for years but this has come to an end.

            • Peregrinus says:

              But, Hannah, if it’s not insulting to say of Jesus that he was crucified, why would it be insulting to say of Mary that she was raped? It might be incorrect, I grant you – I think it would be incorrect – but that wouldn’t make it an insult.

              I also accept that it’s a shocking suggestion – but, then, so is the crucifixion. And, again, “shocking” doesn’t mean “insulting”.

              Even if we move on to the suggested corollary – that Mary was traumatically deluded in re-imagining what happened to her as an annunciation by an angel – that, again, would not be insulting. There is no shame or guilt implied in suggesting that somebody has been traumatised by violence, and that the trauma has had psychotic consequences such as delusions.

              I agree that the whole idea is sensationalist, and that it is unsupported by any evidence, and that it is theologically unfitting for a number of reasons. But those reasons do not include the fact that it insults someone to suggest that they have been raped, were traumatised by rape, or that they may be the product of a rape. It is no more insulting to suggest that someone has been raped than it is to suggest that they have been bashed, or robbed, or been the victim of any other crime.

              I’m sure that this was not your intention, but to say that it insults a woman to say that they she has been raped might suggest an implication that we should think less of her for having been raped; that she is in some way to blame for having been raped. And that’s a suggestion I think we must always take care to avoid, and to refute if it is made.

    • Peregrinus says:

      Mary was telling (her) truth – it was natural to believe her and no-one can be accused of duplicity, invention, manipulation or falsehood in the moral sense.

      No. But she could be accused of delusion. Well, “accused” is the wrong word, but she could be described as deluded. And I think that’s problematic; God is a God of truth, and delusion masks the truth. I have a problem with the idea that Mary and, through her, the church is simply deluded about such an important matter as the Incarnation.

      Whether we understand Mary’s virginity in a mechanistic, physical sense or in an interior sense, it points to something important. And I don’t think what it points to can be Mary’s own delusion.

      • Alex Caughey says:

        Peregrinus,

        The issue is not The Incarnation, of The Messiah rather the methodology employed by The Father suggesting an immaculate conception thus, it can be said that the off spring of a rape is as important for The Father, as a conception that is the fruit of a loving relationship.

    • Bear says:

      This has a number of problems.

      1. The Almighty Father – who created the universe from nothing – somehow needs human agency to cause conception? He had to approach some likely lad and say – “Hey, Jack, I have a little job for you…” Pathogenesis would seem to be simpler.

      2. If one is not an Arian, Nestorian or Monophysite, then one needs to consider how the hypostatic union occurred, and when it occurred. Did it occur by some sort of afflatus? Did it occur at conception, or at the “quickening”, or at some other arbitrary point? This is the Adoptionist view. Or does one not believe that Jesus Christ was true God and true man?

      And the story of a rape is rather old, and not terribly original. It was recently given some new life in a rather dull book by Philip Pullman.

      • Alex Caughey says:

        Bear,

        The hypo-static union between The Father, and The Son does not need a virgin birth to evidence its reality, any more than Jesus’ divine nature needs a virgin birth to evidence its reality.

        That The Father, knows The Son is sufficient for those of us who accept that The Son, known to us as Jesus of Nazareth is the presence of God among us.

        The Father raised The Son from death, into new life thereby informing us that The Son, is Our Father’s well beloved son.

        • Bear says:

          No – there is no hypostatic union between the Father and the Son. The hypostatic union refers to the two natures of Jesus.

          If you believe that Jesus is also God, if his human nature also had a human father, when did the hypostatic union take place?

          • Alex Caughey says:

            Bear,

            We know Our Father, through knowing The Son.

            In John 10:30 Jesus makes a very important claim – a claim that those in his presence recognised and Christians and non-Christians alike recognise. This claim is one that sets Jesus’ apart from the prophets.

            Jesus said: “I and the Father are one.”

            “Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?”

            “We are not stoning you for any of these,” replied the Jews, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, CLAIM TO BE GOD.” ”
            John 10:31-33

            But this isn’t the only time Jesus made this claim. We turn to John 8:58-59:

            “Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham ?was born, ??I am.” ”

            Now, how did those Jews react to this?

            “Therefore they ??picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus ??hid Himself and went out of the temple. ” (verse 59)

            At this point Jesus makes one of the most sensational statements in all of the recorded Gospels, and one of the most staggering statements in John, “?before Abraham was, I am.?” This is the climax of the “?I am?” statements in John. Here the “?I am?” has two very important implications.

            First, the “?I am?” (??? ????, eg? eimi) is an intentional play upon the divine name of God found in the Old Testament. At the burning bush, when Moses asked God what his name was, the answer was “?I am who I am?” (?Exod 3:14?).

            • Alex Caughey says:

              Bear,

              I will now address your last question, when did the hypostatic union take place.

              Jesus’ statement is not “?I am (something).?” It is just “?I am.?” Jesus has already said that one must “?believe that I am?” (v. ?24?) and “?know that I am?” (v. ?28?). To make these demands is to claim the name of God for personal use. In some ways Jesus is saying, “?I am the ‘?I am.?” I am God.?”

              Second, this claim has other enormous theological implications. By saying “?before Abraham was, I am,?” Jesus is asserting his transcendence over time and history. He does not say “?I was there with Abraham.?” In effect, he says “?I am there with Abraham, and even before.?” Time does not limit God, and it does not limit Jesus. As John has said, “?In the beginning was the Word?” (John 1:1)

              The Word addressed here is taken from the Greek word, Logos also known to us as The Son.

            • Bear says:

              Alex,

              you don’t actually answer the question. The response is a string of unrelated statements, which in fact argue against a human father.

              If you are arguing the Adoptionist position, then the obvious question is when the Adoption happen?

              Although God is not bound by time, we, and all humans are so bound. Since we are talking about a human person, it is a valid question.

    • Schütz says:

      No, not going down that path, Stephen. That way, madness lies… True madness, beyond even the “folly” of believing in a virgin birth.

      As for the Resurrection, N.T.W. takes it as read that he has a nice big book on the subject of why the Resurrection is a believable (but not “provable” in a scientific sense) event. That is why he reasons from the Resurrection to the Virginal birth.

  4. Alex Caughey says:

    Were Jesus not born of a virgin would He be less of The Son, therefore less divine, even not divine? I believe not. For The Father knows The Son no matter that His birth is the result of a sexual union between two human beings.

    • Hannah says:

      Alex your posts are getting further and further from what you represent, priesthood.
      Jesus was (is) the Son of God, He had a mission, and Yes His birth mattered and how he was born also mattered. And Yes the Father knows the Son eternally, and He would not prepare a violence as a place for the birth of this Son.
      Next you will gladly say that the Father knows the son no matter even if he was the conception of genetic material of a homosexual couple. Your deconstruction is horrific.

    • Gareth says:

      A load of hogwash Alex

    • Bear says:

      This is an old heresy known as Adoptionism. That he was born as all other men are, but somehow, God adopted him. There are several Metaphysical problems with this, but here is not the appropriate forum.

      • Alex Caughey says:

        Bear,

        The New Testament was conceived and written in the light of the Resurrection, to interpret it outside of this understanding, or with disregard to it is to interpret it falsely.

        When you consider all that has transpired in the Gospels–including Jesus’ own comments about the Resurrection (Luke 24:46) once this immense paschal light had risen to illuminate Jesus’ life, there was no more stopping. The question simply had to be asked: Who really was this man; where did he come from originally?

        Thus, for the followers of Jesus, His apostles it was His resurrection that inspired them to spread His words of life.

        • Bear says:

          I fail to see the connecting argument, but I will respond as best as I can.

          “The New Testament was conceived and written in the light of the Resurrection, to interpret it outside of this understanding, or with disregard to it is to interpret it falsely.”

          The implication of this statement is that I am disregarding the resurrection. I am not sure how this conclusion was reached (certainly not obvious to me).

          “Who really was this man; where did he come from originally?”

          Exactly. This was argued about in the early Church. The adoptionist position was put forward and rejected for many good reasons: even before the Church determined what was to be in the New Testament.

          Also, the Gospel of Luke makes Jesus’ divine origin explicit – it is those who allege the Jesus had a human father who are contradicting the Gospels.

          So your argument in favour Jesus having a human father is what???

          • Alex Caughey says:

            Bear,

            Jesus’ divinity is not under discussion, nor denied by me.

            Joseph’s fathering of Jesus, with Mary would not make Jesus less divine, or not divine.

            The divinity of Jesus of Nazareth does not depend upon a mystical impregnation of Mary.

            Jesus answered them: “I solemnly declare it: before Abraham came to be, I AM.” At that they picked up rocks to throw at Jesus… [John 8:58-59; NAB]

            Thus we may understand that The Son’s divinity in being who He is, is evident even before His birth as Jesus of Nazareth.

            • Bear says:

              If Joseph is the father of Jesus, then how did Jesus become divine? The only way is through some sort of adoption or afflatus.

              So, on the face of it, Joseph fathering Jesus does mean that Jesus is NOT divine, unless he were made divine by other means.

              You still offer no argument or evidence in favour of Joseph or some other man being the father of Jesus.

    • Schütz says:

      Alex, ultimately this is beyond the point. We may agree that the Virginal Birth was not necessary, but the Church (in accordance with the tradition of the Gospels) confesses that this is how it happened. Wright’s point is, given the logic of your claim, why would the Evangelist’s have felt constrained to invent such a story? It is far more credible that they included the story because it was already a more-or-less fixed part of the tradition.

      • Alex Caughey says:

        David,

        I am not suggesting that The Apostles invented the story of the virgin birth, merely that they referenced the Isaiah Prophecies as their means of confirming Jesus of Nazareth as the promised Messiah.

        We should appreciate that apart from John, The Apostles fled Jerusalem in terror when Jesus was crucified fearing a similar fate. It was only after the Resurrection sightings, and the appearance of Jesus at the Emmaus that The Apostles were prepared to believe that Jesus was The Messiah.

        After the Pentecost event The Apostles were inflamed sufficiently with courage, and determination to spread the words of life taught to them by Jesus.

        The virgin birth prophecy alluded too by Isaiah did not impact upon the lives of The Apostles as a mystical event heralding the arrival of The Messiah. Had it done so it would be reasonable to suppose that The Apostles would not have fled Jerusalem in terror. Nor would Simon Peter have denied Jesus, three times before the cock crowed.

        The crucifixion, and death of Jesus led to a temporary collapse in the faith of His apostles, to be restored when The Resurrection event evidenced that Jesus had over come death.

        • Schütz says:

          I am not suggesting that The Apostles invented the story of the virgin birth, merely that they referenced the Isaiah Prophecies as their means of confirming Jesus of Nazareth as the promised Messiah.

          1) “they” – no, only Matthew
          2) “referenced” – yes, Matthew, knowing the story of the Virgin Birth, discovered that this prophecy in Is 7 was applicable and supportive of the tradition
          3) “confirming that he was the Messiah” – no. There is mo evidence that any Jews of the 1stC used this prophecy to refer to the coming Messiah. Wright’s point is that since the Virgin Birth was not a part of the Messianic picture, the Is 7 prophecy is unlikely to have provided the idea of the Virgin Birth.

          • Alex Caughey says:

            David,

            I have already quoted The Isaiah Prophecies relating to the promised Messiah. They also includes Luke whose words I have already quoted to you when relating to The Isaiah Prophecies.

            Jews of the first century were very much aware of the various prophecies that would evidence the arrival of the promised Messiah, including the Isaiah Prophecies clearly stating that The Messiah would be born of a virgin.

            Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

            Isaiah 9:6-7 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.

            and

            Micah 5:2 But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.

            • Schütz says:

              No, Alex. The current historical scholarship – while acknowledging that the Is 40-55 prophecies did play a role in Messianic expectations, Is 7 did not.

  5. Alex Caughey says:

    I am attempting to argue that The Immaculate Conception is not a necessary pre-requisite to evidence the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, as The Messiah when understanding that The Father raised The Son into new life, confirming that Jesus of Nazareth is The Son promised to mankind per The Isaiah Prophecy.

    This is not to say that Jesus’ conception was not per traditional church doctrine, rather that The Son-ship of Jesus does not depend upon the highly debatable issue of a virgin conception, when the crucifixion, death and resurrection of The Son is definitely proven.

    • Peregrinus says:

      That’s essentially Wright’s point, I think. The Virgin birth is not theologically necessary; the crucifixion, death and resurrection of the Son does all the heavy lifting required in that department. Hence, we cannot suppose that Mk/Lk “created” or accepted a virgin birth story in order to plug a gap in the theology of their respective Gospels. Therefore, they included it because they in fact believed it.

      • Alex Caughey says:

        Peregrinus,

        That we are faced with the highly contentious matter of the translation of the Hebrew word, Almah might well indicate that even the gospels of Luke, and Mark were also open to revision by later generations determined to prove beyond all doubt, that Jesus was The Messiah promised per the Isaiah Prophecy.

        It is sufficient for me that The Resurrection proves The Sonship, of Jesus of Nazareth, knowing that this event was evidenced by many, even more so at Emmaus when Jesus appeared to prove His resurrection into new life.

        • Peregrinus says:

          That we are faced with the highly contentious matter of the translation of the Hebrew word, Almah might well indicate that even the gospels of Luke, and Mark were also open to revision by later generations determined to prove beyond all doubt, that Jesus was The Messiah promised per the Isaiah Prophecy.

          I’m not sure if you are suggesting that the text of the gospels has been tampered with to make Mark and Luke say things they didn’t actually say, or merely that future generations have rushed to embrace an overly-literal understanding of these particular passages, without considering that Mark and Luke might have intended a different reading.

          The first, I think, would be pure speculation, and I’m inclined to discount it. If somebody, for whatever reason, was inserting a virgin birth story into Mark and Luke, wouldn’t they insert the same story? The fact that Mark and Luke have two such different nativity stories is, if anything, a bit of an embarrassment to those who favour a literal reading. And that makes me think the nativity stories are both authentic.

          But I’m much more open to the idea that, in telling these stories, Mark and Luke weren’t necessarily actually pointing to the state of Mary’s hymen. I think we need to reflect prayerfully on Mary’s virginity and why it matters and, therefore, what it means. We can’t reduce this to a purely physical, mechanistic understanding of virginity, but I’m afraid I also can’t go along with Stephen and reduce it to a traumatically-induced delusion. Both of these things seem to me to trivialize the mystery of Mary’s virginity, and I think we must be open to understanding it in a much more profound way.

        • Schütz says:

          But Luke does not make any reference or use of the Isaiah text at all, Alex. His story is completely independant of this issue.

          • Alex Caughey says:

            David,

            I refer you to the following:

            THE PROPHECY : THE FULFILMENT

            The Messiah:

            Will be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14)
            Was born of a virgin named Mary (Luke 1:26-31)

            Will be an heir to the throne of David (Isaiah 9:7; 11:1, 10)
            Was given the throne of His father David (Luke 1:32, 33)

            Will be silent before His accusers (Isaiah 53:7) Was silent before Herod and his court (Luke 23:9)

            He will judge the earth with righteousness (Isaiah 11:4,5)
            Jesus was given authority to judge (John 5:27; Luke 19:22; 2 Timothy 4:1,8)

            Are you telling me there is no relationship between the Isaiah Prophecy, and the words of Luke?

            I choose not to believe that Luke was unfamiliar with the Isaiah Prophecies when writing his contributions.

      • Hannah says:

        The Virgin birth is not theologically necessary; the crucifixion, death and resurrection of the Son does all the heavy lifting required in that department”
        Yes the Virgin Borth is important and necessary because it speaks of creation of Life before Sin. And perhaps this is why we have no language to speak about this kind of birth because the only language of birth that we have is one after curses etc.
        Mary’s immaculate Conception ( New Eve) and the Virgin Birth of Jesus are totally necessary theologically to the crucifixion, death and ressurrection of Jesus.
        The Sin of “Origins” was of the dimensions unknown and only God Himself could reverse this and so embodiement and reparation both as God and man.

        • Schütz says:

          The story is important because of what the Church later derived from it, eg. with Ireneaus of Lyons. The idea of a Virgin Birth didn’t carry all that weight to start with. That seems to me to be the right way to look at it. The Apostolic Church did not “invent” the story to bolster a theology – the theology developed from the story.

    • Bear says:

      Immaculate Conception and Virgin Birth are different, and make reference to two separate incidents, some years apart. The Immaculate Conception is a statement about the conception of Mary, whereas the Virgin Birth is a statement about Jesus’ birth.

      • Hannah says:

        I understand that Bear. I did not imply that they were one and the same incidence. The Immaculate Conception refers to Mary’s conception, free from Original sin, whilst The Virgin Birth refers to the birth of Jesus.

        • Bear says:

          Hannah,

          the comment was not directed at you – but at another poster who seems to have confused the two (see the first in this thread).

          Since the discussion is very abstract, it is very important to be very careful with language and terms: otherwise it will become very confused very quickly.

          Bear

  6. Alex Caughey says:

    Peregrinus,

    I rather suspect that literalistic understandings have coloured the interpretations of The Gospels, on the matter of The Immaculate Conception when recognising that there are far too many question marks surrounding this issue for it to be embraced as a stand, or fall matter on the authenticity of Jesus of Nazareth as The Messiah.

    For this reason I am content with the crucifixion, death and resurrection of The Christ as sufficient proof for me to embrace Jesus, as the promised Messiah per The Isaiah Prophecy.

    This is not say that The Immaculate Conception did not occur, despite agreeing with you that an intact hymen is not my only understanding, when pondering the meaning of virginity as it relates to our relationship with The Father.

    Purity is a common theme throughout Holy Scripture teaching us that our purity of purpose, as realised in our actions evidences the fruits of the Holy Spirit leading us through our life.

    Jesus says in Matthew 5:8, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

  7. Stephen K says:

    My speculative hypothesis seems to have stimulated some further articulation of people’s perspectives and understanding of their faith and the place of the doctrine. Hannah finds it insulting to both Mary and Jesus that I should so hypothesize. I am not sure though whether it is thought insulting because it involved Mary being self-protectively deluded, or because it involved the idea she was raped or because it involved both.

    A number of ideas have, I think, been rightly expressed in response. One is Peregrinus’ reflection that Mary’s virginity, along with other doctrines or symbols, are faith mysteries which require profound understanding, and by implication, not simply or sufficiently taken in the immediate sense. But this touches on the epistemology of faith and this is a controversial and political subject at the best of times. Another is his reflection that viewing virginity as intrinsically superior, theologically speaking, does not sound right or is not an attitude that supports the quality of person. Like Peregrinus, I have a daughter – two in fact – and I will love them and see them as beautiful always and this has nothing to do with whether they are virgins or not. Alex testifies to the ground of his faith in the paschal mysteries, not in whether Jesus’ incarnation was virginally conceived. I do not see how such a faith can be disappointing.

    My hypothesis (I don’t say it is original, only that it occurred to me for the first time when considering this subject) was my response to a difficult concept. It’s going to take a while for me to work through what it achieves, what it doesn’t, what value it might have or solution it might provide etc. The point about the idea is precisely that it cannot be proved. As Peregrinus says, there is no “evidence” for it. If it was true that Mary had been raped and had suppressed and transformed her memory, then none of her hearers or loved ones would have known anything different. Thus for all practical purposes, if Mary told them she had conceived by the infilling of the Spirit of God, that’s what happened. We are in no better position.

    But we can use our intelligence to consider ways in which virginal conception can be reconciled with what we know as normal, natural human experience and processes. Hence this discussion.

    Speaking of which. I have considered Hannah’s remonstration that this is a Catholic discussion board. Actually this is only true in a very colloquial sense. It is certainly a forum in which many of the participants present as orthodox Catholics (at least by their own estimation). However, there are Orthodox and Protestant contributors who provide interesting and different insights, and even amongst Catholic posters there is always considerable individualism in their views about their religious faith and interest. Why a discussion that explores or considers what some people would characterise as a heresy would have no place on an intelligent religious but personal forum like David’s is a puzzle to me. Indeed, some people would think a heresy or an exotic formulation assists in honing or refining their own understanding of the orthodoxy. As a matter of fact, we all appear to be capable of over-reaching ourselves, asserting more than we can possibly know, and my responses are often directed at what I think are logical over-reaches. Others have pointed to flaws or omissions in my own arguments. This is the stuff of reasonable discussion.

    But a censorship of ideas and propositions will not advance anything. Picture, if you will, a Muslim considering whether the Qur’an could have been simply a gargantuan stream of delusional consciousness on the part of Mahomet. To the average Muslim such an inquiry might seem disrespectful. But is it? And should it be suppressed? One should hesitate to say so, even if it is because many Christians do actually think Mahomet was delusional because they believe their religion, not Islam, is the true revelation. How can one believe that the Qur’an is not the revealed Word of God and deny speculation by anyone whether this might be the case? Surely the same applies to the Christian religion, and to Catholic teaching? It seems so in my view

    This post began with a consideration of N T Wright’s argument for the virginal conception doctrine. It was a fair attempt on his part to explain why he believed in it. But his argument remains idiosyncratic; I understood it, and I appreciated it, but it did not succeed in being so compelling that I was persuaded to assume it for my own. Whatever my predispositions and base assumptions and principles (my biases, if one prefers), the force of N T Wright’s view by definition stands or falls on whether he can change people’s minds.

    • Alex Caughey says:

      Stephen K,

      Certainty on matters of faith, of the divine mystery are for those easily contented when told by their betters, that they know better…..

      Thanks, for your many challenging thoughts, with the hope that you will continue to entertain us, even educate us with your provocative posts.

      • Hannah says:

        “enterertain us?” even “educate us?” with your “provocative thoughts?” Alex you might need that kind of “entertainment” I dont. YOu must be sorely depleted.

    • Hannah says:

      I have considered Hannah’s remonstration that this is a Catholic discussion board. Actually this is only true in a very colloquial sense. It is certainly a forum in which many of the participants present as orthodox Catholics (at least by their own estimation). However, there are Orthodox and Protestant contributors who provide interesting and different insights, and even amongst Catholic posters there is always considerable individualism in their views about their religious faith and interest. ” Stephen why I remonstrated is because your suggestion is digusting and offensive towards God the Father, Jesus thes Son, The Holy Spirit, Mary, and humanity who these sought to redeem. Your contention that Jesus was conceived through “rape” is monstrous.

    • Schütz says:

      This is a blog run by a Catholic. Everyone can express their views as long as they remain “nice” toward one another!

  8. Mary H says:

    OK, let me try to explain why your rape / deluded Mary is so insulting, not only to Mary but to women in general.

    Basically, it replaces the most morally significant act of any woman connected with Jesus to the delusion of a rape victim. Rather than virginity being the active choice of Mary and her full-knowing agreement to become pregnant by the Holy Spirit and give birth anyway, she becomes a deluded victim.

    If you don’t believe in any miracles at all (and I don’t know whether you do or not), perhaps you need to come up with this explanation. But don’t for an instant believe that you somehow improve the status of women who are not virgins by turning one of the most important decisions ever made by a human being, male or female, into a delusion, simply because you think it exalts the state of virginity too much.

    • Stephen K says:

      Rest assured, Mary H, that I don’t imagine for an instant that the hypothesis that Mary suppressed a memory of assault improves (or reduces) the status of women for any reason. Indeed, the status of women played no part in my reasoning whatsoever. You’re reading the wrong motives in me in that respect. I did indicate my support along the way for a view that rape did not diminish the quality of a woman, and I do think that if the insistence on a virginal conception had anything to do with 1st century Jewish/Christian taboos and purity exclusions, then to that extent and in my view, it is wrong and ill-considered, speaking as a modern person.

      You have only read me correctly in understanding that the hypothesis is a possible explanation for anyone who does not believe in the virginal conception miracle, or else does not think it likely, but does not wish to attribute deliberate deception behind a teaching that owes much to a different culture and metaphysic. It might be described as a modernist solution. However, no-one is under any compulsion to entertain the idea.

      Indeed, I don’t even ask you to read or interpret my reasoning correctly.

      • Hannah says:

        I have understood and read your reasoning properly Stephen. I do read your posts and am getting a “picture” of you. Though I must admit to being “stunned” by Pere, though Alex doesnt surprise me at all and hasnt over many years.

      • Mary H says:

        @Stephen I was surprised to read your statement “the status of women played no part in my reasoning whatsoever.”

        I assumed that your objection to an “insistence on a virginal conception” that “had anything to do with 1st century Jewish/Christian taboos and purity exclusions” was because you thought that would be bad for the status of women.

        I got that impression by your statements that “viewing virginity as intrinsically superior, theologically speaking, does not sound right or is not an attitude that supports the quality of person” and that in reference to your daughters you “will love them and see them as beautiful always and this has nothing to do with whether they are virgins or not.”

        So apparently the side note on whether virginity is considered important or not has nothing to do with your actual argument. Your only objection to the virgin birth is that it is a miracle. Your rape hypothesis is meant merely to provide a non-miraculous explanation for Mary’s belief that she nevertheless remained a virgin, that is not insulting.

        You stated earlier that “I am not sure though whether it is thought insulting because it involved Mary being self-protectively deluded, or because it involved the idea she was raped or because it involved both.”

        I’m happy to report that both reasons are inaccurate statements of what is insulting.

        The “deluded rape victim” is insulting to Mary not because rape reduces the inherent dignity of Mary as a person (it doesn’t) but because it reduces the most important decision Mary ever made, to consent to the conception of Jesus in her womb (and, I would add, an intrinsically female decision that no man can ever make) from a deliberate moral act to an act of delusion.

        Do you understand how that can be considered insulting to Mary?

        The rape hypothesis is also insulting to God, because it assumes that he deliberately chose to become incarnate through a sexual act of violence; in fact, through an act of violence so terrible that its victim had to block out the memory. Jesus was subjected to terrible torture and death, to which he gave his full consent, but he came became incarnate through the traumatic rape of his mother? Jesus consents to his cross but Mary not only is not given the chance to consent, but her lack of consent is actively and violently over-ruled?

        Do you understand how that can be considered insulting to God?

        • Stephen K says:

          In answer to both your questions, Mary H, I can only answer that you have explained why you think the hypothesis is insulting to Mary or God and that I think I understand why you think so. If I have unpacked your rationale correctly, essentially you are saying that to suggest that Incarnation occurred in an act in which Mary did not actually consent at the time – without her contemporaneous ‘fiat’ – insults Mary by effectively depriving her of the due credit for making a free loving act of submission, a moral decision, and insults God by imputing to God some complicity in – or responsibility for – an act of malice and violence.

          Let’s think about this. Does your characterisation ‘cover the field’ so to speak? An insult is an act of contempt, to treat with gross indignity, so the dictionary says. To be insulted is to feel that one is being contemned or treated with gross indignity, etc. Does suggesting that Mary’s belief that she conceived of the Spirit may have been a transformation of a suppressed memory impose an indignity on her? Can you not think that a transformation of a suppressed memory is itself a mental and emotional act that involves to some mysterious degree intent and will reflective of a person’s core? That residing in and constitutive of what to a psychologist might be classified as a kind of defence mechanism is a very powerful impulse, disposition and consent? Viewed this way, Mary’s fiat is not eliminated at all, but is to be found in the very narrative she would construct in this process. It is unfortunate that the word “delusion” conveys a pejorative connotation; so let’s use something like “sincere subjective version of events”. If Mary believed genuinely in the Annunciation, even though it had not happened that way, it would still be clear, it seems to me, that her fiat was genuine and lifelong.

          Isn’t that the core theological truth or mystery for contemplation and imitation? The fiat? Not circumstantial mechanics?

          And how are we to view God’s role in a violent event? The God who, throughout the Old Testament, sends death and punishment in many directions is always justified because he acts to the good and for righteousness. There is no intrinsic reason therefore, where the Incarnation is for the good, why God should be judged differently had the Incarnation occurred in the way I’ve hypothesised. As Peregrinus has said – albeit he does not accept this hypothesis – the saga of Redemption on Calvary is as violent as it gets. Does not Paul write that it was incomprehensible on normal lines of thinking, “a stumbling block to the Jews, and folly for the Gentiles”?

          This is alternative theologising. It is not as if it can be proved or pressed. But it does not mean that it is not a reasonable idea, just not the traditional one.

          Moreover, as a general principle, I think thinking believers should contemplate possibilities without fear. People and thinkers and doctors of the church will in various ways have discussed or considered alternatives. Thomas Aquinas does so, for example, in article 1 of Question 28 of his Third Part of the Summa. And David here in many articles has stressed the importance of scrutinising the historicity of the foundations of belief.

          I acknowledge that Thomas Aquinas would agree with you insofar as he thinks the dignity of the Father is better preserved by a virginal conception (“…propter mittentis Patris dignitatem conservandam”). But this is an argument of “theological fitness” and not metaphysical necessity. I can only conclude by saying I do not agree that the hypothesis is intrinsically offensive, only extrinsically, in terms of different individuals’ sensibilities. For the record, and in good will, I note both yours and Hannah’s.

          • Mary H says:

            Stephen: “Does suggesting that Mary’s belief that she conceived of the Spirit may have been a transformation of a suppressed memory impose an indignity on her?”

            Yes. It means her most important act of will was based on a lie. It also means her most important act of will didn’t have any effect on whether she was going to be the mother of Jesus or not.

            Stephen: “If Mary believed genuinely in the Annunciation, even though it had not happened that way, it would still be clear, it seems to me, that her fiat was genuine and lifelong.”

            So what if it was genuine? It means she made a genuine ‘fiat’ to a lie.

            It also means that her ‘fiat’ had no real effect on what happened. Since she never had the opportunity to say ‘no’, her ‘yes’ means nothing. When Eve made the decision to eat the fruit of the forbidden tree, and then gave it to Adam to eat, it led to the eviction from Eden. It had a real material as well as spiritual effect.

            The example we have in the Annunciation is that God wants and *requires* consent from Mary. If she had said ‘no’, Jesus would not have become incarnate from her. It has a real material as well as spiritual effect.

            She cannot be the “new Eve” who puts right what Eve got wrong if her answer never mattered in the first place.

            Stephen: “Isn’t that the core theological truth or mystery for contemplation and imitation? The fiat? Not circumstantial mechanics?”

            Those circumstantial mechanics are what we call the truth. And yes, they do matter. Crude as it may seem, we’re not just spirit. The actual material circumstances really do matter. If the “circumstantial mechanics” are not true, than we contemplate and imitate a lie.

            Stephen: “There is no intrinsic reason therefore, where the Incarnation is for the good, why God should be judged differently had the Incarnation occurred in the way I’ve hypothesized.”

            Yes there is. The God who requires the consent of the woman he chooses for the Mother of his Son is a different God from the one who chooses a man to rape her, lets her then believe and spread a lie, and then lets the Church codify the lie into doctrine.

            Stephen: “Moreover, as a general principle, I think thinking believers should contemplate possibilities without fear.”
            Certainly. I’m not sure where finding an idea offensive implies fear.

            I must say, if you can believe in the resurrection from the dead, I have trouble seeing what the problem is with virgin conception, to cause you to go to the extreme of imagining a repressed rape transformed into a hallucination of an angelic annunciation.

            Are there any other miracles you have trouble with, or is it just this one?

            • Stephen K says:

              Well, Mary H, you have tidily coherent positions on the proposition and in answer to my questions. I’ll leave it there.

              I’ll conclude by answering your final question. I find the question of miracles philosophically problematic but I’m not sure I should or can disbelieve them indiscriminately. At first glance it sounds reasonable to suggest, as you do, that if one miracle is a problem, then all of them should be, or alternatively, if one is acceptable, then they all should be. But I’m not sure that this either/or suggestion is right or simply so. However, I’ll refrain from setting out my personal reflections.

              I’ll end on a positive note, by sincerely wishing you every spiritual good.

        • Hannah says:

          hello Mary, it sounds to me that Stephen is using an old story about Mary being “raped” by the Holy Spirit. “Raped” by God and according to Stephen it was so bad she suppressed the event completely. In past times this was said because “The Holy Spirit overshadowed her” and that meant she was raped.
          I thought that thinking had gone with out with the rubbish.

          • Stephen K says:

            Hello Hannah, believe it or not, I did not use an old story though the thesis might have resembled one. In the idea that occurred to me, the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, did not “rape” Mary. Mine was of a strictly human dimension.

            • Hannah says:

              So a human man raped Mary and then God took the rap for it because Mary who the human person raped suppressed the rape and then decided that saying God did it was a plausible explanation. It gets worse by the minute.

      • Schütz says:

        Yes, the major reason why the “rape” account won’t follow is Luke’s insistence that Mary willingly accepted the message of the Angel and her calling. This is so completely opposite to Stephen’s idea that the very thought is appalling to the sense of faith, the sensum fidelium we hear about so much.

        • Mary H says:

          David,

          May I ask what *is* the problem with the virgin conception of Jesus? I confess I share the bemusement of CS Lewis on the matter.

          I can understand why someone who doesn’t believe in miracles at all would have a problem. I can even understand why some miracles might be harder to believe than others.

          And I can understand why people might have a problem with continual virginity, even including a virgin birth.

          But for God to cause a woman to become pregnant once in history without using a man – why is that so hard to believe?

          • Schütz says:

            I don’t find it hard to believe, Mary. I simply think some – many – folk decide what is possible and what isn’t before examining the evidence, and therefore do not allow any evidence that what they regard as impossible may have in fact occured. Wright’s position is almost the opposite of Sherlock Holmes:

            Once you have eliminated the highly improbable, what remains, no matter how impossible it might appear, must be the truth.

  9. Alex Caughey says:

    Stephen K,

    You are correct to remind us that a child born of rape is as dear to Our Father, as is a child born of a virgin through His intervention.

    To believe otherwise is to assume that a virgin is accorded higher status, by Our Father than a woman who is no longer virgin.

    Our Father loves all His human creation with equal measure.

    The rape proposition has been making the rounds for some two thousand years, enabling us to appreciate that the sceptic rightly chooses to think outside the box, attempting to understand why Our Father should need a virgin birth to introduce us to His beloved son.

    • Bear says:

      “…why Our Father should need a virgin birth to introduce us to His beloved son”

      Who is talking about restrictions on the Father? The question is not if He needed to do this, but what He did – a completely different question.

      There are an infinite number of ways the Father could have saved us, but He chose one way.

      • Alex Caughey says:

        Bear,

        Why would The Father choose this methodology – the virgin conception – when a regular sexual union between a man, and a woman would have yielded the same result?

        The early Christian communities did not celebrate the birth of Jesus for some three hundred years, after the crucifixion of Jesus because the nativity event was never viewed as significant as The Resurrection.

        There is no mention of birth celebrations in the writings of early Christian writers such as Irenaeus (c. 130–200) or Tertullian (c. 160–225). Origen of Alexandria (c. 165–264) goes so far as to mock Roman celebrations of birth anniversaries, dismissing them as “pagan” practices—a strong indication that Jesus’ birth was not marked with similar festivities at that place and time. As far as we can tell, Christmas was not celebrated at all at this point.

        This stands in sharp contrast to the very early traditions surrounding Jesus’ last days.

        • Schütz says:

          Why would The Father choose this methodology – the virgin conception – when a regular sexual union between a man, and a woman would have yielded the same result?

          there you go again, Father. Theology does not deal with what might have been or what was in the mind of God, but with what happened.

          • Alex Caughey says:

            David,

            Your assertion ignores the central premise of my proposition which is, did the virgin birth actually occur.

            Theology reasons matters pertaining to God.

            A history book teaches us what has happened.

          • Hannah says:

            David, my understanding of theology is that we use both exegesis and eisegesis in order to try and make sense or understand what is in the mind of God, or what is God saying to us or why God has acted in such a way.
            We study (exegesis/eisegesis) what “happened” in order that we might get a sense of who/what creation is, who we are and why we are here.
            The eternal questions. Indeed when studying pre history record and then Tanak and NT slowly an image of God emerges which spells for us the answer to our question why?
            Why Immaculate Conception and Virgin birth necessary? because from my reading they are tied up with “In the beginning”

            • Schütz says:

              “Exogesis” is “reading out” of the text. “Eisogesis” is “reading into” the text. Few biblical scholars would uphold the validity of the latter, but arguably that is what we do when we seek to uncover the “spiritual” meaning of the text. If you wander into the eisogetical forest it is advisable to carry a reliable (ie. magisterial)!map.

            • Mary H says:

              Hi Hannah,
              You say that “Why Immaculate Conception and Virgin birth necessary? because from my reading they are tied up with “In the beginning”

              That sounds fascinating. Do you have more information you can refer me to on that? I don’t have any trouble with the Immaculate Conception or the virgin conception, but I do have a problem with virgin birth.

        • Mary H says:

          Alex: “Why would The Father choose this methodology – the virgin conception – when a regular sexual union between a man, and a woman would have yielded the same result?”

          That is strange reasoning to me. So the only reason for a miracle is if we think it was necessary? That’s odd.

          Why did Jesus choose the multiplication of loaves to feed the crowd? Maybe he could have done something less miraculous like diverting a caravan to feed everyone. Or maybe it was just a “miracle” of generosity, where everyone just shared everything they had. You can come up with a natural explanation of most miracles if you want to and try hard enough, and I think I’ve heard most of them.

          And of course the most inexplicable miracle of all – why did God choose to save us with the crucifixion and resurrection? Surely he could have done it much more easily than that?

          As for the early Christian community not putting as much emphasis on the nativity as on the resurrection because they thought the latter was more important – well, yes – because it was.

          Are you proposing that they didn’t believe in the virgin conception of Jesus because if they had, they would have considered it more important, or as important, as Easter?

          There are a lot of other miracles that occur in only one or two Gospels, but we don’t rule them out on the basis that they could have been accomplished in a less miraculous manner, or that they weren’t as important as the Resurrection.

          Really, what is the problem with this miracle specifically? I don’t get it.

          • Schütz says:

            Yes, Mary, I agree with you on this point. Father’s methodology is very odd for a Catholic priest. Christian theology deals with what is, not what might have been. As my grandmother used to say, you can wish into one hand and spit into the other and see which ine gets full the quickest…

            • Alex Caughey says:

              David,

              We are having a discussion on a perplexing issue. Nothing more. My offerings, and the contributions of the other posters does not change what happened two thousand years ago.

              In theological circles these discussions take place on a regular basis when accepted beliefs are thoroughly examined through debate.

          • Alex Caughey says:

            Mary H,

            Belief in miracles is not proof that a miracle occurred.

          • Hannah says:

            Mary there was no link for me to reply to your question about sources for immaculate conception and virgin birth. I find the first three chapters of Genesis has all the “story” of God, creation, sin, and promise of redemption. starting from chapter 4 there is the unpacking of the full “story”. Immaculate Conception (Eve) and Mary (New Eve), Ark of the Old Covenant, “Ark of the New Covenant” Ark of the New Covenant “Stained?” Virgin birth (what should have been but couldnt be because of sin.
            And Scott Hahn I think (not sure on this) “A Father who Keeps His Promises” and other Old Testament works.
            I personally spend a lot of time in first three chapters of Genesis. It helps in my work. Its also beautiful and then to see the answers following.
            Cant answer further will be away for about 17 days. Keep the fire going.

  10. Alex Caughey says:

    Mary H,

    This is exactly my point why would Our Father choose a virgin birth of The Son, when a regular sexual union between Joseph, and Mary would have produced the same outcome? No one knows the answer.

    Our belief that a virgin birth occurred is based entirely upon our belief that our interpretation of the events recorded in Holy Scripture should be read in a literalistic manner. We also understand that scripture is filled with stories, metaphor and parables providing truths that speak to how best to live a fulfilling and happy life.

    What is the reason for the belief in the virgin birth other than assuming that The Evangelists, after The Resurrection event decided that Jesus fitted the profile of The Messiah per the Isaiah Prophecies, therefore had to have been conceived by a virgin through the power of God.

    Human beings have this propensity for seeing things in a way that accords with their preconceived beliefs. These biases, these cognitive traps, I call them, they’re inbuilt and part of being human.

    The recorded miracles of Jesus teach us that He was revealing the presence of The Father, in His life when demonstrating that The Father’s power is beyond human easy understanding when we choose to characterise such inexplicable events as miraculous.

    We could well ask why Jesus did not perform many more miracles, or why He had to suffer the indignity of torture, mocking and crucifixion to demonstrate that His life as The Father’s well beloved son was raised from death into new life.

    If I could access the mind of God I would be able to provide you with all the answers to your questions. No human person has that power and this includes those who presume to interpret Holy Scripture to fit in with their preconceived beliefs.

    • Schütz says:

      What is the reason for the belief in the virgin birth other than assuming that The Evangelists, after The Resurrection event decided that Jesus fitted the profile of The Messiah per the Isaiah Prophecies, therefore had to have been conceived by a virgin through the power of God.

      I would have thought the most logical source of the story is the one traditionally accredited – the one who would know – Mary herself. Afterall, Luke says that she was among the apostles in the Pentecost community.

      • Alex Caughey says:

        David,

        Were life that straight forward we would not be holding this discussion.

        The Evangelists do not quote Mary, being content to relate closely to the words used in the Isaiah Prophecies.

        One must wonder why The Evangelists did not quote Mary.

        May be Mary had nothing to say on this matter that would have re-affirmed the Isaiah Prophecies concerning a virgin conception.

  11. Mary H says:

    Alex: “What is the reason for the belief in the virgin birth other than assuming that The Evangelists, after The Resurrection event decided that Jesus fitted the profile of The Messiah per the Isaiah Prophecies, therefore had to have been conceived by a virgin through the power of God.”

    Umm, the fact that according to Luke, Mary said so? And we know that she had every opportunity, before and after the resurrection, to tell the Apostles? And the Church decided the Gospel accounts of Luke and Matthew were correct? And we believe the Gospels are inspired by the Holy Spirit?

    Even if the interpretation that the Evangelists thought Jesus needed to be conceived by a virgin to be the Messiah were true, that doesn’t mean it couldn’t have happened.

    So really, the onus is on you to show us why we should ignore all the proof we do have to believe in the virgin conception, just because God could have done it differently (of course he could have!) and it matched some interpretations of what the Messiah had to be.

    Even if you personally don’t see the point, that’s no reason to believe it didn’t happen.

    What is so hard about believing in this miracle? Is that it? Because you don’t see any point to it?

  12. Alex Caughey says:

    Mary H,

    An experienced detective works with the material available.

    The only proof for a virgin conception speaks to us from The Evangelists who do not quote the obvious witness, Mary who could have resolved this perplexing issue with her own testimony rather source their claims directly from, even using the words of The Isaiah Prophecies.

    The only proof that is available to evidence a virgin birth is that provided by The Evangelists, re-quoting The Isaiah Prophecies that The Messiah would be conceived by a virgin………

    A reasonable person would surmise that had the virgin conception taken place per The Isaiah Prophecies Mary would have been much more supportive of Jesus, by recognising Him as the promised Messiah whereas, Jesus’s family questioned His behaviour after He began His ministry.

    According to the author of the Gospel of Mark (Mark 3:19-35) during the period when he was preaching Jesus’ relatives, his mother and his brothers believed that he was not thinking clearly. The author of the Gospel of John comments that “neither did his brothers believe in him” (John 7:5).

    The matter is not whether God is able to work miracles, but whether the virgin conception actually took place per The Isaiah Prophecies. Thus we believing that God can work miracles is not evidence that the virgin conception occurred.

    I believe that my contributions are sufficient, and that we have now entered the sphere of going round in circles. I thank all for their contributions to this thread enabling me to understand the positions of the various posters.

  13. Hannah says:

    David I do know what exegesis and eisegesis mean and that one reads into and one reads out of texts At least thats what we were taught at ACU. At Masters Level we are encouraged to to a little exegesis and eisegesis.
    Keep things boiling I will be away for 2 1/2 weeks. please also keep me in prayer.

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