On the Virgin Birth
Recently, a popular evangelical preacher, Andy Stanley, dismissed the importance of the virgin birth by claiming that “Christianity doesn’t hinge on the truth or even the stories around the birth of Jesus.”
Stanley is the founder of North Point Ministries, a network of six churches in and around Atlanta, attended by 30,000 people each week. In a message he gave on December 3, he said:
A lot of people just don’t believe it [i.e., the virgin birth]. And I understand that, and maybe, you know, the thought is, hey, you know, they had to come up with some myth about the birth of Jesus to give him street cred, you know, later on. And maybe that’s where that came from.
He stops short of claiming this as his own view. But he goes on to say something which seems to indicate he believes the position has some plausibility:
It’s interesting because Matthew gives us a version of the birth of Christ; Luke does; but Mark and John, they don’t even mention it. And a lot has been made of that.
Regardless of whether or not he’s suggesting that he finds this reasoning plausible, it’s true that many have argued the case in just this way: “It’s only Matthew and Luke who mention the virgin birth.”
One wonders how many times, and by how many different people (according to this line of reasoning), God must say a thing before we have a duty to believe it. If twice is insufficient, how about three times? What if, say, Mark had also mentioned it? Would that have been enough? Or must John have done so too? Maybe we wouldn’t be warranted to believe it unless it had been mentioned in all four Gospels plus one or two of Paul’s letters? But then what are to make of the fact that Peter is silent on the subject? Does his failure to weigh in on the matter throw it into doubt?
God forbid! (As a certain apostle might say.) Among men, the testimony of two or three witnesses is necessary to establish a controversial point, but one word from God is enough. He “is not a man that he should lie” (Num. 23:19). If Adam and Eve had thought of it, it would surely have done them no good to plead, “But Lord, you only told us once.”
Stanley continues by discussing what he believes to be the relative importance of Jesus’ birth and his resurrection:
If somebody can predict their own death and then their own resurrection, I’m not all that concerned about how they got into the world, because the whole resurrection thing is so amazing, and in fact…and you should know this…that Christianity doesn’t hinge on the truth or even the stories around the birth of Jesus; it really hinges on the resurrection of Jesus.”
The importance of the resurrection should, of course, never be underestimated; but neither should the importance of the virgin birth. If Jesus was not born of a virgin, but by means of ordinary human reproduction, then he was only a man and we must therefore reject the numerous passages that bear witness to his deity (e.g., Jn. 1:1; Rom. 9:5; Phil 2:6; Col. 2:9). And if he was only a man, then he was a sinful man (Rom. 3:23), and we must reject all those passages that affirm otherwise (e.g., Heb. 4:15; 7:26; 1 Pet. 1:22; 1 Jn. 3:5). And if he was a sinful man, then he was doomed to die for his own sins and therefore couldn’t die for ours.
But if by some further convoluted reasoning he is said to have been sinless (even though he was an ordinary man), he would still have been unable to make atonement for our sins because the death of an ordinary human being, even a sinless one, would be of insufficient worth to “take away the sins of the world” (Jn. 1:29). It is the incarnation (God becoming man, Jn. 1:14) that makes our salvation possible. It is our Lord’s humanity that qualifies him, in his death, to act on man’s behalf; and it is his deity that makes his death of infinite worth. If we reject the virgin birth, we reject not only the reality, but the very possibility of our redemption.