Chapter # 1 Paragraph # 3 Study # 8
Thesis: The "virgin birth" was necessitated, not by the language of Isaiah, but by the biblical concept of substitutionary atonement.
Introduction: In our studies of Gabriel's announcement to Mary, we have seen that there was a very necessary connection between Mary's perception of her Son and her Son's actual behavior and teaching. She desperately needed to view Him as the "Victorious Warrior" while permitting His "servant" behavior and teaching to fill out that perception. No one ever becomes a legitimate "believer" in Christ who does not grasp the unity of "dominion power" and "service". On the one hand, "service" which does not powerfully confront the real issues of life and death is not "service"; and, on the other hand, "powerful confrontation" which only seeks to subjugate others, not lead them into life, is not true "dominion power". What this translates into, in practical terms, is a two-fold distortion of religion. On one hand, we have "religion" which panders to man's disaster (such as food kitchens) and calls it "serving". On the other hand, we have "religion" which dogmatizes and pontificates in order to dominate and calls it "taking a stand for Jesus". This morning we are going to move further into our text. The question we wish to address this morning is this: why did Mary simply assume that Gabriel meant that she was to have a son without Joseph's input? Because of the complexity of the material before us, let me say at the outset that I am an absolutely firm believer in the "virgin birth of the Christ". I say this because some of what I am going to say this morning can easily be misunderstood if a person has a mental lapse while listening to this message and isn't paying close attention, or a person who, like Mary, jumps to certain interpretive conclusions that are unwarranted by my words.
February 8, 2004
- I. Mary's Actual Question.
- A. Was rooted in her "interpretation" of Gabriel's words.
- 1. There is nothing we can see in the text that compels her to assume that Gabriel is speaking of something that will happen without Joseph.
- 2. There was something in Mary's mind that caused her to "jump" to the conclusion that she was to conceive without Joseph's participation. [We will come back to this.]
- B. Was a question of methodology.
- 1. Mary's statement regarding herself was not that she was a "virgin", but that she was not in an on-going "knowing" relationship with a husband.
- a. The self-description she advanced could have been advanced by any woman who was not in a current, on-going, "knowing" relationship with a man (an unmarried, chaste woman; a chaste widow; a chaste wife whose husband was gone for some distance and time; a former prostitute who had repented; etc.).
- b. Technically, what was needful, theologically, was not for a "virgin" to conceive; but, rather, for the conception to be "man-less".
- 1) Mary's womb would not have been rendered "corrupt" by the fact of prior children, or by prior sexual relations with a man.
- 2) The issue wasn't whether the womb was pristine; the issue was whether the offspring was.
- c. What Mary was claiming for herself was not "sexual purity", but, rather, a current condition of on-going abstinence from a "knowing relationship with a man".
- 1) Actually, the focus upon Mary's virginity by men who refuse to read the text as it is written has more to do with the desire to exalt the creature than it has to do with the desire to recognize the Creator. It is no accident that Mary's "perpetual virginity" developed as a "dogma" of apostate religion.
- 2) By the same token, the "celibacy of the priesthood" is another automatic heresy that comes out of an overweaning focus upon "sexual purity" rather than the text.
- 2. Mary's question, then, was not "how can a virgin conceive?", but "how can conception occur without a man?"
- II. Mary's Interpretation of Gabriel's Words.
- A. We do not know what was in Mary's mind that caused her to "jump" to the idea of a man-less conception.
- B. We do know several commonly known things that might have been the roots of her interpretation.
- 1. Mary's own geneological background was no secret to anyone familiar with her family.
- a. That she assumed, for whatever reason, that the conception was going to be man-less reinforces the fact that she was "of the seed of David" herself since her "son" was to be a "son of David", and that, without Joseph's participation.
- b. This is required by her assumptions regarding the angel's declaration.
- 2. There was a very long tradition in Jewish theology of women giving birth because of pregnancies caused by non-human fathers.
- a. One of the Jewish interpretations of the Genesis 6 text was of "angels" impregnating human women.
- b. Josephus claimed that Seth originated the symbolism of the Zodiac, and in that symbolism there stands "Virgo" as the "seed-bearer".
- c. Hislop, in The Two Babylons, records the tradition that there was a "virgin-birth" claim as far back as Nimrod and the Tower of Babel.
- d. Rampant in the mythologies of the pagan nations are stories of gods who took human wives, whose offspring were demigods. These ancient theologies were significant distortions of original seed-truths which Adam and Seth had passed on by word of mouth.
- 3. The "dominant" theology of the Jews in the time of Mary had, apparently, pretty much dismissed the "virgin-birth" concept.
- a. This is an inference from the strong antagonism toward Jesus as an illegitimate child that surfaced in John's "we be not born of fornication" text.
- b. This is also an inference from the question Jesus asked in the crucial debate over His identity: why did David call his "son" his "lord"?
- c. This is also an inference from the "salvation by human merit" theology of Israel: there is no need for a "divine" savior if human works can meet the problem of unholiness sufficiently. No one "needs" substitutionary atonement if one's "will" is sufficient to the task of determining behavior and one's "works" are sufficient to the demands of Justice.
- 4. The "virgin-birth" text of Isaiah 7:14 "required" neither a "virgin" conception, nor a man-less conception as revealed by the following record in Isaiah of the fulfillment of the "sign".
- a. The unambiguous Hebrew term for "virgin" (Bethula) is not used by Isaiah; the term he used was "Alma", which can certainly be translated "virgin", but it can also be legitimately translated by whatever terminology would communicate a young female who was past puberty. The point: "Alma" has a field of meaning that includes, but is more inclusive than, "Bethula".
- b. The "sign" was not of a "virgin" conception; it was of a "son whose birth would be the sign that God's words would be fulfilled".
- c. How, then, did Matthew present the "virgin birth" as a "fulfillment" of the Isaiah text?
- 1) He followed the LXX translation of Isaiah 7:14, which uses "parthenos" (the Greek equivalent to "Alma", but used with specific "virgin" meaning).
- 2) He understood "types of meaning".
- 3) The "type of meaning" in Isaiah 7 was "a son whose birth would be the sign that God was keeping His words".
- 4) By the time of the birth of the "Savior", what kind of "birth of a son" would fit the bill of "a sign that God was keeping His words"? There may have been some other forms, but, for sure, a "virgin birth" would fill the bill.
- III. The Significance of Mary's Question.
- A. What difference does the man-less method of fulfillment make?
- 1. It addresses the kind of Savior we have.
- a. He is "Son of the Most High" by this method.
- b. He is actually capable of being JESUS by this method.
- 2. It addresses the nature of our approach to this Savior.
- a. Generally, humanity wants to make the "approach" contain something of "man". [This is the reason for man's focus upon "virginity", "celibacy", and "sexual purity".]
- b. The text takes "man" altogether out of the picture and makes the approach purely of "faith" alone.
- B. What significance does Mary's acquiescence to Gabriel have?
- 1. Mary's acquiescence to Gabriel's explanation signals some level of previous faith that permits her to accept that explanation [she is deliberately presented as a contrast to Zacharias in his disbelief].
- 2. People do not just "jump into faith" (which is a certain level of 'strength of conviction') without sufficient strength of 'understanding' to make the "claims" at least "possible" if not "probable".
- 3. Even less do people accept the consequences of faith at the "bondservant" level without some prior development in that direction.