Misconceptions About the Virginal Conception
Our lack of access to narratives about Jesus' birth shouldn't lead us to assume the miracle of his conception didn't happen.
Our lack of access to narratives about Jesus' birth shouldn't lead us to assume the miracle of his conception didn't happen. In his essay,Bishop Spong
seeks to deconstruct the traditional Christmas story, especially in regard to what we have come to call the "virgin birth." This last term is actually a misnomer, because the miracle we are discussing transpired at conception, not at Jesus' birth.
Spong's article includes a variety of helpful insights into the differences in birth narrative texts, and the interesting and surprising character of Matthew's genealogy. There are, however, a variety of assumptions and assertions in this article that deserve to be challenged--not the least of which is a rather amazing argument from silence.
At the heart of Spong's argument is the notion that the earliest New Testament writers, including Paul and the earliest evangelist, Mark, know nothing about the idea of the virgin birth, and that therefore the idea arose late in the New Testament period, perhaps on the basis of myths and legends about other famous births. Spong's conclusion is drawn from the fact that they write nothing about it. Spong also assumes that what they do write about Jesus' birth assumes there was nothing very special about it.
It is always a risky business to assume someone doesn't know something just because they don't mention it in the limited sampling of their writings that we now, many centuries later, have access to. In the first place, neither Paul nor Mark give a narrative account of Jesus' conception or birth. Had Mark offered us a birth narrative and written something about Jesus' origins that contradicted Matthew and Luke, that would be one thing. Then we could actually talk about differing accounts of Jesus' origins. This we simply do not have.
Paul simply says in passing in Galatians 4 that Jesus was born of woman. He does not say how this transpired, and in any case the issue of a "miracle" in regard to Jesus' origins has to do with theconception
of Jesus, not the birth.
The birth of Jesus, according to what information we have from Matthew and Luke, was perfectly normal and ordinary. Indeed, it was so ordinary that, according to Luke, Mary went to Jerusalem and performed the normal purification ritual. Comments about Jesus' birth neither state nor necessarily imply anything about the conception of Jesus in Mary's womb.