December 12, 2011

Must I Believe in the Virgin Birth?

by Clint Archer

The Henry Doorly Zoo in Nebraska had on display three live female bonnethead sharks. The bonnethead is quite attractive in a lethal

hammerhead kind of way. But no matter how attractive these three ladies were, none of them had ever been on a date. You see they lived in a tank, in a zoo. The closest male sharks were, well, unavailable. Sharks, like chickens, can produce unfertilized eggs and sometimes do so perhaps in silent protest at not being allowed to date.

But one day the protest became a bit more pronounced when, on 14 Dec 2001, one of these broody sharks went into labor and out popped a baby girl bonnethead shark (yup hammerheads have live birth).

Everyone with a 5th grade biology class under their belt, including all the world-renowned marine biologists, stood with their collective mouths agape. This, to put it mildly, was new. A virgin shark, who had never as much as held hands with a male, producing offspring. Though some insects and Komodo dragons have been known to confound zoologists, this was the first shark to snub a nose at science.

The story gets even more shocking.

An allegedly envious stingray in the same tank jolted the little celebrity heiress down to Davey Jones’ locker (for those who don’t speak Pirate, the baby shark died).

Marine biologists, after the obligatory 5 minutes of mourning, gleefully examined the dearly departed’s DNA from every angle, confirming that indeed it contained DNA from only one shark in the tank. This had been a genuine virgin birth. Sound a bit fishy?

In October 2008, the Journal of Fish Biology confirmed a 2nd case in which DNA testing proved that a pup carried by a female Atlantic blacktip shark in the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center contained no genetic material from a male.

This is a process called parthenogenesis and is rare but known in some insects, reptiles like the Komodo dragon, and now sharks too. NB: Parthenogenesis can only ever produce female offspring.

Fathers take heart, the phenomenon of parthenogenesis is not an excuse a pregnant teen could use to get out of trouble since parthenogenesis in humans is simply impossible. And that is the point of Luke 1:37 “For nothing will be impossible with God.”

In The Illegitimacy of Jesus: A Feminist Theological Interpretation of the Infancy Narratives, Jane Schaberg accuses the church of inventing the doctrine of the virgin birth in order to subordinate women (what a novel allegation from a feminist). As she summarizes:

“The charge of contemporary feminists, then, is not that the image of the Virgin Mary is unimportant or irrelevant, but that it contributes to and is integral to the oppression of women.”

Schaberg believes the conception of Jesus was most likely the result of extra-marital sex, or rape by a Roman soldier.

The reason people don’t believe in the virgin birth is because it’s unbelievable. A virgin conceiving without a man is absolutely impossible. So if it did happen, then this baby may well be God. And then one would have to obey what he says.

International TV Interview guru, Larry King, who is Jewish, said that he would like to have interviewed Jesus Christ and would open with this question:

“I would like to ask him if he was indeed virgin-born. The answer to that question would define history for me.”

Larry King gets it. He understands that if this one fact is true, life changes. The moment of Gabriel’s appearance defined history for Mary, for Israel, for all humanity, and yes, for you.

Yes it’s impossible, but that is exactly the point: we serve a God who can do the impossible. Gabriel said as much to Mary: Luke 1:37 “Nothing will be impossible with God.”

The fact that it is a miracle is part of the proof that we are saved. This miracle proves that Jesus is God. This is not a minor point of doctrine, the virgin birth is at the heart of the Christian gospel. Jesus was born of a virgin, so he didn’t carry Adam’s original sin, so he was sinless, so he was God, so he could save us.

If he wasn’t virgin-born, Mary was a lying pregnant teen who concocted the whole story to evade trouble (or corroborate her insanity plea). Her testimony is worthless, so is Luke’s, and the whole gospel narrative begins to unravel like a moth-eaten blanket.

I don’t know about you, but it doesn’t bug me in the least that this is impossible, because I know God. Impossible is his middle name!

As you sing “Round yon virgin, mother and child,” this Christmas, your kids will ask, “Mommy, what’s a virgin?” Tell them the truth. And tell them we can be saved because Jesus was born sinless, stayed sinless, and yet died in the place of sinners like you and me.

So yes, this is a “must-believe” doctrine.

Clint Archer

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Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.
  • Wow! Just wow! We all know this, but we are still amazed by it. I guess that’s what miracles are all about. I am posting this to my fb account. I want everyone to read this!

    • Thanks for your enthusiasm. So it’s not just me that thinks this is amazing!

  • Stantilly

    Thanks Clint. “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Isa 7:14 – Hallelujah, what a Saviour!

    • Thanks Stan, I love the so called ‘Christmas texts.’ They’re more like everyday texts.

  • I confess that I refused to believe, until I googled it. Then I was won over (I’m talking about the shark part, of course). My favorite quote from the msnbc article about the shark: “Scientists caution that these virgin births should not be seen as a solution for the world’s declining shark population…”

    • Oh ye of little faith. PTL for Google.

  • Anonymous

    Very interesting! I never new that about the sharks!

    Yes, the virgin birth is a must-believe! Lately I’ve been noticing (at least online) that some people want to know what is the “least” they can believe to be labeled as Christians. Something along the same lines as re-defining what Trinity is, and going down to the least “common denominator” as much as possible, to bring unity in the shallowness and low view of God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Word.

    I wanted to ask you about something:
    “Jesus was born of a virgin, so he didn’t carry Adam’s original sin, so he was sinless, so he was God, so he could save us.”
    The first conjunction used, “so”, says that because Jesus didn’t have a human father, He was sinless. Original sin is transferred through the male? I had never thought about this before.

    I would like to ask about the other conjunctions as well. No male father => sinless => God => Saviour.


    • Great question. Each of those conjunctions requires a treatise to justify their use. And each need qualifications. Being sinless doesn’t necessitate deity; the holy angels are sinless, and glorified humans are sinless. Romans makes it clear that sin came through Adam and spread to all humankind, including women. However since the paternity of Christ unhitched the chain from Adam, it may be a contributing factor to the proof of his sinlessness. Admittedly it doesn’t nail the case, but it is an interesting factor to consider. A better way for me to have stated it was in reverse order. To be Savior Jesus needed to be sinless, to be sinless he needed to be born of God, not Adam. Hope this adds a smidgen of clarity to a confusing bit of theology.

      • Anonymous

        yes, it helps. I agree that the reverse order is better.

        thank you Clint!

        • Elaine, I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you for your faithful following of the C-Gate over the last year. Your comments are always encouraging and insightful. You add value to this blog.

  • Noah Hartmetz

    Great stuff! Thanks for the post and insisting on the gravity of the doctrine.

    • My pleasure, thanks for your interest.

  • Ross

    Thanks, Clint. That was a major issue for me while snarling at the gospel many years ago. I finally had to fall down before my Creator and say, Yes – I believe!
    This is also how Jesus can rightly be the true King, the Son of David – because the curse of Jeremiah did not fall upon our virgin-born Lord.

    • Praise God for his faithfulness. Thanks for sharing your testimony.

  • Kathy

    Thank you for the shark info! When I was a freshman sitting in a zoology class at U.C Davis in the 60’s it dawned on me that because parthenogenesis can ONLY produce female offspring, Jesus’s maleness was …. a miracle. (And allthough I grew up in a mainline church, I was not saved until 4 years later,….). Still, I always have remembered that thought, and in time realized that God, as always, had all the bases covered. Jesus’ maleness was documented by the centuries-old, God-instituted rite of circumcision, as reported in Luke 2:21. What a great and awesome God we serve!

    • Good insight, Kathy. Thanks for sharing.

  • AMEN!

  • Lynda Ochsner

    Great post, and interesting story about the shark!
    I’ve noticed in scripture reading all the references to Jesus and His mother–never a mention of His father; instead, the gospel accounts speak of “the child and His mother.” We know from other scripture, too, that He could not have been the son of Joseph, because of the curse on Jeconiah’s line (Jeremiah 22).

    • Thanks for the shared insight. And the fact that Joseph adopted Jesus meant that the royal right to reign from David’s line was inherited, since that right is transfered through the male. No loose ends when dealing with an infinitely wise God!

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