Turning Christmas into Mythmas – Why we shouldn’t ditch the virgin birth

This article was published today. You can get the original here –
Why the Virgin Birth is Important – Article in Christian Today

Turning Christmas into Mythmas: why we shouldn’t ditch the virgin birth

“There are hundreds of Greek, Egyptian and Roman myths about babies being born on December 25, why should we believe yours?” The young Goth, dressed in black from head to toe, was insistent. In a packed lecture theatre in Belfast I felt compelled to answer, perhaps not in the wisest manner. “You, sir, are a prime example of the dangers of Wikipedia,” I began, before going on to point out that there were not hundreds of myths.

When the young man met me at the end of the talk I apologised for breaking the first rule of public debate – ‘Don’t belittle your opponents.’ But he just laughed and said “No, I thought you were going to give me some of that Christian b******t , and I was going to walk out, but you called me on it. Cheers.”

But this young man is not alone. Anyone who has watched Zeitgeist, read Christopher Hitchens or been involved with any of the plethora of new atheist websites will have this issue raised. It is alleged that the Christians just borrowed the myths of the Babylonian Marduk, the Egyptian Horus or the Greek legend of Perseus and came up with the virgin birth of Christ. To the uneducated and those who have a desperate need to debunk Christianity this seems so obvious that it must be true. It just makes so much sense – after all virgin births don’t happen and Christianity is just made up anyway.

But on closer examination the whole case just falls apart. Firstly the comparisons are at best tenuous. It is true that in ancient mythology there are numerous tales of various deities impregnating humans or getting pregnant themselves through a variety of means, but there is nothing to compare with the miraculous conception of a child conceived in the womb of a teenage mother by the Holy Spirit of the One God. It is literally incomparable.

Secondly anyone who knows anything about the Jewish faith would realise that the early Christians, who were largely Jews, would not have taken on well-known pagan myths and tried to pass them off as their own. The very idea would have been abhorrent.

Critics like the late Christopher Hitchens of course have no doubt that virgin births cannot happen. They even tell us what the Bible really means. But like most of the New Atheist myths, these are largely bluster. Hitchens’ comments on Isaiah 7:14 are particularly interesting – “The word translated as ‘virgin’, namely ‘almah’, means only a young woman.” Unlike Hitchens, EJ Young and Robert Dick Wilson did serious research on the meaning of the nine occurrences of ‘almah’ in the Old Testament. Both concluded that the word is never employed to describe a married woman and that the Septuagint (cited by Matthew’s Gospel) was right to translate it in Greek as ‘parthenos’ (virgin).

Hitchens though is in good – or bad – company. There are many more ‘sophisticated’ church leaders who are stuck in a 19th-century paradigm of ‘miracles don’t happen’ and so do their best to dismiss the virgin birth as untrue or unimportant. Tony Jordan, a scriptwriter for the BBC series Eastenders, did an excellent series on the nativity. He describes his experience in researching this: “I sat with these men of the cloth, these were organised religion. They were all explaining to me about the nativity and about how it never happened. And they were saying, “Well of course, Mesopotamia… mumble, mumble – there was always the legend of the virgin birth.” And I’m thinking, ‘What? Hang on a minute! You’re on the wrong side, that doesn’t work.’ So I despair of them” (interview in Christianity Magazine, March 2012). Indeed.

I suspect that for most people the idea of the virgin birth is one that is abhorrent because it seems so impossible. But I have never understood why it is seen as such a stumbling block. If human beings can create a situation whereby a woman can become pregnant without the necessity for sexual intercourse, why should we consider it impossible for an Almighty God to do so? The trouble is that people start off with the pre-supposition that such a God does not exist and therefore a non-existent being cannot perform such a miracle. This is the ultimate in circular and irrational thinking. To claim that a virgin birth cannot happen because the being who could make such a thing happen does not exist, really says nothing, other than about the prejudices of the person making the claim. Likewise, I am not stating that merely claiming it did happen makes it true. However I am stating that by definition it is not self-evidently impossible that an Almighty God could do this one small miracle.

Larry King was once asked who he would like to interview if he had his pick from all history. His answer? Jesus Christ. “What is the one question you would like to ask him?” “I would ask him if he was indeed virgin-born, because the answer to that would define history for me.” It really is that important. The ‘evangelical’ liberal, Rob Bell, likened the virgin birth to one brick in a wall of theology. “What do you lose if you lose that one brick?” To which the best reply was – “Nothing, except Jesus.” The virgin birth of Christ is one of the key doctrines of Christianity and without it you do not have Christ. It’s a bit like the man who goes into the local fish ‘n’ chip shop and announces ‘I’ll have a fish supper, without the fish.’ Christianity without the virgin birth of Christ is Christianity without Christ.

For me the truly unbelievable thing is not that God could come to earth, but that he did. And that the child’s birth we celebrate on December 25 is the I AM, the Light of the Word, the Word, the Son of God, our Lord and Saviour.

“Veiled in flesh the Godhead see,

Hail the incarnate deity,

Pleased as man with man to dwell,

Jesus our Immanuel”.

Christmas without the virgin birth is Christmas without Christ. That does not make it Xmas, it just makes it Mythmas.

This year, as always, I will be celebrating the reality of Christmas, not the delusions of Mythmas. Happy Christmas!

7 thoughts on “Turning Christmas into Mythmas – Why we shouldn’t ditch the virgin birth

  1. Interesting and it get me thinking as it often does on reading your posts David. Having recently seen the film Zeitgeist I find the whole thing interesting and I guess challenging about how we might engage. It seems to me that this film has sparked a lot of interest in the circles I mix. I did not that the writings of Josephus were dismissed in the film without giving substance to the reason of that happening. What I like about what you have mentioned is engaging with what this would have meant to the early Christians. It does seem unlikely that staying true to faith that Christianity would have adopted pagan myths, yet we do know that in the history of Judaism, there had been dualism with the pagan worship with Ball and Ashera so it is likely that there had been some syncrenism in the early church.

    Nevertheless, yes I have no doubt that the apostle Paul, like Elijah would have had something to say about the teaching and worship that went on with that along the lines of what you say with abhorring what was happening.

    What I have found by way of taking about this film is that it has opened up the potential for conversations that perhaps would not be afforded otherwise. I hadn’t heard of the film until recently, and it was someone I know who is not a Christian that recommended watching it after we had a conversation where I shared of my own experiences and of the gospel. It’s always good I find to keep the channels of communication open wherever possible? I’m glad to hear of how the conversation went for you with the man you talk of.

    I guess what is central is what is perceived about God and miracles. I’ve had too many experiences in life to put things down rationally to anything other than God, at least in a way that makes sense to me. Though I have to say, I do find it hard to get my head around the miracles. I have to acknowledge that compared to what can be known, I know very little and what makes sense to me is that though I can’ understand how, to be open to miracles happening. That’s the best way I can explain it without appearing to be deluded to some or apostate to others.

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    1. I didn’t think you believed in God Linear, but rather that “Yahweh” existing only in some people’s minds.

      Do you realise that in agreeing with David that it is unbelievable that God came to earth, that you are acknowledging the existence of God?!

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  2. Thanks for taking a stand and also showing the necessity of holding on to the virgin birth. I would be glad if you could elaborate on the reasons why it was necessary for Christ to be born in this unique way – which I understand was necessary as He was the unique God-man with an unique mission (to die a substitutionary death for sinners and therefore needed to be sinless from his very conception. In order to remain sinless and free from original sin it was necessary for Him to be conceived in a divine or supernatural way. If He was conceived through the agency of Joseph He would have inherited original sin and would’ve been born a sinner like the rest of mankind. Why would He have been infected with original sin if Joseph was to his father? Well, I have thought about it and it seems that the trait of original sin is carried (genetically) from generation by the male seed and legacy. Males have been appointed by God to take on leadership and responsibility. I think we can see that in God’s call on Adam to give account for the fall even though Eve was the culprit.

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  3. Re- ‘This is the ultimate in circular and irrational thinking’.
    The comment above which relates to atheists non belief in a god comes straight from the Presuppositional Christian handbook. And the sentence before it and the sentence after it is just word play, meant to confuse and muddy the waters of the argument. Christians then go on to claim that their view is the only credible and rational one, without ever doing anything other than asserting the bible’s validity. What nonsense this is. The bible’s the word of god because the bible says it’s the word of god. Men wrote the bible and it’s a very man written book with all that entails. Christians are the most self deceiving, self righteous people on the face of the planet.

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