I’ve spent more than two months now working methodically through the notion of the virgin birth – what the text says and doesn’t say and what critical scholars argue about the stories – and I think we’re close to wrapping this thing up. First, however, we have to deal with theology.
I tried to do that a couple of weeks ago and wasted everyone’s time (well, not everyone’s; these posts are actually not well read, so I’ve wasted very few people’s time, apparently). So this week I read through Robert Gromacki’s The Virgin Birth: A Biblical Study of the Deity of Jesus Christ.
You might gather by the linking of Christ’s deity with the virgin birth that this is a conservative work. Which is exactly what I wanted, an in-depth study of the virgin birth from a traditional perspective, one that treats both the problems raised by modern scholarship and the theological implications for those problems.
I’ll let Gromacki have the floor with minimal commentary from me. Next week, I’ll respond to what he says, but for now, let’s just see what that is.
In his introduction, Gromacki makes clear that he believes stakes in the virgin birth are high:
A real incarnation requires a literal virgin birth. They are the proverbial two sides of the same coin. You cannot have one without the other. For years, fundamentalists have been marked by their acceptance of these major doctrinal concepts: the inspiration of the Scriptures, the deity of Jesus Christ, His virgin birth, His substitutionary atonement, His bodily resurrection and His second coming. They come as a doctrinal package. You either embrace all of them or deny them all. No one can logically believe in some of them while rejecting the others.
To support this argument, Gromacki starts with the Trinity. “Granted that God exists in three eternal persons, the incarnation becomes most plausible. … If Jesus Christ is really God, then the virgin birth occurred; then the incarnation was real; then the nature of God must be Trinitarian. This is a logical sequence.”
He then moves to discuss the incarnation itself, starting with a discussion of Jesus, “The Person of the Virgin Birth.” Gromacki spends a good deal of time arguing for Jesus’ divinity; since that is not in question here, I’ll skim over most of that. Suffice it to say Gromacki has plenty of scriptural evidence for this notion. “It is clear that the New Testament authors equated Jehovah with Jesus.”
Likewise, in a similar chapter looking at the claims of the apostles, Gromacki concludes:
The apostles did not believe that Jesus, a mere man, came to be God. Rather, they believed that God the Son became man and yet remained divine. What was the method for such an incarnation? As we shall see, the only adequate answer is the virgin conception under the providential control of the Holy Spirit.
The next two chapters look at the self-identification of Jesus himself; again, I certainly don’t disagree with the fact that Jesus was God incarnate, so we’ll pass over much of these. As Gromacki says, “Jesus Christ definitely claimed to be God through His actions and His statements about Himself.” No disagreement from me. The question lies in the last sentence of Gromacki’s look at the person of the virgin birth: “There was only one means that could properly provide the channel for His incarnation: the Virgin Birth.” (emphasis his)
Next is “The Nature of the Virgin Birth,” which is where our interest lies for this study.
First, he looks at the account of Luke. Among the arguments he makes for the historicity of the account:
- Luke’s position as an historian and physician gives his words historical credibility.
- Mary could have been alive at the time of his writing: “If Mary had been 20 years old or less at the time of Jesus’ birth, she would have only been about 75 at the time of the writing of Luke’s gospel.”
- Luke as a physician would have known better than anyone the biological impossibility of the virgin birth and given it extra scrutiny.
- In his introduction to the book, Luke argues he is writing to provide “certainty,” which would have been undermined had he started the book with an inaccurate account of Christ’s origins.
Quoting John Stott, Gromacki concludes his look at Luke by arguing:
“If Jesus had two human parents, why did the shrewd Gentile physician never suspect that fact?” That question still stands today. After making a thorough investigation into the human beginnings of Jesus, Luke was certain that Jesus was virgin born, and Luke wanted Theophilus and us to be likewise convinced.
On to Matthew, where Gromacki acknowledges the liberal criticism of Matthew’s use of Isaiah 7:14 by arguing “these critics … also revealed their denial of any supernatural ministry of the Holy Spirit in the lives and compositions of the biblical authors. They see the 66 books as mere human literary works.” A telling remark, to be sure. He later argues, “The doctrine of the Virgin Birth only presents difficulties to those who question the literal, historical accuracy of the gospel narratives, the sovereignty of the Almighty and the deity of Jesus Christ.”
Gromacki also appeals to the early church fathers, who unanimously argued for a virgin birth, which was included in baptismal creeds as early as the middle 100s. Moving on to Erroneous Concepts,” Gromacki restates that “the incarnation, the virgin birth and the deity of Jesus Christ form an inseparable trend,” which at this point is begging for actual support. He begins to provide it on the next page:
There is no way that natural generation could provide the acceptable channel [for incarnation, God becoming flesh]. It could never be said that the mere son of Joseph and Mary was really “God.” This would be an attempt to deify humanity, to make man into God.
He then knocks down several Catholic teachings arising from the virgin birth – all of which involve the elevation of Mary via her sinlessness, perpetual virginity or immaculate conception – before moving into “The Results of the Virgin Birth.” First, he argues for Jesus’ humanity: “We are neither more nor less human than He was,” and then follows that up with, “Jesus became what all men could have achieved were it not for the presence and transmission of the sin nature. … In a sense, He was more a man than we are.” Gromacki concludes, “The human nature of Jesus was conceived within a mother’s womb just like any other human being, but apart from human fertilization.”
The question, then, concerning Jesus is: Was he incapable of sinning? As a believer that the virgin birth was necessary for Christ’s divinity, Gromacki addresses one of the questions I’d raised earlier: Wouldn’t Mary’s DNA have been just as capable of passing on a sin nature to Jesus as Joseph’s was? To his credit, Gromacki responds, “It is too arbitrary to attribute His sinless humanity to the absence of human male fertilization.”
Nevertheless, Gromacki then says:
As the eternal God the Son, Jesus Christ was naturally holy and sinless before His incarnation. However, to gain a sinless human nature, the virgin birth had to take place. Walter Martin differed, however: “Some Christians are led astray here because they are led into the fallacy that unless Christ was virgin born He could not have been sinless. Such a view would limit the omnipotence of God, ‘for with God all things are possible.’ The answer, of course, is not that God was limited to the Virgin Birth to actuate the incarnation but that He decreed that the Virgin Birth would be the means of its realization.“
Gromacki squares the circle this way: “At the critical moment of conception, when God the Son entered the unfertilized egg of Mary, the Spirit of God prevented her from passing to the living fetus her sin nature.”
That’s all I have time for this morning. I’ll respond to some of this and summarize some more of Gromacki’s book next week.