“Mary asked, ‘How will this be since I am a virgin?’ And the angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the Holy One to be born will be called the Son of God … For nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1: 34, 35, 37)
Bishop John Shelby Spong claims to be a ‘progressive Christian’ who says there’s no need to believe in the virgin birth. Indeed, he claims, “you destroy the Christian faith if you try to make it about biological virgin births.”
You may be wondering why the virgin birth – of all the miracles in Scripture – is so frequently attacked. After all, if one can believe, say, that God created Adam out of dust, what’s the big deal about a virgin birth?
Well, the big deal about the virgin birth is that it is an underlying assumption in everything that the Bible says about Jesus. To throw out the virgin birth is to reject Christ’s deity, the accuracy and authority of Script, and a host of other related doctrines that are at the heart of the Christian faith. No issue is more important than the virgin birth to our understanding of the actual nature of Jesus Christ. If we deny that Jesus is God, we have denied the very essence of Christianity.
Everything else the Bible teaches about Christ hinges on the truth we celebrate at Christmas – that Jesus is God in human flesh. If the story of His birth is merely a fabricated or trumped-up legend, then so is the rest of what Scripture tells us about Him. The virgin birth is as crucial as the resurrection in establishing Christ’s deity. It is not an optional truth.
In Jesus’ own day there were those who challenged the fact that God was His Father. They denied that He had been conceived in any special way. Specifically, they denied that the Holy Spirit was directly involved in His conception. The Pharisees did this repeatedly (Matthew 22:41-46; John 8:41-48). In the latter passage, Bishop Spong suggests that the Pharisees implied that Jesus was born as a result of fornication. In calling Him a Samaritan, a half-breed, whose father was the devil, they were insinuating that He had been born as a result of adultery. Indeed, later Jewish tradition suggested that a Roman soldier was the responsible man. This reminds us that from the outset the supernatural circumstances of His birth have been fiercely contested. The fact is that there is a parallel between those Pharisees and others today who hint that the virgin birth is unimportant or a fable. Their challenges grow out of unbelief. Cardinal Pell is right when he says: “The virgin birth is essential. Those who doubt or deny this are departing from essential Christian teaching.”