Rev Sam on the Virgin Birth

Just before Christmas I caused a bit of a storm with some of my comments on the Virgin Birth. I have now just found that my fellow Essex blogger Rev Sam (hat tip to yet another Essex blogger, Paul Trathen) has spent much of the Christmas season (that is, in our shared Anglican tradition, the twelve days from Christmas to Epiphany) writing an extended series on The Marginality of the Virgin Birth. In this series he makes a number of the same kinds of points which I made, but in greater depth, and gives sensible and clearly argued reasons why he cannot believe in the literal virgin birth of Jesus, although otherwise he holds to orthodox Christian teaching. While I don’t agree with everything that Rev Sam says here, I much appreciate his take on these issues.

0 thoughts on “Rev Sam on the Virgin Birth

  1. Hi Peter, sorry for the delay in responding but I’ve been unwell and am only now in recuperative mode (ie I’m still in bed but I’ve rigged up the laptop to work on stuff).

    I read your stuff on the VB before christmas, but it seems to me that, having similar worries about the standard account, we are headed in two opposing directions. I want to discount the prose, in order to retain some of the poetic truth; your proposal seems to undermine the poetic truth in order to retain the prose. Is that fair?

    I think that behind this – as I’ve been discussing with Tim C on some of the comments at my place – lies the different attitude to Scripture as a whole; that is, I think I’m more open to reading the birth narratives in a non-literal fashion than you and Tim. Could be wrong of course.

    By the way I’ve been reading you regularly for at least a year now. I particularly appreciated your writings about the atonement, which I found very helpful.

  2. Thank you, Sam. I hope you get well soon.

    I’m not sure we are as far apart as you suggest. I think we both want to retain the truth, the “poetic truth” if you like, that Jesus is fully human while at the same time his birth was a special sign from God. We differ in that I reject your means of doing so by “reading the birth narratives in a non-literal fashion”. I don’t reject this approach on principle, but I don’t see that it is possible to do so in this case. So on this I am with Wright, as outlined by Paul Trathen. Both Matthew and Luke make it very clear in very literal terms that Mary was a virgin when she conceived Jesus, and this surely must at least mean that she had not had normal intercourse with Joseph. The texts might not completely rule out Spong’s interesting suggestion that she had been raped. But the only way the texts can be reconciled with a biologically normal birth is if they are not “non-literal” but creative fiction. That is a path I am reluctant to take because of my general attitude to Scripture. Your attitude may differ, but I don’t think that here you can appeal to a non-literal interpretation, you have to face up to the fact that you are discounting the texts.

  3. Peter – I agree that that is the issue; that’s why it is a problem for me! (though, in the background, is a sense that Genesis 1-11 is just as ‘literal’ and (many/most?) Christians are less concerned about insisting on the literalism there. I’ll write up more about this, especially with regard to Wright, later this week.

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