Modernism and the Virgin Birth of Christ

Does the biblical evidence support John D. Crossan’s claims that Jesus was not virginally conceived?
By Wayne Jackson | Christian Courier

No narration available

John Dominic Crossan is no stranger to those who are familiar with modern attacks against the Bible.

He is an emeritus professor at DePaul University and served as co-chair of the infamous Jesus Seminar—a conglomerate of infidelic, self-styled intellectuals. The goal of the Jesus Seminar was to rewrite the Bible so that it conforms to their own faithlessness.

Crossan has been called “the greatest scholar alive on the historical Jesus.” But he doesn’t know anything about Jesus Christ except the historical information revealed in the New Testament. The inspired record represents basically the whole of the concrete information about Jesus.

And the professor has demonstrated time and again that he knows precious little of that.

These publicity-hungry sensationalists have an ingrained bias against the concept that the Bible is a supernatural production. Therefore, they seek to divest it of its miraculous elements.

In the jargon of liberal scholar Rudolph Bultmann, they want to “de-mythologize” and thus sanitize the sacred documents (1954). They propose to remove “legends” and myths from the ancient text, such as the virgin birth, Jesus’ miraculous deeds, and the Lord’s resurrection.

In 2001, Professor Crossan commented upon Jesus’ birth in the notoriously liberal journal, Bible Review. He wrote:

“I consider him the normally born child of Mary and Joseph” (2001, 45).

This statement ignorantly or deliberately ignores the evidence of history and invents a scenario that has no higher basis than skeptical fantasy.

Consider the following factors.

Reliability of the Gospel Accounts

There are two accounts of the virgin birth of Jesus in the New Testament. One of these was authored by Matthew (chapter one). The other was composed by Luke (chapter one). There is strong evidence that each of these accounts is characterized by the utmost reliability.

The fact that Matthew was a Jewish publican (a tainted occupation for a Jew) argues for the integrity of his report. No fabricator would have chosen the identity of one possessed of such a despised reputation to make a defense of Jesus as the Messiah of Old Testament prophecy.

Luke’s credibility as a historian has been defended brilliantly by such renowned scholars as Sir William Ramsay, who began his academic career as a skeptic but was turned around by the hard facts of evidence.

The ancient historian had investigated carefully the background of Jesus (Lk. 1:3) and he argued vigorously for the fact of the Lord’s virgin birth. As a doctor (Col. 4:14), he would have resisted the notion of such an event had there not been compelling evidence for it.

Matthew’s Specific Language

In tracing the legal genealogy through Joseph according to Jewish custom, Matthew employs the term “begat” thirty-nine times (Mt. 1:2-16).

However, when he arrives at the connection between Joseph and Jesus, the term is conspicuously dropped. Rather, Matthew simply says of Mary, “of whom [feminine, singular in Greek] was born Jesus” (Mt. 1:16).

Joseph is excluded from any involvement in Christ’s birth.

Cultural Evidence

The New Testament writers make it clear that Joseph and Mary were only betrothed (Mt. 1:18; Lk. 1:27). Notable Jewish scholar, Alfred Edersheim, observed that betrothal required sexual abstinence (1957, 151).

Mary was specifically said to be with child “before they came together” in sexual intimacy. The conception was attributed to a miracle effected by the power of the Holy Spirit (Mt. 1:18,20; Lk. 1:35).

Joseph’s Intention, Mary’s Claim of Innocence

The fact that Joseph was “minded to put away” Mary (Mt. 1:19) clearly shows he knew he was not the father of the child.

When the angel informed Mary of her impending conception, she expressed amazement. “How shall this be, since I have never been intimate with a man?” (Lk. 1:34). This is the force of the Greek text.

Mary, a Virgin

Mary is specifically designated as a “virgin” (Greek parthenos [Mt. 1:23; Lk. 1:27]). This term indicates a sexually pure woman.

There are many examples in classical Greek where purity is associated with parthenos. Euripides said, “My soul is virgin” (Hippolytus 1006). Aeschylus spoke of water that flows from a “pure spring” (Persae 613). When a young girl named Atalanta reached the age of puberty, she expressed the wish “to remain a virgin” (Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 2.9.2).

The Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) speaks of a “virgin sister ... who is not espoused to a man” (Lev. 21:3). Another text records the case of “young virgins, that had not known man by lying with him” (Judg. 21:12).

The virgin birth of Christ was prophesied by Isaiah seven centuries before the event came to pass (Isa. 7:14).

Joseph Refrained

After Joseph became convinced of Mary’s virginal conception, he took her as his wife. But still, he had no sexual contact with her until after Jesus’ birth. This is the force of the imperfect tense form, “knew her not” (Mt. 1:25).

A Mother’s Love

If Mary knew that Joseph was Jesus’ natural father, why did she not rescue her Son from the cross?

He had been nailed on that tree because he claimed that he was the Son of God (cf. Jn. 10:36; Mk. 14:62).

Did she allow him to suffer horribly and die for what she knew was not the truth?

Modern infidels are simply corrupt. Of their own putrescence they cast the ancient saints into a despicable mold.

Simple-minded, superficial reasoning skills may be persuaded by the likes of Crossan. But those who carefully survey the historical record and who can reason logically will not.

  • Bultmann, Rudolph. 1954. Kerygman and Myth: A Theologocial Debate. London, England: Billing & Sons.
  • Crossan, John D. 2001. Bible Review, February.
  • Edersheim, Alfred. 1957. Sketches of Jewish Social Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.