Modernism Versus the Virgin Birth

Jim Wilburn
Appleton, Wis.

Most Modernists are less modest in baring their unbelief in private than they are in parading that same doubt before the public gaze. The virgin birth of Jesus however, has been a battlefield from which few Modernists have retreated, even in words uttered for public consumption.

Three Out Of Four

In 1929, George Herbert Betts conducted a survey among preachers and preacher students representing twenty denominations. In answer to the question, "Do you believe that Jesus was born of a virgin without a human father?" 71% of the preachers replied, "Yes," 19% answered definitely, "No," and 10% were not sure! Significantly. the student preachers of 1929 (today's leaders in these churches) replied to the same question: 25% -- "Yes," 51% -- "No," and 24% were not sure. Many would be amazed -- indeed shocked, to discover that unless these students have drastically changed', according to this survey, about 3 out of 4 preachers today either deny, or will not affirm, that the Bible is reliable in teaching Christ's supernatural birth! The following sentiment falls unashamedly from the lips of hundreds: "So far as we are concerned, it makes no difference whether Christ was born of a virgin or not. We don't even bother to formulate an opinion on the subject."

To what in the virgin birth does the Modernist object?

Objections Met

1) First, we are told. the virgin birth is a biological impossibility. This rests upon nothing more than the presupposition (certainly an unscientific approach) that there is not today, nor has past history witnessed an event unexplained by natural law. To this assumption, for the Modernist, everything else must be made to conform, or be thrown aside as myth, legend, or allegory.

2) A second objection is that the story was invented in an effort to show the fulfillment of a prophecy (Isaiah 7:14). The casual student of history is aware of the high pitch which Jewish messianic expectations had attained when Christ came. But even the most thorough student of that same historical period has failed to produce evidence that they believed Isaiah 7:14 referred to their Messiah. The gospel writers had nothing to gain in inventing such a remarkable story, unless it filled a need created by Jewish expectations, which it evidently did not.

3) The silence of Mark, John, and the epistles is offered as a third objection. The obvious impotency of this objection is, that simply because a writer did not mention the virgin birth in a particular book does not prove, nor even imply, that he did not accept it as fact. The writer of Acts fails to mention the virgin birth (in Acts), yet its author was none other than Luke. (See Luke 1, 2). The book of Esther does not even mention God!

The real issue is, of course, the supernaturalness of Christ. This is firmly and fully stated by Mark, John and the epistles. Both John (chapter one) and Paul (Phil 2:5-8; II Cor 8:9, etc) deal at length with the pre-existence of Christ as a co-creator of the worlds. The virgin birth is certainly not unbecoming to such a one. And consider Galatians 4:4.

Again, the Modernist betrays his prejudice in his appeal to Paul's silence. According to the Modernist's approach, Paul, writing later than most of the writers, was the recipient and dispenser of a more highly fabricated story. Paul would thus be the logical writer to introduce the virgin birth (if their hypothesis be true) and Matthew and Luke the least likely to do so.

Explanations Examined

Some skeptics have maintained that the story of the virgin birth of Christ has its roots in pagan mythology. But search as we may, we can discover no basis for such claims, f or there is no record of a virgin birth among the pagan Gods -- neither Roman, Greek, nor Babylonian. While it is true that mythology often records supernatural births, they are often decorated laboriously with lustful, sensual elements in minute and repugnant detail. Such detail is significant by its absence from Matthew 1 and Luke 1, and 2.

Possibly the most popular explanation among Modernists for the accounts of Jesus' virgin birth is the idea that the disciples (as men are prone to magnify the virtues of the dead) gradually built up the attributes of a mere human Jesus, until, in their minds and in their preaching, he became divine. This explanation, held by so many who walk in "enlightened" circles, makes liars of the leaders of Christianity! Further, examples of such legend-building outside the pages of inspiration, show that such a phenomenon would have required generations, if not centuries, to complete its evolution to the maturity it wears in Matthew and Luke. (Compare how long it has taken for the Romanists to build their traditions surrounding this same birth).

Luke states that he had "traced the course of all things accurately from the first . . . that thou mightest know the certainty concerning the things wherein thou wast instructed." (Luke 1: 3,4). If the authors of the virgin birth narratives lied about this, how can we be sure of anything they said of His teaching, His power, indeed, of His being itself ?

Actually the virgin birth is significant in that Matthew and Luke are almost passive in their mention of it. Their brief interest is completely free from the labored ornamentation so characteristic of the story which has been invented to impress.


If we deny the virgin birth of Christ, we deny the credibility of the New Testament, en toto. We cannot then be sure that Jesus lived at all, for the birth accounts are in the earliest manuscripts and have not the slightest sign of interpolation. A denial would imprison the infinite God within the walls of our own finite knowledge and discovery.

While nothing is wrong inherently with formal learning, the preceding observations demonstrate that a doctorate from a leading school does not automatically negate prejudice from its owner, nor imply the imprimatur of unbiased truth upon his statements and beliefs. With G. Campbell Morgan, we conclude that Christ's virgin birth "is the only accounting for Him, that satisfies our reason."

Truth Magazine I:5, pp. 1, 18
February 1957