Monday, December 23, 2013

Jim West, the "Virgin Birth", the Fathers, and Zwingli

My friend Jim West tweeted,
ALERT: it isn't 'the virgin birth'. It's the virginal conception. It's an important distinction.#RespectAccuracy.
I can't help but tweak him a bit for his tweet. 

Let me just say that, actually, according to the earliest Christian sources it is the Virgin Birth. And the Protestant Reformers agreed with them on that. 

From the earliest times, Christians interpreted the Gospel tradition as indicating that Mary remained a virgin in conception, in labor, and after Jesus' birth. 

For example. . . 

Protoevangelium of James (2nd cent.)

In the Protoevangelium of James (2nd cent.), we read an apocryphal account of Salome doubting that Mary's virginity remained intact after the birth of Jesus. She said, "As the Lord my God liveth, unless I thrust in my finger, and search the parts, I will not believe that a virgin has brought forth" (Prot. Jas. 19). Without getting into all the uncomfortable details, she ends up believing.

Athanasius 
"Therefore let those who deny that the Son is from the Father by nature and proper to His Essence, deny also that He took true human flesh of Mary Ever-Virgin. . ." (Contr. Ar., 2:70; NPNF2 4:386-87). 
Augustine
"For being born of a mother who, although she conceived without being touched by man and always remained thus untouched, in virginity conceiving, in virginity bringing forth, in virginity dying, had nevertheless been espoused to a handicraftsman, [Christ] extinguished all the inflated pride of carnal nobility."  (De catech. rud. 22.40; NPNF1 3:307). 
Leo the Great 
And by a new nativity He was begotten, conceived by a Virgin, born of a Virgin, without paternal desire, without injury to the mother’s chastity. . . (Sermon 22.2; NPNF2 12A: 130).
Many others could be cited, e.g., Jerome, Epiphanius of Salamis, Didymus the Blind, Ambrose of Milan, etc. I could also give multiple quotes from the fathers above but let me move on. . . 

Notably, the Reformers agreed with these fathers. 

Martin Luther 
  • "Christ, our Savior, was the real and natural fruit of Mary's virginal womb . . . This was without the cooperation of a man, and she remained a virgin after that" (Luther's Works, vol. 22 [ed. J. Pelikan; St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1955], 23).
  • "A new lie about me is being circulated. I am supposed to have preached and written that Mary, the mother of God, was not a virgin either before or after the birth of Christ. . ." (Luther's Works, 22:14-15.
John Calvin
  • "Helvidius displayed excessive ignorance in concluding that Mary must have had many sons, because Christ's 'brothers' are sometimes mentioned." (Harmony of Matthew, Mark & Luke on Matthew 13:55; Calvin's Commentaries [trans. W. Pringle; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1949], 215). 
  • "The inference [Helvidius] drew from [Matt. 1:25] was, that Mary remained a virgin no longer than till her first birth, and that afterwards she had other children by her husband . . . No just and well-grounded inference can be drawn from these words . . . as to what took place after the birth of Christ. He is called 'first-born'; but it is for the sole purpose of informing us that he was born of a virgin. . . No man will obstinately keep up the argument, except from an extreme fondness for disputation." (cf. Pringle, 1.107).
  • "Under the word 'brethren' the Hebrews include all cousins and other relations, whatever may be the degree of affinity." (cf. Pringle, 1.283).
AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST. . . 

Huldrych Zwingli 
  • "I firmly believe that Mary, according to the words of the Gospel as a pure Virgin brought forth for us the Son of God and in childbirth and after childbirth forever remained a pure, intact Virgin" (Zwingli Opera [Corpus Reformatorum; Berlin, 1905), 1:424.
Suffice it to say, for the bulk of Christian history, when Christians invoked the "virgin birth" they actually meant... um, er, "virgin birth".

I love you, Jim. I just wish you agreed with Zwingli more. 

; ) 










1 comment:

Anonymous said...


As John Henry Cardinal Newman said; To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant. - An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, Introduction Part 5.

Pax,
John