Albert Mohler (HT Shuck and Jive) posted the following in a recent blog entry: “Can a true Christian deny the virgin birth? The answer to that question must be a decisive No. Those who deny the virgin birth reject the authority of Scripture, deny the supernatural birth of the Savior, undermine the very foundations of the Gospel, and have no way of explaining the deity of Christ.”
This is wrong on so many levels.
First, it assumes that Scripture speaks with a united voice on subjects such as these, so that, as long as one finds a passage or two that teach something, one can safely ignore other voices. When Paul states that Jesus is “descended from David according to the flesh”, he is denying that Jesus was born of a virgin. Being of the royal line “according to the flesh” meant descent on his father’s side in that time. Coupled with his complete silence about a miraculous conception, there is no historically informed conclusion to be drawn other than that Paul either did not know about a doctrine about Jesus’ “virgin birth”, or if he had heard about it, he rejected it (as did many later Jewish Christians, who saw that it created problems for Jesus’ descent from David).
The virgin birth is not connected in the Bible with the deity of Christ. In fact, the only Gospel to offer something that could be accurately called a depiction of Christ as divine offers no birth story and no miraculous conception. It seems that here too we find that a historically sensitive reading of the New Testament leaves us forced to conclude that most of its authors denied (in the sense of failed to affirm) this other tenet of Christianity that Mohler considers central.
The irony is that, historically speaking, the only Christians who live up to Mohler’s standard for what a Christian is are post-Biblical. Which means that Scripture is claimed by him as the ultimate authority, and yet none of its authors were true Christians by his standard.
In the end, the key question “conservative Christians” like Mohler leave unanswered is this: in what sense is the Bible authoritative for them, when so many of its plurality of voices are silenced by them in the process of seeking “what the Bible says” on this or that topic?