Awhile ago a lot of chatter occurred on the blogosphere due to a sermon that Rob Bell preached and something he wrote in Velvet Elvis. Bell basically suggested that the truthfulness of the Virgin Birth didn’t really affect his faith. In other words, if he found out that the story of the Virgin Birth was simply “just a bit of mythologizing the Gospel writers threw in to appeal to the followers of the Mithra and Dionysian religious cults that were hugely popular at the time of Jesus” it wouldn’t change his understanding of the Christian faith because if Christianity is based on the Virgin Birth then “[the Christian faith] wasn’t that strong in the first place, was it?”
Now, Bell’s point was simply to remind people about the importance of distinguishing between primary issues and secondary issues and he was not denying the truthfulness of the Virgin Birth. In fact, he affirmed it many times. However, I think he fundamentally misunderstands the importance of the Virgin Birth and equally overlooks the way that Matthew sees this historical fact. In Michael Horton’s new systematic theology, The Christian Faith, he helpfully quotes Brevard Childs as writing that “the virgin birth is the sign which identifies [Jesus] as the Messiah” (p. 466). Horton goes on to state that “the virginal conception of Christ itself presupposes the existence of the Son prior to his incarnation.”
So not only is the Virgin Birth important to believe because it ties to the truthfulness of Scripture, but it equally ties to Incarnation and the Preexistence of Jesus Christ, the Son of God! To overlook this crucial aspect of the Virgin Birth is to overlook how Matthew features it in his gospel. There is a specific reason why Matthew wrote, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us)” (1:22-23, emphasis mine). Matthew connects the dots for his readers; the historical and factual event known as the Virgin Birth was a fulfillment of Messianic prophecy, which in turn, “proved” that Jesus was the Messiah.
We need to be careful when distinguishing the primary issues from the secondary issues, as I previously wrote. We can disagree on whether man’s nature is made up of three parts (Trichotomy) versus two parts (Dichotomy) or whether churches should use only contemporary music or follow ancient liturgy… but we must agree on the explicit statements regarding Jesus Christ, the Son of God and fulfillment of the Law and Prophets! Again, I realize Bell was using an <em>ad absurdum</em> to make a larger point. Unfortunately, in seeking to make a larger point, he minimized a central truth that relates explicitly to historic and orthodox Christianity, and we’d be wise to learn form that mistake. The Virgin Birth is a central truth (cf. the Apostle’s Creed & the Nicene Creed):
I believe in God the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth:
And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
Born of the Virgin Mary…
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.
Who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary,