Those of us who read our New Testaments beginning with the four Gospels need to remember that current scholarship finds in the Epistles the earliest writings preserved in the New Testament. Accordingly its consideration of the birth of Jesus starts with Paul’s references thereto: Galatians 4:4; Romans 1:3, 4 and 8:3, and Philippians 2:5–11.

In Galatians four, Paul is talking about our redemption from the bondage of the law and its curse into the freedom of the sons of God. Here he says that God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law that he might redeem those under the law. Thus he teaches the Divine Fatherhood and the human motherhood. He mentions neither a divine mother nor a human father.

Sonship By The Spirit

He declares, moreover, that our sonship is wrought by “the Spirit of His Son” and uses as an allegory the two sons of Abraham, one born according to the flesh, the other born under the promise “after the Spirit” (vss. 6, 22–31). In this context, the phrase the Spirit of His Son reaches its full implication only on the assumption that the Spirit acted in his most eminent way in God’s sending forth his Son born of a woman, of which action even his mighty works in making us sons of the Father and in Isaac’s being born according to God’s promise are but partial analogies.Likewise John 1:13 (cf. 3:3–8) seems to be built upon the same analogy of the Virgin Birth of Jesus. Furthermore, several of the fathers, including Irenaeus and Tertullian, whose writings were earlier than any extant manuscript of this part of John, used texts which carry this verse in the singular, thus: “in the Name of Him who was born not of bloods, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man but of God.” This reading is accepted by such scholars as C. C. Torrey and O. Cullman.

Again in the context, in Galatians 4:6 (cf. Rom. 8:15), Paul states that God’s sending the Spirit of his Son into our hearts enables us to cry “Abba, Father.” Now the fact that this word also occurs in Mark 14:36, which in its definitive written form is dated later than Galatians, does not prove that Mark fabricated this as part of a Gethsemane legend to justify Paul’s theology. So able a scholar as J. Jeremias accepts this as Jesus’ own word which Paul quotes. But if the Apostle cites a word from Jesus, may he not in the same context have in mind that event by which he who already had a divine Father received also a human mother, which same event was later recorded in detail by Matthew and by Luke?

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In Romans 8:3 Paul stresses the wonder of the fact that God sent his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to deal adequately with the awful reality of sin. In Romans 1:3, 4 the Gospel concerns God’s Son, who is of the seed of David according to the flesh, but the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of Holiness. Ignatius (Smyr. 1:1, Eph. 18), understands Paul’s contrast here between the seed of David according to the flesh and the Son of God according to the Spirit as carrying with it as its necessary presupposition “born of a virgin,” even as Matthew, Luke, and the Creed unite conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the virgin Mary. It should also be kept in mind that in Romans 1:4 the divine side of Christ is designated in a mighty manner by the Resurrection from the dead, even as on the same miraculous note of the Resurrection Paul begins the Epistle to the Galatians. Both when he is quoting the primitive kerygma (as in Rom. 1:3, 4 and 1 Cor. 15:4, 5) and when he is writing without reference to that tradition (Gal. 1:1), he glories in the supernatural resurrection of Christ.

In Philippians 2:5–11 Paul cites a hymn or a creed from the primitive kerygma. According to this summary, a preexisting Divine Person was born in the likeness of men. He who was fundamentally in the form of God took the form of a servant. He did not like Adam grasp after equality with God but emptied or poured out himself unto death (cf. Isa. 53:12) for others. This presentation of him as an Eternal Person ought to alert us to the realization that Paul and the primitive disciples he is quoting did not think of our Lord’s birth in the same way as they did of the births of temporal persons. The stupendous miracle of the Incarnation here proclaimed implies a presupposition on the part of Paul and his precursors which is only adequately accounted for in that physical miracle of His birth found in Matthew and in Luke. Three years after his conversion, Paul conferred with “James, the brother of the Lord” (Gal. 1:19). Certainly Luke shared with Paul the fruits of his research into the beginnings of Christianity. And his account of the Virgin Birth makes intelligible how the Jesus whom Paul preached had only a Divine Father and only a human mother.

Sinless Life And Sinless Birth

Likewise the permanent dwelling in Christ of all the fullness of the Godhead in a bodily way (Col. 2:9) is highly congruent with his being conceived of the Holy Spirit (cf. Athanasius, contr. Arian, III.26.29–31). The plan of God provided that as Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners by his sinless life of obedience even unto death (1 Tim. 1:15; Rom. 5:19; Phil. 2:8), so the Holy Spirit averted from the virgin’s conceiving of Him the sin which marks sexual conception (Ps. 51:5). Thus being raised for our justification (Rom. 4:25), when he is made unto us righteousness (1 Cor. 1:30), God imputes unto us or clothes us with the wholly spotless garment of his righteousness.

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Of course, if one approaches the subject on a purely naturalistic premise, then the Virgin Birth could not have occurred and the hypothesis of a legend to fit Paul’s Gospel may be the most reasonable assumption. But Paul is not anti-supernaturalistic when it comes to the things of Jesus Christ. He entered the Christian life by a supernatural encounter with the risen Lord Jesus, he glorified in the power of His resurrection, he lived in the blessed hope of His parousia. Accordingly, there is nothing in Paul’s Epistles, Gospel, or life which warrants the assumption that a legend must be constructed by Matthew and Luke to account for his teachings. Rather it is more in accord with Paul’s affirmations, his citations of the primitive kerygma, and his presuppositions to assume that he, like Luke, received from the first disciples and held as a fact the Virgin Birth of Jesus.

Probable Cause For Silence

If one wishes to go into the question as to why Paul and Mark do not explicitly mention the Virgin Birth, we are left to our surmises. And yet believing extrapolation is more likely to be in accord with the primitive community of faith than is naturalistic conjecture. It is probable that the primitive narrative and the passages speaking of the birth of Jesus which Paul cites from the primitive kerygma make no explicit mention of the Virgin Birth in order to protect Mary during her lifetime. The first and third Gospels were presumably written after her death. The inept way in which the opening of Mark refers to Isaiah, according to the critical text ascribing to Isaiah passages which are cited from Malachi and from Isaiah, could mean that he also had other passages from Isaiah in mind, such as 7:14, which is used in Matthew 1:23. When the Resurrection was proclaimed the unbelieving council of priests and elders paid the soldiers to say that the disciples stole the body of Jesus (Matt. 28:11–15). An imperial rescript from the middle of the first century has been discovered at Nazareth decreeing death for anyone who steals a corpse. This could well have been used by Herod in his execution of James and his plan to execute Peter (Acts 12:1–3). The third member of the inner circle was John. As a result of these acts inspired by the animosity of unbelieving Jews, the disciples may well have asked John to leave Jerusalem with Mary, whom Jesus had committed to his care. And in the same connection they could well have determined to keep even more complete silence on the Virgin Birth lest that lead to Mary’s death, as the proclamation of the Resurrection had led to the death of James.


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