Matthew 1:21-23 She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” 22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.”
In our last post we began considering how one may argue for the validity of the virgin birth from the standpoints of Biblical theology and the Biblical languages. Here is the link to the last post for those wanting to review: https://biblicalexegete.wordpress.com/2016/12/09/p1-a-suggested-method-for-demonstrating-the-validity-of-the-virgin-birth/. We concluded that within the Hebrew Old Testament there is a Biblical rationale and background for the virgin birth. Moreover, studies in the original languages confirm the appropriateness of understanding Mary as a virgin at the time of the conception of Jesus’ humanity. Today’s post is going to broaden the focus on this issue by considering standard philosophical objections to the virgin birth raised by skeptics. If miracles are even possible in our world, then miracles such as the virgin birth-conception can be included in what will be the final plank in our overall case for the virgin birth – namely its historicity. Today’s post will deal with the philosophical issues and arguments both against and for the virgin birth. The next post in this series will feature how we can know that the virgin birth is the best explanation of the events surrounding the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.
Arguing for the virgin birth from the standpoint of philosophical considerations
In this part of arguing for the virgin birth, we consider the issue of miracles and their place in the natural world. As noted already, if it can be shown that miracles are indeed possible in our world, then events like the virgin birth of Jesus of Nazareth are indeed possible and thus must be considered as real features of our world. Philosophers such as 17th century philosopher Baruch Spinoza and 18th century skeptic David Hume are responsible for a majority of the arguments leveled against miracles in general. Both men asserted in their own way that a miracle is a violation of nature. Moreover, even if miracles did occur, normal human experience would never be able to identify the occurrence of a miracle. These two contentions, though having been addressed time and time again over the past two centuries, remain on the lips of those who doubt the validity of Christianity and the Biblical text.
When one realizes that the definition of a miracle offered by Hume and Spinoza is rooted in a view of the universe as composed of only physical matter (i.e naturalism), with no possibility of Divine intervention, the debate over miracles is immediately seen as a worldview issue. Dr. William Lane Craig has offered what is perhaps the simplest definition of a miracle that can anywhere be found: “a miracle is a naturally impossible event”. In other words, an event claimed to be a miracle is incapable of being brought about only by natural laws or processes. Other conditions can be added to this basic definition to address the skeptics’ attempts to show the inability to identify a miracle or validate a miracle claim:
a). significant religious, spiritual or historical contexts
b). infrequency of the event
c). the reactions or statements by eyewitnesses of the alleged miracle.
Whenever we consider the virgin birth in light of the above definition, we find the following:
a). the virgin birth occurred in an era of Israel’s history where the people were spiritually, politically and religiously looking for Messiah
b). this is the only virgin birth recorded in the Biblical record and, despite claims to the contrary, no other pagan or Jewish source in antiquity has its founder experiencing a virgin birth
c). the quotation of Old Testament texts like Isaiah 7:14, the words of Mary and the Gospel records themselves fit the criteria of eyewitness material. Matthew was a direct disciple of Jesus and Luke would had consulted eyewitnesses of Jesus’ nativity.
By taking the simplified definition of a miracle as being “a naturally impossible event”, by definition, would be a miracle! How? No known physical laws (whether Einstein’s general relativity or quantum field theories, the current reigning scientific models for describing our universe) can explain the origin of the universe. The four fundamental forces identified by the physical sciences (strong nuclear force, weak nuclear force, electromagnetic force and gravity) break down and are non-existent within the first few split seconds of the beginning of the universe. Various arguments for God’s existence (i.e theistic arguments), such as the argument from considerations of the cause of the universe, the fine-tuning argument and the best explanation for the universe’s beginning all show that there is a greater probability for there being a supernatural cause to the universe (i.e God) than a natural one. In short, we could offer the following argument for the miraculous in general, and the virgin birth in particular:
1. If God does not possibly exist, then the miraculous (i.e naturally impossible events) are not possible
2. By various theistic arguments, it can be shown that there is not only a possibility, but an overwhelming probability that God does exist
3. The origin of the universe is an example of a naturally impossible event
4. Therefore, miracles are possible in our world
5. Therefore, the virgin birth can be deemed an event that is possible in our world
Closing thoughts for today
Thus far we have shown how one could argue for the virgin birth from considerations in Biblical theology, Biblical languages and philosophical considerations. In the next post we will conclude our series by developing how one can know that the virgin birth occurred as a historical event, as well as final applications.