and becomes positively damaging to the doctrine of incarnation. Without complete human DNA Jesus would be a semi-divine or wholly divine special creation that appeared to be human (261– 62).
However, the price of doctrinal fidelity may be eternal vigilance, and a few unexploded rounds from the old fight are still lying around.
Lincoln argues that if we want to maintain the doctrine of the full humanity and full divinity of Christ (and I think we do), we have to rethink the doctrine of the virgin birth. And I think we don’t. If a careful student of the Bible finds that our doctrines don’t fit Scripture, then by all means, correct us. But we don’t pay our theologians to find errors in Scripture in order to firm up our doctrines. Yet that’s just what Lincoln attempts. To accomplish this reconceiving, he has to suggest that separate “virgin birth” and “human father” traditions both wound up in the New Testament. Lincoln’s errors are easily spotted, but let’s spot the two major ones anyway. First, there can be no dueling, incompatible traditions inside a God-inspired Bible. If there are, then we necessarily become Scripture’s judges rather than vice versa. The early church father Augustine, the greatest intellectual and theological force in the first few centuries of the church (for good and ill), saw this just as clearly 1700 years ago as we conservative Christians do today: It seems to me that most disastrous consequences must follow upon our believing that anything false is found in the sacred books. . . . For if you once admit into such a high sanctuary of authority one false statement as made . . ., there will not be left a single sentence of those books which, if appearing to anyone difficult in practice or hard to believe, may not by the same fatal rule be explained away.* Lincoln has given in to a “fatal rule” and has given up the authority of the Bible, replacing it with something else. Second, it does seem as if that something else is “present biological knowledge,” and it’s always a terrible shame to give up Scriptural truths for that. This is the unexploded ordinance I referred to earlier. Every time Western Christians have turned around for three hundred years, we have been informed that “the science is settled.” The idea that the progress of human knowledge makes all unchangeable doctrines (like those of Christianity) simply incredible has great power in our culture. But it’s wrong, and Lincoln has bowed to it. Luke’s Account of the Virgin Birth When present biological knowledge tells me I’m misunderstanding the Bible, I often find it helpful to pick up the Bible and read it. Let’s just remind ourselves what Luke
FrontLine • November/December 2014
in fact says about the virgin birth. In several very direct ways, Luke claims that Mary was a virgin: 1. Luke calls her a “virgin” twice (1:27). 2. Mary calls herself a virgin once. “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” (1:34). If Mary had understood the angel to be saying, “The first child of your upcoming marriage will be the Messiah,” she wouldn’t have asked “How shall this be?” Despite the woeful state of present biological knowledge at the time, this first-century peasant girl somehow knew that virgins don’t bear sons.
3. In Luke 3:23 Luke inserts a curious phrase in the genealogy of Jesus: “being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph.” There’s no reason for this parenthetical phrase if Joseph is Jesus’ biological father.
And let me suggest three other less conclusive pieces of evidence for the virgin birth from the Luke passage: 1. The Lord is the one who opens every open womb, but the angel clearly promises something special, something different from all other births in history: “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee” (Luke 1:35). Even John the Baptist didn’t get a birth announcement like this. 2. It makes little sense for the angel to remind Mary that “with God nothing shall be impossible” (1:37) if what the angel is promising isn’t miraculous. 3. A Jewish girl who slept with her fiancé (or a Roman soldier named Panthera, as some anti-Christian traditions later claimed) couldn’t sing the beautifully holy Magnificat in Luke 1: “He that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name” (1:49). The virgin birth is worth defending because it’s true. And I close with this: go to a legal, free music service and search for “which was the son of,” a setting of the genealogy of Jesus in Luke 3 by one of my favorite composers, Arvo Pärt. Read along in Scripture as you listen. God’s plan for the world culminated in a miraculous conception, but every birth in Jesus’ line was wrought by God. Dr. Mark Lee Ward Jr. authors Bible textbooks at BJU Press and (in his spare time) designs church websites at Forward Design. He blogs at By Faith We Understand.
*Augustine of Hippo, “Letters of St. Augustin,” in The Confessions and Letters of St. Augustin with a Sketch of His Life and Work, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. J. G. Cunningham, Vol. 1, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1886), 251–52.