The virgin birth is necessary for Jesus to be God and man, a sufficient Savior for our sins

Virgin birth not necessarily literal, only a symbol against patriarchy, says Brian McLaren

on December 11, 2018

As Christmas approaches, it’s appropriate to contemplate the unique nature of Christ’s virgin birth. Christians historically confess that Christ

“was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary.”

Pastor Brian McLaren meditates on the virgin birth in the “Be Still and Go” podcast of The Riverside Church in New York City, which affirms all persons to full participation in the life of the church, regardless of religion, etc.

In a segment titled “A Post-Patriarchal Christmas,” McLaren took issue with the virgin birth as a “science-defying miracle that proved something about Jesus.” He protested, “This approach never really worked for me. How can you use something you can’t prove—a virgin birth long ago—to prove something else—the unique identity of Jesus?”

There are, of course, different types of proofs: scientific proofs, historical proofs, logical proofs, legal proofs, geometric proofs, etc. McLaren meant that we cannot scientifically prove (reproduce in a lab) the virgin birth because it was a one-time occurrence in the past. Using McLaren’s standard, I could say “people have claimed that George Washington was the first president of the United States, but this approach never really worked for me because you can’t reproduce/prove it.”

To evaluate claims of historical fact, we examine the historical proof. We establish the historicity of Washington’s presidency by pointing to documents and written testimony of eyewitnesses—and we accept that this evidence at least approximates the truth. The documentary evidence for the virgin birth includes the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, which provide the separate perspectives of Mary and Joseph—the two people most likely to know the state of Mary’s virginity. These accounts are superior to other historical documentation because they are the inspired word of God, which is truth (John 17:17).

McLaren alluded to a subsequent proof, a logical one, about the unique identity of Jesus. If Jesus was born of a virgin, then he is the seed of the woman (every other time, the Bible says the seed comes from the man). Thus, Jesus is the one God promised all the way back at The Fall, who would obtain victory over sin and the devil (Genesis 3:15).

Additionally, if Jesus was born of a virgin and conceived by the Holy Spirit, then he is the Incarnate Son of God—both God and man. Because he was God, he was sinless (Habakkuk 1:13). Because he was man, he was a substitute sacrifice for us (Hebrews 2:17). Because he was God, he conquered death and rose again (Romans 1:4). Because he was man, he can “sympathize with our weaknesses” (Hebrews 4:15). Because he was both God and man, he now stands before God the Father as an advocate on our behalf (1 John 2:1).

If that boggles your mind a bit, then join the club. I’m so glad that God’s ways and thoughts are higher than mine (Isaiah 55:9). Praise God for creating such a perfect way of salvation!

McLaren draws a different conclusion. He says the virgin birth’s “greatest value isn’t in proving something, but in meaning something.” Instead of making it possible for man to find peace with God, he interprets the virgin birth to mean that God sides with women against the patriarchy.

McLaren said God got so tired of men “messing things up” that he said, “I’m going to work directly with women for a change. I’m taking a step to overthrow the patriarchy.” To McLaren, God’s plan of salvation was not established “before the ages began,” promised at The Fall, and “manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:9-10).

Whether you believe the “virgin birth story” or not, McLaren said, its “literal factuality” is “not the point.” His notion nicely mimics tolerance, but it is only true if you already assume the virgin birth is a myth. If the virgin birth did actually happen, then its historical truth is majorly important, for the reasons shared earlier, as Christians have recognized for centuries.

McLaren concluded the virgin birth is “about a profound rejection of violence,” the notion that peace can never come through the old, blood-stained path of patriarchy. If he is right, there is no hope of salvation for anyone, for “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22). The virgin birth enables the Incarnation, and the whole point is that God himself came down in human form and suffered the violence we deserve (Isaiah 53). If that is uncomfortable and jarring, it should be. Sin is ugly, and nothing tidy and inconsequential can remove its stain. In the words of Irish evangelist Thomas Kelly,

Ye who think of sin but lightly
nor suppose the evil great
here may view its nature rightly,
here its guilt may estimate.”

People don’t disbelieve the Bible because of a lack of evidence; people choose not to believe the plain evidence because they love their sin more than God (Romans 1:18-20). They deny the historicity of the virgin birth because they want to deny its significance. They want to deny its significance (the possibility of salvation), because they want an excuse to remain in their sin. Perhaps McLaren had a different motive that is less obvious, but at the very least his argument helps enable sinners to rationalize their disobedience and shun the repentance that could give them life.

  1. Comment by Loren Golden on December 11, 2018 at 1:43 pm

    “People don’t believe the Bible because of a lack of evidence.”
    From your context, I believe you meant to say, “People don’t disbelieve the Bible because of a lack of evidence.”

  2. Comment by Jean-Louis Mondon on December 12, 2018 at 8:40 pm

    Loren Golden, “People don’t disbelieve the Bible because of a lack of evidence” are the words the author used, just as you said it should be.

  3. Comment by Loren Golden on December 20, 2018 at 12:44 am

    Have you considered the possibility that he might have edited his text after I made the comment?

  4. Comment by Palamas on December 11, 2018 at 4:24 pm

    Brian McLaren is still around? I’d long since assumed he’d gone off to live in some kind of Gaia-worshipping commune, or perhaps joined a Wiccan coven. He certainly isn’t relevant to anything remotely Christian.

  5. Comment by Roger on December 11, 2018 at 5:09 pm

    Brian McLaren left out One of the other absolutes of our Bibles. It comes from Hebrews also: It is impossible to please God without Faith. He forgets nothing is impossible for God. Mankind cannot create life from nothing, but God can. The evidence is all the natural world that you can see. Prayer is the key to heaven but faith unlocks the door.

  6. Comment by Michael Moore on December 11, 2018 at 9:48 pm

    Brian Maclaren is simply a liberal. He does not believe that all Scripture is inherently inerrant. To quote the late W. A. Criswell, “Liberals believe that Scripture is only partly inspired, and that they are inspired to pick out the parts that are inspired.”

  7. Comment by Paul Shafer on December 12, 2018 at 1:24 pm

    George Washington was not the first president. Look it up… it was John Hanson

  8. Comment by Earl H Foote on December 12, 2018 at 10:32 pm

    This is a very good analysis, Josh. It was good to meet you at the Christmas party. In any case, Brian MacLaren has long abandoned traditional Christianity. I am not surprised that he rejects the Virgin Birth. Up next: the Resurrection?

  9. Comment by Dan on December 13, 2018 at 9:42 am

    Why are we not surprised! I’m thinking we need a new carol along the lines of Here We Come a Caroling and call it Here We Come a Whoring(after other gods) for all the sojourning christians like McClaren. Not much has changed since the nation of Israel was chosen and established. I can only say, per Charlie Brown, “Good Grief!”

  10. Comment by Gordon Jewett on December 14, 2018 at 11:46 pm

    I agree with all your conclusions but not your premise. the account of the virgin birth doesn’t PROVE anything. It’s part of the gospel and helps complete the rational body of thought that Christian faith and the teaching of the church have maintained for two thousand years. Nor does the Bible “prove” anything to the unspiritual mind. No one believes the Bible unless the Holy Spirit has opened his or her mind to its truth.

  11. Comment by Eriberto Soto on December 15, 2018 at 6:23 am

    Excellent point!! I agree!!

  12. Comment by Bill Feus on December 15, 2018 at 5:19 pm

    Brian Maclaren and his desperate attempt to be culturally relevant. Sadly he’s so 1996. Yawn.

  13. Comment by Penny on January 12, 2019 at 11:49 am

    I enjoyed reading your response to his confusion. It is sad that those who read or heard his unbelieving mouth are unlikely to read your words.

  14. Comment by Richard Bradshaw on December 13, 2021 at 12:40 pm

    This is really quite a disgraceful piece, which totally ignores the many other reasons why the Virgin birth has to be rejected as a fact of history. Critical scholars have been doing this for a century at least. Once we have acknowledged it, then we can begin to consider its symbolic and theological value.

    You say “They (non-fundamentalist Christians) deny the historicity of the virgin birth because they want to deny its significance. ” The opposite is true and, as so often, from within your cultural bubble there is no distinction between out and out sceptics and Christians who have had a broader theological education than yours.

    What precedes this sentence is far worse. “People don’t disbelieve the Bible because of a lack of evidence; people choose not to believe the plain evidence because they love their sin more than God (Romans 1:18-20). ” Have you any idea how arrogant that is? I disbelieve certain things in the Bible when the Bible gets them wrong; the sin lies in pretending that errors are not errors, that contradictions are not contradictions, that black is white. Truth should matter to Christians. What matters to fundamentalists is their idolatrous view of Scripture. I love the Bible all the more because I have been taught, by wise Christian scholars, to recognise what a glorious mixture it is, of the sublime and the tedious, the piercingly, life-changingly true and the mean-spiritedly xenophobic. Do you not realise that your narrowness is driving the present generation straight into the arms of militant atheism? I fear you do not.

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