The question of today’s post intrigues me quite a bit. For many this would seem to be a no-brainer. But I’ve just started reading Andrew Lincoln’s new book Born of a Virgin?: Reconceiving Jesus in the Bible, Tradition, and Theology. Lincoln suggests there is not just one tradition regarding Jesus’ birth in the New Testament. In fact he notes that the virgin birth of Jesus is the minority tradition while an alternate tradition is more prevalent: “namely that he was of the seed of David through Joseph as his biological father.” (33) Early on in the book he makes it quite clear that the incarnation is a “non-negotiable element.” He writes,
“We shall return to the relation between the virgin birth and the beginning of incarnation later, where we shall see that it may well be not so much that doubts about the virgin birth lead to doubts about the incarnation but rather that a robust doctrine of incarnation leads to difficulties with the virgin birth.” (19)
As if this did not surprise me enough he appeals to none other than Pope Benedict XVI to help his case. He notes that Benedict “obviously” holds to the belief in the virginal conception but could still write the following:
“According to the faith of the Church the Sonship of Jesus does not rest on the fact that Jesus had no human father: The doctrine of Jesus’ divinity would not be affected if Jesus had been the product of a normal marriage. For the Sonship of which faith speaks is not a biological but an ontological fact, an event not in time but in God’s eternity.” (18. Quoted from Introduction to Christianity p. 208)
Lincoln’s book should not just be dismissed out of hand. For many conservatives the virgin birth is as non-negotiable as the incarnation. Consider Lincoln the opportunity to sharpen your thinking and help you better understand both the virgin birth and the incarnation.
Andrew T. Lincoln is Portland Professor of New Testament Studies at the University of Gloucestershire, England.