Saturday, November 25, 2006

J.G. Machen and the Virgin Birth

One of the most brilliant conservative scholars of the early 20th century had to be J.G. Machen. This was a guy who knew his primary sources and was thoroughly conversant with the leading scholarship of his day, and yet, remained steadfast in his Christian conviction. Baird is less than generous when he says that with the death of Warfield [I think] that "a double portion of the polemical spirit fell upon Machen" [or words to that effect]. Read the wikipedia article about Machen. See/Listen to John Piper's account of Machen and Modernity at Desiring God Ministries

I'm currently writing an article about the "Birth of Christ" for the Encyclopedia of the Historical Jesus and was reading over Machen's book, The Virgin Birth of Christ. A couple of quotes stand out:

"[A] Christianity dependent on the so-called 'historical Jesus' is gradually giving place to a Christianity that is dependent upon no Jesus at all - a Christianity that is content to use the ethical and religious ideas contained in the Gospels without settling the question whether the person who is said to have enunciated these ideas ever really walked upon the earth." (p. 384).

"One thing at least is clear: even if the belief in the virgin birth is not necessary to every Christian, it is certainly necessary to Christianity. And it is necessary to the corporate witness of the Church." (p. 396).


Michael Westmoreland-White, Ph.D. said...

I was never impressed with Machen as a scholar and very unimpressed with his arguments in defense of the Virgin Birth. I write that sentence as a person who believes that Jesus was, as a matter of fact, conceived by the agency of the Holy Spirit while Mary was still a virgin. I don't believe Mary was raped by a Roman soldier called ben Pantera. I don't believe that Joseph and Mary were sexually intimate until after Jesus' birth.

But I think it was foolish for evangelicals to consider the Virgin Birth a "fundamental of the faith," (unlike the Incarnation or Resurrection). I think the emphasis of the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke are elsewhere. I do not believe that anything of major theological significance rests on the Virgin Birth (certainly not Jesus' divinity or sinlessness). I wonder if Paul even heard of the Virgin Birth. Probably most 1st C. Christians--at least until Matthew and Luke began circulating widely--never heard of the doctrine to take a stand on it.

When I read Machen's defense of the VB all those years ago in college, I had more doubts than before. I remain thoroughly unimpressed.

Michael F. Bird said...

Cliff, the problem with MTS/John Mac is that they hold to the seminal view whereby we sinners were present seminally in Adam. To be honest, I don't think the OT operates with a scientific view of DNA and genetic science and the best view, by far, is federal headship where Adam is our old representative and Christ is our new representative. But don't say that at college or you might find yourself turfed out!

Michael Westmoreland-White, Ph.D. said...

The Scriptures know nothing of DNA and I do not understand Paul's Adam/Christ typology in a biological manner requiring sinfulness to be biologically inherited.

In my view, this is an ex post facto attempt to make the same kinds of moves which led early Catholics to the doctrine of Mary's Immaculate Conception--while avoiding the Mariology.

It doesn't wash for me.

Michael F. Bird said...


Rodger that, forgive me for getting my TMS abbreivation wrong! My concern for Cliff was that a friend of mine went through TMS and tried to advocate the Federal view in a theology class and he was abruptly interupted by the lecturer who announced that there was only one "correct" view and that is the seminal view and that would be the end of the discussion.

Anonymous said...

The terminology "liberal" and "conservative" has always bothered me. Many would probably describe me as a "conservative"--but I don't know if that's fair.

The very way in which the terms "liberal" and "conservative" are applied to biblical studies bespeaks the way political agendas have shaped the discussion.

In the true sense of the word, it would seem that a "conservative" would "accept" LESS of the Gospels as "authentic"--wouldn't that be a more "conservative" estimate of historical-critical study of the Bible? Rather, a person who accepts LESS is described as a "liberal". Why? Because scholarship is not "objective"--there are major agendas at work that involve more than exegesis.

Hmm... I think I'll post on this over at my site.