Is it necessary to believe the virgin birth?
People are free to believe whatever they want, and no one needs to be coerced into believing anything. That’s not really how believing works. Being forced to believe something isn’t the same as believing something.
So in that sense it isn’t necessary to believe in the virgin birth.
But if you are committed to believing what the bible says, then it is necessary to believe in the virgin birth. Both Matthew 1 and Luke 1 speak of Mary as a virgin. The creeds of the early church, both the Nicene Creed and the Apostle’s Creed, both speak about the virgin birth. The Nicene Creed says, that Jesus “was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary” the Apostle’s Creeds says that Jesus was “born of the Virgin Mary”. And these creed are held to across the various flavours of Christianity, both Eastern and Western Christianity and both Protestant and Roman Catholic. Belief in the Virgin Birth is simply a part of orthodox Christianity.
Is the Virgin Birth theologically necessary for the incarnation?
No. The virgin birth is simply not a requirement for the incarnation. It is theologically extrinsic to the incarnation.
Without the virgin birth Jesus can still be totally and fully God. If he had two human parents there’s nothing in that that means his person couldn’t have been the divine son uniting a divine nature with a human nature.
Without the virgin birth Jesus can still be totally and fully human. Without it his humanity can be sinless because sin’s propagation from generation to generation has nothing to do with sin being transmitted via sexual activity – like Augustine famously taught – or because sin is somehow carried through the male line.
He can still be totally God with human parents. He can still be sinless with human parents. He can still be totally human, in fact the case for genuine humanity is easier to make with both parents involved. The virgin conception and birth is not theologically necessary to the incarnation.
Now again let me again clarify, it is clear that the Bible teaches that the virgin birth is true and that it happened. The creeds affirm it. It is necessary to believe it and hold to it in order to remain within orthodoxy. But theologically the necessity of the doctrine is hard to pin down.
Next post we’ll look at why the virgin birth, while not necessary, is still fitting.