What is the Origin of the Virgin Birth Story?




Paintings of the Birth of Christ, Madonna of the Veil, Borgognone
The Virgin of the Veil
Ambrogio Borgognone
1500

Why isn’t the virgin birth mentioned in the first gospel written, the Gospel of Mark?  Why doesn’t Paul mention a virgin birth?  Is the story of the Virgin Birth a late first century embellishment??

Bart Ehrman:

I think it is really interesting that in our earliest Gospel, Mark – a Gospel that lacks the virgin birth story or any other account of his birth and infancy — when Jesus’ lineage is mentioned, he is said to have been “the son of Mary” (Mark 6:3)  What??  In the ancient Jewish world, a person would be identified according to their father, not their mother.  So why is Jesus identified by his mother?  It has seemed to some interpreters that the reason is that his father was unknown.

Was his father unknown just to Mark, or to everyone?  We can’t really tell.   But suppose the early Christians had no idea who Jesus’ father was.  It is interesting that there are suggestions elsewhere that Jesus was born out of wedlock.  That is certainly the charge that later pagan critics of the Christians raised against him (for example the second-century Celsus).  And it may well be hinted at in the Gospel of John (another Gospel lacking a birth narrative), where Jesus’ Jewish opponents stress “WE are not illegitimate children” (John 8:41).  Are they implying that they think he, on the other hand, was illigitimate?

If so, possibly early Christians had to defend Jesus against charges that he was born of illicit sexual activity.  Their response: Yes, Jesus’ coming into the world was highly unusual; and yes, Mary’s pregnancy was very much out of the ordinary.  But it was not because Jesus was born out of wedlock per se.  It is because God made Mary pregnant.

This development would have happened after the writings of Paul in the 50s (he doesn’t indicate any knowledge of Jesus’ unusual birth even though he knew Jesus’ own brother James and speaks about Jesus being “born” of a woman), and after Mark around 70 – so sometime before Matthew and Luke.  Possibly once Christians thought that Jesus must have had a highly unusual birth, they started thinking that he was born like other “sons of God”  in the Roman world, by the union of a moral and an immortal.  And possibly they were aided in this thought by appealing to the (mis)translation of Isaiah 7:14 in the Greek version of the OT (Hebrew: “a young woman has conceived”; Greek: “a virgin will conceive”) which they took to be a prophecy that a “virgin” would become pregnant and mother the messiah.

Source:  here

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