Giles Fraser, Canon Emeritus of the Guardian, writes to explain why he does not believe in the Virgin Birth.
And I guess the problem I have with this piece is that I agree with a lot of it. Too much is made of Mary's virginity. Took much post-Biblical speculation about her purity - and the rejection of sex that made it kind of weird - is a bad thing. Jesus our Saviour was born into the mess and bullets and muck of this broken world.
But none of that makes the Virgin Birth untrue. Canon Giles has argued back from his view of things to the way he wants things to be. You could say the Canon has backfired, if you wanted a cheesy pun for your blog post.
Fraser's method is interesting. He argues against the Virgin birth, using those parts of the Bible that liberals would often not believe in. Like John 8. First up, is this the earliest example of a polemic against Christianity? John's Gospel is the last written. Its historical accuracy is doubted by liberals. There are earlier polemics against Christianity, if this is what this is, in the Synoptic Gospels and Acts. And it is only by applying the hermeneutic principle that the text means whatever we want it to mean, that Giles Fraser can poke his meaning into this passage.
Then Giles tells us that Jesus was born in a cowshed. Well, call me Ms Cynical. But isn't this in one of the two nativity accounts in the Gospels? One of the accounts that also says Mary was a virgin? So why doesn't Giles say the manger account is a myth as well?
I suspect it's because the birth in a manger fits Giles Fraser's politics. Can you imagine him, standing in front of the Crib there, getting the chance to look sad and serious without his dog collar? Lovely photo op. No, if you're gonna explain away the Virgin Birth, you can do the same with the whole trip to Bethlehem and escape to Egypt. You explain the Gospels were applying Hebrew Bible narratives to Jesus. You don't get to accept just the bits that fit Guardian politics and your photos from trips to Calais. And put your dog collar on. With your open neck and your professional sad look, you look like a Moomin on Dress-down Friday.
And Giles Fraser tells us that the Virgin Birth stories were a response to a Roman and Jewish claim that Jesus was the illegitimate son of a Roman soldier. Now I can see what Giles Fraser has done here. He's confused Jesus with Brian Cohen. I mean, no shame in that. Even Wise Men did that. But again Giles is rejecting a story in the Gospels based upon his greater belief in supposition and rumour. Not a great way of deciding what is and isn't true.
You know what I think. I believe in the Virgin Birth. Partly this saves me from crossing my fingers on those rare occasions when the Beaker Folk say the creeds. But mostly because I take two different Gospel accounts - which go into considerable detail of Mary's problems about the miraculous baby she's going to have - seriously. These two Gospels do not, at any point, get hung up on Mary's purity. They do not start mentioning perpetual virginity. They mention it and they tell how Joseph came to terms with it. It is cross-referenced to a prophecy of ambiguous translation - which beyond doubt in Isaiah's mind had nothing to do with Jesus or to a virgin rather than a young woman. But that's what Matthew's Gospel in particular does - endlessly throws Old Testament quotes at this amazing Saviour, born of a virgin and laid in a manger, because that's how a pious Jew gets the words to reflect the wonders that have occurred. Matthew had no need to invent a Virgin Birth to justify an obscure passage in Isaiah. But a pressing need to find a prophecy to reflect the Virgin Birth.
For me it's not about rejecting sex or this physical world. It's God showing his side of the bringing of this Saviour - child and ageless God - into this world. In the muck and blood and straw. I do believe God could have been incarnate without a Virgin birth - though that ain't a mystery I'd be qualified to poke too much into. But if I've a choice of a loose canon trying to generate clicks or Matthew and Luke trying to save souls, I know which one I'd take every time.