The Virgin Birth and Jesus' Marriage
NCW 18, April 1995
Q. I disagree that to have been married was an important part of Jesus' call to be married. If he had had children there would surely have been some reference to them somewhere by someone? But more importantly than this, I believe that the Virgin Birth is the strongest testimony against Jesus having been married. Is not the fact that Jesus was conceived without any sexual activity proof enough that Jesus' life had to be entirely sex-free (and therefore marriage-free) for Him to fulfil His mission?
Marriage was so normal among the Jews and the accounts of Jesus so few that I am not surprised that little is said. Apart from one controversial statement by a contemporary source (which as far as I know is not corroborated by anyone else) saying that one of the reasons Jesus was so unpopular with the ruling Jewish class was the fact that He had several wives (I believe a book has recently been written on the subject though I have not seen it), there are no accounts of Jesus being either single or married. With such a lack of direct evidence I don't think history can be used in support of the arguments for the case of His being married or not.
The Virgin Birth question is by far the most interesting, I believe, because it addresses fundamental questions about Christian attitudes to sex. Is sex pure or not? As we have argued in other publications, sex is a neutral force -- it's how you handle it that makes it pure or impure.
There is no doubt that the Virgin Mary was chosen to be the vessel of our Lord because she was pure and blameless. She is called the "Virgin Mary". But Virgin does not mean what it means in contemporary English, namely, sexually untouched. The Hebrew for "virgin" is almah, meaning, "pure". She continues to be referred to the Virgin Mary by Christians even after she had increased her family so obviously she is not "virgin" in the sense of being sexually untouched.
I suspect the reason why Christians throughout the centuries have come to believe that Christ could not have been associated with sex in any way has something to do with early Catholic ideas on the virtues of singleness. If Christ was indeed single, and if this is connected in some way to Jesus' sex-free miraculous conception, then we must ask ourselves the question: why? Is the uniqueness of the Virgin Birth to do with its sex-free environment or some other reason?
I would like to make some observations. Mary was chosen because she was spiritually and ritualistically pure. She lived a holy and clean life. That is not to say she was sin-free because we know (contrary to Catholic claims of sinlessness) she offered the usuall Mosaic sacrifices for sinners. She also later criticised her son when He was about His Father's business.
We know that Joseph was a pure man too and that he qualified to be Jesus's step-father. So why wasn't he allowed to use his seed and then have God incarnate His Spirit into the embryo? Both Mary and Joseph were of the kingly line of David too. And where did Jesus get His Y-chromosome which determines the masculinity of a child?
All we know is that God's Holy Spirit was involved in this process of conception. If God could create Adam de novo from "dust" then obviously it would be no problem to organise a virgin birth through a single human mother. But why? Why not create Jesus the way Adam was created? Wasn't Jesus a "second Adam"?
There are major differences, of course. Adam was fully human, Jesus was not. Though initially not fallen (Adam), the human race in Jesus' time was. The raw materials were not the same. If God had created Jesus de novo (from scratch) He would not have been a "human being" like the rest of the human family because He would not have been "fallen" in the flesh, and He could not "fall" like Adam in order to become like the rest of humanity since He Himself was God! So the "Adamic Creation Method" is out.
What God required was a fallen but pure human body in which to incarnate. Jesus was God in the Spirit. God is not created. Therefore the inncarnate God could not be created in the same was as mortal men. Christ was man in the flesh and God in the spirit. Therefore part of Him had to be created "viā the flesh" and part "viā the Spirit". Mary "offered" the flesh of the Son and the Father "offered" the Spirit, as it were.
This is a hard concept to explain. The point if that had Joseph been a literal father, Jesus would have not been God. He would only have been a human being with a special call or spiritual intervention. Jesus' paternal origin had to be of His Heavenly Father and therefore the earthly process of creation would have been the wrong type. Jesus, the God-man, had to have God as Father and a human as mother.
An unnatural birth such as Jesus' was necessary to testify that He was no "natural" person, but God in the flesh. If the Father is a type of the Spirit and the mother a type of human flesh, then clearly no earthly father could have been involved in the conception. Sexual intercourse is an earthly phenomenon (at least the kind employed on earth to propagate the species) and God is not earthly (claims of the Mormons to the contrary -- they say that God had sexual intercourse with Mary). On one level, then, the virgin birth is a necessary testimony that Jesus is no ordinary man but that there is a meeting of God and man in a unique and marvelous way. Therefore the conception must be unique and marvelous too.
There is one other physical clue. A baby in the womb is isolated from the outside world by a single membrane which is broken at birth. This membrane is a type of a spiritual veil. But Jesus, because Mary was not sexually penetrated, was protected by two membranes, or two veils. This itself testifies that not only was He an ordinary human being coming from a spirit world like other spirits (a world which is veiled from us) but that He was coming from God the Father, an even higher world than us. Therefore He was, in a way, "doubly hidden". God is hidden from us mortals -- so too was Jesus until He was revealed in the flesh into the world.
I do not therefore believe that "absense of sex" is central to the point of Jesus' miraculous conception; rather, it was a type of heavenly realities and a testimony that this was God entering the world in a unique, unrepeatable and marvelous way. This was the birth of God, not of man; and God is not man to imitate his ways.
I do not know if this is the whole truth or even partially true but I offer it as an explanation which I believe to be more in harmony with the Scriptures over all than the traditional orthodox explaination of the Virgin Birth with its unnatural fear of sex and sex's supposed hostility to holiness. Of course a doctrine of pre-existence, which is also absent from orthodox Christianity, is also helpful in understsanding the mystery.
We believe, along with orthodox Christianity, in the Virgin Birth, but we don't believe that sex, or an absence of it, is relevent to its mystery. For this and other reasons, therefore, we have no problems in accepting a married Christ who was also a human father. He did what all human beings do. And can anyone man deny that he has experienced one of the wonders and mysteries of human life without becoming a husband and father? Jesus, who redeemed the whole human life and not just that of singleness, must, we contend, have been an earthly husband and father too. And praise God that we can identify with a Saviour who has redeemed our marriages!
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