The other day, our men’s group was faced with a difficult question. What evidence do we have that Mary was actually a virgin when she conceived Jesus? The accusation was that Mary may have made up the story to avoid being stoned because that context, sleeping around was punishable by death. We had about three weeks to prepare and two hours to make our case. Here’s how it went…
I believe that each of us realized pretty quickly in our preperation that this was no softball. We also realized that although this is not a direct essential, the virgin birth of Christ is essential for orthodoxy. This is weighty stuff. As the meeting began, we communicated the relevance of the topic and made no pretense that we would or could have all of the answers. On top of that, many of us voiced our understanding of skepticism.
What kind of evidence? One of the best places to start is at the beginning and that meant we had to define terms. If we were to give evidence, we needed to know what kind could even be had. Of course, there are no pictures or videos, nor could there be. Unfortunately, in this day and time, people are so conditioned to the visual that this has to be covered. This type of evidence does not exist for historical events from two thousand years ago. In fact, there is no way to have any empirical proof other than testimony which is considered secondary evidence. Another form of empirical evidence might be DNA, one of our men proposed. This, of course is absurd. No such evidence could reasonably exist.
What is reasonable? If we can not obtain sensory evidence, (see, touch, smell, hear), then what kind of evidence would be reasonable? In fact, one of us proposed, what kind of evidence do we use in court? Juries use circumstantial evidence all of the time to convict people of crimes and sometimes even send them to their death. In fact, judges instruct juries to consider circumstantial evidence as compelling as any other type of evidence they may be presented. Finally, based upon the evidence, juries make judgments based upon reasonable doubt, not the shadow of doubt that some may require. Note: in spiritual matters many people will hold judgement to a higher standard of proof than they would if they were sending a person to death row.
Written testimony. The Bible, 66 different writings, over 4000 years, by 40 different authors, contains the most reliable historical documents attesting to ancient history that we have today. The evidence for the reliability of the New Testament is strong and most scholars agree to its historical accuracy. We talked about this piece of evidence for a while and although on its own, the Bible doesn’t prove Mary’s virginity, some of it’s writers make the claim. Mary makes the claim, and it was predicted to happen.
The expert witness. The testimony of Mary’s virginity is written in two places in the gospels. The first is by Matthew, who admittedly does some strange twists and turns to get to his restatement of Isaiah 7:14. The other is most interesting. It is Luke’s testimony. In fact, Luke writes more about Mary’s account of the conception than any other writer. Why do you think that is? Well, it’s because Luke, by profession, is a physician. Furthermore, Luke traveled with John and Mary for some time after Christ’s crucifixion so he probably interviewed her about the event several times. Luke would have known the questions to ask and by nature as well as vocation, would have been skeptical. His testimony, the Gospel of Luke was written sometime between 45 and 53 AD. That’s just 10 to 20 years after the crucifixion. That’s good stuff.
The absurdity of the charge. How would claiming that she had been made pregnant by YHWH have helped Mary? This, in fact, would have increased her likelihood of being stoned. In an extremely religious culture like 1st century Jewish, Mary would have surely been stoned for a claim like that. The leaders would’ve physically checked her (they may have anyway), and humiliated her. Oh sure, she ran off to Egypt with Joseph and Jesus for two years, but they came back and just as today, she would’ve been found out by the officials and quickly brought to trial. Claiming to be impregnated by God would have not been an expected defense for someone lying about infidelity.
Jesus would have known about Mary’s claim. If Jesus rose from the dead, then he is God. God wouldn’t tolerate a lie about himself, even by his mother. In fact, Jesus showed no mercy on his disciples or kin folk when they erred. He corrected them promptly, sometimes harshly, and very often. Jesus would have known about this claim by his mother and there is no way he would have let it slide. He would’ve scolded her and more than likely it would’ve been written down.
The lack of accusers. Where are they? The defense has produced many witnesses, yet the accusers have no testimony or evidence. Isaiah predicted it, Matthew claimed it, Luke was an expert witness, Jesus was silent against Mary’s claim, yet not one testimony from the other side.
Our responsibility as jurors. The person who had originally questioned Mary’s claim was asked; “If you were in a court of law, how would you have to find Mary? Guilty or not guilty?” It was put brilliantly and the timing was perfect. His answer, “I would have to find her not guilty! and if she’s not guilty, I believe her.”
Mary was acquitted.