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the Doctrine of the Virgin Birth

 
 

               (T.F. Torrance on the Doctrine of the Virgin Birth)

 

THE DOCTRINE OF THE VB: PRELIMINARY OBSERVATIONS:

 

I:

The vb mustn’t be understood as explaining how the Son of God became human.  It isn’t a scientific statement w.r.t. gynaecology or embryology.

 

 

 

II:

The mystery of the vb can only be understood as part of the whole mystery of Christ, the union of God and man.

 

The sign points to the reality but is not the reality.

Still, the outward sign and inward reality belong together.

Outward sign and inward reality are intrinsically or analogically related.

 

 

 

III:

The vb (the beginning of Christ’s earthly life) cannot be understood in abstraction from the triumphant consummation of Christ’s life, the Resurrection, for only the R’n reveals the mystery of his person.

 

The vb and the R’n are the two “end-signs” of the mystery of Christ.

 

Because of what God has done in Christ w.r.t. our humanity, we humans may share in the new humanity [continuity] even as we are liberated from bondage to sin: new [discontinuity].

 

The vb tells us that humankind of itself can’t generate the renewed humanity we desperately need.

 

The vb is the basis of the mystery of the R’n, while the mystery of the R’n is the revelation of the meaning of the mystery of the vb.  (I.e., apart from the R’n the vb would be no more than a freakish occurrence.)

 

 

 

THE POSITIVE MESSAGE OF THE VB:

 

I:a:

The vb attests the genuine humanity of Jesus.  (In the history of the church, the Docetists denied the vb.)

 

I:b:

The vb also denies Ebionitism (the notion that Jesus was at some point adopted as God.)

 

 

I:c:

The vb also denies all synergism, since the vb of Jesus arises from God’s will alone.

 

 

 

II:

Since the vb is God’s self-willed approach to us, the vb denies that we humans have the power to approach God.  While the vb affirms that that the Son of God became human, it denies that this process can be reversed: we humans can’t become God.

 

 Corollary: Human history can’t generate Jesus.  The Incarnation (and all that it implies for us sinners) is a matter of unconditional grace.

 

 

 

III:

Since the vb entails the fact that Jesus was born of Mary, a human, therefore the Incarnation is a re-creation of our humanity.  There is both continuity with our “old” humanity and discontinuity. Natural human processes can’t create the new humanity.  (See III above.)

 

 

 

IV:

The vb represents a break in the sinful autonomy of humanity without implying any stigma on marriage or natural birth or sexual intercourse (contra the Gnostics.)  On the contrary it elevates and sanctifies all these.

 

 

V:

The vb tells us what the divine act of grace is: Mary is chosen by grace; she responds to God’s initiative.

 

Grace provides us, as grace provided Mary, with the Holy Spirit who is the power of our responding.

 

John of Damascus : “Mary conceived through the ear.”  I.e., the Word quickens faith and the obedience of faith.  (AKOUEIN= hear; HUPAKOUEIN= obey.)

 

As the vb was an act of grace, so our salvation, first to last, is an act of grace, for faith is a predicate of grace, not a natural human occurrence.

 

 

VI:

We can’t prove or demonstrate the vb.  Only the Holy Spirit can convince of the fittingness of the vb, given the totality of the Christ event.

 

This being the case, while the vb is a sign, it’s also more than sign: it’s a determinative act of God; i.e., it’s part of the Christ-event, not merely a sign of or witness to the Christ event. [Note the shift TFT has taken here: he’s moved from vb as fitting sign of the event to vb as part of the event itself.]

 

Therefore to deny the vb is to deny the Incarnation, not because the vb is the cause of the Inc. but because the sign of the event is part of the event.

 

VII: In view of all that’s been said, affirmation of the vb is necessary for faith in Jesus Christ.

Torrance asks, “Could we have faith in the R’n of JC yet deny the empty tomb?  Could we have faith in the Incarnation yet deny the vb?”

Shepherd: I have found that people who don’t believe in the vb don’t believe in the empty tomb either.

 Professor V.Shepherd