Monday, December 28, 2009

Virginity, Sex and Christmas

markpenrith read my previous post Scandal and asked me the following question:

"Does, Now I do not know how Mary got pregnant. I do not believe that pregnancies can be manufactured from thin air. mean you don’t believe in the virgin birth?"

I believe that God – the Almighty Creator – is capable of creating life out of nothing. This means that God can use a virgin to give birth to Jesus. I am not alone in this, as there are millions of Christians who believe this too. But Christians are not alone in this belief: Parthenogenesis - the Greek word for virgin birth – is a common requirement in ancient mythology for the birth of kings or gods.

For me the more important question is why we need to believe that Jesus was “born of the Virgin Mary”. The original Greek for what we now choose to translate into English as “virgin” does not insist that this be a woman who has not known sexual activity – these texts can also be translated as a “young woman.” In fact the early Christian community new nothing of Mary being a virgin. This was the work of Augustine of Hippo, who formulated a theology that equated the absence of sex with goodness. He suggested that those who abstain from sexual activity are pure, and are therefore closer to God.

Which is why Mary the “young women” was transformed by the Church into Mary “the Virgin”: this line of thought held that the Mother of God could not possibly have engaged in the defilement of sexual activity. Some even suggest that she never ever knew what sex was, and went to heaven in this “pure” state.

Which is fine as a quaint and interesting notion. However, this becomes the foundation for far graver implications.
1. From this we live with the idea that for priests of God to be pure they need to be celibate. And this suppression of sex as a natural God-given human function has led to some priests expressing a distorted sexuality with choir boys and other vulnerable people.
2. The idea that abstinence from sex equates with purity has left many young people feeling defiled and guilty for their early sexual awakenings. No matter how hard they pray – they still think of sex, and therefore are defiled.

So while I can be awed by the idea of God impregnating Mary, I can be as awed by the idea that God took the seed and egg in the womb of Mary and created Jesus from it. The latter idea certainly gives me hope for the power of God to take what could have been a “scandal of this world” and to transform it into a “triumph of heaven.” This then gives me courage to believe that God can take my own frail, deeply flawed life and turn it into something useful and good.


Steve Hayes said...


I think you've got it very wrong, on all counts.

The doctrine of the virgin birth of Jesus owes nothing to Augustine of Hippo, but was believed by Christians from the earliest times. It is found in two of the gospels (and thus precedes Augustine by several centuries). It was only a few heretical sects that denied it, otherwise it was generally accepted by Christians.

Apart from that it only began to be questioned by liberal Protestant theologians in the 19th century, deductively rather than inductively -- in other words, on the principle that miracles didn't happen. They did not question the English translation from the Greek, but the Greek translation from the Hebrew. But though Matthew's account makes much of that, Luke does not, and is not dependent on that translation.

Anonymous said...


Fighting from the same corner :). We never meet up, sorry about that. It would still be good to sit down and have a cup of coffee sometime.


I meant the nice things I said as well.

You said, “The original Greek for what we now choose to translate into English as “virgin” does not insist that this be a woman who has not known sexual activity...” That statement paints the truth in shades of grey.

The Hebrew word עלמה (‛almâh) could rightfully be translated as something other than virgin. It could be damsel, maid or virgin. But Matthew, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, was not quoting the Hebrew text at all, but rather the Greek Septuagint. You are correct, the Greek word he used was παρθένος (parthenos) but here’s the missing link, Athena, the Greek Goddess and virgin patron of Athens who never consorted with a lover, earning her the title Athena Parthenos (“Athena the virgin”). The Parthenon was built to worship her. It’s a non ambiguous Greek word rightly translated virgin.

Surely Mary’s shocked response to the angel ties up any confusion to her sexual history? Luke 1:34, “Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?"”

I’m do not care, am not influenced nor shall I be swayed by Popery. Scripture alone.

Anonymous said...


Read what I wrote after I posted it. My spelling and grammer suck. Such is life. Could you please change the "I'm do not care..." to "I do not care..."



Anonymous said...

hmm... nice post. Of course there are a couple of holes in your logic, for instance if Mary was not impregnated by Joseph someone/thing else needed to have done it. Joseph is very clear that it was not him. taken that Mary was no slapper and according to Matthew "that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit"... brings us to consider exactly who/what is the Holy Spirit and how does he function. The problem therefore is not about Mary being a Virgin, but about the Holy spirit running around impregnating innocent young ladies. Emphasis should therefore be placed I believe on the Holy Spirit's role rather than on Mary being a virgin. For me however Mary remains a remarkable women, one who remain undefiled before birth because only God lay upon her, she is to be revered because however it "came" about, excuse the pun, she gave birth to Christ.

You are right that the church has screwed up sexuality and sex, however Celibacy in itself does not lead to sexual deviancy, you would be suggesting that without sex one goes a little mad. Celibacy as an institution has however offered the sexually mixed up and deviant a hiding place, one where they are offered social status rather than ridicule. For instance the world of the celibates is mostly homosexual because the church offers them a nice place to be accepted. The church and celibacy is also a rather nice place to hide for the paedophile, which has nothing to do with the homosexual, yet both however find their calling to celibacy based on a foundation of sand and it all comes falling apart. It is rather the churches lack screening, their lack of community support to priests and their instance that celibacy is the only way a person can be a priest that is at fault. Celibacy remains is a liberating calling for only a few or for only a part of ones adult life.

Paul Hooper