MRM’s article on traditional Mormonism’s redefinition of the virgin birth has been substantially expanded and is worth another read. I continue to be amazed over the amount of evidence supporting the claim that Mormon leaders taught that God the Father “joined” with Mary, his spirit-daughter, to “associate together in the capacity of husband and wife” and naturally conceive Jesus in the same way that children are normally begotten on earth.
I was surprised to learn that the oft-referenced quote from the 1972 Family Home Evening Manual was itself a quote from president Joseph F. Smith. In a “classic sermon delivered by President Joseph F. Smith at the Box Elder Stake conference of December 20, 1914, as recorded in the Box Elder News of January 28, 1915” (Hoyt W. Brewster, Jr., Doctrine and Covenants Encyclopedia, p. 398), he taught:
“You all know that your fathers are indeed your fathers and that your mothers are indeed your mothers you all know that don’t you? You cannot deny it. Now, we are told in scriptures that Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of God in the flesh. Well, now for the benefit of the older ones, how are children begotten? I answer just as Jesus Christ was begotten of his father. The Christian denominations believe that Christ was begotten not of God but of the spirit that overshadowed his mother. This is nonsense. Why will not the world receive the truth? Why will they not believe the Father when he says that Jesus Christ is His only begotten Son? Why will they try to explain this truth away and make mystery of it? …
“Shall we as Latter-day Saints deny the truth and then claim that God made man in his likeness in the beginning? Shall we come under the impression that God possesses the power of creation, and yet did not literally create? He is not without his companion any more than I am without my companion, the mother of my children…
“Now, by and by you will be able to understand this far better than you can today. Some of us grandparents find it difficult to conceive the truth we want to think of something marvelous. We want to try to make it appear that God does not do things in the right way, or that he has another way of doing things than what we know, we must come down to the simple fact that God Almighty was the Father of His Son Jesus Christ. Mary, the virgin girl, who had never known mortal man, was his mother. God by her begot His son Jesus Christ, and He was born into the world with power and intelligence like that of His Father.”
This is one time where I would actually suggest that a Mormon prophet was being somewhat prophetic. When he speaks of those who “explain away” the conception of Christ and “try to make it appear that God does not do things in the right way, or that he has another way of doing things than what we know”, he reminds me of Mormon apologists today who try to explain away Young/Pratt/Talmage/McConkie by appealing to the possibility that Mary was impregnated via artificial—not natural—insemination. Melvin J. Ballard, a contemporary of James Talmage, Mormon apostle, and grandfather of M. Russell Ballard wrote:
“One of the great questions that I have referred to that the world is concerned about, and is in confusion over, is as to whether or not his was a virgin birth, a birth wherein divine power interceded. Joseph Smith made it perfectly clear that Jesus Christ told the absolute truth, as did those who testify concerning him, the Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ, wherein he is declared to be the very Son of God. And if God the Eternal Father is not the real Father of Jesus Christ, then are we in confusion; then is he not in reality the Son of God. But we declare that he is the Only Begotten of the Father in the flesh.
“Mary told the story most beautifully when she said that an angel of the Lord came to her and told her that she had found favor in the sight of God, and had come to be worthy of the fulfilment of the promises heretofore made, to become the virgin mother of the Redeemer of the world. She afterwards, referring to the event, said: ‘God hath done wonderful things unto me.’ ‘And the Holy Ghost came upon her,’ is the story, ‘and she came into the presence of the highest.’ No man or woman can live in mortality and survive the presence of the Highest except by the sustaining power of the Holy Ghost. So it came upon her to prepare her for admittance into the divine presence, and the power of the Highest, who is the Father, was present, and overshadowed her, and the holy Child that was born of her was called the Son of God.
Men who deny this, or who think that it degrades our Father, have no true conception of the sacredness of the most marvelous power with which God has endowed mortal men—the power of creation. Even though that power may be abused and may become a mere harp of pleasure to the wicked, nevertheless it is the most sacred and holy and divine function with which God has endowed man. Made holy, it is retained by the Father of us all, and in his exercise of that great and marvelous creative power and function, he did not debase himself, degrade himself, nor debauch his daughter. Thus Christ became the literal Son of a divine Father, and no one else was worthy to be his father.” (Sermons and Missionary Services of Melvin J. Ballard, p. 167)
This quote is particularly challenging to those Mormons who suggest that Mary could have been “naturally” impregnated via artificial insemination. When Ballard says, “that power may be abused and may become a mere harp of pleasure to the wicked”, he is speaking of sexual intercourse, a “divine function with which God has endowed man.” This is of course why he addresses men who think “it degrades our Father”. As with the majority of other quotes by Mormon leaders on this topic, artificial insemination would have been unknown to the author at the time. Why choose an anachronistic reading when a plain and natural interpretation is available?
Also added were quotes like:
“Only Begotten in the flesh, meaning in mortality. This designation of our Lord signifies that he was begotten by Man of Holiness as literally as any mortal father begets a son. The natural processes of procreation were involved; Jesus was begotten by his Father as literally as he was conceived by his mother.” (Bruce McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary 1:144)
I hope you’ll give the updated article a thorough read. Since, as has been previously demonstrated, it is notoriously hard to stay close to relevant topics when discussing this subject, any of your comments under this post should concern one and only one question: Is the method of artificial insemination (as used by some Mormons to explain the conception of Jesus) mutually exclusive with the views expressed in the aforementioned quotes by Joseph F. Smith, Melvin J. Ballard, and Bruce McConkie?
In response to criticism for having so tightly moderated the last thread on this subject and for so tightly limiting the scope of this thread’s discussion: To my knowledge, the only thread that previously has been heavily moderated is the one with the Bruce McConkie and Kevin Barney quotes. I think it serves everyone to avoid the rabbit trails, especially concerning the subject of what constitutes “official doctrine”. The subject of Mormonism’s traditional denial of the virgin birth is so delicate that it seems any conversation on it must be structured and specific. Before some Mormons go about passing it all off as “speculation”, they need to publicly admit what “it” really is. And doing that would be a big step in the right direction. Then we can talk of the impact it should have on one’s view of the integrity of LDS leaders, of the current institution for its unwillingness to take a stance on the longstanding unrepudiated traditional belief among its own members, and of what constitutes the “official” doctrine of the church on the definition of Mary’s “virginity”. For now, I am publicly asking Mormons to give a compelling argument for why we shouldn’t believe the aforementioned quotes preclude the method of artificial insemination.