I have asked on a few occasions here, “Do you believe that the early church apostasized towards this?” Usually it is in regards to going from a type of polytheism to monotheism, however it holds true for the Virgin Birth. Does anybody really believe that the primitive church held that the Heavenly Father had sex with Mary, then apostatized by claiming that Christ was born of a virgin?
The birth narratives in Matthew and Luke are well known by most in the West and especially those who frequent this blog. Both testify that Jesus was born of a virgin – a virgin being a person who has never had sex with anyone – man, god, etc.
However, for Mormons there is a problem. Some GA’s of the 19th & 20th centuries have challenged the Virgin Birth. Aaron identified four – Brigham Young, Orson Pratt, James Talmage and Bruce McConkie. I would add Heber C. Kimball, Ezra Taft Benson, Joseph Fielding Smith, Hugh B. Brown, and possibly Henry D. Taylor; there is a very good chance more could be added to the list. The idea that Mary was not a virgin, in the truest sense of the word, after she conceived was (and to some extant is) a widespread belief in Mormonism. The quotes from G.A.’s on the issue demonstrate that this belief was held at the highest echelons of Mormonism.
Noticeably absent from the list is Joseph Smith Jr. I have never heard or read anything about him assailing the Virgin Birth. Even the Joseph Smith translation renders the Hebrew word “almah” in Isaiah 7:14 as “virgin”. To be fair Mormons who do accept the Virgin Birth have some ammo on their side. They have the King James Bible, the aforementioned JST, and the Book of Mormon.
Perhaps you notice a trend here? The evidence for the Virgin Birth comes from an earlier time in Mormonism’s history – like before the Saints moved to Utah. The evidence against the Virgin Birth in Mormonism comes from quotes by apostles and prophets of the 19th & 20th centuries. It has been in the last 20 years or so that the Virgin Birth has gained more acceptance in Mormonism. I believe that as Mormonism’s materialistic worldview began to grow and take root (the classical definition of materialism not “greed”) that it necessitated the “fleshly” quotes by 19th century Mormons. They fit the paradigm of God the Father being a highly exalted man and Jesus being the literal and physical Son of God. A few 19th century Quorum of the Twelve members even believed that Jesus is not a virgin, but rather married.
I would contrast this dichotomy with the steadfast witness of the Church for the last 2,000 years. Christianity has taught that Jesus was born of a virgin. In Koine Greek, the idea is clear that the books of Matthew and Luke affirm the virgin birth. When Christians have rendered these scriptures in other languages they have chosen words that outright state or at least strongly imply that Mary was a virgin before and after conceiving the Messiah.
In addition, there are treatises beyond number – ranging from the 1st century until now – that attest to the Church’s belief in this doctrine. Justin Martyr, Aristides, and Ignatius all write very early on in Christian history that Jesus was born of a virgin. That abominable Apostle’s Creed says that Jesus was “born of the Virgin Mary”. Indeed, where is the early witness that Jesus was not born of a virgin, but rather by a physical union of God and Mary? There are early challenges to the virgin birth from outside Christianity, but in those challenges someone else other than God (usually Joseph) is put forward as the physical father of Jesus.
Honestly, the idea that Jesus was a product of a sexual union between God and Mary sounds a lot more like it came from the ancient pagan religions of the Mediterranean world. This is ironic as it often Mormons who accuse Christianity of being adulterated by Hellenistic influences. You mean adulterated to believe that Jesus was born of a virgin?
In the words of that great coffee guru Linda Richman – talk amongst yourselves.