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Religious Tolerance logo

The virgin birth

The conception of Jesus: A brief review
of various Christian denominations

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Various Christian denominations teach conflicting messages about the mechanism by which Jesus was conceived, and the virginity of Jesus' mother, Mary:
bulletThe Roman Catholic church teaches that Mary was herself conceived circa 20 BCE without sin in what is known as the "Immaculate Conception." (Many Roman Catholics incorrectly believe that the "Immaculate Conception" refers to the conception of Jesus circa 8 to 5 BCE.) The church also teaches that:
bulletMary's pregnancy was induced by the Holy Spirit in a miraculous manner.
bulletHer virginity survived the birth of Jesus.
bulletShe remained a virgin all of her life. 
bulletShe never had additional children after Jesus. The brothers and sisters referred to in many places were either step-brothers whose father was Joseph, or cousins or perhaps simply friends.
bulletShe ascended bodily into heaven at the time of her death.
bulletProtestants generally agree that:
bulletJesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit.
bulletMary remained a virgin until after Jesus' birth. Later, she started normal sexual relations with her husband Joseph.
bulletShe had at least four sons and at least two daughters after her first-born, Jesus.
bulletShe was presumably buried after her death; she did not ascend bodily into heaven at her death. 
bulletMany liberal theologians suggest that the belief in the virgin birth was:
bulletUnknown to Paul. 
bulletImported into Christianity from many of the Pagan religions of the Mediterranean area circa 70 CE.
bulletWas largely based on a Hebrew to Greek mistranslation in the Hebrew Scriptures. (Isaiah 7:14).
bulletWas promoted by the author of the gospel of Matthew. (Matthew 1:23).
bulletWas promoted by an anonymous author in a brief text that was later grafted onto the beginning of the Gospel of Luke. (Luke 1:26-35)
bulletWas denied by the author(s) of the gospel of John.

They believe that the virgin birth and immaculate conception are myths. Jesus was actually conceived in the normal way, as a result of sexual activity with a man. However, there is a major gap between the liberal beliefs of liberal and mainline theologians and the much more traditional beliefs of the laity in the these denominations.

bulletThe Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- the LDS church often referred to as the Mormons -- generally follow the beliefs of other Protestants concerning Mary.

The Book of Mormon, which Church members regard to be divinely inspired and authoritative contains a passage in Alma 7:10 that parallels that of historical Protestant and Roman Catholic belief. It states that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit.

However, President Ezra Taft Benson, the 13th President of the Church (1899-1994) taught that: "The body in which He performed His mission in the flesh was sired by that same Holy Being we worship as God, our Eternal Father. Jesus was not the son of Joseph, nor was He begotten by the Holy Ghost." 1

It was once a common belief among the Mormon laity that God came to earth in a physical body and engaged in sexual intercourse with Mary, in order to conceive Jesus. However, this is not official Church belief today. More details.

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References used:

  1. "President Benson's teachings about Christ," at: http://www.mormons.org/

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Copyright © 2000 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-DEC-13
Latest update: 2007-DEC-17
Author: B.A. Robinson

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