virgin birth - overview

Steven Avery

Virgin Birth PBF Pages

Virgin Birth - Overview

Arthur Custance - The Seed of the Woman - the spiritual imperative of the virgin birth

virgin birth, Joseph, father, parents - Luke 2:33 and Luke 2:43 - and Joseph and his mother knew not of it

Isaiah 7:14 - a virgin shall conceive
Ehrman presuppositional approach - the early church was adoptionist and ebionite

Ebionite notes

unitarian Bible-snippers - Evanson, Belsham, Priestley - and the "Improved Version" - Matthew 28:19

variants affect the doctrine of Christ - Bart Ehrman, George Vance Smith (also Anthony Collins)
Ron Wyatt - Ark of the Covenant

Shroud of Turin - Italy study

Eusebius writes of adoptionist corruptions by Theodotus - Asclepiades , Hermophilus , and Apollonides - Little Labyrinth - Artemon
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Steven Avery

The Supernatural Incarnation of Jesus Christ Proved to be False ... and that Our Lord ... was the Real Son of Joseph and Mary (1742)
Edward Elwall

The Virgin Birth (1902)
T. Allan Hoben

The Virgin Birth of Christ: Being Lectures Delivered Under the Auspices of the Bible Teachers' Training School, New York, April, 1907
Dr. James Orr

The Virgin Birth and the Incarnation
Arthur Custance
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Steven Avery

Belsham's Unitarian New Testament (1808)

Notes on 1700s will be added to one of the above.

Belsham, in an article published in 1820 ... eighteenth-century Unitarianism ....s best understood as a moderate form of Deism .... The rationalistic and skeptical orientation of the movement, and its implicit rejection of scriptural authority, is evident in writings of its earliest proponents. Joseph Priestley ... “before 1758 he had rejected the ideas of atonement, of inspired books, and of any immediate action of God upon the human mind; by 1768, Lardner’s Letter had convinced him of the simple humanity of Christ; in 1784 he startled his friend Lindsey by rejecting the Virgin birth ... In the celebrated Encyclopédie written by French rationalists and edited by Diderot, the article Unitaires describes Unitarians as une secte de déistes cachés, a sect of covert Deists:

The Socinians were thus a sect of hidden deists as are found in all Christian countries, who in order to philosophize peacefully and freely without having to fear being pursued by the law and magistrates, employed all their sagacity, dialectic, and subtlety to reconcile with as much science, skill and verisimilitude as possible the theological and metaphysical hypotheses laid out in Scripture with those they had chosen. 5

Theophilus Lindsey, another early leader of the movement, was less radical than Priestley, or perhaps we should say he was less openly radical; but he defended Priestley when he was criticized. ... in 1774 was attended by Priestley and his friend Benjamin Franklin, the well-known American Deist, who happened to be in England at the time. ... In 1836 one leading English Unitarian, James Martineau, expressed the Deistic attitude which was always implicit in Unitarianism when he wrote that “reason is the ultimate appeal, the supreme tribunal, to the test of which even Scripture must be brought.” 6 ... One notable Unitarian, Dr. George E. Ellis (1814-1894) of Harvard Divinity School, made the following remarks in a lecture delivered in November 1882 at the Unitarian Club in Boston:

... In that earnest controversy by pamphlet warfare between Drs. Channing and Ware on the one side, and Drs. Worcester and Woods and Professor Stuart on the other — I am fully convinced that the liberal contestants were worsted. Scripture exegesis, logic and argument were clearly on the side of the Orthodox contestants ... 7

In a book published in 1798, Belsham indicated his awareness of the incompatibility of the New Testament with Unitarianism by arguing, just as Ellis did later ... The scriptures,” he wrote, “contain a faithful and credible account of the christian doctrine which is the true word of God: but they are not themselves the word of God, nor do they ever assume that title: ” 10

.... Introduction of the “Improved” version (section 2) refuses to grant the canonicity of some books of the New Testament (Hebrews, James, 2nd Peter, 2nd and 3rd John, Jude, and the Revelation), and its editors even deny that there can be a final and authoritative determination of the limits of the canon ... Moreover, the editors have also treated as inauthentic some passages within books that they otherwise seem to accept as canonical. We find that the infancy narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke are rejected as interpolations. Now it is obvious enough that these chapters were unacceptable to Belsham and his fellows for theological reasons, because, contrary to Unitarian teachings, the whole purpose of the narrative is to establish that Jesus was not a mere man. But Belsham pretends that Unitarians have rejected these chapters for text-critical reasons. The rejection of Matt. 1:17—2:23 is explained with this note:

The remainder of this chapter, and the whole of the second, are printed in Italics, as an intimation that they are of doubtful authority. They are indeed to be found in all the manuscripts and versions which are now extant, but from the testimony of Epiphanius and Jerome we are assured that they were wanting in the copies used by the Nazarenes and Ebionites, that is, by the ancient Hebrew Christians; for whose instruction, probably, this gospel was originally written; and to whom the account of the miraculous conception of Jesus Christ could not have been unacceptable, if it had been found in the genuine narrative. Nor would it at all have militated against the doctrine of the proper humanity of Christ, which was universally held by the Jewish Christians, it being a fact analogous to the miraculous birth of Isaac, Samuel, and other eminent persons of the Hebrew nation. If it be true, as Luke relates, chap. iii. 23. that Jesus was entering upon his thirtieth year (see Wakefield’s Translation) in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius, he must have been born two years at least after the death of Herod, a circumstance which alone invalidates the whole story. See Lardner’s Works, vol. i. p. 432. It is indeed highly improbable that no notice should have been taken of these extraordinary events by any contemporary writer, that no expectation should have been excited by them, and that no allusion should have been made to them in any other passage of the sacred writings. Some of the facts have a fabulous appearance, and the reasoning from the prophecies of the Old Testament is inconclusive. Also, if this account be true, the proper name of Jesus, according to the uniform custom of the Jews, would have been Jesus of Bethlehem, not Jesus of Nazareth. Our Lord in the gospels is repeatedly spoken of as the son of Joseph, without any intimation on the part of the historian that this language is incorrect. See Matt. xiii. 55. Luke iv. 23. John i. 45. vi. 42. The account of the miraculous conception of Jesus was probably the fiction of some early gentile convert, who hoped, by elevating the dignity of the Founder, to abate the popular prejudice against the sect. See upon this subject, Dr. Priestley’s History of Early Opinions, vol. 4. b. iii. c. 20; Pope on the Miraculous Conception; Dr. Williams’s Free Enquiry; Dr. Bell’s Arguments for the Authenticity of the Narratives of Matthew and Luke, and Dr. Williams’s Remarks; Dr. Campbell and Dr. Newcome’s Notes upon the text; Mr. Evanson’s Dissonance, chap. i. sect. 3. chap. iii. sect. 2; Jones’s Developement of Events, vol. i. p. 365, &c.

Likewise Luke 1:5—2:80 is printed in italics, with this note:

The remaining verses of this, and the whole of the second chapter, are printed in italics, as an indication that they are of doubtful authority: for though they are to be found in all manuscripts and versions which are now extant, yet the following considerations have induced many to doubt whether they were really written by Luke:
1. The evangelist expressly affirms that Jesus had completed his thirtieth year in the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar, chap. iii. 1. 23. He must, therefore, have been born fifteen years before the death of Augustus, A. U. C. 752 or 753: but the latest period assigned for the death of Herod is the spring of A. U. C. 751, and he died, probably, the year before. See Lardner’s Works, vol. i. p. 423-428, and Jones’s Developement of Facts, vol. i. p. 365-368. Herod therefore must have been dead upwards of two years before Christ was born. A fact which invalidates the whole narration. See Grotius on Luke iii. 23.
2. The two first chapters of this gospel were wanting in the copies used by Marcion, a reputed heretic of the second century: who, though he is represented by his adversaries as holding some extravagant opinions, was a man of learning and integrity, for any thing that appears to the contrary. He, like some moderns, rejected all the evangelical histories excepting Luke, of which he contended that his own was a correct and authentic copy.
3. The evangelist, in his preface to the history of the Acts of the Apostles, reminds his friend Theophilus, Acts i. 1, that his former history contained an account of the public ministry of Jesus, but makes no allusion to the remarkable incidents contained in the two first chapters: which, therefore, probably were not written by him.
4. If the account of the miraculous conception of Jesus be true, he could not be the offspring of David and of Abraham, from whom it was predicted, and by the Jews expected, that the Messiah should descend.
5. There is no allusion to any of these extraordinary facts in either of the succeeding histories of Luke, or in any other books of the New Testament. Jesus is uniformly spoken of as the son of Joseph and Mary, and as a native of Nazareth, and no expectation whatever appears to have been excited in the public mind by these wonderful and notorious events.
6. The style of the two first chapters is different from the rest of the history—the date of the enrolment, ch. ii. 1, 2, is a great historical difficulty—that John the Baptist should have been ignorant of the person of Christ is not probable, if this narrative be true: John i. 31—34. And there are many other circumstances in the story which wear an improbable and fabulous aspect. Evanson’s Disson. ch. i. sect. 3. p. 57.
See likewise the note upon the two first chapters of Matthew, and the references there.
It has been objected, that so large and gross an interpolation could not have escaped detection, and would never have been so early and so generally received.
In reply to this objection it is observed, that this interpolation was not admitted into the Hebrew copies of Matthew’s gospel, nor into Marcion’s copies of Luke—that it is notorious that forged writings under the names of the apostles were in circulation almost from the apostolic age. See 2 Thess. ii. 2.—that the orthodox charge the heretics with corrupting the text; and that the heretics recriminate upon the orthodox—also that it was much easier to introduce interpolations when copies were few and scarce, than since they have been multiplied to so great a degree by means of the press: and finally, that the interpolation in question would, to the generality of Christians, be extremely gratifying, as it would lessen the odium attached to Christianity from its founder being a crucified Jew, and would elevate him to the dignity of the heroes and demi-gods of the heathen mythology.

It is with some reluctance that we reproduce these impious comments. As a source of factual information they are worthless, containing misrepresentations that, if not deliberately dishonest, only reveal how incompetent the editors were to discuss such matters. They are well answered by the author of A Vindication of the Authenticity of the Narratives Contained in the First Two Chapters of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke; being an investigation of objections urged by the Unitarian editors of the Improved Version of the New Testament, pp. 85-122, which the reader may consult online. We reproduce them here only to illustrate how the editors have introduced liberal higher criticism under the guise of textual criticism. What we see here is not properly called textual criticism—which rests upon the evidence and critical evaluation of documents—but a purely speculative kind of redaction criticism, guided only by subjective notions about what seems suitable, in line with the modernistic theological opinions of the editors. There are in fact no valid or critically respectable reasons to think that the Gospels of Matthew and Luke ever lacked these narratives of the birth of Christ. Belsham has relied upon some of the most infamous heretics of ancient times—Ebionites and Marcionites—as his authorities for eliminating these chapters, and his use of these sources is prejudicial and uncritical. ...

Even worse is Belsham’s treatment of the prologue to John’s Gospel. We reproduce this also in its entirety below, because no second-hand description of it can do justice to such a masterpiece of perverted ingenuity. In the notes, which the Introduction says are designed “to enable the judicious and attentive reader to understand scripture phraseology, and to form a just idea of true and uncorrupted Christianity,” the meaning of nearly every word of the prologue is diabolically twisted from its true sense. From the class of “critics and commentators of the highest reputation,” as the Introduction assures us, Belsham’s main authority for these interpretations is a volume of “Critical Remarks” attributed to a recently deceased Unitarian minister, Newcome Cappe (1733–1800), as edited by his wife. 11 But we are sure that no reputable scholar would entertain these interpretations for a moment.

Besides the doctrine of Christ’s divinity, the editors of the version are opposed to several other teachings of Scripture. They reject the concept of an atonement for sin, accomplished by Christ’s vicarious suffering, and they also reject the clear teaching of Scripture that not everyone will be saved. And so the statement “the Son of man came … to give his life a ransom for many” in Matt. 20:28 is explained thus in a note:

“The word translated ransom, signifies the price paid for the liberty of a slave; and, figuratively, any means of deliverance from bondage. So Deut. vii. 8, God is said to have redeemed, or ransomed, ‘the Israelites out of the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh,’ not by paying a price for them, but by the splendid and awful miracles which he wrought for their deliverance. See also Deut. ix. 26, xiii. 5; Neh. i. 10. In like manner, the many, that is, all mankind, (Matt. xxvi. 28; Rom. v. 15. 18.) being in bondage to the Mosaic ritual, or to heathen superstition, are ransomed by the death of Christ, which is the means of their deliverance: not as the suffering of a substitute, but as the seal and ratification of a new and better covenant. See Newcome, Pearce, and Priestley on the text.”

These interpretations are contrived to support Unitarian opinions, and not based upon any careful and scholarly study of the language of the Bible. It is quite true that God did not pay the Egyptians for the Israelites, and so the verb פדה must be understood in a broader sense of rescue in Deut. 7:8, and in other places as well. However, in Matt. 20:28 we do not just have a corresponding Greek verb, but rather the phrase, “give his life a ransom for” (δοῦναι τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ λύτρον ἀντὶ), which must mean more than simply “deliver” by any means. And the word πολυς without the definite article means “many,” not “all.” So here and in Matt. 26:28 it is not legitimately translated “all.” In Romans 5:15 it is preceded by the definite article, “the many” (twice), but even when used like this with the article it does not really mean “all” but rather “the mass,” the “whole group,” and the context must be consulted to see what group is meant. So the citation of Romans 5:15 and 5:18 here is inappropriate and misleading, if it is intended to explain the meaning of the word πολυς. The fact remains that πολυς “many” is used here and in Matt. 26:28 where any Greek writer would have used πας if he had meant “all.” The reason for this is plain enough: Christ elsewhere expressly states that many will not be delivered, but will instead be condemned to hell; and so Matthew avoids using πας where he speaks of man’ redemption.

For the learned, all criticism of the version is probably superfluous, because its bias is much too obvious to be denied. As we have seen, the version failed to convince even the Unitarians that their beliefs were scriptural. But for the sake of simple Christians who might have been misled by this deliberately misleading work, the version did receive much criticism from Christian authors when it appeared. Thomas Hartwell Horne writes:

This version is avowedly made to support the modern Socinian scheme; for though the name of Archbishop Newcome is specified in the title-page, as a kind of model, his authority is disregarded whenever it militates against the creed of the anonymous editors. The errors and perversions of this translation have been most ably exposed by the Rev. Dr. Nares, in his “Remarks on the Version of the New Testament, lately edited by the Unitarians,” &c. 8vo. London, 1808 (2d edit. 1814); by the Rev. T. Rennell, in his “Animadversions on the Unitarian Translation by a Student in Divinity,” 8vo. London, 1811; and by the Rev. Dr. Laurence (afterwards archbishop of Cashel), in his “Critical Reflections on some important Misrepresentations contained in the Unitarian Version of the New Testament,” 8vo. Oxford and London, 1811; and especially in the “Vindication of the Authenticity of the Narratives contained in the first two chapters of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke,” by a Layman. London, 1822. 8vo. The three last-mentioned treatises discuss various topics, which it did not fall within Dr. Nares’s plan to notice. Two short but very able critiques on this Version may also be seen in the Quarterly Review, vol. i. pp. 315-336., and in the Eclectic Review for 1809, vol. v. pp. 24-39., 236-251. 12

All of these works mentioned by Horne are now available online, and we provide links to them in the Bibliography below.
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