Virgin Birth Based on Outdated Beliefs About Conception?

Many historians and scholars believe the virgin birth as found in the Gospels is based off of ancient ideas about how children were conceived, in that it was believed that male semen was only a generating principle and that the female bodily fluids were all that was essentially needed to produce offspring. However, we now know that the male semen is essential for the formation of a child as it provides the other half of the genetic material in the sperm cells and, in the case of males, the Y chromosome. The authors of the Gospels had no understanding of modern genetics and were operating within their understanding of conception and would have based the virgin birth around this. How do we refute this?

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You can’t refute anything effectively without knowing what exactly you’re refuting.

Can you cite the historians and scholars you want to refute?


It’s a miracle? The entire accusation is saying they believed it could happen naturally, which is not what they believed. How people conceived is rather moot. All that’s important is that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit in a woman that never knew a man that way.

Also, and this is not as much to the point, that sounds reversed from how I normally here ancient beliefs classified, where it was the man who planted the seed and the woman only had the soil. Hence all the early emphasis that Jesus took his flesh from Mary as proof of his humanity, in contrast the the typical belief that the “flesh” so to speak came only from the man.


How do you prove the existence of God?

You want prove the impossible and the unbelievable?

You can’t prove to anyone this mystery no more than you can prove God exist because it rest on faith which is a supernatural gift which people through their free will must respond to.

We can prove Christ is the Jewish Messiah more than we can prove that a Virgin conceived without seed through the Holy Ghost.

If you believe the Bible the Virgin Conception is believable if you believe that the Scriptures are fairy tales you cannot.


LOL the causal relationship between sex and babies was very well known in Bible times.


According to British New Testament scholar, Andrew Lincoln:

Their [Matthew and Luke] understanding of conception, shaped by a patriarchal culture, would have been some variation of the dominant Aristotelian theory. On this view, the male semen provides the formative principle for life. The female menstrual blood supplies the matter for the fetus, and the womb the medium for the semen’s nurture. The man’s seed transmits his logos (rational cause) and pneuma (vital heat/animating spirit), for which the woman’s body is the receptacle. In this way the male functions as the active, efficient cause of reproduction, and the female functions as the provider of the matter to which the male seed gives definition. In short, the bodily substance necessary for a human fetus comes from the mother, while the life force originates with the father.

This isn’t about it being a miracle, this is about the belief being connected to ancient understandings of what conception was, which the virgin birth seems to be based off of. It was still miraculous but tenable from a scientific standpoint at the time based on faulty ideas from Aristotelean biology. Now, however, such a belief doesn’t even seem to work logically. Many scholars would say we’re trying to read this through a modern lenses and doing what creationists are doing when they try to read Genesis. We lack the cultural context and mindset of Matthew and Luke.

(Please note I am only doing Devil’s Advocate here)

This bolded is rather what I don’t believe follows at all. It’s like the history channel trying to explain the virgin birth by a natural parthenogenesis. It’s superfluous. There was no need for it to sound plausibly natural.


Please name one scholar and one historian that believe that the virgin conception was not a reporting of a factual miraculous event.


But the difference is is that this was what was culturally believed then. You see you just gave an example of trying to infuse modern ideas into an ancient text with your history channel example, you’re completely missing the point. It has been demonstrated that the doctrine of virgin birth is likely based off of ancient views of conception. That was their cultural millieu, of which we are no longer apart of. NT scholars and historians study the historical context of the NT and find that what the NT espouses fits quite nicely with ancient cultural beliefs. But it obviously doesn’t fit nicely with our modern scientific understanding of the world, and when we try to make it fit it becomes retroactive.

Who are these experts quoting with regards to what ancients and Aristotle believed about natural conception. Wikipedia isn’t perfect but here’s what it says about Aristotle:

Among Greek scholars, Hippocrates (c.460 – c.370 BC) believed that the embryo was the product of male semen and a female factor. But Aristotle (384 – 322 BC) held that only male semen gave rise to an embryo, while the female only provided a place for the embryo to develop, (a concept he acquired from the preformationist Pythagoras).

Where do these experts quote Aristotle as saying only the woman contributed? As I said, your description is the opposite of what I understood to be the ancient belief.

Early Christians didn’t repeat over and over again that Jesus took flesh from Mary because that could be construed as happening naturally. They did it because they were countering the gnostics who denied Jesus’ humanity and connection to Adam.

Rather than take the route that sounded natural, they defended the route that required (as far as they understood it) a true miracle.


To the bolded: how has it been demonstrated?

It sounds like simple speculation and interpolation.

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Like the majority of NT scholars. Bart Ehrman, E.P. Sanders, James D.G. Dunn, the list goes on and on. And two out of three of those that I just listed are Christians.

Everything in history is speculation. But I just provided an example. You’re moving the goal posts. Question the methodology all you want. But the same methodology applied to other ancient texts is applied to the NT as well.

What example?

And whose ancient beliefs, though? You specifically mentioned Aristotle. But he believed the opposite of what these critics are claiming.

Thank you. Yes, I see that Dr. Ehman is an agnostic (scholar). Dr. James D.G. Dunn, was a minister of the Church of Scotland, and a theologian. Of course I am not surprised to hear that there are many in the ecclesial communities and churches not in communion with the Catholic Church that are opposed to at least some of the Catholic dogmas of faith.

I mean, sure, the people who originally wrote about the virginal conception of Jesus didn’t know to wonder about where the other half of his chromosomes, including the sex-determining Y, came from.

And quite possibly, as in your quotation from Andrew Lincoln, they envisioned it as God’s logos (the Word, from John 1) and pneuma (His breath or spirit, as in the story of Adam’s creation) giving life to the bodily substance represented by (what would have been) Mary’s next episode of menstruation.

Okay. But what is there to refute? Either way, the male and female each provide something and you don’t have women spontaneously getting pregnant without sex. That they had a different explanation for what was going on doesn’t fundamentally alter the miraculous nature of the claim.

If it seems even less possible to have happened spontaneously now that we understand about chromosomes … okay, but that only matters to people who for some reason want to accept the basic claim but science away the miracle. That’s not us. So what are we defending or refuting here?


Is there anything to refute? I’m very confused about what the problem is supposed to be. Perhaps if the Bible explicitly stated the mechanism for the miraculous conception of Jesus and it somehow clashed with modern reproductive knowledge there might be a problem, but I do not believe it ever does; Mary simply becomes pregnant with no explanation on the specifics.

And given that we’re talking about an out-and-out miracle here, the fact a sperm is normally required would seem to be irrelevant. An omnipotent deity would obviously have the ability to simply create a zygote without the need of a sperm.

I did some digging, and what the critics appear to be referencing could be Aristotle’s De Generatione Animalium, in which he emphasizes that the matter is from the mother but that the soul is from the father. I suppose the critics are considering God’s action the animating principle of the matter in the Virgin Birth.

Still, Aristotle was hardly the only accepted authority for embryology in the ancient world, and there were those who proposed both the man and woman contributed matter. And Origen does not appear to have thought the same. In his Commentary on the Letter to the Romans he writes,

In the case of any man, it is appropriate to say that he was born “by means of a woman”, because before he was born of a woman he took his origin from man. But Christ, whose flesh did not take its origin from a man’s seed, is rightly said to have been born “of a woman”.

Either way, could you explain how it’s demonstrated that the virgin birth must be understood as a concoction reliant on incorrect embryology and can’t be understood outside of that context? The woman does provide matter. Man’s contribution is necessary.

Is this a case where people can’t disentangle incorrect science illustrations from actual philosophy/theology?

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We should look at the customs of marriage in those times.

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