Interesting results are out in a new poll from Pew Research about Christmas.
Nine-in-ten Americans say they celebrate Christmas, and three-quarters say they believe in the virgin birth of Jesus. But only about half see Christmas mostly as a religious holiday, while one-third view it as more of a cultural holiday. Virtually all Christians (96%) celebrate Christmas, and two-thirds see it as a religious holiday. In addition, fully eight-in-ten non-Christians in America also celebrate Christmas, but most view it as a cultural holiday rather than a religious occasion.
This poll reflects some changing beliefs about celebration of the holiday and religious affiations. So, check it out for that but let’s just focus on one aspect, the belief in the virgin birth of Jesus.
The virgin birth of Jesus is the belief that Jesus was conceived in the womb of his mother Mary by the Holy Spirit and born while Mary was yet a virgin. The New Testament references are Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 1:26-38.
The virgin birth was universally accepted in the Christian church by the 2nd century, was enshrined in the Apostles’ Creed, and, except for several minor sects, was not seriously challenged until the 18th century, and remains a basic article of belief in the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and most Protestant churches. Muslims also accept the virgin birth of Jesus.
73% of the respondants say they believe Jesus was born of a virgin. 19% don’t believe this, and 7% did not have an answer. The larger proportion of people who believe this non-scientific claim are religious. But of those people who say they are religiously unaffiliated, 32% claim to believe that Jesus was born to a virgin! I am confused. Are they just that into the myth and go along with it?
About nine-in-ten adults (91%) who see Christmas as a religious holiday say they believe Jesus was born of a virgin. However, even among those who celebrate Christmas as a cultural holiday and those who do not celebrate Christmas, roughly half say they believe in the virgin birth.
Many biblical scholars no longer believe in the literal Bible but this belief still holds fast. But it has complicated origins:
The impetus for the idea and the motivation which would eventually permanently seal it into the canon, came from the huge numbers of pagan converts. These converts didn’t want to leave behind Mithras and Perseus, who were both virgin-born, in exchange for a Jewish Messiah who was not.
The text in Isaiah 7:14, properly translated from the Hebrew Nevi’im reads:
Assuredly, my Lord will give you a sign of His own accord! Look, the young woman is with child and about to give birth to a son. Let her name him Immanuel.
This “young woman” may perhaps be unmarried or a physical virgin, but she should not be confused with the role of the Holy Virgins of the pagan temples of Ishtar whose job it was to bear savior- gods.
[...] By the time pagan philosophers like Celsus (fl. 180 CE) were denouncing the virgin-birth mythology, it was too late. The doctrine was already imbedded in the collective minds and manuscripts of the early Christians. Celsus anticipated the motive behind the virgin birth narrative and accused Christians of attributing the virgin birth to Jesus in order to imitate the pagan savior-gods
Things are always more complicated. And people don’t really below the surface, preferring to believe instead of question.
Honestly, this is concerning. People believe the wildest things.