The Virgin Birth

My parents had a copy of Mormon Doctrine when I was growing up. I don’t remember reading it, although I may have cracked it open to write a talk or two. Despite my years of early morning seminary, I don’t remember hearing about whether or not Mary was technically a virgin.

Would I be as interested in mormonism if I hadn’t been raised mormon? Probably not. Whenever I learn about religion, I have to admit – mormonism is my frame of reference. I compare the information about the religious question to what I know of mormonism.

Some weeks ago, pbs ran a program called “God in America”. I wasn’t able to watch the entire series, but the parts I saw drew me in.

It discussed religious freedom in America, and the development of public schools. They discussed the reform Judaism movement and Isaac Mayer Wise. But I thought an interesting discussion was about Rev. Charles Augustus Briggs. Briggs was a biblical scholar who was trying to make sense of the bible with his knowledge of science. His question was whether or not every sentence, every part of the bible needed to be taken as true, or was it just divinely inspired?

This is a question that many people debate to this day. Was the earth created in seven actual days? How does one explain the dinosaurs, etc.

I know it’s been discussed before, but this program made it even more apparent to me. Here were questions from the 19th century that now had answers. Through continuing revelation, mormons could explain some of these religious conundrums. How was Christ conceived? How could Mary have been a virgin? And the mormon prophet could obtain direct revelation to God to explain these difficult concepts.

Brigham Young is the person (see the first volume of the Journal of Discourses) who repeatedly suggested that the Father begat Jesus. (I’ve been trying to search through the Journal of Discourses for exact quotes, to no avail. I’m sure I can find some if needed. The Journal of Discourses is pretty lengthy.) McConkie also built upon Young’s statements in Mormon Doctrine.

I don’t think the virgin birth is a concept still discussed in LDS circles, but I can’t say for certain. Mormon Doctrine was never officially recognized, and from my understanding, is definitely not the place to go for the definitive word on the subject. I wouldn’t say that all LDS believe that Mary was or wasn’t a virgin; and that’s not really the point of this post.

I just wanted to discuss the brilliance (to my mind) of this model. Being able to answer some of these questions but still maintaining some sort of cohesive church/religion (not allowing everyone to have revelation to determine doctrine).

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13 Responses

  1. Carla says:

    I’m sure I’ve heard others speak of how Joseph Smith’s teachings were precise answers to the most hotly debated religious topics of the day, especially in the Book of Mormon, he was trying to resolve those debates by bringing forth a new book of scripture.

  2. Urban Koda says:

    I was going to comment that the official teaching of the Church is that Mary was a virgin, but then again, I believe the official story is that Jesus is the literal son of God. The two seem mutually exclusive. Perhaps most members, just like me, have never actually considered the implications of such teachings.

  3. Parker says:

    Brother Brigham taught that God the Father was the literal father of Jesus who was conceived as all children are conceived. That was commonly taught in the Church for years. However, in the last thirty years or so CES teachers were instructed to not teach that. Instead they were to say that we don’t know how Mary was impregnated, that it is a sacred subject not to be bandied about. It is another case of what many people thought was firm doctrine only to be told that it represented someone’s “well thought out opinion.”

  4. Alan says:

    This is so weird, as I reading about this exact topic last night.

    If Jesus were conceived “normally,” and his mother was Mary, what does Heavenly Mother have to say about all this? Nothing, as usual. The Mormon version of the virgin birth points to 19th century ideas of polygamy, where women were vessels to produce children, including the “mother of the son of God” who also happens to not be the “wife of God.” I think a historian could really find some interesting stuff on this subject — there might already be work done on it; I haven’t looked.

  5. Hellmut says:

    I don’t think that the Church fathers ever intended the Bible to be read literally. The four gospels are contradicting each and the fathers knew that. They weren’t stupid.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if literalism was not a fairly modern contribution to literature.

  6. Hellmut says:

    I always considered Bruce McConkie’s account of Mary’s conception a personal opinion and a creepy one at that. Even when I was a super Mormon, I did not take Bruce McConkie seriously.

    I mean, the man was agitating against evolution and therefore, clearly, rational people couldn’t take him seriously.

    I just figured that Bruce McConkie was another cookie American who was still obsessing about the Scopes monkey trial. If McConkie said something, my friends and I believed, that it was probably wrong.

    We did give him credit for apologizing for his prophesy that Blacks would never get the priesthood and later, I was touched, of course, by his final testimony when he was dying of cancer.

    Nonetheless, the notion that God would drug Mary with the Holy Ghost to have sex with her was repugnant and therefore implausible. After all, the first in-vitro baby had already been born, so believing into the virgin birth required actually less imagination than McConkie’s date rape scenario.

  7. Joe says:

    Brother Brig talks about Jesus’ birth starting on page 50 of the first volume of the Journal of Discourses:

    It’s a wild, wild, read.
    One of my favorite parts is how Brigham “logically” concludes that it couldn’t have been the holy ghost who impregnated the virgin Mary, BECAUSE… then… any time the holy ghost worked its power on ANY OTHER FEMALE, those other gals would likewise become divinely preggers (naturally).

    I’m quite sure Brig was just making it all up as he went along.

  8. Mary says:

    As you can see, the whole thing is wrapped up in Adam-God and I don’t know why we haven’t dropped the whole thing in entirety. I find this doctrine which was taught to me as “the condescension of God” repugnant. We may not teach it (that frequently), the last time I heard it was about 15 years ago. We do, however, refer to it whenever we talk about Jesus being the literal son of Heavenly Father (we do that quite frequently). It may be too sacred to discuss, but it is still taken for granted as doctrine.

    One thing that always seems to get skipped over is Mary is Heavenly Father’s daughter. That means if you think about it, Heavenly Father married and was intimate with his own daughter. Yes, and here’s another thing. If wife number one is supposed to approve subsequent marriages, that would Heavenly Mother taking the hand of her daughter and placing it in her husband’s hand thereby “blessing” their marriage! Yikes!!

    Then, when anyone tries to raise an objection, we are told “God’s ways are not man’s ways, we can’t judge”. Yeah, try telling that to any woman who was molested as a child and see how well that works. God’s ways are not our ways? We need to stop saying that.

  9. kuri says:

    I don’t know that the idea of incest and its accompanying repugnance really applies, since from the same theological perspective everyone marries their brother or sister. (Or maybe it makes ordinary marriages just as creepy?)

    But I do find the differences in their “development” disturbing. He’s a god and she’s just a human. I’d question the extent to which she could form consent in that situation. It sounds a little too much like an adult having a sexual relationship with a child or a developmentally disabled adult.

  10. Mary says:

    That’s exactly exactly my issue, kuri. It’s adult to child. It’s father to daughter. The very last verse of Section 132 of the D & C was something along the lines of “I have more to say about this doctrine, but I’ll wait ’til another time”. Was it going to be sanctioning father-daughter marriages on this side of the veil? I just wonder.

  11. Mary says:

    Another thing. I’m not an expert on this, but sibling incest is, my understanding, not a crime. It is consensual and between to more or less equals. An older relative to a younger relative is the older one taking advantage of the trust and protection and guidance that the younger relative feels and using it against them. It violates all kinds of boundaries and is very damaging for the victim and casts a shadow over their lives.

    So, it is not just the older and wiser taking advantage of the younger and more innocent. It is the violation of trust inherent in the relationship. And, as I said, just what was the next part to D & C 132?

  12. chanson says:

    I think it’s actually kind of funny how theology reflects cultural trends. First you have a culture that finds sexuality (especially female sexuality) so dirty and repugnant that they fetishize Mary’s virginity (because obviously God can’t be born out of a defiled hoo-hoo). Then along comes a cult of virility that insists that obviously God would carry out His manly duties…

  1. January 18, 2013

    […] was okay for awhile.  It was easy to dismiss certain people/teachers’ opinions directly from McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine, racist beliefs, ignorant statements like “don’t talk to anyone who’s not […]

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