Is the Incarnation a Miracle

I have said nothing, in this examination of the metaphysics of God incarnate, about the tradition, already embedded in some later books of the New Testament, that Jesus of Nazareth had no human father. The aspect of this tradition that most concerns philosophical theologians is the question whether the Virgin Birth, or, more accurately, the virginal conception of Jesus, is essential to the metaphysics of incarnation. Now the birth of a male child from a virgin, involving, as it would have to do, the special creation of Y-chromosomes, would certainly be a miracle. Such a miracle might well be an appropriate sign of the unique nature and significance ofJesus. But it is usually agreed by theologians such as Karl Barth, as well as by philosophical theologians, that the Incarnation, as such, need not necessarily have involved a virginal conception. Admittedly, David Brown suggests that a virgin birth would be required by a kenotic Christology considered as an alternative to a two-natures Christology.29 But his arguments for this do not carry conviction. And, in any case, it is Brown's view that a two-natures Christology does not require such a miracle. Swinburne states categorically that a virgin birth 'is not necessary for God to become man'.30 It is interesting to see how Keith Ward, while still inclined, like Brown and Swinburne, to accept that Jesus had no human father, is quite clear that 'the virgin birth does not seem essential to the truth of the claim that Jesus is the incarnation of the cosmic Christ'. The credal reference to 'born of the Virgin Mary' could, he says, be interpreted in a symbolic sense.

This consensus rests partly on recognition that the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke contain much legendary material expressive of the significance of the birth ofJesus, their role, vis-a-vis the Incarnation being comparable to that of the Genesis creation myths vis-a-vis the Creation, and partly on recognition that God's particular presence in the world in human form no more requires the breaking of the natural fabric of creation than does God's action in the world in general. The fabric of creation, on a theistic view, is flexible and open to divine providence in many ways, and, as we shall see in the final chapter, providential intervention does not necessarily mean miraculous intervention. The possibility of miraculous intervention is not denied. J. Houston has shown how Hume's famous arguments against belief in miracles are totally beside the point. Our experience of what normally goes on has nothing whatever to do with whether or not, for good reasons, God specially intervenes. But there are good theological reasons, if we are theists, and especially if we are Christian theists, for us to suppose that God respects the structures of creation, and works providentially within them, unless, as is the case with the Resurrection, there is no alternative to miraculous intervention. Those theological reasons have much to do with theodicy in respect of the problem of evil, but much too to do with a conception of the God—world relation that does not treat divine action as one causal factor among others, operating at the same level. So, if the Incarnation can be construed as the climax of God's providential ordering of things, it may be best to take it that way, and treat the Virgin Birth as legendary picture language, expressive of the conviction that Jesus came to us from the side of God.

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