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Title: The Historical Evidence for the Virgin Birth
Author: Taylor, Vincent
Language: English
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               The Historical Evidence for the Virgin Birth

                     by Vincent Taylor, B.D. (Lond.)

                             Clarendon Press




Chapter I. The Virgin Birth And The New Testament Outside The First And
Third Gospels
   I. St. Paul
   II. Q
   III. St. Mark’s Gospel
   IV. Acts
   V. The Epistle to the Hebrews
   VI. The Fourth Gospel
   VII. The Pastoral and the Catholic Epistles and the Apocalypse
   VIII. Summary
Chapter II. The Virgin Birth And The Third Gospel
   I. Narratives and Passages Said to be Inconsistent With the View
      (a) Lk. iii. 22, according to the “Western Text”
      (b) The Lukan Genealogy and Lk. iii. 23
      (c) The Narratives of Lk. ii
      (d) The References to Joseph and Mary in Lk. ii
      (e) Lk. ii. 5
   II. The Passage Lk. i. 34 f
      (a) The Interpretation of Lk. i. 34 f
      (b) The Purport of the Angelic Announcement in Lk. i. 30‐3
      (c) Reasons for regarding Lk. i. 34 f. as a Later Insertion
   III. Summary and Conclusion
Chapter III. St. Luke and the Virgin Birth
   I. Lk. i. 34 f. and the Textual Question
   II. Linguistic and Stylistic Examination of Lk. i. 34 f
   III. Summary and Conclusion
Chapter IV. The Place Of The Virgin Birth In The Third Gospel
   I. A Suggested Theory
   II. Literary Conditions Under Which the Gospels Were Written
   III. The Objections to Which the Above Theory is Exposed
   IV. Certain Consequences
Chapter V. The Virgin Birth And The First Gospel
   I. The Characteristics of the Genealogy
   II. The Genuineness of Mt. i, ii
   III. The Unity of Mt. i, ii
      1. The Genealogy
      2. The Passage Mt. i. 18‐25
   IV. Implications, Sources, and Results
   Appendix To Chapter V. The Textual Problem of Mt. i. 16
Chapter VI. The Historical Question: Its Limits And Bearings
   I. The Virgin Birth in the First and Third Gospels
   II. The Date of the Gospels in Relation to the Virgin Birth Tradition
   III. The Relation of the Question of the Historical Value of the
   Gospels to the Problem
   IV. The Question of Alternative Theories
   V. Doctrinal Considerations

                               [Cover Art]


This book is intended to be a literary and critical examination of the
historical evidence for the Virgin Birth. It is not the writer’s desire to
discuss the evidence from the point of view of an advocate; with a view,
that is to say, of obtaining an uncompromising verdict. His aim is rather
to trace and to define the earliest Christian tradition upon the subject,
and to show the limits and the bearings of the historical question.

A limited aim such as this ought not to require much justification. If,
however, justification is needed, it is not far to seek.

Much of the literature which treats of the Virgin Birth is controversial
in point of origin if not in form, and, in the nature of the case, it
could not have been otherwise. Controversial literature has, of course, a
necessary place in the search for truth. Nevertheless, it is exposed to
serious perils, especially when such a subject as that of the Virgin Birth
is discussed. It is not always easy, for example, to avoid an arbitrary
treatment of the New Testament, and to prevent philosophic or dogmatic
presuppositions from determining purely critical questions. Few will deny
that the discussion of the Virgin Birth has suffered in these directions,
and that, as a consequence, the problem remains in considerable confusion.
Not only has the evidence been variously estimated, but there are the
widest differences of opinion as to what the evidence really is. Neither
side has succeeded in convincing the other, and very many students of the
question preserve an attitude of suspended judgement.

The point which it is important to make is that, if any escape is to be
made from the present impasse, the problem must be approached in another
way. Doctrinal presuppositions must be resolutely laid aside; there must
be a common desire to ascertain the true facts of the evidence, whatever
the results may be. Not that dogmatic considerations have no place in the
problem! It is part of the conclusion reached in this book that in the end
dogmatic considerations do determine the issue. But it must be “in the
end”; not at the beginning, nor in the middle.

It may be that the writer has not himself escaped the perils to which he
has referred. He can only say that no pains have been spared to achieve
this purpose. It is true that the problem has been faced with a conviction
that, while truly man, Jesus was much more than man as we know him to be.
But this is not a presupposition which colours the evidence. On the
contrary, it is the one point of view which recognizes that there is a
problem to be solved. If our Lord was a prophet, and no more, there is no
real difficulty; no one would defend the Virgin Birth upon such terms. The
question becomes a living issue only when Jesus is believed to be more
than man.

In Chapter I the New Testament evidence outside the First and Third
Gospels is discussed. On the question of the attitude of the Fourth
Evangelist to the Virgin Birth—a question as difficult as it is
interesting—the writer has been glad to accept and to work out a striking
suggestion made by Dr. E. F. Scott (_The Fourth Gospel, its Purpose and

One reason for allotting three chapters to the Third Gospel is the
complexity of the Lukan problem. The theory which is outlined in Chapter
IV is one which has not yet received sufficient consideration. The
alternative, in the opinion of the writer, is to regard the Miraculous
Conception as a “necessary stone in the structure” of Lk. i, ii. It is the
difficulties mentioned in Chapter II which have prevented him from taking
this view. The writer is convinced that St. Luke believed and taught the
Virgin Birth. Nevertheless, the critical difficulties are such that it has
not been found possible to accept this view in the form in which it is
generally held.

It is well to remember that he who states a theory in connexion with such
problems contributes to their solution, whether his theory stands the test
of time or not. Even in the case of failure the possibilities are reduced
and a by‐path is revealed as such. As an illustration of this, reference
may be made to the view which ascribes the Virgin Birth tradition in Lk.
i, ii to an unknown and later writer.

One chapter (Chapter V) has been assigned to the First Gospel. The
exposition there given is one which is widely held in this country, but an
attempt has been made to emphasize the unique character of the
Evangelist’s standpoint, which, it is believed, is the key to the textual
problem of Mt. i. 16. The textual problem is treated in an Appendix to the

It may seem strange that in Chapter VI no decided opinion is expressed for
or against the Virgin Birth. The justification for this position is the
fact that, in the end, the question becomes one of Theology, and that to
attack the theological problem would be to go beyond the limited aim which
the present work has in view.

One result of the investigation is that the documentary evidence for the
Virgin Birth is found to be earlier than “negative” criticism has allowed.
But to accept this conclusion is only to be brought face to face with the
question which the modern New Testament student cannot escape. “Whence
come the sources upon which the Evangelists drew?” At first sight the
problem seems hopeless. To recover and to describe with objectivity of
statement the several sources which the Evangelists employed is a task
beset with difficulties: to penetrate still further might well seem
impossible. If, however, the problem is faced bravely, with an open mind
and an eagerness to learn, it may be that as time passes there will be
cause to rejoice over real progress made. The journey is not the plunge
into the dark which it might be thought to be. If, indeed, it will bring
men nearer to the Jesus of history, it is a quest which cannot be refused,
however great the difficulties may be.

In a subject such as this, certain things have necessarily to be taken for
granted. The author of the First Gospel is regarded as unknown;
accordingly, he is spoken of as the First Evangelist or as St. “Matthew”.
The writer of the Fourth Gospel is also referred to as the Fourth
Evangelist, the question of authorship being left open. St. Mark and St.
Luke, the companions of St. Paul, are assumed to be the authors of the
Second and Third Gospels respectively; St. Luke is also believed to be the
author of the Acts. The reader who does not accept these views may
mentally substitute such phrases as the Second and Third Evangelists
wherever St. Mark and St. Luke are mentioned. Such abbreviations as Mt.,
Mk., Lk., Jn. are always meant to refer to the Gospels, not to their

It only remains for the writer to express his deep sense of gratitude to
those to whose knowledge and help he is debtor. How much he owes to
earlier workers in the field will be sufficiently evident. It has proved
by no means an easy task to weigh and to differentiate between opposing
views, and the writer is not unmindful of his temerity, in certain places,
in dissenting from opinions supported by justly honoured names.

He desires particularly to speak of the generous encouragement he received
in his task from the late Dr. Sanday. Dr. Sanday had made a provisional
promise to write a brief introduction to the present work. His lamented
death has prevented the carrying out of this promise, and for the lack of
such an introduction the book is so much the poorer.

The writer further wishes to express his gratitude to his former tutor,
the Rev. Prof. A. S. Geden, M.A., D.D., and to the Rev. J. Walthew
Simister, for their kindness in reading the typescript, and in suggesting
improvements, and also to the Rev. Prof. F. Bertram Clogg, M.A., for his
valued assistance in the reading of the proof‐sheets.

Vincent Taylor.

BATH, _September, 1920_.


DCG.            Hastings’s _Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels_

EB.             _Encyclopaedia Biblica_ (1899‐1903).

Evan. Da‐Meph.  F. C. Burkitt’s _Evangelion Da‐Mepharreshe_ (1904).

GHD.            V. H. Stanton’s _The Gospels as Historical Documents_,
Parts I and II (1903‐9).

GHT.            F. C. Burkitt’s _The Gospel History and its Transmission_

Gr. ii.         J. H. Moulton’s _Grammar of New Testament Greek_, Vol. II

HDB.            Hastings’s _Dictionary of the Bible_ (1898‐1904).

HJ.             _The Hibbert Journal._

HS.             _Horae Synopticae_, Sir John C. Hawkins (2nd ed., 1909).

ICC.            _The International Critical Commentary._

INT.            Jülicher’s _Introduction to the New Testament_, Eng. Tr.
(1904); J. Moffatt’s _An Introduction to the Literature of the New
Testament_ (3rd ed., 1918).

Proleg.         Vol. I of J. H. Moulton’s _Grammar of New Testament Greek_
(3rd ed., 1908).

SH.             Sanday and Headlam’s Commentary on _The Epistle to the
Romans_ (ICC., 1895).

Th‐Gr.          Thayer‐Grimm’s _Greek‐English Lexicon of the New
Testament_ (1905).

VGT.            Moulton and Milligan’s _The Vocabulary of the Greek
Testament_, Parts I to III (1914‐18).


Outside the First and Third Gospels there is no direct reference to the
Virgin Birth in the New Testament. There are passages which have been said
to imply a knowledge of the doctrine, but, for particularity of statement,
none of them can be compared with Mt. i. 18‐25 and Lk. i. 34 f. This fact
must be our justification in the present chapter for treating together the
New Testament Books outside these two Gospels.

The inquiry is mainly a study in silence; it is for that reason both
difficult and complicated.

Dr. Sanday has expressed considerable distrust in the argument from
silence (cf. _The Criticism, of the Fourth Gospel_, pp. 33‐41). He quotes
a striking passage from Dr. Drummond’s _Character and Authorship of the
Fourth Gospel_ (p. 157 f.), in which reference is made to Theophilus of
Antioch, who, in a defence of Christianity, relates nothing about Christ
Himself, and maintains a remarkable silence concerning the Gospels. The
quotation ends with the words: “We may learn from these curious facts that
it is not correct to say that a writer knows nothing of certain things,
simply because he had not occasion to refer to them in his only extant
writing: or even because he does not mention them when his subject would
seem naturally to lead him to do so.” Dr. Sanday has two main objections
to the way in which the argument from silence is often handled.

“(1) The critic does not ask himself _what_ is silent—what extent of
material.... And (2) experience shows that the argument is often most
fallacious” (op. cit., p. 35).

Nothing can be lost in considering this opinion at the outset of our
inquiry. In the connexion in which it is urged, it has very great
justification. Dr. Sanday is referring to the paucity of references to the
Gospels in the second century previous to 170 A.D. The real question is,
he says, “What is the relation which the extant evidence bears to the
whole body of that which once existed, and how far can we trust the
inferences drawn from it?” The available literature is confessedly small.
“If we take the whole extant Christian literature between the years 130
and 170 A.D., it would not fill more than a thin octavo volume, and by far
the greater part of that is taken up with external controversy” (ib., p.

The caution suggested by these words is distinctly healthy. It may be
questioned, however, whether Dr. Sanday’s point of view would apply quite
so well as regards the alleged silence of so many New Testament Books with
reference to the Virgin Birth. There are good reasons for this opinion.

(1) The existing New Testament Writings represent the best Christian
literature of the period which they cover. No one would compare them in
this respect with the extant works of the first seven decades of the
second century.

(2) While not exhaustive in their treatment, the Gospels are faithful to
the outstanding events in the life of Jesus.

(3) The Epistles are rich in doctrinal teaching. Occasional in point of
origin, they impinge again and again upon the great doctrines of the
Christian Faith. The Incarnation and the Person of Christ especially are

If, then, very many New Testament Writings are found to be silent as
regards the Virgin Birth, the silence is not one which can be ignored. It
may in part be explained, but it must not be explained away. If it exists,
it is not a silence which can be regarded with equanimity; it must be
significant, and no pains can be spared in trying to understand that

We believe, then, that the _argumentum ex silentio_ has a valid place in
our inquiry. All the more, therefore, must we consider what the
possibilities of silence are. Obviously, silence may be consistent with
knowledge of a fact or lack of knowledge. But that is not all. If it
implies knowledge, it may mean tacit acceptance of the fact, tacit
rejection, or comparative indifference. Lack of knowledge, on the other
hand, may be explained by special circumstances, or by the view that the
alleged fact is untrue.

In treating the New Testament Books outside the First and Third Gospels,
our first task must be to determine whether their silence is complete.
Where this is the case, we have to try, so far as we can, to interpret the
silence. Each stage is, however, a further step into the unknown, and must
therefore be taken with increasing care and caution.

I. St. Paul

We begin with ST. PAUL, the earliest New Testament writer, and the author
of ten, if not thirteen, Epistles. Several passages have been quoted from
his writings, in support of the view that the Virgin Birth tradition was
known to him. Among these are Gal. iv. 4, Rom. i. 3, and passages in which
St. Paul speaks of Christ as the Second Adam, notably Rom. v. 12‐15 and 1
Cor. xv. 47.

Gal. iv. 4 f. reads as follows: _But when the fulness of the time came,
God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, that he might
redeem them which were under the law, that we might receive the adoption
of sons_. It is most improbable that there is here any reference to the
Virgin Birth, or even any indication that the doctrine is known to St.
Paul. The phrase “_born of a woman_” is one that is used naturally of an
ordinary human birth (cf. Job xiv. 1; and Mt. xi. 11 (Lk. vii. 28) “among
them that are born of women”). The determining consideration is, however,
the argument of Gal. iv. 1‐7. St. Paul is there working out the figure of
the heir who is yet a minor (verses 1, 2). While we were children, he
argues, we were in bondage (verse 3). But, when the fulness of the time
came, God sent forth his Son to redeem men from the law. To accomplish
this purpose, the Son must needs make Himself one with those He came to
deliver. Like them He must be “born under the law”; like them He must be
“born of a woman”. The one clause asserts His position as a child of the
Jewish race; the other declares the reality of His humanity. There is not
the slightest suggestion of a miraculous birth.(1) Indeed, the more
natural impression made by the words is that of a birth common to all the
sons of men. If St. Paul had wished to avoid giving that impression, he
could have done so with ease, since he was perfectly familiar with the
distinction between γυνή (woman) and παρθένος (virgin) (cf. 1 Cor. vii.

Rom. i. 3 f. reads: “... _his Son, who was born of the seed of David
according to the flesh, who was declared to be the Son of God with power,
according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection of the dead_.”
Here the thought of the Virgin Birth is said to lie implicit in the
opening words of the passage (cf. Orr, _The Virgin Birth of Christ_, pp.
119 ff.; also Knowling, _Testimony of St. Paul to Christ_, p. 313; and
Sweet, _The Birth and Infancy of Jesus Christ_, p. 237 n.). Again, the
exegesis cannot be allowed. St. Paul’s words state an antithesis; they
speak of the Son from two standpoints, that of the body and that of the
spirit (SH., Rom., p. 7). “According to the flesh”, He was “born
(γενομένον) of the seed of David”, but, “according to the spirit of
holiness”, He was designated (ὁρισθέντος) Son of God “by the resurrection
of the dead”. It is very difficult to think that the antithesis would have
been stated in this way, if the Apostle had been thinking of the Virgin
Birth. “Born of the seed of David” contains no reference to the doctrine.
The Divine Sonship, indeed, is not mentioned until the following clause,
and there it is said to be predicated, not in the Virgin Birth, but in the
Resurrection. Without pressing the view that “according to the flesh born
of the seed of David” implies an ordinary human birth, we may certainly
claim that the Miraculous Conception is a thought entirely foreign to the

A further implication of the doctrine has been found in St. Paul’s thought
of _the Second Adam_ (Rom. v. 12‐21, 1 Cor. xv. 44‐9). In _Dissertations_
(new ed., p. 11), Dr. Gore writes: “What we can maintain, with great
boldness, is that St. Paul’s conception of the ‘Second Adam’ postulates
His miraculous birth” (cf. Box, _The Virgin Birth of Jesus_, p. 150). In a
question of this kind, we must distinguish between what the doctrine of
the “Second Adam” may or may not “postulate” in our own minds, and what
St. Paul’s thoughts may have been. Certainly he gives us no reason to
suppose that the Virgin Birth was in the background of his mind when he
wrote Rom. v. 12‐21.(2) There would be as much justification, if not more,
for the contrary suggestion. So far as 1 Cor. xv. 44‐9 is concerned—(verse
47 reads: “_The second man is of heaven_”)—the reference is to the
Resurrection, not the Incarnation.(3)

None of these passages is sufficient to show that St. Paul was acquainted
with the Virgin Birth tradition, nor can any others be cited. This fact is
the more remarkable when we call to mind the great Pauline passages which
bear upon the Incarnation. With the closest scrutiny, not one of them
gives us reason to think that the Apostle knew of the Virgin Birth. This
is true of the great Christological passage of Phil. ii. 5‐11, and also of
the well‐known words of 2 Cor. viii. 9. Most significant in this connexion
are Phil. ii. 7 (“_Being made in the likeness of man_”) and Rom. viii. 3
(which speaks of the Son as sent “_in the likeness of sinful flesh_”).
These passages are important because they clearly imply a difference
between the humanity of Christ and ordinary humanity. This
difference—indicated by the word “likeness” (ὁμοίωμα)—is certainly not a
difference in mode of origin. Its character is manifest in Rom. viii. 3;
it lies in the sinlessness and moral perfection of Jesus.(4) There is no
indication that the Apostle is thinking of anything further, and the same
is true of Phil. ii. 7. Viewing the passages as a whole, we must conclude
that, not only is St. Paul completely silent as to the Virgin Birth, but
that he is silent just where his silence is most difficult to understand,
if he knew of the tradition.

Can we go further, and say that St. Paul did not know of the doctrine?
Short of a hard and fast conclusion, we are at liberty to state what would
seem to be the probabilities of the case; and as regards these we can have
little hesitation. It is reasonable to urge that St. Paul would have
phrased his references to the Incarnation somewhat differently, if he had
known of the Virgin Birth, and that, on the whole, his words are best
explained by presuming his ignorance of the tradition.

W. C. Allen has suggested that St. Paul’s silence may have been due to
reasons of prudence. He may have thought that the tradition would prove “a
great stumbling‐block to the progress of Christianity, and a continual
source of wounded feeling for the reverence of Christians for the Person
of their Master” (ICC., St. Mt., p. 20). It is possible that this argument
might go some way to explain the absence of direct allusions to the Virgin
Birth in St. Paul’s writings. It might cover his failure to employ the
tradition as “an argument for Christianity in his preaching to the
Gentiles”. But, assuredly, the theory is stretched to breaking‐point, if
it is made to cover the absence of the slightest indication that the
doctrine was present to St. Paul’s mind. For the most part, St. Paul’s
Epistles were not public manifestoes, but private letters, written to
Christian communities. Moreover, they are intensely self‐revealing. They
permit us to appreciate how much St. Paul knew of the words and deeds of
Jesus, and of the events of His earthly life. That they reveal no
knowledge of the Virgin Birth is hardly to be explained by a policy of
silence. Unless, on other grounds, it can be shown that the tradition was
known in Apostolic circles during St. Paul’s lifetime, his silence must be
interpreted to mean lack of knowledge concerning it.

This conclusion, if established, would not, of course, be fatal to the
historical value of the Virgin Birth tradition. Special reasons might be
forthcoming to account for the later spread of the belief. The importance
of St. Paul’s silence is that it furnishes help in deciding when the
belief became current.

A further inference, of considerable theological importance, is that the
Apostle could build up a mature and consistent Christology, without any
reference to, and apparently, thought of the Miraculous Conception.


Q (Quelle, “source”) is the symbol used to denote the main documentary
source, upon which the First and Third Evangelists drew, in addition to
St. Mark’s Gospel. As regards its character, there is difference of
opinion. Some scholars identify it with the Matthaean Logia of which
Papias speaks; others regard the latter as an independent collection of
Messianic proof‐texts. By some it is thought to have been a Gospel; by
others it is looked upon as a collection of the Sayings of Jesus, with a
certain element of narrative. Wellhausen dates it later than Mk., but most
scholars think that it is earlier, and date it from the sixties and in
some cases from the fifties.(5)

As regards the Virgin Birth, it is almost certain that Q did not contain
the tradition. Harnack thinks that Q’s narrative of the Baptism, with its
use of Ps. ii. 7, “excludes all ideas of pre‐existence and miraculous
birth” (_Sayings of Jesus_, p. 235), and J. M. Thompson, who quotes this
opinion, finds in the Baptist’s question, “Art thou he that cometh?”,(6) a
passage which it is “hard to reconcile ... with Lk.’s story of the Birth,
as generally interpreted” (_Miracles_, p. 140). What is more important
than either of these arguments, is the fact that neither the First nor the
Third Evangelist drew a Virgin Birth tradition from Q. The presumption is
that Q was silent as regards the Virgin Birth,(7) but in view of the fact
that it probably contained only a small element of narrative, we ought not
to say more.(8)

III. St. Mark’s Gospel

In treating ST. MARK’S GOSPEL, our first task is to ask if its silence is
complete. This leads at once to a discussion of Mk. vi. 3: “_Is not this
the carpenter, the son of Mary...?_”

Parentage among the Jews was traced on the father’s side. The passage may
therefore imply that Joseph was already dead. Archdeacon Allen thinks that
“son of Mary” is “more naturally an allusion to the supernatural
circumstances of the birth of Jesus” (ICC., St. Mt., p. 156).(9) Without
going so far as this, Canon Box thinks that there is something “decidedly
remarkable and unusual” in the phrase, and suggests that it is probably
contemptuous (op. cit., p. 139).

However we explain the phrase, we ought not to interpret Mk. vi. 3 as
implying a knowledge of the Virgin Birth on the part of the people of
Nazareth. Mt. xiii. 55 and Lk. iv. 22 directly exclude this view.(10) “Who
would allude to the miraculous birth of somebody _as a reason for not
believing in him_?” (Thompson, ib., p. 138 n.).

But did the Evangelist know of the Virgin Birth? Has a knowledge of the
doctrine shaped his phrasing in Mk. vi. 3? The question is complicated by
critical considerations. It is suggested by several scholars that the
passage, in whole or in part, is a later addition to the Second
Gospel.(11) There is much to be said for this view, but, so far as our
immediate purpose is concerned, we have no need to discuss it in detail.
On either view—that of the critical theory just mentioned, or that which
attributes the passage to the Evangelist—it is improbable that St. Mark
intended to refer to the Virgin Birth, or was influenced by the doctrine.
On the interpolation‐hypothesis, this is obvious enough, but it is also
true if Mk. vi. 3 is original. The suggestions that Joseph was already
dead, and that a certain contempt breathes in the words, have great force.
We may also note that the passage goes on to refer to the brothers and
sisters of Jesus, with no suggestion that the relationship was other than
full and complete. But what is most telling of all is the fact that, if
Mk. vi. 3 does imply St. Mark’s knowledge of the Virgin Birth, both St.
“Matthew” and St. Luke, in their own narratives, have destroyed the
reference. This is all the more remarkable if the First Evangelist’s
treatment of Mk. vi. 3 is motived by reverence for the Person of
Jesus.(12) Finally, can we suppose that St. Mark would have placed his
sole reference to the Virgin Birth in the lips of unbelieving Jews who
speak with thinly veiled contempt? For these reasons, we find it
impossible to discover in Mk. vi. 3 a reference to the Virgin Birth by St.
Mark; the Evangelist’s silence is unbroken.

Was, then, the tradition unknown to St. Mark?

Several passages have been cited in support of the contention that St.
Mark had no knowledge of the doctrine. Among these is Mk. iii. 21, 31‐5
(cf. Mt. xii. 46‐50; Lk. viii. 19‐21). The story of Mk. iii. 31‐5 is that
of the coming of Mary and of the brothers of Jesus, while our Lord is
surrounded by a crowd, apparently in a house. When Jesus is informed that
they are without seeking Him, He says, “Who is my mother and my
brethren?”, and looking round upon the assembled company, He continues,
“Behold, my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of
God, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother”. The account in Mt.
is almost identical, and St. Luke’s story, while much briefer, is
substantially the same. But St. Mark’s narrative must be read in the light
of Mk. iii. 21 (cf. Gould, ICC., St. Mk., pp. 61, 67)—a passage which is
omitted in Mt. and in Lk. There, we are told that the friends of Jesus (οἱ
παρ᾽ αὐτοῦ, probably “His kinsmen”) went out to lay hold on Him, in the
belief that He was mad. This fact must unquestionably be held to explain
the action of the family of Jesus in the incident of Mk. iii. 31‐5, and
the question arises, Did Mary share in the fears and intentions of the

A second passage is Mk. vi. 4, where Jesus declares that a prophet is not
without honour, save in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his
own house. The phrase “_among his own kin_”, which both Mt. (xiii. 57) and
Lk. (iv. 24) omit, is said to point in the same direction as Mk. iii. 21,
31‐5.(14) A third incident adduced is that recorded in Mk. xii. 35‐7 (Mt.
xxii. 41‐6; Lk. xx. 41‐4), where Jesus raises the question, how the
Messiah can be at once David’s Son and David’s Lord. “Here again”, writes
Mr. Thompson, “Jesus assumes the reality of that human parentage on which
His Davidic descent relies.... Thus it appears that on three separate
occasions (and there are no others) when Jesus, according to the earliest
Gospel, spoke about His birth, He used language naturally compatible with
human parentage, and not naturally compatible with anything else” (op.
cit., p. 138).

It will be seen that these passages raise more than the question whether
St. Mark knew of the Virgin Birth. They raise the question of the
knowledge of Jesus, and indeed the whole question of the historical
character of the Miraculous Conception.

Clearly, the question of the knowledge of Jesus is a determinative
consideration. Few indeed will care to argue for the Virgin Birth
tradition, if it can be proved that Jesus knew nothing of it, but believed
Himself to be the son of Joseph. Just for this very reason we ought to be
scrupulously careful in treating the question. A scientific inquiry will
hesitate to draw an inference which makes further research superfluous.
And in the present case hesitation is amply justified. We cannot share Mr.
Thompson’s conviction that the words of Jesus acknowledge a natural
parentage. (1) Such exegesis must suffer an obvious discount if we find
that the _Evangelist_ knew nothing of the Virgin Birth. (2) We cannot be
certain that Mary shared the fears and intentions of her children. (3) We
do not know the tone in which Jesus spoke, nor can we be sure that He
intended to repudiate His family. It may be so; but our opinion on these
matters must rest upon what we believe about the Virgin Birth; the
evidence is too uncertain to reverse the process.

As regards the Evangelist, we may say at once that we could account much
more easily for the passages cited, if St. Mark did not know of the
doctrine. But it is doubtful if we can say more, so long as we confine
ourselves to what St. Mark has actually written.

There is little difficulty in the third passage (Mk. xii. 35‐7), since
both Mt. and Lk. repeat it without material variation. Nor is there the
force claimed in the phrase “among his own kin” (Mk. vi. 4). In any case
Mt. has the words “in his own house”, and probably the omission of the
former phrase is sufficiently explained by the writer’s tendency to remove
redundant expressions in Mk.(15) While in the case of St. Luke, we have to
remember that abbreviation is a common feature in his use of Markan

The real difficulty lies in Mk. iii. 21, 31‐5. Something more than a
desire for brevity must account for the later Evangelists’ treatment of
this story. Mary’s position and attitude are certainly left very ambiguous
in the light of Mk. iii. 21. In the subsequent story St. Mark does not
distinguish her from the rest (iii. 31‐5). In short, he leaves her open to
the charge of having thought her Son distraught and in need of restraint.
Ought we to find in this proof that St. Mark had no knowledge of the
Virgin Birth? Our hesitation in drawing this conclusion arises out of the
“objectivity” of St. Mark’s writing. Frequently, he does not hesitate to
introduce details, to which, for various reasons, St. “Matthew” and St.
Luke took exception. He does not appear to feel the difficulties which the
later writers felt. We could not, therefore, attach the same significance
to an “inconsistency” in Mk., as in Lk., or in Mt. For this reason, we
think that, while Mk. iii. 21, 31‐5 raises very great difficulties, the
passage is not sufficient in itself to prove that St. Mark knew nothing of
the Virgin Birth. We may say that the passage points in this direction,
but that the inference requires further confirmation. Can this be found?
We believe that it can be found in the broad fact of St. Mark’s silence.

There is much greater significance in St. Mark’s silence than is sometimes
allowed. Why should he, as an Evangelist, remain silent about the Virgin
Birth, if he knew of it, and believed in it? The deep interest which he
takes in the descent of the Spirit at the Baptism, and his evident
intention to describe this event as a crucial moment in the life of Jesus,
set up a strong presumption that, had he known of the Miraculous
Conception, he would have introduced it into his narrative. There is no
sufficient analogy in his silence about other events in the life of Jesus
which later writers record; no omission can be compared with this. Nor
will reasons of prudence account for his silence; the Second Gospel is
probably too late for this argument to have weight. There is still less
force in the suggestion that St. Mark’s intention was to describe only the
public ministry of Jesus. This solution evades the difficulty, and comes
perilously near to saying that St. Mark does not record the Virgin Birth
tradition because he does not record it! The Second Gospel describes not
only the death and burial of Jesus, but also the visit of the women to the
tomb, and probably, in its original ending, some of the Post‐Resurrection
Appearances of Jesus. These facts are enough to show how inadequate it
would be to describe the Gospel as an account of the public ministry of

Having regard to all the facts of the case, the probability is that St.
Mark’s silence must be explained on the ground that the Evangelist had no
knowledge of the Virgin Birth tradition. The further implication is that
it formed no part of Apostolic preaching, and was unknown in the circles
in which St. Mark moved. These conclusions cannot, of course, be hardened
into certainties; they move in the realms of what is probable. Instead of
being capable of refuting other considerations which might arise, they
themselves require further confirmation.

IV. Acts

There is no reference to the Virgin Birth, either direct of indirect, in
THE ACTS. The presumption is that the doctrine had no place in Apostolic
preaching.(16) This view is suggested, not only by the silence of Acts,
but also by the character of its Christology.

Christ is spoken of as Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God by mighty
works and wonders and signs (ii. 22), and as one who was anointed by God
with the Holy Spirit, and with power, who went about doing good (x. 38).
He is the Holy and Righteous One (iii. 14), the Prince of Life (iii. 15),
whom God made both Lord and Christ (ii. 36). He is exalted to the right
hand of God, to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to
Israel and remission of sins (v. 31).

In all this, the main ground of appeal is to the Resurrection (ii. 24, 32,
iii. 15, iv. 10).(17) The reference to the miracles of Jesus (ii. 22, x.
38) is “the only direct and concrete allusion to the events of His earthly
life”.(18) Even where the Davidic descent is mentioned (ii. 25 f., xiii.
23, 33), there is no suggestion other than that of direct physical lineage
(“Of this man’s seed hath God according to promise brought unto Israel a
Saviour, Jesus”, xiii. 23).

Does the silence of Acts permit us to draw any inferences concerning St.
Luke’s knowledge of the Virgin Birth tradition? The question ought to be
considered apart altogether from Lk. i, ii. Having regard to the character
of the work we do not think that any one conclusion can safely be drawn.
The Acts obviously differs from the Gospels, and we cannot, as in the case
of the Pauline Epistles, look to it for any sufficient account of the
writer’s Christology. It would therefore be unsafe to say that the silence
of Acts implies that its author had no knowledge of the Virgin Birth.(19)
If the doctrine was not a subject of Apostolic preaching, St. Luke must
have known this: his silence may therefore be due to a sound historical
sense. If, at the time when he wrote the Acts, his knowledge of the
tradition had not long been gained, he would be still less likely to
perpetrate what would have been an historical anachronism. On the other
hand, we cannot, on the evidence of the Acts alone, show that he did know
of the doctrine, and that the possibilities just stated represent the
facts. The case is one in which the _argumentum ex silentio_ would be
untrustworthy in either direction. It should be emphasized that this view
springs entirely out of the character of the book, and in no way affects
the use of the argument we have made in the case of Mk. and the Epistles
of St. Paul.

V. The Epistle to the Hebrews

THE EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS claims attention because of the developed
character of its doctrine of the Person of Christ, and because its writer,
while not an eye‐witness (ii. 3), has a vivid knowledge of many events in
the earthly life of Jesus. As regards the Virgin Birth, the Epistle is
completely silent. In the comparison with Melchizedek (vii. 1‐3), no
stress can be laid on the fact that the latter is described as “without
father”; he is also “without mother” and “without genealogy”. The
reference to the descent of Jesus from the tribe of Judah (vii. 14) is
left quite bare. Even the statements concerning the sinlessness of Christ
(iv. 15, vii. 26), and the lofty characterization of the Son as “the
effulgence” of God’s glory and “the very impress of his substance” (i. 3),
are made without a word as to the method of the Incarnation. It is
difficult to read the Epistle without feeling that the writer’s thought is
nowhere influenced by the Virgin Birth. Especially is this the case in
such passages as ii. 14 (“_Since then the children are sharers_
(κεκοινώνηκεν) _in flesh and blood, he also himself in like manner partook
of_ (μετέσχεν) _the same_”),(20) and ii. 17 (“_It behoved him in all
things to be made like unto his brethren_”). Two considerations forbid,
however, the drawing of this conclusion. We have no certain knowledge of
the writer’s identity, and we have no other work from his pen with which
to compare the Epistle. Its significance is therefore mainly theological;
it is an instance of an elaborate doctrinal writing,(21) coming possibly
from the seventh decade of the first century, or, more probably, from
about the year 80 A.D., in which no reference of any kind is made to the
Miraculous Conception. This fact, however it is explained, cannot be
ignored, and the later we date the Epistle the more important it becomes.

VI. The Fourth Gospel

The silence of THE FOURTH GOSPEL regarding the Virgin Birth is now
generally admitted;(22) the only question being whether there is not a
passing reference to the doctrine in Jn. i. 13.(23)

What the writer’s silence means is one of the most difficult problems in
the question of the Virgin Birth. The case is different from any we have
yet considered. For the doctrine of the Virgin Birth must have been
perfectly well known to the Fourth Evangelist. He was well acquainted with
the Synoptic Gospels,(24) and there can be little doubt but that he read
Lk. i, ii, and Mt. i, ii, in the form in which we have them to‐day. That
he knew of the tradition is further confirmed by the fact that, so early
probably as _c._ 110 A.D., the Epistles of Ignatius contain several
references to the doctrine (Eph. xviii. 2; xix. 1; Magn. 11; Tr. ix). The
difficulty is further increased by the freedom with which the Evangelist
treats the Synoptics. “On the one hand their contents are very largely
assumed; and on the other hand the author does not hesitate, where he
thinks it necessary, to correct them.... The author evidently felt himself
at liberty to select just those incidents which suited his purpose”
(Sanday, _The Criticism of the Fourth Gospel_, p. 71).

As the problem is usually treated, the silence of the Fourth Gospel is
said to mean either “tacit rejection” or “tacit acceptance” of the
tradition. It may be questioned, however, if these alternatives
sufficiently cover the possibilities of the case. “Tacit rejection” under
any circumstances means repudiation of the doctrine. But “tacit
acceptance” may mean anything from comparative indifference to whole‐
hearted assent.

As containing the sharper issue, the case for “tacit rejection” may be
considered first. Among the arguments in favour of this view, we may note
the following:—

(1) Certain passages seem to require this position. In i. 45 Jesus is
described by Philip as “_the son of Joseph_”, and in vi. 42 the Jews at
Capernaum ask the question: “_Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose
father and mother we know?_” Three times, moreover, controversy turns on
the question of the birthplace of Jesus. The Jews look for the birthplace
of the Messiah at Bethlehem (“Hath not the scripture said that the Christ
cometh of the seed of David, and from Bethlehem?”, vii. 42), or they
regard it as unknown (“When the Christ cometh, no one knoweth whence he
is”, vii. 27), and the objection is raised that Jesus is of Galilee (i.
45, vii. 41 f., 52). Nowhere does the Evangelist expose the futility of
the controversy by a reference to Bethlehem as the birthplace of Jesus. On
the contrary (it is said), he himself believed Nazareth to be the
birthplace, and must thus have rejected the tradition of Mt. i, ii.

(2) Instead of directly repudiating a particular Synoptic narrative, the
Fourth Evangelist’s method is silently to set it aside by preferring
another tradition or view. Is not his preference for his own Incarnation
theory a tacit repudiation of the Virgin Birth tradition?

Of these arguments the second can be allowed only if we can show that the
Evangelist looked upon the two doctrines, that of the Virgin Birth and
that of the Incarnation of the Divine Logos, as contradictory and mutually
exclusive. It is not possible, however, to prove this, and to assume it is
to beg the question. The stronger argument is the first. It is certainly
difficult to show that the language of i. 45 and vi. 42 is that of Philip
and the Jews respectively, and that it does not reflect the Evangelist’s
point of view. In the Fourth Gospel we are often unable to assume that the
writer intends to give the _ipsissima verba_ of those who speak. Are i. 45
and vi. 42 cases in point, or are they exceptions? The question is not an
easy one to decide, unless, of course, we have satisfied ourselves that
the Fourth Gospel is an entirely unhistorical work. In this case, i. 45
and vi. 42 will represent the Evangelist’s opinions. But, on this view, we
have largely forfeited our right to appeal to the Fourth Gospel in
treating the question of the Virgin Birth on its historical side. We
cannot have it both ways. If the Fourth Gospel shows a pronounced
disregard of history, it is not permissible to draw historical arguments
from it. It will have (on this view) an important bearing on the
historical question from the theological side; but, as a primary
historical authority, it must disappear. If, on the other hand, we
admit—as we have good reason to admit—the presence of a considerable
element of valuable historical tradition in the Fourth Gospel, it is by no
means certain that i. 45 and vi. 42 represent the Evangelist’s views. As
in the case of Mt. xiii. 55 and Lk. iv. 22, these passages may indicate
contemporary opinions and no more. This view is less easy to hold in the
case of i. 45 and vi. 42 than it is in respect of the Synoptic passages;
but it is a possibility not lightly to be set aside. And if this is so, we
cannot with confidence urge that in i. 45 and vi. 42 the Fourth Evangelist
repudiates the Virgin Birth.

As regards the passages which connect Jesus with Nazareth and Galilee, it
is not necessary to infer that the writer looked upon the town as the
birthplace of our Lord. His silence regarding Bethlehem is strange, but it
does not compel us to conclude that he is rejecting the tradition bound up
with Mt. i, ii, as Mr. Thompson thinks (op. cit., p. 158).(25) The more
important fact is that the Evangelist does not name _any town_, not even
Nazareth, as the birthplace of the Eternal Word.

The view that the Fourth Evangelist tacitly rejects the Virgin Birth fails
to justify itself on internal grounds. It is also opposed by
considerations of an _external_ character. It is from the locality in
which probably the Fourth Gospel arose, that we have the earliest
references to the Virgin Birth outside the New Testament. Ignatius,
according to Dr. Moffatt (INT., p. 211), seems “to fuse the Johannine idea
of the incarnation with the synoptic birth‐stories”. If this is so, the
fact does not compel us to suppose that the Fourth Evangelist would have
done the same; but it raises a strong presumption against the view that he
explicitly rejected the tradition.

Must we then suppose that the Evangelist’s silence means “tacit
acceptance” of the doctrine? Obviously, the failure to prove “tacit
rejection” tells so far in the opposite direction. But, as we have seen,
“tacit acceptance” is a very elastic term; it calls, therefore, for closer

It can scarcely be shown that the Fourth Evangelist accepts the Virgin
Birth in the same way in which it is held in Mt. i, ii. There is no
sufficient answer to this assertion in the plea that the story had been
already told, and that the Evangelist’s purpose was to supplement the
Synoptic narratives. This is a view of the Fourth Gospel which cannot be
carried through. It is better to suppose that the Evangelist’s omission of
the Virgin Birth tradition has a more definite meaning, even though we
reject the view that its significance is silent repudiation of the
doctrine. We have also to find a place in our solution of the problem for
the difficulties left over in i. 45 and vi. 42, and in the Evangelist’s
failure to name the birthplace of Jesus. In other words, arguments
insufficient to prove “tacit rejection” cannot on that account be ignored.
They must rather be held to condition the sense in which we speak of
“tacit acceptance”.

The Evangelist’s silence regarding the Virgin Birth can only be understood
when it is considered along with his other notable “omissions”. It is one
of “a whole series of episodes, cardinal to the Synoptic story” (Scott,
_Fourth Gospel_, p. 42). This series includes the Genealogy, the Virgin
Birth, the Baptism, the Temptation, the Transfiguration, the Supper, the
Agony, the Ascension. The true explanation is probably that given by Dr.
E. F. Scott: “These remarkable omissions ... cannot be due to oversight or
to the leaving out of what was non‐essential. Without doubt they have been
made deliberately, in view of certain theories and presuppositions with
which the writer approached his subject” (ib., p. 42 f.). These words set
us on the right track. The Evangelist’s silence does not mean that he
rejected the Virgin Birth tradition. The Synoptic birth‐stories were more
probably accepted by him “as a part of the orthodox tradition, in which,
as a member of the Church, he acquiesced” (ib., p. 188). His doctrinal
sympathies, however, lay in another direction. It may be that at the time
when he first heard of the Virgin Birth tradition, his doctrine of the
Incarnate Word had already shaped itself in his mind. Jesus Christ was the
Eternal Son of God, the Word made flesh, who became incarnate by His own
voluntary act. The fact that his own theological scheme was already
developed, together with its specific character,(26) may well account for
his neglect of the Virgin Birth. _He does not deny the story, but his own
Christology has superior spiritual attractions._

It will be seen that this theory leaves little room for difficulties
arising from such passages as i. 45 and vi. 42, and explains at once the
Evangelist’s attitude to the question of the birthplace of Jesus. On the
one hand, the doctrinal presuppositions of the Virgin Birth were not
operative in his mind; on the other hand, in the light of his doctrine of
the Logos, the difficulties mentioned would scarcely be felt. The Jewish
controversies must have seemed to him so much playing with words. What did
it matter where the Word became flesh? What did it matter if men called
Him Joseph’s son?

Our conclusion, then, is that the Fourth Evangelist tacitly accepts the
Virgin Birth, but gives it no place in his doctrinal system. With the
theological significance of this result we are not now concerned. Our
present interest is rather in its historical implications. On the positive
side, it yields little; on the negative side, its importance is greater.
It is not permissible to argue against the Virgin Birth tradition on the
ground that the Fourth Evangelist rejected it. We may go further and say
that, having regard to his evident preoccupation with the Logos‐doctrine,
it may not even be safe to make too much of the fact that he ignored the

VII. The Pastoral and the Catholic Epistles and the Apocalypse

Of the New Testament Writings, other than the First and Third Gospels,
Whether _the Pastoral Epistles_ are the work of St. Paul or not, their
silence regarding the Virgin Birth cannot be pressed. 1 Tim. iii. 16
(probably a fragment from an early Christian hymn) may or may not be
significant in its silence; but, in either direction, the inference would
be unsafe. These writings are much too brief and restricted in subject‐
matter to leave room for the argument from silence. The same view is also
true of _the Catholic Epistles_. _The Apocalypse_ contains one passage
(xii) which has been thought to indicate the writer’s knowledge of the
doctrine,(27) but the inference is far from being certain, and, in any
case, in view of the date of the Book, it would add nothing to our
knowledge which cannot be learnt more clearly elsewhere.

VIII. Summary

We may summarize the historical results reached in the present chapter as

1. _There is no certain instance of a New Testament writer who knew of the
Virgin Birth tradition, and yet repudiated it._ It is more than doubtful
if an exception can be found even in the case of the Fourth Gospel, though
the Evangelist makes no doctrinal use of the tradition. If the author of
the Epistle to the Hebrews knew of the doctrine, the same is probably true
of that writer also.

2. _The doctrine had no place in the subject‐matter of Apostolic
preaching._ This view is supported by all the available evidence. The
silence of the Pauline Epistles, of the Acts, and of the Second Gospel can
be explained in no other way.

3. _The tradition was not a matter of public knowledge during the period
covered in common by the Pauline Epistles, the Second Gospel, and Q._

4. _It is also probable that the same conclusion should be extended to the
period covered by the Second Gospel alone, if this Book is dated later
than St. Paul’s lifetime, as it usually is._

Until we have examined the Virgin Birth tradition reflected in the First
and Third Gospels, it would not be right to discuss these results further,
except to say that an historical argument against the Virgin Birth based
on these conclusions alone would be precarious. The chief importance of
the results reached is the help they furnish in deciding when belief in
the Virgin Birth first became current.


The question to be discussed in this chapter needs careful definition.
What we wish to discover, if possible, is whether the Virgin Birth is an
original element in the Third Gospel. This question is not without a
certain ambiguity. It is sometimes taken as if it were equivalent to the
further question, Did St. Luke teach the Virgin Birth? It is clear that
these questions are closely connected; nevertheless, they are distinct,
and should be kept distinct. The difference is at once apparent if, for
purposes of argument, we assume that the doctrine really does belong to a
later stratum in the Gospel. In this case, all the references to the
tradition must have been inserted, either (i) by an unknown reader,
editor, or scribe, or (ii) by St. Luke himself. In either case, the Virgin
Birth would be a later element in the Gospel; but the two senses in which
this could be true are clearly very different.

Before one could say that St. Luke did not teach the Virgin Birth, it
would be necessary to show that he did not write the passage Lk. i. 34
f.,(28) and this is a point which cannot be determined by arguments
derived from the context and subject‐matter alone. Such arguments may, or
may not, be able to prove that the doctrine is a later element, but they
cannot show that it is a non‐Lukan element. This is a second and distinct
step, which is not justified until the textual and the linguistic facts
have been examined. Then, and then only, can we say if St. Luke taught the
Virgin Birth.

In the present chapter all questions of a linguistic character will be
left aside. Lk. i. 34 f. is perfectly susceptible of the linguistic test,
and this will be applied in its proper place. The only arguments we shall
consider at present will be those which arise out of matters of context
and subject‐matter. In the light, then, of the principle laid down above,
the question whether St. Luke taught the Virgin Birth, does not yet
properly arise. The only question we have to consider at this stage is
whether the Virgin Birth is an original element in the Third Gospel,
interpreting that question in its strictest and barest sense.

The distinction we have drawn is perfectly obvious when it is pointed out.
At the same time, one cannot read the literature which treats of the Third
Gospel in relation to the Virgin Birth, without feeling how frequently the
point has been neglected. The assumption, that, if the Virgin Birth is
found to be a later element in the Gospel, we must straightway have
recourse to the hypothesis of non‐Lukan interpolation, runs through the
writings of critics of all schools like a refrain. Its presence in the
arguments of those who deny the Virgin Birth is often sufficiently clear.
But the same assumption is also tacitly made by many critics on the other
side. It would be ungenerous, and perhaps unwarranted, to suggest that
this assumption has prevented many orthodox writers from doing justice to
the objections which have been raised against the view that the doctrine
was present in the Gospel from the very first. That its effects have been
harmful in the interests of dispassionate investigation, is, however,
hardly open to question. In the treatment which follows, an attempt will
be made to avoid this fallacy, and to keep the discussion within the
limits which are proper to itself.

The material to be examined is found for the most part in the first two
chapters of the Gospel, and consists (1) of certain narratives and
passages, which apparently are inconsistent with the view that the author
wrote with a knowledge of the Virgin Birth, and (2) of the passage i. 34
f., which implies the doctrine, but is believed by many scholars to be a
later insertion. Outside chaps. i and ii, the only passages which call for
notice are iii. 22, iii. 23, and iv. 22.

We may say at once that we have few new arguments to bring forward. The
contentions we have to examine are familiar to every one who studies the
question of the Virgin Birth. They have been brilliantly stated in two
well‐known articles in the _Encyclopaedia Biblica_, one by P. W. Schmiedel
(on “Mary”), and the other by Usener (“Nativity”). In a review (HJ., vol.
i, no. 1, p. 164), Dr. Moffatt justly describes these articles as
“competent and first‐rate essays, which deserve alert recognition”. But
both these articles not only deny that the Virgin Birth was an original
element in the Third Gospel, but also that St. Luke, the companion of St.
Paul, ever taught that doctrine—and this without any linguistic
examination of the passage i. 34 f. They provide, in fact, a clear
illustration of the point we have already discussed. Inasmuch, then, as
our purpose is to consider the question, Was the Virgin Birth an original
element in the Third Gospel?, interpreted in its strictest terms, we shall
need to state and weigh the arguments afresh. This is the more desirable,
because, in the form in which these scholars present their case, each
argument is put forward with an assurance and a finality which
individually it does not merit. It is the cumulative force of a number of
arguments, each of which has strong presumptive value, which ultimately
carries conviction; not a series of arguments each of which is conclusive
in itself. We do not suppose, of course, that a writer like Schmiedel
would deny anything so obvious as this. Nevertheless, very many English
readers feel that his several arguments are stated too much in the light
of the result. Moreover, they appear to be shaped by presuppositions which
are themselves fatal to the Virgin Birth. In the present treatment of the
question, an attempt will be made to assign to each argument its proper
force, to observe its limitations as well as its cogency. The result
sought is not a conclusion to which we can append a triumphant Q. E. D.,
but that hypothesis, whatever it be, which best explains the observed
facts taken as a whole.

I. Narratives and Passages Said to be Inconsistent With the View

Our first task must be to examine _those narratives and passages in the
Third Gospel which are said to be irreconcilable with the view that St.
Luke wrote in the belief that Jesus was miraculously conceived of the
Virgin Mary by the Holy Ghost_. What we have to ask is whether or not they
are consistent with that supposition. We begin with Lk. iii. 22.

(a) Lk. iii. 22, according to the “Western Text”

In the great majority of existing MSS. this passage reads as in the RV.,
“Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased”. But in Codex Bezae,
supported by Old Latin MSS. and by quotations in Justin and Clement, the
passage reads, “_Thou art my Son: to‐day have I begotten Thee_”. Blass
(_Philology of the Gospels_, p. 168 f.) believes this to be the genuine
Lukan reading, and explains the common text as “a product of assimilation
to the other Gospels”. Usener (EB., col. 3348) also accepts the “Western”
reading, and says, “Thus the passage in Lk. was read, in the Greek Church
down to about 300 A.D. and in the Latin West down to and beyond 360 A.D.”
Dr. Moffatt (INT., 3rd ed., p. 269) goes so far as to say that the Lukan
reading “undoubtedly was υἱός μου εἷ σύ· ἐγὼ σήμερον γεγέννηκά σε”. He
follows this reading in his _Translation of the New Testament_, and says
(p. 74), “In the other MSS. it has been altered, for harmonistic reasons”.
These opinions, and the arguments upon which they rest, have great weight.
If the “Western” reading is accepted, a strong presumption is set up
against the view that the Third Gospel originally contained the Virgin
Birth; for it is very difficult to believe that the hand which wrote, “To‐
day have I begotten Thee”, had already described the miraculous birth.
(Cf. also Harnack, _Sayings_, pp. 310 ff.)

At first sight Blass’s argument would seem to show a way of escape from
this conclusion. He defends the “Western” reading by showing the close
connexion which it has with the following verse. “The ‘_to‐day_ have I
begotten Thee’ stands in opposition to the ‘thirty years’, and the ‘Thou
art _my_ Son’ likewise to ‘being as was supposed the son of _Joseph_’ ”
(op. cit., p. 169). The phrase “as was supposed” (verse 23) will fall to
be discussed next. Meanwhile we may observe that the connexion which Blass
notes is actually strengthened if what St. Luke originally wrote was
“being the son of Joseph”. This is the real point in the parallelism, as
Blass himself indicates by printing the name Joseph in italics.

If the “Western” reading is to be accepted, a very interesting question
arises as regards St. Luke’s conception of the Baptism of Jesus. There is
no need to suppose that he looked upon it as the occasion of the imparting
of the Divine Sonship. If the connexion which Blass notes be allowed, it
is probably purely literary, and the form in which St. Luke reports the
logion is determined by his recollection of Ps. ii. 7.(29) There is no
intention, that is to say, on his part, of describing an act of
deification or even adoption. But if the connexion is literary, we return
again to the question, Can we think that St. Luke would have written the
passage in this form, if he had already described the miraculous birth?
Can we explain his deliberate preference for the language of Ps. ii. 7?
The answer is, we feel bound to say, It is difficult, if it is not
impossible. The force of this argument rests, nevertheless, upon the
confidence with which we can accept the “Western” reading; and while the
present writer would favour that reading himself, he recognizes that its
attestation is not such as to compel acceptance. Moffatt’s claim that it
“undoubtedly was” the Lukan reading is too strong. The most we can say is
that it has great, if not very great, probability in its favour.

(b) The Lukan Genealogy and Lk. iii. 23

It will be best at this point to consider the question of the Lukan
Genealogy, and also the passage to which attention has just been called:
“being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph” (RV.).

An examination of the Genealogy reveals the fact that it is artificially
constructed, it is an arrangement of names in multiples of seven (cf.
Sanday, _Outlines_, p. 202). The whole list contains seventy‐seven names.
From Adam to Abraham there are twenty‐one names (7 x 3); from Isaac to
David fourteen names (7 x 2), if we include, as we probably should, the
name Admin, as in the RV. margin; from Nathan to Shealtiel twenty‐one
names; and from Zerubbabel to Christ twenty‐one names. Not only is this
so, but in order to preserve the symbolic arrangement, names are repeated
and omitted. Thus in verse 36, the compiler has preferred the LXX to the
Hebrew. This permits the name Cainan to be introduced into the Genealogy
twice, as the son of Arphaxad in verse 36, and again as the son of Enos in
verse 37. No Hebrew MS. mentions Cainan as the son of Arphaxad. Again, in
the list from Isaac to David, the name Ram (cf. 1 Chron. ii. 10 and Ruth
iv. 19) is omitted, and in its place the two names Admin and Arni appear.
Whatever be the explanation of these facts, it is significant that in this
way the symmetrical arrangement is preserved.

It is not probable that a Genealogy of such an artificial character was
constructed by St. Luke himself. He shows no predilection for symbolic
numbers in his writings, and does not indeed appear to observe this
feature in the list. (Cf. Sanday, op. cit., p. 202, and contrast Mt. i.
17.) Probably he found the Genealogy ready to hand. The fact that it
traces the descent to Adam may have appealed to him, in view of his own
bent of mind, and it may have been this feature in the list which led him
to incorporate it in his Gospel. The words “the son of God” with which the
list ends, may be due to St. Luke himself, “added for the sake of Gentile
readers, to remind them of the Divine origin of the human race” (Plummer,
ICC., St. Luke, p. 105)·

It does not seem likely that the Genealogy in its original form, in the
form, that is to say, in which St. Luke found it, contained the words
which now stand in iii. 23, “_as was supposed_”. It is generally allowed
at the present day that the Genealogies, both in the First Gospel and in
the Third, trace the ancestry of Jesus through Joseph. But unlike the
Matthaean Genealogy, that in Lk. gives us no reason to suppose that
_legal_ descent only is traced in it. It is therefore difficult to believe
that its author intended to construct a chain of descent in which the
vital link should contain the words, “as was supposed”. These words more
naturally give the impression of being a later insertion intended to adapt
the Genealogy to a new situation. For our present purpose the important
question is, Are these words the words of St. Luke?, and what is still
more vital, At what point, if Lukan, were they inserted in the
Genealogy,—when it was first incorporated in the Gospel, or at some
subsequent time? If from the first they stood where they now stand, it is
obvious that the Third Gospel taught the Virgin Birth from the beginning.
If, on the other hand, they were added after the Gospel was written (or
its earlier chapters), this supports the view that the doctrine is a later

The data at present at our disposal do not enable us to decide between
these alternatives. We may argue _a priori_ that it is unlikely that St.
Luke would have thought it worth while to introduce the Genealogy at all,
if at the time when he wove it into his Gospel he had realized the
necessity of interpolating the words “as was supposed”. In other words, we
may say that had he known of the Virgin Birth from the first he would
never have made use of the Genealogy. And further, we may argue that we
best conserve St. Luke’s reputation as a skilful writer by supposing the
phrase “as was supposed” to be a correction, introduced to make the best
of a Genealogy, used in the first place under presuppositions which new
information had now led him to discard. Short of excising the Genealogy
altogether—we may say—he did the best he could. But such speculations,
however attractive, do not lead to a conclusion which we can regard with
confidence. It is better to leave iii. 23 to depend upon the conclusion to
which we come with regard to i. 34 f. This is the crucial passage, and if
this should prove to be a later insertion, then iii. 23 must also be
regarded as such, introduced by the same hand at the same time and for the
same reasons.

(c) The Narratives of Lk. ii

We have now to examine the narratives of Lk. ii, and to ask, _Under what
presuppositions were they shaped?_ The incidents which call for special
notice are the Purifying, the meeting with Simeon in the Temple, and the
visit of Jesus to Jerusalem at the age of twelve. The five passages which
speak of “the parents” of Jesus will be considered separately. There is no
need to dwell on the story of the visit of the shepherds. It goes without
saying that it nowhere presupposes the Virgin Birth. On the other hand,
there is nothing in the presentation of the story which is alien to the

Turning to the story of the Purifying in Lk. ii. 22‐4, we are met by the
question, What are we to understand by the phrase “_their purification_”
(ii. 22)? Attempts have been made to take the pronoun as referring to the
mother and the child, but, in view of the construction of the passage,
this exegesis is impossible. Joseph and Mary are clearly the unexpressed
subject of the verb in the sentence in which the pronoun “their” occurs
(“And when the days of _their_ purification ... were fulfilled, _they_
brought him up to Jerusalem”). Schmiedel holds that the word “their”
refers to Joseph and Mary,(30) and without doubt this opinion is correct.
But if this is so, is it probable that St. Luke had the thought of a
virgin birth in the background of his mind when he first penned the
phrase? Is not the pronoun one which we may think he would have been
anxious to avoid? Nor was there any need for him to introduce it, since,
according to the Levitical law, it was only the mother who was made
unclean by a birth (cf. Lev. xii). Schmiedel, who calls attention to this
fact, thinks that the writer has made “an archaeological error”. “This
error serves to show that the writer regarded Joseph as the actual father
of Jesus; otherwise he could not have thought of him at all as unclean”
(EB., col. 2955). Even if we think that Schmiedel’s remorseless logic is
too confidently applied, the fact remains that St. Luke’s pronoun is as
unnecessary as it is ambiguous. The difficulty of the expression is not
felt by the modern mind alone. It is reflected in two subsequent textual
alterations. Instead of “their purification”, the Codex Bezae reads “his
purification”, and the Sin. Syr. MS., together with the cursive 76, has
the pronoun “her”. The textual evidence forbids us to accept the reading
“her purification”, but this is assuredly the phrase we should expect a
writer to use who has just told the story of a virgin birth.

In the two remaining stories, that of the meeting with Simeon, and that of
the visit of Jesus to Jerusalem, there is a common element which provokes
reflection in _the surprise of Joseph and Mary_. In reference to the
prophecy of Simeon concerning Jesus, we are told that they “_were
marvelling at_” the things that were said (ii. 33). We can readily account
for this remark, if St. Luke had no knowledge of the Virgin Birth at the
time of writing, for the prophecy of Simeon transcends that of the angelic
announcement of i. 31‐3. Whereas the latter does not leave the soil of
Israel, the former speaks of a revelation to the Gentiles. We could say,
then, that the wider scope of the prophecy of Simeon provides room for
wonder. But can we say this if St. Luke believed Mary to have received the
announcement of a virgin birth, which, moreover, had been fulfilled? Would
he have thought any prophecy called for wonder after such facts as these?
The same difficulty arises in the story of the visit to the Temple. After
St. Luke has recorded the pregnant words of Jesus, “Wist ye not that I
must be in my Father’s house?”, he writes: “_And they understood not the
saying which he spake unto them_” (ii. 50). If, in this case, as
distinguished from ii. 33, the Evangelist had said that they marvelled,
the difficulty would be less great. It might then have been argued that,
inasmuch as the facts of His birth had not been made known to the boy
Jesus, there was room for wonder that already He should have attained to
such a consciousness of filial relationship to God. But to say that they
did not understand His words is an astonishing statement on the part of a
writer who believes the Virgin Birth. On the other hand, it is a perfectly
natural remark, if we can presume the Evangelist to have written in the
absence of such a belief.(31)

Speaking of the narratives of Lk. ii, as a whole, we may say that, apart
from the references to “the parents”, which remain to be considered,
distinct difficulties are raised if we must believe that St. Luke knew of
the Virgin Birth at the time when he first wrote the chapter, and that
greater justice can be done to the narratives if we can presume him to
have written them without that knowledge. How far this view is supported
by the five passages which speak of Joseph and Mary, we have now to

(d) The References to Joseph and Mary in Lk. ii

These passages are as follows: ii. 27, “_the parents_”; ii. 41 and 43,
“_his parents_”; ii. 33, “_his father and his mother_”; and ii. 48, “_thy
father and I_”. The point to be considered is whether we can suppose St.
Luke to have known of the Virgin Birth at the time when he used these

The last passage (ii. 48) differs from the rest, and should not be
pressed. It is reasonable to urge that, in addressing the boy Jesus, Mary
would naturally speak in this way, even if the Virgin Birth is
historically true; and that it is conceivable that St. Luke, while himself
holding the doctrine, should have been so far faithful to his sources as
to preserve Mary’s words in this form.

In this respect the four passages which remain are quite different, _in
that they are expressions which St. Luke himself employs_. This gives them
a distinctive character which has often been overlooked. It has been too
frequently assumed that these passages are of like character to those
which belong to the story of Jesus at the synagogue at Nazareth. In this
incident the Jews speak of Jesus as “the carpenter’s son” (Mt. xiii. 55.
Cf. Mk. vi. 3, “the carpenter, the son of Mary”). St. Luke, who records
the same incident, but perhaps follows a special source of his own (Lk.
iv. 16 ff.), gives the question in the form, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”
With regard to these passages, it is open to any one to urge that in them
we have instances of the accuracy with which the Gospels record
contemporary beliefs, which were natural but erroneous. The language of
the Jews, it may be said, is justified by ignorance of the true facts, and
its retention by Evangelists who teach the Virgin Birth is evidence of
their fidelity to detail. This is a reasonable argument, and it cannot be
gainsaid, until the whole question has been faced (again, as in the case
of ii. 48). But the four passages in Lk. ii stand upon an entirely
different footing. In these passages it is not a question of what is
justified by ignorance, but of what is possible in the light of knowledge.
Assuming that we have to do with a writer who believes Jesus to be the son
of Mary by the direct operation of the Holy Ghost, we have to ask whether,
believing this, and having (on this assumption) just stated this very
thing, that writer would be at all likely to speak of “the parents”, “his
parents”, and, indeed, to use an expression so definite as “his father and
his mother”. In short, granting that St. Luke has recorded the language of
the Nazarenes, can we suppose that he would have used the same language
himself in the light of the Virgin Birth? It is not as if these modes of
speech were indispensable. The words “Joseph and Mary” could easily have
been employed, and in this way all danger of ambiguity removed. In the
face of a fact so unique as a virgin birth, one would expect an effort to
avoid ambiguity; all the more, in the case of a writer, with whose apt
choice of words and delicacy of expression scholars like Ramsay and
Harnack have made us familiar.

In saying this we are not guilty of imposing modern canons of accuracy
upon an ancient writer. The difficulties we ourselves feel have long been
felt. “It is very noteworthy that six old Latin codices in ii. 41 have
_Ioseph et Maria_ for ‘his parents’ (οἱ γονεῖς αὐτοῦ); most uncials in ii.
33 substitute ‘Joseph’ (ὁ ιωσηφ) for ‘his father’ (ὁ πατὴρ αὐτοῦ)”
(Schmiedel, EB., col. 2955). None of these readings can claim, of course,
to be original, since admittedly they represent attempts to remove
difficulties. Their significance lies in the fact that they indicate that
those difficulties have long been felt. They show that we are not asking
an ancient writer to conform to modern standards, when we assert that St.
Luke has expressed himself with an ambiguity which it is difficult, if not
impossible, to understand, if he wrote from the first in the knowledge of
the Virgin Birth.

The impression made by the narratives of Lk. ii is thus deepened and
confirmed by the several references to Joseph and Mary.

(e) Lk. ii. 5

The bearing of the facts examined thus far is in the direction of showing
the Virgin Birth to belong to a later stratum in the Gospel. One passage
in Lk. ii might seem to invalidate this view. In the Revised Version,
verse 5 reads: “_to enrol himself with Mary, who was betrothed to him,
being great with child_”. These words, if they must stand, imply that the
Virgin Birth is known to the writer. But, apart altogether from the
historical character of the miracle, it is highly probable that we ought
to read: “_with Mary his wife_”.(32) This is the reading of the Sinaitic
Syriac and of the Old Latin MSS. a, b, c; and the word “wife” together
with “betrothed”, also appears in AC2ΓΔΛ, l, q*, Syrp, vulg., goth., aeth.
(Moffatt, INT., p. 269). There is much to be said for the view that this
is one of the cases in which “Western” readings, where Old Syriac and Old
Latin MSS. agree, probably preserve an original text.(33) When we add the
argument of transcriptional probability, it is difficult to resist this
conclusion. One can easily understand how the reading “with Mary his wife”
could come to be altered to “with Mary, who was betrothed to him” by those
who imagined that the former was inconsistent with the Virgin Birth. But,
if the words “with Mary, who was betrothed to him” stood in the primitive
text, can we give any satisfactory explanation of the change? When we
consider that from New Testament times the Virgin Birth was part of the
faith of the Church, questioned by few save the Ebionites and some of the
Gnostic sects, the supposition that “with Mary his wife” is a later
corruption, becomes improbable in the extreme. It is hardly sufficient to
adopt Plummer’s suggestion, that “the γυναικί of A. Vulg. Syr. and Aeth.
is a gloss, but a correct one” (op. cit., p. 53). Must we not find more
than a gloss? Moreover, is this a satisfactory explanation of the Sin.
Syr. and of those Old Latin MSS. which have “wife” without “betrothed”? We
should probably conclude that in this instance the “Western” reading,
supported by transcriptional probability, must outweigh the evidence of
even the great uncials, and that what St. Luke wrote was “with Mary his

If this view is sound, the verse in itself is not necessarily inconsistent
with the Virgin Birth, since it may reasonably be urged that it carries us
no further than Mt. i. 24, where the marriage is implied.(34) If this fact
is put forward in a narrative which expressly teaches the Virgin Birth, it
could be so here. The phrase “with Mary his wife” is certainly congruous
with the view that the doctrine is a later element in the Third Gospel,
but it would be improper to employ it in support of that view. (The case
is like those of ii. 48, iv. 22.) But even if we must leave the question
open, at any rate we have no longer to reckon with the words, “with Mary,
who was betrothed to him”. There is nothing, therefore, in the verse which
is in conflict with the view that St. Luke had no knowledge of the Virgin
Birth when he first wrote his Gospel.

Before leaving this part of the subject it may be well to recall the
nature of the argument. The several points treated are not regarded as
contentions which inexorably demand a certain conclusion, but as distinct
difficulties, greater or less, which arise, on the view that St. Luke knew
of the Virgin Birth from the first. We may fairly say that the facts
examined thus far would be best satisfied by considering the Virgin Birth
as a later element in the Gospel; but, until we have investigated the
important passage Lk. i. 34 f., it would be precarious to say more.

II. The Passage Lk. i. 34 f

In the Revised Version Lk. i. 34f. reads as follows: “_And Mary said unto
the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? (35) And the angel
answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the
power of the Most High shall overshadow thee: wherefore also that which is
to be born shall be called holy, the Son of God._” As regards the last
clause, the margin gives the alternative rendering: “the holy thing which
is to be born shall be called the Son of God”. The difference rests upon a
question of punctuation in the Greek, and does not affect our immediate

Our purpose in this section is to inquire how far the view, which is
widely held, that Lk. i. 34 f. is a later insertion is justified. But two
important questions must detain us first. (_a_) Is the assumption we have
made thus far, that Lk. i. 34 f. implies the Virgin Birth, tenable? What
is the true interpretation of the passage? (_b_) What is the purport of
the angelic announcement in Lk. i. 30‐3? Is Dr. Plummer’s language
justified, when, in reference to this message, he speaks of “the strange
declaration that she [Mary] is to have a son before she is married” (op.
cit., p. 24)? Is there any suggestion of a virgin birth?

(a) The Interpretation of Lk. i. 34 f

In the text as it stands, in answer to the angel’s words in Lk. i. 30‐3,
Mary says: “_How shall this be, seeing I know not_ (οὐ γινώσκω) _a man?_”
The interpretation of this verse depends upon the force we give to the
word γινώσκω. Schmiedel (EB., col. 2956) thinks that γινώσκω in this verse
“cannot mean the act of concubitus for which the word is often employed”,
because it is here used in the present tense. On the other hand, the quite
general sense of knowledge in the way of acquaintanceship, is also, in his
view, “equally precluded”, since it would be “quite meaningless in the
present context”. Accordingly, he finds the true interpretation to be “the
intermediate one; I have no such acquaintanceship with any man as might
lead to the fulfilment of this prophecy”. In other words, Mary’s objection
or difficulty is that she is not even betrothed. Schmiedel is not daunted
by the fact that this interpretation is in conflict with Lk. i. 27 (“a
virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph”). Indeed, the
contradiction is given as one reason for regarding Lk. i. 34 f. as a later
insertion. In this respect Schmiedel’s view will probably not command much
support. He gives no example of γινώσκω used in the special sense in which
he interprets it, and fails to justify his rejection of the common use of
the verb. (See Th‐Gr., p. 117; VGT., p. 127.) It is altogether preferable
to follow Dr. Plummer (op. cit., p. 24), whose view is indicated in the
references which he gives to the OT. passages, Gen. xix. 8; Judg. xi. 39;
Num. xxxi. 17. “The words”, says Dr. Plummer, “are the avowal of a maiden
conscious of her own purity”. According to this view the phrase “seeing I
know not a man” must be interpreted of the marital relationship. Mary’s
perplexity is that she, an unmarried woman, is promised an immediate
conception. It is impossible to accept Schmiedel’s view, when he says:
“Mary takes the words of the angel as referring to a fulfilment in the way
of nature”. This explanation is, of course, consistent on the
interpretation which Schmiedel gives to Mary’s question, but not on that
which we have found reason to prefer. Had Mary understood the angelic
message to mean a natural human birth after marriage, there would have
been no cause for perplexity. Her words, “How shall this be, seeing I know
not a man?”, are clearly _a reply to what is understood as the
announcement of an immediate conception_, and not of a birth within the
marriage tie.

If this view is taken of Mary’s words, it follows that verse 35 must be
explained as the yet clearer announcement of a virgin birth,
supernaturally caused. If the verse is treated in itself, it is possible
to interpret it of an ordinary human birth, and there is much that is
attractive in the interpretation. The words may be said to speak of the
Holy Ghost who should come upon Mary to inspire and preserve the purity of
her soul in the act of conception. They may speak, that is to say, of
God’s use of His own appointed agencies. But, to accept this view, it
would be necessary to regard the words “seeing I know not a man” as a
later insertion, and, though this opinion has been held by some (including
Kattenbusch, Weinel, J. M. Thompson), it does not on the whole commend
itself as a satisfactory solution of the problem (see further pp. 69 ff.).
We are compelled therefore to accept the ordinary interpretation of verse
35, as implying the Miraculous Conception.

(b) The Purport of the Angelic Announcement in Lk. i. 30‐3

In treating Mary’s question in Lk. i. 34. we have concluded that it
reflects the point of view of one who has received the announcement of a
miraculous birth. But this conclusion does not compel us to interpret the
words of Lk. i. 30‐3 as containing such an announcement. We have to
examine the passage so as to determine whether as a matter of fact it is
susceptible of that interpretation. That its present context requires this
view of Lk. i. 30‐3 is a fact not lightly to be regarded; nevertheless, it
must find justification _within the passage itself_ before it can be

In the Revised Version, the angelic message reads as follows: “_Fear not,
Mary: for thou hast found favour with God._ (31) _And behold, thou shalt
conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name
Jesus._ (32) _He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most
High: and the Lord God shall give __ unto him the throne of his father
David_: (33) _and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of
his kingdom there shall be no end._”

We have already expressed the view that this prophecy moves strictly
within Jewish limits (p. 29). Detailed study of the passage only serves to
confirm this opinion. The Sonship mentioned in verse 32 bears a purely
Messianic character. Dr. Plummer justly remarks: “The title υἱὸς ᾿Υψίστου
expresses some very close relation between Jesus and Jehovah, but not the
Divine Sonship in the Trinity” (op. cit., p. 23). _Nothing is either said
or implied in this announcement of a miraculous birth._ The terms of the
promise to Mary would be perfectly fulfilled by an ordinary birth within
the marriage tie, so far, that is to say, as the mode of birth is
concerned. We must therefore reject the view which speaks of “the strange
declaration that she is to bear a son before she is married” (Plummer). We
look in vain for this declaration. We agree that Mary’s question in verse
34 demands such a declaration in order to make it rational. In fact, we
ourselves have argued that verse 34 is “a reply to what is understood as
the announcement of an immediate conception”. Nevertheless, even on the
most generous interpretation of Lk. i. 30‐3, it is impossible to find in
the passage any such announcement.(35) There is thus a radical difference
of point of view between the angelic announcement of Lk. i. 30‐3 and
Mary’s question in Lk. i. 34. This difference of standpoint will be urged
as one, though not the only reason for regarding Lk. i. 34 f. as a later
insertion. But before we examine these reasons, we need to consider
whether after all the angelic announcement may not contain some
implication (which does not lie upon the surface of the passage) that a
Miraculous Conception is promised.

We find it impossible to rest satisfied in the suggestion of W. C. Allen,
that there may have been some unrecorded indication of something unique in
the conception (_Interpreter_, 1905, p. 121 f.). A suggestion of this kind
can neither be justified nor gainsaid, and is valuable only as a
confirmation of the view that there is nothing “recorded” in Lk. i. 30‐3
of a unique conception. To launch upon the waters of what is unrecorded
would seem to be a policy of despair. There is much more to be said for an
extremely interesting suggestion of Canon Box in his article on the Virgin
Birth in Hastings’s _Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels_ (see vol. ii,
p. 806 a). Box argues that in the angelic announcement of Lk. i. 30‐3 “an
immediate conception is meant”. Accepting the view that a Hebrew original
underlies the nativity‐narratives of Lk. i, ii, he thinks that this
original has been incorrectly translated in Lk. i. 31, where, in the
Greek, we have the future tense συλλήψῃ, “thou shalt conceive”. “The
Hebrew original of συλλήψῃ would be a participle”, he says, “and the exact
rendering would be, ‘Behold, thou art conceiving now’ ”. There can be no
doubt that, if this view can be allowed, the angelic announcement really
does speak of a miraculous birth, and thus an adequate explanation is
given of Mary’s surprise in Lk. i. 34. There are, however, certain
objections which, in the judgement of the present writer, appear to be
fatal to this theory. We need not press the objection that it rests upon
an initial assumption, the existence of the supposed Hebrew original,
since this theory of a Hebrew (or Aramaic) documentary source is accepted
by most British scholars. Nor is it more than a formal objection if we
question if the word συλλήψῃ would necessarily be represented in the
supposed Hebrew original by a participle. In the Hebrew NT. published by
the British and Foreign Bible Society, the adjective הָרָה is used, and
this is the case in similar passages in the Hebrew OT., viz. Gen. xvi. 11,
xxxviii. 24; Judg. xiii. 7 (verse 3, perf.); 1 Sam. iv. 19; 2 Sam. xi. 5;
Isa. vii. 14. A more serious objection arises from Lk. ii. 21, where it is
said that the name Jesus was so called by the angel “before he was
conceived in the womb” (πρὸ τοῦ συλληφθῆναι αὐτὸν ἐν τῇ κοιλίᾳ). On the
theory we are considering, this must be held to be either a second
mistranslation of the Hebrew original, or a departure from it. In either
case we must conclude that a promised conception, and not an immediate
one, was the considered view of the translator of the Hebrew document. A
second and conclusive objection to the theory of Canon Box rests upon
questions of grammatical syntax. Is it correct to say that “the exact
rendering” of the participle (or adj.) would be, “Behold, thou art
conceiving now”? It is true that the active participle is “mainly
descriptive of something present” (Davidson, _Hebrew Syntax_, p. 134), but
it is also true, to quote the same authority, that “the participle does
not indicate time, its colour in this respect being taken from the
connexion in which it stands”. The same consideration also applies to
הָרָה in all the OT. instances referred to above. Where it is made clear
in the context that conception has already taken place, הָרָה is
translated in the RV. by the present (cf. Gen. xvi. 11, xxxviii. 24; 2
Sam. xi. 5). Where, however, there is no such indication, it is rendered
by the future, and the announcement is treated as a promise (cf. Judg.
xiii. 7).

To convict the translator of the Hebrew document of an error in
translation, it is clearly necessary to show from the context of Lk. i. 31
that conception has already taken place. In other words, the translation
preferred by Canon Box, if it is to be accepted, must be justified by some
statement, either previously made, or made within the angelic announcement
itself; it must be required, that is to say, by something in the narrative
previous to Mary’s question in Lk. i. 34.(36) But these conditions, which
are by no means arbitrary, cannot be met. We must, therefore, conclude
that the translator was quite justified, when he used the future
(συλλήψῃ), and so represented the announcement as a prophecy; and we must
draw this conclusion, irrespective altogether of the difference of point
of view which thus stands revealed between this announcement and verse 34
in the connexion in which it now appears. Indeed, the argument of Canon
Box seems capable of being employed in a direction the very reverse of
that intended. It could be argued that since, in point of fact, the
translator has used the future in verse 31, there was nothing in the
Hebrew original to suggest to his mind the idea of an immediate
conception; not even the statement of verse 34, which might have
suggested, though it does not justify, the rendering, “Behold, thou art
conceiving now”. Thus we might enlist the considered view of the
translator, that a promised conception is meant, in support of the
contention that Lk. i. 34 f. is a later insertion. Without pressing this
view, we may fairly say that there is much more to be said for it than for
the theory we have discussed. The latter theory, in spite of all that can
be urged in its favour, fails to justify itself. In that case its failure
seems to illustrate the somewhat desperate expedients to which we must
have recourse, in order to find in the angelic announcement the thought of
an immediate conception. On the question as a whole, we can only conclude
that such a view is neither stated nor implied in the announcement, but
that, on the contrary, its reference is to the future.

(c) Reasons for regarding Lk. i. 34 f. as a Later Insertion

Having sought to give their full force and proper meaning to the two
passages, Lk. i. 30‐3 and Lk. i. 34 f., we may now consider the arguments
which can be advanced in favour of regarding the latter passage as an
interpolation. In respect of these arguments, there is far from general
agreement among those who are at one in the conclusion reached. But the
significant fact is not the diversity of opinion as regards the mode of
proof, but the agreement of so many scholars in holding the passage to be
a later insertion.(37) The arguments we shall examine are not equally
cogent, and, as in the first part of the present chapter, we shall call
attention to their limitations as well as to the points in which they are
strong. We shall also treat the case entirely apart from the results
suggested in the first half of our inquiry. Those results, if valid, set
up a presupposition against Lk. i. 34 f. But it seems much the best not to
avail ourselves of such an argument, but rather to consider the passage in
itself and in relation to its context. If in this way we find reasonable
grounds for considering Lk. i. 34 f. to be a later insertion, we have then
a double series of arguments converging on one conclusion.

(1) The first point to be considered is that _verse 36 follows naturally
after verse 33_. As we have seen, in verses 30‐3 we have an angelic
announcement to Mary to the effect that she is to give birth to a son who
is destined to become the Messiah. He will be called “the Son of the Most
High”, and to him the Lord God will give “the throne of his father David”.
To this message, it may be said, verses 36 and 37 form a fitting sequel.
They add the assurance that “no word from God shall be void of power”, in
proof of which it is declared that Mary’s kinswoman, Elisabeth, is shortly
to bear a son in her old age. The whole speech (Lk. i. 30‐3, 36, 37) is a
consistent passage, and in relation to it the words of Mary in verse
38—“Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy
word”—are a natural and fitting reply. Canon Box, in the article already
cited, questions this view. “There would be nothing extraordinary”, he
says “in Mary’s conceiving a son as Joseph’s wife”—nothing, that is to
say, to require the sign offered. But surely it is not a question of
“conceiving a son”, but of conceiving such a son, the long‐promised
Messiah; and, moreover, the ratification of so great a promise by means of
a miracle is a commonplace of OT. thought. It is not suggested, of course,
that this argument proves Lk. i. 34 f. to be an interpolation. That a
section runs smoothly when a particular passage within it is excised, is
no proof that that passage is not original. This last conclusion must be
established on the ground of other arguments. If, however, in the present
instance, other arguments carry weight, then the fact that verse 36 can be
connected easily and naturally with verse 33 becomes of very great
importance, and it is for that reason that we introduce it here.

(2) We take a really decisive step when we instance what already has been
found, namely that _verse 34 follows quite unnaturally upon Lk. i. 30‐3_.
We have seen that Mary’s question implies the announcement of an immediate
conception, and we have failed to find any such announcement in the
angel’s words. There is thus a complete difference of point of view in the
two passages. No possible ground is provided in the angelic announcement
for the objection raised in verse 34. It is difficult, therefore, to deny
the suggestion that Mary’s question already implies a knowledge of what is
told for the first time in verse 35. But this view, if we accept it, is to
say that Mary’s question could not possibly have been present to the mind
of Mary in the connexion in which it stands; it was the last question she
would have thought of asking. The question can only have been put into her
mouth by one who already knew of the Virgin Birth, and wished to introduce
that doctrine into a context in which originally it did not appear. On the
interpretation which we have given to Lk. i. 30‐3 and Lk. i. 34 f., this
conclusion is inevitable, unless we prefer to find in St. Luke an utter
inconsecutiveness of thought which does him no credit as writer, and which
neither of his works justify us in attributing to him.

(3) We are unable to attach the same force to the contention that verse 35
is followed unnaturally by verses 36 and 37 (so Schmiedel), though this
view has something to be said for it. Verse 35 announces the virgin birth
of the promised Messiah, a doctrine which is not found in Jewish
literature and tradition, and for which, therefore, the mind of Mary must
have been utterly unprepared.(38) As the section now stands, the statement
of verses 36 and 37 is added as a sign that what has just been promised
will surely come to pass. This sign, we have already argued, would be
quite natural, according to OT. modes of thought, as authenticating such a
message as that given in Lk. i. 30‐3. But can we say this in reference to
the promise of a virgin birth? To the modern mind at least the argument
seems faulty and unconvincing. Mary is bidden to accept as the divine
promise what is so remarkable as to be otherwise unknown to her, on the
ground of what is certainly remarkable but familiar to her mind and
outlook. In truth, this seems a remarkable argument with which to credit
an angel! At the same time, it has to be admitted that such an objection
may be too stringent, and that it may not allow sufficiently for ancient
modes of thought, according to which the argument from the less to the
greater is by no means uncommon. For this reason the present writer would
not feel confident in pressing the argument sketched above.(39)

(4) A much stronger argument calls attention to _the similarity between
Mary’s question and that of Zacharias (Lk. i. 18), and the difference with
which they are treated by the angel_. “Mary’s speech expresses doubt of
the truth of the angel’s message, and yet she is not so much as blamed,
whilst Zacharias is actually punished for a like doubt (i. 20)”.(40) The
presumption is that the two cases do not emanate from the same cycle of
tradition. The force of this argument depends, of course, upon the way in
which we interpret Lk. i. 34. It is true that we have no indication of the
tone in which the question is asked, beyond the words themselves and the
sentences which follow; but quite sufficient is given to indicate the
presence of doubt. The point is not merely one of subjective valuation.
This will appear if we consider Plummer’s view, which is quite different
from Schmiedel’s. “She does not ask for _proof_, as Zacharias did (ver.
18); and only in the form of the words does she ask as to the mode of
accomplishment. Her utterance is little more than an involuntary
expression of amazement.... It is clear that she does not doubt the fact
promised, nor for a moment suppose that her child is to be the child of
Joseph” (op. cit., p. 24). In weighing this opinion, it should be noticed
that it refers only to the words, Πῶς ἔσται τοῦτο? We may readily agree
that if all that Mary had said were, “How shall this be?”, we should be
unable to contest this view. But to divide Mary’s question in this way is
not permissible. The second part, “seeing I know not a man”, clearly
determines the first, and debars us from viewing it as merely “an
involuntary expression of amazement”. The presence of doubt, we think,
must be conceded, though it is less marked than in the case of Zacharias.

This view, moreover, is supported by the fact that, in the narrative as it
stands, an explanation follows, which is also confirmed by a sign. Since,
as Plummer says, Mary, unlike Zacharias, does not ask for proof, we need
not object that she is not “punished.” And it is just possible that we
make the parallelism too rigid if we lay stress on the fact that “she is
not so much as blamed”. It is rather the “eulogium” of Lk. i. 45 (“Blessed
is she that believed”) which presents the difficulty. It is true that, in
the narrative as we have it now, Mary believes ultimately (verse 38), but
Lk. i. 45 seems rather to belong to a narrative in which Mary believes
from the first. We conclude that the present argument gives real support
to the view that Lk. i. 34 f. belongs to a source distinct from its

(5) A fifth argument dwells on _the different senses_ in which Divine
Sonship is predicated of the promised child in verse 32 as compared with
verse 35. As we have seen, the term υἱὸς ᾿Υψίστου in verse 32 is purely
Messianic. But in verse 35 the expression υἱὸς θεοῦ must be given a very
different meaning. It is in consequence of (διὸ καί) the divine
overshadowing that the child is to be called “Son of God”. Here, to quote
Dr. J. Estlin Carpenter, the term denotes “not official adoption, but
actual origin”, and, with the same writer, we must conclude that verse 35
“is thus a doublet of verses 31, 32 on another plane” (op. cit., p.
487).(41) It is more difficult to decide whether the difference supports
the theory of interpolation. We cannot shut out the possibility that two
diverse types of Sonship might have been attributed by St. Luke to the
same speaker at the same time of writing. But, having said this, we may
observe that it is certainly much easier to suppose, and is much more
probable, that they belong to different periods of reflection, and are the
product (or deposit) of different traditions. This argument, then, may be
said to lean in the direction of the theory of interpolation, but, for the
reason given above, we should hesitate to urge it, if it stood alone.

(6) We have lastly to look at the vexed question of the Davidic descent.
It is safe to say that, if we had not Lk. i. 34 f. in the Gospel as it
stands to‐day, we should have no ground for regarding Mary as of Davidic
descent. It is the presence of these verses that makes possible that
inference in verse 32, where, in addressing Mary, the angel speaks of
David as the forefather of the promised child. It is surely a remarkable
fact that a point so vital to St. Luke’s narrative as the Davidic descent
of Mary should be introduced in so incidental a manner. Our wonder is
increased when we observe that St. Luke is at great pains to assure
Theophilus of the Davidic descent of Joseph. In ii. 4 it is said that
Joseph was “_of the house and family of David_”; not a word is said of
Mary’s descent. It is true that the Sin. Syr. reads, “because they were
both of the house of David”; but this does not naturally fit into the
structure of the sentence, is unsupported elsewhere, and is accepted by no
one; it clearly represents an attempt to remove a difficulty. In. i. 27 it
is also said that Joseph was “_of the house of David_”. The phrase cannot
be construed with the word “virgin”, which occurs earlier in the sentence,
in view of the fact that after ἐξ οἴκου Δανείδ St. Luke resumes the thread
of the story by saying “and the virgin’s name was Mary”; otherwise, he
would have continued (so Schmiedel, op. cit., col. 2957), “and her name
was Mary”. It is not easy indeed to resist Schmiedel’s further contention
that the phrasing of the sentence expressly forbids our ascribing the
Davidic descent to Mary, though the opinion is put forward with greater
confidence than seems justified. The one passage in which St. Luke
directly refers to the family of Mary is dubious. In i. 36 Elisabeth is
said to be “_the kinswoman_” of Mary, and we know from i. 5 that Elisabeth
was “_of the daughters of Aaron_”, which seems to imply that Mary too was
of Levitical descent. But as the precise nature of the relationship is not
stated, we cannot say, with Schmiedel, Usener, and others, that this is
so. Nevertheless, the broad fact remains that apart from an inference,
which itself depends on Lk. i. 34 f., we have no grounds for believing
Mary to be a descendant of David. St. Luke undoubtedly believes Jesus to
be of Davidic descent; he carefully shows Joseph to be of that descent; he
gives us no reason to suppose, that, like the author of the First Gospel,
he traced the descent of Jesus through Joseph as His _legal_ father; and
yet, in spite of all this, he has left the vital question of the Davidic
descent of Mary at the mercy of an inference! If he knows Mary to be a
descendant of David, why does he not say so explicitly? We have a right to
ask the question, which is neither captious nor unfair. No one has yet
answered it satisfactorily, except in the answer that St. Luke had no
tradition of the Davidic descent of Mary at his disposal, that he traced
the descent of Jesus through Joseph as His real father, that this is the
true interpretation of verse 32, and that Lk. i. 34 f. is a later
insertion, which has imposed on verse 32 a sense which originally it did
not bear. _Regard Lk. i. 34 f. as a later insertion, and all the facts
alleged by St. Luke about the Davidic descent fall into intelligible
order_; refuse to do this, and they remain in inexplicable confusion.

When we consider the cumulative force of the preceding arguments, it
becomes impossible for us to think that Lk. i. 34 f. was written at the
same time, and from the same point of view, as the context in which it now
stands; it is clearly a later insertion. With some reason we may hesitate
to say that verse 36 does not follow naturally upon verse 35, and we may
speculate whether two diverse conceptions of Sonship may not be held in
the same mind at the same time of writing. But when we ponder the question
of the Davidic descent; when we compare verse 34 with Lk. i. 18 ff.; when
we observe the natural coherence of Lk. i. 30‐3 and Lk. i. 36‐8, and the
radical difference in point of view between verses 34, 35 and the angelic
announcement; when, in short, we have a narrative, which, if Lk. i. 34 f.
was present from the first, ought to be dominated by those verses, but on
the contrary does not seem to be influenced by them; we are compelled to
conclude that the suspected verses represent a later insertion in the

III. Summary and Conclusion

We are in a position now to conclude from the foregoing investigation that
_the Virgin Birth is not an original element in the Third Gospel_. This
conclusion has been reached by two lines of argument which confirm and
strengthen each other. We have seen that the one passage which
unmistakably asserts the doctrine is a later insertion. Independently of
this, statements have been noted in chapters i and ii, which receive no
natural and satisfactory explanation on the assumption that St. Luke wrote
his narrative with a knowledge of the miracle presupposed. In the first
part of this chapter we expressly refrained from pressing the view that
these points in themselves absolutely forbid this assumption. But,
obviously, now that we have found Lk. i. 34 f. to be a later insertion,
the force of these difficulties is greatly increased. We are now entitled
to say that the opinion which does least honour to St. Luke is the view
that he has written cc. i, ii, while knowing of the Virgin Birth. We have
to remember that not only is the Virgin Birth itself a stupendous thought,
but that, if known to St. Luke, it cannot have been known long, and must
therefore have preserved the freshness of its wonder. Can we, then,
suppose that, while under the sway of a presupposition so despotic as
this, he would straightway proceed to use such expressions as “the
parents”, “his parents”, “his father and his mother”; that, without
qualification, he would speak of “their purification”; that he would
represent them astonished at the words of Simeon, and mystified by the
bearing and speech of Jesus at Jerusalem? Is it credible, in short, that
he should have fallen into the very ambiguities and inconsistencies, which
presumably he would be anxious to avoid, and which without the slightest
difficulty he could have avoided? Even if we should still hesitate to
answer these questions in the negative, our conclusion, that originally
the Gospel lacked the references to the Virgin Birth which we now find in
it, leaves us no other option.

It should be observed that the arguments we have employed in the present
chapter do not compel us to take the view that St. Luke never at any time
taught the Virgin Birth. They are satisfied if we can suppose that he had
no knowledge of the doctrine when Lk. i, ii was first written. To say that
i. 34 f. is a correction, inserted by a redactor or reader, whose name we
do not know, but who is not St. Luke, is to take two steps where we have
ground for one only. All that our study entitles us to claim is that the
Virgin Birth belongs to a later stratum in the Third Gospel. More than
this we cannot say, until we have made a thorough linguistic and textual
examination of Lk. i. 34 f., and this must be our next task.


While, in the preceding chapter, we concluded that the Virgin Birth is a
later stratum in the Third Gospel, we were unable to say to whose hand its
presence is due. There was nothing to show that St. Luke could never at
any time have known of the doctrine, but only that he could not have known
of it at the time when he first drafted and wrote his Gospel. We are free,
then, to make a new beginning, and to ask: _Did St. Luke teach the Virgin

The question is most conveniently treated by discussing the authorship of
Lk. i. 34 f. As we have seen, this is the crucial passage. If we can
believe St. Luke himself to have written these verses, we must also
attribute to his pen the words, “as was supposed” in iii. 23; in a word,
we must conclude that he taught the Virgin Birth of Jesus, and we must
leave the question, how this result is to be co‐ordinated with those
reached in the previous chapter, to be considered later.

That St. Luke and no other did write these verses, is the considered view
of the present writer. There are two lines of argument which converge in
this direction. The first argument is _textual_, but it is more than a
matter of weighing documents; the second is _linguistic_ and stylistic.
Neither is completely conclusive in itself, and, when taken together, they
do not admit of a result so stringent as rigid demonstration. They are
complementary each to the other. Either would be weakened in force in the
absence of the other, but their agreement is sufficient to establish a
result for which a very high degree of probability can justly be claimed.

I. Lk. i. 34 f. and the Textual Question

It is well known that no exception to Lk. i. 34 f. can be taken on
strictly _textual_ grounds. The external evidence for the passage is
practically complete. The sole exception, which only serves to throw into
relief the overwhelming mass of positive evidence, is found in the Old
Latin MS. known as b, which substitutes i. 38 for i. 34 and omits verse 38
after verse 37.(42)

In Great Britain, a generation ago and less, this weight of external
evidence would have been thought sufficient to settle the question, and
there are probably very many scholars who would still take this view. But
within recent years a change has come to be discernible among leading
theological writers on the general question of attestation. Much more than
in former times it is now recognized that during the first half of the
second century the text of the New Testament, and especially that of the
Gospels, was subject to rather free handling, and the possibility has to
be faced that interpolations may have crept into the text in places where
formerly the external attestation would have been thought sufficiently

Dr. George Milligan(43) traces the danger of textual corruption to which
the New Testament writings were exposed to a threefold cause, (i) the
material upon which the autographs were written, (ii) the employment of
non‐professional scribes, (iii) the fact that the thought of the need of
absolute verbal reproduction was strange to early scribes. The last named
fact led, not only to attempts to improve the grammar and to add
“explanatory words”, but also to the insertion “even of deliberate changes
in the supposed interests of historic or dogmatic truth”. Milligan
instances the case of Dionysius of Corinth who, “in view of the
circulation of his epistles in a falsified form”, is found “naïvely
comforting himself with the thought that the same fate had befallen the
Scriptures” (p. 179 n.). “The general result”, Dr. Milligan concludes,
“is, that instead of assigning textual corruption to a comparatively late
date ... everything rather points to the conclusion that, the nearer we
get to the original manuscripts, the greater were the dangers to which
their text was exposed” (p. 180).

In view of this position, it is important to ask whether interpolations
may not exist which have left no trace whatever of their origin in the
abundant documentary evidence we possess. A representative statement of
this view may be found in the words of Dr. James Moffatt (INT., p. 36 f.):
“Even where the extant text does not suggest any break, the possibility of
interpolations cannot be denied outright; the distance between the oldest
MSS., or even the oldest versions, and the date of composition leaves
ample room for changes to have taken place in the interval between the
autograph and the earliest known text” (p. 38). “The extent of
interpolations varied from a word or two to a paragraph, and the motives
for it varied equally from sinister to naïve” (p. 38).(44)

One argument in favour of this view may be drawn from the state of the
existing MSS. and versions. The multitudinous variations which occur in
these documents cannot be explained without admitting the free treatment
which has been mentioned, and which was natural at a time when the Gospels
were not yet looked upon as “sacred books”. In large measure such
additions as we find were drawn from floating Christian tradition, and in
many cases, e.g. the _pericope adulteriae_, they probably reflect historic
fact.(45) Nevertheless, they are not genuine parts of the New Testament.
The further argument is an inference: if such variations from such causes
occur in the MSS. and versions we possess, may there not be interpolations
of which we have no external indication in the existing texts?

Stated in this way the question invites an affirmative answer, but there
are other factors which have yet to be considered. As a matter of fact,
there is little profit in a broad and general discussion. We touch the
heart of the problem only when we consider the _types_ or classes into
which such insertions might conceivably fall. On the whole it is best,
even if only for purposes of argument, to admit the possibility that
insertions unmarked by signs of textual variation exist, and to ask: Of
what character may we suppose these insertions to be, and can we define
any limits within which they are more probable than others? In particular,
is Lk. i. 34 f. a likely or probable instance? It is obvious that hard and
fast lines cannot be drawn in individual cases. Nevertheless, it ought to
be possible to say whether or not a passage like the one we are
considering is, or is not, the work of a redactor.

Those instances of insertions, _where textual variations can be cited_,
supply us with the safest criterion for other suspected cases. Of these
instances many, as we have seen, were drawn from the floating tradition of
the Christian communities. An interesting case is suggested by Dr. J. H.
Moulton (_From Egyptian Rubbish Heaps_, p. 101 f.). He traces the saying,
“Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do”, to the
reminiscences of the centurion who was present at the death of Jesus. “The
words are not in Luke’s original Gospel, but as the great Professor Hort
said in regard to the fact that these words cannot be textually defended,
‘Few if any words in all the Gospels bear more intrinsic witness to the
truth of what they relate than these’ ” (p. 103). On general grounds, it
may very well be, that similar items of tradition have found their way
into the existing texts, leaving the surface of the textual stream
unruffled. But it is clear that, in any suspected case, the insertion
could be the act of the author himself and not the reader. If the latter
really is the case, the insertion must have been made very early, and must
have been of such a kind as not to awaken comment or dissent.

A second kind of insertions may possibly be found in _explanatory words or
phrases_, introduced with the intention of bringing out the original
writer’s meaning. We may take as an instance Rom. iv. 1 (“What then shall
we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, hath found?”
εὐρηκέναι), where Sanday and Headlam say that they “regard the omission of
εὐρηκέναι as probable with WH. text Tr. RV. marg.” (ICC., Rom., p.
99).(46) In this case, however, as in so many others, the gloss, if gloss
it is, is reflected in the textual evidence. Nevertheless, the possibility
may be allowed, that such glosses exist even where variants cannot be
cited. In these cases, however, it is clear that the insertions must have
been very early and very happy, and that in specific cases their presence
can rarely be conceded with complete confidence.

Yet another class of interpolations may possibly be found in certain
passages in the Gospels which later conditions obtaining within the
Christian Church have shaped. That later experience did interpret the
words of Jesus and give the sense of them in its own terms, need not be
questioned. But it should always be remembered that in any suspected case,
the process may well have been complete by the time that the Evangelists
wrote, and that the passage is not an interpolation at all. There are very
good grounds for this opinion even in cases in which variations in
rendering can be cited from patristic and other sources, as, for example,
in the case of the Great Commission in Mt. xxviii. 19. This fact makes it
all the more difficult to concede an interpolation where the textual
record is unbroken, though again the possibility that such cases do exist
may well be left open.

The cases just considered help us when we come to think of _doctrinal
modifications_. As regards these, it is important to draw again a
distinction which has been already made. We must distinguish, on the one
hand, between those instances of doctrinal modification that are due to
the Evangelists themselves, and which are in no sense interpolations, and,
on the other hand, those which may subsequently have been made by later
scribes or readers. Cases of the former kind unquestionably occur in the
Gospels. We have only to examine the way in which the First and Third
Evangelists have treated the Second Gospel, which lay before them, to be
assured of this. Alterations, e.g., are made out of a sense of reverence
for the person of Jesus (cf. Allen, ICC., St. Mt., p. xxxi f.). Mt. xix.
17 (“Why askest thou me concerning that which is good?”), and the changes
which Mk. vi. 5 f. has been subjected to, both in Mt. and Lk., will serve
as illustrations.

Modifications of this kind are not, however, the sort we have specially in
mind. It is the second type, those which are interpolations proper, that
we have particularly to consider. The existence of these has frankly to be
admitted. It is beyond question that doctrinal insertions were introduced
into the text of the Gospels by later scribes and readers. The one case of
Mt. i. 16 is proof positive of this (see pp. 105 ff.). If the opinion,
that the original ending of our Second Gospel was deliberately suppressed,
is correct, Mk. xvi. 9‐20 may be cited as another instance.(47) An
important qualification, however, requires to be made. In the two cases
mentioned there is a conflict of textual evidence, and, as regards the
latter, the objections are reinforced by the internal evidence, arising
from the vocabulary, the style, and the subject‐matter. The present writer
must needs conclude that _the presence of textual variation is an almost
necessary condition in the case of a doctrinal insertion_. It is more
difficult to say how far this requirement should be pressed in the other
types of interpolation which have been mentioned, but as regards doctrinal
modifications the test is thoroughly legitimate. Without going so far as
to pronounce it absolutely impossible, we may say that _the theory, that
doctrinal insertions may exist where the extant texts show no break, is
improbable in the extreme_.

In taking this view, we are not confined to the plea of the early and
abundant nature of textual evidence, or to the effect of controversy in
preserving the purity of the text, though these are arguments of very
great weight. A sufficiently decisive factor is _the character of the
existing textual variants_.(48) If authentic items of Jesus‐tradition and
“explanatory words and phrases” have not been able to enter the textual
stream unnoticed, can we suppose that doctrinal modifications have
breasted the waters without leaving so much as a ripple? If even an
insertion like “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” has
not been able successfully to conceal itself, can we believe Lk. i. 34 f.
to have succeeded in doing this? Can we think that, like Melchizedek, the
passage is without father, mother, genealogy and beginning of life? In
asking these questions we need to recall the character of the section. It
is such as radically to transform the standpoint of the chapters in which
it occurs. It speaks of matters which, for a considerable time at least,
were not known among the mass of Christian believers, and were never
accepted by some. To suppose, then, that it is a non‐Lukan doctrinal
interpolation, is a flight of faith, for which those who can make it
should receive the credit that is due, but of which the present writer
must confess that he is not capable.

While, however, we conclude that the theory we are discussing is
manifestly improbable, we have admitted our inability to pronounce it
impossible in any shape and form. Provided we agree that the Third Gospel
never circulated without Lk. i. 34 f., there is one point where the
passage might have entered as an insertion, and that is in the interval
before circulation. But even here it is difficult to suppose that the
passage was added by some one other than St. Luke himself. In our entire
ignorance of the circumstances under which the Gospel came to have a wider
circulation, we cannot say that this supposition is inadmissible. It has a
bare possibility in its favour, but not more. If a linguistic examination
of the passage gave a result unfavourable to Lukan authorship, the
possibility would become more significant. But if the contrary proves to
be the case, then it becomes so remote as to be unworthy of serious
consideration. It is because of this position that we have described the
present argument as being not completely conclusive in itself, and the one
line of reasoning as complementary to the other. Quite apart, however,
from the linguistic argument, the difficulties which the theory of non‐
Lukan interpolation has to face on textual grounds are formidable.

II. Linguistic and Stylistic Examination of Lk. i. 34 f

Our second task is to make _a linguistic and stylistic examination of Lk.
i. 34 f._ At the beginning of the last chapter we drew attention to the
importance of the test. It cannot be too strongly affirmed that any
hypothesis of interpolation, which does not take account of the linguistic
characteristics of the passage, is premature; indeed, it may easily turn
out to be a rather glaring case of _non sequitur_.

It is precisely the linguistic test which we miss in the arguments of
those who claim that Lk. i. 34 f. was not written by St. Luke. Usually it
is thought enough to argue an incompatibility between this passage and its
context, and straightway to assign the former to the pen of an unknown
redactor. We may illustrate this method from the two articles in the
_Encyclopaedia Biblica_ to which reference has been made. In the article
on “Mary”, Schmiedel says (col. 2956): “It has to be pointed out that even
in Lk. i only two verses—vv. 34 f.—contain the idea of the virgin birth
clearly and effectively; and these disturb the connexion so manifestly
that we are compelled to regard them as a later insertion”. The only
argument of a linguistic character is the remark: “Note, further, that
apart from i. 34 ἐπεί (‘since’) is not met with either in the third gospel
or in Acts”. Usener writes (col. 3349): “To Joh. Hillmann (JPT. 17, 221
ff.) belongs the merit of having conclusively shown that the two verses in
Lk. (i. 34 f.), the only verses in the Third Gospel in which the
supernatural birth of Jesus of the Virgin Mary is stated, are incompatible
with the entire representation of the rest of chaps, i and ii, and _thus
must have been interpolated by a redactor_”.(49) It is theories of this
kind that we have in view when we say (p. 47) that to state such a
conclusion is to take two steps where there is ground for one only.

The importance of the linguistic argument is manifest in such works as Sir
John C. Hawkins’s _Horae Synopticae_ (2nd ed., 1909) and Dr. W. K.
Hobart’s _Medical Language of St. Luke_ (1882). It has also received great
emphasis in the books in which Harnack has sought to prove the Lukan
authorship and early date of the Acts, viz. _Luke the Physician_, _The
Acts of __ the Apostles_, and _The Date of the Acts and of the Synoptic

It may not be without value to ask how far the linguistic argument can
take us. We may certainly lay down the broad proposition that arguments in
favour of an interpolation ought to be supported by the linguistic facts;
provided, of course, that the suspected passage is susceptible of the
linguistic test. We do not forget that a passage may be of such a neutral
character as not to admit of that test. In that case we have to be content
with other available arguments. Where, however, the linguistic test can be
applied, and where the result is strongly favourable to the genuineness of
the passage, that, assuredly, is a very serious objection for the theory
of interpolation to face. It becomes especially formidable, if we can
bring forward no evidence to prove an anachronism, or if we can allege no
real textual objections. Under such circumstances, indeed, we may well
adopt the rule that, in cases of this kind, we have not to do with the
insertion of a redactor; unless, of course, we have good reason for saying
that the interpolator has entered deeply into the original writer’s style.
The view here taken does not mean that all objections to a passage are
sufficiently met if we can state a strong linguistic case on the other
side. We shall have reason to take up this point again (p. 69). For the
present it is sufficient to say that each kind of argument must be given
its own particular force. In the case of a passage where objections
arising from context and subject‐matter cannot be gainsaid, we must
conclude that the passage is of later date than its context, but not more.
In a case where the facts of vocabulary, style, and subject‐matter are
sufficiently favourable, and no textual difficulties forbid, we must
ascribe the passage to the original writer. In a case, finally, where both
kinds of conditions occur, we must suppose that the passage was afterwards
inserted by the writer himself into the body of his own work. Clearly,
then, the linguistic examination of a suspected passage is a matter of
great importance. In the case of Lk. i. 34 f., it is not too much to say
that it is a task as necessary as it is neglected.

It may be objected that the passage is one of two verses only, and that,
in consequence, it is much too brief to allow of satisfactory results. On
the other hand, it should be remembered that the thirty‐seven words of the
section include several interesting phrases and points of construction,
which are so important in matters of this kind. Moreover, in the case of
St. Luke, we are dealing with a writer who has a very distinctive

Harnack has recognized the force of the linguistic argument in the case of
two verses (thirty‐one words). These are the last two verses of the Acts.
After remarking that, so far as he knows, it has never been questioned
that these words come from the author of the complete work, though they
have the appearance of being a postscript, he continues: “Moreover, in
content and in form they agree so closely with the Lukan style that from
this point of view strong arguments can be produced in favour of their
genuineness” (_Date of Acts_, &c., p. 94). In a footnote he adds the
linguistic argument. This is quite enough for our purpose. It is true that
the genuineness of Lk. i. 34 f. is questioned by many (on other than
linguistic and textual grounds). Nevertheless, the field is open for
inquiry as to whether “in content and form they agree so closely with the
Lukan style that from this point of view strong arguments can be produced
in favour of their genuineness”. After all, the length of the passage is
not the vital consideration, but its _character_ (which may, or may not,
be more striking than that of a much longer section); and this is
something which can come out only after actual examination.

We turn, then, to the linguistic examination of Lk. i. 34 f. According to
the Westcott and Hort text, the passage is as follows:

34. εἶπεν δὲ Μαριὰμ πρὸς τὸν ἄγγελον Πῶς ἔσται τοῦτο, ἐπεὶ ἄνδρα οὐ
γινώσκω; 35. καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ ἄγγελος εἶπεν αὐτῇ Πνεῦμα ἅγιον ἐπελεύσεται
ἐπὶ σέ, καὶ δύναμις Ὑψίστου ἐπισκιάσει σοι· διὸ καὶ τὸ γεννώμενον ᾿ἍΓΙΟΝ
ΚΛΗΘΉΣΕΤΑΙ, υἱὸς θεοῦ.

In treating these words, we shall not follow the order in which they
occur, but the order of their importance for our investigation.(51) It is
clear that the words fall into different classes: (_a_) according as they
are neutral in character, that is to say, of insufficient importance
either way in deciding the question; (_b_) in so far as they create
difficulty on the assumption of Lukan authorship, and, to that extent,
support the theory of interpolation; (_c_) in so far as they give clear
support in favour of Lukan origin.


In the first class we may include the words: ἀνήρ, καὶ ἀποκριθείς, πῶς,
ἄγγελος, δύναμις, ἅγιος, εἶπεν with dat., υἱὸσ θεοῦ, and perhaps even
Πνεῦμα ἅγιον.

Every one of these words and phrases is well represented in the Lukan
writings, and in the case of some of them we get, on investigation,
remarkable results.(52)

Take the case of ἀνήρ. In the NT. it occurs 212 times, and of these no
less than 125 appear in St. Luke’s works (26 in G. and 99 in Acts), i.e.
58 per cent. Still more remarkable is the result when we compare ἀνήρ and
ἄνθρωπος. Whereas the other Evangelists use ἄνθρωπος very frequently
indeed (218 times), they employ ἀνήρ only 20 times. St. Luke also
(especially in the Gospel) uses ἄνθρωπος frequently (93 times), but he has
ἀνήρ 26 times (cf. Mt. 8 times, Mk. 4 times, Jn. 8 times). If we take both
Lukan writings, the usage of ἄνθρωπος and ἀνήρ is roughly equal, whereas
in the rest of the NT. it is as 9 is to 2. We can say, therefore, that St.
Luke shows a liking for ἀνήρ, whereas Mt. Mk. and Jn. markedly prefer
ἄνθρωπος. However, the word is so common that we can lay no stress on the
fact that it occurs in i. 34, where the connexion demands it. We can only
note its congruity with a Lukan liking.

Καὶ ἀποκριθείς is also interesting, though not, of course, in any way
decisive. In Lk. the phrase occurs 14 times; in Mt. it is found 6 times;
in Mk. 8; never in the Fourth Gospel, and never in the Acts. It occurs,
that is to say, in those parts of the New Testament in which sources,
probably Aramaic,(53) are employed. This is in line with the view
expressed by Moulton and Milligan with regard to the aorist passive forms
of the verb.(54) They say that they incline to the opinion that ἀπεκρίθην
“belongs only to early Hellenistic, whence it was taken by the LXX
translators to render a common Hebrew phrase, passing thence into the
narrative parts of NT. as a definite ‘Septuagintalism’ ”. It is in keeping
with this view that καὶ ἀποκριθείς ... εἶπεν should appear in that part of
St. Luke’s Gospel where most of all we have reason to posit Semitic
sources, whether oral or documentary. As we have seen, half the record of
this expression in the New Testament, apart from Lk. i. 35, is in the
Third Gospel. The presence, then, of καὶ ἀποκριθείς in Lk. i. 35 is
congruous with these facts; more, perhaps, we cannot say.

A word like πῶς has no bearing on our present investigation, and the same
is true of ἄγγελος, δύναμις (otherwise, however, of δ. in combination with
nouns, &c., in the gen.), ἅγιος (very frequently in Lk.), εἶπεν (with
dat.),(55) and υἱὸς θεοῦ.

Μαριάμ (of the mother of Jesus) occurs more often in Lk. than in other NT.
writers (9 times and probably 10 in the G., once in Acts); the form Μαρία
appears but once (ii. 19 is doubtful). In Mk. Μαρία occurs once, Μαριάμ
never; in Mt. we find Μαρία 3 times and Μαριάμ probably twice. The use of
the form Μαριάμ in i. 34 is therefore in agreement with St. Luke’s usage,
but of course this does not preclude the hand of an interpolator, since
every instance of Μαριάμ (of the mother of Jesus) in the Third Gospel
occurs in the first two chapters.

As is well known, the phrase Πνεῦμα ἅγιον is very frequently found in the
Lukan writings. The percentage is as much as 60, and out of the instances
in the NT., where the phrase is anarthrous, more than 50 per cent, are in
St. Luke (G. and Acts). The phrase is therefore very strongly Lukan. But
perhaps we ought not to include the phrase among those which tell strongly
against the theory of interpolation, since a redactor would easily and
naturally introduce it in the connexion in which it appears in i. 35. “The
new view was not an intruder from the sphere of heathen mythology, but a
logical conclusion from the belief that our Lord was _God’s Son by the
operation of the Holy Spirit_” (Harnack’s _Date of Acts_,(56) p. 144). We
can say therefore that Πνεῦμα ἅγιον is admirably in keeping with Lukan
usage but hardly more. The case is quite otherwise with the whole phrase,
Πνεῦμα ἅγ. ἐπελεύσεται ἐπὶ σέ, as we shall see.

Καλέω is also a word which might be considered here, for it is, of course,
a very common word. Having regard, however, to the way in which it is
used, it will be better to take it later.

Summing up our results thus far, we may say that we have found nothing
that is out of accord with Lukan usage. On the other hand, indeed, every
word and phrase we have examined is well represented in St. Luke’s
writings. Nevertheless, the words are common elsewhere, and in no case do
they tell decisively either way.


_We now come to words which present difficulties, less or greater, on the
assumption of Lukan authorship, and so far tell in favour of the theory of
interpolation._ These are—ἐπεί, γινώσκω, and perhaps τὸ γεννώμενον.

1. We introduce τὸ γεννώμενον here, because the expression, as distinct
from the construction, occurs nowhere else in Lk. As a matter of fact it
occurs nowhere else in the New Testament in this form. The perfect passive
participle, however, appears twice in the Johannine writings: τὸ
γεγεννημένον ἐκ τ. σαρκὸς σάρξ ἐστιν (Jn. iii. 6), and ὅτι πᾶν
γεγεννημένον ἐκ τ. θεοῦ νικᾷ τ. κόσμον (1 Jn. v. 4). What is more
important is that there is a close parallel to τὸ γεννώμενον in Mt. i. 30,
which reads, τὸ γὰρ ἐν αὐτῇ γεννηθὲν ἐκ πνεύματος ἐστιν ἁγίου. The
complete clause in Lk. runs, διὸ καὶ τὸ γεννώμενον ἅγιον κληθήσεται, υἱὸς

It is certainly open to any one to argue that the passage in Lk. is
introduced by an interpolator who is under the influence of Mt. i. 20.
Why, however, while under that influence, he should so far enter into
Lukan usage as to introduce the Lukan διὸ καί, and κληθήσεται, to say
nothing of putting Πνεῦμα ἅγιον into a different connexion in a
characteristically Lukan phrase (Π. ἅγ. ἐπελεύσεται ἐπὶ σέ. Cf. Acts i. 8
and see later), are questions which it is not easy to answer. Assuredly
there is not much here to support the hypothesis of interpolation, and
when we consider the constructional use of the article with the
participle, there is still less, if indeed anything at all. To consider τὸ
γεννώμενον is rather a concession to carefulness than the acknowledgement
of a real difficulty.

2. Γινώσκω must be examined, because in i. 34 it is used of knowledge in
the way of marital relationship. The only parallel in the New Testament is
Mt. i. 25, where, however, it is used of a man: καὶ οὐκ ἐγίνωσκεν αὐτὴν
ἕως οὖ ἕτεκεν υἱόν. On the other hand, in other senses, γινώσκω occurs
fairly frequently in Lk. It is, however, in no sense Lukan, being
distributed evenly throughout the New Testament, except in the Johannine
writings, where it is very common.

We cannot, therefore, produce evidence to show that elsewhere St. Luke
uses γ. in the special sense of i. 34. Nevertheless, there is no reason
why he should not have written γ. in that passage, and there are
considerations which go to show how he could easily have used the word.

In i. 34 and also in Mt. i. 25 γινώσκω is by no means a “Hebraistic
euphemism”,(57) yet it is probable that the influence of the Septuagint is
to be found in both passages. In the LXX there are several instances of γ.
used, as in i. 34, of a woman. It is so used in Gen. xix. 8 (of Lot’s
daughters), in Judg. xi. 39 (of Jephthah’s daughter), and in Num. xxxi. 17
(of the women of Midian). If, then, we are right in tracing the influence
of the LXX, in i. 34, we have ground for finding the hand of St. Luke in
that passage, even though he never again uses γ. in that sense. For it is
just in Lk. i, ii that the influence of the LXX is most marked.(58)

Even if we do not press LXX influence (for γ. in this special sense is
found “in Greek writers from the Alexandrian age down”),(59) it is not at
all apparent why St. Luke himself should not have used the word. And if
the argument in favour of the theory of interpolation is to be sustained,
it is scarcely enough to urge the bare fact that St. Luke does not use γ.
as in i. 34 elsewhere. An idiom which occurs in Greek writers from the
time of Menander(60) (B.C. 325) may well have been known to a writer like
St. Luke, apart from its presence in the Septuagint. If verses 34, 35 are
indeed Lukan, it is quite probable that in γ. we should find the influence
of the Septuagint, but we are not at all shut up to Septuagint usage. In
the connexion in which it occurs γινώσκω was a suitable word to employ,
and its presence there is in no way incongruous with Lukan authorship.

3. In these verses the word which is of greatest difficulty is without
doubt ἐπεί. In the rest of the New Testament it occurs 25 times. Of these
10 are found in the Pauline Epistles and 9 in the Epistle to the Hebrews.
The remaining 6 appear in the Gospels; 3 in Mt., 1 in Mk., and 2 in Jn.
Apart then from i. 34 ἐπεί occurs nowhere in St. Luke’s works.

There are, it is true, two Lukan passages, one in the Gospel (vii. 1) and
the other in the Acts (xiii. 46), where ἐπεί δέ occurs in some MSS. The
true reading, however, in both cases is probably ἐπειδή.(61) We have,
therefore, to face the fact, that not only is ἐπεί found nowhere else in
St. Luke’s works, but that elsewhere he seems to prefer ἐπειδή and
ἐπειδήπερ (the latter in the Prologue to the Gospel, and the former five
times out of the ten cases in which it occurs in the New Testament). Here
is the strongest argument, which on linguistic grounds can be urged
against the genuineness of i. 34 f. The richness of St. Luke’s vocabulary
increases the difficulty.(62) Why, if he has used ἐπεί in i. 34, he should
never employ it again, is a question which it is not easy to answer. If,
in view of the evidence as a whole, the case for an interpolation fails,
we shall have to content ourselves with the fact, however strange, that
here and here only έπεί occurs in Lk. A writer indeed may use a word once
and never again. Ἐπεί occurs but once in Mk. (xv. 42), and it may be so
here. Assuredly, in a linguistic argument room must always be left for the
occurrence of ἅπαξ λεγόμενα in an individual writer. The force of this
contention is, however, somewhat weakened by the preference which St. Luke
seems to show for ἐπειδή, and it must be allowed that the case for an
interpolation does receive support from ἐπεί.


We have now to consider the _third_ division of the linguistic evidence.
It includes the following words and phrases:

τὸ γεννώμενον (the construction),
δύναμις Ὑψίστου,
διὸ καί,
ἐπισκιάσει σοι,
Πνεῦμα ἅγιον ἐπελεύσεται ἐπὶ σέ,
εἶπεν δὲ ... πρὸς ...

1. We begin with τὸ γεννώμενον (the construction.) As is well known, the
article with the participle is quite a characteristic of the Lukan
writings. “Participles with the article often take the place of
substantives”, writes Plummer (ICC., St. Lk., p. lxii). The instances
given by Plummer are as follows:

ii. 27. κατὰ τὸ εἰθισμένον. (Here only in NT.)

iv. 16. κατὰ τό εἰωθός. (Here and Acts xvii, 2 only.)

viii. 34. ἰδόντες δὲ οἱ βόσκοντες τὸ γεγονὸς ἕφυγον. (Here and Mk. v. 14;
Lk. [xxiv. 12]. Cf. also Acts iv. 21.)

xxii. 22. κατὰ τὸ ὡρισμένον. (Here only in NT. Cf. the parallel passages,
Mt. xxvi. 24 and Mk. xiv. 21, where we find καθὼς γέγραπται περὶ αὐτοῦ.)

xxiv. 14. περὶ πάντων τῶν συμβεβηκὸτων τούτων. (Cf. Acts iii. 10.)

To these may be added xxi. 36, xxiii. 47, 48. The construction is clearly
Lukan, without, of course, being exclusively Lukan, and though τὸ
γεννώμενον does not occur elsewhere in St. Luke’s works, the verb is not
uncommon (10 times out of 93 in the NT., of which 40 occur in the
Genealogy in Mt.).

2. Κληθήσεται. In his _Date of Acts_ Harnack underlines this verb, as a
Lukan trait, wherever it occurs in the “We” Sections, which he prints on
pp. 4‐12. Out of the total number of cases in which it occurs in the New
Testament, no less than 44 per cent. are found in the Lukan writings. In
the Gospel it is present 41 times. It should also be noted that when we
compare καὶ τὸ γ. ἅγιον κληθήσεται with the analogous phrase in Mt. 1. 20,
τὸ γὰρ ἐν αὐτῇ γεννηθὲν ἐκ πνεύματός ἐστιν ἁγίου, in the latter the Lukan
καλέω is absent. Of course καλέω is a common word, but St. Luke’s use of
it is distinctive, and with this usage κληθήσεται in verse 35 agrees.

3. We have referred to δύναμις already,(63) and have said that while
frequent in Lk., it is too common a word to be important for our present
purpose. The case is otherwise with the phrase δύναμις Ὑψίστου. St. Luke
is fond of using δ. in composition with other words in the genitive. In
his Gospel, he employs it with τὸ πνεῦμα, ὁ θεός, Κύριος, οἱ οὐρανοί, and
ὁ ἐχθρός. In the Acts (viii. 10) we have ἡ Δύναμις τ. θεοῦ ἡ καλουμένη
Μεγάλη. In Mt. we find this usage twice; in Mk. once; in the main epistles
of St. Paul it occurs 13 times; elsewhere in the New Testament 7 times.
That is to say, out of 29 instances in the New Testament (other than i.
35),(64) St. Luke has 6 (or 20 per cent.). We may therefore say that this
again is a marked characteristic of St. Luke’s usage, and though the
phrase δ. Ὕ. does not occur again in Lk. (it occurs nowhere else in the
NT.), it is thoroughly congruous with the Lukan style. We have also to
note the word Ὕψιστος. Out of 12 instances in the New Testament St. Luke
actually has 8, or 75 per cent. As, however, three of these occur in
chaps. i and ii, it might be argued that the interpolator has introduced
Ὕ. in verse 35 under the influence of these very chapters. That, however,
he should combine it with δ. is interesting. Indeed, on the theory of
interpolation, our interpolator has combined a distinctively Lukan word
(Ὕψιστος) with another word (δύναμις) which St. Luke often uses (24
times), to produce a characteristic Lukan phrase (δ. in composition with a
noun in the genitive)!

4. Διὸ καί. Elsewhere St. Luke uses διό 9 times (once in the Gospel and 8
times in the Acts). In this respect he may be compared with St. Paul, who
uses the word 25 times, and the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, who
employs it 8 times. In the Catholic Epistles it appears 6 times. There is
but one instance in Mt. and a doubtful case in Mk. The results are also
interesting when we take διὸ καί. Out of 10 instances in the New
Testament, St. Luke has 2 (Ac. x. 29 and xxiv. 26), St. Paul has 6, and
Hebrews 2. There is not an instance in Mt. or Mk., or anywhere else in the
New Testament. We are far from suggesting that no one else could use διὸ
καί.(65) The point is that the supposed interpolator has introduced the
phrase into the work of a writer who, with St. Paul and the author of
Hebrews, alone among New Testament writers employs it!

5. Ἐπισκιάσει σοι. Ἐπισκιάζω appears in four other places in the New
Testament. Of these, three are connected with the story of the
Transfiguration (Mt. xvii. 5, Mk. ix. 7, Lk. ix. 34). That the remaining
instance should be Acts v. 15 is, in connexion with our present problem,
an interesting fact. Thayer‐Grimm remarks that the verb occurs in
“profane” authors, “generally with an accusative of the object, and in the
sense of obscuring”. In the Septuagint, however, it is used of the divine
covering or overshadowing (cf. Ps. xc. (xci.) 4; Ps. cxxxix. (cxl.) 8; Ex.
xl. 29 (35)). We have to ask whether these passages, especially the last,
have influenced the writer of i. 35. We cannot assume the point, of
course, but there is much to be said for it. The thought of the cloud of
Yahweh overshadowing the tent of meeting may very well have shaped the
thought and the phrasing of δ. Ὕψίστου ἐπισκιάσει σοι. If there is any
weight in this suggestion (cf. Plummer, op. cit., p. 24), again it tells
for Lukan authorship—so far, that is to say, as the undoubted fact that
chaps. i and ii have a distinctly Old Testament atmosphere will take us.
Apart, however, from such considerations it is a remarkable fact, on the
theory of interpolation, that a word so rare in the New Testament, and one
which St. Luke uses more than any one else, should appear in the suspected
verses. Acts v. 15 (ἵνα ἐρχομένου Πέτρου κἂν ἡ σκιὰ ἐπισκιάσει τινὶ αὐτῶν)
is enough in itself to raise the gravest doubt that we have here to do
with an interpolator.

6. Πνεῦμα ἅγιον ἐπελεύσεται ἐπὶ σέ. Here we have first to call attention
to the verb ἐπέρχομαι. Apart from Eph. ii. 7 and James v. 1, this verb is
limited to the Lukan writings, where it occurs six times (i.e. besides i.
35). We have already spoken of Πνεῦμα ἅγιον and remarked that, while it is
characteristic of St. Luke, we could not lay stress upon that fact, since
even an interpolator would naturally introduce a reference to the Holy
Spirit in such a connexion as i. 35. If, however, as now we take the whole
phrase, we come to a very different conclusion. For in Acts i. 8 we have
the significantly close parallel, ἐπελθόντος τ. ἁγίου πνεύματος ἐφ᾽ ὑμᾶς.
The parallel speaks for itself!

7. We consider lastly, εἶπεν δὲ ... πρός. A comparison of passages in the
four Gospels and the Acts gives the following results:

εἶπεν δέ: Jn. 1 (& 2?); Lk. (G.) 60; Acts 15; Lk. (G. & Ac.) 75
εἶπεν ... πρός: Mt. 1?; Mk. 2; Jn. 9; Lk. (G.) 79; Acts 26; Lk. (G. & Ac.)
εἶπεν δὲ ... πρός: Lk. (G.) 25; Acts 2; Lk. (G. & Ac.) 27

To the facts noted in the foregoing table we may add that εἶπεν πρός
occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. St. Luke, therefore, has it 105
times out of 116. Still more is εἶπεν δὲ ... πρός limited to St. Luke. No
other New Testament writer uses the phrase, and St. Luke has it 27

In his three books on the Acts, Harnack is fond of underlining Lukan
characteristics in the “We” Sections, in order to show the linguistic
identity which exists between these Sections and the rest of the work. Let
us see how Lk. i. 34 f. appears, when treated in this way; not forgetting,
of course, that we are dealing with two verses only. It is obviously
impossible to indicate by this method the special significance of each
word or phrase; this, however, has already been shown. Our results may be
represented as follows: _εἶπεν δὲ_ Μαριὰμ _πρὸς τὸν_ ἄγγελον Πῶς ἔσται
τοῦτο, ἐπεὶ ἄνδρα οὐ γινώσκω; καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ ἄγγελος εἷπεν αὐτῇ _Πνεῦμα
ἅγιον ἐπελεύσεται ἐπὶ σέ_, καὶ _δύναμις  Ὕψίστου ἐπισκιάσει σοι· διὸ καὶ
τὸ γεννώμενον_ ἅγιον _κληθήσεται_, υἱὸς θεοῦ.

A possible reply to the linguistic argument presented above is that we may
have to do with an interpolator who has thoroughly entered into the Lukan
style. If our examination has shown anything at all, it has shown that Lk.
i. 34. f. is very far from presenting neutral features: it is shot through
and through with “Lukanisms”.(67) But, it may be asked, could not an
interpolator, strongly influenced by the Lukan style, have penned these

Let us see what, on that hypothesis, the interpolator has done. He has
produced a passage of thirty‐seven words, in which there is not a
construction, and only one word (ἐπεί), which is not well represented in
the Lukan writings. He has used a word (γινώσκω) in a sense not elsewhere
illustrated in those works, but a word which St. Luke would naturally
employ in the connexion in which it occurs. He has employed words,
phrases, and constructions for which St. Luke has a fondness, such as
καλέω, δύναμις Ὕψίστου, διὸ καί, the article with the participle in place
of a noun (τὸ γενν.).(68) He has used two verbs (ἐπισκιάζω and ἐπέρχομαι)
which are rare in the New Testament, but which St. Luke uses more than
once; the phrase Π. ἅ. ἐπελεύσεται ἐπὶ σέ, which is closely paralleled in
Acts i. 8; and, above all, the markedly Lukan εἶπεν δὲ ... πρός.

This feat, it must be confessed, is a striking performance. If, indeed, it
has been achieved, we must conclude that it has been carried out
deliberately. We make every allowance for the possibility that a redactor
may well enter into the style of an author. But to suppose that in so
short a passage so many Lukan features have come together without
premeditation or design is all but impossible. We make bold to say that,
if we must admit such an undesigned collocation of “Lukanisms”, we can
have little confidence in the linguistic argument anywhere.

But can we believe that the linguistic features of Lk. i. 34 f. have been
_purposely_ introduced? Such a question is its own answer. No one,
assuredly, would resort to the desperate expedient of supposing a
redactor, who laboriously amasses Lukan characteristics, with the
intention of passing off the very phraseology of his insertion as genuine.
A modern interpolator might work along these lines, but not an ancient
redactor. Interpolations are not forgeries. The thought of consciously
reproducing stylistic features in an insertion would probably never have
occurred to a redactor of the Gospels.(69)

So far then as linguistic considerations go, we must conclude that our
unknown interpolator is a mythical personage. We do not forget the
difficulty of ἐπεί, but if Lk. i. 34 f. is a non‐Lukan interpolation, we
must have more support than this. Warp and woof are Lukan; only a single
thread gives cause for hesitation. Must not this hesitation give way when
we look at the facts as a whole? Can we strain out the gnat, and swallow
the camel? Assuredly on linguistic grounds the most reasonable conclusion
we can frame is that _Lk. i. 34 f. comes from the hand of St. Luke

III. Summary and Conclusion

We have now to co‐ordinate our results. However strong a linguistic
argument may be, there is perhaps always room for the view that it is
confirmatory rather than demonstrative. In the present case also, the
shortness of the passage can be pleaded. In noticing this objection we
urged that the character of the passage is the relevant consideration, and
we think Lk. i. 34 f. meets this demand. But we have no need to press the
linguistic argument to the extent we ourselves believe to be legitimate,
when we find that both this argument and the textual argument point
steadily in the same direction. It is this fact, that both arguments
converge on the same point, which is the ultimate ground for our
conclusion. Short of supplying a rigid demonstration, which should not be
sought, it is sufficient to establish for us the Lukan authorship of Lk.
i. 34 f.

This view carries with it at once the further conclusion that at some time
or other St. Luke taught and believed in the Virgin Birth. But before we
can rest satisfied with this result, we need to look more closely at _an
alternative form of the interpolation‐hypothesis_, to which reference has
already been made (p. 36). This is the view of Kattenbusch, Merx, Weinel,
and J. M. Thompson (_Miracles in the New Testament_, p. 149).

According to this theory the interpolation consists in the phrase ἐπεὶ
ἄνδρα οὐ γινώσκω, an insertion which, it is contended, has transformed the
promise of a natural conception into the prophecy of a virgin birth. Mr.
Thompson notices the two forms which the theory may assume. The insertion
may be either “a modification of St. Luke’s source, introduced by the
Evangelist himself, as editor”, or it may be “a later addition to the text
of Lk. by some person or congregation who wished to make the miracle quite
clear” (p. 149). It is obvious that, in its former shape, this hypothesis
would not seriously affect our results reached thus far, provided we could
agree that “verse 35 is not inconsistent with human parentage” (Thompson,
p. 148), and is best interpreted in this way. As regards the second form
of the theory, the case is different. If ἐπεὶ ἄνδρα οὐ γινώσκω is the
addition of a later reader or congregation, it is much more difficult to
think that St. Luke taught the Virgin Birth. It would not be impossible;
but it would leave the whole problem to rest upon the interpretation of
verse 35.

We are unable to accept the theory that ἐπεὶ ἄνδρα οὐ γινώσκω is an
insertion of unknown origin, for the following reasons:

1. _On the whole, the more natural interpretation of verse 35 is that in
itself it implies the Virgin Birth._ It is easier, on this view, to
explain ἐπελεύσεται and ἐπισκιάσει followed by διὸ καί. (Cf. Schmiedel,
col. 2957 n.; Plummer, _St. Lk._, p. 24f.; Lobstein, op. cit., p. 67.)

2. _No textual evidence can be cited in support of the theory._ This is
frankly admitted by Mr. Thompson, and the insertion is explained as an
editorial modification. We could regard this explanation as sufficient, if
the “insertion” could be looked upon as an “explanatory phrase”, intended
to sharpen a reference to the Virgin Birth, which had already been found
in the context. On this reading of the problem, absence of textual
variation might not be an insuperable difficulty. But if we must regard
ἐπεὶ ἄνδρα οὐ γινώσκω as a doctrinal modification—an attempt on the part
of an unknown editor to impose upon the narrative a sense quite different
from that which previously it had been understood to bear—then the
argument sketched in the first part of the present chapter is wholly
against the theory. We cannot understand why no echoes of the earlier view
have lingered.

3. _It is difficult to suppose that a later reader who sought to work up
the original narrative in the interests of the Virgin Birth would have
exercised such restraint._ To expand a narrative in the direction of the
sense which it already bears is a conceivable suggestion. To transform it
totally by merely adding four words is a theory which does not carry
conviction. Was ever an interpolator so ingenious as this?

On the other side may be pleaded (1) the difficulty of ἐπεὶ, (2) many of
the arguments we have sketched in Chapter II. The difficulty of ἐπεὶ we
have to admit. As regards the second point, we believe that the theory we
have yet to outline in the next chapter meets the case much better,
without suffering from the special objections which can be brought against
the view we have just discussed. For the reasons given we are unable to
accept that view. We prefer to regard Lk. i. 34 f. as a unity, and to
interpret both verses as implying the Virgin Birth. And as we have found
sufficient reasons, both on textual and linguistic grounds, for ascribing
the passage to St. Luke, we believe that he taught the Virgin Birth.


In the present chapter we must formulate a theory which shall do justice
to the results obtained in the last two chapters. We have argued that the
Virgin Birth is not an original element in the Third Gospel, that several
passages in it are inconsistent with the doctrine, and that Lk. i. 34 f.
is a later insertion. On the other hand we have given reasons for our
belief that St. Luke really did write the passage just mentioned, and that
in consequence he taught the Virgin Birth. It is useless, we think, to set
these results against one another; they are not contradictory. The
argument from the linguistic and textual facts will not make one iota of
difference to those derived from the treatment and subject‐matter of Lk.
i, ii, and the latter will not in any way impair the former. Writers who
hold fast to the view that St. Luke wrote i. 34 f. have not, in that one
contention, answered their opponents, and critics who plead for the
hypothesis of non‐Lukan interpolation travel much too fast. The final
theory must take all the facts into account.

I. A Suggested Theory

So far as we ourselves are concerned, there is only one hypothesis open to
us, and it is not far to seek. It will be best if we first state it
somewhat baldly, leaving obvious difficulties to be considered later. The
theory is as follows:

In the first instance St. Luke wrote his Gospel, either in whole or in
part, without any knowledge of the Virgin Birth. To him, as to the
compiler of the Lukan Genealogy, Jesus was the son of Joseph and of Mary.
St. Luke’s estimate of Jesus was not less high than that of St. Paul and
St. Mark, but, as was probably true in the case of each of these writers,
no tradition of the Miraculous Birth had reached him. He looked upon Jesus
as the Child of Wondrous Promise, and for his analogies he turned to the
Old Testament to the stories of Isaac and of Samuel.

In contrast to earlier writers St. Luke had an excellent Birth‐tradition
at his disposal. According to his sources the coming and future Messianic
greatness of Jesus had been divinely foretold. His birth was heralded by
angelic choirs, and humble shepherds brought their meed of worship and of
praise. By an insight divinely given, men like Simeon and women like Anna
saw in Him the child of promise. He was to be a light for revelation to
the Gentiles and the glory of His people Israel. We need not stay to look
more closely into the story, which doubtless has been worked up as regards
its form by the Evangelist’s hand. Suffice it to say that St. Luke’s
picture is that of a Wondrous Birth, supernaturally foretold; not a virgin

Some time after he had penned his narrative, possibly after it had been
dispatched to Theophilus, but at any rate before the Gospel gained a wider
circulation, St. Luke received the tradition of the Virgin Birth. At what
time and from what source the story reached him we are quite unable to
say; possibly it was from some reader or readers to whom he had submitted
his narrative; possibly the story travelled along some independent
channel. In any case the probability is that the tradition was imparted to
St. Luke by some one who claimed to possess a fuller and a better account,
and whose claim the Evangelist respected and admitted. Having regard to
St. Luke’s standing and methods as an historian, we prefer to believe that
the tradition reached him through a definite and _personal_ channel, than
to suppose that of his own initiative he freely altered a valuable source
out of deference to a growing theory.

The historical value of the new information is a question we are not now
considering. It is part of our theory, however, that it satisfied the mind
of St. Luke; to him the Virgin Birth was historic fact. Probably the story
appealed to him at once as a fitting explanation of the unique personality
of Jesus. It was a tradition rich in doctrinal possibilities; it provoked
reflection, and it answered questions.

The Evangelist saw at once that the story must find a place in his
narrative. Fortunately it was not too late, and fortunately again there
was a point where it could be included without entailing the necessity of
rewriting cc. i, ii entirely. He had only to insert the words we have now
in i. 34 f. into the address of the angel, and to add to the opening words
of the Genealogy the phrase “as was supposed”, to obtain a narrative in
which truths previously unknown to him found sufficient statement. If we
can suppose that the adaptation of what he had previously written was not
drastic enough, we obtain a hypothesis which at least does justice to
every result we have yet secured.

The view that Lk. i. 34 f. is an interpolation made by St. Luke himself
was put forward by Zimmermann in _Studien und Kritiken_ (p. 273 f.) in
1903. His treatment (cf. Moffatt, INT., p. 269 n.) differs in several
respects from that outlined above. Zimmermann posits an Aramaic Jewish‐
Christian source which described a natural birth, and suggests that it was
in the course of translating this document that St. Luke added i. 34 f.
The Evangelist is also credited with having altered i. 27 and ii. 5, so as
to describe Mary as betrothed to Joseph. Zimmermann also explains ii. 22
(αὐτῶν) as a mistranslation, and ascribes to St. Luke the parenthesis of
ii. 35 a, and the chronology of iii. 1‐2, which he holds is inaccurate.

According to this hypothesis St. Luke must have been acquainted with the
Virgin Birth _before_ he began to translate the supposed Aramaic document.
This view is encumbered with difficulty; for, if Zimmermann is right, we
should certainly expect a much more drastic editing of the document than
can be shown. The extent to which this difficulty appears in the case of
our own theory is one for which we think that justification can be
given.(71) In the case of Zimmermann’s hypothesis the obstacle is too
great. On this view we cannot understand how the Evangelist allowed
himself to write down those expressions which are incompatible with the
Miraculous Conception.(72)

The view we have preferred agrees with that of Zimmermann in positing a
source or sources which described a natural birth. It differs from it in
denying that the Evangelist knew of the Virgin Birth at the time when he
made use of those sources. We prefer to think that it was after cc. i, ii
had attained what is substantially its present form in Greek, that St.
Luke came to hear of the Virgin Birth, and that it was then that he
inserted i. 34 f. This supposition includes the positive advantages of
Zimmermann’s theory, and it agrees better with the existing literary
phenomena of Lk. i, ii.(73)

II. Literary Conditions Under Which the Gospels Were Written

In holding the view we have outlined, we have no thought of running with
the hare and hunting with the hounds. Our theory is not intended as an
eirenicon. It is not an attempt to make the best of two worlds, the
critical and the dogmatic. If we appear to have introduced the Virgin
Birth into the Third Gospel by the back door, after we have bowed it out
at the front, this is simply because the evidence leaves us no
alternative. Our theory makes room for the twofold fact, as it seems to
us, (1) that the Virgin Birth is not an original element in the Third
Gospel, and (2) that St. Luke wrote the one passage in the Gospel which
asserts the doctrine; thus for us it is inevitable.

If, from another point of view, our hypothesis seems a bold venture, we
may justly claim that the facts are such as to demand a bold treatment.
Nor is it a sufficient objection to say that the theory is complex. Life
is a complex thing, and there are few times when we need to remember it so
much as when we are thinking of the production of an historical work.

Apart from other claims which can be made, our theory has one important,
if general, advantage; it takes account of the elementary facts of human
composition. Have we given sufficient thought to the fact that a writer
like St. Luke may well have turned back to review, and even to alter, in
the light of further information, what he had already written? Is not this
what nearly every one does who writes or relates anything at all? Is it
not indeed rather a rare than a usual proceeding to write a story from
start to finish without insertion, omission, and revision?

In his “Introduction” Dr. James Moffatt has drawn attention to these
things, and especially as they concern St. Luke’s two works. He shows that
interpolation may take place “either (_a_) at the hands of the author
himself, or (_b_) by subsequent editors of the volume, after the writer’s
death, or (_c_) by scribes (or editors) of the text” (p. 36). Under (a) he
refers to instances in Aeschylus, Herodotus, Virgil, Juvenal, Martial, and
Lucretius. “Several passages in the _De Rerum Natura_ (e.g. ii. 165‐83)
are also to be explained most naturally as additions made by Lucretius
himself to the original draft, and in the case of the Third Gospel or its
sequel it is not unlikely that Luke may have re‐edited ... his work” (p.
37). Dr. Moffatt gives a very interesting modern example in the case of
_Northanger Abbey_, which was first composed by Jane Austen in 1798. “In
the fifth chapter, however, we have an allusion to Miss Edgeworth’s
_Belinda_—a novel which did not appear until 1801. This proves that Miss
Austen’s work lies before us in a revised form; the first draft was gone
over by the authoress before its final publication some years later” (p.

It will scarcely be denied that the possibility of interpolation by an
original author has often been overlooked by many critics. They are not
slow to find the insertions of later readers and scribes, but often it
seems tacitly to be assumed that the original writers must have written
with logical and almost unerring precision. Curiously enough, something
like the Verbal Inspiration of Scripture is required to justify some of
the critical results reached. This is a doctrine long since discredited,
but being dead it yet speaks. It will have to be allowed, we think, that
mechanical theories of Inspiration have not yet left us free to perceive
those ordinary conditions of writing under which the New Testament writers
wrote. The aftermath of Verbal Inspiration still blinds us to the
commonplaces of composition.

Of all New Testament authors St. Luke is perhaps the last to have issued
his works without modifications. The high art which is self‐evident in a
modern writer like Robert Louis Stevenson was not attained without
corrections, substitutions, redrafting, and rewriting. Without drawing the
parallel too closely, and without impugning his real inspiration, we may
well credit some of these processes to St. Luke. This, however, is an
argument we cannot press too far, for, as will be seen in the following
section, there is good ground for the belief that St. Luke’s revision of
his work was never complete. It is sufficient for our hypothesis to find
room for a measure of revision and for the presence of modifications
required by new information.

The nature of St. Luke’s task is an added reason for expecting these
processes. In his Preface (i. 1‐4) St. Luke shows a desire to produce a
full and accurate record, and claims to have traced the course of all
things from the first. Any new information bearing upon the Birth and the
hidden years of the Infancy would be especially welcome to him. Any one,
moreover, who has had anything to do with collecting memoirs knows that
not infrequently new facts come to hand just when the task seems well‐nigh
completed, facts for which a place must be found, however great the
difficulties may be.

We are not indeed left entirely to conjecture. We can examine St. Luke’s
treatment of the Markan record. The modifications which he introduces are
manifest, and they arise in different ways. Many of them are stylistic,
others are intended to clear up difficulties, while it is in every way
probable that others again are corrections introduced as the result of new
information. If, from such causes, St. Luke does not hesitate to modify
the statements of St. Mark’s Gospel, it is inconceivable that he would
have refrained from altering his own narrative if occasion should arise.

We have at least one definite example, within St. Luke’s works, of a story
which has been modified in the light of further information. In Lk. xxiv
there is good ground for thinking that the final parting of Jesus from His
disciples is not described as an Ascension, and apparently it takes place
at the close of Easter Day. In Acts i we have the story of a forty days’
interval, during which the Risen Christ teaches His disciples the things
concerning the Kingdom of God (i. 3). The Ascension is described as an act
of visible levitation. Jesus is taken up into heaven and a cloud receives
Him out of His disciples’ sight (i. 9). As they stand gazing upwards two
men appear by their side clothed in white garments, who declare that Jesus
shall return in like manner as they beheld Him going into heaven (i. 10
f.). The disciples then return to Jerusalem. It can hardly be denied that
this is a totally different story from that which is told in Lk. xxiv.
Whatever its historical value may be the presumption is that it rests upon
a tradition which had come to St. Luke’s knowledge after he had completed
his Gospel. Apparently he acquired his new information when it was too
late to alter his earlier work. Otherwise we may believe that the story
would have appeared in the Gospel and not in the Acts.

It may freely be granted that the foregoing considerations are of a purely
general character. Admittedly they do not prove that Lk. i. 34 f. is a
specific instance of modification. Our justification of this hypothesis is
the results we have reached in Chapters II and III. What we have just
urged, however, is sufficient to show that our theory is not by any means
inherently impossible, but is consonant with St. Luke’s procedure and
methods as a writer.

III. The Objections to Which the Above Theory is Exposed

We have now to consider what is perhaps the strongest objection to which
our theory is exposed. It may be stated as follows:

If the Virgin Birth is a later element in the Third Gospel introduced by
St. Luke himself, the Evangelist’s revision of cc. i, ii might reasonably
have been expected to be much more thorough than it is. Why, for example,
does he leave untouched the references to Joseph and Mary as “the parents”
of Jesus? Why does he not qualify his ambiguous reference to “their”
purification? Why is he still untroubled by their astonishment, and by
their failure to understand the words of Jesus at Jerusalem? Why does he
not insert some clearer reference to the Davidic descent of Mary, or at
least give us reason to believe that he looked upon Jesus as the adopted,
and therefore legal, son of Joseph? Why does he leave the Sonship
mentioned in the first part of the angel’s speech (i. 31‐3) apparently of
a purely Messianic character? Why does he not provide occasion in the
Annunciation for the terms of Mary’s question in i. 34? In short, are we
not back again face to face with the same difficulties with which our
investigation opened? These are some of the difficulties which our theory

In reply to this objection there are two preliminary considerations to be
borne in mind. They are not arguments in the sense of things which can be
proved; they are rather possibilities which ought seriously to be taken
into account.

(1) In the first place it should be recognized that _we may not have all
the details of St. Luke’s actual reconstruction before us_. Something may
have been altered or excised; we have the result; we may not have all the
stages. Usener (EB., col. 3350) has asserted that statements of fact have
actually been omitted from the original narrative; he is even able to tell
us what they are! He thinks that we can “infer with certainty” that in the
original form of the narrative after i. 38 stood the further statement
that Mary was then taken to wife by Joseph and that she conceived by him.
Usener suggests that this statement was “judged inadmissible” by the
redactor who interpolated i. 34 f., and that in consequence it was
expunged. There can be little doubt that reasoning such as this requires
omniscience as well as intuition! And the same criticism would be just in
reply to any one who should elect to tell us exactly what St. Luke himself
has altered or omitted. These are things which we do not know, and which
we cannot know; we cannot even “infer with certainty” that St. Luke has
omitted anything at all. But the broad possibility that he may have
effected transformations and modifications in cc. i, ii, which we cannot
now trace, is quite another matter, and, indeed, is by no means
improbable. And if this is so, must it not affect the judgement we pass
upon the skill or lack of skill which, on the theory proposed, St. Luke
has shown? We may not know all. Obviously, we cannot prove this, but it is
a consideration which we ought to have in mind.

(2) A second thing to be remembered is that, if our theory is true, _we do
not know anything of the actual circumstances under which the new
tradition was introduced into the Gospel; it may have been in haste_. Did
the story reach the Evangelist at the last moment? Or, if not, was there a
process of sifting and testing of the new information, which left little
time when at length the fateful decision was taken, and the Evangelist
took up his pen? Again we cannot prove these things, but again we cannot
deny them. And if we cannot deny them, we must not ignore them. Only if we
do ignore these possibilities, are we at liberty to insist that the
reconstruction should have been more drastic. If, as we ourselves think,
the supposition is reasonable, that i. 34 f. was added when the Evangelist
had only just heard of the Virgin Birth tradition, we have clearly a good
answer to the objection we are considering.

The foregoing arguments are speculative; there are, however, more positive
considerations to urge. In addition to what has been said, we may point
out (3) the fact that _St. Luke’s writings left his hand without a
painstaking final revision_, and (4) _the different effect upon the mind
of a new piece of information as compared with a belief, which has been
held for some time, and has already become an intellectual

(3) _That St. Luke’s writings left his hands without a final revision is
strongly supported by the literary phenomena of the two works._ The
clearest evidence is found in the Acts, in which we probably have a closer
literary parallel to the Birth Stories of Lk. i, ii than in the rest of
the Gospel itself. Writing on the Acts (_Acts of the Apostles_, Eng. Tr.,
pp. 203 ff.) Harnack gives a list of more than two hundred “instances of
inaccuracy and discrepancy”. Harnack does not accept them all, and shows
that they are of different types, many of them being comparatively
trifling and unimportant. Some are cases of anacoluthon and of transition
from indirect to direct speech and vice versa. There are also “cases where
St. Luke introduces persons with a certain unconcern, or in other places
seems to forget that he has already introduced them” (p. 230). Harnack
points out that “the details of a story are here and there inserted later
or again earlier than their proper place” (p. 227), and he asserts that
“instances of redundancy, of awkward repetition, of silence upon important
points, and of extraordinary brevity, can be adduced from different parts
of the book” (p. 230). He finds “instances of discrepancy” in the three
accounts of the conversion of St. Paul, the letter of Claudius Lysias, the
report of Festus, the last speech of St. Paul at Rome, and in other
passages (p. 231).

Adequately to enter into this very interesting question would take us too
far beyond the limits of our main subject. It is perhaps not unfair to
suggest that Harnack’s long list, as given in pp. 203‐25, is capable of
very considerable reduction. There is great force in Ramsay’s remark: “He
who reads Luke without applying practical sense and mother‐wit and
experience will always misunderstand him”, and in his caution: “When you
think you find an ‘inconsistency’ in Luke, you should look carefully
whether you have been sufficiently applying these qualities, before you
condemn the supposed fault” (_Luke the Physician_, p. 55). Ramsay himself
admits, however, that there are inconsistencies which cannot be denied,
and holds that they show that “the work never received the final form
which Luke intended to give it, but was still incomplete when he died”
(ib., p. 24). In his earlier work, _St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman
Citizen_, Ramsay has made the same suggestion, illustrations of which he
finds in Acts xvi. 19, 20 and xx. 4, 5.(75)

We may describe the impression which St. Luke, as a writer, makes upon us
by saying that, while his work is marked by great literary art, and while
it is characterized by many striking instances of historical accuracy,
yet, at the same time, the Evangelist shows a certain unconcern in matters
of detail (Harnack would call it “a certain literary carelessness”), the
results of which would probably have disappeared had he subjected his
works to a close final revision. If this view is just there is little
weight in the objection that, on the theory we have stated, St. Luke’s
reconstruction might have been expected to be more drastic than it is. The
inconsistencies he has left are like those which we find elsewhere and are
a feature of his works as they stand.

(4) Our final argument is of a psychological kind. It rests, as we have
said, upon _the difference between an intellectual prepossession and the
first effect upon the mind of new information_.

The previous argument might seem to point in another direction. Will not
the character of St. Luke’s writings sufficiently explain the literary
phenomena of Lk. i, ii, on the view that he taught the Virgin Birth from
the first? In the light of the discrepancies which occur in the Gospel and
the Acts, can we not believe that after all the Virgin Birth is an
original element in the Gospel? This contention would be an example of
what Harnack has called attempting to gather apologetic figs from
sceptical thistles.(76) We do not think that in this case the harvest
would realize expectations.

It must be remembered that the two cases are not parallel. In the one case
we begin with a writer whose mind is filled with an intellectual
presupposition, with a knowledge, that is to say, of the Virgin Birth
presupposed. Under these circumstances the miracle must be “a necessary
stone in the structure”, and its effect determinative. If the Virgin Birth
had been known to St. Luke for some considerable time, we cannot think
that Lk. i, ii would have possessed the features to which we have called
attention in Chapter II. In the other case—that of our hypothesis—the
Virgin Birth is a piece of new information, and, if this is so, we submit
that inconsistencies left in the adapted narrative wear a different hue.
It is one thing to introduce into a narrative what is inconsistent to
one’s presuppositions. It is quite another thing not to perceive
inconsistencies at once, when our knowledge is enlarged by a totally new
fact. A presupposition is much more despotic than a subsequent discovery.

It is common knowledge that the implications of a new point of view are
not always immediately recognized. For a time old and new live together.
It is not by any means an easy task to introduce into a narrative,
constructed under the guidance of alien presuppositions, a fact of an
entirely new order. That St. Luke should have performed his task so well
argues no little skill in literary craftsmanship. That his work was not
completely done is after all no more than we might expect. From the
standpoint of literary exactitude, no doubt the better plan would have
been to rewrite the narrative, or at least to subject it to a rigorous
pruning. But we ought not to complain if these things have not been done.
St. Luke was probably too much of an artist to feel the merciless logic of
his new information; and the result is a compromise.

In connexion with our theory we do not think that this is an unreasonable
view to take. The difficulties are certainly much greater upon the theory
that St. Luke knew of the Virgin Birth from the first. Granted certain
presuppositions, and we can say with good reason what a writer like St.
Luke would not be likely to do. Assume the entrance of a new fact,
transforming by a whole world of difference the writer’s point of view,
and who can say just what he would do? We can say, of course, that he
would introduce his new knowledge, if persuaded of its truth; but when we
come to the details of reconstruction, we are face to face with the
uncertainties of the personal equation. The logical procedure is drastic
revision. If the writer stops short of this, as he may very well do, and
attempts to fuse his material, seams must show and markings remain. This
is precisely what we find in Lk. i, ii. In i. 34 f. and its context we can
detect the seams; in c. ii we can see the markings.

It will be recognized that the situation is quite different on the view
which credits i. 34 f. to a later Christian editor. Against this theory
the objection we are considering has much greater force. For it is
unlikely that the redactor would approach the Gospel with a knowledge of
the Virgin Birth but lately gained. On the contrary, it would probably be
a doctrine with which he had long been familiar. Accordingly, in addition
to the other objections that we have raised against the theory of late
interpolation, it would be legitimate to ask, Why has the redactor not
done his work better? Our own hypothesis—that St. Luke had only just
entered into a knowledge of the new tradition—is, indeed, the one theory
where we have the least need to ask this question.

For the reasons given, we believe that the objection that St. Luke’s
revision should have been more drastic is not insuperable. That there is
difficulty we allow. But there is probably no solution of the Lukan
problem, not even the correct one, which will not leave difficulties of a
kind. The problem is complex and the facts often elusive. It is on the
ground that the theory we have sketched leaves least difficulties, and
does justice to the facts as they appear, that we venture to find in it a
reasonable solution of the problem of the Virgin Birth in relation to the
Third Gospel and to St. Luke.

IV. Certain Consequences

It remains for us to consider certain consequences which follow if our
hypothesis is true.

(1) In the first place, _we can claim St. Luke as a witness to the
tradition of the Virgin Birth_. This is a result of first importance. For
those who regard St. Luke as a very credulous person with a special
“fondness” for “a good miracle”, this conclusion will mean little. But for
those who are impressed by his claim to be regarded as a good historical
writer, it is not a view to be lightly esteemed. There are those who will
consider that St. Luke’s witness settles the historical question, and will
be disposed on the ground of his authority to accept the tradition. But
with greater reason there are others who will feel that, with all his
excellences as an historian, St. Luke has the elementary human right to
make a mistake, especially when he is dependent upon the evidence of
others. The determining feature is clearly the character of his source or

(2) A further fact to be noticed is that _St. Luke’s witness marks a very
early stage in the spread of the Virgin Birth tradition_. In this respect
there is a contrast between the Third and First Gospels. In the Third
Gospel the tradition is stated, but its problems are scarcely felt. There
is a foreshadowing of this in the words “as was supposed” in the
Genealogy, but not more. St. Luke has not really felt the problem of the
Davidic descent. He has not envisaged that very striking treatment of the
problem which we shall have occasion to point out in the Matthaean
Genealogy (see pp. 89 ff.). St. Luke’s narrative is neither didactic nor
apologetic. It is almost, but not quite, a simple narrative of what is
implicitly accepted as fact. In making this qualification we are thinking
of the artistic form which the earlier narrative embodied in Lk. i, ii has
imposed upon St. Luke’s account of the Virgin Birth; but this is a matter
which will come up again a little later. The fact that is of outstanding
interest is that St. Luke could sit down to write a Gospel, with a desire
to trace out all things accurately from the first, and yet know nothing of
the Virgin Birth, until after the greater part, if not the whole, of his
work was completed.

(3) _It is the fact just noted which helps us to date the first appearance
of the Virgin Birth tradition; its date is bound up with the question of
the date of the Third Gospel._ This is a question which will receive
further treatment in our final chapter (pp. 117 ff.).

(4) _Our hypothesis postulates an earlier narrative of the Birth of Jesus
which knew nothing of the Virgin Birth. The relation of this narrative to
the later tradition needs carefully to be considered._

We have already expressed the opinion that the earlier narrative was
probably taken from a good historical source. Ramsay has noted signs of a
womanly spirit in the whole narrative, and thinks that it may well go back
either to Mary, or to some one who was very intimate with her (cf. _Was
Christ Born at Bethlehem?_, pp. 74‐88; _Luke the Physician_, pp. 13, 50).
Sanday is not able to speak quite so confidently as to the nearness of the
source to Mary, but thinks that it could not be “more than two or three
degrees removed from her”. “It must have been near enough”, he says, “to
retain the fine touches which Professor Ramsay so well brings out”
(_Outlines_, p. 195 n.). These views have won considerable support in
Great Britain. It will be remembered, of course, that they have regard to
the whole of Lk. i, ii, to the narrative, that is to say, as an account of
the Virgin Birth. The same arguments are valid, however, for ascribing a
good historical foundation to the narrative, even if i. 34 f. is a later
addition. The probability is that the source, whether documentary or oral,
is of Palestinian origin, and that it points back ultimately, if not
immediately, to the Holy Family. On our theory, however, while silent as
to the paternity of Joseph, the source had nothing to say of the Virgin
Birth. It described the non‐miraculous birth of the long‐expected Messiah.

At first sight the high historical value of this earlier source would
appear to be detrimental to the tradition of Lk. i. 34 f. But it is not
certain that this is so. There is more force than has often been allowed
in the suggestion that the facts of the Virgin Birth may have been
purposely withheld from public knowledge for many years by those who knew
them.(77) Assuming for the moment the truth of this view, we may ask,
_Would nothing at all be told?_ If we think it probable that part at least
of the story would be related, it may be that the tradition upon which St.
Luke first drew is a version of that part. We might even hazard the
suggestion that it was the publication of this story by St. Luke which
drew out the fuller narrative. In other words, the fact that the earlier
tradition makes no reference to the Virgin Birth need not be fatal to the
truth of the later story expanded in i. 34 f. This, of course, is
speculation; but, at any rate, the possibilities are such as to forbid the
specious argument—the Holy Family know nothing of the Virgin Birth! We
tread upon firmer ground when we urge that the higher the historical value
of the earlier story the less likely would St. Luke have been disposed to
modify it in deference to further information, unless he had attached
considerable value to the new tradition, and was persuaded of its truth.

(5) As regards _the origin of the Virgin Birth tradition implied in Lk. i.
34 f._, we have to confess that we are completely in the dark. We have
stated our preference for the view that it came through a personal channel
(p. 73). We are unable to think that in writing i. 34 f. St. Luke was
himself merely translating theology into narrative. But who the
intermediary was we cannot tell. On our theory, the tradition cannot have
been directly imparted to the Evangelist by Mary. Whether, in the end, the
story can be traced back to her, is a question we cannot now discuss. At
this stage it would be no more than a guess to connect it with the women
mentioned in Lk. viii. 2, 3; xxiv. 10, or with the daughters of Philip
(Acts xxi. 8, 9). In an historical inquiry it is never safe to ascribe a
tradition to an authority, unless we have solid grounds for so doing.
Otherwise, we import a bias into the investigation, if indeed we do not
beg the question. The mistake is one which has been made more than once in
discussing the Virgin Birth. In the present case we have nothing whatever
to guide us, and accordingly we have to acquiesce in the bare conclusion
that St. Luke accepted the Virgin Birth tradition, but that we do not know
anything about his authority, except that it satisfied his mind.

(6) The _form_ in which the tradition reached St. Luke can hardly have
been the brief statement of i. 34 f. The literary form of that passage is
determined by that of the earlier narrative. The latter, as we have said
(p. 73), is something more than a bare transcript of events. It is a
product of high art, and is shaped upon Old Testament models. Ramsay finds
in it a Greek element. The story has been “re‐thought out of the Hebraic
into the Greek fashion” (_Luke the Physician_, p. 13). The divine
messenger becomes to St. Luke “the winged personal being who, like Iris or
Hermes, communicates the will and purpose of God” (op. cit., p. 13).
Having regard, however, to the Old Testament birth‐stories of Isaac,
Samson, and Samuel, it is doubtful if we really need this suggestion. In
any case, we may say that it is the mould in which the earlier story has
been cast, which accounts for the literary form of the Virgin Birth
tradition in Lk. i. 34 f. The tradition which St. Luke received probably
contained the substance of what is stated in verse 35, and asserted that
Jesus was begotten of Mary by the Holy Spirit.

(7) The historical value of the Virgin Birth tradition in the Third Gospel
is a question which cannot be answered until the problem is treated as a
whole. Our study of the Lukan problem adds to the material at our
disposal. It confirms our conclusions in Chapter I as regards St. Paul and
St. Mark. It also enables us to say that _St. Luke, in his later years,
came to believe and teach the Virgin Birth, on grounds which are unknown
to us, but which he himself deemed sufficient_.


More than the other Synoptic Gospels, the First Gospel comes before us as
an “official” document of the Christian Church. Our Third Gospel was
somewhat of the nature of a “private venture”, and how inadequately the
value of St. Mark’s Gospel was recognized in the first half of the second
century appears in the fact that its survival seems almost accidental, all
existing copies being derived from a single mutilated MS.(78) Whether,
then, we can claim the authority and sanction of the First Gospel for the
Virgin Birth tradition, is clearly a question of first‐rate importance. To
some the question will appear determinative; but for those also, who feel
that in any case the historical value of the witness would remain an open
question, a conclusion as regards the problem is of very great
significance, in view of its historical implications.

In the present chapter our purpose is to inquire how far the First Gospel
bears witness to the Virgin Birth, and what the character of its witness
is. Was the narrative, as we have it to‐day, present in the Gospel from
the first? Is Mt. i, ii a later insertion, or is the passage i. 18‐25 an
interpolation? Extremely interesting discussions have also arisen around
the question of the Matthaean Genealogy and the true text of Mt. i. 16,
and these call for notice. The question of the historical value of the
tradition of Mt. i. 18‐25 must in the main be postponed, but the
possibilities, and such positive facts as emerge, can be noted.

Perhaps the best method of approach is to consider first the character of
the Genealogy, apart altogether from the question of its authorship. The
details of the textual problem of Mt. i. 16 will be discussed in an
Appendix to the chapter. The remaining points to be treated are the
genuineness of cc. i, ii, the unity of these chapters, and lastly the
sources and implications of the narrative, together with a survey of the
results reached.

I. The Characteristics of the Genealogy

Among the features which mark the Genealogy we may note the following:

(1) _Its purpose_ is to show the Davidic descent of Jesus by tracing the
royal line (cf. verse 6 “David the king”).

(2) _The structure is obviously artificial._(79) The Genealogy is arranged
in three groups of fourteen generations, an arrangement to which the
writer himself calls attention (verse 17). In order to secure this
structure, the names of Joash, Amaziah, and Azariah are omitted (cf. 1
Chron. iii) and the third group covers a space of about six hundred years.
“If any source of the schematism is wanted, the cabbalistic interpretation
of דוד, whose three letters are equivalent by gematria to the number 14,
is the most probable” (Moffatt, INT., p. 250 n.).

(3) The verb ἐγέννησεν is used throughout of legal, not physical,
descent.(80) This inference is drawn from the artificial character of the
Genealogy. Its omissions are obvious, and must have been so both to the
compiler and his readers. “The contemporaries of the Evangelist knew their
Bible at least as well as we do. They knew that there were more than
fourteen generations between David and the Captivity, that Joram did not
beget Uzziah, and that Josiah did not beget Jeconiah” (Burkitt, _Evan. Da‐
Meph._, ii, p. 260). If the passage Mt. i. 18‐25, as well as the
Genealogy, comes from the hand of the Evangelist, the verb ἐγέννησεν must
clearly indicate legal parentage; but there is sufficient ground for this
view within the Genealogy itself.

(4) The references to women in the Genealogy are unique, and are best
explained as due to an apologetic purpose. They cannot be so well
explained as reflecting a universalistic interest (Heffern, quoted by
Moffatt, INT., p. 251). In contrast to the Genealogy in the Third Gospel,
that in Mt. traces the descent no farther back than to Abraham; it is
fundamentally Jewish. There can be little doubt but that the writer’s
purpose is to rebut Jewish slanders already current regarding the birth of
Jesus. “Throughout the whole Genealogy the Evangelist appears to be
telling us in an audible aside that the heir had often been born out of
the direct line or irregularly. Thamar the daughter‐in‐law of Judah, Rahab
the harlot, Ruth the Moabitess, and the unnamed wife of Uriah, are forced
upon our attention, as if to prepare us for still greater irregularity in
the last stage” (Burkitt).(81)

If these are the characteristic features of the Genealogy, it is clear
that _from the first it was compiled with the Virgin Birth presupposed_.
It is, in fact, an attempt to present that belief in connexion with the
claim that Jesus was of Davidic descent, through the legal relationship in
which He stood to Joseph.(82) Thus, the Matthaean Genealogy is unique; it
differs altogether from that in Lk. If to us its form seems forced and
unreal, that is because we fail to come to it from the historical point of
view. From this standpoint we may ask, with W. C. Allen (ICC., St. Mt., p.
6): “If the editor simply tried to give expression to the two facts which
had come down to him by tradition—the fact of Christ’s supernatural birth
and the fact that He was the Davidic Messiah, and did not attempt a
logical synthesis of them, who shall blame him?” We are not here concerned
with the question of the truth of the Virgin Birth tradition, but simply
with the view that the compiler of the Genealogy held that belief, and for
this inference a high degree of probability can be claimed.

If this is the character of the Genealogy, it must follow that _the
textual problem of Mt. i. 16_ differs considerably in importance from the
thought of a quarter of a century ago. It is becoming increasingly
recognized that, whatever the true text of Mt. i. 16 may be, it can make
little difference to the character of the Genealogy as outlined above. Its
interest is textual and literary rather than historical. The most
interesting statement of this point of view is that of F. C. Burkitt in
his _Evangelion Da‐Mepharreshe_ (1904, see vol. ii, pp. 258 ff.). On p.
258 Burkitt expresses a firm belief that no fresh light upon the
historical events of the Nativity has been thrown either by the discovery
of the Sinaitic Syriac MS. or by the publication of the _Dialogue of
Timothy and Aquila_. He says (p. 261) that even if the Genealogy had ended
with the uncompromising statement “and Joseph begat Jesus”, it would not
prove that its compiler believed that Joseph was the actual father of
Jesus. In this connexion it is of great interest to note that Archdeacon
Allen, who upholds the historical truth of the Virgin Birth, actually
adopts in his commentary on Mt. (ICC., 1907) the reading implied by the
Sin. Syr., as the true text of Mt. i. 16—“And Jacob begat Joseph. Joseph,
to whom was espoused Mary a virgin, begat Jesus, who is called Christ” (p.
5). Writing in 1916, Canon Box takes a different view of the textual
problem, but is no less emphatic in his assertion that, “even if the
reading _Joseph ... begat Jesus_ be correct, it need not imply a belief in
the natural generation of Jesus” (_The Virgin Birth of Jesus_, p. 15).
Lastly, we may compare the judgement of Dr. James Moffatt (INT., 1918):
“Such modifications as may be due to doctrinal presuppositions are
designed to re‐set or to sharpen the reference of the original text to the
virgin birth, not to insert the dogma in a passage which was originally
free from it” (p. 251). These are great and honoured names, but the
opinion is not one which cries out for the cloak of authority; it springs
directly out of the character of the Genealogy itself. If ἐγέννησεν is
used throughout of legal parentage, it would clearly be so in the last
step, if it should be proved that this also contained the word ἐγέννησεν.
Indeed, we should naturally expect to find that word in verse 16.

At the same time, it would not be right to regard the textual problem as
one of merely academic interest. It gives a valuable sidelight upon the
history of the exegesis of Mt. i, ii in the early Christian centuries. It
enables us to see how the Matthaean narrative was viewed, the difficulties
it raised, and the way in which they were met. Thus it throws into strong
relief the unique character of the Genealogy. It also sheds a welcome
light upon the treatment which the text of the Gospels received at the
hands of their earliest readers before these writings had acquired the
status of sacred books. Even then if we have finally to acquiesce in Dr.
Moffatt’s statement: “The textual problem of i. 16 is not yet settled”,
the question is one of absorbing and of fruitful interest.(83) For our
immediate purpose it is enough to say that the results, so far as they go,
strengthen rather than weaken our belief that the compiler of the
Genealogy worked under the presupposition of the Virgin Birth.

II. The Genuineness of Mt. i, ii

This problem can no longer be regarded as a burning question. Few scholars
of the present day would contend that the First Gospel ever circulated
without these chapters. In style, in vocabulary, and in mode of treatment,
they are of a piece with the rest of the book.

(1) The _literary style_ of the First Evangelist is not so marked as that
of St. Luke, but it has nevertheless a distinct character of its own. As
compared with that of St. Mark, it is “more prosaic and colourless”, but
it is “more calm and balanced” (Milligan).(84) Prof. Burkitt describes it
as follows: “I wish I could think of some other word than ‘formality’ by
which to name the chief characteristic of the First Evangelist’s literary
style. Formality suggests rigidity, generally with a certain measure of
incapacity, and these are not among his defects. On the contrary, Matthew
has great literary skill, as well as dignity. Everything that he says is
put with admirable clearness and lucidity; what he writes down he has
first understood himself. If there is an exception to be noted he notes
it” (GHT., p. 186). Now this same style is manifest everywhere throughout
the Gospel, in cc. i, ii, as well as elsewhere.(85) The theory therefore
that these chapters are a later insertion labours under an immense initial
disadvantage. It requires to be explained how it is that this
characteristic literary style is just as manifest in cc. i, ii as in the
rest of the Gospel, in spite of the fact that the subject‐matter of these
chapters is peculiar and distinct.

(2) The _Vocabulary_ and constructional forms of cc. i, ii are also
characteristic of the Gospel as a whole. Burkitt (_Evan. Da‐Meph._, ii, p.
259) instances eight words from these chapters as “characteristic
Matthaean words”. These words are given below. The statistics have been
obtained by tracing the record of the words in Moulton and Geden’s
_Concordance_ (doubtful cases and quotations being omitted).

                       Instances    Instances    Instances
                       in Mt. i,    in Mt.       in the
                       ii.          iii‐         rest of
                                    xxviii.      the NT.
ἀναχωρεῖν              4            6            4
λεγόμενος (with        2            11           Mk. (1),
names)                                           Lk. (2),
                                                 Jn. (8),
                                                 Ac. (2),
                                                 Pl. (4),
                                                 Heb. (1).
ὄναρ                   5            1            0
πληροῦσθαι             4            8            13
ῥηθέν                  4            8            0
σφόδρα                 1            6            4
τότε                   3            86           67
φαίνεσθαι              4            9            9

In addition to the list given by Burkitt, we may note also the following:

                       Instances    Instances    Mt, as
                       in Mt. i,    in Mt.       compared
                       ii.          iii‐         with the
                                    xxviii.      rest of
                                                 the NT.
παραλαμβάνειν          6            10           1/3 of NT.
προσκυνεῖν             3            9            1/4 of NT.
προσφέρειν             1            13           1/3 of NT.
συνάγειν               1            23           2/5 of NT.
ὅριον                  1            5            1/2 of NT.
θησαυρός               1            8            1/2 of NT.
δῶρον                  1            8            1/2 of NT.
ἐπάνω                  1            7            2/5 of NT.
χρυσός                 1            4            1/2 of NT.

Other words which repay examination are κατοικεῖν, ὅπως, ἐνθυμέομαι,
ἐξετάζω, τελευτάω.

The argument is not, of course, that no one but the First Evangelist could
have used these words—that would be absurd; but that they are words which
he uses frequently, and in nearly every case more frequently than any
other New Testament writer.(86)

An interesting fact is instanced by W. C. Allen (op. cit., p. lxxxvi). He
notes as a characteristic of the Gospel “a tendency to repeat a phrase or
construction two or three times at short intervals”. Fifteen examples of
this are given, one of which occurs in Mt. ii. This last is an instance in
which the genitive absolute is followed in three cases by ἰδού (ii. 1, 13,
19). We may add that the same construction appears in i. 20. Sir J. C.
Hawkins shows (HS., 2nd Ed., pp. 5, 31) that there are seven instances of
this construction in the rest of Mt., as compared with a single case in
Lk. One other detail of construction may be noted. More than half the New
Testament record of ἕως ἄν with the subjunctive (which occurs in ii. 13)
belongs to the First Gospel.

On the other side, we have to set down the fact that in Mt. i, ii there
are some twenty‐eight words, exclusive of proper nouns, which do not occur
in the rest of the Gospel.(87) But nearly half of these are accounted for
by the subject‐matter. The remaining instances are not more numerous than
we might naturally expect. On the other hand, if cc. i, ii are a later
insertion, we could reasonably look for more.

So far, then, as the linguistic facts will take us, we may say that,
considered as a whole, they support the view that Mt. i, ii are from the
same hand as the rest of the Gospel.

(3) The _mode of treatment_ in these chapters is that of the First
Evangelist. This writer is distinguished by the marked interest which he
takes in describing the new faith as the true fulfilment of the old. This
characteristic appears in the quotations which he makes from the Old
Testament. Among these there are twelve which stand out distinct.(88) (i)
In each case they are preceded by the words, “in order that that which was
spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled”, or words to that effect. (ii)
With one exception (iii. 3), they are quoted in this Gospel alone. (iii)
What is more important, most of them are based upon the Hebrew, whereas
the remaining quotations in the Gospel (except xi. 10) are taken from the
Septuagint.(89) For our present purpose the significant thing is that
these characteristic quotations are distributed throughout the whole of
the Gospel. No less than five of them occur in cc. i, ii, and it is not
too much to say that their presence is a kind of water‐mark authenticating
the genuineness of these chapters.

Combining the foregoing arguments we may justly claim that the hypothesis
of interpolation is violent in the extreme. Dr. Moffatt sums up a very
widely accepted view when he says: “Neither the style nor contents of 1‐2
afford valid evidence for suspecting that they are a later insertion in
the gospel” (INT., p. 250).

III. The Unity of Mt. i, ii

The arguments used in the preceding section are sufficient to show that
cc. i, ii, as a whole, come from the Evangelist’s hand. But this
conclusion does not exclude the possibility that certain parts may be of
later date. In particular, it could be said, and has in fact been claimed
that the Genealogy, the passage i. 18‐25, or both, are interpolations; and
that originally the First Gospel knew nothing of the Virgin Birth. These
questions must now be treated.

There is not the same need for us to examine the section describing the
visit of the Wise Men and its sequel (c. ii). This section is of great
importance in a discussion of the Nativity narratives, but in relation to
the Virgin Birth it is secondary as compared with the Genealogy and the
passage i. 18‐25. The section is treated by Canon Box in _The Virgin Birth
of Jesus_, pp. 19‐33.

1. The Genealogy

We are not concerned to ask at this point whether the Genealogy ever
existed independently of the Gospel, and is thus a source which the
Evangelist has worked up and incorporated in his own work. The question we
have to consider is whether Mt. i. 1‐17 is a genuine part of the Gospel.

The case in favour of this view is overwhelmingly strong. Its weight lies
in the fact that the peculiar characteristics of the Genealogy (p. 89 f.)
are the peculiar characteristics of the rest of the Gospel.

(1) This is manifest in the strong interest taken in the Davidic Sonship.
“The Gospel according to Matthew may be called _The Book of Jesus Christ,
the Son of David_ ... The special aim of Matthew, in one word, is to
represent our Lord as the legitimate Heir of the royal house of David”
(Burkitt, _Evan. Da‐Meph._, ii, p. 259). We may partially illustrate this
claim by the New Testament record of the term “Son of David”. There are 8
instances in Mt. other than i. 1, and 6 in the rest of the New Testament
(3 in Mk. and 3 in Lk.). The regal aspect of Christ’s Sonship is also
illustrated in Mt. xix. 28, xxv. 34 (cf. Allen, op. cit., p. lxiv).

(2) As regards the artificial structure of the Genealogy, we may note that
this too is characteristic of the First Evangelist’s manner. He is fond of
arranging his material in groups of threes. Allen enumerates twenty‐three
instances outside cc. i, ii (ib., p. lxv). Similarly the double seven
reflects “the author’s penchant for that sacred number” (Moffatt, INT., p.
250, who notes four other examples (p. 257)).

(3) We are unable to illustrate from the rest of the Gospel the legal use
of γεννάω, but where else save in the Genealogy could we expect to find
it? It is the unique character of the Genealogy which requires that usage.
On the other hand, the point of view which determines the usage is the
point of view of cc. i, ii as a whole. As in i. 1‐17, so in i. 18‐ii. 23,
the standpoint is that of a writer who desires to combine two diverse
beliefs, the Virgin Birth and the Messiahship of Jesus.

(4) The apologetic motive manifest in the Genealogy is also characteristic
of the First Gospel. Not only is the same motive present in every section
of cc. i, ii, but in other connexions and in every part of the Gospel, the
desire to defend and to interpret is evident; notably this is the case in
the story of the Baptism, the account of the Guard at the Tomb and the
Resurrection narratives.(90)

(5) The nature of the Genealogy leaves little room for the linguistic
test. “Yet even here we have the characteristic λεγόμενος in _v._ 16, and
the objective way that the writer speaks of ‘the Christ’ in _v._ 17 is
quite in the manner of Mt. xi. 2” (Burkitt, op. cit., p. 259).

Taken together these arguments justify us in concluding that Mt. i. 1‐17
comes from the Evangelist’s pen.

2. The Passage Mt. i. 18‐25

It is this passage which leads us to the heart of the whole question, for
here, in the angelic message to Joseph, the Virgin Birth is asserted

We should be justified in making use of the results we have already
obtained. If the Genealogy comes from the hand of the Evangelist, and if
it is of the character we have alleged, there can be no question but that
Mt. i. 18‐25 is also a genuine part of the Gospel. In view, however, of
the importance of the section, it may be well not to avail ourselves of
this argument.

Schmiedel’s objections to the passage (EB., col. 2959 f.) may not unfairly
be summarized as follows: (i) Mt. xiii. 55 (“Is not this the carpenter’s
son?”) “directly contradicts the theory of the Virgin Birth”, (ii) Mt. ii
can be understood without presupposing the story, (iii) Bethlehem is not
mentioned until ii. 1, (iv) Mt. i. 18‐25 is not from the same hand as the
Genealogy, which “could never have been drawn up after Joseph had ceased
to be regarded as the real father of Jesus”.

Of these arguments the last arises out of Schmiedel’s view of the
Genealogy, which is, that in its original form in the Gospel it asserted
the physical paternity of Joseph (the Virgin Birth being a later
insertion). Needless to say, on this view, Mt. i. 18‐25 must be rejected.
We have already discussed the nature of the Genealogy, and have seen
reason to take a totally different view of it. The Genealogy, as we
understand it, furnishes no ground of objection to i. 18‐25, but rather
the contrary. Nor do Schmiedel’s remaining objections carry the weight

(1) As we have observed on p. 31, Mt. xiii. 55 simply reflects the
opinions of our Lord’s contemporaries. Unless we make the gratuitous
assumption that the Evangelist would never have reflected a view which he
did not himself share, we are not justified in raising an objection to i.
18‐25 from this particular passage.

(2) As regards c. ii, it is true that what is there related can, if
necessary, be understood without presuming the story of i. 18‐25.
Nevertheless, the chapter is quite congruous with what is told in that
passage, and, indeed, agrees better with the presupposition of the Virgin
Birth. In a narrative written from the standpoint of Joseph, we may note
that, while Mary is spoken of no less than five times as the mother of
Jesus (ii. 11, 13, 14, 20, 21), wherever Joseph is mentioned, we have
invariably the quite neutral expression “the young child” (ii. 13, 14, 20,
21). Also the quotation, “Out of Egypt did I call my son” (ii. 15), by the
very reason of its exegetical violence, is more intelligible if the
Evangelist has already narrated the story of the supernatural birth. To
have real weight, Schmiedel’s objection should be able to point to more
than the fact that c. ii can be read “without the presupposition of the
virgin birth”. If i. 18‐25 is an interpolation, we might reasonably expect
statements in c. ii inconsistent with that passage. And, moreover, it
would be gratuitous to say that they have been carefully suppressed, in
view of those which survive in Lk. i, ii to which we have called attention
in Chapter II.

(3) That Bethlehem is not mentioned until ii. 1 is true. But as an
objection to i. 18‐25 this fact would be of significance, if the latter
were simply a narrative of the birth of Jesus. But to assert this is to
mistake its character, which is didactic and apologetic. Joseph rather
than Jesus is the central figure of the section; the birth is not
announced until the closing words. The reference to Bethlehem in ii. 1 is
certainly abrupt, but it would have been quite as abrupt in i. 25. Nothing
in i. 18‐25, if we have regard to its character, requires a reference to
Bethlehem within the passage.

The onus of proof really rests upon those who deny the genuineness of i.
18‐25. It may not be without advantage, however, to set down reasons which
lead us to believe that the passage comes from the Evangelist’s hand.

(a) As in the case of Lk. i. 34 f. there is _no textual authority for the
omission of these verses_. While we recognize the free handling which the
text of the Gospels may have received during the first half of the second
century, it does not appear likely on general grounds that Mt. i. 18‐25 is
an interpolation. The addition to the text of a saying of Christ, or of a
comment, or even of an incident drawn from floating Christian tradition,
we can understand, as well as a certain amount of stylistic alteration.
“Doctrinal modifications”, however, of such a wholesale character as the
present instance would be, if the passage is a later insertion of unknown
origin, are quite another matter. That Mt. i. 18‐25 should have been
inserted in a Gospel, which, on this theory, taught the physical paternity
of Joseph, and should have been inserted without leaving traces in the
literature of the early Christian centuries, is most improbable. The sole
support from early Christian literature is the statement of Epiphanius
that the text used by Cerinthus lacked the passage. Had we more
information of this kind, there would be ground for the theory of
interpolation; as it is, the basis is too slender and uncertain.(91)

(b) _The standpoint and mode of treatment in Mt. i. 18‐25 is that of cc.
i, ii, and of the Evangelist._ As in the rest of cc. i, ii, it is the
didactic and apologetic interest that is uppermost. Joseph is the central
figure, and there is the same use of “the machinery of dreams” as in c.
ii, and in the story of Pilate’s wife (xxvii. 19).

(c) _The same may be said of the vocabulary and the style._ Six words
appear which are not found elsewhere in the Gospel,(92) but with the
exception of one (μεθερμηνεύομαι), they are sufficiently explained by the
peculiar subject‐matter. On the other hand, there are at least five
“characteristic Matthaean words”,(93) while other features distinctive of
the First Evangelist appear in the opening words of verse 20, the
reference to Joseph as the “son of David”, the phrase “Behold, an angel of
the Lord”, and especially the quotation of verse 23 with its introductory

In view of these arguments, it is not too much to apply to Mt. i. 18‐25
what Burkitt says of Mt. i. 18‐ii. 23. If the passage “be not an integral
part of the First Gospel, it must be counted one of the cleverest of
literary adaptations, a verdict that is not likely to be passed on it by a
sane criticism” (op. cit., ii. 259).

IV. Implications, Sources, and Results

(1) In the earlier sections of this chapter an attempt has been made to
prove that the Virgin Birth is an original element in the First Gospel.
The suggestion that it is a later insertion from an unknown hand breaks
down on examination, and our conclusion is that the doctrine was taught by
the First Evangelist. There is no need to raise the question whether the
doctrine was a later element introduced by the Evangelist himself into a
work which originally knew nothing of it, for there is absolutely no
evidence pointing in that direction. In this respect the passage Mt. i.
18‐25 differs altogether from Lk. i. 34 f. Against the former passage no
inconsistencies, either in the immediate context or in the Gospel as a
whole, can be shown. From one end to the other the narrative is governed
by the same presuppositions and reflects the same point of view.

Whether the Genealogy ever existed independently and in another form is a
view for which little can be said. There are no grounds for this theory
within the Genealogy as it stands, and the textual problem of Mt. i. 16
does not require the supposition (see pp. 105 ff.). The possibility
cannot, of course, be excluded. If the Evangelist did make use of an
existing Genealogy, it was probably one which implied the real paternity
of Joseph. In that case he has completely transformed it, and must have
done this either before, or at the time when he first wrote cc. i, ii. But
the existence of such a source is pure speculation. It is more probable
that the Genealogy is the Evangelist’s own composition, constructed not
for historical but for didactic purposes.(94)

(2) The question of _the implications of Mt. i, ii_ is one of great
interest. The narrative is very far from being an attempt to relate the
story of the Virgin Birth for the first time. On the contrary, it is
probable that the doctrine was already known to the readers of the First
Gospel, and that it had become a subject of controversy. It is from this
point of view that the Evangelist writes; it is for this reason that he
tells the story from the standpoint of Joseph. It is not difficult to
imagine the circumstances under which the Matthaean narrative came to be
written. Once the story of the Virgin Birth had begun to circulate,
interest must soon have been aroused in the position and attitude of
Joseph. How were his natural fears allayed? What action did he take? What
became of the Davidic descent? Such questions would press for answer.
Outside the Christian community these difficulties would inevitably become
the occasion of scandal, as the case was in later times. The Evangelist’s
narrative is an attempt to meet these difficulties. His view, or the view
he reflects, is that the fears of Joseph were allayed by a divine message.
The subsequent action of Joseph, also under angelic direction, was to
complete the legal act of wedlock before the child was born. The
difficulty of the Davidic descent is the problem attacked in the
Genealogy. According to several writers it is the same interest which
governs the narratives of c. ii. “... the Nativity Story shows us the
alarm of the usurper Herod, when he learns that the legitimate ruler has
been born within his dominions. As Saul tried to kill David, so Herod
tries to kill Jesus; and Jesus finds a refuge in Egypt, as David found a
refuge among the Philistines” (Burkitt, op. cit., ii. 259; cf. Box, op.
cit., p. 19).

(3) The question of _the source or sources_ from which the Evangelist
obtained the narrative of Mt. i. 18‐25 cannot be adequately discussed in
itself and in relation to the First Gospel alone. Nevertheless it is worth
while to ask how far we can go within those limits. From the evidence
supplied by the Gospel itself, we cannot say that the narrative rests on
the testimony of Joseph. If the Virgin Birth is historically true, this
view has much probability in its favour. But to urge such an origin for
the Matthaean narrative, as part of the proof for the Virgin Birth, is not
permissible, since obviously it begs the question. Many writers think that
the narrative really does come from Joseph himself because it reflects his
standpoint. Amongst others this is the opinion of Bishop Gore (_The New
Theology and the Old Religion_, p. 126 f.), and of Dr. Orr (_The Virgin
Birth of Christ_, pp. 83 ff.).(95) Such a conclusion travels beyond the
facts of the case. That the narrative is written from Joseph’s standpoint
is, of course, beyond question. It may be, however, that this fact is
sufficiently accounted for by the apologetic character of the narrative.
We do not say here that this is the case, but we do say that to claim more
is to put an outside interpretation upon the narrative. Eventually this
is, of course, inevitable; our final conclusion reacts upon our view of
the earlier problems; but in the constructive stage this is a peril
sedulously to be avoided.

The possibility has to be allowed that the narrative of Mt. i. 18‐25 may
be the result of an inference which arose within the Christian community,
and which has clothed itself in an imaginative and pictorial form. In
answer to the question, How were the fears of Joseph allayed?, it would be
natural to reply, By a divine message, and current beliefs would supply an
explanation of the means and the method by which such a message would be
conveyed. Angelic mediation would account for the one, just as revelation
by a dream would explain the other.

The presence of _inference_ in the Synoptic narratives is perhaps not so
widely recognized as it ought to be. Whether we ought to be so ready as we
often are to suppose the existence of special information, documentary or
oral, when the First Evangelist and St. Luke add details to the Markan
narrative, or relate entirely new facts, is a pertinent question. In many
cases there is much justice in the supposition. In other cases it may
easily be that the new detail or narrative has been shaped by inferences
playing upon difficulties or ambiguities left by earlier narratives and
traditions.(96) This would be a perfectly natural circumstance, the
existence of which would be more readily acknowledged if obsolete theories
of Inspiration did not continue to exact unlawful tribute. In the case of
the First Gospel this use of inference is sometimes manifest, especially
in the accounts of the Burial and the Resurrection of Jesus.(97) Whatever
judgement may be passed upon Prof. Kirsopp Lake’s brilliant examination of
the Resurrection narratives, there can be little doubt but that he has
shown that inference, as well as information, shaped the formation of
early Christian tradition. This conclusion, even if accepted, would not
justify us in supposing that the narratives of Mt. i, ii are nothing more
than the inferential resolution of difficulties left by the story of the
Virgin Birth. But it would suffice to make it probable that, to an extent
which we may leave undefined, inference did play its part, either in the
mind of the Evangelist or in the thought of the Christian community.

It is, indeed, quite possible to admit this view, and yet to hold that
behind the narrative there is a nucleus of historic fact. Dr. Gore, who
believes that the story goes back to Joseph, does not hesitate to say:

    “... to suppose such angelic appearances ... to be imaginative
    outward representations of what were in fact real but inward
    communications of the ‘divine word’ to human souls, is both a
    possible course and one which is quite consistent with accepting
    the narrative as substantially historical and true”
    (_Dissertations_, p. 22 f.).

Canon Box expresses a similar view when he writes:

    “To us [the narrative] seems to exhibit in a degree that can
    hardly be paralleled elsewhere in the New Testament the
    characteristic features of Jewish Midrash and Haggada. It sets
    forth certain facts and beliefs in a fanciful and imaginative
    setting, specially calculated to appeal to Jews.... The task that
    confronts the critical student is to disentangle the facts and
    beliefs—the fundamental ground‐factors on which the narration is
    built—from their decorative embroidery” (op. cit., p. 12).

From what has been said above it will be seen that, if we restrict
ourselves to the First Gospel, there are three theories possible regarding
the source or sources employed in i. 18‐25. (i) The narrative, very much
as it stands, may have come from Joseph himself. (ii) Inference and
imagination may have played upon a nucleus of historic fact. (iii) The
narrative may be a story without historic foundation, which has grown up,
as the result of inference and imagination, in answer to difficulties
arising out of a belief in the Virgin Birth antecedently held.

So long as we confine ourselves to the Gospel, it is not possible to
choose between these views, unless we are prepared to assume that early
Christian tradition cannot have been mistaken—an assumption which cuts the
knot instead of untying it. As we are not ready to make that assumption,
we have to be content to leave the possibilities open, and to regard the
use of any one of them in the historical inquiry as illegitimate. In part
this is a disappointing decision, but it is better to feel that we have
solid ground beneath our feet.

(4) The positive results to which we have been led are (i) that _the First
Evangelist knew of, and believed in, the story of the Virgin Birth_; and
(ii) that _the belief was shared by his readers, and had been held
sufficiently long for some of its problems to be raised_. Unquestionably,
this is an important result, and its place in the historical problem will
fall to be considered later.

Appendix To Chapter V. The Textual Problem of Mt. i. 16


Important and well‐known discussions of the textual problem of Mt. i. 16
are those of Sanday (_Outlines_, pp. 197‐200); P. W. Schmiedel (EB., col.
2961 ff.); F. C. Burkitt (_Evan. Da‐Meph._, ii, pp. 258‐66); W. C. Allen
(ICC., _St. Mt._, p. 8); G. H. Box (_The Virgin Birth of Jesus_, pp.
215‐18).(98) For purposes of reference, the most important facts may be
summarized as follows:

(A) First, we have the _text followed in the A V. and R V._, which reads:
Ἰακὼβ δὲ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Ἰωσὴφ τὸν ἄνδρα Μαρίας, ἐξ ἧς ἐγεννήθη Ἰησοῦς ὁ
λεγόμενος Χριστός. This is the text of all extant uncials, very many
minuscules, and many versions (Sanday). “It is definitely attested by
Tertullian, _De Carne Christi_, § 20” (Burkitt).

(B) A different text is attested by the _“__Ferrar__”__ Group_. It is
implied by a number of important MSS. of the _Old Latin Version_, by the
_Armenian_, and by the _Curetonian Syriac_. This text is as follows: Ἰακὼβ
δὲ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Ἰωσὴφ ᾧ μνηστευθεῖσα παρθένος Μαριὰμ ἐγέννησεν Ἰησοῦν τὸν
λεγόμενον Χριστόν.

(C) Thirdly, we have the _Sinaitic Syriac_. _Syr.‐Sin._ reads: “Jacob
begat Joseph; Joseph, to whom was betrothed Mary the Virgin, begat Jesus,
who is called Christ,” and implies Ἰακὼβ δὲ ἐγ. τὸν Ἰωσήφ· Ἰωσὴφ [δὲ] ᾧ
μνηστευθεῖσα [ἦν] π. Μ. ἐγέννησεν Ἰ. τὸν λεγ. Χ. (Burkitt, p. 263). [The
reading of the _Syr.‐Cur._ is: “Jacob begat Joseph, him to whom was
betrothed Mary the Virgin, _she_ who bare Jesus the Messiah”.] We may also
mention here the passage from the _Dialogue of Timothy and Aquila_ which
Conybeare claims to be the true text of Mt. i. 16. The alleged quotation
includes the text as given under (A) together with the words, “And Joseph
begat Jesus who is called Christ”.


(1) Conybeare’s claim, mentioned above, has failed to win general
acceptance. It is rejected by Schmiedel,(99) who justly asks, “How can we
suppose that an evangelist deliberately added the second half to the
first?” (col. 2961). Schmiedel’s view is that in the passage cited from
the _Dialogue_ “it is precisely the youngest text and the oldest which
have found a place peaceably side by side in one and the same line”. F. C.
Burkitt’s theory probably gives the best explanation. He does not think
that “_And Joseph begat Jesus who is called Christ_” is meant to be a part
of the quotation of Mt. i. 16, but is simply the inference of the Jew.
“_The Jew quotes the Genealogy and then draws his inference, which is of
course repudiated by the Christian disputant_” (p. 265). Accepting this
view we may leave the supposed quotation outside our discussion. We may
note, however, that, according to Burkitt, the second of two other
quotations of Mt. i. 16 in the _Dialogue_ is interesting “as affording an
actual proof that the phrase ‘_husband of Mary_’ was liable to change”.
(p. 265).

(2) G. H. Box regards the _Curetonian Syriac_ as “an interpretation rather
than a translation of the Greek text given us by the ‘Ferrar’ Group” (p.
216). Burkitt thinks it is “like an attempt to rewrite the text of _S_”
(p. 263), but as he derives the _Syr.‐Sin._ from the same Group,(100) his
opinion leads to the same result. Directly or indirectly _Syr.‐Cur._ is a
witness for the text (B). As such its general character in Mt. i, ii needs
to be taken into account. In i. 20 it has “thy betrothed” instead of “thy
wife”. It omits “her husband” in i. 19. In i. 24 it substitutes “Mary” for
“thy wife”. In i. 25 it shares with the _Diatessaron_ the reading “purely
dwelling with her”, and it renders ἐκάλεσεν by “she called”. It is clear
that its text is _dominated by a desire to assert unmistakably the
historic fact of the Virgin Birth_.

(3) W. C. Allen takes the Greek text implied in the _Syr.‐Sin._ to be the
true text of Mt. i. 16. Burkitt, as we have seen, derives it from (B). For
the present it is important to consider _the __ character of the Syr.‐Sin.
in relation to the Virgin Birth_. In i. 21, with the _Curetonian_, it adds
the words, “to thee”. In i. 25 it omits “knew her not until”, and, as in
the English versions, it renders ἐκάλεσεν by the masculine; in the same
verse it also has the reading, “she bore him a son”. At first sight it
would appear as if the tendency of the MS. is in direct opposition to the
doctrine of the Virgin Birth; it is, however, very questionable if this is
the case. It is not improbable that “he knew her not until” (omitted also
by the Old Lat. _k_) is an interpolation in the First Gospel. Burkitt
thinks that “to thee” in i. 21 appeared in the _Evangelion Da‐
Mepharreshe_, and that “him” is a “mere stylistic addition” in the
_Syr.‐Sin._ When we add that this MS. includes Mt. i. 18‐25, and the
parenthesis, “to whom was betrothed Mary the Virgin”, in Mt. i. 16, it
becomes impossible to suppose that its text is of “Ebionite origin”. Nor
is it any more likely that it represents “the slip of a scribe”. It is too
much of a piece with the entire representation of the MS., of which the
most we can say is that it hardens the unique point of view which is
characteristic of the Evangelist himself. Whether it represents the
original ending of the Genealogy, in a form independent of, and earlier
than, the First Gospel, is a point which may be left open, though the view
is not one which otherwise finds support from the Genealogy, as it now
appears in the Gospel.(101) In any case, _we ought very probably to reject
the view that the Syr.‐Sin. in Mt. i. 16 asserts, or implies, the physical
paternity of Joseph_. It clearly takes ᾧ to “refer to ἐγέννησεν as well as
μνηστευθεῖσα” (Burkitt, p. 263), but, having regard to its character as a
whole, the strong probability is that it interprets ἐγέννησεν in the same
sense which it bears throughout the earlier links of the Genealogy, viz.
of legal parentage (Allen, p. 8). _In this case the scribe who produced
the Syr.‐Sin. has remained truer to the mind and spirit of the First
Evangelist than any other early Christian writer we know._ Whether he has
preserved the letter is more open to question.

(4) As regards the rendering (B), it is sufficient to say that the
“Ferrar” Group and the Old Lat. MSS., while representing a text which
differs from (A), _agree in affirming the Virgin Birth_. Some of them do
so with emphasis (e.g. _c_ and _b_). All of them (except _q_) contain the
word “Virgin”, but, with the exception of _c_ and _b_, the connexion
between ᾧ (_cui_) and μνηστευθεῖσα (_desponsata_) is left ambiguous.


We are left, then, with three readings, for each of which priority may be
claimed (those we have indicated by (A) and (B), and that of the
_Syr.‐Sin._ (C)). It is highly probable that (C) is derived from (B); but
it may be well to leave this an open question, so as to have all the
possibilities before us.

(1) _Can we, then, explain the textual facts already noticed, if we
presume the originality of_ (A)?

It is certainly remarkable that, after using ἐγέννησεν in a legal sense
throughout the earlier links of the Genealogy (Moffatt, Burkitt, Westcott,
Box, Allen, Barnard, A. J. Maclean), the compiler should desert this
practice, and use the verb of physical parentage (ἐγεννήθη) in the last
link of the chain. The compiler, if we may say so, does not strike us as
the kind of man who would have felt the need of this. It seems much more
likely that, together with some qualifying clause in reference to Mary, he
would have continued to employ ἐγέννησεν in the same sense to the end.
This is conjecture; but (on the present theory) it is a conjecture
supported by the procedure of the scribes who have produced (B). Their
object (on the present supposition) will have been to remove the
ambiguities of (A) in Mt. i. 16, so as to state the doctrine more clearly.
We could understand, then, their objection to τὸν ἄνδρα Μαρίας, and the
change to ᾧ μνηστευθεῖσα π. Μ. What is less easy to understand is the
change from ἐγεννήθη to ἐγέννησεν. It is true that ἐξ ἧς ἐγεννήθη is not
without ambiguity, as the comment of the Jew in the _Dialogue of Timothy
and Aquila_ shows.(102) But, if this was a ground of objection, why should
the ambiguity be replaced by one that is much greater? As we have seen,
the construction of (B) is singularly loose. It is this fact which has
clearly invited the modifications represented in the _Syr.‐Cur._ and the
Old Lat. MSS., and perhaps the _Syr.‐Sin._ itself. The reading (B)
certainly does not commend itself as a doctrinal modification of (A).
Further, the priority of (A) does not help us to account for (C). If, as
we believe, (C) is derived from (B), it is needless to discuss the point.
But apart from that theory of the origin of (C), our conclusion remains
the same. We have seen how near in spirit the scribe of the _Syr.‐Sin._
was to the First Evangelist. Can we suppose, then, that he would have
demurred to the words, τὸν ἄνδρα Μαρίας? It is very difficult to think so.
For these reasons, in spite of its strong attestation, we find it
impossible to presume the originality of (A).

(2) _We reach a similar conclusion, if we assume_ (B) _to be the true text
of Mt. i. 16._ Its singular construction does not readily suggest the
craftsmanship of the compiler of the Genealogy. It is true that we can
give a very good account of (C) on the present assumption. We can adopt
Burkitt’s suggestion, and regard it as a paraphrase of (B). But can we
derive (A) from (B)? It would be reasonable to explain ἐξ ἧς ἐγεννήθη as a
correction of ἐγέννησεν by a believer who failed to understand the
Evangelist’s point of view, and who desired a clearer reference to the
Virgin Birth. But can we imagine a scribe, or an editor, motived in this
way, replacing “to whom was betrothed the Virgin Mary” by the words “the
husband of Mary”? The question answers itself, and forbids the assumption
of the priority of (B).

(3) _Can we, then_, accept Archdeacon Willoughby C. Allen’s view, and
_find the true text in_ (C)?(103) It is quite possible, on this theory, to
give a reasonable explanation of (B), but, as in the last case, the
difficulty is to account for (A). We can follow the change from ἐγέννησεν
to ἐξ ἧς ἐγεννήθη, but the substitution of τὸν ἄνδρα Μαρίας for the
parenthesis found in (C) remains as before an insuperable objection. At
the same time Archdeacon Allen has laid down a true and a valuable
principle when he writes: “The earliest Greek form was gradually altered
from a desire to avoid words which, though in the intention of the writer
they expressed legal parentage, not paternity, in fact, might be
misunderstood by thoughtless readers” (p. 8).

Our results thus far are negative, but they are not barren. We have
frankly to admit that _no extant reading, as a whole, commends itself as
the original text of Mt. i. 16_. On the other hand, _we can form a
reasonably good idea of what that text was like_. If we are to make any
further advance, we must have recourse to _conjecture_. It is not at all
impossible that future discoveries may enable us to travel upon firmer
ground. Such a discovery as that of the _Syr.‐Sin._ MS. by Mrs. Lewis and
Mrs. Gibson in 1902 shows that this hope is not unreasonable. But
meantime, unless we are content to acquiesce in a negative conclusion, we
have no choice but to resort to conjecture. This does not mean a leap in
the dark. It is in every way likely that parts of the true text are
embedded in the extant readings, and it is by no means impossible that,
taken together, these readings may contain the whole. _It may be, that is
to say, that the true text of Mt. i. 16 has found its grave in the
readings we possess._ Whether its resurrection can be accomplished is
another question. But, in view of the general character of the true text,
as indicated above, the attempt need not be foreclosed. Obviously, our
results will be tentative, but they should be something more than dubious
and uncertain in the extreme.


In attempting to reconstruct the true text of Mt. i. 16, we may venture
the following suggestions:

(1) _We have very good ground for regarding_ τὸν. λ. Χ. _as part of the
true text_ (though whether we read the nom. or the acc. depends upon
whether we prefer ἐγεννήθη or ἐγέννησεν). Not only does this expression
occur both in (A) and (B), but it is also one which we should naturally
expect the Genealogy to contain. A Genealogy constructed to show the
Messiahship of Jesus ends fittingly with the words “who is called Christ”.

(2) _It is very probable indeed that the original text included_ ἐγέννησεν
and not ἐγεννήθη. (i) On this view, we can readily understand the
misconceptions that would arise, and give a reasonable explanation of the
textual variants which exist. (ii) As indicating legal parentage, the
expression is not one from which we think the compiler would be likely to
shrink. (iii) It is not easy to suppose that those who have employed
ἐγέννησεν in the reading (B) would have used this form if they had not
found it already in the text.

(3) _It is probable that Mt. i. 16 contained a reference to Mary._ This
view is supported by the earlier references to women in the Genealogy. “It
is inconceivable that the Evangelist, who thought it served the purpose
that he had in hand to mention Thamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Uriah’s wife,
should leave the step containing Joseph bare” (Burkitt, p. 264).

(4) _Of the two qualifying clauses open to us_, τὸν ἄνδρα Μαρίας _is more
likely to be the older_. (i) It is an expression such as we can easily
suppose the First Evangelist would use (cf. Mt. i. 19). (ii) It safeguards
the Virgin Birth; there would be no point in describing Joseph as “_the
husband of Mary_” unless that expression bore some special meaning. (iii)
In the _Dialogue of Timothy and Aquila_ we possess “actual proof” that the
phrase was “liable to change” (Burkitt, quoted above, p. 106). (iv) The
expression could easily be misunderstood at a time when the interest in
the Davidic Sonship was no longer paramount. (v) In that case the phrase ᾧ
μνηστ. π. Μ. would commend itself as a doctrinal modification. (vi) It
would be altogether less easy to say this of τὸν ἄνδρα Μαρίας.

(5) _It is probable that Joseph was mentioned twice._ (i) This conclusion
follows of necessity, if, as we have argued, ἐγέννησεν and not ἐγεννήθη is
original. (ii) It is implied in the earlier steps of the Genealogy. (iii)
It is attested by the _Syr.‐Sin._, and the omission of the second Ἰωσήφ in
(A) and (B) is not difficult to explain (see later).

(6) _It is on the whole more probable that_ τὸν ἄνδρα Μ. _followed the
first_ Ἰωσήφ _and not the second_. (i) This view is supported by the
compiler’s method. “The practice of the writer is to interpose no words
between the name and the verb ἐγέννησεν” (Burkitt, p. 263). (ii) This
order enables us to give an explanation of the fact that both (A) and (B)
omit the second Ἰωσήφ (see below).

Gathering together these several results, we obtain the following as the
reconstructed text of Mt. i. 16:

Ἰακὼβ δὲ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Ἰωσὴφ τὸν ἄνδρα Μαρίας;
Ἰωσὴφ δὲ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Ἰησοῦν τὸν λεγόμενον Χριστόν.

In addition to the reasons already given, we may also urge the fact that,
with this text posited, we can give the simplest and least involved
account of the origin of (A), (B), (C).

(1) The scribes who have produced (A) substituted the passive (ἐγεννήθη)
for the active (ἐγέννησεν). This caused the second Ἰωσήφ to drop out, its
place being taken by ἐξ ἧς “from whom” (fem.). Ἰησοῦς ὁ λεγ. Χρ. followed
as a grammatical change.

(2) All that the originators of (B) had to do was to substitute ᾧ μνηστ.
π. Μ. for τὸν ἄνδρα Μ., and then, by omitting Ἰωσὴφ δέ, to leave Μ. as the
subject of ἐγέννησεν.

(3) We may explain (C), with Burkitt, as derived from (B). The Syriac
translator was not satisfied with the loose construction of (B). Taking ᾧ
to refer to ἐγέννησεν as well as to μνηστευθεῖσα, he made the connexion
clearer by inserting a second Ἰωσήφ as the subject of the verb. In taking
this last step, he either returned unconsciously to part at least of the
true reading, or had access to good Greek MSS. which we no longer possess.

It is of interest to compare the reading we have suggested as the original
text of Mt. i. 16 with others which have been put forward. In discussing
one of these possibilities, Sanday writes (_Outlines_, p. 200): “If we may
suppose that the original text ran Ἰωσὴφ τὸν ἄνδρα Μαρίας ἣ ἐγέννησεν
Ἰησοῦν τὸν λεγόμενον Χριστόν, that would perhaps account for the two
divergent lines of variants better than any other”. In spite of its
advantages, this text suffers under two disadvantages from which the one
we have preferred is free. (i) Not only is γεννάω used in a different
sense from that which it has in the rest of the Genealogy, but it is _the
very same form of the verb_ which is employed differently. (ii) The
reading is too smooth and clear. Apart from the phrase τὸν ἄνδρα Μ. no
loophole is left for misunderstanding, and so no sufficient starting‐point
is provided for the subsequent textual variants.

Burkitt has instanced the reading we have preferred. In rejecting the view
that the _Syr.‐Sin._ represents the true text, he writes (p. 264): “Had we
such a text as Ἰακ. δὲ ἐγένν. τὸν Ἰωσὴφ τὸν ἄνδρα Μαρίας· Ἰωσὴφ δὲ
ἐγέννησεν κτλ. the case would have been different”. In reference to this
suggestion, however, Burkitt says, (i) the evidence does not point that
way, (ii) in that case the _Syr.‐Sin._ would be further from the original
than that of א B and Tertullian, (iii) _Syr.‐Sin._ and _k_ would “agree in
a common corruption”, and we should have to speak of the “Western” text in
the singular number.

The last point raises a large question which it is impossible to consider
here. As regards the second objection, while in some respects (C) would be
further from the original than (A), in other and more important respects
it would be appreciably nearer. In its use of ἐγέννησεν it would be nearer
to the original than any reading we possess. As regards the first
objection, we have frankly to agree that the textual evidence does not
point that way. We cannot point to a shred of MS. evidence to support the
conjectured reading. A generation ago this would have been considered a
fatal objection. But, in view of the freedom with which the text of the
Gospels was handled during the first half of the second century, and which
the textual variants illustrate, this objection can no longer be regarded
as insuperable. So long as we restrict ourselves to the attested readings,
the problem remains insoluble. If, then, we can reach a reasonable
conclusion on other lines, we are free to do so. Doubtless, in default of
attestation, we can describe our results as no more than tentative. But we
have no desire to claim more. As the problem stands at present, the test
to be applied is, What reading, conjectured or attested, furnishes the
best explanation of the facts at our disposal?, it being remembered that
these facts include, not only the textual variants, but also the unique
character of the Genealogy itself. It may be, as we have suggested, that
new discoveries await us. But, unless we have entirely misread the
evidence we already possess, no discovery is to be expected which will
completely transform the textual problem.

In conclusion, we may state certain propositions (apart from the question
of the exact wording of the true text of Mt. i. 16) which have in their
favour a high degree of probability.

(1) The readings which we have called (A) and (B) are independent attempts
to alter the original text in the interests of the Virgin Birth; that is,
they are “doctrinal modifications”.

(2) The reading of the Sinaitic Syriac is not unfavourable to the
doctrine. It should no longer be spoken of as “the eccentric reading”, nor
should we describe the translator as influenced by “heretical tendencies”.

(3) _The original text of Mt. i. 16 implied the Virgin Birth, but it was
stated from the unique point of view reflected in the Genealogy itself._

(4) _The text was liable to misunderstanding, and the history of the
textual variants is the history of that misunderstanding._


Our purpose in the final chapter is to co‐ordinate the results we have
reached, and to discuss their bearing upon the historical question of the
Virgin Birth. We have also to determine how far strictly historical
considerations can take us; to ask, that is to say, within what limits the
problem is historical at all. It will be well first to summarize the
conclusions to which we have already come.

(1) The Virgin Birth was not the subject of Apostolic preaching, and
apparently was unknown to St. Paul and St. Mark.

(2) St. Luke became acquainted with the tradition for the first time,
either when he was in process of writing his Gospel, or immediately

(3) The First Gospel presupposes the Virgin Birth tradition, which had
probably been known to its readers for some time, sufficiently long for
problems to be started and for difficulties to be raised.

(4) No satisfactory proof is forthcoming to show that the Fourth
Evangelist definitely rejected the tradition. The most we can say is that
his doctrinal sympathies lay in another direction.

On the positive side our most important result is that we can prove from
the New Testament itself that belief in the Virgin Birth existed in
influential Christian communities at the time when the First and Third
Gospels were written. We have no further need, therefore, to consider
theories which assign the belief to a later age, and which, by various
interpolation‐hypotheses, deprive the doctrine of New Testament support.
Those who have stated such theories have rendered service in that they
have explored an alternative path. On the view we have preferred this path
proves to be a cul‐de‐sac. We have therefore, to recognize that, whether
we accept or reject the Virgin Birth, we must do this in full
acknowledgement of the fact that among early witnesses to the belief are
two outstanding New Testament Writings.

Can we go further than this? To do so we must consider the First and Third
Gospels, in respect of their mutual relations and of what they conjointly

I. The Virgin Birth in the First and Third Gospels

In considering the relation in which the First and Third Gospels stand to
each other and to the Virgin Birth three questions are of the greatest
interest and importance. (1) _To what extent do the two Gospels imply a
common tradition and belief?_ (2) _How far back can we trace this
tradition?_ (3) _In what relation does the public tradition stand to the
theory of an earlier tradition of a private and restricted character?_

(1) In answer to the first question, our view is that _each Gospel, in a
different way, is a witness to the same tradition_. Too much has
frequently been made of the theory that in Mt. and Lk. we have two
independent accounts of the Virgin Birth tradition. It may seriously be
questioned if this theory is true. Mt. i. 18‐25 is misunderstood if it is
explained as a Virgin Birth tradition. Like the rest of cc. i, ii, its
character is Midrashic, and it is written from an apologetic standpoint.
It would therefore be much truer to say that it _implies_ the existence of
a Virgin Birth tradition as known to the readers of the Gospel. What form
that tradition took we are of course unable to say. It is possible that it
was similar to the tradition as it appears in Lk. On the other hand, it
may be that even in Lk. the form in which the tradition is presented owes
something to the Evangelist’s craftsmanship. If this is so, it would seem
that the narratives of both writers point back to a simpler tradition or
belief, from which, in different ways, they came to assume their present
form. What is of chief importance is the view that in both Gospels we
have, not so much two independent narratives of the Virgin Birth, as
rather two independent witnesses to what originally was one and the same

It cannot escape our notice that, in spite of their obvious differences,
Lk. i. 34 f. and Mt. i. 18‐25 contain what is substantially the same
statement, a statement which in each passage is central. In Mt. i. 20 we
read: “_That which is conceived_ (τὸ ... γεννηθέν) _in her is of the Holy
Spirit_”; and in Lk. i. 35, after the reference to the Holy Spirit, we
read: “_That which is to be born_ (τὸ γεννώμενον) _shall be called holy,
the Son of God_”. There is much to be said for the view that both
expressions point back to a common original, to a primitive belief that
Jesus was “born of the Holy Spirit” (cf. Harnack, _Date of Acts_, &c., pp.
142 ff.).

If then we are unable to accept the view that in Mt. and Lk. we have two
independent accounts of the Virgin Birth, we may well ask if the loss is a
real one. It is probably nothing of the kind. There was indeed a certain
advantage in feeling able to point to two diverse traditions which
converged upon one fact. Nevertheless, the argument always had a certain
weakness. We had to account for the two different traditions, and the
explanation was a theory we could never prove. It may be that St. Luke’s
story goes back for its authority to Mary; it is very doubtful if St.
“Matthew’s” has any historical connexion with Joseph; but in either case
neither assumption is justifiable in an historical inquiry. It must be
allowed, we think, that our view has sounder advantages. Instead of
claiming validity for two diverse traditions, we can point to two very
different narratives, which arise out of the same belief and are
independent witnesses to its existence in the primitive Christian

(2) _To what point, then, can we trace this tradition?_

We have argued that the Virgin Birth tradition first began to gain
currency in the circles in which St. Luke moved at the time when the Third
Gospel was being written. We have also seen that the tradition was already
known to the readers of the First Gospel. If these conclusions are valid,
it is evident that the relative order in which the two Gospels were
written will determine the farthest point to which we can trace the Virgin
Birth tradition as publicly known. What, then, is the order of composition
in the case of Mt. and Lk.?

We may frankly admit that if priority must be assigned to Mt., it becomes
difficult to understand how St. Luke could have no knowledge of the Virgin
Birth at the time when he first took up his pen. For, on this view, we
ask, Must not the tradition have already reached the circles in which he
was moving at the time? It would certainly be more favourable to our
theory if we could assign priority to the Third Gospel. In this case we
should have a very simple account to give of the history of the tradition.
We should discover it emerging for the first time in St. Luke’s Gospel,
and we should have a ready explanation (in the fact of the interval
between the two works) for the apologetic note in the later Gospel.

But the priority of the two Gospels is not a question to be decided simply
by the attitude which the Evangelists display towards the Virgin Birth.
Mt. and Lk. must be compared throughout. When this is done there do not
appear to be sufficient grounds for giving a vote in either direction (cf.
Stanton, GHD., ii, p. 368). All that we can say is that the two Gospels
are independent works, and must have been written about the same time. If
there was an interval, it cannot have been great, for there are no
sufficient signs that either writer was acquainted with the work of the
other. It is especially difficult to think that St. Luke would have
neglected the First Gospel, if it had been accessible to him (cf. Lk. i.

If, however, we accept, as a working hypothesis, the view that the two
Gospels were written independently of each other, and more or less
simultaneously,(104) it will still follow that the Virgin Birth tradition
was already known in at least one influential primitive Christian
community (that to which the First Gospel was addressed) while it was
unknown to St. Luke.(105) Is this a fatal objection, or does such a
position represent what may well have been the actual situation? We do not
think that the difficulty is too great.

The tides by which traditions flow in different places are not
simultaneous; they differ in time, in height, and in volume. No practice
could be more mischievous than the habit of dating the relative spread of
early beliefs simply by the dates of contemporary documents. Regard must
be paid to local conditions.

In life as in nature there are variations of current and of coast
formation. There are limits, of course, within which this caveat holds
good; but, provided the interval of time is not too great, the view that
St. Luke could begin to write in ignorance of a tradition already known
elsewhere is not self‐condemned. After all, St. Luke himself had access to
much tradition which presumably was unknown to the First Evangelist
(witness St. Luke’s special matter).

Concerning the length of time we can allow the Virgin Birth tradition to
have been already known elsewhere, when St. Luke began to write, there is
room for difference of opinion. If, as we have contended, he became
acquainted with it in the process of writing or immediately afterwards,
the period can scarcely have been considerable. Perhaps it ought to be
estimated in months rather than in years, but to say more would be idle

_The farthest point therefore to which we can trace the existence of the
Virgin Birth as a public tradition is some little time previous to the
composition of the Third Gospel._

(3) It is a perfectly fair assumption to make that the public tradition
must have had a _private_ vogue before, and perhaps for some time before,
it became public property. This view becomes especially probable in the
light of what we have just seen, viz. that the spread of the public
tradition among the primitive Christian communities covered an appreciable
period of time. The question of the historical truth of the Virgin Birth
is precisely the question of how far back the private tradition can be
traced; whether it can go back to Mary the mother of Jesus, and whether
satisfactory reasons can be given for a silence which extends beyond the
period covered by the Pauline Epistles and the Second Gospel, and is
broken only at last in the interval which shortly preceded the composition
of the Gospels of Mt. and Lk. In this lies the real historical problem.
_Can the theory of a private authoritative tradition be vindicated?_ There
are several questions which bear upon this problem. They are: (1) The
question of the date of the First and of the Third Gospels; (2) The extent
to which the credibility of the Gospels permits of the possibility of
error; (3) The Alternative Theories of the origin of belief in the Virgin
Birth; (4) The theological aspect of the tradition.

II. The Date of the Gospels in Relation to the Virgin Birth Tradition

The relation in which the question of _the Date of the Gospels_ stands to
the results reached is sufficiently clear. If we could fix the time when
Mt. and Lk. were written, we could determine within comparatively narrow
limits when the Virgin Birth tradition first gained currency. A conclusion
upon this point would materially affect our estimate of the historical
value of the tradition.

Until this stage we have deliberately refrained from assigning dates to
the Gospels. The only things we have assumed are the priority of Mk. and
the practically contemporaneous origin of Mt. and Lk. Our justification
for this course lies in the great variety of opinion which exists on the
question of date, and hence the desirability of keeping clear, as long as
we can, from considerations which must vitally affect the results secured.

Unfortunately, as we have said, no sort of unanimity exists upon the
question of the date of the Gospels. A glance at the extremely useful
table which Dr. Moffatt prints on page 213 of his Introduction makes this
clear. At first sight the position would appear chaotic, and we might well
shrink from attempting to connect our results with specific dates. It is
impossible, moreover, in a work like the present, to discuss the question
in detail. Such a problem ought to be considered independently, and with
regard to all the facts of the case. It would seem best therefore to ask
what the consequences are, if we incline to any one of certain
representative dates. We are at liberty, of course, to indicate our
personal preferences, but, for the reasons stated, we shall have to agree
to a measure of uncertainty. This is disappointing, but the responsibility
must lie at the right door, and that door is the present failure of
Biblical Scholarship to arrive at a consensus of opinion on the question
of the date of the Gospels. Perfect agreement there will never be, but
until there is substantial agreement every historical investigation into
questions of New Testament origins must prove incomplete.

The problem of the date of the Gospels is not, however, so chaotic as
might at first sight appear. There is a strongly marked disposition to
recede from the extremes on both sides, and there is a very considerable
agreement that the period from 60 to 100 A.D. covers the time during which
the Synoptic Gospels were written. There is also a consensus of opinion
that the Second Gospel cannot have been written later than about 70 A.D.
Every decade, and almost every year, however, between 60 and 100 A.D.
finds advocates for the composition of Mt. and Lk. There are,
nevertheless, three periods which find special favour. These may be
briefly mentioned.

(1) The first period we may note is the closing years of the first
century. For this view the main arguments are (i) the supposed dependence
of St. Luke upon Josephus, and (ii) the ecclesiastical tone of certain
passages in the First Gospel.

(2) A second view brings both Mk. and Lk. within St. Paul’s lifetime, and
dates Mt. shortly after the fall of Jerusalem. This is the opinion of
Harnack (_Date of Acts and of the Synoptic Gospels_). It has not won a
large following, either in Germany or in this country, but it is probably
nearer the truth than the previous view.

(3) A third period is the time about 80 A.D. One advantage of this view,
as Dr. Plummer candidly admits (ICC., St. Lk., p. xxxi), is the fact that
it avoids the difficulties which beset the other two. The main argument
which commends it to Dr. Plummer is that “such a date allows sufficient
time for the ‘many’ to ‘draw up narratives’ respecting the acts and
sayings of Christ”.

It remains for us to indicate what bearing these representative dates have
upon the Virgin Birth tradition in the light of our results.

It is clear that if we must date Mt. and Lk. in the closing years of the
first century, the historical value of the tradition is reduced to a
minimum. For, if that tradition is historical, we are compelled to assume
that for a period of about ninety years the story was jealously guarded,
first by Mary herself and then by a chosen few to whom it was revealed.
But who will believe this? If we accept Harnack’s dates, then the period
about 60 A.D. will be the time when belief in the Virgin Birth first began
to spread. While, if we prefer the third alternative, we must fix upon a
time some fifteen to twenty years later, i.e. the period from 75 to 80

It is evident that the case for the historical truth of the tradition is
at its strongest if Harnack’s dates can be accepted. Looking at the
question from the sole standpoint of the time‐interval, we do not believe
that the third period is impossibly late. However we look at the question,
we are unable to bring the public tradition within the lifetime of Mary.
But, provided we are not compelled to date the Gospels at the close of the
century, there do not seem to be insuperable difficulties—so far as the
time‐element is concerned—against connecting that public tradition with
those who were near her person.

It will be seen that the question of the date of the Gospels is an
important one. The utmost, however, we are able to glean in this field is
a somewhat negative advantage. Our conclusion is that no insuperable
difficulty stands in the way. Obviously, the onus of proof yet remains.
The long period of silence must be explained, and the truth of the
tradition vindicated.

III. The Relation of the Question of the Historical Value of the Gospels
to the Problem

We must next briefly consider the question of _the historical value of the
Synoptic Gospels_, so far as it bears upon our immediate problem. It is
right to urge that our first aim must be to examine the Virgin Birth
tradition without bias or presuppositions of any kind. But it is no less
true to say that our estimate of the credibility of the Gospels as a whole
must react upon that task in the end. Whether the Synoptic Gospels are but
a tissue of legends, or whether they fulfil a good standard of historical
value, are questions which cannot be ignored.

For those who claim infallibility, as well as inspiration, for the
Evangelists, the problem is at an end: Lk. and Mt. teach the Virgin Birth;
the doctrine is therefore true! But for most people to‐day that short and
easy path is impossible. The Gospels do not claim infallibility, and their
contents do not bespeak it. There can be no question that a trained
observer of to‐day would have described many incidents in the life of
Jesus very differently. There are parables which have been unconsciously
hardened into miracles, sayings of Jesus which have been misunderstood,
stories which have grown amidst the exigencies of controversy and in the
process of evangelization. These things are no more than we might expect.
They were inevitable; unless we credit the Evangelists with a mechanical
preservation from error which finds no justification beyond our own
preconceived notions of what a Gospel ought to be. Nor do such admissions
rob the Gospels of real worth. On the contrary, they throw their
historical value into strong relief. For to perceive that the natural
infirmities of the human mind have left their trace upon the Evangelic
Records is only to prepare the way for us to recognize how close in the
main the Evangelists have kept to the real facts of history. The
significant fact is not that they have made mistakes, but that they have
made so few that are of real importance. We have only to compare their
work with the Apocryphal Gospels to see, in the case of the Evangelists,
what restraint the solid facts of history exercised upon the natural
tendencies of their minds. Jülicher, who does not hesitate to say that
what the Evangelists relate is “a mixture of truth and poetry” (INT., Eng.
Tr., p. 368), nevertheless declares that “the Synoptic Gospels are of
priceless value, not only as books of religious edification, but also as
authorities for the history of Jesus” (ib., p. 371). “The true merit of
the Synoptists”, he says, “is that, in spite of the poetic touches they
employ, they did not repaint, but only handed on, the Christ of history”’

What bearing has such an estimate of the Gospels upon the historic truth
of the Virgin Birth tradition? Obviously, it does not save us from the
trouble of testing the tradition by such tests as we can apply. That the
tradition has found a place in the New Testament is not in itself a
certificate of truth. The Evangelists certainly believed the tradition;
they were intellectually honest; but they may have been mistaken. The
ultimate question is the truth of the authorities upon which they rested
and of the belief they reflect. Their importance as writers is that they
countersign the tradition with the high authority they possess. But,
however high their authority, it is not that of infallibility. The truth
of the Gospels is the truth of their sources. As regards the Virgin Birth
tradition, the sources cannot be traced back to Mk. and Q, the two primary
Synoptic documents, but to the later tradition of the Christian Church, at
the time when Mt. and Lk. were written. The First and Third Evangelists
have endorsed that tradition; the problem of the Virgin Birth is whether
they were right. Nothing that we have said in this section must be
construed to prejudge that question. That the Evangelists have accepted
the tradition, for us unquestionably gives it a higher value; but it is
not a determinative value. The main result is to make yet clearer the
final issue, which is, we repeat, whether the story which the Evangelists
endorse can be traced back to an authoritative source. Has it the sanction
of Mary or of those who may be supposed to have known her mind?

IV. The Question of Alternative Theories

In many discussions of the Virgin Birth, the question of _Alternative
Theories_ occupies a prominent place. Our purpose in the present section
is to ask what place it may legitimately be given. Has it the importance
which is often claimed?

Attention has frequently been called to the inability of those who reject
the Virgin Birth to agree upon an alternative theory. The failure is
patent. Harnack and Lobstein, on the one side, plead for a Jewish‐
Christian origin for the doctrine, in which the influence of Isa. vii. 14
played a decisive part; on the other side, Soltau, Schmiedel, Usener, and
others, trace the tradition to the effect of non‐Christian myths. Not only
so; the advocates of each theory specifically reject the other. Lobstein,
for example, thinks that “it would be rash to see direct imitations or
positive influences” in the analogies “between the Biblical myth and
legends of Greek or Eastern origin”. While there was mutual action between
the worship or doctrine of paganism and advancing Christianity, “nothing
warrants historical criticism in considering the tradition of the
miraculous birth of Christ as merely the outcome of elements foreign to
the religion of Biblical revelation” (_The Virgin Birth of Christ_, p.
76). Schmiedel, on the other hand, rejects the Jewish‐Christian origin of
the tradition, “Nor would Isa. vii. 14 have been sufficient to account for
the origin of such a doctrine unless the doctrine had commended itself on
its own merits. The passage was adduced only as an afterthought, in
confirmation.... Thus the origin of the idea of a virgin birth is to be
sought in Gentile‐Christian circles” (EB., col. 2963 f.).(106)

It is not strange, perhaps, that some writers have pressed these
contradictions into the service of Apologetics. Thus, for example, Dr. Orr
does not scruple to say: “As in the trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrim,
‘neither so did their witness agree together’ ” (op. cit., p. 152). He
even presents the remarkable argument that Dr. Cheyne’s theory “gives the
death‐stroke to all the theories that have gone before it”, and yet is
itself “absolutely baseless” (ib., p. 178). Sweet’s argument is more
cautiously introduced. He recognizes that the contention has its limits.
He instances Bossuet’s argument against the Reformation drawn from the
Variations of Protestantism and G. H. Lewes’s inference from the History
of Philosophy that philosophy is impossible (op. cit., p. 299). But,
having said this, Sweet argues that the critics agree in nothing “save
dislike and depreciation of the documents”, and that “their theories are
mutually destructive”.

It appears to us that this line of argument is open to serious objection;
it is unfair, and it is unwise.

It is unfair, because it is neither uncommon nor unreasonable to find men
agreed in rejecting a tradition or belief, and yet at variance in respect
of theories of origin. It is one thing to say that a belief is untrue;
quite another thing to account for its existence. That men agree upon the
one point is more significant than that they differ upon the other. The
view we have mentioned is unwise, because its triumph may be short‐lived.
There is always room for the emergence of a better alternative theory,
which shall combine the excellences, and avoid the weaknesses, of pioneer

It does not need a prophet to suggest that the next alternative theory
will be psychological and eclectic. If the tradition is not historical, it
is not likely that we can account for its rise by one factor alone. We may
regard it as established that prophecy alone did not create the tradition,
and that it was not invented on the analogy of non‐Christian myths.
Nevertheless, it may be that Isa. vii. 14, together with the idea that
underlies non‐Christian legends, played an important part in the formation
of the Christian tradition. If the tradition is not historical, its
ultimate origin must be sought in the overwhelming impression which Jesus
left upon believing hearts and minds; in the conviction that from the time
of His Birth, and not only at His Baptism and Resurrection, Jesus Christ
was the Son of God by the anointing of the Holy Spirit. The presumption
that His Birth must have been remarkable would be strengthened by the Old
Testament stories of the birth of Isaac, of Samson, and of Samuel, and
especially by the tradition which already had gathered round the birth of
John. It may also have been stimulated by the belief, found the whole
world over, that the origin of great men is supernatural and miraculous.
Even amongst the Jews the idea was present, that the Messiah’s origin
would be strange, and that no man would know from whence he came (Jn. vii.
27). If there is reason to presuppose such a point of view, we can easily
imagine the electric effect which such a passage as Isa. vii. 14 would
have upon those who studied Old Testament prophecies in the light of their
experience of Jesus. It is vain to object that it is only in the LXX that
this connexion could be established, and that in the Hebrew the word
rendered “virgin” means a young woman of marriageable age. The First
Gospel (i. 23) shows that it was the LXX rendering which was already read,
and doubtless preferred, in the primitive Christian community. Still more
fatuous is it to say, as it has been said again and again, that no Jew
ever interpreted Isa. vii. 14 of the Messiah. As well might we say of
other passages that no Jew would have interpreted them Messianically! The
question is not how Jews regarded Isa. vii. 14, but how it may have
appeared in the eyes of Jews who had come under the spell of Jesus. The
passage cannot have created belief in the Virgin Birth, but it could have
crystallized a belief for which wonder and speculation had prepared the
way. “So it must have been!” men could well have argued. On this
supposition the belief antedated the tradition. But that beliefs have
created traditions again and again is enough to show that it could have
been so here. Nor is the time‐element the insuperable difficulty it has
been supposed to be. The idea that a myth would require fifty years to
grow is absurd.(107) Provided the parents of Jesus were already dead, the
myth could have sprung up new born.

In sketching the foregoing theory our purpose is not to assert its truth,
but rather to illustrate its by no means inherent improbability. It could
be true; or, at any rate, this judgement might any day have to be passed
upon some alternative theory, superior to any that has yet been stated.
The agreement of the Virgin Birth tradition with historic fact may be the
true solution of the problem, but it is not the only solution that is
possible, nor can its superiority be established by the comparative method
alone. We therefore work along wrong lines if we attempt to argue the
historic character of the Virgin Birth tradition by dwelling upon the
incongruities and contradictions of alternative theories. The baleful
attractiveness of such a method ought strenuously to be resisted. It may
yield a few showy triumphs, but few, if any, solid results. Of course, if
we have first satisfied ourselves that the Virgin Birth is historically
true, the practice is less objectionable; but it is doubtful if even then
it adds much to results otherwise obtained. To include the method in the
process of proof is to build upon sand.

On the other hand, this view is equally sound, if our solution of the
problem is one of the alternative theories to which we have referred. We
have sketched a theory which we have claimed might be true. But what more
could be claimed by the comparative method? Its justification or lack of
justification lies elsewhere. The possible may not be the probable, nor
the probable the true. The importance of the question we have discussed in
the present section is that it reveals what are the by‐paths and what is
the high‐road of a true investigation. The question of alternative
theories is purely secondary. The high‐road is where we left it at the end
of Section II. Can the tradition, endorsed by the First and Third
Evangelists, be vindicated?

V. Doctrinal Considerations

_The ultimate considerations which determine a true estimate of the Virgin
Birth tradition are doctrinal._ It is one of the chief merits of
Lobstein’s well‐known book that he so clearly recognizes this fact: “What
must finally turn the scale ... are reasons of a dogmatic and religious
order” (op. cit., p. 79).

We need make no apology for not having dealt with the question of the
possibility of the Miraculous Birth from the standpoint of Science. We do
not propose to consider the question at length even now. The objection
that miracles are impossible has long been exploded. In a famous letter to
the _Spectator_ (February 10, 1866) Huxley wrote: “... denying the
possibility of miracles seems to me quite as unjustifiable as speculative
Atheism”, and Atheism, he said, is “as absurd, logically speaking, as
polytheism”. What we call a “miracle” may be no more than the divine
operation within the domain of law itself. We have therefore no ground for
saying that a virgin birth is impossible; while, in the case of One so
unique as Jesus Christ, such an assertion would be utterly absurd. We do
not really need any support which may be gained from the question of
Parthenogenesis. The question is in the first place one of evidence.

But if primarily the question is one of evidence, it does not stop there.
The historical and the theological aspects of the problem overlap; we
cannot determine the question by weighing evidence alone.

If we attempt to confine ourselves to a purely historical inquiry, the
verdict must be “Not proven”.(108) It is true, on the one hand, that the
late appearance of the tradition is not an insuperable difficulty. The
theory of a long‐treasured secret has a logic of its own. On the other
hand, by the conditions of the case, we are unable to interrogate the
witnesses. We cannot ask them whence they derived what they tell us. We
cannot demonstrate that the story they relate has the ultimate authority
of Mary. All that we can reach is a primitive belief, generally accepted
within New Testament times, which presumably implies an earlier private
tradition. Beyond that point we cannot travel—within the limits of the
evidence alone.

Substantially this position is recognized by Dr. Gore in _Dissertations_.
While affirming his belief that the historical evidence is “in itself
strong and cogent”, he says frankly that “it is not such as to compel
belief”. “There are ways to dissolve its force”, he continues. The last
sentence is not very happily phrased, but it need not detain us. The point
that is of greatest importance is expressed by Dr. Gore as follows:

    “... to produce belief there is needed—in this as in almost all
    other questions of historical fact—besides cogent evidence, also a
    perception of the meaning and naturalness, under the
    circumstances, of the event to which evidence is borne. To clinch
    the historical evidence for our Lord’s Virgin Birth there is
    needed the sense that, being what He was, His human birth could
    hardly have been otherwise than is implied in the Virginity of His
    mother” (ib., p. 64).

The present work is, in part, a foot‐note to, or illustration of, this
principle. We may therefore be pardoned for a further reference to it in a
passage from F. C. Burkitt’s _Gospel History and its Transmission_, in
which it finds an almost classic statement:

    “Our belief or disbelief in most of the Articles in the Apostles’
    Creed does not ultimately rest on historical criticism of the
    Gospels, but upon the general view of the universe, of the order
    of things, which our training and environment, or our inner
    experience, has led us severally to take. The Birth of our Lord
    from a virgin and His Resurrection from the dead—to name the most
    obvious Articles of the Creed—are not matters which historical
    criticism can establish” (p. 350 f.).

It is clear, then, that if further advance is to be made, we must enter
the realms of doctrine. What doctrinal purpose, we must ask, does the
Virgin Birth serve? Does it explain the sinlessness of Jesus? Is it
necessary to the doctrine of the Incarnation? Is it congruous with the
doctrine of the Person of Christ? It is not contended that an answer to
these questions in the affirmative would prove the event to have happened.
Nevertheless, such an answer would unquestionably invest the New Testament
tradition with a yet higher probability, sufficiently great, in our
judgement, to make belief in its historical character reasonable. If,
however, we have to answer the doctrinal questions in the negative, then
the historical character of the tradition receives a fatal blow. The
opinion, so frequently expressed, that, in any case, the Virgin Birth is
not a doctrine of essential importance, is one that calls for scrutiny. If
it means that a man may be a sincere follower of our Lord, whether he
believes the doctrine or not, it is, of course, a truism. But if it means
that the doctrine is of no importance in relation to the Incarnation and
the Person of Christ, that is perhaps the strongest argument that can be
adduced _against_ the credibility of the miracle. What is doctrinally
irrelevant is not likely to be historically true.

It does not fall in with the scope of this work to enter fully into the
theological question. Our purpose has been to examine the historical and
critical questions and to show where the real problem lies. Criticism
cannot solve that problem. Nevertheless, its contribution is not barren.
It can discuss interpolation theories; it can treat of the literary form
which the tradition has assumed in the Gospels. It can date—imperfectly it
is true—the time when the belief became current. It can apply broad tests
of credibility. We ourselves believe that it can say the miracle may have
transpired. But it cannot say more. The last word is with Theology.

On the theological side, the question is probably more far‐reaching than
is commonly supposed. Individual Christian doctrines can never be treated
_in vacuo_; they are inter‐related one with another. It is often said that
those who reject the Virgin Birth reject also the physical Resurrection of
Jesus, the Ascension, and many of the miracles reported in the Gospels.
The statement is largely true; it is possible we ought also to include in
it the doctrine of the Pre‐existence of Christ. The reason is that these
denials belong to the same general habit of mind; they are part of the
content of what has been called a “reduced Christianity”. It is
impossible, therefore, adequately to discuss the question of the Virgin
Birth on its theological side, without raising the larger question,
whether this so‐called “reduced Christianity” is not the true faith, as
distinguished from a “full Christianity” which in reality is florid and
overgrown. Sweet can scarcely be said to go too far when he writes: “In
short, and this is the gist of the whole matter, in this controversy
concerning the birth of Christ, two fundamentally different Christologies
are groping for supremacy” (ib., p. 311). This fact has not always been
recognized by those who think of the Virgin Birth, but there can be no
question of its truth. The Virgin Birth is part of a larger problem; it
must ultimately be established, if at all, as a corollary, not as an
independent conclusion. The larger problem is whether we can still hold
the Trinitarian Theology and the Two‐Nature Doctrine of the Person of
Christ, or whether we must give to the Immanence of God a place greatly in
excess of any it has yet held in Christian thought; whether, indeed, we
can feel it adequate to speak of Christ as One in whom the Immanent God
revealed and expressed Himself in an altogether unique and ultimately
inexplicable way. In any case, the conflict is one of Christologies. The
purely naturalistic interpretation of Jesus holds a more and more
precarious place in the field. This, then, is the problem of the present
and of the immediate future. It is nothing less than the problem which
every age has had to face since the days of Jesus of Nazareth—the problem
of the Incarnation.

The present writer takes no shame to say that upon the theological aspect
of the Virgin Birth he has not yet been able to satisfy his mind. The
longer the question is studied the less easy it becomes airily to brush
the miracle aside and call it myth. We speak of those who are impressed by
the unique spiritual greatness of Jesus, and who cannot explain for
themselves His Person in terms of humanity alone. The hesitation does not
spring from vacillation, nor, we hope, from lack of courage and strength
of mind. It springs out of a sense of the uniqueness of Jesus. Have we
adequately grasped His greatness? Can we say what is, or what is not,
congruous with His Person? It is open to serious question whether the
individual can expect, or ought to expect an answer to these questions out
of his experience and thought alone. Brief discussions of the Virgin Birth
by individual writers do not carry us very far. What is needed more than
anything else is a yet fuller disclosure of the unfettered mind of the
Christian Church; and for this we must wait.

This last statement may perhaps seem strange. Has not the Church already
expressed her corporate mind? Has she not committed herself to the Virgin
Birth tradition? Can we not find it in Ignatius, in Justin, and in the
Creeds of the Undivided Church? That these things are so is too patent to
be denied. But has the Church expressed her _unfettered_ mind? Has she
said her final word? Has she, indeed, ever been in a position to do these
things? The appeal to the almost unbroken external witness of the Catholic
Church does not carry us so far as we might think. Once the Gospels had
attained canonical authority the rest was a foregone conclusion. The
status given to the Gospels carried everything else with it, and the
Church was no longer free to judge. It is written, therefore it was so!
Moreover, the question of the Virgin Birth was largely overshadowed in the
struggle with Docetism. It is only in modern times that a more intelligent
attitude towards the Gospels permits the Church freely to ponder the
Virgin Birth tradition in the light of her experience of Christ. We may
cherish the hope that she has yet greater things to say of Christ than any
she has yet uttered. It is in its relation to that voice that the Virgin
Birth will find its place.

Where, then, shall we look for this expression of corporate mind? Not
perhaps again in Consiliar Decrees, though who can say? There is, however,
a corporate mind that finds expression in the affirmations of simple
believers, and in the writings of Christian thinkers the world over. The
affirmations are neither the medley nor the babel they are sometimes
thought to be. There is no colourless uniformity, but there is a real and
growing unity, a harmony in which varied voices blend. No one can survey
Christendom without seeing that everywhere denominational walls become
less and less forbidding, and that every year it is more difficult to
classify Christian thinkers under the prim labels of exclusive schools.
Thought is unbound, but it is not chaotic. The thousand streams fall to
the rivers which flow onward towards the sea that is never full. Those
only may be pessimistic who cannot take long views. We may believe that
the Spirit will yet guide His Church into all the truth. The individual
thinker whose voice breaks the silence will ever be needed. Yet his task
is but a limited one; he too must listen. For unless, beneath his
affirmations, we hear the undertone of a corporate faith and experience,
his voice will be but the echo that rings among the empty hills.

One thing is certain. Whatever the ultimate issue, it must be gain, even
if gain through loss. Whether it be historical or not, the Virgin Birth
tradition must always be full of beauty and of truth.

If, on the one hand, the tradition is involved in the corporate experience
of Christ, if it is congruous with what He was and is, then, admittedly,
the gain is great. For this means increased confidence in the facts which
the Evangelists relate and the primitive community believed: there is no
breach with the past. It means too another foothold in history for the
theological interpretation of the Person of Christ. And these are things
not lightly to be surrendered, save at the command of Truth.

If, on the other hand, the story is a legend of the Christian Faith, that
is not an end. Strangely enough, if the tradition is not historical, it
thereby becomes a valuable piece of Christian apologetic. Who was this
Jesus, we ask, of whom men dared to believe that He was born of a virgin?
The faded wreath is no less the tribute of undying love. That Jewish
Christians could explain the unique divine personality of Jesus by the
miracle of a virgin birth is—if we must solve the problem so—the highest
tribute they could pay. If we find it hard to understand how they could
think of Him in this way, without the warrant of the fact, it may be that
our difficulty is just the measure of our failure to grasp the wonder of
their love. If, in the end, we must call poetry what they called fact, it
will not be because we are strangers to their faith. They too were bound
by the spell of that Transcendent Face in which is the light of the
knowledge of the glory of God.


Acts, The, 12 ff., 21.

Allen, W. C., 6, 8, 9 n., 11 n., 15 n., 33 n., 37, 42 n., 52, 89 n., 90,
            90 n., 91, 92 n., 94, 95 n., 96, 105‐14.

Apocalypse, The, 20.

Argument from Silence, The, 1‐3.

Ascension, 78, 130.

Bacon, B. W., 8 n.

Baptism of Jesus, 7, 25, 125.

Barnard, 89 n., 108.

Bethlehem, 16, 17, 98.

Bezae, Codex, 25, 29.

Birthplace of Jesus, 16, 17 f., 19.

Blass, Friedrich, 15 n., 25, 32 n., 50 n.

Bossuet, 125.

Box, George H., 4 n., 5, 8, 15 n., 38 ff., 40 n., 41, 86 n., 89 n., 90 n.,
            91, 95, 101, 103, 105, 106, 108.

Burkitt, F. C., 33 n., 50 n., 88 n., 89, 89 n., 90, 91, 92, 92 n., 93, 95
            n., 96, 96 n., 97, 99 n., 100, 100 n., 101, 105‐14, 129.

Carpenter, J. Estlin, 43 n., 44.

Catholic Epistles, 20.

Cerinthus, 99.

Chase, 40 n.

Cheyne, T. K., 20 n., 40 n., 125.

Clemen, 40 n.

Conybeare, F. C., 40 n., 99 n., 105, 106, 108 n.

Corporate Mind of the Church, The, 131 f.

Creeds, The, 131.

Curetonian Syriac, The, 105 ff., 108.

Dalman, G., 59 n.

Date of the Synoptic Gospels, 120 ff.

Davidic Descent, The:
  in Acts, 13.
  in Lk., 44 ff., 84.
  in Mt., 85, 89, 101.

Davidson, A. B., 39.

_Dialogue of Timothy and Aquila_, The, 91, 99 n., 105, 106, 108, 111.

_Diatessaron_, The, 106.

Dionysius of Corinth, 49.

Docetism, 15 n., 132.

Doctrinal Modifications, 52 ff., 99, 113.

Drummond, James, 1.

Ebionites, The, 33, 107.

Epiphanius, 99.

_Expository Times_, The, 39 n.

Fairbairn, A. M., 15 n.

“Ferrar” Group, The, 105, 106, 107 f.

First Gospel, The:
  apologetic motive, 96, 99, 116.
  characteristic words, &c., 93 f., 99, 99 n.
  date, 117 f., 121.
  genuineness of cc. i, ii, 95 ff.
  mode of treatment, 94, 99.
  quotations, 94 f., 126.
  source of Virgin Birth tradition, 101 ff.
  style, 92 f., 99.
  unity of cc. i, ii, 95 ff.
  Virgin Birth an original element, 100, 104, 115.

Fourth Gospel, The, 15‐20, 115.

Gardner, Percy, 128.

Genealogy in Lk., 26 ff., 74, 84, 89, 90.

Genealogy in Mt., 27, 64, 89 ff., 95 ff., 97, 100, 101.

Gnostics, The, 33.

Gore, Charles, 5, 102, 103, 128 f.

Gould, Ezra P., 9, 68 n., 103 n.

Grill, 40 n.

Gunkel, 40 n.

Häcker, 32 n., 43 n.

Harnack, Adolf, 7, 7 n., 15 n., 25, 26 n., 32, 40 n., 55, 57, 57 n., 58
            n., 60, 62 n., 63 n., 64, 67, 80, 82, 117, 121, 124.

Hawkins, Sir John C., 52 n., 55, 57 n., 67 n., 93 n., 94.

Headlam, 49 n.

Hebrews, The Epistle to, 14 f., 21.

Heffern, 89.

Hilgenfeld, 40 n.

Hillmann, 40 n., 55.

Historical value of the Synoptic Gospels, 122 ff.

Hobart, W. K., 55.

Holtzmann, 40 n.

Hort, F. J. A., 33 n., 51, 58.

Huxley, 128.

Ignatius, 16, 18, 131.

Incarnation, 129, 131.

Inference, its place in the Gospels, 102 f.

Interpolations, 76 ff.

Irenaeus, 15 n.

Jews at Nazareth, The, 8 f., 31, 97.

John the Baptist, 126.

Joseph, 28 f., 30 ff., 98, 99, 101, 102.

Jülicher, Adolf, 15 n., 118 n., 123.

Justin, 15 n., 131.

Kattenbusch, 36, 69.

Knowledge of Jesus, The, 10.

Knowling, R. J., 4, 40 n.

Lake, Kirsopp, 33 n., 96 n., 103, 103 n.

Lewes, G. H., 125.

Lewis, Mrs., and Mrs. Gibson, 110.

Linguistic Argument, The, its importance, 22 f., 55 f.

Lobstein, Paul, 44 n., 70, 124, 127.

Loisy, Abbé Alfred, 40 n.

Loofs, Friedrich, 82 n., 126 n.

Mackintosh, H. R., 5 n., 7 n., 13 n., 15 n.

Maclean, A. J., 89 n., 108.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, 9, 10, 11, 35 f., 42, 43 f., 45, 87, 121, 122,

Merx, 69.

Milligan, George, 49, 92.

Miracles, 127 f., 130.

Moffatt, James, 7 n., 8 n., 13 n., 15 n., 18, 18 n., 24, 25, 26, 32, 43
            n., 49 n., 50, 52 n., 53 n., 57 n., 67 n., 74, 76, 89, 89 n.,
            90 n., 91, 92, 95, 96, 96 n., 106 n., 108, 120.

Montefiore, C. G., 40 n., 43 n.

Moulton, James Hope, 50 n., 51, 53 n., 58 n., 59 n., 62 n., 92 n.

Moulton and Geden, 58 n., 93.

Moulton and Milligan (VGT.), 35, 59, 59 n., 62 n., 65 n.

Orr, James, 3 n., 4, 15 n., 40 n., 102, 125.

_Oxford Studies in the Synoptic Problem_, 26 n., 76 n.

Papias, 7.

Parthenogenesis, 128.

Pastoral Epistles, 20.

Peake, A. S., 15 n.

_Pericope adulteriae_, 50.

Person of Christ, The, 129 ff.

Pfleiderer, Otto, 40 n.

Philip, daughters of, 87.

Plummer, A., 8 n., 27, 29 n., 33, 34 f., 35, 37, 43, 44, 57 n., 63 n., 64,
            70, 121.

Pre‐existence of Christ, The, 130.

_Protevangelium Iacobi_, 49 n.

Q, 7, 21, 26 n., 123.

Ramsay, W. M., 32, 81, 81 n., 85, 87.

Resch, 15 n.

Resurrection of Christ, The, 4, 5, 5 n., 13, 13 n., 103, 125, 130.

Robinson, J. Armitage, 50 n.

Sanday, William, 1 f., 15 n., 16, 26, 27, 50 n., 85, 86 n., 89 n., 102 n.,
            105, 106 n., 107 n., 112.

Sanday and Headlam, 4, 5 n., 51.

Schmidt, N., 40 n.

Schmiedel, Paul W., 9 n., 10 n., 23, 24, 29, 32, 32 n., 35, 37 n., 40 n.,
            42, 43, 45, 55, 70, 97 f., 105, 106, 124.

Science, 127 f.

Scott, Ernest F., 15 n., 19, 19 n.

Second Adam, 3, 4 f.

Simeon, Prophecy of, 29, 73.

Sinaitic Syriac MS., 29, 32, 33, 105‐14.

Sinlessness of Jesus, 129.

Soltau, 124.

Spitta, 43 n.

St. Luke:
  did he teach the Virgin Birth? 48‐71.
  his knowledge of the Virgin Birth tradition, 13, 72‐4, 84 f., 87, 115.
  his revision of Lk. and Acts, 77, 80 ff., 81 n.
  his treatment of Mk., 77.
  the richness of his vocabulary, 63, 63 n.

St. Mark’s Gospel, 8‐12, 21, 87, 115, 123.
  date, 121.
  original ending, 12, 53, 68 n.

St. Paul, 3‐7, 21, 87, 115.

Stanton, Vincent H., 8 n., 40 n., 95 n., 118.

Sweet, Louis Matthews, 4, 4 n., 125, 130.

Tertullian, 15 n., 105, 113.

Text of the Gospels in the Second Century, 49 ff., 91 f., 99, 113.

Textual Problem of Mt. i. 16, 90 ff., 100, 105 ff.

Thayer‐Grimm, 35, 62 n., 65 n., 66.

Theophilus of Antioch, 1.

Third Gospel, 22‐47, 72‐87.
  birth tradition of Lk. i, ii, 73, 85 f.
  date, 118, 121.
  narratives of Lk. ii, 28 ff.
  purport of the angelic announcement (i. 30‐3), 36 ff.

Thompson, J. M., 7, 7 n., 8, 10, 10 n., 13 n., 18, 18 n., 36, 69, 70.

Trinitarian Theology, 130.

Usener, H., 9 n., 23, 25, 32 n., 40 n., 45, 55, 79, 124.

Verbal Inspiration, 76 f., 103, 122 f.

Virgin Birth tradition:
  alternative theories, 124 ff.
  apologetic and spiritual value, 133.
  doctrinal aspects, 127 ff.
  earliest date of public tradition, 117 ff.
  historical problem, 115‐33.
  theory of a private tradition, 119, 121, 128.

Völter, 40 n.

Weinel, 36, 69.

Weiss, J., 40 n.

Wellhausen, J., 7.

Wendland, 8 n.

Westcott, B. F., 15 n., 89 n., 108.

Westcott and Hort, 33 n., 57 n.

“Western” Readings, 24‐6, 32‐4, 33 n.

Wise Men, 95.

Zacharias, 43 f.

Zahn, Theodor, 15 n.

Zimmermann, 74 f., 75 n.

[Transcriber’s Note: Obvious printer’s errors have been corrected.]


    1 Dr. Orr (_The Virgin Birth of Christ_, 1907, 3rd ed., 1914) says
      that in every Pauline reference to the origin of Christ there is
      “some peculiarity of expression” (pp. 117 ff., 196). He instances
      γενόμενος in Gal. iv. 4, Rom. i. 3, Phil. ii. 7, and speaks of
      γεννητός as the word properly denoting “born”. But St. Paul never
      uses γεννητός, and Mt. xi. 11 and Lk. vii. 28 are the only instances
      in the NT. Moreover, the papyri show that γίνομαι and γενόμενος were
      in common use in the sense of “to come into being”, “be born” (cf.
      Moulton and Milligan, VGT., 1915, p. 126 a). Canon Box also speaks
      of St. Paul’s use of “the out‐of‐the‐way γενόμενον” (_The Virgin
      Birth of Jesus_, 1916). “This would harmonise”, he says, “with the
      feeling that there was something extraordinary and supernatural
      about the birth, which led to its being spoken of in unusual terms”
      (p. 149 n.). Not to speak of the papyri, what would these writers
      make of Jn. viii. 58, “Before Abraham was (πρὶν Ἀβραὰμ γενέσθαι) I
      am”? Was there “something extraordinary” in Abraham’s birth too? For
      a view similar to that of Orr and Box see Sweet, _The Birth and
      Infancy of Jesus Christ_, p. 237 f.

    2 Compare verse 12, “as through one man”, with verse 15, “the grace of
      the one man, Jesus Christ”. Cf. also Rom. ix. 5 (and 1 Tim. ii. 5).

    3 Cf. H. R. Mackintosh, _The Person of Jesus Christ_, p. 69: “... the
      passage [1 Cor. xv. 44‐9] is throughout concerned not in the least
      with the pre‐existent but with the exalted Christ. It was only in
      virtue of resurrection that He became the archetype and head of a
      new race.” Mackintosh says that the Virgin Birth is “not present” in
      Gal. iv. 4, “not even hinted at” (p. 528).

    4 “The flesh of Christ is ‘like’ ours inasmuch as it is flesh; ‘like’,
      and only ‘like’, because it is not sinful: _ostendit nos quidem
      habere carnem peccati, Filium vero Dei similitudinem habuisse carnis
      peccati, non carnem peccati_ (Orig.‐lat.)” (SH., ICC., Rom., p.

    5 For these and other details see Moffatt, INT., pp. 194‐206; also
      Harnack, _The Sayings of Jesus_, pp. 229‐52.

    6 Cf. Mt. xi. 2 f. = Lk. vii. 18 f.

    7 Cf. Mackintosh, _Person of Jesus Christ_, p. 528.

    8 Mr. Thompson thinks that in Q “we are dealing with an age that has
      not yet begun to think of the Virgin Birth” (ib., p. 140). This may
      be true, but it is not a legitimate inference to draw from Q alone.

    9 Cf. Plummer, ICC., St. Lk., p. 125.

   10 Mt. xiii. 55: “Is not this the carpenter’s son?...” Lk. iv. 22: “Is
      not this Joseph’s son?”

   11 So Wendland and Bacon (Moffatt, INT., p. 227 f.); Stanton, GHD., ii.
      142. Mt. xiii. 55 reads: “Is not this the carpenter’s son?”, and Lk.
      iv. 22: “Is not this Joseph’s son?” The argument is that it is very
      difficult to think that the later Evangelists can have read what is
      now Mk. vi. 3 in the Markan Source.

   12 “Mt. has substituted ‘the Son of the Carpenter’ for ‘the Carpenter’
      from a feeling that the latter was hardly a phrase of due reverence”
      (Allen, op. cit., p. 155).

   13 Both Schmiedel (EB., 2954 f.) and Usener (EB., 3345) hold that the
      incident excludes the Virgin Birth. In reference to the words of
      Jesus, J. M. Thompson says: “The force of His aphorism about
      spiritual kinship depends on the reality of the human kinship which
      He at once acknowledges and rejects” (op. cit., p. 137).

   14 So Schmiedel (op. cit., col. 2955). Thompson thinks that the story
      of Mk. vi. 1‐6 “could not possibly have been told as it has been, if
      the narrator had known anything about the Virgin Birth” (op. cit.,
      p. 138).

   15 Cf. Allen, ICC., St. Mt., p. xxiv (c) (i), where fifty examples of
      this tendency are given.

   16 “The speeches in the earlier part may represent not untrustworthily
      the primitive Jewish‐Christian preaching of the period” (Moffatt,
      INT., p. 305). Cf. Mackintosh, op. cit., p. 39.

   17 Mackintosh, ib., p. 40 f. “What absorbs the preacher is Jesus’
      deliverance from the grave and entry into glory”, p. 41.

   18 Mackintosh, ib., p. 41.

   19 For the opposite view see Thompson, op. cit., p. 142.

   20 It is true different verbs and tenses are used of the children and
      of the Son. The tense of μετέσχεν is explained by the fact that the
      Son assumed flesh and blood at a definite time now past. The change
      of verb—so far as it is not explained on stylistic grounds—is due to
      the fact that κεκοινώνηκεν (of the children) expresses the universal
      fact of human frailty which men share one with another, and μετέσχεν
      the individual entering upon this state. The latter word does not
      imply a participation of a peculiar and distinct kind.

   21 “In point of time, the Epistle to the Hebrews is the first
      systematic sketch of Christian theology” (Mackintosh, _Person of
      Jesus Christ_, p. 78). “It is not so much an epistle as an elaborate
      treatise” (Fairbairn, _Christ in Modern Theology_, p. 320).

   22 “Few would say, with Westcott, that virgin‐birth is implied though
      not explicitly asserted in Jn. i. 14....” (Mackintosh, ib., p. 528).

   23 The view that i. 13 should be read “Who was born, &c.”, is that of
      Resch, Blass, and Th. Zahn. The reading appears in Tertullian,
      Irenaeus, Justin, but the weight of textual authority is against it.
      Nor is the reading, as representing what the Evangelist wrote,
      intrinsically probable. It would rule out the maternity of Mary as
      well as the paternity of Joseph. The birth would not only be not “of
      the will of man”; it would not even be “of blood”. There would be
      nothing human about it; from first to last it would be “of God”. In
      short, the reading leads directly to that docetic view of the Person
      of Christ, against which the Johannine Writings so earnestly
      contend. The same objection may be urged against the view that, in
      the accepted text of Jn. i. 13, the Virgin Birth is present to the
      writer’s mind “as a kind of pattern or model of the birth of the
      children of God” (W. C. Allen, _Interpreter_, Oct., 1905. Cf. Orr,
      op. cit., p. 111 f.; Box, op. cit., p. 145). Would not the Fourth
      Evangelist have regarded such a comparison as almost a denial that
      Jesus Christ is come in the flesh? Harnack has recently contended
      for the singular and for a reference to the Virgin Birth. He thinks
      that the verse was added in the margin, as a comment on i. 14, at a
      very early time and in the Johannine circle (Peake, _Commentary on
      the Bible_, p. 747 a).

   24 Cf. Sanday, op. cit., pp. 71, 143‐55; Moffatt, INT., pp. 533 ff.; E.
      F. Scott, _The Fourth Gospel, Its Purpose and Theology_, pp. 32 ff.;
      Jülicher, INT., p. 396 f.

   25 iv. 44 (“For Jesus himself testified, that a prophet hath no honour
      in his own country”), unless it is a gloss, probably refers to
      Judaea, not Galilee. Cf. Moffatt, INT., p. 553. Mr. Thompson argues
      that it refers to Galilee (op. cit., p. 158).

   26 “In order to explain his silence, we must remember his strict
      exclusion of all that might imply a passivity in the divine Logos.
      It was by His own free act that the Son of God entered the world as
      man. The evangelist shrank from any theory of His origin that might
      impair the central idea of full activity, from the beginning of His
      work to the end” (Scott, ib., p. 187).

   27 According to Cheyne (_Bible Problems_, pp. 76 ff.), the chapter
      contains a Jewish Messianic legend of Babylonian origin, which was
      the source of the Virgin Birth tradition.

   28 The passage which begins with the words: “And Mary said unto the
      angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?”

   29 Or was taken from Q. See Harnack’s _Sayings_, p. 314; _Oxford
      Studies in Synoptic Problem_, p. 187.

   30 EB., col. 2955 n. Cf. Plummer, ICC., St. Lk., p. 63.

   31 In this connexion it should be observed that the same note of wonder
      appears in ii. 18 in the case of all those who hear the shepherds’
      words. But according to the terms of ii. 17, what _they_ are told is
      the angelic message of ii. 10‐12, in which the Virgin Birth is not
      mentioned. The presumption is that ii. 33 stands upon the same

   32 So among others Schmiedel, Usener, Häcker, and Blass, who writes
      (op. cit., p. 171 n.): “ ‘The espoused wife’ of the ordinary text is
      a very clear corruption, due to an assimilation to i. 27 (where the
      case is quite different) and to dogmatic prejudices ...” “That we
      have here a case of real contamination is seen very plainly in the
      old Freising MS., in which the ancient variants τῇ γυναικὶ αὐτοῦ and
      τῇ ἐμνηστευμένῃ αὐτῷ still stand together in immediate
      juxtaposition” (Usener, EB., col. 3350).

   33 On the agreement of the Old Syriac and Old Latin against the great
      uncials, cf. Kirsopp Lake (_The Text of the NT._, p. 90 f.),
      “Perhaps the general result is to make it probable that W. H.
      (largely from lack of evidence) underestimated the possibility that
      a consensus of the Old Latin and Old Syriac may give us a really
      primitive text even when opposed to the great uncials”. To similar
      effect Burkitt writes, “It is, however, in the direction here
      indicated—viz., the preservation of the true text in a considerable
      number of cases by ‘Western’ documents alone—that criticism may
      ultimately be able to advance beyond the point reached by Hort”
      (EB., col. 4990 f.). “I am unable to assume that the edition of
      Westcott and Hort gives us a final text in either Gospel [Mt. and
      Mk.]. In particular, I am inclined to believe that the second
      century readings, attested by the ecclesiastical writers of that
      century, and by the Syriac and Latin versions, are often deserving
      of preference” (W. C. Allen, ICC., St Mt., p. lxxxvii).

   34 “And Joseph ... took unto him his wife.”

   35 While we are unable to acquiesce in Schmiedel’s view that “Mary
      takes the words of the angel as referring to a fulfilment in the way
      of nature”, we may fairly say that, if the passage Lk. i. 30‐8 is a
      unity, Mary ought to have been represented as taking the angel’s
      words in this way, and that this would be the plain natural sense in
      which to take them.

   36 The claim, therefore, that the suggested translation is supported by
      the words “with haste” in verse 39 (Box) cannot be sustained.
      Moreover, these words are easily satisfied on the usual view of a
      promised conception. See further an article by the present writer in
      the _Expository Times_ (May, 1919), _Is the Lukan Narrative of the
      Birth of Christ a Prophecy?_ In l. 16 in the second column read: “It
      could _not_ be anything else”.

   37 E.g. Cheyne, Conybeare, Grill, Harnack, Hillmann, Holtzmann, Loisy,
      Montefiore, Pfleiderer, N. Schmidt, Schmiedel, Usener, Völter, J.
      Weiss. On the other side are Hilgenfeld, Clemen, Gunkel, Chase,
      Stanton, Orr, Box, Knowling.

   38 But see W. C. Allen, ICC., St. Mt., p. 10 and p. 19.

   39 Some scholars, including Häcker, Spitta, and Montefiore, bring
      verses 36, 37 within the interpolation. Schmiedel’s presentation of
      the argument stated above is as follows: “Moreover, the case of
      Elizabeth to which the angel points in v. 36 is no evidence of the
      possibility of a supernatural conception; it has evidential value
      only if what has happened to Elizabeth is more wonderful than what
      is being promised to Mary—namely that she, in the way of nature, is
      to become the mother of the Messiah” (EB., col. 2957).

   40 Schmiedel, op. cit., col. 2957. To the same effect J. Estlin
      Carpenter (op. cit., p. 487 f.). Compare Lk. i. 45 where Mary is
      praised for her faith, and see Moffatt, INT., p. 268 f.

   41 Cf. Lobstein, _The Virgin Birth of Christ_, p. 67.

   42 Cf. Moffatt (INT., p. 268 n.): “The substitution ... is too slender
      a basis, and may have been accidental, whilst the alleged omission
      of 34‐5 from the _Protevangelium Iacobi_ breaks down upon
      examination” (cf. Headlam’s discussion with Conybeare in the
      _Guardian_ for March‐April 1903).

   43 _The New Testament Documents, their Origin and early History_
      (Croall Lectures, 1911‐12). 1913.

   44 Cf. also Burkitt (GHT., p. 11): “... the text of the Gospels, the
      actual wording, and even to some extent the contents, were not
      treated during the second century with particular scrupulosity by
      the Christians who preserved and canonized them. There is nothing in
      the way which Christians treated the books of the New Testament
      during the first four centuries that corresponds with the care
      bestowed by the Jews upon the Hebrew Scriptures from the time of
      Aquiba onwards.” See also Blass, _Philology of the Gospels_, p. 72

   45 Cf. Sanday (_Inspiration_, 2nd Ed., pp. 295‐8): “Possessors of
      copies did not hesitate to add little items of tradition, often
      oral, and in some cases perhaps written, which reached them” (295).
      See also J. H. Moulton (_From Egyptian Rubbish Heaps_, pp. 97 ff.),
      and an article in the _Classical Review_ for March 1915 on “The
      Primitive Text of the Gospels and Acts”; J. A. Robinson, _Study of
      the Gospels_, p. 24 f.

   46 Cf. also Hawkins (HS., 2nd Ed., pp. 152 and 197), who instances
      “additions of various kinds which may be regarded as probably
      editorial” (p. 197) in the Second and Third Gospels. See also
      Moffatt (INT.), under heading “Glosses in NT. text”, p. 641, where
      references are given to cases treated in the body of the work.

   47 It may, however, have been accidentally lost. See Moffatt, INT., pp.
      238 ff, where the question is discussed.

   48 In this connexion it is important to remember that even early
      orthographic peculiarities have been accurately preserved. “I have
      been much struck by the number of cases in which the old uncials
      preserve spellings which can be proved current in the time of the
      autographs, but obsolete long before the fourth century. Faithful in
      minutiae, they might reasonably be expected to be faithful also in
      greater matters” (J. H. Moulton, in an article in the _Classical
      Review_, March, 1915, reprinted in _The Christian Religion in the
      Study and the Street_, 1919, p. 153). See also the _Prolegomena_,
      pp. 42‐56.

   49 The italics are ours.

   50 Plummer, ICC., St. Lk., pp. xlviii ff.; Harnack, _Luke the
      Physician_, p. 104 f.; Moffatt, INT., p. 278 f.; Hawkins, HS., 2nd
      Ed., pp. 15 ff.

   51 There is a well‐known difficulty of punctuation in verse 35. Ought
      we to put a comma, with WH., after κληθήσεται? If we do so, the
      subj. is τό γεννώμενον, and ἅγιον is part of the predicate. If we
      omit the comma, the whole phrase τὸ γεν. ἅγιον is the subj., and the
      pred. is κληθ. υἱὸς θ. (cf. RV. marg.). Most critical editors of the
      Greek text omit the comma. It is probable, as the WH. type shows,
      that Dr. Hort was influenced by his belief that ἅγιον κληθ. went
      together as a quotation or reminiscence of the OT., and, if the
      passage comes from St. Luke, this is a strong argument. On the other
      hand, it can be argued that if the words are a Greek rendering of an
      Aramaic phrase it is improbable, if not impossible, that the
      participle should stand alone as the subj. It is not possible, of
      course, to settle the question by appealing to manuscript authority,
      as the early MSS. were practically devoid of punctuation marks. In
      our own case, we are unable to use either of the arguments cited,
      since each rests upon the assumption of the Lukan origin of Lk. i.
      34 f., which is the very point we are discussing. While then we
      follow the WH. text we have to leave the question of punctuation an
      open one. If the comma should be omitted we lose the difficulty of
      τό γεννώμενον noted on p. 61, and we lose also the argument from its
      construction, sketched on p. 64.

      As, in the end, we claim that Lk. i. 34 f. comes from the hand of
      St. Luke, we may perhaps be permitted to express a personal
      preference for the WH. punctuation. St. Luke’s admitted fondness for
      OT. phraseology points strongly in this direction, while the theory
      of an original Aramaic document gains no increased support, but
      rather the contrary, as time goes by. On the one hand, Harnack has
      convincingly shown how much the Greek of Lk. i, ii owes to St.
      Luke’s craftsmanship (cf. _Luke the Phys._, pp. 102 ff.), and, on
      the other hand, the argument from “Semiticisms” becomes less cogent
      the more we know of the papyri (cf. Moulton, _Proleg._, pp. 13‐18.
      See also Gr. ii. 12‐20). Aramaic oral tradition may underlie cc. i,
      ii, but the probability is that the Greek of these chapters owes its
      OT. flavour to the more or less deliberate attempt of St. Luke to
      create an appropriate archaic atmosphere.

   52 The various computations are drawn from the _Concordance to the
      Greek Testament_ by Dr. W. F. Moulton and Dr. A. S. Geden. In the
      case of St. Luke’s Gospel words occurring in i. 34 f. are omitted.
      If these verses are Lukan, this underestimates the Lukan evidence.
      It would, however, be begging the question to include these verses
      in the present examination. Quotations and doubtful cases (except
      where mentioned) are also omitted.

   53 But cf. Dalman, _Words of Jesus_, p. 24, quoted by Moulton,
      _Proleg._, p. 131.

   54 Cf. _The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament_, by Moulton and
      Milligan, p. 65 a. See also the note at the foot of p. 131 in the
      _Prolegomena_: “This phrase ... occurs in the Semitic atmosphere

   55 εἶπεν πρός and εἷπεν δέ (see later) are both strongly characteristic
      of St. Luke’s style, but εἶπεν with the dative is also very
      frequent. Taking the two works together, εἶπεν πρός and εἶπεν with
      the dat. are almost equally common (εἶπ. w. dat. having the greater
      number of instances). In the G. the proportion of εἶπεν with the
      dat. to εἶπεν πρίς is 5 : 4. In Acts it is 4 : 5.

   56 The italics are his.

   57 Cf. Moulton and Milligan, p. 127 a.

   58 Cf. Harnack’s _Luke the Physician_, p. 104; Moulton, _Proleg._, p.

   59 So Thayer‐Grimm, p. 117, where it is pointed out that the same idiom
      appears in the Latin, in _cognoscere_, Ovid, _Met._ iv. 596.

   60 _v._ Moulton and Milligan, op. cit., p. 127 a.

   61 So L. T. WH. In both cases WH. give ἐπεί δέ in the margin.

   62 There are “261 words which occur in the New Testament only in the
      gospel of St. Luke” (Harnack, _Date of Acts_, p. 2). Plummer (ICC.,
      St. Lk., lii) speaks of 312 such words, but says that 52 are
      doubtful and 11 occur in quotations. Including Acts, according to
      Plummer, the number is 750 or (including doubtful cases) 851.

   63 P. 59.

   64 As in all these enumerations. See note on p. 58.

   65 Cf. Th‐Gr., p. 152 a, and for papyri, &c., Moulton and Milligan, op.
      cit., p. 163 b.

   66 Sir John C. Hawkins’s record of πρός (used of speaking to) is as
      follows (HS., 2nd Ed., p. 21): Mt. 0, Mk. 5, Lk. 99, Ac. 52, Paul 2,
      Jn. 19, rest of NT. 4. Thus for the Lukan writings the percentage is

   67 Moffatt’s remark (“The style of 34‐5 is fairly Lucan, though διό
      occurs only once in the third gospel and ἐπεί never”, INT., 269) is
      surely an understatement. As we have seen διό occurs eight times in

   68 See, however, p. 57 n.

   69 A good illustration of this point is found in the spurious ending to
      St. Mark’s Gospel. As Prof. E. P. Gould shows (ICC., St. Mk., pp.
      301‐4) out of 163 words 19 (or more than 11 per cent.) are not found
      elsewhere in the Gospel. They include such words as ἐκεῖνος (5
      times), πορεύομαι (3 times), θεάομαι (twice). There are also two
      unfamiliar expressions: τοῖς μετ᾽ αὐτοῦ γενομένοις (verse 10) and
      μετα (δὲ) ταῦτα.

   70 If we could accept the view that “seeing I know not a man” in verse
      34 is St. Luke’s only insertion, and that he wrote verse 35 from the
      first without thought of the Virgin Birth, his point of view would
      then be somewhat different. On this theory his thought would be that
      while born of Joseph and Mary the promised child was none the less
      supernaturally conceived. See p. 69 f.

   71 See later pp. 78‐84.

   72 Cf. V. H. Stanton (GHD., ii, p. 226 f.).

   73 As regards the remaining details of Zimmermann’s hypothesis, none of
      them is really necessary to our theory. We believe that what St.
      Luke actually wrote in ii. 5 was “with Mary his wife” (see pp. 32
      ff.). But his new information did not compel him to alter this to
      “with Mary who was betrothed to him”, though later readers thought
      the change was necessary. Nor was it required to alter i. 27. Even
      in the original narrative (i.e. on our theory, before i. 34 f. was
      added) the passage may have read as we have it now, the prophecy
      being regarded as uttered previous to marriage. There is no real
      need to regard “to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was
      Joseph” as an interpolation in the interests of the Virgin Birth,
      either (with Harnack) on the part of a redactor, or (with
      Zimmermann) on the part of St. Luke himself.

   74 Cf. _Ox. Studies in the Syn. Prob._, pp. 417, 420, where the Rev. N.
      P. Williams, M.A., suggests that certain passages in Mk. may be
      later insertions, made “possibly by St. Mark himself”.

   75 In Acts xvi. 19, 20 it is said that the owners of the demented girl
      “seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the agora before the
      magistrates”. The words which immediately follow are: “and bringing
      them to the presence of the praetors, they said....” Ramsay’s
      comment is: “The expression halts between the Greek form and the
      Latin ... as if the author had not quite made up his mind which he
      should employ.... It is hardly possible that a writer, whose
      expression is so concise, should have intended to leave in his text
      two clauses which say exactly the same thing” (_St. Paul_, p. 217
      f.). In reference to Acts xx. 4, 5, Ramsay writes: “In verse 4 we
      have probably a case like xvi. 19 f., in which the authority
      hesitated between two constructions, and left an unfinished sentence
      containing elements of two forms” (ib., p. 289). He adds that the
      sentence “perhaps never received the author’s final revision”.

   76 Cf. Loofs, _What is the Truth about Jesus Christ?_, p. 122.

   77 Speaking of the late appearance of the Virgin Birth tradition G. H.
      Box writes (op. cit., p. 137): “Its comparatively late appearance
      and primitive character can only be reconciled by the explanation
      that it is based upon facts which were for long treasured within a
      narrow circle in close contact with our Lord, and which were only
      gradually divulged to the Church.” Cf. also Sanday, _Outlines_, pp.
      193, 196.

   78 Cf. Burkitt, _The Gospel History and its Transmission_, pp. 260, 274

   79 Cf. Burkitt (_Evangelion Da‐Mepharreshe_, ii. 260); Moffatt (INT.,
      250); Box (_The Virgin Birth of Jesus_, p. 12); Sanday (_Outlines_,
      p. 201).

   80 So among others Westcott, Burkitt, Box, Allen, Barnard, A. J.
      Maclean, Moffatt.

   81 _Evan. Da‐Meph._, ii, p. 260. Cf. also Allen (ICC., St. Mt., p. 5);
      Box (ib., p. 14); Moffatt (ib., p. 251).

   82 “It is merely an embodiment, in genealogical form—a form specially
      calculated to appeal to Jewish readers—of the idea that Jesus
      belonged, through His relation to Joseph, to the royal family of
      David” (Box, ib., p. 15).

   83 See Appendix to present chapter.

   84 _The N. T. Documents, their Origin and early History_, p. 148. W. C.
      Allen (op. cit., p. lxxxv f.) seems to emphasize the more negative
      aspects of the writer’s style, but calls attention to phrases and
      constructions which are said to be “strikingly characteristic of the
      Gospel”. Cf. Moulton, _Gk. Gr._, ii, p. 29.

   85 Cf. Burkitt (GHT., p. 184 f.)

   86 Sir J. C. Hawkins points out (HS., 2nd Ed., p. 9) that the
      “characteristic” words and phrases of Mt. are “used considerably
      more freely in these two chapters than in the rest of the book”.

   87 ἀκριβόω, ἀκριβώς, ἀναιρέω, ἀνακάμπτω, βασιλεύω, βίβλος, γένεσις,
      γινώσκω (in sense used), δειγματίζω, δεκατέσσαρες, διετής, ἐπάν,
      θνήσκω, θυμόομαι, κατωτέρω, λάθρᾳ, λίβανος, μάγοι, μεθερμηνεύομαι,
      μετοικεσία, μνηστεύομαι, πυνθάνομαι, σμύρνα, συνέρχομαι, τελευτῄ,
      τίκτω, ὕπνος, χρηματίζω.

   88 i. 22 f., ii. 5 f., ii. 15, ii. 17 f., ii. 23, iii. 3, iv. 14 ff.,
      viii. 17, xii. 17‐21, xiii. 35, xxi. 4 f., xxvii. 9. Of these iii. 3
      differs somewhat from the rest, and ii. 23 cannot be identified with
      any single OT. passage.

   89 See especially Stanton (GHD., ii, p. 343); also Allen (op. cit., p.
      lxii) and Burkitt (GHT., pp. 124 ff.).

   90 Cf. Burkitt, op. cit., ii. p. 259; Box, op. cit., pp. 11, 19 ff.;
      Moffatt, INT., p. 259; Lake, _The Historical Evidence for the
      Resurrection of Jesus Christ_, pp. 178 ff.

   91 For the reference to Epiphanius see an article by F. C. Conybeare,
      HJ., i, p. 96. Conybeare’s main argument is drawn from the edition
      of the _Dialogue of Timothy and Aquila_, published by himself
      (1898). He thinks that the Dialogue “reflects an age when [Mt. i.
      18‐25] had already been introduced, but was not present in all the
      copies” (p. 100). If we accept the view advocated by F. C. Burkitt
      (_Evan. Da‐Meph._, ii. 265) this inference is not necessary. See
      Appendix to present chapter, p. 106.

   92 Γινώσκω (in sense used, but the phrase in which it occurs is
      probably an insertion, Burkitt, ib., ii, p. 261), δειγματίζω,
      μεθερμηνεύομαι, μνηστεύομαι, συνέρχομαι, ὕπνος.

   93 Ὄναρ, παραλαμβάνειν, πληροῦσθαι, ῥηθέν, φαίνεσθαι.

   94 “I cannot believe that any document underlies it. On the contrary, I
      believe it is the composition of the Evangelist himself” (Burkitt,
      _Evan. Da‐Meph._, ii, p. 260). Cf. also Allen (ICC., St. Mt., p. 5).

   95 Sanday (_Outlines_, p. 196) writes: “In regard to the Matthaean
      document we are in the dark. The curious gravitation of statement
      towards Joseph has a reason; but beyond this there is not much that
      we can say. It would not follow that the immediate source of the
      narrative was very near his person.”

   96 “In the historical judgement of the Gospels this distinction between
      facts and reflections has frequently to be remembered” (E. P. Gould,
      ICC., St. Mk., p. 37).

   97 See _The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ_,
      by Professor Kirsopp Lake.

   98 Unless otherwise stated further references to these writers are to
      the works cited above.

   99 Cf. also Moffatt, p. 251; Sanday (_Outlines_, p. 197); W. C. Allen,
      p. 8.

  100 “The reading of _S_ itself I have come to regard as nothing more
      than a paraphrase of the reading of the ‘Ferrar Group’, the Syriac
      translator taking ᾡ to refer to ἐγέννησεν as well as to
      μνηστευθεῖσα” (p. 263).

  101 The foregoing three alternatives are those noted by Dr. Sanday
      (_Outlines_, p. 199 f.), between which, he says, “the data do not
      allow us to decide absolutely”.

  102 Referring to the Evangelist the Jew objects: “He says begat out of
      Mary” (cf. Conybeare, HJ., vol. i, no. 1, p. 100).

  103 We ought to add that Allen leaves open the possibility that the
      parenthesis may be a later addition, and that the original text may
      have been “And Joseph begat Jesus”. “It seems probable ... that the
      text underlying S1 is the nearest approach now extant to the
      original Greek, and it must remain possible that even here the
      relative clause is an insertion” (p. 8).

  104 Cf. Jülicher, INT. (Eng. Tr.), p. 367: “In my opinion, both took up
      their pens more or less simultaneously, each unaware of the other’s
      work, and both actuated essentially by the same motive, i.e. that of
      bestowing a Gospel upon the Church which should be at once complete,
      and well adapted both to refute unjust accusations from outside and
      to edify the believers themselves.”

  105 This appears in the fact that the First Gospel implies, as we have
      seen, that the doctrine had already been known to its readers for
      some time.

  106 Cf. Usener to the same effect, EB., col. 3351.

  107 Cf. Loofs, _What is the Truth about Jesus Christ?_, p. 92 f.:
      “Legends arise much more quickly than is assumed by liberal theology
      since Strauss”.

  108 So Prof. Percy Gardner, quoted in _Faith and Freedom_, p. 168.

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