A Sketch Of The Early History Of The Dogma Of The Virgin Birth -- By: Horace Marion Ramsey

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 073:291 (Jul 1916)
Article: A Sketch Of The Early History Of The Dogma Of The Virgin Birth
Author: Horace Marion Ramsey


A Sketch Of The Early History Of The Dogma Of The Virgin Birth

Horace Marion Ramsey

This paper and the scope of its treatment are due to a casual reading of two chapters of a book published by Apple-ton and Company in 1913, “The Life of Jesus in the Light of the Higher Criticism,” by Alfred W. Martin, A.B, S.T.B., Associate Leader of the Society for Ethical Culture, New York City. As to the value of the book as a whole I am not competent to speak, for I have read only 71 of its 280 pages. The chapters I did read dealt with the Higher Criticism and the Virgin Birth. The style of learning displayed is, it seems to me, about that of the average university extension lecture when the subject involves some theological matter.

The easy-going discussion of a difficult subject in the chapter on the Virgin Birth is an example of much in popular literature which passes for liberality of mind. I wish to review that chapter in the light of higher criticism. If I had to choose a text for my endeavor, I would turn to page 18, to these words, “Foremost among living New Testament critics is Adolf Harnack, recently transferred from his chair in the University of Berlin to the Royal Library.” Not, of

course, that the writings of Harnack confirm a belief in the doctrine, but that the grounds on which Martin rejects it are incompatible with some of the most characteristic positions of Harnack in criticism.

Incidentally, I hope to give a positive, if slight, statement of the lines on which the evidence for this doctrine must be sought, and to discuss briefly the assertions, so frequently made, that in the period under treatment many heroes and leaders were thought to be virgin-born, and that the religious mind was so saturated with this conception of the origin of the great that the rise of the birth stories in the canonical Gospels is to be attributed to this mental condition.

The sensitiveness of the very modern mind to the dogma must, in large part, be ascribed to Harnack. In 1892 he published “Das Apostolische Glaubensbekenntniss,” dealing with the creed in a more or less popular way. It contained little or nothing that was new to the scholars, but it was a trumpet blast to the general public, arousing the popular mind in much the same way as Delitzsch’s “Babel und Bibel” did at a somewhat later day. The little book stirred up a great controversy in Germany, and passed through twenty-five editions in the course of a year. In England, a year after its publication, it appeared in English dress in the Nineteenth Century. In the preface, the translator, Mrs. Humphry Ward, presented it to the public as the work of a free Protestant science. The preface was pro...

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