Part 1. The Virgin Birth of Christ: The Attack

By Professor James Orr, D. D. (1844 – 1913) 
United Free Church College, Glasgow, Scotland


It is well-known that the last ten or twenty years have been marked by a determined assault upon the truth of the Virgin birth of Christ. In the year 1892 a great controversy broke out in Germany, owing to the refusal of a pastor named Schrempf to use the Apostles’ Creed in baptism because of disbelief in this and other articles. Schrempf was deposed, and an agitation commenced against the doctrine of the Virgin birth which has grown in volume ever since. Other tendencies, especially the rise of an extremely radical school of historical criticism, added force to the negative movement. The attack is not confined, indeed, to the article of the Virgin birth. It affects the whole supernatural estimate of Christ-His life, His claims, His sinlessness, His miracles, His resurrection from the dead. But the Virgin birth is assailed with special vehemence, because it is supposed that the evidence for this miracle is more easily got rid of than the evidence for public facts, such as the resurrection. The result is that in very many quarters the Virgin birth of Christ is openly treated as a fable. Belief in it is scouted as unworthy of the twentieth century intelligence. The methods of the oldest opponents of Christianity are revived, and it is likened to the Greek and Roman stories, coarse and vile, of heroes who had gods for their fathers. A special point is made of the silence of Paul, and of the other writings of the New Testament, on this alleged wonder.

The Unhappiest Feature

It is not only, however, in the circles of unbelief that the Virgin birth is discredited; in the church itself the habit is spreading of casting doubt upon the fact, or at least of regarding it as no essential part of Christian faith. This is the unhappiest feature in this unhappy controversy. Till recently no one dreamed of denying that, in the sincere profession of Christianity, this article, which has stood from the beginning in the forefront of all the great creeds of Christendom, was included. Now it is different. The truth and value of the article of the Virgin birth are challenged. The article, it is affirmed, did not belong to the earliest Christian tradition, and the evidence for it is not strong. Therefore, let it drop.


The Company It Keeps

From the side of criticism, science, mythology, history and comparative religion, assault is thus made on the article long so dear to the hearts of Christians and rightly deemed by them so vital to their faith For loud as is the voice of denial, one fact must strike every careful observer of the conflict, among those who reject the Virgin birth of the Lord few will be found –I do not know any –who take in other respects an adequate view of the Person and work of the Saviour.

It is surprising how clearly the line of division here reveals itself. My statement publicly made and printed has never been confuted, that those who accept a full doctrine of the incarnation . . . that is, of a true entrance of the eternal Son of God into our nature for the purposes of man’s salvation-with hardly an exception accept with it the doctrine of the Virgin birth of Christ, while those who repudiate or deny this article of faith either hold a lowered view of Christ’s Person, or, more commonly, reject His supernatural claims altogether. It will not be questioned, at any rate, that the great bulk of the opponents of the Virgin birth-those who are conspicuous by writing against it-are in the latter class.

A Cavil Answered

This really is an answer to the cavil often heard that, whether true or not, that the Virgin birth is not of essential importance. It is not essential, it is urged, to Christ’s sinlessness, for that would have been secured equally though Christ had been born of two parents. And it is not essential to the incarnation. A hazardous thing, surely, for erring mortals to judge of what was and was not essential in so stupendous an event as the bringing in of the “first-begotten” into the world! But the Christian instinct has ever penetrated deeper. Rejection of the Virgin birth seldom, if ever, goes by itself. As the late Prof. A. B. Bruce said, with denial of the Virgin birth is apt to go denial of the virgin life. The incarnation is felt by those who think seriously to involve a miracle in Christ’s earthly origin. This will become clearer as we advance.


Meet the author and part of your Christian Heritage:  James Orr (1844–6 September 1913) was a Scottish Presbyterian minister and professor of church history and then theology. He was an influential defender of evangelical doctrine and a contributor to The Fundamentals.

Orr was born in Glasgow and spent his childhood in Manchester and Leeds. He was orphaned and became an apprentice bookbinder, but went on to enter Glasgow University in 1865. In 1870, he obtained an M.A. in Philosophy of Mind, and after graduating from the theological college of the Presbyterian Church, he was ordained a minister in Hawick. In 1885 he received a D.D. from Glasgow University, and in the early 1890s delivered a series of lectures that later became the influential The Christian View of God and the World. He was appointed professor of Church history in 1891 at the theological college of the United Presbyterian Church. He was one of the primary promoters of the union of the United Presbyterian Church with the Free Church of Scotland, and he represented the United Presbyterians in the unification talks. After they joined in 1900, he moved to Free Church College (now Trinity College), as professor of apologetics and theology. He lectured widely in both Britain and the United States.

Orr was a vocal critic of theological liberalism (of Albrecht Ritschl especially) and helped establish Christian fundamentalism. His lectures and writings upheld the doctrines of the virgin birth and resurrection of Jesus, and the infallibility of the Bible. In contrast to modern fundamentalists and his friend B.B. Warfield, he did not agree with the stronger position of Biblical inerrancy. Like Warfield, but also unlike modern Christian fundamentalists, he advocated a position which he called “theistic evolution”, but which would today be called progressive creationism.

Character excerpts taken from Wikipedia

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