This post is a response to Aaron Shafovaloff over at Mormon Coffee. If you go to enjoy the lights on Temple Square, you are likely to see him striking up gospel conversations.
From viewing Aaron’s video of himself witnessing at Temple Square I’m getting the feeling that he wants us to believe that if something is miraculous, it has to be completely incomprehensible. But he doesn’t realize that concept doesn’t appeal to us. Mormons are likely to say that God does not defy law, but he works through physical laws, a fundamental principle of the universe. This in no way impedes our awe or sense of the wonder of Christmastime or the birth of the Savior.
A primary purpose of Joseph Smith’s vision in the grove was to reveal an embodied God. This conception of Deity has been vital to our doctrine from the early days of the Church to this day. Thomas S. Monson taught:
“This loving God who introduced his crucified and resurrected Son was not a God lacking in body, parts, or passions the God of a man-made philosophy. Rather, God our Father has ears with which to hear our prayers. He has eyes with which to see our actions. He has a mouth with which to speak to us. He has a heart with which to feel compassion and love. He is real. He is living. We are his children made in his image. We look like him and he looks like us.” (Conference Report, April 1966, p.63)
But if we believe in an embodied God, we have to think about what this might imply, including the mechanics of how Mary was impregnated. Aaron and other Christian evangelicals are bothered that LDS leaders have taught that the seed of our Father in Heaven produced Jesus Christ in a literal, physical fashion. The Bible teaches that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Ghost, but the Book of Mormon clarifies that this was done by the power of the Holy Ghost, after the manner of the flesh.
There is no doubt that the idea of physical relations between God and Mary has been clearly advocated in the Church by such authorities as Brigham Young , Orson Pratt , Heber C. Kimball , Joseph F. Smith, , Joseph Fielding Smith , James E. Talmage , Melvin J. Ballard , J. Reuben Clark , Bruce R. McConkie , and Ezra Taft Benson . Mormons believe that Christ was literally the Son of God in the flesh, and he was conceived in a natural, physical way according to eternal law. In explaining this, the aforementioned leaders gave their views on how it was accomplished. Despite this, many members do not agree, are unaware of the idea, or prefer not to discuss it. It is certainly understandable that some feel it is a sacred subject. Some feel that it is merely speculation which does not affect the LDS doctrinal position on the nature of Christ. Others find it distasteful because it conjures up issues of celestial polygamy or spiritual incest. There are those who would like to skirt the issue by postulating that Mary may have been impregnated by some means such as artificial insemination. But I see no reason, if God has a body and parts, that he would not use his parts.
Several contemporary Mormon writers are willing to accept the conception of Christ through a physical relationship. Kevin Barney finds the idea appealing:
“I presume the mortal Jesus had 46 chromosomes, and that 23 came from Mary, but where did the other 23 come from? As a Mormon, I’m not big on the idea that they were created ex nihilo for this specific purpose. I like being able to say that Jesus really did have a father, not in a metaphorical sense only (the language of begetting in the creeds doesn’t mean literal begetting), but in a physical sense. He really was the Son of God.”
For those of us who are willing to entertain the notion of a physical conception, how do we explain the “Virgin Birth” spoken of in the scriptures? There are several possibilities.
1. The word in the Bible translated as “virgin” actually means “young woman.”
An introduction to this controversy can be found here. Having studied the linguistics carefully, I believe there is merit to the argument that the Hebrew word “almah” in Isaiah 7:14 (Behold, a virgin shall conceive) was used for “young woman” and not specifically “virgin.” The word used in the New Testament passages to describe Mary as a virgin, “parthenos,” can also mean young woman (damsel), as in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament), when it refers to Dinah after she was raped. This explanation fits with the teachings of Church leaders that God the Father was the literal father of Jesus according to the flesh.
This argument is weakened by the fact that Mary is referred to as a virgin five times in 1 Nephi and once in Alma. Since we do not have the original language version of the Book of Mormon to refer to, we must take the English as it stands.
Additionally, General Authorities have insisted that our beliefs are consistent with Mary being a virgin. Therefore, some have conjectured:
2. Mary was a virgin because she did not have relations with a man, but with a God.
“One of the great questions that I have referred to that the world is concerned about, and is in confusion over, is as to whether or not his was a virgin birth, a birth wherein divine power interceded.” (Melvin J. Ballard)
Our Lord is the only mortal person ever born to a virgin because he is the only person who ever had an immortal Father. (Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrines of Salvation, vol. 1, pp. 1820.) “For our present purposes, suffice it to say that our Lord was born of a virgin, which is fitting and proper, and also natural, since the Father of the Child was an immortal Being” (BRM, The Promised Messiah, pg. 466).
Although God has a physical body, the reasoning goes, it was glorified and perfected. Since the Being who impregnated Mary had a Divine nature, she was not changed in the way she would have been had she had intercourse with an earthly, fallen man with a human nature.
NOW, We’ve discussed the fun, speculative stuff, let’s get to the IMPORTANT, ESSENTIAL stuff:
- Who does the Bible say is the father of the incarnate Jesus (God), and how was it accomplished? (by the power of the Holy Ghost) (Luke 1:35) Do Mormon teachings fit with this statement?
- (This is the big one in my opinion): If we concede the Evangelical teachings on how one obtains salvation, how does knowing whether or not God actually had sex with Mary pertain?
So, Aaron, what’s holding Evangelical Christians back from singing Christmas carols with us on Temple Square? Why is our commemoration of Jesus’ birth less valuable than yours if we believe that sexual intercourse is divine? What better way could there be to create a being who is fully human and fully God?
”The birth of the Saviour was as natural as are the births of our children; it was the result of natural action. He partook of flesh and blood—was begotten of his Father, as we were of our fathers,” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, v. 8, p. 115).
 “There is no doubt that the Holy Ghost came upon Mary to sanctify her, and make her holy, and prepare her to endure the glorious presence of “the Highest’, that when ‘He’ should ‘overshadow’ her she might conceive, being filled with the Holy Ghost; hence the angel said, as recorded in Matthew, ‘That which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost;’ that is, the Holy Ghost gave her strength to abide in the presence of the Father without being consumed, but it was the personage of the Father who begat the body of Jesus; and for this reason Jesus is called ‘the Only Begotten of the Father;’ that is, the only one in this world whose fleshly body was begotten by the Father…The fleshly body of Jesus required a Mother as well as a Father. Therefore, the Father and Mother of Jesus, according to the flesh, must have been associated together in the capacity of Husband and Wife; hence the Virgin Mary must have been, for the time being, the lawful wife of God the Father..” (Orson Pratt, The Seer, page 158)
 “I will say that I was naturally begotten; so was my father, and also my Savior Jesus Christ. According to the Scriptures, he is the first begotten of his father in the flesh, and there was nothing unnatural about it. (Heber C. Kimball, Journal of Discourses, 8:211)
 “I want the little folks [children] to hear what I am going to tell you. I am going to tell you a simple truth, yet it is one of the greatest truths and one of the most simple facts ever revealed to the children of men. You all know that your fathers are indeed your fathers and that your mothers are indeed your mothers – you all know that don’t you? You cannot deny it. Now, we are told in scriptures that Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of God in the flesh. Well, now for the benefit of the older ones, how are children begotten? I answer just as Jesus Christ was begotten of his father…Now my little friends, I will repeat again in words as simple as I can, and you ask your parents about it, that God, the Eternal Father, is literally the father of Jesus Christ.” (Joseph F. Smith, Box Elder Stake Conference Dec 20, 1914 as quoted in Brigham City Box Elder News, 28 Jan, 1915, pp.1-2. see also Family Home Evening [Manual], copyright 1972 by Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, pages 125-126).
”The birth of the Savior was a natural occurrence unattended with any degree of mysticism, and the Father God was the literal parent of Jesus in the flesh as well as in the spirit,” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Religious Truths Defined, p. 44)
 “The only instance of offspring from woman dissociated from mortal fatherhood is the birth of Jesus the Christ, who was the earthly Son of a mortal mother, begotten by an immortal Father. He is the Only Begotten of the Eternal Father in the flesh, and was born of woman.” (James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ, Ch.5, p.43)
 “No man or woman can live in mortality and survive the presence of the Highest except by the sustaining power of the Holy Ghost. So it came upon her [Mary] to prepare her for admittance into the divine presence, and the power of the Highest, who is the Father, was present, and overshadowed her, and the holy Child that was born of her was called the Son of God. Men who deny this, or who think that it degrades our Father, have no true conception of the sacredness of the most marvelous power with which God has endowed mortal men—the power of creation. Even though that power may be abused and may become a mere harp of pleasure to the wicked, nevertheless it is the most sacred and holy and divine function with which God has endowed man. Made holy, it is retained by the Father of us all, and in his exercise of that great and marvelous creative power and function, he did not debase himself, degrade himself, nor debauch his daughter. Thus Christ became the literal Son of a divine Father, and no one else was worthy to be his father.” (Sermons and Missionary Services of Melvin J. Ballard, p. 167)
 “That Child to be born of Mary was begotten of Elohim, the Eternal Father, not in violation of natural law but in accordance with a higher manifestation thereof; and, the offspring from that association of supreme sanctity, celestial Sireship, and pure though mortal maternity, was of right to be called the “Son of the Highest.” In His nature would be combined the powers of Godhood with the capacity and possibilities of mortality; and this through the ordinary operation of the fundamental law of heredity, declared of God, demonstrated by science, and admitted by philosophy, that living beings shall propagate — after their kind.” (J. Reuben Clark, Jr., Behold the Lamb of God, p.356)
 “These name-titles all signify that our Lord is the only Son of the Father in the flesh. Each of the words is to be understood literally. Only means only, begotten means begotten, and Son means son. Christ was begotten by an Immortal Father in He same way that mortal men are begotten by mortal fathers.” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 546)
 “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints proclaims that Jesus Christ is the Son of God in the most literal sense. The body in which He performed His mission in the flesh was sired by that same Holy Being we worship as God, our Eternal Father. Jesus was not the son of Joseph, nor was He begotten by the Holy Ghost” (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, pg.7)