The PostBarthian

Wolfhart Pannenberg on rejecting the Virgin Birth and Affirming the Apostles Creed

Wolfhart Pannenberg

Wolfhart Pannenberg

Wolfhart Pannenberg is famous for seconding Emil Brunner's rejection of the Virgin Birth as a late accretion into the New Testament. The question immediately arises, "How can anyone reject a statement in the Apostles' Creed?" The short answer is that Pannenberg affirms the Apostles' Creed, but with some revision in what the words mean. Here is a quotation from Pannenberg on how he understand the Apostles' Creed in light of how he believes that the Virgin Birth contradicts the Preexistence of the Son. Pannenberg makes a provocative statement that to maintain the Virgin Birth, then all the Mariology of the Catholic Church is legitimized.

Pannenberg's book, "Jesus: God and Man" has an extended section containing his criticisms of the Virgin Birth in pages 141-150, but here's a selection specifically on the Apostles' Creed:

"Theology cannot maintain the idea of Jesus’ virgin birth as a miraculous fact to be postulated at the origin of his earthly life. To that extent it is problematic that the virgin birth found entry into the Apostles’ Creed. Certainly, the concept has in the creed as well as in the Christological conflicts of the patristic church two functions that dogmatically cannot be given up but that can be handled more adequately in another way.

In the first place, we have the antiadoptionistic thought that Jesus had been what he is from the beginning as God’s work alone. This is expressed in the phrase “conceived by the Holy Spirit” in the Apostles’ Creed. Equally relinquishable is the antidocetic point of view in the phrase “of the Virgin Mary” that Jesus’ origin, his birth, was a truly human event. This latter interest, along with the concern for the proof from Scripture for Jesus’ birth, dominated the theological presentations in the first centuries after Ignatius. Only for the sake of this twofold antidocetic and antiadoptionistic tendency is it tolerable for our contemporary judgment that the virgin birth has its place in the liturgical confession of the church. As a theologoumenon it cannot, however, be counted as an ultimate expression of the theological concern safeguarded in it, for historical as well as for dogmatic reasons. There is the contradiction of preexistence which the patristic church apparently did not notice. In addition, the interest of patristic theology in the virgin birth as an especially “conclusive” proof for the validity of the Old Testament prophecy no longer has any weight for us, since we know that the concept has nothing to do with the literal meaning of the Hebrew text, Isa. 7:14. Nevertheless, because the intention of the creed’s formulations is to be sought precisely in their antidocetic and antiadoptionistic function, the creed, even with the formulation “conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary,” can be confessed in worship without abandoning truthfulness. The repetition of a confession of the church is certainly something different from the statement of faith of an individual. Whoever joins in the confession of the church confesses the unity of Christianity through time by placing himself in the context of the intentions expressed in the formulations, even where the mode of expression must be perceived as inappropriate. We must also maintain the continuity with the antidocetic and antiadoptionistic function of the formulation in the Apostles’ Creed. Nevertheless, theologically we shall find this intention expressed better by the concept of the incarnation than through that of the virgin birth”

-Wolfhart Pannenberg, “Jesus: God and Man”, pg 149-150

Posted by Wyatt

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  1. No one today should believe that virgins magically have babies, that humans walk on water, or that dead men walk out of their graves to eat broiled fish sandwiches with their former fishing buddies. The whole Christian story is superstitious nonsense.

    If there is a Creator, he/she/it gave us a brain. Let’s use it! Trust in reason and science, not in the tall tales of ancient holy books.

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