Few beliefs in the Christian tradition are as controversial as that of the virgin birth. The doctrine is derived from the “nativity narratives” in the gospels of Luke and Matthew, which recount that the young Jewish maiden Mary conceives Jesus not through human agency but through the Holy Spirit. The teaching appears nowhere else in the New Testament, and even these two accounts have some divergent details. But both evangelists—and consequently official church teaching—agree on this divine miracle of Jesus’s birth.

It’s a right peculiar doctrine with a long and complex history in the church, and it provokes a range of responses among contemporary believers. On the one hand, the virgin birth is deemed a fundamental of Christian faith (as defined in the early twentieth-century manifestos of “fundamentalism”)—on par with the resurrection, the divinity of Christ, and the saving nature of the cross. At...

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