OK, since I have at least one reader (hello Chris!) I'll write a post about an issue that has been niggling me for some time, although I must say at the outset that I really haven't made up my mind on this issue one way or the other.
The Virgin Birth - did it happen? why did it happen?
This is one of the 'fundamental' things that most evangelical, charismatic and conservative Christians believe and probably never question. I only began to question it when I realised that there is very little about it at all in the bible. Matthew and Luke mention it, more or less in passing, and that's it. The other two gospel writers either didn't know about it or didn't think it was worth including. Paul and the other epistle writers make no mention of it.
Of course, Isaiah mentions a virgin birth in 7:14, but reading that in the context of the surrounding verses in Isaiah does not necessarily point to the messiah.
If Jesus's disciples knew that he was born of a virgin, then that astounding miracle would surely have been mentioned in the earliest gospel - Mark. If John knew it, surely he would have mentioned it in his gospel - which has the agenda of demonstrating that Jesus was the Son of God. Likewise, given how much he wrote about the divinity of Jesus, it is astounding that Paul doesn't mention it.
This suggests to me that the disciples knew nothing about this story in the early days of the church. Sometime later (perhaps when the "Q" document entered circulation) the story became known and it became part of the gospel when Matthew and Luke wrote their accounts. If this is the case, it doesn't inspire me with confidence in the story. What if the writer of "Q" simply added it because he thought the Isaiah passage was referring to Jesus, therefore he must have been born of a virgin?
Some argue that if there wasn't an immaculate conception, then Jesus would be the illegitimate son of Mary and Joseph, and surely God wouldn't have His Son born of a sinful union. But the flaw in this reasoning is that the only evidence we have that Mary and Joseph weren't married at the time of Jesus's conception comes from the same passages that speak of the virgin birth. If the virgin birth is questionable, surely the other parts of the same story are equally questionable?
Immaculate conception is not a Christian concept - it was a common feature of many stories of Greek and Roman gods and was used, among other things, to explain why the vestal 'virgins' sometimes got pregnant. In other words, in pagan stories, the 'son of god' is born by means of immaculate conception, perhaps this bit of pagan belief has become grafted onto the Christian story - Jesus is the Son of God, therefore he must have had an immaculate conception.
I'm really not sure, the jury is still out on this one.