Redefining the Virgin Birth: Mormonism on the Natural Conception of Jesus
Compiled by Bill McKeever and Aaron Shafovaloff
You might think that the Mormon people celebrate Christmas like a good Christian denomination would. But a doctrinal issue broods over the Mormon people, a historic issue that prevents many Mormons from appreciating the Christian meaning of Christmas. Indeed, it is an issue that prevents many Mormons from having a saving relationship with the real Jesus Christ. Just who is that Jesus in the manger? How was he conceived? And what kind of salvation does he freely offer to those who want eternal life and the forgiveness of sins?
One of the fundamental tenets of Christianity is that Christ was born of a virgin. The Bible teaches that though she had not yet had physical intercourse with a man, Mary miraculously conceived and bore a son. Mormons insist that they believe in the "virgin birth", yet many of them have described it in a way far removed from what Christians have believed for two millennia. While individual Mormons are divided over this issue, to this day the Mormon Church has no unequivocal official position on whether the immortal Heavenly Father had sexual intercourse with his mortal spirit-daughter Mary to conceive Jesus.
Mormon apostle Bruce McConkie, in perhaps the most explicit denial of the virgin birth, wrote,
"Christ was begotten by an immortal Father in the same way that mortal men are begotten by mortal fathers." (Mormon Doctrine, 1966, p. 547)
You might ask, "How can Mormons who believe this say that Christ was born of a virgin?" This is done by changing the definition of the word "virgin". The virgin Mary did not have sexual relations with a mortal man, they say, but instead was impregnated by an immortal man. Bruce McConkie wrote,
"Our Lord is the only mortal person ever born to a virgin, because he is the only person who ever had an immortal Father." (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed., p. 822)
When one considers that Mormonism teaches that every human born on earth is a literal spirit child of God, the concept that Jesus was conceived in a natural manner becomes even more blasphemous. Why? Because it means the Jesus of Mormonism was conceived in an incestuous union between Heavenly Father and his spirit-daughter Mary.
Mormons today are divided over this issue. While some deny that the traditional LDS concept of "virgin" is anything different than the traditional Christian understanding, others find it necessary to state that the Church takes no official position on the "mechanics" of the conception of Christ. Robert Millet, who is seen as the champion of progressive BYU neo-orthodoxy, writes:
"While Latter-day Saints clearly believe that Jesus is the Son of God the Father, there is no authoritative doctrinal statement within Mormonism that explains how the conception of Jesus was accomplished," (Another Jesus? The Christ of the Latter-day Saints, p. 74)
Others simply prefer the more traditional Mormon position. Kevin Barney, who is associated with the LDS group Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research, writes that he likes the idea of the sexual generation of Jesus. In a post titled, "The Sexual Geneatinon of Jesus", Kevin writes:
"My usual tack when asked about it is to point out that the idea is not now and never was doctrine; it was a speculation. It is not binding on anyone, and in fact my impression is that it has become very much a minority view in the Church, and that most Mormons do not accept this characterization of the physical generation of the mortal Jesus.
I will confess, however, that I actually like this idea. Maybe it is because I have a streak of old fashioned Mormonism somewhere inside me. But I find it appealing on several levels. First, there is a certain naturalism to the idea. 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.
I also find it fascinating that people see this idea as being so totally offensive. To me, that speaks not only to our radically different conception of God and man as being of the same species, our literalist notion of divine paternalism and our radical materialism, but also to our Puritan heritage. If it is so disgusting to suggest God sired a son by sexual intercourse, why, I wonder, did God ordain that to be the natural method by which we conceive our own children? Is that just some sort of a cosmic joke? Does God sit in yonder heavens and look down on his creatures and laugh at their disgusting and dirty and ridiculous actions? Isn’t it possible that, if God ordained sexual intercourse as the means by which we create children, that it is divinely appointed and not disgusting or dirty at all?
I freely concede that the old fashioned Mormon speculators didn’t think all the way through this idea, and there are theological loose ends, to be sure. But I am curious: does anyone else here kind of like this old notion, or is it Mormon materialism run amuck?"
To be sure, sexual intercourse in the right context is not disgusting or dirty at all. It is the means that God ordained for children to be begotten, and for a married couple to enjoy love and intimacy. What Kevin Barney and other Mormons fail to realize is that this is an act ordained by God to happen between humans, not between God and a human woman.
One Mormon writes,
“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.”
This issue needs to be exposed, and not merely because Mormons have made alarming public statements. I personally have good Mormon friends who believe God the Father had sexual interourse with Mary. Others will say that they don't know how it happened, leaving open the possibility. I believe this way of thinking is primarily fostered by the Mormon worldview, which says that God the Father is fundamentally of the human species, and has a body of flesh and bones. God cannot create matter out of nothing, they say, and must carry out his purposes in ways that conform to natural laws. And Jesus Christ is the "only begotten Son of God", they say, because God is the literal father of his body. Not all Mormons follow this line of thinking to a belief in the sexual generation of Jesus, but it is still a problem within Mormonism.
We call upon the Mormon Church to publicly and unequivocally renounce the past teachings of Mormon leaders concerning this issue, and to repent of not having a clear official position concerning the nature of the virginity of Mary. We also call upon Mormons to repent of belonging to an religious organization where a denial of the virgin birth is condoned or acqueisced to.
The truth of the virgin birth of Jesus Christ as understood by Christians for two millenia is far too precious to warrant anything less. We encourage Christians to lovingly question and challenge their Mormon neighbors over this issue. True repentance demands that a person be willing to embrace the Jesus Christ who was truly born of a virgin.
The supernatural birth of Jesus Christ identifies him as the Messiah, God's only son. Jesus Christ is Lord. He commands everyone to repent and trust him for the free gift of eternal life and forgiveness of sins. Everyone who calls upon his name will be saved.
I pray that this message finds you well this holiday season, and I wish you a Merry Christmas!
"The Father came down and begat him, the same as we do now..." (The Complete Discourses of Brigham Young, vol. 1, p. 321; February 16, 1849, Salt Lake City)
"When the Virgin Mary conceived the child Jesus, the Father had begotten him in his own likeness. He was not begotten by the Holy Ghost... Jesus, our elder brother, was begotten in the flesh by the same character that was in the garden of Eden, and who is our Father in Heaven... Now, remember from this time forth, and for ever, that Jesus Christ was not begotten by the Holy Ghost. I will repeat a little anecdote. I was in conversation with a certain learned professor upon this subject, when I replied, to this idea if the Son was begotten by the Holy Ghost, it would be very dangerous to baptize and confirm females, and give the Holy Ghost to them, lest he should beget children, and be palmed upon the Elders by the people, bringing the Elders into great difficulties." (Journal of Discourses, vol. 1, pp. 50, 51)
"I believe the Father came down from heaven, as the Apostles said he did, and begat the Saviour of the world; for he is the only-begotten of the Father, which could not be if the Father did not actually beget him in person." (Journal of Discourses, vol. 1, p. 238)
"When the time came that His first-born, the Saviour, should come into the world and take a tabernacle, the Father came Himself and favoured that spirit with a tabernacle instead of letting any other man do it. The Saviour was begotten by the Father of His spirit, by the same Being who is the Father of our spirits, and that is all the organic difference between Jesus Christ and you and me." (Journal of Discourses, vol. 4, p. 218; taught to students by BYU-Idaho professor Ronald Dean Anderson)
"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." (Journal of Discourses, vol. 8, p. 115)
"God has made His children like Himself to stand erect, and has endowed them with intelligence and power and dominion over all His works, and given them the same attributes which He himself possesses. He created man, as we create our children; for there is no other process of creation in heaven, on the earth, in the earth, or under the earth, or in all the eternities, that is, that were, or that ever will be." (Journal of Discourses, vol. 11, pp. 122-123)
"The man Joseph, the husband of Mary, did not, that we know of, have more than one wife, but Mary the wife of Joseph had another husband. On this account infidels have called the Savior a bastard. This is merely a human opinion upon one of the inscrutable doings of the Almighty. That very babe that was cradled in the manger, was begotten, not by Joseph, the husband of Mary, but by another Being. Do you inquire by whom? He was begotten by God our heavenly Father. This answer may suffice you---you need never inquire more upon that point." (Journal of Discourses, vol. 11, p. 268)
Heber C. Kimball
"In relation to the way in which I look upon the works of God and his creatures, I will say that I was naturally begotten; so was my father, and also my Saviour Jesus Christ. According to the Scriptures, he is the first begotten of his father in the flesh, and there was nothing unnatural about it." (Journal of Discourses, 8:211)
"God, the Father of our spirits, became the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh. Hence, the Father saith concerning him, 'Thou are my Son, this day have I begotten thee.' We are informed in the first chapter of Luke, that Mary was chosen by the Father as a choice virgin, through whom He begat Jesus. The angel said unto the Virgin Mary, 'The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore, also, that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.' After the power of the Highest had overshadowed Mary, and she had by that means conceived, she related the circumstance to her cousin Elizabeth in the following words: 'He that is Mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is His name.' It seems from this relation that the Holy Ghost accompanied 'the Highest' when He overshadowed the Virgin Mary and begat Jesus; and from this circumstance some have supposed that the body of Jesus was begotten of the Holy Ghost without the instrumentality of the immediate presence of the Father. 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. There were millions of sons and daughters who he begat before the foundation of this world, but they were spirits, and not bodies of flesh and bones; whereas, both the spirit and body of Jesus were begotten by the Father---the spirit having been begotten in heaven many ages before the tabernacle was begotten upon the earth.
"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; we use the term lawful Wife, because it would be blasphemous in the highest degree to say that He overshadowed her or begat the Savior unlawfully. It would have been unlawful for any man to have interfered with Mary, who was already espoused to Joseph; for such a heinous crime would have subjected both the guilty parties to death, according to the law of Moses. But God having created all men and women, had the most perfect right to do with His own creation, according to His holy will and pleasure: He had a lawful right to overshadow the Virgin Mary in the capacity of a husband, and beget a Son, although she was espoused to another; for the law which He gave to govern men and women was not intended to govern Himself, or to prescribe rules for His own conduct. It was also lawful in Him, after having thus dealt with Mary, to give her to Joseph her espoused husband. Whether God the Father gave Mary to Joseph for time only, or for time and eternity, we are not informed. Inasmuch as God was the first husband to her, it may be that He only gave her to be the wife of Joseph while in the mortal state, and that He intended after the resurrection to again take her as one of his own wives to raise up immortal spirits in eternity.
"As God the Father begat the fleshly body of Jesus, so He, before the world began, begat his spirit. As the body required an earthly Mother, so his spirit required a heavenly Mother. As God associated in the capacity of a husband with the earthly mother, so likewise he associated in the same capacity with the heavenly one; earthly things being in the likeness of heavenly things; and that which is temporal being in the likeness of that which is eternal; or, in other words, the laws of generation upon the earth are after the order of the laws of generation in heaven" (The Seer, pp. 158-9; cf. B. H. Roberts, Defense of the Faith and the Saints, vol 2, p. 270)
"We have now clearly shown that God the Father had a plurality of wives, one or more being in eternity, by whom He begat our spirits as well as the spirit of Jesus His First Born, and another being upon the earth by whom He begat the tabernacle of Jesus, as His Only Begotten in this world." (The Seer, pp. 172-3)
First Presidency Statement
"Jesus Christ is the Son of Elohim both as spiritual and bodily offspring; that is to say, Elohim is literally the Father of the spirit of Jesus Christ and also of the body in which Jesus Christ performed His mission in the flesh, and which body died on the cross and was afterward taken up by the process of resurrection, and is now the immortalized tabernacle of the eternal spirit of our Lord and Savior. No extended explanation of the title 'Son of God' as applied to Jesus Christ appears necessary." ("The Father and The Son; A Doctrinal Exposition by The First Presidency and The Twelve", pamphlet published by the Church, June 30, 1916; quoted in Improvement Era 19:934-942, August, 1916; quoted in Liahona, the Elders' Journal 21:380-384, March 25, 1924; quoted in The Articles of Faith, by James Talmage, pp. 466-7; quoted in Jesus the Christ, 12th ed., by James Talmage, pp. 465-47; quoted in Teachings Of Presidents Of The Church: Joseph F. Smith, p. 353; quoted in Christ and the New Covenant: The Messianic Message of the Book of Mormon, by Jeffrey R. Holland, p. 360; quoted in Church History and Modern Revelation, by Joseph Fielding Smith, vol. 2, p. 160; quoted Man, His Origin and Destiny, by Joseph Fielding Smith, p. 119; quoted in God the Father, compiled by Gordon Allred, p. 150)
"[Jesus Christ] was willing to make payment because of his great love for mankind, and he was able to make payment because he lived a sinless life and because he was actually, literally, biologically the Son of God in the flesh" (Messages for Exaltation: Eternal Insights from the Book of Mormon, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Sunday School Union, 1967), pp. 378-379).
"God the Father became the literal father of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the only person on earth to be born of a mortal mother and an immortal father." (Gospel Principles, 1997 ed., p. 57)
In a "classic sermon delivered by President Joseph F. Smith at the Box Elder Stake conference of December 20, 1914, as recorded in the Box Elder News of January 28, 1915" (Hoyt W. Brewster, Jr., Doctrine and Covenants Encyclopedia, p. 398; cf. Messages of the First Presidency 4:330), he taught:
"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. The Christian denominations believe that Christ was begotten not of God but of the spirit that overshadowed his mother. This is nonsense. Why will not the world receive the truth? Why will they not believe the Father when he says that Jesus Christ is His only begotten Son? Why will they try to explain this truth away and make mystery of it? ...
"Now, little boys and girls, when you are confronted by infidels in the world who know nothing of how Christ was begotten, you can say he was born just as the infidel was begotten and born, so was Christ begotten by his Father, who is also our Father---the Father of our spirits---and he was born of his mother Mary.
"The difference between Jesus Christ and other men is this: Our fathers in the flesh are mortal men, who are subject unto death; but the Father of Jesus Christ in the flesh is the God of Heaven. Therefore Jesus, as he declared, received the power of life from his Father and was never subject unto death but had life in himself as his father had life in himself. Because of this power he overcame death and the grave and became master of the resurrection and the means of salvation to us all.
"Shall we as Latter-day Saints deny the truth and then claim that God made man in his likeness in the beginning? Shall we come under the impression that God possesses the power of creation, and yet did not literally create? He is not without his companion any more than I am without my companion, the mother of my children...
"Now, by and by you will be able to understand this far better than you can today. Some of us grandparents find it difficult to conceive the truth we want to think of something marvelous. We want to try to make it appear that God does not do things in the right way, or that he has another way of doing things than what we know, we must come down to the simple fact that God Almighty was the Father of His Son Jesus Christ. Mary, the virgin girl, who had never known mortal man, was his mother. God by her begot His son Jesus Christ, and He was born into the world with power and intelligence like that of His Father...
"Now, my little friends, I will repeat again in words as simple as I can, and you talk to your parents about it, that God, the Eternal Father is literally the father of Jesus Christ.
"Mary was married to Joseph for time. No man could take her for eternity because she belonged to the Father of her divine Son. In the revelation that has come thru Joseph Smith, we learn that it is the eternal purpose of God that man and woman should be joined together by the power of God here on earth for time and eternity."
An official LDS Church manual (Family Home Evening Manual, 1972) quoted from Joseph F. Smith under the heading "A Modern Prophet's Answer" and included this picture on page 126:
The same manual carried the above illustration showing the figure of aman, woman, and child. On page 126 LDS parents are told they should usethis to explain to their children “how Jesus was the only begotten Son of God.” Daddy plus Mommy equals you; Heavenly Father plus Mary equals Jesus.
Joseph F. Smith
"Mary, the virgin girl, who had never known mortal man, was his mother." (Box Elder Stake conference of December 20, 1914)
Ezra Taft Benson
"I am bold to say to you... 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, p. 7; cf. Come unto Christ, p. 4; cf. "Five Marks of the Divinity of Jesus Christ", Ensign, Dec. 2001, 8).
Joseph Fielding Smith
"Christ Not Begotten of Holy Ghost... Christ was begotten of God. He was not born without the aid of Man, and that Man was God!" (Doctrines of Salvation, Joseph Fielding Smith, 1954, 1:18).
"We belong to the Church of Jesus Christ, and much has been said concerning His proprietorship, His mastership, in the Church, the Church that bears His name. I take it to be a plain and simple principle that we cannot worship intelligently, and therefore acceptably unto the Lord, unless we know something of the attributes and of the will of Him whom we profess to worship. The relationship of the Christ to the Eternal Father has been set forth in such plainness that I do not think any wayfaring man amongst us can fail to understand. We recognize in Jesus Christ the Son of the Eternal Father, both in spirit and in body. There is no other meaning to attach to that expression, as used by the Eternal Father Himself---'Mine Only Begotten Son.' Christ combined within His own person and nature the attributes of His mortal mother, and just as truly the attributes of His immortal Sire. By that fixed and inexorable law of nature, that every living organism shall follow after his kind, Jesus the Christ had the power to die, for He was the offspring of a mortal woman; and He had the power to withstand death indefinitely, for He was the son of an immortal Father. This simplicity of doctrine has shocked many, but the truth is frequently shocking just because of its simplicity and consequent grandeur." (Conference Report, April 1915, p. 121)
Notice that the following Talmage quote is in currently used CES Institute manuals (official Church curriculum):
"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 through mortal maternity, was of right to be called the 'Son of the Highest'" (James Talmage, Jesus the Christ, 23rd ed., p. 81; quoted in Doctrines of the Gospel Student Manual: Religion 231-232, p. 9; quoted in The Life and Teachings of Jesus and His Apostles [New Testament Student Manual: Religion 211–212], p. 24)
Melvin J. Ballard
The contemporary of Talmage, Mormon apostle, and grandfather of M. Russell Ballard wrote:
"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. Joseph Smith made it perfectly clear that Jesus Christ told the absolute truth, as did those who testify concerning him, the Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ, wherein he is declared to be the very Son of God. And if God the Eternal Father is not the real Father of Jesus Christ, then are we in confusion; then is he not in reality the Son of God. But we declare that he is the Only Begotten of the Father in the flesh.
"Mary told the story most beautifully when she said that an angel of the Lord came to her and told her that she had found favor in the sight of God, and had come to be worthy of the fulfilment of the promises heretofore made, to become the virgin mother of the Redeemer of the world. She afterwards, referring to the event, said: 'God hath done wonderful things unto me.' 'And the Holy Ghost came upon her,' is the story, 'and she came into the presence of the highest.' 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 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." (Deseret News, 23 Dec 1923; Sermons and Missionary Services of Melvin J. Ballard, 166-167; Crusader for Righteousness, 144; taught to students by BYU-Idaho professor Robert L. Marrott)
This quote is particularly challenging to those Mormons who suggest that Mary could have been "naturally" impregnated via artificial insemination. When the wicked hire prostitutes, are they abusing the power and harping pleasure out of artificial insemination? No, of course not. When Ballard says, "that power may be abused and may become a mere harp of pleasure to the wicked", he is speaking of sexual intercourse, a "divine function with which God has endowed man." This is of course why he addresses men who think "it degrades our Father". As with the majority of other quotes by Mormon leaders on this topic, human artificial insemination would have been unknown to the author at the time. Why choose a stretched and anachronistic reading when a plain and natural interpretation is available?
In addition to the quote mentioned at the beginning of this article, McConkie also said:
"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 the same way that mortal men are begotten by mortal fathers." (Mormon Doctrine, 1979, pages 546-47)
"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." (The Promised Messiah: The First Coming of Christ, p. 466)"Mary was a virgin... until after the birth of our Lord. Then, for the first time, she was known by Joseph, her husband; and other children, both sons and daughters, were then born to her. (Matt. 13:55-56; Mark 6:3; Gal. 1:19.) She conceived and brought forth her Firstborn Son while yet a virgin because the Father of that child was an immortal personage." (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, vol. 1, p. 82)
"God the Father is a perfected, glorified, holy Man, an immortal Personage. And Christ was born into the world as the literal Son of this Holy Being; he was born in the same personal, real, and literal sense that any mortal son is born to a mortal father. There is nothing figurative about his paternity; he was begotten, conceived and born in the normal and natural course of events, for he is the Son of God, and that designation means what it says." (Mormon Doctrine, 1966, p. 742)
"Our Lord is the only mortal person ever born to a virgin, because he is the only person who ever had an immortal Father. Mary, his mother, 'was carried away in the Spirit' (1 Ne. 11:13-21), was 'overshadowed' by the Holy Ghost, and the conception which took place 'by the power of the Holy Ghost' resulted in the bringing forth of the literal and personal Son of God the Father. (Alma 7:10; 2 Ne. 17:14; Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:18-25; Luke 1:26-38.) Christ is not the Son of the Holy Ghost, but of the Father. (Doctrines of Salvation, vol. 1, pp. 18-20.) Modernistic teachings denying the virgin birth are utterly and completely apostate and false." (Mormon Doctrine, 1966, p. 822)
Some mistakenly argue that this last sentence proves McConkie affirmed a more traditional notion of the virgin birth. Modernism held that Mary had sexual intercourse with a mortal man, probably Joseph, and allegorized the virgin birth account away as mythological. McConkie's response was not to say that Mary never had sex, but rather to say, "Our Lord is the only mortal person ever born to a virgin, because he is the only person who ever had an immortal Father." McConkie's reaction to the modernistic tendency to make the account figurative was to argue that the event was very "literal".
"What does it mean to believe in Christ? It means to accept him as the Son of God in the literal and full sense of the word. It means to believe that God is his Father in the same sense that all mortal men have fathers." (The Promised Messiah: The First Coming of Christ, p. 294)
"The Father had a Son, a natural Son, his own literal Seed, the Offspring of his body." (The Promised Messiah: The First Coming of Christ, p. 355)"The great God, the Eternal Elohim, the Father of us all, ... in his love, mercy, and grace condescended to step down from his Almighty throne, to step down to a lesser and benighted state, as it were, and become the Father of a Son 'after the manner of the flesh.' ... This then is the condescension of God-that a God should beget a man; that an Immortal Parent should father a mortal Son; that the Creator of all things from the beginning should step down from his high state of exaltation and be, for a moment, like one of the creatures of his creating... We have spoken plainly of our Lord's conception in the womb of Mary; in reality the plain assertions are found in the revealed word, and we have but certified that the words mean what they say and cannot be spiritualized away. And as it is with reference to our Lord's mother, so it is as pertaining to his Father. The scriptures say that Jesus Christ is the Only Begotten Son. The problem is that the intellectually led ministry and laity of the day assume, as Satan leads them to do, that a name-title of this sort is simply figurative and does not have the same literal meaning as when the words are spoken in ordinary conversation. Perhaps again the best service we can render, on the issue here involved, is somehow to get the message across that words mean what they say, and that if Christ is the Only Begotten of the Father, it means just that.
"Some words scarcely need definition. They are on every tongue and are spoken by every voice. The very existence of intelligent beings presupposes and requires their constant use. Two such words are father and son. Their meaning is known to all, and to define them is but to repeat them. Thus: A son is a son is a son, and a father is a father is a father. I am the son of my father and the father of my sons. They are my sons because they were begotten by me, were conceived by their mother, and came forth from her womb to breathe the breath of mortal life, to dwell for a time and a season among other mortal men.
"And so it is with the Eternal Father and the mortal birth of the Eternal Son. The Father is a Father is a Father; he is not a spirit essence or nothingness to which the name Father is figuratively applied. And the Son is a Son is a Son; he is not some transient emanation from a divine essence, but a literal, living offspring of an actual Father. God is the Father; Christ is the Son. The one begat the other. Mary provided the womb from which the Spirit Jehovah came forth, tabernacles in clay, as all men are, to dwell among his fellow spirits whose births were brought to pass in like manner. There is no need to spiritualize away the plain meaning of the scriptures. There is nothing figurative or hidden or beyond comprehension in our Lord's coming into mortality. He is the Son of God in the same sense and way that we are the sons of mortal fathers. It is just that simple. Christ was born of Mary. He is the Son of God-the Only begotten of the Father." (The Promised Messiah: The First Coming of Christ, pp. 467-8)
"And so, in the final analysis it is the faithful saints, those who have testimonies of the truth and divinity of this great latter-day work, who declare our Lord's generation to the world. Their testimony is that Mary's son is God's Son; that he was conceived and begotten in the normal way; that he took upon himself mortality by the natural birth processes; that he inherited the power of mortality from his mother and the power of immortality from his Father-in consequence of all of which he was able to work out the infinite and eternal atonement." (The Promised Messiah: The First Coming of Christ, p. 473)
"Without overstepping the bounds of propriety by saying more than is appropriate, let us say this: God the Almighty, who once dwelt on an earth of his own and has now ascended the throne of eternal power to reign in everlasting glory; who has a glorified and exalted body, a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man's; who reigns in equity and justice over the endless billions of his spirit children who inhabit the worlds without number that roll into being at his word---God the Almighty, who is infinite and eternal, elects, in his fathomless wisdom, to beget a Son, an Only Son, the Only Begotten in the flesh. God, who is infinite and immortal, condescends to step down from his throne, to join with one who is finite and mortal in bringing forth, ‘after the manner of the flesh,' the Mortal Messiah." (The Mortal Messiah: From Bethlehem to Calvary, pp. 314-315)
"This offspring was to be himself almighty-God's Almighty Son. How and by what means and through whose instrumentality does such a conception come? Gabriel explains: ‘The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing [better that holy child] which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.’ Again the answer is perfect. There is a power beyond man's. When God is involved, he uses his minister, the Holy Ghost, to overshadow the future mother and to carry her away in the Spirit. She shall conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost, and God himself shall be the sire. It is his Son of whom Gabriel is speaking. A son is begotten by a father: whether on earth or in heaven it is the same." (The Mortal Messiah: From Bethlehem to Calvary, pp. 318-319)
"As far as this life is concerned, [Jesus] was born of Mary and of Elohim; he came here as an offspring of that Holy Man who is literally our Father in heaven. He was born in mortality in the literal and full sense as the Son of God. He is the Son of his Father in the same sense that all mortals are the sons and daughters of their fathers." (The Mortal Messiah: From Bethlehem to Calvary, p. 330)
"The Father had a Son, a natural Son, his own literal Seed, the Offspring of his body." (The Promised Messiah: The First Coming of Christ, p. 355)
"There is no need to spiritualize away the plain meaning of the scriptures. There is nothing figurative or hidden or beyond comprehension in our Lord's coming into mortality. He is the Son of God in the same sense and way that we are the sons of mortal fathers. It is just that simple." (The Promised Messiah: The First Coming of Christ, p. 468)
"Only Begotten Son. Only Begotten in the flesh, meaning in mortality. This designation of our Lord signifies that he was begotten by Man of Holiness as literally as any mortal father begets a son. The natural processes of procreation were involved; Jesus was begotten by his Father as literally as he was conceived by his mother." (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary 1:144)
"The express image of his person. What more need be said? God the Eternal Father is the Father; the Son of God is the Son. A father is a father, and a son is a son. The Father begets; the Son is begotten; they are Parent and Child; Sire and Son look alike, so much so that they are the express image of each other's persons. The substance composing the body of one is identical in appearance to that composing the body of the other. What could be plainer? . . . Begotten. Begotten means begotten; it means Christ's mortal body was procreated by an Eternal Sire; it means God is the Father of Christ, 'after the manner of the flesh.'" (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary 3:138-141)
Some argue that, for McConkie, the"natural" means by which Christ was conceived was an abnormal spiritual "equivalent" to sex on earth, but not actually identical to the normal way we know children to be begotten. Miracles, as it goes, conform to "higher natural laws" which are "unknown to us" (cf. Miracles, by Michael Ash). While it is true that miracles in Mormonism are regarded as conforming to natural laws, it does not follow that McConkie viewed the conception of Christ as having been accomplished in a spiritually equivalent way that is "unknown to us". When all his writings on the subject are considered, McConkie is overwhelmingly clear that "natural processes of procreation" were involved that were "normal" and "real" and "literal" and "personal" and not "figurative or hidden or beyond comprehension". Rather than speaking of the conception of Christ as something roughly equivalent to how we know children to be normally begotten, he teaches that "Christ was begotten by an Immortal Father in the same way that mortal men are begotten by mortal fathers." He even felt the need to say he did not want to "[overstep] the bounds of propriety by saying more than isappropriate". Furthermore, he taught that God the Father "condescend[ed] to step down from histhrone, to join with one who is finite and mortal", and that he "step[ped] down to a lesser and benighted state, as it were, and become the Father of a Son 'after the manner of the flesh.'"
Harold B. Lee
Harold B. Lee, who was second most senior apostle after President McKay and President Smith, addressed the issue of some who seemed to be "obsessed" with the conception of Christ, and responds that there is "very little" on this issue about which "the Lord has said", and that we should "wait until He sees fit to tell us more":
"Teachers should not speculate on the manner of Christ's birth. We are very much concerned that some of our Church teachers seem to be obsessed of the idea of teaching doctrine which cannot be substantiated and making comments beyond what the Lord has actually said.
"You asked about the birth of the Savior. Never have I talked about sexual intercourse between Deity and the mother of the Savior. If teachers were wise in speaking of this matter about which the Lord has said but very little, they would rest their discussion on this subject with merely the words which are recorded on this subject in Luke 1:34-35: 'Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.'
"Remember that the being who was brought about by [Mary's] conception was a divine personage. We need not question His method to accomplish His purposes. Perhaps we would do well to remember the words of Isaiah 55:8-9: 'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.' Let the Lord rest His case with this declaration and wait until He sees fit to tell us more." (The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, ed. Clyde J. Williams (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1996), 13–14)
"He is the Son of God, literally, actually, as men are the sons of mortal parents.." (What the Mormons Think of Christ, a pamphlet published by the LDS Church, p. 44)
"If our Father in heaven is an exalted being-I just want to knock one little principle that is taught around the world that I cannot believe-then he has the capacity and the ability of accomplishing and doing anything that any mortal can do. I cannot believe this doctrine that is taught universally of an immaculate conception of Christ, that Christ was born from an immaculate conception. There is no such thing possible. Jesus Christ was the literal Son of God the Father by his spirit body and also by his physical body. The difference between Christ and us is that he had the same Father for his spirit body that he had for his physical body. But He had a mortal mother on earth. The scriptures say that she was overshadowed by the Holy Ghost. (See Luke 1:35.) Of course there had to be some means of making this possible while she was still in mortality. Further details are not necessary, but Christ himself declared all his life that he was the Son of God, and he meant it" (Eldred G. Smith (Patriarch to the Church), March 10, 1964, BYU Speeches of the Year, 1964, p.8).
"Mormons differ from other Christians in our literal belief that we are begotten of God spiritually and that Christ was begotten of him physically. Paul says in Acts that we are God's offspring (17:28-29). We believe that our spiritual conception was sexual just as we believe that Christ's mortal conception was. Elucidating on the latter, James E. Talmage says, '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' (1986, 81)" (Robert A. Rees, “Bearing our Crosses Gracefully: Sex and the Single Mormon,” Dialogue, vol. 24, no. 4, p.99).
"The official doctrine of the Church is that Jesus is the literal offspring of God. He’s got 46 chromosomes; 23 came from Mary, 23 came from God the eternal Father" (BYU Professor Stephen E. Robinson, The Mormon Puzzle, produced by the Southern Baptist Convention, 1997).
"We will ignore the fact that these scattered nineteenth-century speculations were never canonized by the Mormon Church, and that no comparable statements occur in Latter-day Saint scripture. We will pass over the unfairness of holding Mormons to statements that they and their own leaders have never deemed authoritative or binding (and we will deprive ourselves of the great entertainment that would ensue were we to call our Protestant critics to account for every speculation advanced by their pastors and reformers of the past five centuries). We will ignore the fact that the New Testament is not specific about the mechanism of Jesus' conception. We will decline to notice the fact that some denunciations of Mormonism seem to betray a Neoplatonic and gnosticizing disdain for the material cosmos, a discomfort with the body and with sexuality that is utterly foreign to the Bible.
"Is it not relevant that Mormonism resolutely proclaims the divine Sonship of Jesus? The speculations that most incense the critics are simply literalistic interpretations of the divine paternity alluded to in the title, 'Son of God.' While certain early Mormon leaders may occasionally have reinterpreted the concept of 'virgin birth,' they never for a moment suggested that Jesus was begotten by a mortal man, nor that his father was any other personage than God.
"On the other hand, history is replete with such groups as the ancient Ebionites and the modern Unitarians, to whom both scholarly and common usage refer as Christian, who nonetheless reject the Virgin Birth and deny the divinity of Christ. How can those groups be described as Christian, and the Mormons not?" - Daniel C. Peterson, and Stephen D. Ricks, Is Mormonism Christian? An Investigation of Definitions, part 3
What's the Big Deal?
God became a man and did manly things, like eat, drink, breathe, sleep, learned, relieved himself, suffered, etc. Change the scenario: What if the claim was that Jesus had sexual relations with a woman? The problem with that would *not* be that sex is degrading. The problem would have more to do with the nature of marriage, etc. (cf. Ben Witherington's arguments in "The Gospel Code: Novel Claims About Jesus, Mary Magdalene and Da Vinci").
Deity is not humanity. In order to do any human things, God either had to appear as a man, or permanently become a man. The Father chose toJesus be the "image of the invisible God" (Colossians 1:15). "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1:14) "No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared [or exegeted] Him." (1:18)
The problem with Mormonism saying that God had sex with Mary is that it comes from a worldview that says divinity isn't so different from humanity. The whole point of the virgin conception is that it is the event where God added an entirely different nature to himself: humanity. God became a man. The ironic, pagan heresy of Mormonism's suggestion that God had sex with Mary is that it collapses the God/man divide and reverses the larger narrative: man became a God.
- Why Mormons do not worship Mary, by Tresa Edmunds -- "The idea of God having physical sex with Mary is repugnant at best and blasphemous at worst to many Christians, but to the early leaders of the LDS church this idea was not only common sense but a sacred act... The imagination of modern Mormons are a little more grossed out by this speculation than those of our ancestors. The thought of a heavenly father having physical sex with one of his children is disturbing, no matter how sex-positive you are. As a result, we rarely explore this line of thought among ourselves, usually only talking about it when an anti-Mormon confronts us with the theory."