In the works of Celsus recorded by Origen, Celsus tells of a Jew he obtained certain information from concerning the possibility that Mary was impregnated by a solider named Panthera. In addition the Talmud records an individual named Jesus ben Pandera or Pandira. Does this affirm that the Jews knew who Jesus’ biological father was? Did non-Christian Jewish residents of the Levant know something the Christians did not concerning Jesus? If anything wouldn’t the Christians that knew Jesus in the first century have a better opportunity to determine whether Jesus had a biological father or not? Thanks.
I think it would be fair to say that this story, as recorded by Origen in his book “Against Celsus” does not prove anything with regard to the virgin birth. I would say that, although it does not really prove much of anything, I believe it provides strong support for two things:
1. It was recognized in the second century by pagans that Christians believed in the virgin birth. This was not something written into the scriptures at a later date.
2. It is evidence that the church in the late second century was not hiding from the issues, but was discussing them in fairly open forums.
It is extremely unlikely that non-Christian Jews would have known anything about Jesus that Christians did not know. If they had such negative information, surely they would have mentioned it to the church! More likely, this story by Celsus was one created in order to explain away the story of the virgin birth. Of course, an open mind will consider the possibility that the Christians were biased about the story they were told. It is reasonable to ask about the possibility that the Christians in the second century were able to accept claims about Jesus without testing them carefully to see if they were true. What is less likely is that Christians in the first century would have swallowed a story about Jesus which was simply not true. There were still many hundreds of eye-witnesses to the ministry of Jesus who would not have easily been hoodwinked about the biography of Jesus. If we can establish that the gospels were written in the first century, then what Celsus or Origen thought about the New Testament accounts in the second half of the second century is of lesser importance to the veracity of the New Testament accounts. The fact that the story of the virgin birth entered into one of the gospels in the first century, when hundreds of people who actually knew Jesus and Mary were still alive is more important information than what Celsus or Origen thought more than one hundred years later.
Here is the bottom line as I see it. Of all the miracles recorded in the New Testament, we can argue that the one with the least amount of “proof” is the virgin birth. We have as witness and testimony principally the word of Mary herself. The other miracles in the New Testament had many eye-witnesses. Personally, I believe in the virgin birth, but I believe this more because of the character of Jesus (and of Mary) and because I believe in the inspiration of the Bible than because of any historical evidence or supportive eye-witnesses. (I would also add as a contributing reason to believe the birth was from a virgin the fact that it was prophesied in the Old Testament in Isaiah 7:14, but this too is relatively indirect evidence) The “evidence” for the virgin birth is not a significant part of the reason I believe the Bible is reliable and in fact my belief that the Bible is reliable is probably the chief reason I believe in the virgin birth.