The Apostles' Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism
by Ben Myers
I really enjoyed Ben Myers’s The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism. The subtitle is apt. As a “guide” it captures precisely the book’s scope where each chapter (just a few pages) is devoted to a single line (or word) from the creed. And yet it is packed with biblically creative and historically rich insights. I learned a great deal from this little book. It would make be an excellent devotional or a nice supplement to the much longer offering by Mike Bird, What Christians Ought to Believe: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine Through the Apostles’ Creed (see my review here).
Rather than highlight contents from every chapter, I want to mention a few things from one line that caught my attention and especially inspired me.
“Born of the Virgin Mary”
After noting that this line has been neglected in many circles today, Myers says it does “stretch credulity” if taken in isolation (p 50). However, just as a bicycle chain makes little sense to those who’ve never seen a bicycle, the notion of a virgin birth comes to life when placed in the larger biblical story where, surprisingly, miraculous childbirths were not so unusual.
Take Abraham and Sarah, for instance. Elderly in years, it hardly seemed possible to become new parents. But God’s redemptive story unfolds through promise and, despite Sarah’s skeptic snicker (Genesis 18:12-15), Isaac is born (Genesis 21). Then we have Jacob, his twelve sons after him, and ultimately an entire nation emerges known as Israel.
Next we learn of God’s providential preservation of his nation Israel through the “miraculous” protection of the baby Moses (Exodus 2). As most know, Moses went on to become the source of new life in a new land with new liberties for God’s people.
Having settled into the promised land and before a proper government was in place through the establishment of kings, God’s people were governed by judges, one of whom was Samson. As the story goes (Judges 13), Samson’s mother was unable to conceive until (you guessed it) God’s redemptive story unfolds. The legacy of Israel is preserved by Samson who becomes a savior of sorts through his heroic victory over Israel’s oppressor, the Philistines.
Israel’s prophets were inaugurated by yet another miraculous birth. Hannah was unable to conceive until the Lord intervened and Samuel was born (1 Samuel 1). An entire line of prophets arose who went on to endorse, anoint, and hold to account Israel’s kings. All of this was set into motion through the miraculous birth of Samuel because God “remembered” Hannah and opened her womb so she could conceive (1 Samuel 1:19-20).
Even Isaiah compares the promise of God’s deliverance to a miraculous birth (Isaiah 54). The exiled Israel, likened to a desolate woman unable to bear children, is given hope of a large family. She will find compassion from her Redeemer through miraculous delivery out of captivity.
Tying everything together, Myers eloquently shows the importance of God’s redemptive story through childbirth:
It is not hard to see why pregnancy and childbirth played such an important role in the history of God’s covenant with Israel. God's overarching plan is to bring blessing to all the nations through the descendants of Abraham. If ever the Hebrew women ceased to bear children, the promise would have failed: the whole world would be lost. Pregnancy and childbirth are the means by which God's promise makes its way through the crooked course of history. Every newborn child is a reminder of the promise….
The confession that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin isn't just a bit of theological eccentricity. It's not a random miracle story. It's a reminder that our faith has deep roots in Israel's story and Israel's Scriptures. The coming of the Savior wasn't just a new thing. It was a combination of the whole great story of God's loving faithfulness to the people of Israel. When we confess that Jesus is "born of the Virgin Mary," we see him silhouetted against the backdrop of God’s promise to Abraham, the exodus from Egypt, the rule of the judges, the coming of the prophets, and the promised deliverance from exile. (pp 53, 54)
It’s incredibly helpful to know this backstory. By connecting these details, Myers gives us an important narrative to consider when reciting this line in the Creed.
I was surprised that this pregnancy and childbirth motif did not include the first glimmer of good news from Genesis 3:15 (known as the Protoevangelium). After all, it was through the offspring of Eve that the other miraculous births would be possible. It was through the offspring of Eve that the announcement of Israel’s Messiah would be born. It was through the offspring of Eve that Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary.
Notwithstanding this omission, I highly recommend The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism. Seeing the tapestry of God’s redemptive story knitted together through miraculous childbirth makes this line of the Creed especially important. No doubt readers will think deeper and richer when citing that Jesus Christ was “born of the Virgin Mary.”
Incidentally, don’t miss Myers’s newest The Apostles' Creed: For All God’s Children, an illustrated, simple, and family-friendly devotional to teach the basics of the Christian faith.