We have found three polls of Christian ministers, pastors, and priests. For
some reason, data is more easily obtained from the UK than from the U.S.:
1998: A poll of 7,441 Protestant clergy in the U.S. showed a wide variation in belief. The following
ministers did notbelieve in the virgin birth:
American Lutherans 19%
American Baptists 34%
Methodists 60% 1
1999: A poll of 103 Roman Catholic priests, Anglican priests, and
Protestant ministers/pastors in the UK found that about 25% did not believe in the
birth.Yet, 97% of the same group do not believe the world was created in six days, and 80% do not believe
in the literal existence of Adam and Eve. 3
2002: Another poll of 140 Church of
England (Anglican) clergy found that 27% do not believe in the virgin
birth. The pollsters reported:
"...one Hampshire vicar was typical: 'There was nothing
special about his birth or his childhood - it was his adult life that
was extraordinary....I have a very traditional bishop and this is one of
those topics I do not go public on. I need to keep the job I have got.'
John Roberts, spokesperson for the Lord's Day Observance Society,
said: 'If you take away the virgin birth you might as well take away
the entire Christian message. The miracle of the Christian faith is that
God came down to us. If you lose that miracle you lose the resurrection
and everything else'." 6
2004: A poll of ministers of the
Church of Scotland found that 37% do not believe in the virgin birth. Many
believe that the virgin birth should be
interpreted metaphorically rather than as a description of an actual event."
Times Online reported that:
"There was a
geographical split with most ministers in the Highlands and islands
favouring a literal interpretation while those in the central belt were
more sceptical." 8
Beliefs of the general U.S. public:
There is a massive gap between the beliefs of mainline and liberal clergy and their
1994 to 2003: The Harris Poll®
has conducted many opinion polls to determine the religious beliefs of
American adults. The following do believe in the virgin birth:
Date of poll
The 43% of Americans who do not identify themselves as
Christians and who believe in the virgin birth in the year 2000 is a
puzzle. Some of these would be Muslims who
constitute 1 to 2% of the American population and who generally
believe in the virgin birth but not the
crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. The identity of the rest
Belief in the virgin birth drops markedly with increasing education.
In the 2003 survey:
84% of high school or less
78% of adults with some college education
65% of college graduates and
60% of post-graduates believe in the virgin birth.
2003-DEC: The Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University
polled 1,054 American adults and found that:
60% said they "absolutely believe" in the virgin birth.
16% mostly believe.
19% do not believe.
5% are uncertain. 7
The pollsters reported that:
"Despite the Roman Catholic Church’s
historical emphasis on the theological importance of Mary, Catholics in
the poll were somewhat less likely than Protestants to believe in the
virgin birth. Theologians attributed this to the doctrine in many
Protestant churches that the Bible must be accepted as literal truth."
2004-DEC:Princeton Survey Research Associatesconducted a
poll for Newsweek. They found that:
79% of American adults believe in the virgin birth
67% believe that the biblical story of Jesus' birth, involving the virgin
birth, angels, shepherds, star, wise men, is historically accurate.
24% believe that the biblical story "is a theological
invention written to affirm faith in Jesus Christ." 5
2007-DEC: The Barna Group
sampled 1,005 adults and found that 75% believed that Jesus was born to a
virgin. 53% of the unchurched, and 15% of Agnostics and Atheists believe as
well. Even among those who describe themselves as mostly liberal on
political and social issues, 60% believe in the virgin birth.
The Harris Poll warns the public that the
statistically computed margin of error may be exceeded in practice. They
"Unfortunately, there are several other
possible sources of error in all polls or surveys that are probably more
serious than theoretical calculations of sampling error. They include
refusals to be interviewed (non-response), question wording and question
order, interviewer bias, weighting by demographic control data and screening
(e.g., for likely voters). It is difficult or impossible to quantify the
errors that may result from these factors."
Alternative explanations for Jesus' conception:
The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) aired a program "The Virgin Mary"
on 2002-DEC-22. It suggested three mechanisms for the conception of Jesus, if
the virgin birth is rejected. Jesus
could have been conceived as a result of:
A sexual relationship with a secret lover. The program rejects this as
being very unlikely. There were strong prohibitions in 1st century
CE Palestine for women who had sexual activity with a
man other than her fiancée or husband.
A rape by a Roman soldier. There was one ancient writer who suggested
this. However, it appears even less likely.
Sexual relationships to her fiancée, Joseph. The program considers
this a distinct possibility, since engaged couples often did live together
in Palestine during the 1st century CE.
Not mentioned in the review of the program is a fourth possibility:
Jesus was conceived as a result of normal sexual relations between Mary and
Joseph after they were married. This would imply that the virgin birth
stories in Matthew and Luke were simple fables, invented decades after
Jesus' conception, without any grounding in fact.
The program review mentioned an unnamed a leader of the Church of Scotland
who said in a 1994 sermon that the
virgin birth was symbolic, and that the Bible need not be taken literally.
They quoted an unnamed Church spokesperson who commented: "There is a diversity of opinion on the
issue. But there remains a diversity of opinion over whether there should be
a diversity of opinion." 4
Jeffrey Hadden, results of a survey of 7,441 Protestant ministers published in PrayerNet
Newsletter, 1998-NOV-13, Page 1. Cited in Current Thoughts & Trends,
1999-MAR, Page 19.
"No significant changes in the large majorities who believe in God,
heaven, the resurrection, survival of soul, miracles and virgin birth,"
The Harris Poll, 2000-SEP-13, at:
http://www.harrisinteractive.com/ Number of adults sampled in 2000:
1,010. margin of error is about 3.1%. Data for other years can be found on
the Harris search function of their web site by using the search string "virgin
News item originally reported by the Conservative News Service and
later posted by ReligionToday on 1999-DEC-29. Original source of the
data is unknown.