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The Virgin Birth

By Richard Gunther


    It should not surprise any Christian to find people he or she speaks to who disagree or dispute every main doctrine which is taught in the Bible.  Jesus himself met with such opposition all through his ministry years, and none of the apostles were received with open arms wherever they went. It is the nature of Christianity to present a view of life, and of origins, and of the future, which clashes with the current world views, in whatever culture they present them. Thus it is utterly futile to compromise the truth, since only one truth can be right – not two – and no culture will ever accept what God says without an objection.


   Christianity (thankfully) has always had its detractors, and the attack on what God has said or written is (and has always been)  shifting first from one point to another, like two armies wrestling along the length of their two opposing ranks, looking for weak points and trying always to gain the advantage over the other army.  So we see, over the years, that at one time ‘salvation by faith alone’ came under attack, but then later ‘the literal understanding of Genesis’, at other times it has been ‘the age of the Earth’, or ‘the origin of man’, and today there is such a plethora of areas where the Scriptures are being challenged that it is quite a job to sort out just where the main battles are going on.


   Like fashions, the points of conflict come and go, then return again for a fresh generation to fight over. One subject, among many, which surfaces from time to time in this ongoing war, is the question of Jesus’ conception. Some detractors say that Mary was an adulteress, while Christians say she was a virgin. Some (moderators) say she simply bore Joseph’s child, while sceptics accuse her of adultery. One thing which most people cannot accept, if they are at all trained up by our modern world, is the virgin birth. Science, they say by way of defending their position, is on our side, because we know that a woman’s ovum needs a male seed to fertilize it. The virgin birth is therefore biologically impossible.


   By way of an answer our first recourse as Christians is to the Scriptures. If they confirm that the virgin birth was a true event, then we have no need for any further doubt – even if we do not understand how it could be. Miracles are like that. They are God’s domain, and he may have a perfectly reasonable explanation for them, but as long as he withholds that explanation from us we must simply trust him. (Would we understand it if he told us?)


   Seven hundred years before the birth of Christ, the prophet Isaiah predicted that the Messiah would be born of a virgin: “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign” Behold , the VIRGIN will be with child and bear a SON, and she will call his name Immanuel”. (Is.7:14)


   Luke records the fulfilment of this prophecy:


   “Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galillee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary . . . and the angel said to her “Do not be afraid Mary, for you have found favour with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.

   And Mary said to the angel “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”

   And the angel answered “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy offspring shall be called the Son of God . . . for nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:27-37)


   So we see that the virgin birth is set down in Scripture as a statement of historical fact. It is recorded by Matthew and Luke, both of whom investigated the life and times of Jesus in great detail, using eye-witness reports, and multiple comparisons for accuracy. There is also no evidence that their words were later additions to the text.


   Also, the doctrine of the virgin birth has been believed from the inception of Christianity. Ignatious, who lived about 200 AD wrote “For our God, Jesus the Christ, was conceived in the womb by Mary, according to a dispensation, of the seed of David but also of the Holy Ghost”.


   So our first defence, and ultimately our only defence, is what the Bible says. It is clear and precise.


   Our second defence is the internal evidence. For example, Mary knew that she was a moral woman, and in those days there was no ignorance about how babies were conceived – hence her great surprise when she was told about the coming conception. A woman who had committed adultery would hardly claim to be a virgin in the audience of an angel.


   A second aspect is Joseph’s reaction, when he found that his bride to be was pregnant. He reacted normally when he wanted to “put her away secretly”  because there was a good chance of Mary being stoned to death by an irate community.


   Having established a solid base, we can now move on to a second line of defence, which involves some Christian apologetics.


   There are several logical reasons why the virgin birth was necessary.


1.                      The Bible teaches that the Word who became flesh was with God from the very beginning (John1:1) The fact of the pre-existence of Christ is confirmed many times in the New Testament, i.e. John 8:58, Philippians 2:5-11 and Col.1:15,16.

   Because Jesus was not an individually created human, his birth had to be different from all other humans. The virgin birth was a logical solution to this problem because it required divine intervention rather than special creation.


2.                      The Bible also teaches that Jesus was sinless. The virgin birth enabled the Christ to come in the flesh, and yet to have no sin, which meant that he was then able to offer himself as a perfect sacrifice for sin. Logically, a sinner is no use as a sacrifice for other sinners, but, with God’s intervention, He was able to bring Jesus into the world by a channel which prevented any contamination – the virgin birth.

   This is not to say that Mary was sinless, since she also called God her “Saviour”, but what God used of her – her ovum – was enough to give Jesus his human body, while the divine nature was there by the Holy Spirit. (We are dealing with a deep mystery here).


3.                      Another important, but not so obvious reason for the necessity for a virgin birth was the fact that Joseph, Jesus’ natural father, was a descendant of king Jeconiah, whose blood line to the throne of David had been completely severed. Jer.22:28 says that no king of Israel, who was a descendant of king Jeconiah, could sit on David’s throne. Yet Jesus is called the son of David, and the prophets predicted that the Messiah would one day sit on David’s throne.

   Matthew 1:12 shows us that Joseph, the legal father of Jesus, was a descendant of king Jeconiah. Jesus, however, did not come through Joseph, but through Mary, whose ancestry was no part of Jeconiah’s blood line, or family tree. This meant that Jesus was descended from king David, but not from king Jeconiah, and therefore he could rightfully claim the throne of his forefather David.


   There are a few other objections to the virgin birth, but none of them stand up to careful scrutiny. The enemy of the gospel often throws criticisms at God’s Word, not caring whether those criticisms are rational or even intellectually sound. However, for the sake of having a good reply, here are a few of the less thoughtful criticisms:


1. The virgin birth was a miracle, and therefore it was not believable.

   The possibility of a virgin birth should not pose much of a problem provided one is willing to at least accept the possibility of miracles. The critics are the ones who ought to get themselves in a better position for this one - in order to be absolutely sure that miracles are impossible, one would first need to know everything. (In a similar way, in order to know that there is no God in the universe, one ought to first search the entire universe to make sure). Miracles are certainly a challenge to the natural mind, but then even the mysteries of Nature ought to indicate that there is more to the universe than meets the eye.


   Also, the miracle of the virgin birth should be seen within its context. We have an angel announcing it, and we have a prophecy made some 700 years earlier, and we have the events which followed the announcement – the arrival of the magi, the star, the life of Jesus . . . if we took to the Bible with scissors and removed all the text containing mention of the miraculous we would not have much left to read. Miracles may be a stumbling bock to the critics, but that is really their problem, not the Christian’s problem.


   Let the critic read the account of Jesus as he moved about healing the blind, raising the dead, feeding the thousands, walking on the sea, predicting the future, walking from the grave, rising into the sky . . . and let the critic say “I don’t believe that because it is a miracle” at every instance. How dull and boring the critic becomes, and how monotonous his voice. Of course the critic is free to intone his doubt as much as he wishes, but it makes no difference to the written account.


   But did people in Jesus’ day actually know what a miracle was? Were they instead fooled by some brilliant magic? Or perhaps they were all so ignorant, so gullible and so ‘unscientific’ that Jesus could have fooled them into believing anything?


   C.S.Lewis observed “Thus you hear people say ‘The earl Christians believed that Christ was the son of a virgin, but we know this is a biological impossibility’. Such people seem to have an idea that miracles arose at a period when men were so ignorant of the course of nature that they did not perceive a miracle to be contrary to it.

   A moment’s thought shows this to be foolish, with the story of the virgin birth as a particularly striking example. When Joseph discovered that his fiancée was going to have a baby, he naturally decided to repudiate her. Why? Because he knew just as well as any modern gynaecologist that in the ordinary course of nature women do not have babies unless they have lain with men.

   No doubt the modern gynaecologist knows several things about birth and begetting that Joseph did not know. But those things do not concern the main point – that a virgin birth is contrary to the course of nature. And Joseph obviously knew that.”


2. The virgin birth was a copy, or variation, of certain ancient myths.

   Some people suggest that the writers of the New Testament borrowed the story of the virgin birth from Greek, Babylonian, or Roman legends. Bt when one examines these older stories, one finds many mythological elements mixed into them which are so obviously untrue as to place them in a completely different category. Many of the earlier accounts have incidents of gods or goddesses being involved in adulteress affairs, with hugely weird and peculiar additions. These old accounts bear no real relation to the simple Biblical account, which sits squarely in its place in history, with simple no glossy details, and matter-of-fact language.


   If anything, the Greek, Babylonian and Roman stories throw a stark contrast over against the Bible story, making the story appear more true, because of the difference between it and the phantasmagoria of the ancient myths.




   In closing it is good to reflect on the fact that for every attack on God’s Word, a suitable champion has been raised up to reply to it. As the proverb says ‘The anvil of God’s Word has worn out many hammers’, yet the Bible still stands, perfect and complete, and not a scratch or mark on its text to betray a single error. On the other hand, generations of critics have come and gone, many of them worn out after years of vehemence and hard effort.


   The virgin birth is one of the true doctrines which every true Christians ought to hold close to his heart. It cannot be wrong. Logically, if it was wrong, then every other major doctrine of the Christian church would also become suspect. But because it is a true doctrine, it supports all the other doctrines which elevate Jesus to his rightful place as king, judge and Lord.

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