The term “Virgin Birth” refers to Jesus’ being conceived in Mary by the Holy Spirit without a human father and born while she was still a virgin. Although it has been affirmed by the Christian Church throughout its history, the virgin birth is the most contested event in the life of Jesus next to the resurrection. Here I’ll give the Biblical evidence for the virgin birth, consider some objections made to it, and identify some ways in which it is important doctrinally.
Biblical Evidence for the Virgin Birth
18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”…24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. (Matthew 1:18-25, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV)
26 The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary….30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus….34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy–the Son of God.”…38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:26-38)
Objections Made to the Virgin Birth
Many objections have been made to the virgin birth, including these identified and commented on by Millard J. Erickson:
– The brothers of Jesus did not believe in him during his ministry (John 7:5), suggesting that they didn’t know of a virgin birth. However it’s possible that Mary (and Joseph) hadn’t yet told them of it.
– The New Testament is silent about the birth of Jesus except for the two passages quoted above. However, as Theodore M. Dorman points out, “This is an argument from silence, however, and carries no force when we keep two things in mind: (1) only Matthew and Luke write anything at all about Jesus’ birth, and (2) the Birth narratives are historical accounts, not theological interpretations” (Theodore M. Dorman, “Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ,” in The International Standard Encyclopedia of the Bible, Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988; volume 4, page 992).
– There are parallel accounts in the literature of other religions. Dale Moody responds, “The yawning chasm between these pagan myths of polytheistic promiscuity and the lofty monotheism of the virgin birth of Jesus is too wide for careful research to cross” (Dale Moody, “Virgin Birth,” in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, ed. George Arthur Buttrick; New York: Abingdon Press, 1962; volume 4, page 791).
– The virgin birth cannot be reconciled with the preexistence of Christ. However his preexistence relates to Jesus’ deity and the virgin birth relates to his humanity.
(Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, third edition; Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Publishing Group, 2013; pages 683-687)
Doctrinal Importance of the Virgin Birth
Wayne Grudem considers these three ways in which the virgin birth is of doctrinal importance:
1. It shows that salvation ultimately comes from God. As Galatians 4:4-5 says, “God sent forth his Son, born of woman, under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive adoption as sons.”
2. It made possible the uniting of deity and humanity in one person. God could have sent His Son into the world as a man in other ways (Grudem considers two other ways), but the virgin birth was the best way for Him to do it so that both Jesus’ deity and his humanity were evident.
3. It made possible Christ’s humanity without inheriting a corrupt nature from Adam. But wouldn’t he inherit a corrupt nature from Mary? Grudem suggests that when the Holy Spirit caused her to conceive Jesus He also prevented the transmission of sin from her to Jesus.
(Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology; Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994; pages 330-32)
Is belief in the virgin birth necessary? John M. Frame replies, “It is possible to be saved without believing it…[b]ut to reject the virgin birth is to reject God’s Word, which is always serious. Further, disbelief in the virgin birth may lead to compromise in those other areas of doctrine with which it is vitally concerned” (John M. Frame, “Virgin Birth of Jesus,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell; Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1984; page 1145).