People have attacked the virgin birth in numerous ways for numerous reasons. Even those who believe it, often do not think it is important enough to defend. But Christian leaders throughout history have found it not only important but also essential. So how is it attacked today and why does it matter?
This is perhaps one of the most often cited criticisms. In the book of Isaiah, the prophet says the Messiah will be born to a “young woman.” The New Testament writers took that and translated it into “virgin.” So people will look to Isaiah and say, “See, the virgin birth isn’t even mentioned in the Old Testament, the New Testament writers read that into the text.”
Gotquestions.org answers this question quite well. The Hebrew term in Isaiah is almah and can be translated “young woman” or “virgin.” But 300 years before the birth of Jesus, Jewish translators used the Greek word parthenos, which distinctively means “virgin.” Gotquestions.org goes into much more detail, but there are good reasons to believe the Isaiah prophecy was meant to be interpreted as “virgin.”
Others will say the virgin birth isn’t important because there were so many miraculous births in the Old Testament. These include Isaac, Sampson, and among others, John the Baptist (remember, he was born under the Old Covenant of the Old Testament, not under Christ’s New Covenant). But there is a difference between the birth of Jesus and the others. The most important being that most of these women had barren wombs and many were past the age of fertility. God opened their wombs, healed their infertility, and allowed them to give birth.
In the case of Jesus, Mary was a virgin. God didn’t merely open her womb; He created life. Which leads to the next critique.
Stolen from paganism
We all know the story of Hercules. Zeus came down and had sex with a mortal woman. There are numerous other stories of pagan gods visiting earth, having sexual relations with humans, and producing demi-god offspring.
But that is the pivotal difference: they had sex. God did not have sex with Mary. He created life.
But even that statement is somewhat out of kilter because Jesus has existed from eternity past. It wasn’t as if He suddenly existed once Mary became pregnant. This is part of the mystery of the incarnation we often overlook. God the Son, who had existed in unity and equality with God the Father and God the Spirit, became a helpless, vulnerable fetus. He was dependent on his mother for life. Yet, there was never a moment, even in her womb, when He was not God.
Even in this, there is a difference between Jesus and the pagan stories. When the pagan gods had sex with mortal women, the offspring were demigods. Jesus was no lesser god or greater man. He is the God-man. Jesus was and is fully God and fully man.
Not important in Scripture
Another argument people make is that the virgin birth isn’t important because it is only mentioned twice in the Bible (in the gospels of Matthew and Luke). Mark and John make no mention of it, and Paul never mentions it in his epistles.
Mark and John do not include the virgin birth because they do not include the birth. Are we, therefore, to assume Jesus appeared on earth as a 30-year-old man just before John baptized Him? That is ridiculous.
They did not recount the virgin birth because that was not the way they structured their gospels. There was no place for them to include the virgin birth. To twist these two gospel accounts to argue against the virgin birth is a logical fallacy. It’s called the argument from silence. We cannot say John, Mark, or Paul did not believe in the virgin birth simply because they did not talk about. If you were only to read this article by me, you could assume all sorts of things about me. You could assume I am a single man with no children. You would be wrong, but you could make that argument because I have not mentioned my wife and children.
Perhaps one reason they did not discuss the virgin birth at length was because they knew it was already covered well in Matthew and Luke (this would depend on when you believe the books were written in relation to one another) or they could have thought it was such a miraculous thing and so widely accepted it did not need covering in their writing. Whatever reason they had for not including the virgin birth, any reader would be hard pressed to not see the virgin birth as an assumed truth in most of their writings, especially Paul.
Why it matters
What this boils down to is a question of authority, a topic we at Engage like to discuss. If we force the words of Scripture to fit what we want to believe, we place ourselves in authority over the Bible. What we are doing, in essence, is saying God got it wrong and it is up to us to get it right.
But when we come to Scripture and recognize its ultimate authority (Sola Scriptura, as old writers used to put it) we are able to stand in awe of what God did in the incarnation of Jesus.
Paul never mentions the virgin birth, but he makes it clear that Jesus is our new Adam (Romans 5:12-21). Like Adam, Jesus did not have the seed of man. But unlike Adam, Jesus was obedient to God the Father, even to the point of death. Jesus succeeded where Adam failed.
There are many more historical and theological reasons to believe in the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. Entire books have been written on the topic, but one that was highly recommended to me, and I recommend to you is The Virgin Birth by J. Gresham Machen.
Whether you read it or not, take some time this Christmas to meditate on the miracle that is Jesus Christ leaving the comfort and glory of heaven, taking on the flesh of man, living under the law, dying a redeeming death, and raising Himself to life so that we may be reconciled to God. It is a beautiful truth worth thinking over, and defending.