The Virgin Birth
“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.’
“So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, ‘God with us.’
“Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus” (Matthew 1:18-45)
As Christmas looms near, the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ should be foremost in our minds. But even as we contemplate the miracle of the incarnation of Christ, I would like to focus in this essay on one specific aspect of God’s coming to earth: the Virgin Birth. The importance of this doctrine is rarely heeded, yet its significance is such that a careful examination is indispensable.
But before we discuss the significance of the Virgin Birth, we must first gain an understanding of what the Virgin Birth is. In Luke, we read of the coming of the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary. He says to her, “behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:31-33)
In response to this, Mary says, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34)
To this, the angel responds, “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” (Luke 1:35).
The Virgin Birth is nothing less than miraculous. God came to earth in no natural way. He was conceived solely by the power of the Holy Ghost. J.I. Packer puts it admirably saying, “Mary became pregnant by the Holy Spirit’s creative action without any sexual relationships.” Truly, the birth of Christ was a mighty work of God!
Unfortunately, today, many strive to detract from the truth of this act of God. They deny the historicity of the Virgin Birth, claiming that Jesus’ birth was no different from that of ordinary men. However, when we examine the reasons behind such denial, we quickly realize that such doubts almost always spring from a belief that God does not exist. If this belief is eliminated, then all reasons to doubt the Virgin Birth fall away. After all, if a transcendent, immanent, omnipotent God exists, then why should it surprise us that He works miracles?
However, we will not attempt here to prove the existence of God but will instead address the only other possible reason for doubting the Virgin Birth, namely, a seeming lack of significance. To many, there simply seems to be no reason for God to use a virgin to bring His Son into the world. Why could He not simply send His Son in the natural way? Our goal then, in this essay, shall be to demonstrate the significance of this doctrine to the Christian faith.
As we examine the Virgin Birth, we find first, that God sent His Son through a virgin that salvation might be seen to come from the Lord alone. In Genesis, God had promised to send to the earth a savior, saying to the devil, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel” (Genesis 3:15). In the coming of Christ, this promise is fulfilled. But if Christ were born of a woman and man, in the natural way, then it would seem that His coming was not of God but rather of man’s will. But this would not be right, for, as John Calvin wrote, “…apart from God we ought not at all to seek life and salvation.”
However, since Christ was born of a virgin, it is evident that Christ came, not by human decision, but by the will of God. As the Apostle Paul puts it, “when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” Clearly, it is through the Virgin Birth that we see that Christ is sent, not of man, but of God, for it is God who set forth His Son, born of a virgin, to save sinful man. The Scripture is proven true which says, “Salvation comes from the LORD.”
As we have found, it is through the Virgin Birth that God is seen to be the author of our salvation.
In addition, the Virgin Birth makes clear the full deity as well as the full humanity of God. This is not to say that Christ could not have come to earth in any other way and retain His full deity as well as His full humanity, but rather, that through the Virgin Birth, Christ’s humanity and deity are the most clearly seen. As Dr. Wayne Grudem writes, “If we think for a moment of other possible ways in which Christ might have come to the earth, none of them would so clearly unite humanity and deity in one person.”
Think about it. If Christ had come floating down from heaven in the same way that he ascended up into heaven after His resurrection, His deity would not have been in any question. But His humanity would be difficult to accept. We could no longer relate to Him as we now can, and it would be difficult at best to believe that He sympathizes with our weaknesss.
On the other hand, if Christ had been born of human parents, His deity would not be so apparent. That such a one could truly be God is hard to believe. Indeed, it is this very reason that the Jews doubted Jesus’ deity, saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that He says, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” (John 6:42). Because of the Virgin Birth, however, Christ is seen clearly to be both God and man: the Word of God incarnate.
The most important accomplishment brought about by the Virgin Birth, however, is the sinlessness of Jesus.
All men are born with a sinful nature, having inherited the sin of Adam. Thus it is that Paul writes, “in Adam all die” (1 Corinthians 15:22). There is no ambiguity in the Psalmists words, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.” All men are born bearing the sin of Adam, and thus are doomed to death. As John Calvin said, “The natural depravity which we bring from our mother’s womb, though it brings not forth immediately its own fruits, is yet sin before God & deserves his vengeance.”
How is it, then, that Jesus remained untouched by this original sin? How could He be born perfect? It is evident that this sinlessness of Christ was brought about by the Virgin Birth. According to Dr. Grudem, “through the absence of a human father, Jesus was not fully descended from Adam, and this break in the line of descent was the method God used to bring it about that Jesus was fully human yet did not share inherited sin from Adam.”
Indeed, Gabriel, when speaking of this miraculous birth to Mary, said, “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" (Luke 1:35, ESV). The Scriptures make it clear that it is because of the Virgin Birth that Christ was without sin, being “holy, the Son of God.” As J.I. Packer writes, “while we cannot affirm that God could not have produced sinless humanity apart from Virgin Birth, Jesus’ humanity was sinless, and the circumstances of his birth call attention to the miracle that was involved when Mary, a sinner, gave birth to one who was not “in Adam” as she was, not therefore needed as Savior as she did.”
As we can see, the entirety of the Christian faith hinges on this belief: that the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus Christ, the Son of God, through the power of the Holy Spirit. If it were not for the Virgin Birth, Christianity could not exist. For the hope of the Christian is that God “made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). But if the Virgin Birth is taken away, this teaching, and therefore the entire Christian faith, is in vain.
Without the Virgin Birth, we are left without hope, for Christ, bearing a sinful nature, could no longer pay the price for our sins, for He himself would be a sinner. Nor could His righteousness be imputed to us, for His righteousness would be as “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). Thus, all our hope as Christians rests on the Virgin Birth.
Remembering, then, the Originator of our Salvation, let us glorify His name for His indescribable gift which He has given us, the gift of eternal life, through the remarkable miracle of the Virgin Birth. May all laud and praise be to Him forevermore!
“Behold, the Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).