How Do We Know the Virgin Birth Is True
By: The John Ankerberg Show
|By: John G. Weldon, PhD; ©2011|
|Despite the claims of critics, the Bible clearly teaches the virgin birth of Christ and the Bible’s divine authority is logically unassailable.|
Despite the great importance of the virgin birth of Jesus Christ, there are relatively few biblical defenses on the subject, which is somewhat surprising. The classic Protestant works by scholars such as Prof. James Orr (1907) and J. Gresham Machen (1932) and the more recent volume by Robert Glenn Gromaki (1974), which are all excellent, remain the three standard works. Thankfully, each of these books continues in print. Also of note is Harry Rimmer’s brief A Scientist’s Viewpoint of the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ (1925). However, one of the best and most original studies is by Canadian scholar Arthur Custance, The Virgin Birth and the Incarnation (1980) which is available online at no cost (See: http://www.custance.org/Library/Volume5/index.html.).
Despite the claims of critics, the Bible clearly teaches the virgin birth of Christ and the Bible’s divine authority is logically unassailable. For example, the Bible can be proven the revealed word of God through it’s hundreds of prophecies of future events, which demand a supernatural explanation. Thus, whether we are dealing with the Hebrew word translated virgin in Isaiah 7:14 (bethulah) or the Greek word translated virgin in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke (parthenos), both constitute “the common word for a woman who has never had sexual intercourse.”
First, the virgin birth of Christ was prophesied 700 years before Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem in Isaiah 7:14 (cf. Micah 5:2):
- "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel [meaning "God with us"]."
Second, the apostle Matthew specifically cites this prophecy in Isaiah as having been fulfilled in Jesus Christ and clearly declares that Jesus was supernaturally conceived within Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit:
- "This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit….But after he [Joseph] had considered this [annul the engagement], an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, ‘God with us.’” (Matthew 1:18-23)
Four times in Matthew 1:18-25 the divinely inspired writer teaches the virgin birth. Matthew is clear: "but [Joseph] kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus." (Matthew 1:25)
Third, the meticulous historian, physician and gospel writer Luke who “investigated everything carefully from the beginning” (Luke 1:3) also bears witness to the virgin birth by none other than the announcement of the angel Gabriel himself:
- “In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David… The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High… “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be calledc the Son of God…. For nothing is impossible with God.’” (Luke 1: 26-37)
Fourth, the virgin birth is strongly implied in Philippians 2:6-8, which discusses Jesus’ incarnation.
Fifth, the virgin birth was widely accepted in the earliest church at a time when questioners or skeptics were able to directly ask Mary and Joseph as well as Jesus’ brothers and sisters about the matter. As to cross-examination, at least some of these individuals would have been available to the Church for decades.
In sum, we have the testimony of the great prophet Isaiah, the gifted writer and highly educated apostle Matthew, the noted physician Luke, and the angel Gabriel himself. We also have the testimony of Mary and Joseph. Since the Bible is the word of God, all this is the testimony of God himself to the virgin birth. In other words, those who deny the virgin birth are denying God’s testimony about his precious and beloved, one and only Son.
Because Jesus Christ was, in fact, virgin born, he is unlike any person who has existed throughout human history. His unparalleled birth, teachings, miracles, life, fulfillment of hundreds of Old Testament prophecies, death, and resurrection from the dead prove the truth of his claims to be the Jewish Messiah, the Son of God, the atoning Savior for sin and God incarnate. As a result, he declared: “I am the way, and the truth and the life: no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Further, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Roman Catholicism upholds the biblical doctrine of the virgin birth but, unfortunately, through its ill-conceived concept of equating sacred tradition with the word of God attaches additional teachings that are neither biblical nor Christian. For example, the Bible does not teach that Mary remained a virgin throughout her life, as Roman Catholicism teaches, because it is clear that Jesus had at least four brothers and more than two sisters: “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all [not both] his sisters with us?" (Matthew 13:55-56). In addition, although the Bible does teach that Mary was most blessed among women because of her unparalleled privilege of bearing the Messiah into the world, no biblical Scripture supports the Roman Catholic doctrine that Mary is a Co-Redemptrix, Co-Mediatrix, and Advocate assisting Jesus in his role as man’s Savior from sin. Biblically, Mary is never to be prayed to or considered any type of co-Mediator, co-Redeemer, or Advocate before God. “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men—the testimony given in its proper time” (1 Timothy 2:5-6, emphasis added).
Unfortunately, such Roman Catholic beliefs have often led to various forms of blending with paganism and assorted idolatries around the world, something that would have horrified Mary herself. In addition, Roman Catholicism teaches that Mary was conceived without sin and is perpetually sinless, but her sinfulness is implied in her own Magnificat (Luke 1:47) and clearly taught by the biblical doctrine of universal human sinfulness. All men and women are born in sin, including Mary (Psalm 14:3; 51:5; Job 14:4; 15:14; Psalm 53:3; 58:3). Only a divine virgin birth circumvents the problem of the hereditary transmission of human sin.
Critics and skeptics of the virgin birth run into the same problems they run into with Christ’s physical resurrection from the dead: these doctrines are the only logical explanation for a whole host of issues. For example, they logically explain how the earliest believers and hundreds of millions of people since then became dedicated to a belief unique in human history. Only the fact of the virgin birth (and the resurrection) can logically explain belief in them, because no credible alternate options are available to explain them. Given Jewish culture (or any culture) Mary would not have claimed a virgin birth on her own, whether engaged to her husband or not. So how did such a belief logically originate? The apostles would never have died for what they clearly understood to be false. They would never have radically changing their own Jewish religious traditions. And it is impossible to logically explain the origin of the Christian faith apart from the virgin birth and Christ’s physical resurrection from the dead.
Imagine the difficulty Mary and Joseph faced if the virgin birth was false – or the risk posed to Jesus himself if this claim was a counterfeit. John the Baptist suffered beheading for his belief that Christ was the virgin born Messiah. Elizabeth and Zacharias risked everything because the virgin birth of Christ is tied directly to the birth of their prophesied son, John the Baptist (Luke 1-2).
The personal, family, cultural and religious risks would simply be too great to bear unless the virgin birth was true: only the fact of a biblical prophecy of a virgin birth, Mary’s knowledge of her own virginity, and the angel’s confirming message to Joseph could begin and support such a startling event. As Ravi Zacharias comments, “Of any influential life that you have witnessed or studied, ask yourself how this person would justify a virgin birth and an eternal existence if such an assertion were being made. This would be a particularly significant question if it had been predicted before the person was born. How do you perfectly fit together prophecy – in fact, hundreds of prophecies – and its fulfillment? For Jesus’ antagonists, it would have been easy to measure, generation by generation, whether this claim to be the Messiah could possibly have withstood the scholars’ scrutiny and the Scriptures’ test.… In a culture rife with power and position, where the [cultural value of the] home bespoke volumes, shame would not be the path of choice for anyone. Had the virgin birth not been true, to assert its truth was the path of cultural ostracism, if not suicide, for all of them [Mary, Joseph, the priest Zacharias, Elizabeth]. For Elizabeth to lose her son, John, to the sword of Herod and for Mary to be told by the angel that a sword would pierce through her heart would not have been desired by any mother. Mary, Joseph, Zacharias, Elizabeth, John and then the disciples risked everything for this truth.”
Ironically, although Islam, the second largest religion in the world behind Christianity, denies virtually everything else about Jesus Christ, it does affirm his virgin birth (Sura 19:19-21). Even though it rejects Jesus as the Son of God and atoning Savior, raising an unsolvable theological problem within Islam, it nevertheless declares Jesus was, in fact, virgin born. This was clearly a tradition borrowed from Christianity, but just as clearly not necessarily something so easily borrowed, given its unparalleled nature. This is hardly a definitive argument for the virgin birth; nevertheless for the cumulative scholarship of a major religion so hostile to Christianity to accept the virgin birth does bear mention. Why was it accepted at all? Technically, this means that over half the whole world accepts the virgin birth of Jesus Christ, at least nominally according to religious affiliation.
Regardless, the biblical teaching of the virgin birth of Christ is the historic proof for all the great doctrines of the Christian religion, directly or indirectly – just as Christ’s physical resurrection from the dead is proof to all men of the coming judgment: “… in the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).
Because of the incarnation and atoning death of Jesus Christ and his resurrection conquering death, a gift of forgiveness of sins and eternal life remains available to all who will believe in Jesus, as long as the opportunity remains:
- “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)
- There are a few others such as Chester E. Tulga, The Case for the Virgin Birth of Christ (1950) but none I know of having the caliber of the four major works mentioned.
- See Amazon.com
- See J Barton Payne, The Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy; Benjamin B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible; Louis Gaussen, The Divine Inspiration of Scripture; Arthur W. Pink, The Divine Inspiration of the Bible; Clark Pinnock, Biblical Revelation: the Foundation of Christian Theology. Robert P. Lightner, A Biblical Case for Total Inerrancy: How Jesus Viewed the Old Testament. A bibliography of 379 works on biblical inspiration can be found at: http://cranfordville.com/BiblioInspiration.htm.
- “Virgin,” I. Howard Marshall, D.R.W. Wood, eds., The New Bible Dictionary, Third Edition.
- No one could have first been regenerated to become a Christian had not Christ already paid the penalty for sin. He could not have paid the penalty for sin without being the virgin born God-man. On the resurrection, see former Bishop of Durham NT Wright’s, The Resurrection of the Son of God.
- Ravi Zacharias, Jesus among Other Gods: the Absolute Claims of the Christian Message, 2000, pp. 38-39.
- “Major Religions of the World Ranked by Number of Adherents,” Adherents.com; http://www.adherents.com/Religions_By_Adherents.html.