The Virgin Birth of Jesus ChristJanuary 04, 2023
by Brandon Crowe
The virgin birth of Jesus, which is more accurately labeled the virginal conception of Jesus, teaches that Jesus Christ was born apart from the normal process of procreation, but was supernaturally conceived in the womb of the virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit, and born of her, without sin.
Orthodox Christian theology teaches that Jesus Christ was born supernaturally of the virgin Mary. Belief in the virginal conception, commonly called the virgin birth, is built on the witness of Scripture and traces its roots to the earliest recoverable days of Christian theology. In this essay I will first introduce the theological framework of the virgin birth. Second, I will consider the biblical teaching on the virgin birth. This will include both the explicit teaching of the virgin birth, in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, and in other possible allusions to and arguments that presuppose the virgin birth. Third, I will discuss some church fathers whose writings reveal the early and uniform belief in the virgin birth. Fourth, I will mention a few practical implications of the virgin birth.
The virgin birth refers to the supernatural birth of Jesus Christ apart from the normal, physical process of procreation. Instead, Jesus was uniquely conceived in the womb of the virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit. The virginal birth is the means by which the eternal Son of God became incarnate as fully human. He was born of Mary with a true body and a reasonable soul. The virgin birth also is the means by which Jesus was born holy and sinless, in distinction from all other children born naturally since Adam. Jesus was not represented by Adam when the first man sinned, and is therefore not “in Adam.” Instead, Jesus is the head of new creation.
In what follows I will discuss some of the biblical basis for the virgin birth, the virgin birth in the history of the church, and some practical implications. I will use the more familiar phrase “virgin birth” to refer throughout to the virginal conception of Jesus. Two caveats may be helpful: I will not discuss (1) the perpetual virginity of Mary, nor will I discuss (2) the theory of the immaculate conception, by which Mary herself was supposedly guarded from original sin. Neither of these doctrines find support in Scripture.
Biblical Basis for the Virgin Birth
Gospels of Matthew and Luke
The clearest places where the virgin birth is taught are the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, for these are the only two places in Scripture where the birth of Christ is narrated. It is therefore significant that both these texts speak of Jesus’s birth of a virgin.
The Gospel of Luke contains the most details about the birth of Jesus. In the account of the angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary (Luke 1:26–38) the virginity of Mary is mentioned explicitly in Luke 1:27 (Greek: parthenos), and again in Luke 1:34 when Mary wonders how she could be with child since she has never known a man. The context of Luke leaves little doubt that this second reference to the virginity of Mary employs the biblical idiom of “knowing” someone to refer to sexual intimacy. Instead of the normal process of procreation, Gabriel tells Mary that the child to be born of her comes by the agency of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35). This verse reveals a close relationship between the Holy Spirit and the holiness of the child—the Holy Spirit will ensure that the child born of Mary (herself a sinner) would be holy. Mary’s son will occupy the throne of his father David, and will reign over a kingdom that will not end (Luke 1:31–33). Mary later gives birth to Jesus in Bethlehem, the city of David (Luke 2:5), fulfilling prophecy (Mic 5:2).
The birth of Jesus is also recounted in the Gospel of Matthew. In Matthew 1:20 (cf. 1:18) the Holy Spirit is identified as the means of Mary’s pregnancy, which happened before she and Joseph were united sexually (see also Matt 1:25). The term virgin is applied to Mary in Matthew as it is in Luke, this time by means of Isaiah 7:14 which is quoted in Matthew 1:23: “‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).” Though Isaiah’s use of the term virgin has been widely debated, Isaiah does seem to speak of a virgin, and Matthew clearly understands Mary to be a virgin.
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