The Virgin Birth of Christ
The author of this article submitted it for publication while attending a Medical Congress at Toronto University, Canada. We appreciate that one so well qualified should present such an excellent paper on this important subject. This is a good example of doctrinal ministry, a rare ministry in this day.
By the Virgin Birth of Christ we mean that the Lord Jesus Christ was conceived in the womb of Mary by the Holy Ghost, that He was born before she and her betrothed husband had come together.
The Virgin Birth must be emphasised for three reasons:
(1) It was essential for the Incarnation of Diety. As Christ was God, nothing short of such a miracle as His conception by the Holy Spirit could account for the Incarnation. (2) It marks off the Lord Jesus Christ as distinct from all other men. He alone was conceived of the Holy Spirit. He is on a far higher plane than we are. (3) It affects our whole estimate of Christ—His sinlessness, His claims as the One sent from the Father, His miracles, His resurrection.
With the doctrine of the Virgin Birth is closely bound up the Inspiration of the Scriptures. It does not admit of a scientific explanation. Nor does the Scripture explain it. But Inspiration gives to faith the satisfaction demanded. The Bible states the nature of Christ’s birth. This is God’s revelation, and we unhesitatingly accept it without seeking to understand how it was brought about.
The mode by which our Lord chose to come into humanity was announced beforehand in the Old Testament. In that ‘germ of all prophecies’, Genesis 3:15, we have it suggested. The future Overcomer of Satan would be the seed of the woman, not of the man. The man would play no part in His advent into the world. In Isaiah 7:14 God gave a sign to Ahaz concerning the destruction of Syria and Israel. Two prophetic indications of the Messiah there given are shown by Matthew (1:22) as having been fulfilled at the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem, namely, (a) His Conception —supernatural — “a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son”. (b) His Diety — implied in His name — “Immanuel, God with us”.
The Virgin Birth is attested in the New Testament by two accounts, one in Matthew 1:18-25 from Joseph, and one in Luke 1:26-56 from Mary. These are two separate and distinct witnesses to the truth of the matter, by the two people best qualified to know. They are supplementary the one to the other, and establish the truth of the saying of Deuteronomy 19:15, “at the mouth of two witnesses shall the matter be established”.
Many things are common to both accounts. Both indicate the consternation caused by the occurrence, as well it may; both state emphatically that though betrothed they had not yet come together; both record the name to be given to the child when born — Jesus; both reveal that an angel came to make the pronouncement; both dwell on the fact that the conception was the work of the Holy Spirit; both emphasise the unhesitating acceptance of the information by the two recipients, and their acquiescence with the will of God. Let us examine these two records in more detail.
Matthew gives us Joseph’s account. We see his character, his perplexity and his proposed action. His relations with Mary are emphasised. They had been betrothed, but had not yet come together, v. 18. Then came the discovery — Mary found with child. Note Joseph’s reaction to this discovery. He wanted to put Mary away, for He was a righteous man, and thought her an adulteress. But he wanted to put her away privily, not publicly, because of love for his betrothed.
In his dilemma an angel appeared to him, assuaged his fears, and told him to take Mary as his wife, for she was not an adulteress, but had conceived by the Holy Spirit. In confirmation the angel told Joseph the sex of the child (something man cannot determine), the name of the child, and the greatness of His person and work — the whole being a fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecy of Isaiah 7:14. Joseph accepted the explanation, and acted on the angel’s instructions.
Luke records Mary’s account, and her inmost thoughts on the subject, even before the conception took place. He deals first with her anxiety over Gabriel’s message. The angelic visitor had saluted her as one highly favoured of God, in that she would conceive, and bring forth a son, a great One, the Son of God, the Messiah for whom all Israel looked. Mary questioned the biological possibility seeing that she had never had carnal knowledge of a man. Gabriel settled all her doubts with an explanation. The conception would be entirely the work of the Holy Spirit. For this reason her child would be called holy —sinless — the Son of God, the direct outcome of the overshadowing power of the Most High God. How this was brought about we know not, nor must we pry into such a mystery. It is one of the secret things that belong unto the Lord our God (Deut. 29:29).
Mary had this angelic announcement confirmed by her kinswoman, Elizabeth, whose experience Gabriel had given as a sign to Mary. The confirmation was two-fold, (1) Elizabeth’s own conception in old age —contrary to nature, (2) Elizabeth’s prophecy, when filled with the Holy Spirit — calling Mary the mother of her Lord.
Then follows Mary’s hymn of praise — the Magnificat — in which she acknowledges God’s overruling providence, and rejoiced because He had condescended to use her, a humble vessel, as the means of bringing blessing to Israel, and to the seed of Abraham.
In Luke 2:1-7 we have a description of the Lord’s birth, in every way a perfectly natural birth into a humble family, but following a supernatural conception.
In the Epistles we find no direct reference to the Virgin Birth. It is not specifically mentioned, for it is not part of their teaching. There is a veiled reference in Galatians 4:4, where Christ’s humanity is the point at issue, but God’s special intervention is seen in that while Jesus was born of a woman He had been sent forth from God, possibly implying that He was conceived of the Holy Ghost.
Many objections have been raised to the doctrine of the Virgin Birth of Christ. Some say that it is contrary to normal biological experience. That is so, it cannot be explained on any scientific basis, but that must be expected concerning the birth of One who was both God and man. His conception, His life, His death were all different from those of ordinary men.
Some point out that the Hebrew word translated ‘virgin’ in Isaiah 7:14, ALMAH, is one that implies merely a young woman, without reference to the fact that she still possessed the tokens of virginity. This latter thought, they say, would have been better conveyed by the use of BETHULAH. But the translators of the Septuagint used here the Greek word PARTHENOS, which indicates virginity, even though another word for young woman, NEANIS, would have been a more accurate rendering of the Original Hebrew. Besides both Gospels make the point that she was indeed a virgin.
Some suggest that the Virgin Birth is only a fable. This is a modern suggestion. It was not so regarded by the early Fathers of the Church. They accepted it as a fact.
Some refuse to accept the Virgin Birth because it finds no place in the writings of Mark, John or Paul. It was no part of their subjects. Mark deals with the service of Christ, and makes no mention of His childhood, or of His birth. Yet that He had been a child none denies. John in his Gospel deals with the things the other evangelists omit. He mentions Christ as “the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18). That he was not ignorant of the facts of His conception and birth may be gathered from John 7:42 and Revelation 12:4. Paul in his epistles deals with the death, resurrection and coming glory of Christ rather than with His birth, but as we have seen he refers indirectly to the Virgin Birth in Galatians 4:4.
What should be the attitude of believers to this subject today? It is a fundamental doctrine of the faith, and must be firmly held. While others scoff at it God’s children regard it just as Mary did. She could not understand it, nor can we today, with all our advances in human biology. Mary accepted it as the Word of God, and so should we — in simple faith. The Bible teaches it as a fact, and we say “Amen”. Like Mary, too, let us magnify and rejoice in God our Saviour.