Last month, we looked at the basis for the virgin birth in the Old Testament Scriptures. Now we turn to consider the record of it in the New Testament.
The fact that the Lord Jesus Christ was born of a virgin is recorded in only two chapters (Matthew 1 and Luke 1), but it is stated unequivocally in both, leaving us in no doubt as to the actuality of it. Consider the final words of Matthew chapter 1: “And [Joseph] knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called His name Jesus” (v25).
The virgin birth was an absolute necessity. Without it, there is simply no salvation for anyone. It is therefore not surprising that (with the exception of the resurrection) there is probably no event associated with the Lord’s life here on earth that has been more strongly denied by opponents of the gospel. We will look at three attacks that are made on the doctrine of the virgin birth; attacks against which we ought to be on our guard.
This is the overwhelming view in the present day of rank unbelief. In a society that pays homage to naturalism, the standard line can be summarized: “That is impossible – it is contrary to all the laws of science – a woman cannot have a child without the involvement of a human father. The record in the Bible is proof of the gullibility of those primitive people – and if you believe it you are as gullible as they were!”
To which we respond that, yes, the virgin birth is contrary to scientific laws. Indeed, it is a miracle (which is what it was), by definition, contrary to the normal course of events, and thus outside the realm of science. And the God Who made everything, sustains it, and will bring it all to His desired goal, is perfectly capable of doing something that is contrary to the normal.
As for the allegation that those concerned with those momentous events were “gullible,” the record in the Bible shows that this was far from the case. When Mary was told by the angel that she would conceive and bring forth a son, she asked, “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” (Luke 1:34). Here are the words, not of a credulous candidate for being duped, but of a young woman who knew very well the “impossibility” of such an event. And, as far as Joseph was concerned, when he came to know that Mary was with child, his resolving to “put her away” (Matt 1:19) showed that he knew only too well the implications of her condition, from a natural perspective. For both Mary and Joseph, it was only when the angel clearly explained the reality of the case, that it was of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35; Matt 1:20) that they realized they were not looking at the normal course of things, but at a divine work, and they readily believed God’s Word, and submitted to it.
And this is what we must recognize as well. The words of Gabriel to Mary are as pertinent to us as they were to her: “For with God nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:37). And our response should be like theirs; acceptance of God’s Word, and obedience to it.
Another attack on the truth of this great event comes from the addition to the Word of God by religious systems, which seek to embellish the facts with the introduction of doctrines that do not have any foundation in Scripture. Two immediately come to mind: the teaching that Mary was herself conceived without sin (“Immaculate conception”) and that she remained a virgin throughout her life (“Perpetual virginity”). Both these dogmas can readily be refuted from the very records themselves: Mary refers to “God my Savior” (Luke 1:47), showing that she was a sinner, in need of a Savior; and Matthew records that Joseph “knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn Son” (Matt 1:25), clearly implying that she did not remain a virgin after the Lord Jesus was born.
We mention these things, not to court controversy, but simply to remind ourselves of an important principle: to base all that we believe on the Word of God alone. We must avoid either taking away from what the Bible says, or adding to it.
There is a third error, maybe even more dangerous than the previous two, since it is more subtle. It concerns attempts to probe into what was involved in the virgin birth.
It is a perilous thing to try to dig into Scripture beyond that which is revealed to us, and we would save ourselves from many problems if we stayed to the words that Scripture uses, rather than over analyzing. The subject before us illustrates this perhaps better than any other.
Modern advances in the study and understanding of human biology, and of genetics in particular, have led some to try to speculate on what took place. Often those doing so are well meaning, and they would be horrified if they were told that they are in error; but they are. This is a subject that we must approach with the utmost reverence, and any attempt to try to explain it is to intrude beyond where we are allowed to go. Indeed, we can be unwittingly guilty of profanity in even attempting to do so. Let us be content with the sublime words of Gabriel to Mary: “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). This is as far as we are allowed to go, and we venture no further. We happily believe it, and we bow in worship.