The Virgin Birth of Christ (Part 2)

“On a plaque marking Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace near Hodgenville, Kentucky, is recorded this scrap of conversation: ‘Any news down at the village, Ezry?’ ‘Well, Squire McLain’s gone to Washington to see Madison swore in, and old Spellman tells me this Bonaparte fella has captured most of Spain. What’s new out here, neighbor?’ ‘Nothing, nothing at all, except for a new baby born to Tom Lincoln’s. Nothing ever happens out here.’ Some events, whether birthdays in Hodgenville (or Bethlehem) … may not create much earthly splash, but those of lasting importance will eventually get the notice they deserve.”[1]

In part 1 we saw that the virgin birth really happened; it was an historical event. Why is that point challenged by skeptics? This leads us to the second affirmation.

2. The virgin birth of Christ was supernatural.

Let’s take a moment to consider why some folks disbelieve any supernatural event. When people study history, science, etc., they interpret the data subjectively according to their own presuppositions. In other words, learning takes place as they take in new information which then passes through the grid of their worldview. So, there are at least two challenges to learning and believing truth: the data may be flawed, and/or we may misinterpret the data because of a faulty belief system.

The secular humanist assumes miracles do not happen; therefore, anything in history that is miraculous is automatically rejected.[2] Notice how Scripture warns us about this phenomenon: “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ” (Col. 2:8,9).

The vast majority of people, however, believe in God and therefore would have no problem with the possibility of miracles. God Himself is the Supernatural One. His existence is continually declared non-verbally from the universe: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse” (Rom.1:20). God is the all powerful Creator Who can and does intervene in the world He made and sustains. Therefore, history is “His Story.” A Ph.D. with an encyclopedic knowledge of historical people, places, and events nevertheless misses the true meaning and significance of the past if he/she is not illumined by God’s revelation in the Bible (see 2 Cor. 2:14).

Now we come to the testimony of the supernatural nature of Christ’s conception in the womb of Mary. We will look at two lines of evidence that support this: the virgin birth was predicted and accomplished by the Holy Spirit. [3]

a. The virgin birth was predicted by the Holy Spirit.

Predictive prophecy is supernatural. As Peter declared, “knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:20,21).

Isaiah 7:14 prophesied the virgin birth seven centuries beforehand! “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.” The prophet had confronted unbelieving King Ahaz with this testimony of God’s intervention to preserve the dynasty of David in Jerusalem from the northern enemies. Although space prevents a detailed analysis of the passage and nuances of interpretation, it appears that Isaiah’s first wife had died.[4] His betrothed wife, who was a virgin at the time of this prediction, would conceive a son after her marriage to Isaiah. This child’s life would be a timetable and testimony of God’s deliverance of Judah (Isa. 7:15-8:4).

However, this historical application is incomplete according the the Author of Scripture. The true “Immanuel”–God with us–would be the Lord Jesus.

This is the plain meaning of the account in the Gospels. Listen to Gabriel’s announcement:

“‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give 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.’ Then Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I do not know a man?’ (Luke 1:30-34).

It is clear that Mary was a virgin, being a Godly woman in her betrothal period (prior to the Jewish wedding feast and consummation of the relationship with Joseph).

Matthew confirms this as the ultimate fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: “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'” (Matt. 1:22,23).[5]

b. The virgin birth was accomplished by the creative act of the Holy Spirit.

Mary would actually conceive the Christ-child in her womb by a supernatural, creative act of the Holy Spirit. This kind of miracle was not out of character for Him; the Spirit of God was prominent in the creation narrative (Gen. 1:2) and all life ultimately owes its existence to the Creator.

Gabriel went on the answer Mary’s question as to how this miracle would happen: “And the angel answered and said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God'” (Luke 1:35).[6]

Twelve years later, Jesus would affirm His true identity when His mother and step father discovered Him in dialog with religious leaders in the Jerusalem’s temple. He respectfully, yet directly, answered them: “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49).

To deny the miraculous nature of Christ’s birth is to reject the New Testament record and the true Jesus revealed therein.

By accepting the Biblical testimony of the virgin birth, we are ready to appreciate the supernatural, incomparable nature of His person and work. The integrity of the nativity narratives supports the essentials of our faith as summarized by this early confession:

“…great is the mystery of godliness:
God was manifested in the flesh,
Justified in the Spirit,
Seen by angels,
Preached among the Gentiles,
Believed on in the world,
Received up in glory” (1 Tim. 3:16).

“O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord…”

Grace Notes: Part 2 (of 3)

Part 1 is here.

[1] Colloquial language updated by JBW.

[2] This virgin birth is not to be confused with “the immaculate conception.” The latter term refers to the Roman Catholic belief that Mary was supernaturally conceived.

[3] Oxford scholar, C.S. Lewis, wrote a book defending miracles. Note this observation of Lewis’ critique of naturalism: “What Lewis calls ‘the popular scientific view’ or ‘the Scientific Outlook’ is based on naturalism, the view that nature is all there is; there is no supernatural being or realm. Everything must be explained in terms of the natural order; the ‘Total System,’ Lewis calls it [Miracles, p. 17]. If there’s any one thing that cannot be given a satisfactory naturalistic explanation, then naturalism falls. Lewis contends that reason itself is something that can’t be explained in naturalistic terms. This is an especially pertinent matter, because reason is one of the primary tools of science…” – Rick Wade, “Lessons from C.S. Lewis”

[4] Isaiah’s first son, Shear-Jashub is mentioned in Isaiah 7:3. Later the prophetic meaning of his sons is noted: “Here am I and the children whom the LORD has given me! We are for signs and wonders in Israel From the LORD of hosts…” (Isa. 8:18). The Hebrew term for “virgin” in 7:14 is “almah.” The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament observes, “There is no instance where it can be proved that this word [almah] designates a young woman who is not a virgin.” The RSV translation of Isaiah 7:14 as “young woman” is allowable according to its range of O.T. usage, but inconsistent with the intention of the One who inspired the text (2 Tim. 3;16). The N.T. authors were guided to use the more precise Greek term for virgin, — “parthenos.” The Greek translation of the O.T. (LXX) uses “parthenos” to translate “almah” (Rebeccah as a virgin) from Genesis 24:43. (The prophecy was announced to king Ahaz in 734 B.C; it’s partial, historical fulfillment included the Assyrian invasion in 733, the conquest of Damascus in 732 and of Samaria in 722.)

[5] Matthew’s account demonstrates that Joseph, being a virgin too, was not the child’s biological father (Matt. 1:20,21).

[6] How does the Biblical account compare to the Koran? Muslims strongly deny the idea that God (Allah) would have a son. However, their rejection of the concept of the Father procreating Jesus (as a carnal relationship with Mary) is rejected by Christians also. Christ is the eternal Son by virtue of His deity and preexistence (Psalm 2:12; Heb. 1:8,9). The conception of Christ was a direct, creative work, not a carnal act. Islam confesses to accept the Gospels (Ingil) and major Biblical prophets (Surah 3:45,49; 4:158,136; 10:94). Surah 3:45; 21:91 speak of the virgin birth of Jesus.

Copyright 2006 by John Woodward. Permission is granted to reprint for non-commercial use. Biblical quotations are from the New King James version, copyright by Thomas Nelson.

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