The doctrine of the virgin birth is based on two explicit and harmonious accounts recorded in the Synoptic Gospels—Matthew 1:18–25 and Luke 1:26–38, each clearly independent of the other. Both narratives teach that the birth of Jesus resulted from a miraculous conception by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary apart from any sexual relationship. This doctrine must be distinguished from latter doctrinal developments concerning Mary, such as her perpetual virginity, her immaculate conception (being free from the stains of original sin), and her assumption into heaven—all of which are without biblical warrant.
Possibility and Probability of Miracles
The majority of professing Christians embraced the virgin birth without hesitation until nineteenth-century liberal theology began to question the possibility of miracles. Seeking to de-supernaturalize the Christian faith, liberalism unabashedly rejected even the possibility of miracles, and hence, the virgin birth of Jesus as well. Such unsubstantiated skepticism remains just as arbitrary and indefensible today as it was when the presupposition was first used in attacking the historicity of the Bible. The virgin birth is no more miraculous—nor does it require any more faith to believe—than any other tenet of the Christian faith, including the atonement, the resurrection, regeneration of unbelievers, and so on. If miracles are rejected a priori, then nothing of consequence to the Christian faith can be retained.
Even if one were to accept the general possibility of miracles, the question still remains about the probability of the virgin birth of Jesus. In light of the reality of the biblical teaching that Jesus performed miracles while on earth, was resurrected by the power of the Holy Spirit, and ascended into heaven supernaturally, it is completely harmonious to affirm Jesus entered into his creation in more than a mere natural manner—he entered miraculously.
Since the Bible unambiguously sets forth the concept of a virgin birth twice, it is more than sufficient proof. Anyone who requests an inspired and authoritative voice, Matthew and Luke offer us compelling evidence that the virgin birth is a fact, consistent with all historical discoveries.
The Rest of Scripture
Apart from an outright rejection of the miraculous, the greatest objection to the virgin birth concerns the “silence” in the remaining gospels and other parts of the New Testament. Since Mark (who wrote presumably the oldest of the four Gospels), John, Paul, and other writers are silent about the virgin birth, it is argued that the miraculous conception of Jesus was a later legend and was unknown in the earliest Christian circles (which, ironically, is an argument from silence). However, the silence in the New Testament can be reasonably explained in the same way one could answer charges of absence from certain authors regarding other theological facts. That is to say, the New Testament deals primarily with (1) Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection (the Gospels and some of the epistles); (2) the preaching, apologetic, and missionary work of the early church (Acts); (3) theological and practical problems within the church (epistles, Acts); and (4) the will of God triumphing and assurances of Jesus’ return (Revelation, epistles).
The virgin birth, as important a doctrine as it is, was not vital to Jesus’ own ministry or, so far as we can tell, that of the early church. Nowhere do we ever see it rising to the point in which an apostle must address it in any letter or epistle. When the New Testament writers did focus upon the miraculous nature of Jesus’ birth, they did so in order to show the fulfillment of the great Immanuel prophecy recorded in Isaiah 7 to 9:7.
We must also assume the early church adhered to a policy of decorum regarding public discussions about a private family issue out of respect for Mary and the rest of Jesus’ family.
The Witness of the Early Church
The earliest Christian writers, so far as we can trace the doctrine back, held to this belief. Ignatius, a student of the apostle John and martyr in the early second century, defended this doctrine against those who suggested Jesus only seemed to have been a man (docetists). The general body of earliest Jewish Christians acknowledged the virgin birth. Only those who denied the deity of Jesus denied his virgin birth.
Pagan Origins of the Virgin Birth?
Following the example of early church skeptics, liberals have attempted to draw a parallel between ancient myths of pagan gods siring offspring and the biblical narrative of the virgin birth. Such a hypothesis, however, is untenable at best. When one actually analyzes the ancient literature, it is obvious there is no clear equivalent to the virgin birth at all—only an extreme case of “parallel-mania” (wanting to see parallels where none, or very few, exist). Pagan tales of supernatural beginnings from Zeus begetting Hercules to the births of Perseus, Asclepius, and others are all said to parallel the Christian doctrine of Jesus’ birth. In reality, however, these myths show little more than monstrous deities fornicating with human beings, something radically different than the biblical account of the virgin birth. The pagan stories are characterized by insatiable lust and gross indecency, raping young girls or committing adultery with married women to produce half-divine and half-human creatures, a great chasm separating pagan myths from the biblical account of Jesus.
Doctrinal Significance of the Virgin Birth
The foundation of virgin birth rests chiefly on this one primary point: the Bible explicitly indicates the virgin birth is a historical reality. Nothing short of the doctrine of Scripture is integrally tied to the miracle of Jesus’ birth. If the Bible errs here on this point, then why should we trust any other claims of supernatural phenomena, such as the resurrection?
Also important to the discussion is the reminder that salvation is fully a gift of grace. There was nothing intrinsically pleasing about Mary that endeared her to God. There were presumably countless other Jewish girls who could have served as the chosen vessel to carry the Son of God. Yet God chose Mary to be the instrument to bring Jesus into the world through supernatural means, the same way the creative power operates in our new birth (John 1:13).
We also see evidence of the sovereign hand of God over nature in such a miraculous birth. On previous occasions, God opened barren wombs so that Isaac, Samuel, and John the Baptist might be born. In each instance, the mothers were past the natural age of bearing children or were unable to produce offspring, but God overcame these natural limitations and produced supernatural results. As tremendous as that power was, he displayed an even greater show of majesty and supremacy in accomplishing a seemingly impossible task of granting new birth to sinners. It is just as the prophet declared: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14b).
Finally, while we cannot state dogmatically that God could not have produced a sinless person apart from virgin birth, it seems very difficult to conceive of how Jesus could have remained free from the taint of original sin and guilt of being in Adam had he been born of two human parents (Rom. 5:12). Put another way, if Jesus was not born miraculously, how would he, born a sinner like the rest of humanity, be able to rescue himself and others from sin? In order to save the world, the Redeemer must be both God and (sinless) man, something only the virgin birth of Jesus adequately satisfies. In so doing, the virgin birth reveals to us Jesus Christ, one person with two natures: (sinless) human and divine.