Does the Virgin Birth Matter for Understanding Who Jesus Is?

According to the Bible, Jesus was born of a young Jewish virgin named Mary, who was told by the angel Gabriel that she would become pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit. But the Virgin Birth isn’t mentioned very often in Scripture. We find it recorded just once in the Gospel of Matthew (1:18-23; quoting Isaiah 7:14) and once in the Gospel of Luke (1:34-35). By comparison, Scripture gives a lot more attention to Jesus’ Death and Resurrection. With so few biblical references to the Virgin Birth, one might be tempted to conclude that it’s just not that important for Christians to believe in it. But there are several reasons why Christians should confess this truth. In fact, while Christians may have disagreements on some peripheral issues of doctrine, a proper understanding of the Virgin Birth should lead us to see the central, nonnegotiable place that it should have in our theology.

The first reason why the Virgin Birth matters is because it is tied directly to the authority of Scripture. The Bible may not mention the Virgin Birth very often, but 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that all Scripture is inspired by God, while Proverbs 30:5 says that every word of God proves true. Some portions of Scripture might be more confusing or open to interpretation than others, but no one doubts that Matthew and Luke intended for us to believe that Mary was truly a virgin when she gave birth to Jesus. If we deny the truth of the Virgin Birth, then we undermine the reliability of Scripture as a whole, and cast a shadow of doubt on everything else that it teaches.

Another reason why the Virgin Birth matters is because it shows us how the entire Trinity was involved in the Incarnation of Christ. It demonstrates Jesus’ unique origin from God the Father, for Jesus says, “As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me” (John 6:57). It also points to the Holy Spirit as the means of Jesus’ Incarnation. This is explicit in both Matthew and Luke—Mary was said to be “with child from the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:18) and that the Holy Spirit “came upon” her and “overshadowed” her (Luke 1:35). Without a Virgin Birth, we have a separation of the Father and Holy Spirit from the saving work of Jesus in the Incarnation.

The Virgin Birth also safeguards the preexistence of Jesus. Scripture tells us that Jesus was “with God in the beginning” (John 1:1-2) and then took on “the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” when he came into the world (Philippians 2:6-7). But if Jesus was born by purely natural processes, how could he have existed before his birth? Some sort of supernatural intervention is necessary to affirm Jesus’ divine origins, or we are left with nothing but a human Jesus who at most was somehow “adopted” as God’s Son during his life.

A Virgin Birth also protects Jesus from the effects of original sin. This Christian doctrine teaches that all humans have inherited the guilt and moral corruption of our first parent Adam. The apostle Paul writes that sin and death came into the world through “one man” (Romans 5:12), and that his “one trespass led to condemnation for all men” (Romans 5:18). For this reason, we are all “by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3). But if our descent from Adam is the cause of our sin and guilt, how can Jesus be said to have been “without sin” (Hebrews 4:15)? Some kind of divine intervention was necessary to interrupt the ordinary transmission of sin from parent to child if Jesus was to be born into this world uncorrupted.

All of these reasons taken together should lead us to the conclusion that the doctrine of the Virgin Birth of Jesus is a vital, nonnegotiable truth of the Christian faith. Without it, Jesus could not possibly have been the eternally preexistent Word who came in the flesh without sin, and whose saving work was intimately connected to the work of the Father and Holy Spirit from beginning to end.

But while we confess the truth of the Virgin Birth, we must be careful not to jump to the wrong conclusions from it. For one, the Virgin Birth does not imply that sex in itself is somehow sinful. The Bible clearly describes sex as a gift of God and part of his good creation (Genesis 2:24-25; 1 Timothy 4:1-4). For another, the Virgin Birth does not imply that Mary was herself sinless or remained a virgin after the birth of Jesus. While these teachings are found in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, evangelical Protestants generally agree that Mary was a sinner saved by grace, just like the rest of us who confess Christ as our Savior.

Sources

Machen, J. Gresham. The Virgin Birth of Christ. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1930.

Rayburn, Robert G. Is the Virgin Birth Essential? Wheaton, IL: College Church of Christ, c. 1960.

Witherington, Ben. “The Birth of Jesus.” Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, edited by Joel Green and Scot McKnight, 60-74. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: