Why did Jesus have to be born to a virgin? I am sure that you have heard the story time and time again…
Wise men come from afar, following a star.
Gathered in a manger then evading homeland danger.
They met baby Jesus, of virgin birth,
who came to save all on earth.
Have you ever paused to think about this amazing situation? Mary, Jesus’ mother, was to be wed to a man named Joseph. Could you imagine what went through Joseph’s mind as he heard that the woman he was to exchange vows with was pregnant? Put yourself in his sandals for a moment. How would you feel if your fiancé told you that she was pregnant? It is no wonder that the LORD sent an angel to assure Joseph that this was all part of God’s plan (Mt. 1:20-23). Why was Jesus born of a virgin – did Jesus’ birth have to happen this way?
The Christian doctrine outlined in each of the Gospels, in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, says “by the power of the Holy Spirit, Mary conceives and bears Jesus apart from sexual intercourse with her husband Joseph.” To be honest and straightforward from the onset, in the sixty-six books that make up the Bible there is not much in Scripture that speaks of Jesus being born of a virgin. There is nothing that outright proclaims that our Savior must be born of a virgin. The key verses that speak to Jesus’ birth narrative are the following: Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:16, 18-25, 13:55; Mark 6:3; Luke 1:26-38; and John 1:14. The Gospels tell the story of Jesus’ birth and the passage from Isaiah is prophetic, in that it looks forward to this amazing birth.
Let’s journey from old to new, what does the ancient prophet Isaiah say about the virgin birth? The prophet, most likely speaking between 740 – 680 B.C., proclaims
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
Why will there be a sign and what will the sign be? God, through Isaiah, tells Ahaz that there will be a sign. In case you don’t know who Ahaz is, he was heir to David’s throne. Instead of putting his faith in the LORD who brought God’s people out of Egypt, Ahaz pledged his allegiance to kingly powers of this world. In an effort to win Ahaz’s favor, and in an act that is not typical of God, God offers a sign to show His great power. Ahaz refuses but God insists – one will be born called Immanuel, which translates as “God with us.” We see in Matthew 1 that God follows through with his promise. Mary is the young woman who gives birth to a child.
Now seeing what and why the sign was, we can fast-forward to the birth narrative found in in the Gospels and visit the purpose of this article, did Jesus have to be born of a virgin and, if so, why?
To point out the elephant in the room, Immanuel did have to be born of the flesh because, through the prophet Isaiah, God said that it would happen that way. This reminds us that we can take God at His Word, His true and perfect Word. But before the prophetic words of Isaiah, is there support from Scripture that Jesus was to be born of a virgin? There is not evidence anywhere else, but there is theological evidence.
Theologically, Jesus was to be born of a virgin for a number of reasons:
- If Jesus were born of two human beings, what evidence would we have from Christ’s birth narrative that he is divine? That fact that Jesus was born of a virgin gives evidence from his conception that the hand of God is over the event.
- We can rest assured that God’s hand was over the incarnation because it reminds us that salvation comes from God alone. There is nothing that we, in our fallen state, can do to free ourselves from the bondage of sin and the virgin birth is the miraculous story that reminds us salvation belongs to and comes from our God.
- Human and God are fully one in the virgin birth of Christ. The Holy Spirit and Mary bore Christ making Christ both divine and human (Gal. 4:4).
- The ongoing line of “inherited sin” was interrupted. Each and every one of us have inherited sin from “The Fall,” the occurrences that you can read about in Genesis 3, but because Jesus’ father is not a man the ongoing cycle of sinful humanity was interrupted!
Both the Old Testament and the New Testament mention the birth of our Messiah, Jesus Christ who is Immanuel. Though Scripture does not make definitive argument for Jesus having to be born of a virgin, in looking at the text from a theological point of view we recognize that Jesus could not have been born of two human beings. In doing so, Jesus would have been continuing the same cycle that we saw throughout history up until the birth of Christ. On the contrary, Jesus was born fully human and fully divine. Jesus is God in the flesh, God with us.
When we see the virgin birth as more than just a bizarre story or an ancient tale and we are reminded that God’s Word is good and true than we are led to worship our Creator and Sustainer, God the Father. When we realize that the introduction to Christ Jesus is actually the start of a new chapter in the grand story of redemption that God has been writing since creation than we humble ourselves and, kneeling before the King of Kings, admit that we are not in charge but that God is. The birth of Jesus Christ, Immanuel, depicts “renewed creation, and the inauguration of the messianic age.” Jesus Christ had to be born of a virgin not just because Scripture says so but also because, like Jesus’ death on the cross, there was no other way for the Mission of God to be accomplished.
Dig Deeper, Read Broader, Worship More Intimately
Wayne A. Grudem. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, 2004. “Virgin Birth” pp. 529-533.
Dormann, T.M., “Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ” Vol. 4, 990-993.Bromiley, Geoffrey W., ed. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised. Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979–1988.
Carrigan, Henry L., Jr. “Virgin Birth.” Edited by David Noel Freedman, Allen C. Myers, and Astrid B. Beck. Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000.
 Henry L. Carrigan Jr., “Virgin Birth,” ed. David Noel Freedman, Allen C. Myers, and Astrid B. Beck, Eerdmans dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000), 1359.
 It’s important to note, and this is a widely accepted point across Christian and Jewish circles, the word that is used in Isaiah 7:14 that is commonly translated virgin is more popularly understood as young woman. The word is almah (see different translations of Gen. 24:43; Ex. 2:8; Ps. 68:25; Prov. 30:19, all verses that use the word almah). In any case, Mary was a young woman but she is also the virgin who gave birth to a son called Immanuel.
 A piece of Scripture that may be worth considering here is found in Genesis 3:15, which reads I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring.” There is hardly any other lineage in Scripture highlighting a female, as it was tradition to mention genealogies according to male descendants. Not only that, but a female herself does not have a seed!
 Interesting side note, the Hebrew word for “man” is adam.
 Dormann, T.M., “Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ” Vol. 4, 990-993.Bromiley, Geoffrey W., ed. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised. Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979–1988.
Say you were reading through the Old Testament and began to notice the number of commandments listed. Maybe some of the weird laws stuck out to you and they really got you to think about the variety of commandments. Did you see that in Leviticus 11:21-22 people of faith are permitted to eat insects with jointed legs (like grasshoppers) but in the previous verse they are restricted against eating any other insects. Another example is that of following the Sabbath – absolutely no work was permitted on the Sabbath day (Exod. 31:14). These are a couple of the bizarre laws and they barely scratch the surface of the 613 laws that are listed!
As far as the Old Testament is concerned, a life of faith for those who believe in the LORD God appears to consist of rigidly obeying this lengthy list of commands. It is no wonder that so many people wrongly think that living a Christian life means obeying strict rules and always doing “the right thing” all so that you can get into heaven. Is there more to a life of faith in God than following the lengthy list of laws found in the Old Testament? Another way to ask this may be, does the New Testament change any or even all of this?
It sure does! Lets look to what Christ says about it:
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”
And [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
In a way that is too incredible to summarize in this short post, Christ completely transformed what “obedience” means for a person who believes in God. The list that the people of God were supposed to model their lives after, those 613 laws that we mentioned above, were all really about two things:
(1) love the LORD with all your heart, soul and mind and
(2) love your neighbor as yourself.
These two instructions that Christ says are the great commandment of the Law are known as the Shema (she-ma) and they come from a great and beautiful sermon that Moses gave to Israel found in Deuteronomy 6:4-5.
Deuteronomy 6:4–9 (ESV):
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
From what Jesus shared with the people and then the passage that Jesus quoted when he answered those who questioned him, we see that obedience consists primarily of surrendering your life or surrendering yourself to two things; first to God and secondly to your neighbor. Now that we know what a life of faith looks like in theory, what does it look like practically? In other words, what does a life of faithful obedience to our King include as we live day to day?
Lets break this down by focusing on the two commands that Christ gave us in Matthew 22:36-40: First, to love the LORD and, second, to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Day to day, what does it mean to love the LORD with all of your heart, with all of your soul, and with all of your might (Dt. 6:5)? There is absolutely nothing more that you can do to love the LORD than to pour yourself into Christ, especially since it is through Christ that we arrive at the Father (John 14:6; Romans 5:1-10). We love the LORD God and grow closer to Him only by spending time with Christ. We are to spend time getting to know Christ. We are to pray to Christ and praise Christ for all that He did before, during and after the cross. It is on nothing more than the words and works of Jesus Christ that we are to dedicate our lives. Believers should be a people memorizing what Christ said and did while sharing our joys and struggles with Christ.
Speaking of the joys and struggles of life, there is a lot of wonderful and difficult stuff that we journey through day to day. It is important to mention that obedience in faith does not just mean that we are only putting our stock in the things to come – there is much benefit to faithful obedience right here and now. In short, there is more to obedience than one’s personal salvation or the future heavenly afterlife. God is the God of salvation, of peace, of healing, of life, of love, of justice and of so much more. All of those characteristics are fully realized in heaven but are also available right now on earth. No matter what storm you are weathering or what incredible life-changing transition you are enduring, God is right alongside of you if your hope is in Christ.
Matthew 7:24–27 (ESV)
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
The second part of what Jesus shared in Matthew 22 deals not with how believers obey God but with how believers interact with the people around them. Are you a “good neighbor”? Do you treat your neighbor as you treat yourself? We first need to take a second and think about how we treat ourselves.
It is no secret that most people are naturally prone to think of themselves first in any given situation. That may be why 2 Timothy 3 mentions those who “love themselves” at the beginning of the long, despairing list of wrongdoers. The situations that we are talking about here is not merely setting time aside for yourself, because it is incredibly important to set aside personal time from our busy schedules. Instead, think about how some people treat their friends or even their spouse. On a somewhat corny but extremely practical note, have you ever been at the dinner table and there was one slice of pizza left but many mouths that it could feed? Rather than thinking to how it could benefit yourself, do you consider how others might want that piece?
Do you treat others as you treat your own self?
This is extremely practical as you consider all the people you live alongside throughout the day.
- Many start and end the day with their spouse. Do you treat your spouse better than you treat yourself? Do you attempt to out serve your spouse? If so, you are ministering to him/her! Your marriage is a daily opportunity to treat your neighbor as yourself.
- Once you and your spouse go your ways for the day, you may arrive at work – what better place is there to think of others before yourself than at work? Could you imagine the eyebrows that would rise if you tried to out-serve a coworker? The workplace is typically a cutthroat environment in which people are competing for positions. Contrary to the way the world around us operates, believers ought to know that we are all on the same level when Christ is in the picture. Put practically, you are in your place of work to complete your job with excellence and to treat your coworker, who is your neighbor, as you treat yourself.
- Then imagine that you finally make it home from a long day of out-serving others at work to greet your neighbor at the foot of your driveway. Do you give him a nod and head inside because you are tired from your long day or do you pause for a moment and catch up, asking if there is any way that you can serve him? When given the opportunity, do you treat your neighbor as you wish others would treat you?
The list of tangible examples goes on with the inclusion of family and dear friends. All of these are our “neighbors,” whether you share a driveway or you work in a clustered cubicle.
We have seen that a life of faith is much more than completing a honeydew list that is given us by God the Father. Having been given the 613 Old Testament laws, we must realize that Christ has both fulfilled them and summarized those in two short commands: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Christ was the ultimate example of love if there ever was one. To love God means that you surrender your entire life and worldview to the words and ways of God the Father. Anything He asks of you, you are to joyfully carry out. To love your neighbor means the same as what Christ exemplified. Christ loved his neighbors by listening, by sharing the Gospel, by serving, and by sacrificing himself entirely. We are to be a people who pour ourselves out for the sake of others.
This all sounds tiring, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t it be taxing to live as a sacrifice and to always place others and God as priority over yourself? Christ says that in his leaving of earth there then comes one better who will be with us, who will strengthen us, and who will counsel us. The Holy Spirit lives within each one of us and as we grow closer to Christ we find that there is not much good that can be done aside from the Holy Spirit. In our weakness, we are strong; in our foolishness, we are wise; in our trials, we persevere; only thanks to the Holy Spirit who dwells within us.
How does a person express their love for Jesus?
What does a life of faith in Christ really look like?
As simply put as possible, by loving God and loving one’s neighbor.
John 6:25–34 (ESV)
25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ” 32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
If you quickly read through this passage, you may think that you have got a grasp on what is happening and what point Jesus is trying to make. Jesus is talking about bread, right? I challenge you to pause for a moment, envision each character speaking, and try to take in the discourse.
You may be amazed at what is said.
In the verses leading up to this passage, there is a crowd gathered that is seeking out Jesus (Jn. 6:22-24). They finally spot him across the sea and they approached him with questions (Jn. 6:25).
The first question of many that the crowd asks Jesus is when it was that Jesus arrived where he was. What is Jesus’ answer to them? To paraphrase, Jesus dodges their question and says that they did not seek him out because of reasons of faith but because they were out of loaves to eat (not long before this passage, Jesus fed thousands of people with loaves of bread – see John 6:1-15). Then he follows with commanding his listeners to not work for food that perishes but food that lasts forever (v. 27).
Having shifted the topic from food to work and obedience, the crowd then naturally asks Jesus what it is that they must be doing to be fulfilling the works of God (v. 28)? If this Rabbi named Jesus is going to perform signs and wonders and teach them according to the revelation of God Himself, the people naturally want to know how to live for that everlasting food (Jn. 6:28). Wouldn’t that be the same question that you or I would ask Jesus next?
What is Jesus’ response when they ask what work God requires of them? “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:29, underline added) In other words, Jesus points out that this is not the work that anyone can carry out but this is work that God Himself alone can do – and, listen carefully to the next eight words, the only required work is that of belief.
The crowd foolishly misunderstands two points that Jesus appears to be saying:
That (1.) they cannot do enough to account for their sins and (2.) “Eternal bread”, or salvation, is gifted to them and not something merited to them after they check off everything on their TO DO list.
The people that Jesus is speaking to, and we can put ourselves in their shoes, they “display no doubt about their intrinsic ability to meet any challenge God may set them; they envince no sensitivity to the fact that eternal life is first and foremost a gift within the purview of the Son of Man (v. 27).” Put simply, they think there is no command that cannot be completed and that they deserve eternal life with their complete obedience to a set of commands.
Whether we recognize it in our own lives, we would most likely be guilty of answering Jesus the same exact way. Put another way, those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ often choose religion over a relationship without realizing it. When life gets busy or difficult, we cowardly resort to our list of works – whether figuratively or literally, we check off daily boxes that say “pray,” “read Scripture,” and “tell others about Jesus.” In those moments where we put our hope of salvation in works, we should really listen to Jesus: “This is the deed God requires—to believe in the one whom he sent.” (NET)
To put this as bluntly and as applicable as possible:
- While a good thing, our reading of God’s Word alone will not earn our salvation;
- While a good thing, our consistent prayer for our neighbors will not earn our salvation;
- While a good thing, our service to the poor and the needy will not earn our salvation.
Such acts are the result of our faith and salvation, not the road to our faith and, most importantly, are not the means for our salvation. The only action that God requires of us in His salvation-gifting is to believe in the one whom He sent. If most of us were truly honest with themselves, we would admit that some days this is much more difficult a task than keeping a prayer journal or memorizing Scripture. The work that God requires of us is faith in Jesus Christ – can you rest in that fact? Are you able to stop doingand rest in the reality that no more sacrifices are necessary? Christ has done all of the work. All that is required of you and of myself is faith in the one who God has sent on our behalf. That is a beautiful truth and a truth that apparently went right over the heads of Christ’s audience nearly 2,000 year ago.
In a sequence that is almost too ironic to be true, following Christ’s proclamation of faith over works, those who were standing around Christ dared to ask him to perform a sign to prove his legitimacy (as if feeding thousands from five loaves and two fish in John 6:1-15 was not enough)! When will the people of God realize that the work has all but been accomplished already? Faith in Christ, in and of itself, can be the most difficult tasks. The only required deed any longer is that of faith in Christ Jesus, the Messiah who was born, who died, and who was resurrected
Are you at a place where you realize Christ is all and has accomplished all that needs done by His once-and-for-all sacrifice? Or are you still convinced that a life of Christian faith is deep-rooted in following strict guidelines and living a life of painful obedience to unwelcomed laws? If you have recognized Christ for who He is, are you able to look to the Scriptures and a life of prayer as the overflow of your faith opposed to the requirements of your faith?
“This is the deed God requires—to believe in the one whom he sent.” (Jn. 6:29)
 Carson, D.A., John: Pillar New Testament Commentary, John 6:28
Have you ever heard the saying, “You get it honest”? This saying means that you have inherited some trait from your mother or father (whether you like it or not) and someone has noticed that characteristic in you! We all pick up some qualities from our grand ‘ole family trees and knowing where we came from can typically tell us where we are going. That is most certainly the case with Jesus and that is why it is so important that we understand Jesus’ human lineage. Let’s first take a quick look at what Scripture says about his ancestry and then talk about why is it so important.
Two Lengthy Lineages
The two most comprehensive collections of Jesus’ family tree can be found at the beginning of Matthew and at the start of Luke. Though very similar, there are a couple of differences that make for some excellent points. Let’s take a look:
- The first thing that most will notice is that the family-line that the Gospel of Matthew paints goes only as far back as our father Abraham (Matt. 1:1-17). The tracing of Jesus’ line back to Abraham is important because Abraham was given a covenant promise by God of more descendants and land so great that could be not be measured (Gen. 12:1-3) – and Jesus carries that promise forward. Jesus is a part of the very same inheritance and covenant promise tradition that we know from Abraham!
- Secondly, the genealogy that Luke records seems to be much more detailed than that of the genealogy that Matthew records. Most understand Luke to be the most detailed researcher of the Gospel writers; he seldom fails to include more details than everyone else, even if it means writing a Gospel that is longer than the others. So where Luke has a very historical, detailed account, Matthew has a very theological record of Jesus’ forefathers (and even foremothers, which is very unusual for an ancient ancestry).
Though there is much more to be said about the genealogies of Christ, these two notes in themselves, some may argue, may be of most importance. What points are the Gospel recorders Luke and Matthew trying to make and, ultimately, why is the human lineage of Jesus so important?
First let’s look at the importance of Matthew tracing Jesus’ relationship to our Father Abraham. Some people argue that the entirety of Scripture, and that includes both the Old and New Testaments, can be summarized by one single word – Covenant. If you think about it, the Bible is really just a series of covenants, isn’t it? God continually creates covenants with his people as He moves closer to renewing the earth and all of the people on it. You can see examples of this with Noah, Moses, Abraham and David. The genealogy of Christ in the book of Matthew walks the reader through the very truth that God is a God of promise-keeping covenants. God is faithful to His word. In the opening scene of Matthew, by reading through the genealogy of Christ, readers realize that the God of Israel is not finished with His people. In fact, the story of the Old Testament continues on in Christ Jesus.
Though Luke also records the genealogy of Jesus, there appears to be a different point being made because of how detailed he is. Remember, Luke traces the family line back to the beginning of humanity, beginning with Adam. In fact, Luke is right on the money with the names he gives throughout this lineage. The names that Luke lists in 3:23-38 can also be matched in resources outside of the Bible. We see Matthew connect Christ to Abraham but Luke appears to be driving home the fact that Christ is both (1.) a descendent of King David as well as (2.) the Son of God (see Luke 3:38).
We see in just this short study that the human lineage, or genealogy, of Jesus is important because it shows that Jesus continues the covenant promises that God gave to Abraham. In other words, when we think of the birth of Christ we should also consider the continuation of God’s work done through Noah, Moses, Abraham and David. The human lineage is also important because it shows Jesus as the root of David (Rev. 22:16), the kingly messianic figure that Israel has long awaited. And finally, quite possibly of most importance, the human lineage proves that Jesus is himself the very Son of God.
Now having a better idea of the purpose as to why the Gospel writers Matthew and Luke included the genealogy of Christ, does that change the way that you read them? More than what many may see as just a boring inventory of names, the lengthy lists of those who went before Christ should encourage you in your faith. Christ is a piece of this great work that God is doing. What is more, Christ concludes his earthly ministry with the commissioning of believers to continue on in that great work. In Matthew 28, right before Christ ascends to the right hand of the Father in Heaven, Christ instructs his disciples to GO into all of the world, making disciples and baptizing them in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Spirit. As a believer in Christ Jesus, you now belong to this Heavenly family. With being adopted into this family, now an heir to the inheritance that God shares with us, we are instructed to tell others about Christ. So the story shall continue until the return of our King, Jesus Christ.
 Maybe without even realizing it, we are learning about God in the opening verses of Matthew (and whenever we learn and study God, that is called theology) thus making Matthew’s approach rich theologically.