Did Jesus Have to be Born of a Virgin?

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.”[1] 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[2] 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.[3]

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[4] 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.”[5] 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

Books/Articles:

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.

 

Links:

http://marshill.com/media/vintagejesus/why-did-jesus-mom-need-to-be-a-virgin

http://www.jesus.org/birth-of-jesus/mary-and-joseph/the-need-for-a-virgin-birth.html

http://carm.org/questions/about-jesus/jesus-name-immanuel-or-jesus

[1] 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.

[2] 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.

[3] 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!

[4] Interesting side note, the Hebrew word for “man” is adam.

[5] 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.