People have attacked the virgin birth in numerous ways for numerous reasons. Even those who do believe it often don't think it important enough to defend. But Christian leaders throughout history have found it not only important but also essential. So how is it attacked today and why does it matter?
This is perhaps one of the most often cited criticisms. In the book of Isaiah, the prophet says the Messiah will be born to a “young woman.” The New Testament writers took that and translated it into “virgin.” So people will look to Isaiah and say, “See, the virgin birth isn’t even mentioned in the Old Testament, the New Testament writers read that into the text.”
Gotquestions.org answers this question quite well. The Hebrew term in Isaiah is almah and can be translated “young woman” or “virgin.” But 300 years before the birth of Jesus, Jewish translators used the Greek word parthenos, which distinctively means “virgin.” Gotquestions.org goes much more into detail, but there are good reasons to believe the Isaiah prophecy was meant to be interpreted as virgin.
Others will say the virgin birth isn’t important because there were so many miraculous births in the Old Testament. These include Isaac, Sampson, and among others, John the Baptist (remember, he was born under the Old Covenant, not under Christ’s New Covenant). But there is a difference between the birth of Jesus and the birth of these.
The biggest difference is that most of these women had barren wombs and many were past the age of fertility. God opened their wombs, healed their infertility, and allowed them to give birth.
In the case of Jesus, Mary was a virgin. God didn’t merely open her womb; He created life. Which leads to the next critique.
Stolen from paganism
We all know the story of Hercules. Zeus came down and had sex with a mortal woman. There are numerous other stories of pagan gods visiting earth, having sexual relations with humans, and producing demi-god offspring.
But that is the pivotal difference: they had sex. God did not have sex with Mary. He created life.
But even that statement is incorrect because Jesus has existed from eternity past. It wasn’t as if He suddenly existed once Mary became pregnant.
This is part of the mystery and miracle of the incarnation we often overlook. God the Son, who had existed in unity and equality with God and Father and God the Spirit, became a helpless, vulnerable fetus. He was dependent on his mother for life. Yet, there was never a moment, even in her womb, when He was not God.
Even in this, there is a difference between Jesus and the pagan stories. When the pagan gods had sex with mortal women, the offspring were demigods. Jesus was no lesser god or greater man. He is the God-man. Jesus was and is fully God and fully man.
Not important in Scripture
Another argument people make is that the virgin birth isn’t important because it is only mentioned twice in the Bible, during the gospel accounts of Matthew and Luke. Mark and John make no mention of it, and Paul never mentions it in his epistles.
Mark and John do not include the virgin birth because they do not include the birth. If one wanted to make that argument from them, he would have to logically deduce Jesus appeared on earth as a 30-year-old man just before John baptized Him. That is a ridiculous belief.
They did not recount the virgin birth because that was not the way they structured their gospels. There was no place for them to include the virgin birth. To twist these two gospel accounts to argue against the virgin birth is a logical fallacy.
That logical fallacy has a name: arguing from silence. We cannot say John, Mark, or Paul did not believe in the virgin birth simply because they did not talk about. If you were only to read this article from me, you could assume all sorts of things about me. You could assume I am a single man with no children. You would be wrong, but you could make that argument because I have not mentioned my wife and children.
But this begs the question: how often must something be mentioned in Scripture to be considered important? It is true Scripture repeats itself, as in the multiple listings of the 10 Commandments, but John records several miracles that are not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible. Does that mean these miracles are less true, historical, or important?
Why it matters
What this boils down to is a question of authority, a topic we at Engage like discussing. If we force the words of Scripture to fit what we want to believe, we place ourselves in authority over the Bible. What we are doing, in essence, is saying God got it wrong and it is up to us to get it right.
But when we come to Scripture and recognize it’s ultimate authority (Sola Scriptura, as old writers used to put it) we are able to stand in awe of what God did in the incarnation of Jesus.
Paul never mentions the virgin birth, but he makes it clear that Jesus is our new Adam (Romans 5:12-21). Like Adam, Jesus did not have the seed of man. But unlike Adam, Jesus was obedient to God the Father, even to the point of death. Jesus succeeded where Adam failed.
There are many more historical and theological reasons to believe in the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. Entire books have been written on the topic, and one highly recommended work is The Virgin Birth by J. Gresham Machen.
Whether you read it or not, take some time this Christmas to meditate on the miracle that was and is Jesus Christ leaving the comfort and glory of heaven, taking on the flesh of man, living under the law, dying a redeeming death, and raising Himself to life so that we may be reconciled to God. It is a beautiful truth worth thinking over and defending.