If faith in Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection are the determining belief required for salvation (John 3:16, Eph 2:8, 1 Cor 15:3-4) what difference does the Virgin Birth make? If we are saved by our faith in Christ, is the Virgin Birth simply a matter of doctrine over which Christians may disagree without sacrificing the essence of Christianity? These are good questions deserving a Biblical answer.
We must begin with a definition of the word virgin. The Merriam Webster Dictionary gives this English definition:
A person who has not had sexual intercourse.
Noah Webster’s 1828 Dictionary of American English defines it this way:
A woman who has had no carnal knowledge of man.
And, finally, the Funk and Wagnall’s Standard College Dictionary has:
A person, especially a young woman, who has never had sexual intercourse; a maiden.
I suppose we would have to say, based on these definitions, that a virgin is a person who has never participated in the sexual act of procreation, nor is a virgin able to procreate by definition. To put it succinctly, a woman who has never had sex cannot produce a baby except under extraordinary and very unlikely circumstances such as artificial insemination, or seminal fluid somehow coming into contact with the ovum through means other than sexual intercourse. The first is not usually practiced on a virgin, and the second is extremely unlikely. Because such circumstances are extraordinary, let us affirm, then that it is not ordinarily possible for a virgin to become pregnant.
The book of Isaiah has the premier Old Testament verse proclaiming the Virgin Birth of Christ. The verse in question is Isaiah 7:14, “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” We know that this passage refers to Christ because the New Testament tells us so, “Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us” (Matthew 1:22-23).
Here the word rendered “virgin” by the KJV (and, with few exceptions, the majority of other translations), is העלמה, ha-alma. The operative word is עלמה, alma. The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (HALOT) gives this definition of the word:
a) a marriageable girl as a description of the beloved b) a girl who is able to be married c) a young woman (until the birth of her first child)
The New American Standard Updated Edition Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible with Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries defines the word:
a young woman, a virgin: – girl (1), maid (1), maiden (1), maidens (3), virgin (1).
This is very definitely a virgin as described by the two English definitions above. This is a woman who has never had a physical sexual union with a man and is thus incapable of giving birth through natural and normal means.
Since the word, alma, may also mean simply a young woman, some have mistranslated this passage to mean a woman of a younger age who may or may not have been a virgin. They incorrectly say there is no connotation of a virgin in this passage. The idea of a young woman in the Hebrew language is a young woman that has not been married, and in the culture of ancient Israel, an unmarried woman was absolutely a virgin. If not, she would be an outcast and may even be stoned to death for sexual relations outside of marriage. So this young woman must have been a virgin based on the definitions above. I submit the following passage as proof of this conclusion:
“Suppose a man marries a woman, but after sleeping with her, he turns against her and publicly accuses her of shameful conduct, saying, ‘When I married this woman, I discovered she was not a virgin.’ Then the woman’s father and mother must bring the proof of her virginity to the elders as they hold court at the town gate. Her father must say to them, ‘I gave my daughter to this man to be his wife, and now he has turned against her. He has accused her of shameful conduct, saying, “I discovered that your daughter was not a virgin.” But here is the proof of my daughter’s virginity.’ Then they must spread her bed sheet before the elders. The elders must then take the man and punish him. They must also fine him 100 pieces of silver, which he must pay to the woman’s father because he publicly accused a virgin of Israel of shameful conduct. The woman will then remain the man’s wife, and he may never divorce her. “But suppose the man’s accusations are true, and he can show that she was not a virgin. The woman must be taken to the door of her father’s home, and there the men of the town must stone her to death, for she has committed a disgraceful crime in Israel by being promiscuous while living in her parents’ home. In this way, you will purge this evil from among you.” (Deuteronomy 22:13-21 NLT)
The Septuagint (also known as the LXX) translators evidently believed this was a virgin for they use the term in the LXX. In the LXX, the Greek word used to render the Hebrew alma, in the Isaiah passage is παρθενος, parthenos. Parthenos means a virgin or marriageable maiden, that is, one that has never had sexual intercourse with a man. The LXX leaves it n no doubt that a virgin was meant by the use of the word alma in the Isaiah passage.
Luke tells us that he thoroughly researched the history of the birth of Jesus. Like other contemporaries of his, he used eyewitness accounts to in his investigation. Since many of those eyewitnesses were alive when Luke carried out his investigation, he would have interviewed many of them personally.
Luke lays out the story of Mary, Elizabeth, and Joseph step by step. He recounts how the Angel Gabriel visited Mary and told her that she would give birth to a child even though she was a virgin. Luke tells how Gabriel appeared to Zachariah as told him that his wife, Elizabeth would bear a child in her elder years. He tells us how Mary went to visit her cousin Elizabeth who was five months pregnant with John the Baptist. Then he explains how Mary and Joseph travelled to Bethlehem where, while still a virgin, she delivered her baby, Jesus. Luke assumes the marriage was not broken by her pregnancy, Matthew 1:18-20, tells us why.
The foremost concern in the discussion of the truth of the Virgin Birth is that the Bible proclaims that Jesus was born of a virgin. Hence, if one believes the Bible to be true and inerrant, then the Virgin Birth must be a fact. However, there are many folks, even Christians, who do not believe in the complete accuracy of the Bible and who are skeptical of the Virgin Birth. If you are skeptical of the reliability of the Bible, there is a study available that will help: Is The Bible Reliable? (A Quick Review).
Christian, if you are a believer in the inerrancy of the Scriptures, as I am, then the reminder of this article is not directed to you. You are already convinced that Jesus was born of a virgin, that is, a woman who had never had sexual relations prior to His birth. This article is an attempt to show the person that does not believe in the complete accuracy of Scripture that the Virgin Birth is a viable and believable event that is an essential doctrine of Christianity. Yes, the Virgin Birth does matter. The remainder of the article will endeavor to explain why.
We will begin by restating the question, “Does the Virgin Birth really matter?” A better question is, “Is the Virgin Birth essential for salvation?” The answer to that question is yes. And if the Virgin Birth is essential for salvation, then yes the Virgin Birth really does matter.
The first reason that the Virgin Birth matters is that the Scripture says it occurred. If the Scriptures are accurate and truthful, as we attempted to show above, then to deny the Virgin Birth is to deny the Scriptures. If the Scripture is true, then so is the Virgin Birth.
Genesis 3:15, “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed: it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.”
According to my studies, many Hebrew authorities in history considered this passage to be messianic. Among them, Rabbi David Kimchi, Midrash Rabbah, Targum Jonathan, Jerusalem Targum, the Aramaic Targum tradition, and others. The teaching that Moshiach (Messiah) is Zera ha-Ishah (זרע האישה), the seed of the woman, was accepted in ancient Hebrew thought. This idea that the seed of woman is the Messiah is ancient and not some invention of someone trying to include “proof” that Jesus is the Messiah. Christians have long considered this passage to be messianic, but this was also a common Hebrew teaching.
Note that God said that He would put enmity between the seed of woman and the serpent. You will find upon diligent study of the Bible, that the seed (sperm cells) was carried by the man and passed from generation to generation by that seed. Men carried the seed of humanity. Women received the seed into their bodies and a new human was produced in the womb because of that seed. Putting enmity between the seed of a woman and the serpent is an indirect view of the Virgin Birth because no seed of a man is mentioned. In this verse, the woman provides the seed.
The phrase, her seed, is only found in two verses in the Bible, here and in Revelation 12:17. In both passages, Mary and the Virgin Birth are in view. In the Genesis passage, the seed of the woman, Eve, is the one that will bruise the head of the serpent. This can only refer to Christ for no other man in history was able to perform this feat. Christ alone, by His death and resurrection, has bruised the head of the serpent, which is Satan (Rev 12:9; 20:2). Eve is of course the mother of the entire human race because she gave birth to the race through Adam’s seed. Eve is a type of Mary; her seed is a type of Christ and His virgin birth. Mary is the antitype of Eve and Jesus is the antitype of the seed that will bruise the head of the serpent in this verse.
A type is something that serves as a representative illustration of a thing that has yet to come into being. An antitype is simply something that has been foreshadowed by a type. A good example of a type is Melchizedek. In the Old Testament (Gen 14:18) he was the King of Salem and priest of the Most High God. Salem here was probably Jerusalem (according to Kiel and Delitzsch and others), which is called Salem in Psalm 76:2. All we know of Melchizedek is contained in Genesis 14:18-24. He was the king who came out to congratulate Abram upon his defeat of Cherdorlaomer, Amraphel, Arioch, and Tidal who had captured Sodom and taken Lot and his family captive. Melchizedek blessed Abram in the name of the Lord, and Abram gave him a tithe of the spoils. Melchizedek means king of righteousness, Salem means peace, and of course the Most High God is the El Elyon in the song El Shaddai. Figuratively Melchizedek was the king of righteousness, the king of peace and the priest of God. When we look at his figurative titles we can see a foreshadowing of Jesus Christ who is the Prince of Peace, the King of Righteousness and our High Priest. Hence, Melchizedek was a type of Christ, Who is the antitype of Melchizedek.
Revelation 12:17, “And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.”
The remnant of her seed refers to the church because members of the church, Christians, are the only people who have the testimony of Jesus. Jesus is the beginner or father, if you will, of the church and the author of our salvation (Heb 12:22). Therefore, if Jesus is the author of our faith (Heb 12:2), and we are the remnant of the seed of the woman, then Jesus is the actual seed. He is the firstborn among many brethren (Rom 8:29).
Since Jesus is the seed of the woman and there is no male seed mentioned in these verses, then it follows that the woman, Mary, was a virgin when she conceived and gave birth to the Jesus. It follows because with no male seed, a woman cannot become pregnant and if the seed of woman is the Christ as we have shown above, then this indicated the Virgin Birth.
The Virgin Birth would not have happened had not Holy Spirit come upon Mary (not sexually but miraculously) and supernaturally impregnated her. So we are really speaking of the supernatural conception of the Christ child in the Virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit.
Let me explain supernatural. The word super is a combining form meaning outside of or above. Nature is where we live-in the world and ultimately in the universe. We are an inescapable part of nature and everything we perceive with our physical senses (sight, touch, feel, smell, hearing, and taste) is nature. Supernatural means outside of nature. God is supernatural because He is outside of nature because He created nature. Necessarily the creator of anything is outside of that thing. A potter creates a bowl but is not a part of that bowl. The potter is outside of his creation. The potter may at any time and at his discretion alone, make a change to the pot. He may even change it back to its previous shape if he wishes. Similarly, a supernatural event is God intervening in the laws of nature and changing them for a specific occurrence.
Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
I do not, for one moment give credence to the modern argument made by many that this passage does not really mean a virgin, but a young woman. As we discussed above the phrase ha-alma means a young woman of marriageable age. Again as we have already seen, a young woman of marriageable age in the ancient Hebrew culture was necessarily a virgin. If not, when she was married and found not to be a virgin, she would have been ostracized or even killed (Deu 21:13-21).
Another reason to disbelieve the modern detractors of the Virgin Birth is because seventy two Hebrew scholars, all well educated in the field of languages, were chosen to translate the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek. According to the Babylonian Talmud, the 72 scholars translated the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek in 72 days. The first translated were the books of Moses. The remaining books, including the Apocrypha were translated later. These scholars translated the word alma into parthenos in Isaiah 7:14, which means virgin or a woman that has never had sexual intercourse. I trust the expertise of these pre-Christian scholars because no Christian bias could have occurred 200-300 years before the birth of Christ. They simply understood the Isaiah passage to mean virgin. I trust the Septuagint because we have confirmation from Qumran that the Septuagint manuscripts are reliable.
Admittedly, Isaiah was talking about an event that would occur contemporarily with him. At the time the prophecy was spoken, the young woman (alma) in question was a virgin. It does not hold that when she conceived she was still a virgin. In fact, Isaiah ultimately married her and she conceived in the normal way. She was only a virgin when Isaiah spoke the prophecy-he did not prophesy that she would be a virgin when she conceived. This is the prophecy of the birth of Maher-shalal-hash-baz, in Isaiah 8:1, which occurred 3-4 years after Isaiah delivered said prophecy. Isaiah had by then married the girl and lay with her and she conceived (Isa 8:3). The word Immanuel was used to signify to Ahaz that God was still with them. That was the eminent fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. Nevertheless, the ultimate fulfillment of the prophecy was the birth of Christ as we find in Matthew’s Gospel. Maher-shalal-hash-baz was the type and Christ is the antitype.
The prophecy had a two-fold fulfillment as many Biblical prophecies do. It had an immediate fulfillment and a future fulfillment. The immediate fulfillment was the birth of Isaiah’s son, Maher-shalal-hash-baz. The later fulfillment was when Mary conceived Jesus in her womb and eventually birthed Him while remaining a virgin until after His birth.
Matthew 1:18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.
Here we are left in no doubt by the Apostle Matthew that Mary was a virgin when she conceived and the conception was produced supernaturally and miraculously in her by the Holy Ghost. She was found to be pregnant while legally engaged to Joseph before they came together. What does before they came together mean? Of course it means before they had sexual intercourse to consummate the marriage.
Matthew 1:23 Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.
Matthew quoted the Septuagint here. “Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel” in the Greek is an accurate quote of the Septuagint passage in Isaiah 7:14. Like we said before, the Hebrew scholars who translated Isaiah 7:14 into Greek understood the word alma to mean a virgin. Here Matthew, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Pet 1:21), proclaims that Isaiah 7:14 points toward Jesus.
Luke 1:30-35 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. (31) And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. (32) He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: (33) And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. (34) Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? (35) And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
Here, once again, a Gospel writer, Luke, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, tells the story of Mary questioning Gabriel about the mechanics of her pregnancy seeing that she had never had sexual relations with a man. To know a person of the opposite sex is a euphemism for sexual intercourse. Mary had not known a man sexually. This is another Scriptural proof of the Virgin Birth.
Matthew 1:25 And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.
And finally, this passage shows that Mary stayed a virgin until after the birth of Jesus. After that some say she remained a virgin, which is what the Roman Catholic doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity is about. Since I, as a Baptist believe in the doctrine of sola scriptura, that is not what the Bible says. It says in a straightforward manner, that he did not have marital relations with her until after the Birth of Jesus. It does not elaborate, but implies that after the birth of Jesus, the marriage was consummated. Additionally, later passages say that she had other children besides Jesus (Mat 12:46, 13:55, 27:56; Mar 3:31, 6:3; John 2:12; Act 1:14; Gal 1:19).
The second reason that the Virgin Birth matters is Christ’s deity and humanity. He was “God With Us,” or Emmanuel. He was both God and man. In order for Him to be deity, God had to be the Father. He did so by supernaturally impregnating Mary by miraculous means. God did not take on a man’s body and have relations with Mary; that is blasphemy. No, by a miraculous and thus supernatural act, God caused the embryo to grow in Mary’s womb. In other words, God provided the DNA to fertilize the ovum in Mary’s fallopian tube and the ovum made its way into the womb and grew into the Christ Child. Thus God provided for Christ’s deity. Mary’s ovum provided the human DNA for Christ’s humanity. Therefore, Jesus was born fully human and fully divine.
Why did Christ have to be both human and divine? It was because we humans need a mediator between us and God, an advocate to represent us before God, and a sacrifice to save us from the wrath of God. Only someone Who was both God and Man could act as a intermediary between God and man. Only a God-Man could know both God’s nature and man’s nature and thus be an advocate for us before God.
God said that in order for there to be forgiveness of sin, blood had to be shed (Lev 17:11; Heb 9:22). All of the blood sacrifices in the Law were brought to the altar for the forgiveness of sins. The victims’ blood was splashed upon the altar for the remission of sins. The animal to be sacrificed had to be a perfect specimen without blemish of any kind. Any defect, even as small as a wrong colored hair in the wrong place rendered the animal blemished. Perfection was the key. Any animal to be sacrificed had to be perfect in every way. A defect in an animal was symbolic for sin in a human. A sinless offering was required for sacrifice. The blood of bulls and goats only provided for a temporary remission of sins and that is why sacrifices were carried out daily. The Day of Atonement occurred once a year to cleanse Israeli of its sins. If the blood of animals was able to permanently remove sins, then the annual Day of Atonement would not be needed.
No, humans needed a permanent way to have sins forgiven. Jesus died on the cross, shedding His blood one time for all eternity. His blood was effectual in removing our sins permanently. He had to be flesh in order to be a sacrifice for the sins of men and women. Additionally, in order for His blood to remit sins, He had to be without blemish, that is, without sin. Jesus had no sin. Why? Because God cannot sin and Jesus was both God and man. Hence he had no sin. Because He was flesh, He could die like a sacrifice in order to save people. And Because He was God, he had no sin and was without blemish. That makes Him the perfect sacrifice that is able to forgive sin eternally.
Yes, the Virgin Birth does matter. If Jesus was not conceived of the Holy Spirit of God and born of a virgin, then our preaching is in vain, our faith is in vain, and we have no hope of salvation. In order for Jesus to be the perfect sacrifice for our sins, he had to be sinless and that is only possible if he was conceived by the Holy Spirit of God and born of a virgin, viz the Virgin Mary.
The Virgin Birth does matter because the Bible says it is so. If the Bible is wrong on this count, then what part of the Bible can we count on? And if any part of the Bible is untrue, then we cannot count on any other part of it. If we cannot count on the Bible being correct in the Virgin Birth, then we cannot count on it to be correct in what is says about our salvation. We can’t count on what it says about God, about our creation, about God’s love, or about anything it says. If we do not have the Bible as our beacon of truth, then, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:19, we, of all people, are most miserable. But, by faith, we believe the Bible to be true and thus the Virgin Birth is factual and we can count on Jesus Christ to save us.
The Virgin Birth is essential to our salvation, and therefore is an indispensible doctrine of Christianity. It cannot be simply dismissed as a myth or a fairy tale, or even an allegory. It must be true or we cannot be saved because we do not have a Savior if He was not born of a virgin. It is essential to our salvation that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin. Without the Virgin Birth, we are lost for eternity. He had to be both God and man and He had to be perfect without any blemish. In order to be perfect, He had to be without sin. If not for His conception by the Holy Spirit and birth via a Virgin, He could not have been the things necessary to provide for our salvation