Did Jesus Have a Human Father?
AT THIS season of the year the attention of many people is focused on Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Without a doubt that man affected the human race for good more than any other. His remarkable life has intrigued many authors to write about him. However, many of these writers take issue with what the Bible says about Jesus’ being born of a virgin and having the Creator, Jehovah God, as his Father, and insist that he had a human father.
In fact, today more and more religious leaders, both Protestant and Roman Catholic, are of this opinion. For example, in Theology Today, July 1971, a professor of religion purports to show that the father of Jesus was either a paramour of Mary or was her husband Joseph. A professor at Cambridge, England, writing in The Expository Times, February 1969, insists that “from the strictly historical point of view, there is very little reliable data to which appeal may be made for the virginal conception of Jesus.” He discredits the accounts in the first two chapters of Matthew and Luke and then says “there is no other reference in the New Testament which any historian . . . would think asserted that Jesus was conceived of a Virgin without human father.” And a writer in Continuum, a Roman Catholic periodical (Winter-Spring 1969), states: “The virgin birth is a mythological or pictorial way of getting at [the] theological mystery of the gratuitous nature of salvation. . . . Those who originated the story . . . used the picture images . . . to represent their sense of the Messianic event.”
Let us consider this question in greater detail. What does the Bible really show to be the case? Did Jesus have a human father or was the Creator, Jehovah God, in truth and in fact his Father?
First of all, let us note that such a thing as Jesus’ not having a human as his father would not be beyond the power of God. As has well been noted: “If God made the first man—Adam—without a human mother, then could not the same God bring into being the second Adam—Christ—without a human father?” Surely! But those who object to the virgin birth of Jesus usually also object to the Bible’s account of creation. As one of these critics put it: “I for one am not willing to grant that God made Adam without a mother.”
But those who do accept the Bible as God’s inspired Word have no difficulty in believing that He, who created Adam with sperm cells in the first place and who endowed womankind with the power to conceive and bear children, could also produce a sperm cell apart from any human and could place it in a virgin and so cause her to conceive without the aid of a male human. If we at all believe in God, we must grant him these powers, must we not? It is indeed noteworthy that the angel made this very point in reply to the virgin Mary’s question as to how she was to conceive since she was having no relations with any man. Said the angel, “because with God no declaration will be an impossibility.”—Luke 1:36, 37.
The Testimony of the Gospels
The complaint is made that the only records we have of Jesus’ birth are those of Matthew and Luke, but then those two are the only ones that tell us of Jesus’ infancy and early life. Mark doubtless left out the facts of Jesus’ birth and infancy in the interest of brevity, and the apostle John did so since he was chiefly concerned with supplementary matters not covered by the other Gospel writers.
Matthew tells us that Mary became pregnant by the spirit of God before she had intercourse with Joseph, to whom she was engaged. He also records how Joseph reacted to Mary’s being pregnant and how God’s angel assured him of how it came about. Moreover, the account makes the point that Joseph did not have intercourse with her until she had given birth to Jesus. (Matt. 1:18-25) Luke informs us of the very same facts, but all from Mary’s viewpoint or aspect. Luke and Matthew have about a dozen points in common. (Luke 1:26-35) Clearly, as far as Matthew and Luke are concerned, God, not some human, was Jesus’ Father. Even Mark might be said to testify indirectly to this fact. How so? In that, instead of recording that the people were asking, “Is this not the carpenter’s son?” he reports them as asking, “This is the carpenter the son of Mary . . . is it not?”—Matt. 13:55; Mark 6:3.
Further testifying to Jesus’ having God, not some human, as his Father were the voices heard from heaven at the time of Jesus’ baptism and at the time of his transfiguration, saying: “This is my Son, the beloved, whom I have approved.” What stronger evidence could we want that Jesus had God, not some human, as his Father?—Matt. 3:17; 17:5; Mark 1:10, 11; 9:7; Luke 3:21, 22; 9:35.
The apostle John in his Gospel testifies to the same effect. How so? In that he tells that Jesus had a prehuman existence, was used by God in the creation and was the “only-begotten son” of God. So how could any human have been his father?—John 1:1-3, 14.
The Testimony of Jesus and Paul
As for Jesus himself, it appears that, even as a child of twelve years, he knew that God was his Father. For at the time that Joseph and Mary, after looking for him for three days, found him in the temple, he said to them: “Why did you have to go looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in the house of my Father?” (Luke 2:41-50) That temple was not Joseph’s house but God’s!
More than that, throughout his ministry Jesus time and again testified that he had God as his Father, and therefore no human. He told of his having a prehuman existence (“Before Abraham came into existence, I have been”), and he told of his coming down from heaven, and of his future return to heaven. How could Jesus have had a prehuman existence and have come to earth if Joseph had been the one that had given him life?—John 3:13; 6:41, 62; 8:23, 56-58; 17:5.
The apostle Paul witnesses to these very same truths. Repeatedly he refers to Jesus’ prehuman existence, and he tells how Jesus came to earth and that upon his resurrection he returned to heaven. True, Paul does not testify to the virgin birth of Jesus in so many words, but that God, not some human, was Jesus’ Father is implicit in what Paul wrote.—Rom. 8:3; 1 Cor. 15:47; Gal. 4:4; Phil. 2:7, 8; Col. 1:15-17; Hebrews, chapters 1 and 2.
Why Not a Human Father?
Had Jesus had some imperfect human instead of God as his Father he could not have fulfilled the purposes for which he came to earth. It was imperative that God, not Joseph or some other human, be Jesus’ Father because Jesus had to be sinless in order to be the “Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) All mankind are sinners due to the transgression of Adam. (Rom. 5:12, 19) This being so, none could give to God a ransom for his brother, even as noted at Psalm 49:7-9. As Job observed: “Who can produce someone clean out of someone unclean?” It has been true of all, aside from Jesus, that ‘in sin their mothers conceived them and with error they were brought forth with birth pains,’ even as King David confessed when pleading for mercy.—Job 14:4; Ps. 51:5.
Due to Jesus’ having God, not some human, as his Father, he was “guileless, undefiled, separated from the sinners.” Well could he challenge his opposers to convict him of any sin. (Heb. 7:26; John 8:46) Being perfect he could “give his soul a ransom in exchange for many.” And having given his life as a ransom, he became the “mediator between God and men,” able to offer a “propitiatory sacrifice for our sins” as well as “for the whole world’s.”—Matt. 20:28; 1 Tim. 2:5, 6; 1 John 2:2.
Further, God purposed that his Son Jesus furnish the supreme example of a perfect human creature keeping integrity in spite of all that the Devil could do, and the Devil did try his worst to cause Jesus to break his integrity, both by temptations and by persecutions. (Matt. 4:1-10; John 19:1-18) That it had been the Devil’s purpose to turn all men away from God is seen from his turning aside Adam and Eve and from his boasts and efforts to turn Job away from God.—Gen. 3:1-19; Job, chapters 1 and 2.
Supposed Objections Considered
Despite all the foregoing testimony, there are many who raise objections. For example, they note that time and again Jesus is referred to as the son of Joseph. True, but since Joseph, by taking Mary as his wife when she was pregnant, in effect adopted Jesus as his son, Jesus could be spoken of as his son. Generally, adopted sons are spoken of as the sons of the fathers who adopted them, are they not? More than that, we find that usually it was those most likely not familiar with the facts that referred to Jesus as Joseph’s son. The fact that Jesus’ enemies sneered that they were not born of fornication would not necessarily mean that they had information about Jesus as not being Joseph’s son. Why not? Because in the very same connection they slurred Jesus as being a Samaritan and having a demon, which they obviously knew was not the truth.—John 8:41, 48.
Then again, many attack the virgin birth of Jesus on the basis that the first two chapters of Matthew and of Luke were added at a later time, and by some other hand. But there is absolutely no basis for this claim. For one thing, the writing style of the chapters in question is exactly the same as that of subsequent chapters. Note, for example, Matthew’s many references to the Hebrew Scriptures, a characteristic of his, and Luke’s medical language in these two chapters, a characteristic of his. Nor is there any manuscript evidence to support such claims. For example, there is evidence that Mark 16:9-20 and John 7:53–8:11 were added by a later hand; but there just is no manuscript testimony for impugning the authenticity of the first two chapters of Matthew and Luke. Neither the oldest Greek-manuscripts nor the versions or translations hint of such a thing. This is further supported by the fact that the early postapostolic writers, such as Irenaeus, Tertullian, Ignatius, Aristides, Justin Martyr, Origen and others, all accepted the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth from a virgin. As one authority puts it: “The witness of the Fathers to the virginal conception is unanimous and unquestioned.”*
The fact that the most noted vellum manuscripts of the Christian Greek Scriptures go back only to the early fourth century has been used as an argument by some that the chapters in question might not have appeared in the original writings. But, in view of the other even older manuscripts extant, Sir Frederic Kenyon, in his book The Bible and Archaeology, said: “The interval then between the dates of original composition and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact negligible. . . . Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the New Testament may be regarded as finally established.”
Another objection raised is that the two accounts of Matthew and Luke do not agree. True, they are not identical, but there is no conflict between them. In fact, in quite a number of the most important points they verify each other—such as that Jesus was born at a time when Herod (the Great) ruled Palestine; that Jesus was conceived by God’s holy spirit and was born of a virgin; that Mary was betrothed to Joseph who was of the line of David; that by divine direction the son was to be called Jesus; that he was to be a savior and deliverer, and so forth.
That a virgin birth is contrary to science is another objection raised. But, as one scientist observed, today one no longer can say something is impossible. All that can be said is that something is improbable on the basis of present knowledge. And the fact remains that in creation there are ever so many examples of parthenogenesis, that is, of females giving birth without benefit of the male sperm.
Others have objected on the ground that pagan myths tell of virgin births. But they do not. They tell of demons or animals cohabiting with “virgins” so that these were no longer virgins; a far cry from what the Bible records regarding Jesus’ birth. The fact is that instead of virgins being limited to women who never had intercourse, in ancient times prostitutes as well as unmarried women who gave birth to children were also included in the term. Nor can Matthew and Luke be accused of incorporating myths or legends in their Gospels. It is almost meaningless to talk about legends when dealing with eyewitnesses.
The writers Matthew and Luke were not simpletons. One was a tax collector and the other a physician. Their writings are stamped with the same honesty, sincerity and candor that mark all the other books of the Bible. And since the testimony of the rest of the Scriptures is in keeping with their Gospels, and since we see reasons why Jesus simply had to have the Creator rather than some human as his Father, lovers of truth answer “No,” to the question, “Did Jesus have a human father?”
The New Catholic Encyclopedia, 1966, Vol. 14, p. 693.