Was There Really a Virgin Birth?
TO MANY, the belief that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin is a legend. They view it as no different from ancient myths of the Greeks and others that tell of humans beings fathered by gods.
Is there a valid basis for this opinion? What about such ancient myths? Greek gods are depicted as lusting after women and producing “demigods” through them. Reasonably, then, after discussing legendary “virgin births,” The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (Vol. 4, p. 791) concludes: “The yawning chasm between these pagan myths of polytheistic promiscuity and the lofty monotheism of the virgin birth of Jesus is too wide for careful research to cross.” Regarding the assertion that the idea of Jesus’ virgin birth finds its roots in an Oriental myth, the Encyclopædia of Religion and Ethics (Vol. XII, p. 625) observes that “there is no evidence whatever” for the existence of such a legend. So, then, belief in Jesus’ virgin birth can in no way be linked to any mythological supernatural births.
But does the Bible really teach that Jesus was born of a virgin? Many people maintain that it does not, but that it presents Jesus as the actual son of Joseph. They point to the following: Inhabitants of Nazareth referred to Jesus as “the carpenter’s son” and as “a son of Joseph.” (Matt. 13:55; Luke 4:22) Philip told Nathanael: “We have found the one of whom Moses, in the Law, and the Prophets wrote, Jesus, the son of Joseph.” (John 1:45) On one occasion persons who stumbled at Jesus remarked: “Is this not Jesus the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?”—John 6:42.
Do these quotations from the Bible really mean that Jesus was actually the son of Joseph? No. In each case those speaking were simply expressing an opinion or common view. As Jesus was raised by Joseph and Mary at Nazareth, he was rightly regarded as their son. There was no reason for people in general to think otherwise. That Jesus’ being called the “son of Joseph” was simply current opinion is confirmed at Luke 3:23, where we read: “Jesus himself, when he commenced his work, was about thirty years old, being the son, as the opinion was, of Joseph.”
An examination of what the Bible says about Jesus’ being conceived reveals clearly that Mary was indeed a virgin. Told by the angel Gabriel that she would bear a son, Mary was amazed. “How is this to be,” she asked, “since I am having no intercourse with a man?” Answering that question, Gabriel explained: “Holy spirit will come upon you, and power of the Most High will overshadow you. For that reason also what is born will be called holy, God’s Son.” Obviously it was to be a birth requiring divine intervention, a miracle. This explains Gabriel’s adding the assurance: “With God no declaration will be an impossibility.”—Luke 1:34-37.
From Gabriel’s words we can also see that the holy spirit was to be the means by which Jehovah God would bring about something humanly impossible. Just what did God do? The Bible does not provide the details but does say enough to give us some idea as to what was involved.
Long before he was born as a man, Jesus had enjoyed a heavenly existence with his Father. He himself said: “I have come down from heaven to do, not my will, but the will of him that sent me. What, therefore, if you should behold the Son of man ascending to where he was before?”—John 6:38, 62.
Jesus’ coming down from the heavenly realm required that he give up his existence as a spirit person. Of this, the Bible tells us: “He emptied himself and took a slave’s form and came to be in the likeness of men.”—Phil. 2:7.
After thus emptying himself of heavenly glory, Jesus had to have his life, with its distinctive personality traits, transferred to the womb of the virgin Mary. This was accomplished through the agency of God’s holy spirit. It posed no problem for the Most High God. As the Creator, he fully understands the makeup of all his intelligent creatures. Nothing about human conception and the development of a baby in the womb is a mystery to him.—Job 31:15; Ps. 139:16; Eccl. 11:5.
It really should not be difficult to grasp that a transferal of life and personality traits could be and was accomplished invisibly by means of God’s spirit. In the case of humans, the cell that results from the uniting of the sperm and the egg is smaller than the period at the end of this sentence. Yet just a tiny fraction of that cell contains the complete code for producing a boy or a girl with distinctive physical features and personality makeup. Accordingly, no more than a microscopic particle would have been needed to make Mary pregnant with the perfect Son of God.
When Mary actually did become pregnant by holy spirit, her betrothed Joseph was in a quandary as to what he should do. This was because he had not yet had sexual intercourse with her. His concerns about Mary’s pregnancy were allayed when Jehovah’s angel revealed to him the facts, saying: “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife home, for that which has been begotten in her is by holy spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you must call his name Jesus.” (Matt. 1:18-21) Thereafter Joseph and Mary were united in marriage. “But he,” says the Bible, “had no intercourse with her until she gave birth to a son; and he called his name Jesus.”—Matt. 1:25.
In no way, therefore, can Jesus be called the actual son of Joseph. He was indeed born of a virgin. But why was this necessary?
From the Bible we learn that the first man Adam, through disobedience, lost perfect human life for all his offspring. We read: “Through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men because they had all sinned.” (Rom. 5:12) Yes, Adam actually sold the entire human race into slavery to sin and death. (Compare Romans 7:14.) A ransom price was therefore needed to effect a release for Adam’s offspring. According to God’s standard of perfect justice as revealed in the Mosaic law, that price had to correspond exactly to what had been forfeited. The Mosaic law stated: “You must give soul for soul.” (Ex. 21:23) Since Jesus was conceived by holy spirit without the aid of an imperfect human father, he had precisely what Adam forfeited—human life totally free from all weaknesses and imperfections. That is why Jesus could give himself “a corresponding ransom for all.”—1 Tim. 2:6.
Scriptural evidence thus points to but one conclusion: There really was a virgin birth. Only by means of this miracle could one be born who would be a perfect human son of God, without even the slightest trace of imperfection. Thanks be to God for this miracle that has paved the way for humans to be freed from sin and death!