The Virgin Birth—Can You Believe It?
IF JESUS, the Son of God, truly was born of a virgin, you must concede that surely it was a miracle of historic proportions. But can you believe that it occurred? Does it have any bearing on your life in one way or another?
Some of those who do not believe in the virgin birth say that it is contrary to science and to the “laws of nature.” Do scientists think so? Have recent discoveries in genetics shed any light on the matter?
Reproduction without a male is known as parthenogenesis [Greek, parthenos meaning “maiden” plus “genesis”]. Recently scientists have been experimenting successfully with parthenogenesis in mammals. The Economist of August 1, 1981, reports: “Embryo development in the absence of sperm is the natural means of reproduction in many lower species of animal. . . . Parthenogenesis is being studied using laboratory mice. Several means exist for artificially activating an unfertilised mouse egg.”
Similarly, Dr. M. B. V. Roberts of Marlborough College, England, writes: “An unfertilized egg was removed from a female rabbit, activated by pricking, and then popped back into the uterus. Hormone treatment had been previously given to the female so that her uterine mucosa was prepared for implantation. Normal development ensued, and a visibly normal offspring was produced.”
Are we to conclude from this that God induced Mary’s pregnancy in some such way from an unfertilized egg? No. From the accompanying chart, you can see why. If Mary’s firstborn had received both chromosomes (X) from her, the offspring would of necessity have been female.
Hence, something more must have been involved in the conception of Jesus. Just what this was the angel explained to Joseph: “That which has been begotten in her is by holy spirit.” (Matthew 1:20) We do not know precisely how this was done. Yet we must admit that if mere man can in a limited way manipulate the fertilization process in the laboratory, surely it is not beyond the power of the Creator and Life-Giver of the universe to do so and to transfer the life-force of his Son from the heavens to the ovum of a virgin girl.
As we have noted, however, the objection that some have to the virgin birth lies elsewhere. It concerns religious embellishments of the Bible account that have developed over the centuries. It seems that the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches were unwilling to acknowledge that, having fulfilled her role in bearing the Son of God, Mary had no special place in the Christian congregation. Through the centuries they made positive moves to elevate her to near equality with their Trinitarian concept of God.
In the year 553 C.E. the Second Council of Constantinople proclaimed Mary “eternal Virgin,” which would mean that her marriage to Joseph was celibate and that they never had sexual relations or children together. Then in 1854 Pope Pius IX proclaimed the Immaculate Conception of Mary. That doctrine declares that she had been preserved from all sin inherited from Adam; in fact, that she was incapable of sin. In 1950 Pope Pius XII made it an article of faith that Mary, at the conclusion of her human life, had been assumed bodily into heaven. And since 1950 the Vatican has been pondering whether the virgin Mary experienced death at all.
Despite official Church teaching, we may well question whether after the birth of Jesus Mary remained “ever virgin.” Or did she have other children by Joseph after the birth of Jesus? Does it matter? Yes, if the truth matters. So what do the Scriptures say?
Matthew records that Joseph “had no intercourse with [Mary] until she gave birth to a son,” Jesus. (Matthew 1:25) Commenting on the significance of “until” here, the Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition, published by the Catholic Truth Society, London, claims: “This means only that Joseph had nothing to do with the conception of Jesus. It implies nothing as to what happened afterwards.”
However, there is no basis in Scripture for assuming that nothing happened afterward, that Joseph and Mary never had a normal marriage. No prophecy even hinted at such a thing, no divine requirement called for it. Their intimate life together and any resulting parenthood had no bearing at all on Jesus’ earthly ministry or on his subsequent activities in the heavens. Indeed, far from supporting the notion that Mary was ever virgin, the Gospels state that Jesus was Mary’s firstborn and that he had half brothers and half sisters. Mark writes that in Jesus’ hometown, Nazareth, he preached in the synagogue to people who recognized him. Most were astounded at Jesus’ teaching and said: “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?”—Mark 6:2, 3, RSV, Catholic edition; Luke 2:7.
Catholic theologians claim that these ‘brothers and sisters’ were really cousins. Yet the New Catholic Encyclopedia (Vol. 9, p. 337) admits that “the Greek words . . . that are used to designate the relationship between Jesus and these relatives have the meaning of full blood brother and sister.” These are the words adelphos and adelphé. However, the word for cousin is anepsios and for relatives, syggenon. (Colossians 4:10; Luke 1:36) There is no sound reason for thinking that the Gospel writers got these words mixed up. (Compare Mark 6:4; Luke 14:12.) Nor is there reason to deny that Joseph and Mary had a family after the birth of Jesus.
Was Jesus a God/Man?
A later embellishment of the simple Bible account of the virgin birth is that the babe born was not totally human but was an incarnation. Thus, the second of the “Articles of Faith” of the Church of England states: “. . . the Godhead and Manhood, were joined together in one Person, never to be divided, whereof is one Christ, very God, and very Man.”
Religions that teach the Trinity believe that on earth Jesus had the two natures in himself. But the Bible does not support such an idea. The apostle Paul says about Jesus: “Since all the children share the same blood and flesh, he too shared equally in it, . . . It was essential that he should in this way become completely like his brothers.” (Hebrews 2:14, 17, Jerusalem Bible) How could he be “completely like his brothers” if he were a God/man? Paul wrote to the Philippians of “Christ Jesus, who, although he was existing in God’s form, . . . emptied himself and took a slave’s form and came to be in the likeness of men.” (Philippians 2:5-7) So this heavenly Son of God divested himself completely of “God’s form” to take on human nature, to become a man. Just why he had to be wholly man, not a God/man, and the implications as to the virgin birth, we shall discuss next.
[Diagram on page 5]
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A female’s egg contains two X chromosomes. The male sperm cell has an X and a Y. Each parent provides one chromosome. If two X’s combine, a girl is produced. If an X and a Y, the child will be male.
Laboratory-induced parthenogenesis causes a female egg to divide and grow, so the result (XX) must be a female.
Such a type of parthenogenesis could not have occurred with Mary, for her firstborn (Jesus) was a male. Since she was a virgin, the Y chromosome must have been supplied miraculously, as the Bible indicates.