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”
Our text – Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 1:26-38
If I were to tell you that I had no human biological father, would you believe me? Probably not; however, the Bible makes exactly that claim for Jesus of Nazareth. Before going any further we must define the doctrine of the Virgin Birth and ask the question is the Virgin Birth an essential part of the Christian faith, or can it be cast aside without doing any great harm?
My beloved, the Virgin Birth was a special miracle of God whereby Jesus Christ was born of a normal human mother who was a virgin in the strictest sense of the word until after the birth of her child, and yes, it is an essential part of the Christian faith. It can’t be cast aside, because the incarnation of Jesus Christ is the central fact of Christianity. The whole superstructure of Christian theology is built on this doctrine. The power and essence of the gospel is that God became man and that, by being both wholly God and wholly man, He was able to reconcile men to God. Jesus’ virgin birth, His substitutionary atoning death, resurrection, ascension, and return are all integral aspects of His deity. They stand or fall together. If any of those teachings are rejected, the entire gospel is rejected and we have no Savior and we’re still in our sin. None makes sense, or could have any significance or power, apart from the others.
A. Early Church History
You can find throughout the early Christian church history the writing of church patriarchs and various statements of faith such as the Nicene Creed and the Apostles Creed in answer to the many false teachings and objections to the Virgin Birth and to Jesus identity as the Messiah. These early references in the Creeds and in the Patriarch’s writings are very significant because they demonstrate that the doctrine of the Virgin Birth was a foundational truth of the earliest Christian church. The earliest church, the church of the middle Ages, and the Protestant Reformers continued to define what doctrines should be considered unquestionable of the evangelical Christian faith. Thus, three doctrines were considered foundational:
(1) The virgin birth.
(2) The deity of Christ (Christ is God), and
(3) The authority of Scriptures.
Martin Luther, hailed as the first of the Reformers, was committed to these fundamental doctrines of an orthodox evangelical Christian faith. In 1517 he nailed his “Ninety-five Theses” to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany. The first Lutheran confession in 1530 reflected Luther’s commitment to the core doctrines of evangelical faith: It taught that God the Son became man, born of the Virgin Mary, and that two natures, divine and human”, are so inseparably united in one person that there is one Christ, true God and true man, who was truly born, suffered, was crucified, died and was buried in order to be a sacrifice not 0nly for original sin but also for all others sins, and to propitiate or satisfy God’s wrath. Jesus once asked the Pharisees a question about Himself that people have been asking in every generation since. Matthew 22:42 – 46– “saying, what do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he? They said to him, the son of David.
He said to them, How is it then that David, in the spirit calls him Lord saying, The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet? If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son? And no one was able to answer him a word.” However, that is the question Matthew answers in the first chapter of his gospel. The first seventeen verses give Jesus’ human lineage from Abraham through David, and through Joseph. Jesus is the human son of man. After establishing Jesus’ human lineage from David, in verses 18-25 Matthew shows his divine lineage. Jesus is the divine son of God. Apart from Jesus being both human and divine, there is no gospel. The power and essence of the gospel is that God became man and that, by being both wholly God and wholly man, He was able to reconcile men to God. Jesus’ virgin birth, His substitutionary atoning death, resurrection, ascension, and return are all integral aspects of His deity. They stand or fall together. If any of those teachings are rejected, the entire gospel is rejected. None makes sense, or could have any significance or power, apart from the others.
B. Prediction of the Virgin Birth
Matthew 1:18-25, Now the birth of Jesus Christ was in this manner. For when his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. 19. And Joseph her husband, as he was a just man, and was unwilling to injure her reputation, intended to send her away secretly. 20. And while he was considering these things, lo, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is by the Holy Spirit. 21. And she shall bear a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS. For he shall save his people from their sins. 22. Now all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet Isaiah 7:14, saying, 23. Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel: which, if one interprets it, means, God is with us. 24. Then Joseph, being raised from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him, and took unto him his wife: 25. And knew her not, till she brought forth her first-born son: and called his name JESUS.
C. Rejection of its Significance – Numerous Old Testament prophecies speak of the life and work of Jesus Christ, beginning in the book of Genesis. It is noteworthy that the promises tend to become more specific as Old Testament revelation unfolds; however, the bulk of modern religious scholarship either reject the doctrine of the Virgin Birth entirely, give it a symbolical meaning, or attaches little importance to it. Theological liberals are particularly critical of the Old Testament prediction found in 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”. The three facts, which are foretold regarding the sign in Isaiah 7:14 are:
(1) A virgin shall conceive;
(2) Shall bear a son;
(3) Shall call his name Immanuel.
In the opening years of this century, great theological debates were waged between those who believed the Bible (called fundamentalist because they accepted the fundamentals of the Christian faith) and those who did not believe it (called modernists, and later liberals). One of the hotly debated areas was the question of Christ’s virgin birth. Modernists rejected the concept; fundamentalists affirmed it. Thus, the doctrine became a major issue and a dividing point between the two camps. The whole concept of the uniqueness of Christ’s Person was at stake. As a result of failure to purge the great denominations of the liberals who had attained control, many Christians withdrew and formed independent churches and fellowships.
The publishing of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible by the National Council of Churches further undermined public confidence in the doctrine of Christ’s virgin birth by its translation of Isaiah 7:14. It reads, “Behold a young woman shall conceive and bear a son.” How is the meaning of the prophecy changed by eliminating the word virgin? The translation represents the essence of what liberal scholars contend that the Hebrew word almah (rendered “virgin” in the King James) means merely a young woman of marriageable age, not necessarily one who has had no intercourse with men. By inserting this translation at this crucial spot in the text can raise questions in the minds of people and prepare the way for instructing them that the virgin birth of Christ is not a fact at all.
D. Reasons for Accepting the Virgin Birth
Many outstanding scholars of the Hebrew text concur with the translation “virgin”. Dr. Robert Dick Wilson, longtime teacher at Princeton Seminary and Old Testament scholar, made an exhaustive study of the Hebrew word almah and concluded that:
(1) It never meant “young married woman,” and
(2) It always meant a “virgin and virtuous woman” unless she was proved to be otherwise.
It’s no wonder that Satan has so strongly attacked this particular doctrine, since it sets:
(1) Christ apart from other men,
(2) Underscores His uniqueness,
(3) Emphasizes His sinlessness and deity, and
(4) Forms a foundation for His claim to be the Savior of mankind.
Thus, where Satan can destroy faith in the Virgin Birth, he can also weaken our faith in other aspects of Christ’s person and work.
E. The Fulfillment of the Virgin Birth
Many hundreds of years passed after Isaiah uttered his prophecy without any virgin bearing a son. Was it all a hoax? No! Paul states that Christ’ birth occurred in the “fullness of the time” (Galatians 4:4). Its seeming delay was not a delay at all, but the work of divine providence. God is the Lord of history and of time. He works things out according to His own schedule and perfect plan.
F. Christ was born without a Human Father
Joseph had nothing to do with the conception of Jesus Christ, despite slanderous statements to the contrary by liberals. This is quite clear from a study of the gospel records. In recording the genealogy of Jesus, Matthew wrote, “And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ” (Matthew 1:16). The phrase “Of whom” is feminine singular in number and points to Mary alone. Jesus Christ had no human father. Joseph was not His father in the sense of procreation; he was His legal father. The testimony of God is to the effect that Jesus was conceived in Mary’s womb “before they came together” (Matthew 1:18). It is further stated that Joseph “knew her not till she had brought forth her first born son” (Matthew 1:25). Thus, the entire force of these statements supports the Virgin Birth as a fact.
Furthermore, no discussion of this portion of the subject would be complete without reference to Paul’s classic statement in (Galatians 4:4) that Christ was “made of a woman.” The omission of the father’s part in Christ’s birth is significant. Lenski comments that the identification of Jesus Christ as made of a woman “pointedly omits mention of a human father. Why? Because this is God’s Son Who is coeternal with the Father. He became man by way of a woman alone. Beyond our understanding? Absolutely so! A miracle in the highest degree? Beyond question! How is Jesus Christ different from us by being born without a human father? How should these differences influence our relationship with Him? Some Christians today place undue emphasis upon the humanity of Christ and treat Him as a “pal” when they should have an attitude of humble awe, adoration, and respect for the One Who is the Son of God.
G. Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit
Luke 1:26-38, Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” 29 But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. 30 Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David.
33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” 35 And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. 37 For with God nothing will be impossible.” 38 Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
H. Miracle of the Virgin Birth
The Virgin Birth is emphasized in some detail by both the Gospel of Matthew and Luke. Both writers took pains to spell out the fact that this was no ordinary birth but a supernatural and unique work of God. Matthew’s Gospel introduces us to Joseph and Mary during the time of their betrothal. Jewish wedding customs were somewhat different from ours. When a man wished to take a woman for his wife, a solemn covenant was made before witnesses. In essence, this custom parallels our present-day wedding ceremony. It was actually the binding of the parties, since no further ceremony followed. However, Jewish custom placed an interval between the time of betrothal and the actual physical consummation of the marriage.
This was not something required in God’s law but merely a custom practiced by the nation. When Matthew stated that Mary was found pregnant “before they came together,” he referred to this interval. One can imagine what consternation flooded the mind of Joseph when he discovered his wife to be pregnant though his marriage had not yet been physically consummated! In light of this fact, Joseph could have taken one of two courses of action. He could have charged Mary with adultery and made her a public example, or he could have quietly put her away by giving her a bill of divorcement without making any specific charges. He had decided upon the latter course of action when God, Who knows our very thoughts and purposes, intervened and revealed the truth to Joseph.
I. How did Mary become pregnant?
This was the question assailing the mind of Joseph. The angel of God answered that question, “That which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 1:20). The further comment of verse 18 strengthens the testimony, “She was found with child of the Holy Ghost.” These phrases are final, complete, and authoritative. They teach us that Jesus Christ was conceived without a human father and by the direct action of the Holy Spirit upon the mother, Mary. The physician Luke was especially concerned with the miraculous birth of our Lord and gave additional details not mentioned by Matthew. When the birth of a glorious Son was announced to her by an angel, Mary responded as expected, “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” (Luke 1:34). The word “know” here means to know sexually. It is evident that Mary understood the angel to mean that conception would begin immediately. This ruled out a natural process of conception by her husband, Joseph. The matter is clarified and Matthew’s testimony is corroborated by the utterance recorded of the angel, “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” (Luke 1:35).
Thus, the conception of Jesus was a special act of the Holy Spirit Who, by His almighty power, created in Mary’s womb the incarnate Person. If asked to explain the biological factors involved, one could do no better than to quote the angel who ministered to Mary, “For with God nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:37). At the root of rationalistic objections to the Virgin Birth is the denial of the miraculous. But the word impossible is unknown to the divine vocabulary. Christ was conceived within a human mother and it’s important to remember that the miracle of the Virgin Birth does not obscure the fact of Christ’s true humanity but enhances it. Mary heard the angel, say, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee” and the Child shall be “born of thee.” Beyond the miracle of conception, the birth of Christ, as far as we know, followed the pattern of normal birth. The fact that Jesus had a human mother unites Him the more to the human race.
J. Significance of the Virgin Birth – Some feel that the doctrine of the Virgin Birth is true but that a person can be a true Christian without accepting it. They would say this doctrine is not essential to the Christian faith. However, a little reflection on the subject helps us to see that the fact of the virgin birth of Christ is an integral part of the totality of Biblical faith.
K. Authenticity of Scripture – Contemporary religious leaders have attempted to honor the Bible as relevant to the modern Christian while at the same time denying certain historical facts found in the Bible. Liberals see the Virgin Birth as a “symbol” of Christ’s uniqueness or employ some other meaningless term to it, but they loudly deny that there was actually a biological miracle. The New Testament clearly teaches that Christ was virgin born. Either this testimony is true or it is not. If the Scripture is not factual in this area, then how can it be trusted at all? The modern attempts to divorce historical, geographical, biographical, and scientific truth from doctrinal truth is utterly ridiculous. “The Bible teaches the virgin birth of Christ; a man who accepts the virgin birth may continue to hold to the full truthfulness of the Bible; a man who rejects it cannot possibly do so” (J. Gresham Machen, in his book, The Virgin Birth of Christ, p. 387). It is interesting in this connection to note Mary’s response to the announcement of the angel: “Be it unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38). Mary accepted God’s Word through the angelic messenger as final, and so should we.
L. The Certainty of the Miraculous – Many segments of professing Christianity today are humanistic and evolutionary in their concept of nature. To evolutionist everything is a normal process of natural law; therefore, there are no miracles. But we cannot view the virgin birth of Christ as a normal development because it clearly wasn’t. It involved directly the “power of the Highest” (Luke 1:35). If we accept the truth of the Virgin Birth, we must also acknowledge the possibility of the miraculous.
M. The Appropriateness of His Person:
In order to redeem men, Jesus Christ had to become a Man (Hebrews 2:9-18). This was no ordinary task. It required a special plan. The Virgin Birth was the focal point of that plan. The Savior was born into this world a sinless Person. He was referred to as “that holy thing” (Luke 1:35) that should be born of Mary. He knew no sin (2 Corinthians 5:21) and did not sin (1 Peter 2:22). He was God’s Lamb “without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:19). If the question be asked, “How could Christ be sinless if He received His human nature from a sinful woman?” (Luke 1:47), the answer lies in the mysteries of the divine operation. A miracle was performed by God. Jesus Christ was protected from all taint of sin. By the miracle of the Virgin Birth, the eternal Son of God was united with human nature. Only through such a union could redemption be accomplished. Our salvation is in the God-Man Who came into this world by a supernatural work of God.
John states in (John 1:1) that Christ who was one with God and was God from all eternity, became flesh and tabernacled among us (John 1:14). Likewise Paul states that Christ, who was in the form of God, took upon Himself the likeness of men (Philippians 2:6-7); “God was manifest in the flesh” (1 Timothy 3:16); and He who was the full revelation of God’s glory was the exact image of His person (Hebrews 1:3). Luke, in greater detail, presents the historical fact of His incarnation, as to both His conception and His birth (Luke 1:26-38; 2:5-6). Accordingly, the bible presents many contrasts, but none more striking than that Christ in His person should be at the same time very God and very man. Illustrations of these contracts from Scripture are many, such as:
(1) He was weary John 4:6, yet He called the weary to Himself for rest Matthew 11:28;
(2) He was hungry Matthew 4:2, yet He was “the bread of life” John 6:35;
(3) He was thirsty John 19:28, yet He was the water of life John 7:37;
(4) He prayed Luke 6:12, yet He answered prayer Acts 10:31;
(5) He wept at the tomb John 11:35, yet He called the dead to arise John 11:43;
(6) “My Father is greater than I” John 14:28, yet also “he that hath see me hath seen the Father” John 14:9 and “I and my Father are one” John 10:30.
For anyone investigating the identity of Jesus, the Bible holds many clues. One of them is His silence. Centuries before Jesus lived, the prophet Isaiah wrote of Him: “As a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth” (53:7). The significance of this remained obscure until Jesus was brought before His accusers and “answered nothing” (Mark 15:3). It’s a small but important piece of evidence, especially when combined with other clues: His birth in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2; Luke 2:4), His Davidic lineage (Isaiah 11:10; Luke 3:31), and the casting of lots for His clothes (Psalm 22:18; John 19:23-24). These and more than 200 other fulfilled prophecies provide overwhelming evidence of the identity of Jesus.
So, is belief in the Virgin Birth necessary in order to be a Christian? Dr. Charles Ryrie has said, “One doubtless can be saved without consciously including the virgin birth in the facts which he/she believes; but it is incredible to think that one can be saved while knowingly denying the doctrine, for it is vital to the facts of faith. Without the virgin birth, there is only a sinful Savior, and such a Savior can provide no real salvation. Certainly the entire work of Christ is organically united to the truth of the Virgin Birth. Christ could not be what He claimed to be nor do what He claimed to do apart from the supernatural birth ascribed to Him in Scripture.
In a world of constant change, you can TRUST the unchanging CHRIST.