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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: What Everyone Needs to Know about Jesus

Don Stewart :: Why Do We Find the Virgin Birth Only Recorded in Matthew and Luke?

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Why Do We Find the Virgin Birth Only Recorded in Matthew and Luke?

What Everyone Needs to Know about Jesus – Question 30

The virgin birth, or the virgin conception, of Jesus Christ is only recorded in two of the four gospels; Matthew and Luke. Mark and John do not mention it at all. The remainder of the New Testament says nothing specifically about it. If it is such an important belief, then why don’t we find it recorded in the Book of Acts, and the writings of Paul?

Some have argued that two of the Gospel writers, Mark and John, as well as the Apostle Paul do not record the Virgin Birth because they knew nothing of it. However, this argument is unconvincing for the following reasons.

Each Writer Addressed a Particular Audience

To begin with, we must realize that each Gospel writer addresses his work to a particular audience and, in doing so, records a different aspect of the life of Christ.

Mark

Mark is emphasizing that Jesus is the servant of the Lord, and that He can miraculously perform the job God ordained Him to do. Mark says nothing about the first thirty years of the life of Christ. The reason that nothing is said in regard to Jesus’ birth, or early years, is that it is not relevant to Mark’s purpose. We should not assume that he was unaware of what took place.

John

The same is true with the Gospel of John. John emphasizes that Jesus was God from all eternity. The Gospel begins in eternity past with Jesus already on the scene. John then stresses the fact that Jesus, as God, became a human:

So the Word became human and lived here on earth among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the only Son of the Father. (John 1:14 NLT)

Consequently, John is emphasizing the sublime truth that God came into the world, not the manner in which He came. He says nothing about Jesus’ first thirty years. Again, this was not his purpose in writing the gospel.

John Records Philip Calling Him Jesus of Nazareth

In John’s gospel, we find Philip calling Jesus, “Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” The account reads as follows:

Philip then found Nathanael and said, “We have found the one that Moses and the Prophets wrote about. He is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.” (John 1:45 CEV)

However this is irrelevant to the question of the virgin birth of Jesus since John has already told his readers that Jesus existed in the beginning as God.

They Do Not Deny It

Though the writers Mark and John do not expressly state that Jesus was born of a virgin, nowhere do they teach the contrary. We do not find Joseph ever spoken of as Jesus’ Father by either of these writers. They simply give us no details concerning His birth or who was His Father.

It Is an Argument from Silence

The argument that Mark and John did not know about the virgin conception of Jesus is an argument from silence. At best, an argument from silence is usually not a very strong reason to believe something. Because someone does not state a fact, it does not necessarily follow that that person was unaware of the fact. It may mean the person, for whatever reason, chose not to mention it. Indeed, this is exactly what we have in this case.

These Two Gospels Imply the Knowledge of a Virgin Birth

There is something else. The Gospels of Mark and John imply knowledge of the Virgin Birth without expressly stating it.

A. The Testimony of Mark

In Luke’s gospel Jesus is called the son of Joseph by the crowds. We read,

All the people started talking about Jesus and were amazed at the wonderful things he said. They kept on asking, “Isn’t he Joseph’s son?” (Luke 4:22 CEV)

Because Luke has already told his readers that Jesus was born of a virgin they understand when people call Jesus the “son of Joseph” in ignorance. Luke was merely reporting their assumptions as to Jesus’ parentage.

On the other hand, Mark is careful not to use that phrase. In Mark, Jesus is called the “son of Mary.” We read,

“Isn’t this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” So they took offense at him. (Mark 6:3 God’s Word)

Consequently Mark makes the point that Jesus is Mary’s son but says nothing about Joseph being the father of Jesus. Therefore he says nothing that would contradict the idea of a virgin birth or a virgin conception.

B. The Testimony of John

In John’s gospel, Jesus’ divine origin had been a cause for argumentation with the religious leaders. He told them that His origin was from heaven:

“I speak what I have seen in the presence of the Father, and therefore you do what you have heard from your father.” (John 8:38 HCSB)

As a further demonstration of His divine authority, Jesus emphasizes His heavenly origin to these doubting religious leaders.

The Jews responded to this saying that Abraham was their father. Then they made the following accusation at Jesus:

They said to him, “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God.” (John 8:41b RSV)

Note that they accused Him of being an illegitimate child. This shows they were aware of the fact that Mary had become pregnant before her marriage to Joseph. This gives further credence to the account of the Virgin Birth as recorded by Matthew, which states that Joseph considered divorcing her privately when he had discovered her pregnancy.

In recording this dialogue between Jesus and the religious leaders John implies that the birth of Jesus was not ordinary but came through unusual circumstances. As Matthew and Luke so clearly tell us, it was not Mary’s unfaithfulness that made it an unusual birth, but rather the fact that the God of the Bible had performed a miracle having Jesus conceived not by a man, but by the Holy Spirit.

Thus, while these gospel writers do not explicitly say that Jesus was born of a virgin we have their implied testimony to His virgin conception.

The Testimony of the Apostle Paul

The fact that the Apostle Paul does not record the virgin conception is not surprising. In his various letters, he does not deal with the story of the earthly life of Jesus Christ whatsoever. This is not his emphasis or his purpose. However, he does say the following about Jesus:

But when the time was right, God sent his Son, and a woman gave birth to him. His Son obeyed the Law... (Galatians 4:4 CEV)

Certainly this means more than Jesus had a mother. It could suggest that he had only a human mother but not a human father. However it is also possible that Paul simply meant that Jesus, God the Son, became a genuine human.

In sum, we find that Mark, John and Paul cannot be used as witnesses against the virgin conception of Jesus. While not explicitly stated in their gospels or in Paul’s letters, the virgin conception is certainly consistent with everything else which they teach about Jesus.

Summary – Question 30
Why Do We Find the Virgin Birth Only Recorded in Matthew and Luke?

The virgin birth, or virgin conception, of Jesus Christ is clearly recorded in two of the four gospels; Matthew and Luke. These two writers make it plain that God the Son came into our world through the means of a miraculous conception. There is no doubt that each of them expressly taught this.

The other two gospels, Mark and John say nothing specifically about it. This has caused some people to argue that they did not know of the teaching or that they knew of it but did not believe it.

Yet the evidence does not lead us to these conclusions. Mark is careful to call Jesus “the Son of Mary” but not the “Son of Joseph.” Furthermore, there is nothing in his gospel which teaches anything contrary to the virgin conception of Christ. It was not his purpose to deal with this issue. Indeed, Mark says nothing about Jesus’ early years.

John emphasizes that God became a human being in Jesus Christ. He is not interested in giving us any details of Jesus’ birth or anything about His life before He began His public ministry. John does, however, indicate that there was a controversy over the exact identification of Jesus’ Father. Thus, he gives evidence of his knowledge of the virgin conception.

The Apostle Paul says nothing of the virgin birth because he does not deal with the earthly life of Christ. His purpose was to explain the meaning of the death and resurrection of Christ rather than dealing with how He entered our world. Like Mark and John, the virgin conception was not a matter of emphasis in his writings.

Consequently the fact that some New Testament writers do not mention the virgin conception of Jesus Christ does not in any way prove they rejected the doctrine, or knew nothing of it.

Is the Virgin Birth to Be Understood Literally? ← Prior Section
Why Is the Doctrine of the Virgin Birth Important? Next Section →
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