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The Blue Letter Bible

Don Stewart :: Is the Virgin Birth to Be Understood Literally?

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Don Stewart

The Bible teaches the Virgin Birth, or more properly, the Virgin Conception of Jesus. The New Testament records the fact that God became a human in Jesus Christ, and the means through which this was accomplished by the Virgin Birth - without the aid of a human male. It was a miraculous birth though a human birth.

From Adam To Christ

When God made the first man Adam He made his body out of the dust of the earth.

Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being (Genesis 2:7).

Eve, the first woman, was created from the side of Adam.

So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which he had taken from the man, and brought her to the man (Genesis 2:21,22).

All humans since that time have received their body through the natural processes- the union between a man and a woman. However when Jesus Christ was conceived it was without the aid of a human male. The angel said to Mary

The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David; and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will have no end" (Luke 1:30-33).

It Was Part Of God's Plan

The Virgin Birth had been part of the plan of God from the beginning. It was prefigured in the Old Testament. In Genesis 3:15 we read:

And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed her Seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.

The seed of the woman that is referred to here is a prediction of the coming Messiah or Deliverer. He was to be born from the "seed of the woman." The promise gives the first hint of the Virgin Birth.

The Messiah Would Be Virgin Born

As the Old Testament history began to unfold further evidence was given that the Messiah would be virgin born.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call his name Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14).

There has been considerable controversy about the Hebrew word almah, used in Isaiah 7:14, whether it means "virgin" or "young woman." The word is not a technical term for "virgin" but rather means a young woman who has the characteristics of virginity. However it should be noted that in all seven occurrences of almah in the Old Testament it never refers to a young woman who has lost her virginity.

Supposedly there is a better term in Hebrews for virgin - bethulah. Yet bethulah can refer to a woman who is not necessarily a virgin.

Mourn like a young woman [bethulah] in sackcloth grieving for the husband of her youth (Joel 1:8).

The Woman Was Assumed To Be A Virgin

Even if Isaiah was only referring to a young woman who was ready for marriage the assumption would be that she was a virgin. Under the Mosaic Law a woman could be stoned to death for having a child out of wedlock.

What can be said is that almah is consistent with the idea of a young woman who has not had any sexual relations with a man - a virgin.

The Evidence From The Septuagint Translation

There is also the issue of the Septuagint translation. The Old Testament was translated from the original Hebrew into Greek some two hundred years before the time of Christ. This translation is known as the Septuagint, or seventy. When they translated the Hebrew word almah in Isaiah 7:14, they used the Greek word parthenos, the usual word for "virgin." Hence we can observe that before the time of Christ the people understood the passage to refer to a special birth. The New Testament Evidence

While the virgin birth is predicted and implied in the Old Testament, the New Testament writers make it clear that Jesus was virgin born. Seven times in Matthew's account of the birth of Christ we have direct or indirect statements that Jesus as virgin born.

The Listing In Jesus' Genealogy

In Matthew 1:2-15 we have a number of people listed who fathered sons. For example it says, "Abraham begat or fathered Isaac." Each name in the genealogy is written this way.

However in verse 16 there is a change in the way in which the genealogy is written. Rather than saying that someone "fathered" the son the phrase reads, "Jesus was born." Nothing is said about Joseph being the father of Jesus. In contrast to all the preceding men listed in the genealogy, Joseph is not said to have fathered Jesus but rather Jesus was born to Mary. This deliberate change of phrasing emphasizes that Joseph had nothing to do with the conception of Jesus.

The Christ Is Born Of Mary Not Joseph

Matthew is careful to state that Jesus was born of Mary, not Joseph.

Jacob was the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, by whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah (Matthew 1:16).

The phrase "by whom" is in the feminine gender in Greek. Consequently it cannot refer to Joseph but must refer to Mary.

The Holy Spirit Is The Source

On two occasions, Matthew makes it clear that the Holy Spirit was the source of Jesus' birth.

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. . But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 1:18-20).

The Fulfilled Prophecy Of Isaiah

Matthew cited Isaiah 7:14 in identifying Jesus as the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy of a virgin birth.

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" which means, "God with us" (Matthew 1:22,23).

Joseph Was The Husband Of Mary

Joseph is called the husband of Mary but not the father of Jesus.

Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly (Matthew 1:19).

Jesus Was Her Son

In the announcement of the birth of Jesus the emphasis is on the fact the He is "her Son."

But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus (Matthew 1:25).

In the birth narrative, Jesus is never called "his Son" or "their Son."

The Apostles' Teaching

Matthew was one of the original twelve apostles. Therefore it is possible that the virgin birth of Christ was part of what the apostles taught the first church at Jerusalem. We are told.

They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer (Acts 2:42)


While Matthew was writing to a Jewish audience, Luke, a Gentile doctor, was writing to a Gentile audience. Twice in his account he refers to Mary as a virgin.

To a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary (Luke 1:27).

Mary asked how she could have a child.

How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?" (Luke 1:34).

Luke identified Jesus as follows.

Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry. He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph, the son of Heli (Luke 3:23).

In the accounts of Jesus' birth, Luke never calls Jesus the son of Joseph. Rather Jesus is the "Son of the Highest" and the "Son of God."

He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David (Luke 1:32).

Jesus is called the Son of God.

The angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy child shall be called the Son of God (Luke 1:35).

Luke Carefully Researched The Matter

Luke's gospel is based upon his careful research as a historian.

It seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught (Luke 1:3,4).

The virgin birth of Christ was not just a rumor it was the actual way in which Jesus entered into this word. While it is not a miracle that can be verified by eyewitnesses, such as the resurrection, we have the testimony of Mary and Joseph.

Jesus' Teaching On His Origin

Jesus Himself taught that His origin was from above.

Jesus said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me (John 8:42).

Jesus Claimed God As His Father

On a number of occasions Jesus claimed that God was His Father. When Jesus cleansed the temple He said.

To those who sold doves he said, "Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market (John 2:16).

Later Jesus claimed equality with the Father.

Jesus said to them, "My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working." For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God (John 5:17,18).

The Testimony Of God The Father

God the Father testified that Jesus was His Son. The New Testament records three different occasions in which the Father acknowledged the Son with an audible voice. At Jesus' baptism we read.

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." (Matthew 3:16-18).

At the transfiguration the Father testified again to the Son.

While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!" (Matthew 17:5).

Finally in front of the multitudes the Father recognized the Son.

Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name! Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and will glorify it again" (John 12:27,28).

In doing this the Father acknowledged Jesus as His Son.

Jesus Acknowledged Mary As His Mother Jesus acknowledged Mary as His mother.

When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, "Dear woman, here is your son" (John 19:26).

He never said that Joseph was His father.

Others Thought That He Was The Son Of Joseph

Others spoke of Jesus as the "son of Joseph."

All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. "Isn't this Joseph's son?" they asked (Luke 4:22).

However the Bible is clear that Jesus wasn't the physical son of Joseph. He only could be called Joseph's son in the adopted sense.

It Was An Appropriate Entrance Into The World For God's Son

The virgin birth was an appropriate entrance of Christ into the world. Since He lived a miraculous life that finished with the miracle of His resurrection and ascension it is not inconsistent that He entered the world with a miraculous birth. The virgin birth is in complete harmony with the other miraculous elements of the life of Jesus.


The evidence is clear that Jesus Christ came into the world by means of a virgin birth or virgin conception. While God directly created Adam, Eve was taken from the body of Adam, and all humans since then have received their body through the union of a man and a woman, Jesus Christ was different. He entered the world without the aid of a human male. It was at the same time a human birth and a miraculous birth. This can be seen as follows. The Old Testament predicted the virgin birth of the coming Messiah In the New Testament in Matthew and Luke record the fulfillment of the promise. Matthew and Luke identify Mary as a virgin Matthew says that Mary was pregnant before her and Joseph had physical relationship Her pregnancy was due to the Holy Spirit Jesus Himself testified to the fact that God was His Father. God the Father verbally acknowledge the Son on three different occasions with an audible voice. Consequently the virgin birth of Christ is an established truth of the New Testament.

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