Q: Is the virgin birth of Jesus biblical?

If a Christian accepts the possibility of miracles, then the reality of Jesus being born of a virgin poses no problem! We find this doctrine taught in both Matthew and Luke, where the story of Christ’s birth is described.

Matthew 1:18-21: [Jesus’] 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. Because Joseph her husband – during Jewish betrothals, the couple were often referred to as “husband” and “wife” even before the wedding – was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. 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. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.

Some critics suggest that the word for virgin simply means a young single woman. The challenge for scholars is that Matthew’s statement about Mary is prophetically linked to the Old Testament verse of Isaiah 7:14, referring to the time of King Ahaz: Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. This is one of those dual-application predictions which has fulfillment both in a local setting and then also pointing forward seven centuries to the miracle in Bethlehem.

Back in Isaiah the prophet uses the Hebrew word ‘almah, which could either mean “virgin” or simply “young woman.” However, Isaiah did have the option of using the much stronger word bethulah, which meant “virgin” in the strictest of moral senses. Some conjecture that because the prophecy was also partially fulfilled by a young woman of that local era, perhaps Ahaz’s own wife, Isaiah chose the more ambiguous word.

In any case, Matthew, writing during the time of Jesus, deliberately uses the Greek word parthenos, which also is a clear-cut reference to a pure girl or virgin who has never had sexual intercourse. And the context of the story makes it plain that the Bible writers are affirming the virginity of Mary. Matthew 1:24, 25: [Joseph] took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. In Luke’s telling, Mary herself asks the angel who brings her the news that she will have a son: “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

In one more understated “proof” of the virgin birth, Matthew gives a very precise genealogy of Jesus’ descendants, with the “begats” of chapter 1. And Eliud began Eleazar; and Eleazar begat Matthan; and Matthan began Jacob; And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ. The “begats” abruptly end when we get to Joseph as the gospel writer affirms the miraculous conception of our Lord.

We should note that God’s Word plainly does not support the doctrine, held by some groups, of Mary’s perpetual virginity. Again, Matt. 1:25 says that Joseph had no union with Mary “until she gave birth to a son.” Jesus had a number of half-brothers and sisters; it appears they were conceived and born in the usual manner.

Despite the angel’s encouragement to Joseph, the matter of Mary’s virgin conception must have been a difficult truth to accept! How this young carpenter must have been comforted when the shepherds and wise men visited Bethlehem to worship the infant king, validating heaven’s statement about the purity of the girl he loved.