When the angel Gabriel told Mary she would become the mother of the Son of God, she replied, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34).
For twenty centuries, many people have asked the same question.
How could Jesus be born of a virgin?
Is this biologically possible?
What does the miraculous nature of his birth say about his identity?
How is this issue relevant to us today?
What does the Bible say?
First, let’s survey the biblical facts:
- Mary claimed to be a virgin before she became pregnant with Jesus (Luke 1:34).
- She was engaged to Joseph (Matthew 1:18). When her pregnancy was discovered, he chose to divorce her, knowing her child was not his (Matthew 1:19).
- The angel stated that Jesus’ conception would be miraculous: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). Matthew adds that Mary “was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:18).
- Other miraculous births are documented in Scripture: both Sarah and Elizabeth became pregnant in old age, after menopause (Genesis 21:2; Luke 1:24).
It is an indisputable fact that the Bible claims Jesus’ conception to have been miraculous, as his mother was a virgin at the time he was conceived.
Why was the virgin birth necessary?
Why would God bring his Son into the world in this way?
Why was the virgin birth necessary to his plans for humanity?
Gabriel told Mary that the child she would bear “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, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:32-33). Here we learn that Jesus would be the “Son of God.” Since he had no biological father, his identity as the Son of the divine Father would be clear.
In addition, he would reign on “the throne of his father David.” This statement refers to the Messiah, the Promised One who would liberate the Jewish people and establish their nation once more. The Jews of Jesus’ day expected a human, military conqueror to fulfill this promise. However, God intended the Messiah to liberate all of humanity spiritually. He would not be a conqueror, but a Savior. When he returns at the end of history, Jesus will, in fact, be the military conqueror of the universe (Revelation 19:16).
By bringing him into the world through a virgin, God demonstrated the fact that Jesus would be a divine Messiah, not a human figure, and that he would fulfill the Lord’s plans rather than Jewish expectations.
The Roman Catholic Church adds another dimension to this discussion. Their doctrine teaches that sin is transmitted sexually so that babies are born with inherited original sin. They believe that Jesus’ virgin birth was necessary so that he would not be born with sin. Protestants agree that Jesus was sinless (Hebrews 4:15) but do not agree that his virgin birth was necessary to guarantee his sinless nature. For us, Jesus’ virgin birth simply demonstrated his divinity as the true Messiah.
Is the virgin birth plausible?
Can thinking people accept the doctrine of the virgin birth?
If we believe that an omnipotent God exists, we can believe in his power to create the universe and all life within it (Genesis 1). If he could create all that exists by the power of his words (cf. Genesis 1:3), he can speak life into existence through the announcement of an angel and the power of his Holy Spirit. If he could bring Adam into the world miraculously, he could bring his Son into the world miraculously.
There was a time when it would have seemed impossible for doctors to impregnate a virgin. Today, however, life can be conceived through in-vitro or in-utero fertilization, and virgins can bear children. Such techniques have become relatively common for single women and surrogate mothers.
How is the virgin birth relevant to us?
If God is holy and his paradise is perfect, the last sin I committed was enough to prevent me from entering heaven. Religion is our fruitless effort to climb up to God; in Christianity, God climbed down to us.
Jesus’ virgin birth shows that he was and is the divine Son of God. His birth to a peasant teenage girl shows that he is Immanuel, “God with us” (Matthew 1:23). If he would be born in Bethlehem, he’ll be born anywhere. If he would choose peasants for parents, he chooses us to join his family. He becomes one of us that we might be one with him.
We join the family of God by asking Jesus to forgive our mistakes and failures and by turning our lives over to him as Lord. When we make this decision, we are “born again” (John 3:3). Our spiritual birth is just as miraculous as Jesus’ physical conception and just as real.
To become a Christian and receive eternal life, you can pray a prayer like this one:
Thank you for loving me. Thank you that Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for my sins and failures. I admit to you that I am a sinner, that I need you to save me. I ask you to forgive me for my sins. I turn from them now. I invite Jesus into my life as my Savior and Lord. I turn my life over to him. I will live for him as long as I live. Thank you for giving me eternal life and making me the child of God. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
If you just prayed this prayer for the first time, please tell a Christian about your decision. Christianity cannot be lived alone. A coal by itself goes out—it needs the heat of other coals. Share your new faith with someone you trust, and know that you have joined the family of God.