Born of a Virgin? Really?

Monday, December 2, 2013

Yesterday was the first day of Advent, and I’m going to use my December posts to explore some questions about the first Christmas, starting with the virgin birth as told in Luke 1:26-37 (ESV).

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And 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 call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”

That last line is key. The Bible tells of an omnipotent (all-powerful) God. What is impossible for us is possible for him.  

How did God make the virgin birth happen? I have no idea. Did He do it? I have no doubt.

I can understand people who believe that the Bible is all fiction. But I can’t understand the ones who pick and choose what they want from it.

If the Bible is true, so is the virgin birth. Some “scholars” argue that “virgin” is mistranslated and really means “young woman.” But if that were the case, why would Mary ask how she could be pregnant? She was already betrothed, so presumably she had been told the facts of life.

Okay, so what she really said was, “How can this be?” Some might argue that she was questioning how she, as a young woman, could become the mother of a great man. But that interpretation has its problems, too. Many young women raise great sons, and that was no different in Mary’s time and before. And the angel didn’t simply announce that Mary would be the mother of a great man. Her son was described as “the Son of the Most High” and “the Son of God” who would “reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Great men die. Mary’s son would be immortal.

And then there is the account in Matthew 1:18-25. When Joseph discovered that Mary was pregnant, he knew he wasn’t the father and thought she had committed adultery. But as he was getting ready to break off the engagement, an angel appeared to him in a dream, saying “that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” Then Matthew goes on to quote these words from Isaiah 7:14:

Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel.

If “virgin” meant simply “young woman,” would Joseph have been appeased by the angel’s words? If he still thought there was an earthly father, wouldn’t he have wondered why he wasn’t the one given the honor of helping Mary conceive this holy child?

If God is God, He is omnipotent. Any other type of God is impotent, and an impotent God is no God at all.

I believe in the omnipotent God of the Bible. That’s why I answer the title questions this way:

Born of a virgin. Really.

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The picture at the top of this post is titled “Praying Virgin” and was painted around 1720 by an unknown Italian artist. The original painting is in The Art Institute of Chicago’s collection.

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