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Virgin Birth of Jesus

By H. A. (Buster) Dobbs


religion, articles, christianity Jesus was born of a virgin to make it possible for God to enter the human condition. If he had been born in the natural course of procreation, he would have been merely mortal and just like any other person born into the world. He was more than man. He was also God. Paul explains that Christ Jesus was "in the form of God" and that he was "on an equality with God," but he took on "human form" and was made "in the likeness of men" (Phil. 2:5-11).

The only way God could become man was by miracle. It could not occur by natural means. The death on the cross to redeem ruined man had to be the offering of a perfect, eternal being who came in the likeness of man. For Jesus' sacrifice to be effective in accomplishing its timeless purpose, it had to be the act of deity. "Well might the sun in darkness hide, and shut his glories in, when Christ, the mighty Maker died for man, the creature's sin."

This explains the necessity of the virgin birth of Jesus. Only by supernatural conception could an Eternal One become flesh. The virgin birth is, therefore, a critical and essential part of the everlasting scheme of the living God. Still, the entrance of Jesus into a sinful world had to be managed with infinite wisdom; otherwise, the event of all the ages would have miscarried.

Virgin Birth in Prophecy

Only once in the Old Testament did God foretell that Jesus would be born of a virgin (unless you count the "seed of woman" prophecy of Genesis 3:15 to reference virgin birth). The one passage that uses the word virgin in connection with the coming of Immanuel is in the book of the prophet Isaiah. It has been the cause of endless discussion. It was not fully understood by those to whom the prophecy was made nor by those of the first century nor by those of subsequent generations. Nor is it understood by many today. The passage is understandable.

The background of the solitary prophecy of the virgin birth of Jesus is given in the Old Testament. Isaiah lived just before the nation of Israel was enslaved by the Assyrians. He saw it happen. He prophesied a similar fate for the nation of Judah, if the people did not return to God.

In the days of Isaiah, the king of Syria was Rezin, and the king of Israel was Pekah, whom Isaiah scornfully called "the son of Remaliah." Syria and Israel created an alliance. They twice invaded Judah and tormented king Ahaz. The king of Judah feared the of Syria and Israel, knowing his army could not withstand their strength. He made a pact with Assyria to protect him from Rezin and "Remaliah's son." This was the intrigue of Isaiah's time.

God's prophet encouraged Ahaz to put his trust in Jehovah and not in Assyria. He promised that Judah would not be destroyed by the Syrian/Israelite alliance. He knew the agreement between Ahaz and Assyria would bring Judah to grief.

Isaiah said to Ahaz, "Ask thee a sign of Jehovah thy God; ask it either in the depth, or in the height above" (Isa. 7:11). God offered to give Ahaz miraculous evidence that he would protect Judah.

Ahaz hatefully said, "I will not ask, neither will I tempt Jehovah" (Isa. 7:12). Ahaz pretended piety. He wanted no evidence from God because he had bargained for the protection of Assyria.

This set the scene. Isaiah thundered out, "Hear ye now, 0 house of David: Is it a small thing for you to weary men, that ye will weary my God also?" (Isa. 7:13). This was a stinging rebuke. Ahaz was descended from David but he was not like the pious son of Jesse. He looked to Assyria for salvation and rejected Jehovah. This would bring swift destruction.

The prophet next said to the foolish king:

Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign: behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Butter and honey -,hall he eat, when he knoweth to refuse the evil, and choose the good. For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land whose two kings thou abhorrest shall be forsaken (Isa. 7:14-16).

The man of God said to the rebellious ruler: "You don't want a sign from Jehovah because your heart is already turned away from him. The Lord will give you a sign anyhow. Here is the sign: Before a virgin could conceive, bear a son, and the child learn to refuse evil and choose good, Rezin and Remaliah's son will be utterly defeated and their nations destroyed."

That was the sign! It would be too late for Ahaz because he had decided to cast his lot with Assyria. He would, nevertheless, know that "there is a God that judgeth in the world."

Jehovah repeated the sign under a different figure. Isaiah and his wife would have a son to be named Maher-shalal-hash-baz. Of Isaiah's son it was said, "For before the child shall have knowledge to cry, My father, and, My mother, the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria shall be carried away befo,7e the king of Assyria" (Isa. 8:4). This was an echo of the first prophecy. God told Ahaz that before a newborn could learn to say, "Mother" and "Father, (know to refuse evil and choose good), Israel and Syria would be no more. The fulfilled sign would be a strong signal for Judah to repent.

We spotlight the virgin-born child who was Immanuel. Isaiah does not say when this child would appear. The virgin's son is purposely left obscure, but the prophecy was written in an indestructible book to a later fulfillment and inspired explanation.

Ahaz understood Isaiah was foretelling that within three years Syria and Israel would be impotent. He did not understand who the virgin was nor the meaning of calling her son Immanuel. That information was left sleeping in the prophecy.

The best authorities say that the Hebrew word for virgin in Isaiah 7:14 means "a girl, maiden, virgin, a young woman who is unmarried, who is of marriageable age' " Whether she was to be a virgin at the time the child was born, or was to remain such afterwards, cannot be decided by a philological examination of the word.

There the prophecy was left. The prophet does not say when the virgin would live or the child would be born. He simply states it would happen somewhere, sometime. The persons involved and the time of fulfillment are not disclosed by Old Testament writers.

The Prophecy Fulfilled

After about six hundred years, the prophecy was fulfilled and, in time, the shadows of the prophecy removed. The Holy Spirit, through a New Testament writer, fills in the blanks and supplies more information about the virgin's boy:

An angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she shall bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name JESUS; for it is he that shall save his people from their sins. Now all this is come to pass, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, And they shall call his name Immanuel; which is, being interpreted, God with us. And Joseph arose from his sleep, and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took unto him his wife (Matt. 1:20-24).

The mystery is revealed. Matthew tells us that the virgin was Mary of Nazareth, and her son was Jesus. The only prophecy recorded in the Old Testament that mentions the "virgin" birth of Immanuel is the Isaiah passage. Matthew says Mary and Jesus fulfilled it. This tells us the when and the who of the prophecy. Matthew uses a Greek word to translate the Hebrew virgin that means a woman who had not known a man. There is no need to wrangle over this because we have an inspired definition of the word. An angel of the Lord said to Mary:

And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end (Luke 1:31-33).

Now, note carefully:

And Mary said unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? (Luke 1:34).

That puts the question beyond the reach of any critic. We have an inspired explanation of the meaning of the word virgin as it was used by both Isaiah and Matthew. The virgin of the prophecy was a young woman who had "not known a man." The angel explained to Mary:

The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee: wherefore also the holy thing which is begotten shall be called the Son of God (Luke 1:35).

The body of Jesus was prepared by agency of the Holy Spirit and the power of the Most High. God was about to become flesh, and this required a supernatural act. A virgin - young woman who had never known a man - was the vehicle, but God prepared the body. "Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, But a body didst thou prepare for me" (Heb. 10:5). He who made the body of Adam from the dust of Eden prepared a body for the coming of the Lord.

Matthew tells us that when the angel told Joseph to take Mary to wife, he did it. "Joseph rose from his sleep, and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him." He did not wait 90 days until Mary returned from her visit with Elizabeth to marry her, but he took her to be his wife when he "rose from his sleep."

Jesus was born nine months after the marriage, and none in Nazareth, or Galilee, or Jerusalem, or Judea ever insinuated the possibility of a scandal. The people of Nazareth thought Jesus was the "carpenter's son" (Matt. 13:55). It was commonly supposed that Jesus was the son of Joseph (Luke 3:23).

The captious Jewish rulers who wanted desperately to discredit Jesus never accused him of an illegitimate birth. The Old Law stipulated, "A bastard shall not enter into the assembly of Jehovah; even to the tenth generation shall none of his enter into the assembly of Jehovah" (Deut. 23:2). This put a stigma, and assigned a severe penalty, on sexual promiscuity. Would God all generations condemn fornication and make its practice unacceptable.

The fact that the rulers of Jesus' day never charged him with scandal in his birth shows there was not the slightest misgiving on the part of Jesus' contemporaries. They thought Jesus was the son of Joseph and Mary. The world did not learn until the Gospels of Matthew and Luke were written - several years after the ascension of Jesus - that the birth of the Son of God fulfilled the old Isaiah prophecy.

There was a reason for this. The virgin creation of Jesus in the womb of Mary might not have been believed when it first happened. The Jewish Senate would have certainly denied Jesus access to the temple if there was any indication that his birth was improper. Information about the circumstances of his birth was shrouded in mystery in the Old Testament prophecy, and the information given to Joseph and Mary was kept private. They never said a word about it to anyone. "But Mary kept all these sayings, pondering them in her heart" (Luke 2:19).

After the teaching and mighty works and wonders and signs of Jesus, after his tragic death, after his glorious resurrection, after his ascension and mighty intercession, after the amazing success of a handful of his disciples in preaching salvation to the whole world, then the news of the conditions of his birth could be given and would be everywhere accepted.

If an unmarried, pregnant woman today claimed to be carrying a baby prepared by deity, she would be laughed to scorn. The same thing would have happened in the first century. God, therefore, placed safeguards about the details of the birth of Jesus, to be revealed when the world could receive it.

Worthy art thou,... for thou was slain, and didst purchase unto God with thy blood men of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation, and madest them to be unto our God a kingdom and priests; and they reign upon earth. ... Worthy is the Lamb that hath been slain to receive the power, and riches, and wisdom, and might and honor, and glory, and blessing. ... Unto him that sitteth on the throne, and unto the Lamb, be the blessing, and the honor, and the glory, and the dominion, for ever and ever. And the four living creatures said, Amen. And the elders fell down and worshipped (Rev 5:9-14).

Epilogue

Liberals and other unbelievers have for a long time explained the Isaiah passage by saying a young woman, then a virgin, would marry, lose her virginity, and bear a son. She would be a virgin before marriage but not afterwards. They call this a virgin birth. Luke definition of the virgin Mary as "having never known a man is ignored. Liberals reject miracles.

Could this explain how a professor of theology and preaching at Abilene Christian University could say that Mary of Nazareth was a "sexually questionable woman " (Andre Resner, Wineskins, November 1992) and then say, "I believe in the virgin birth "? The two statements are contradictory, unless you put a liberalistic spin on the word virgin. Then, too, we have President Money's statement that he was saddened to think "that some people would readily believe that we would tolerate anyone in our Bible faculty who denied something as fundamental as the virgin birth."

Well, brother Money, when Andre Resner, a member of your Bible faculty, calls the birth of Jesus a "scandal " and classifies his mother with harlots and fornicators and describes her as questionable in character, intelligent, Bible-believing people are going to think he is denying the virgin birth. The only out is to make virgin mean non-virgin, a position which is hard for a non-liberal.


Published September 1993