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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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