After over four milleniums, the first promise given to man is fulfilled, and Jesus was born "the seed of the woman" (Genesis 3:15; Matthew 1:1). Paul was very careful to state that when God sent forth His son that He was "made of a woman" (Galatians 4:4) - not of a man and a woman, but only of a woman. Christ is the only babe the world has ever known who did not have a human father. He was divinely conceived. Now, in this analysis, we won't be concerned with the fact, time or place of Christ's birth, but with the manner of it.
God and man became one Person. Human reason rejects the virgin birth as being impossible and as contrary to the natural order of things. But Job could confess, "I know that Thou canst do everything" (42:2). Mary accepted the angel's announcement that apart from natural generation she was to become the mother of our Lord and said, "With God nothing shall be impossible...Be it...according to Thy Word" (Luke 1:37,38). If we try to explain the virgin birth we lose our reason - If we discredit altogether this initial miracle of Christianity we lose our soul, for no one can be a Christian after the New Testament order who totally rejects Christ's birth of a virgin.
What exactly, is meant by a virgin birth? Let me say this, that it DOES NOT mean immaculate conception such as the Roman Catholic Church teaches when it affirms that Mary, herself, was conceived and born without original sin; thus - they reason - Christ was sinless. Nor does it mean a miraculous birth, for there is no evidence, whatsoever, that the process of Christ's birth itself was in any way exceptional - nor was it a supernatural birth merely, for that was true of Issac and of John the Baptist. By the virgin birth we are to understand that, contrary to the course of nature, Jesus was divinely conceived in the womb of Mary, the Holy Spirit becoming the love-knot between our Lord's two natures. In such a conception, deity and humanity were fused together and Jesus came forth as the God-Man.
The Seed Of The Woman
This oldest of all evangelical promises found in Genesis 3:15 predicts in a wonderful way the virgin birth of our Lord. Please notice the specific language used: "I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed." Her seed! Such a thought as a woman's seed, as stated here, is not found elsewhere in Scripture. Over a hundred times or more, when we read of the seed and seeds, of Abraham's seed, and so forth, it is always the seed of the man. But the seed of the woman is a unique concept, and can only be interpreted as a foreshadowing of the virgin birth. I submit that if our Lord had not been born of a virgin, it would be Adam who would be addressed, and his that would be referred to (Matthew 1:18)." See also Luke 1:55.
- The Seed Of Abraham - And then the great evangelical promises of Genesis 12:1-13 and 15:18 find thier fulfillment in Christ, as one can prove by turning to passages like John 8:56-58; Galatians 3:16. Yes, and what is one of the purposes of Matthew but to prove that Christ is the One who will fulfill the Abrahamic covenant, and so he commences his genealogy with Abraham!
- The Tribe of Judah - See how the revelation is progressive? Now Christ is to be limited to one particular tribe of Israel. Compare Genesis 49:10 with Hebrews 7:14, Revelation 5:5; Matthew 2:5,6.
- The House of David - Then our Lord is to spring from one family in that tribe. Compare II Samuel 7:12,13 with Mathew 1:1; Romans 1:3.
- The Son of a Virgin - Compare "the great Immanuel Prophecy" of Isaiah 7:14 and 9:7 with Matthew 1:22, 23, etc.
- The Name - Compare Isaiah 7:14 with Matthew 1:23.
- The Worship by Gentiles - Compare Isaiah 60:6 with Matthew 2:11.
- His Forerunner - Compare Isaiah 40:3 with Matthew 3:1-3.
And thus, as the time of fulfillment drew near, there were numerous quiet circles, little godly bands, who nourished their hearts on the promises, e.g. Luke 2:25-38. And it was in these faithful hearts that the stirrings of the prophetic spirits began to make themselves felt anew, preparing for the First Advent of our Lord - Luke 2:27-36.
Coming now to the clearer testimony of the New Testament, we consider, first of all, the witness of the angels, who were the first heralds of our Lord's virgin birth. There are three angelic appearances recorded in Matthew and Luke; or shall we say, three annunciations?
- To Zacharias - While performing the priestly function of burning incense (Luke 1:9), this holy man (1:6) was visited by an angel (1:11) who not only gives him the assurance that a child is to be born to Elizabeth his wife (1:13), but also that their son will be the forerunner of the Messiah about to be born (1:16,17).
- To Mary - The angel Gabriel, who is possibly the same messenger each time, is sent to Mary with the news that she is to bear a son, and call His name Jesus. See 1.) Luke 1:26-28. Notice that verse 28 is omitted in the Revised Version; therefore, there is no support for the Mariolatry of the Roman Catholic Church (Mary's wonder and fear 1:29); 2)The angel's announcement - Luke 1:30-33; 3) The angel's explanation - Luke 1:35-37 (Mary's willing submission - 1:38).
- The Joseph - Turning to Matthew's gospel we discoer that Joseph, the espoused husband of Mary, was also visited in dreams by an angel of the Lord. And such a medium of revelation was necessary owing to Joseph's position and perplexity, for when he became aware of Mary's condition, he was shocked as a just man would be (1:19); and so his first thought is to put Mary away and thus avoid scandal (1:19). With these thoughts in mind, follow the angelic anouncements thus - 1) The angel's revelation - 1:20-23 (Joseph's willing response - 1:24,25); 2) The angel's directions - 2:13; 2:19,20 (Joseph's response - 2:14,15; 2:21-23).
By the historic witness we mean the evidence of the virgin birth as we have it from the lips of those who knew Joseph and Mary. Here we again turn to Matthew and Luke. What do we find here? Well, what we find is there is abundant witness to the genuiness of our Lord's wonderful birth.
How did Matthew and Luke come to know thte facts of Mary's conception and Joseph's perplexity? Such facts were surely sacred and secret, and could only come from Mary and Joseph themselves.
Matthew received the account of the birth from Joseph, and this is why Mattew's gospel gives the birth from Joseph's standpoint.
Luke, on the other hand, received his facts from Mary, and being a beloved physician, who understands the extreme propriety of the question, we are not suprised at the marvelous beauty and accuracy of description as he tells us every small detail that we need to know, and advancing nothing that does not concern us."
- Luke 1:13; 1:35 - By comparing these two passages one gathers extra roof regarding the truth surrounding the virgin bith. "Thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son." Compare this "thee" of verse 13 with the "thee" of verse 35 - "that holy thing which shall be born to thee." The phrase, "bear thee a son," which is a usual one of Scripture is omitted in verse 35.
- Luke 3:23 - Notice the parenthesis in this verse - "Jesus began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph." At this point it may be as well to state that Jesus was customarily spoken of by the people of Nazareth, etc., as "the son of Joseph." So He was; and it could be otherwise. to the people of Nazareth, who knew nothing of the circumstances of His origin. Jesus was simply a child of Joseph's home. Joseph from the first stood in loco parentis to Jesus. It is this that accounts for phrases like Luke 2:27 - "The parents brought in the child Jesus"; Luke 2:41 -- "Now his parents" etc.; Luke 2:48 - "Thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing"; Matthew 13:55 - "Is not this the carpenter's son?"
- Matthew 1:16 - In this reference we have a roundabout way of describing the birth of Christ which is absolutely without meaning or sense unless Christ was born of a virgin. "Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus." The word "begat" is omitted from Mary's genealogy, and the change is important; it is no longer "who begat," but "Mary, of whom was born Jesus." Jesus was not "begotten" of natural generation, but conceived of the Holy Ghost.
- Matthew 2:11 - In the homage paid by the wise men from the East, it will be noticed that Joseph is entirely absent - "They saw the young child with Mary, His mother," etc.
- Matthew 2:13 - How specific this verse is - "Arise and take the young child and his mother," etc. Why, if Christ was the son of both Mary and Joseph as some would affirm, how is it that an angel, above all, does not give Joseph any recognition as a parent?
The Silence Of Mark and John
As these two disciples were contemporaries of Matthew and Luke, it may be found helpful to add a word under this historical point regarding their silence in connection with the virgin birth. This silence is a great stumbling block to the modern critics, and yet its explanation is very simple.
There is another explanation for the supposed silence of Mark and John, an explanation that critics are often blind to, and that is the bearing in mind of the scope or design of such. Why, it is impossible to study any part of the Bible aright without understanding, first of all, the purpose of the Book before one.
What is the purpose of Mark's gospel? Well, he sets out to relate the events of Christ's public ministry, beginning at the baptism in His thirtieth year. Mark's endeavor is to portray our Lord as "The Servant" - and who is concerned about the birth certificate of a servant, so long as the servant's character is good, and his work of the best? W. Kelly says,
- "A genealogy such as Matthew's and Luke's would be totally out of place here; and the reason is manifest. The subject of Mark is the testimony of Jesus as having taken, though a Son, the place of a servant on earth. Now, in a servant, no matter from what noble lineage he comes, there is no genealogy requisite. What is wanted in a servant is that the work should be done well, no matter about the genealogy." [italics mine - ATJ]
But although Mark does not recount the details regarding Christ's birth, yet he is acquainted with all the facts respecting it. And so taking such for granted he begins his gospel abruptly - "The beginnig of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God!" Why the very title, "The Son of God," proves that Mark knew all about the divinity of our Lord's conception!
The beloved disciple of our Lord's (the Apostle John) also had a definite object in writing his gospel. He sets out to narrate the sublime truth that Christ is God as well as man. To the world at large his messsage is - "Behold your God!" And he goes back to the past eternity, and shows how the Lord existed or was coequal and coexistent with the Father from the beginning. The genealogy is excluded from John because Christ is presented as being without all genealogy.
But although he knew the account of Christ's earthly birth, he does not give any details such as Matthew and Luke do. And yet what can we make of a passage like John 1:14 - "The Word was made (R.V. "became," and please note the different rendering) flesh, and dwelt among us" if there was no such stupendous miracle as the virgin birth?
The apparent silence of the Apostle Paul regarding the virgin birth is sometimes used by the critics to disprove the truth of it. We are told that he did not base his preaching of his gospel upon private, interior matters, such as the virgin birth narratives give, but upon the broad, public facts of Christ's ministry, death and Resurreection. And yet it must be evident to all honest readers that Paul was full acquainted with the mystery of our Lord's birth. For example -
- He was Luke's Companion - When we remember the loving companionship that existed between Paul and Luke, and that Luke was one of the chief witnesses to the virgin bith, we may be assured that whatever Luke knew regarding our Lord he would communicate to Paul.
- His Doctrine - Why, by the truths that the Apostle declares, he shows how he not only knew the story of the virgin birth but that he received it as a part of the divine revelation. What do passages like Philippians 2:5-28, Colossians 1:18; 2:9; Galatians 4:4; II Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 2:14 mean if there was no miracle in the constitution of the Redeemer's person? To Paul the virgin birth would be the most reasonable and credible of events!
- His Peculiar Expressions - One of the most singular facts about Paul's language when describing Christ's earthly origin is that he invariably uses some unusual or roundabout expression, implying thereby something exceptional about our Lord's birth. For example, in using the word "born" in passages like Romans 1:3; Galatians 4:4, he does not use the ordinary word gennetos that is used, for instance, of John the Baptist who was also "born of a woman" (Matthew 11:11) but he adopts the word genomenos signifying "becoming" or "became." The Revised Version margin for Philippians 2:7 gives us the same word "becoming" or the words in the text "being made." In Galatians 4 Paul uses the first word three times in speaking of others, but in writing of Christ in verse 4 he selects the wider and more appropriate term.
When Jesus left the bosom of the Father, He voluntarily chose the path of humiliation. The sovereign choice of love, as well as man's need of a Savior, led Him to turn His back upon heaven's glory for a cross of shame. Throughout His life there was the conscious restraint of many of His divine powers, that He might be seen as a true "Man of Sorrows." Although rich, for our sakes He became poor, that through His self-imposed poverty we might be rich (II Corinthians 8:9). May grace be ours to emulate the supreme example of humility!
Kelly, Wm., God's Inspiration of Scripture, T. Weston, London.
Dr. Lockyer, Herbert R.S.L., F.R.G.S.; All The Doctrines Of The Bible - A Study and Analysis of Major Bible Doctrines; Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI