"It doesn't really matter if Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit or by Joseph's seed.
What matters is that Jesus came to earth, died, and was resurrected."
This is more or less what was said in a conversation I had several years ago with a now self-proclaimed progressive Christian. At the time, he was trying to work out his theology. Today, his words ring with expectancy to be answered. Was Jesus born of a virgin? Does it matter in regard to our faith if He was ?
The virgin birth of Jesus Christ has always been considered a non-negotiable core doctrine of Christianity and is mentioned in the earliest creeds. Among Christians, this doctrine wasn't broadly questioned until a period of history referred to as "the Enlightenment". Sometimes called "the Age of Reason," the Enlightenment was an intellectual movement that took place primarily in the 18th century. It has had an incalculable impact on Western culture, profoundly affecting the way people think about philosophy, politics, religion, and science.
As science was given precedent over religion, one of the trends to emerge during the Enlightenment was skepticism towards anything miraculous or supernatural. In other words, believing in the miracles recorded in the Bible such as the virgin birth is superstitious and unscientific, so they must be mythological. This seems to be a popular view among progressive Christians today.
Does the Bible teach that Jesus was actually born of a virgin?
The prediction, 700 hundred years before Christ (Isaiah 7:14):
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: the virgin will be with child and will
give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
The fulfillment (Matthew 1:22-23):
Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: The
virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel.
Seems pretty simple, right? Isaiah predicted the Virgin Birth and Matthew records that prediction coming true.
Not so fast.
A common claim among skeptics is that the word that is translated "virgin" really just means "young woman" or "maiden," and there is no reason to assume that Mary was a virgin.
This reasoning might make sense if we were only reading these Scriptures with a Western, American mindset. However, as with any Scripture, we have to look at it through the lens of the culture in which it was written. The Hebrew word in question is almah, which does mean "young woman" or "maiden." However, in ancient Hebrew culture, all young women of marriageable age were considered to be virgins. Strong's Online Concordance notes:
There is no instance where it can be proved that this word designates a young woman
who is not a virgin.
There is another Hebrew word that specifically means "virgin" (bethulah), but it's likely that Isaiah preferred almah because he wanted to communicate that the virgin would also be young. Long before the virgin birth was an established doctrine, 70 Hebrew scholars must have agreed, because when they began translating the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, they translated almah as parthenos, the Greek word for "virgin." Apparently, they understood exactly what that word meant in context.
Mary herself clearly stated that she was a virgin in Luke 1:34. When the angel told her she would conceive a child, she was perplexed and asked, "But how can this be, since I have not been intimate with a man?"
Does it matter if Jesus was born of a virgin?
As with most core doctrines, the case for the virgin birth of Jesus doesn't just come down to one or two Bible verses. Scripture teaches that Jesus is fully God and fully human. He literally has two natures. It was necessary for Him to be born of a woman, to fulfill the promise God made to Eve in Genesis 3:15. If Jesus had not been born of a woman, He would not be fully human, and could not have been the promised Messiah.
As I've written previously, Scripture teaches that humans inherited a "sin nature" from Adam, and it would seem that sin nature gets passed down through the line of the father.(1) According to Hebrews 7:26, Jesus did not have a sin nature. Also, it's important to note that Jeremiah prophesied that there would never be a king of Israel who was a descendant of King Jeconiah. (2) Matthew 1:12-16 tells us that Joseph was in fact, a descendant of Jeconiah.
If Jesus had been conceived by the seed of Joseph instead of by the Holy Spirit, He would have received a sin nature, and would not be fully God. As a descendant of Jeconiah, He would not have had a right to the throne of Israel, and He could not have been the promised Messiah.
Prophesied by Isaiah and fulfilled by Jesus, the virgin birth allowed for Jesus to be both fully God and fully human, unstained by sin, and God Incarnate. The doctrine of the virgin birth matters because it must be true for salvation to even be possible.
(1)Romans 5:12, 17,19
(2) Jeremiah 22:28-30
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