Do You Really Believe in the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ? Part 2: Providing Evidence for the Virgin Birth
I am a firm believer that everything in the Christian faith can be proven in one way or another. I once posited this thought to a friend who immediately challenged me by asking if I could prove the virgin birth of Jesus. At first, I thought that this might actually be the only thing in the Christian faith that might disprove my theory. So I started looking into it.
The Biblical Textual Evidence
The best place to start is to examine the evidence contained in the Biblical text. Luke records the account from Mary’s point of view:
So the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God! Listen: You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. . . .
Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I have not had sexual relations with a man?” The angel replied, “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 holy; he will be called the Son of God (Luke 1:30-35 NET).
Matthew’s account comes from the perspective of Joseph:
Now the birth of Jesus Christ happened this way. While his mother Mary was engaged to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph, her husband to be, was a righteous man, and because he did not want to disgrace her, he intended to divorce her privately. When he had contemplated this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you will name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” This all happened so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet would be fulfilled: “ Look! The virgin will conceive and bear a son, and they will call him Emmanuel,” which means “ God with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep he did what the angel of the Lord told him. He took his wife, but did not have marital relations with her until she gave birth to a son, whom he named Jesus (Matthew 1:18-25 NET).
Both Mary and Joseph reported angelic visitations, but they were clearly not the same event. After finding about Mary’s situation, Joseph was apparently planning to quietly annul the betrothal, which would have been a completely normal thing to do. But something obviously changed Joseph’s mind, something very impactful. The decision to continue with the relationship would not have been an easy one. No doubt both Mary and Joseph would have been subjected to all kinds of ridicule and embarrassment in their small home town. The fact that Joseph made the decision to stay with Mary speaks to the truthfulness of both the angelic vision as well as the claim of the virgin conception. Were this not a supernatural event and part of the plan of God, we would expect Joseph to go through with his plan to “divorce her privately.”
Because of the vast difference between Matthew and Luke’s accounts, we can be sure that their sources are independent. The source for Matthew’s information likely came from the oral gospel traditions. These oral traditions would have been the commonly known facts in the early church community that would have been widely accepted and promulgated in the pre-gospel narrative days of Christianity. Prior to the writing of the Gospels of Luke and Matthew, there would have been no need for a written account of the virgin birth. As Christianity began to spread, the need for written accounts became greater which is precisely why men like Mark, Luke, Matthew and John wrote their historical narratives, as we will see with Luke’s explanation of the purpose of his Gospel.
Luke is very clear about where he received his information. In the opening words of his Gospel Luke states:
Now many have undertaken to compile an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, like the accounts passed on to us by those who were eyewitnesses and servants of the word from the beginning. So it seemed good to me as well, because I have followed all things carefully from the beginning, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know for certain the things you were taught (Luke 1:1-4 NET).
Prior to Luke’s account, there had been “many” attempts to create a written account of the life of Jesus based upon the aforementioned oral gospel traditions. It is very likely that much of the information in the first two chapters, where Luke records about the births of both John the Baptizer and Jesus, came from first hand accounts from Mary and/or Elizabeth themselves. Theophilus, the individual to whom Luke was writing his account had already been taught about many of the things Luke had recorded (Luke 1:4). This was likely part of those oral gospel traditions. Thus not only was the virgin conception/birth of Jesus accepted by the early church as the oral tradition (Matthew), but it was also verified through the eyewitnesses (Luke).
Confirming the Biblical Evidence
If someone today claimed that they were the product of a supernatural virgin conception, the pretense would collapse without much effort. There would no doubt be a search for contrary evidence. An older sibling from the same mother might surface, contradicting the claim. The wedding date of his parents could easily negate the claim, or one or both of the parents might falsify the claim. None of these happened with the claims of Jesus’ virgin conception and birth. In fact, not only is there a lack of evidence to falsify the claim, but there is evidence that supports the claim.
Jesus was unquestionably the oldest of Mary and Joseph’s 7 (or more) children (Mark 6:3). There is no evidence to show that Mary and Joseph were married nine months or more prior to Jesus’ birth. Luke records that Jesus’ conception happened at least three months before Joseph fulfilled his marital obligations to Mary (Luke 1:28-29, 56). Finally, there was no opposition to the claim from Jesus’ family. Since His family was prominent in the early church (1 Corinthians 9:5), we can conclude that the teaching of the virgin conception/birth was not negated by them. The later approval of the brother’s of Jesus is especially supportive when we take into consideration the fact that his brother’s did not believe in Him prior to his resurrection.
In addition to negating testimony from Jesus’ family, we have no negating evidence from the apostolic church fathers. If the virgin conception/birth was not true, we would expect that there would be early church records of a dispute about the story. This lack of evidence thus supports the virgin birth claim.
In addition to friendly confirmation, there is confirmation of the unusual circumstances surrounding the conception and birth of Jesus from enemies of Jesus. In John 8 we see a heated exchange between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders.
I am telling you the things I have seen while with the Father; as for you, practice the things you have heard from the Father!”
They answered him, “Abraham is our father!” Jesus replied, “If you are Abraham’s children, you would be doing the deeds of Abraham. But now you are trying to kill me, a man who has told you the truth I heard from God. Abraham did not do this! You people are doing the deeds of your father.”
Then they said to Jesus, “We were not born as a result of immorality! We have only one Father, God himself.”
Jesus replied, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come from God and am now here. I have not come on my own initiative, but he sent me. Why don’t you understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot accept my teaching. You people are from your father the devil, and you want to do what your father desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not uphold the truth, because there is no truth in him. Whenever he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, because he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I am telling you the truth, you do not believe me. Who among you can prove me guilty of any sin? If I am telling you the truth, why don’t you believe me? The one who belongs to God listens and responds to God’s words. You don’t listen and respond, because you don’t belong to God.”
The Judeans replied, “Aren’t we correct in saying that you are a Samaritan and are possessed by a demon?” (John 8:38-48 NET).
The Jews accused Jesus of being “born as a result of immorality” was an accusation of the presumed illegitimacy of Jesus’ conception and birth. While this does not necessarily confirm a supernatural conception, it does confirm the fact that Jesus was conceived prior to the marriage of Mary and Joseph. Jesus responds to these false accusations by reaffirming His claim that God was His Father. Their response was that he was actually the son of a Samaritan, because Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth was not far from Samaria. However, were this true, Joseph would have likely followed through with his initial thought to quietly divorce Mary due to her infidelity.
This examination of the evidence shows that even the most incredible aspects of Christianity can be proven. Skepticism arises only when a surface, insincere glance at the evidence. This also shows Christians that a blind faith in Jesus is not necessary. Just as Luke’s Theophilus, you can “know for certain the things you were taught.”
Click here for part 1, dissecting the argument against the virgin birth.