Why care about the virgin birth?

By Robin Schumacher

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There is no getting around the proclamation of Jesus' virgin birth at Christmas. Numerous hymns and songs mention the teaching, as do scores of Christmas messages from church pulpits.

But is the idea of Jesus' virgin birth that big a deal? Many years ago, emerging church teacher Rob Bell asked that very question in his work, Velvet Elvis:
What if tomorrow someone digs up definitive proof that Jesus had a real, earthly, biological father named Larry and archaeologists find Larry's tomb and do DNA samples and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the virgin birth was really just a bit of mythologizing the Gospel writers threw in to appeal to the followers of the Mithra and Dionyslan religious cults that were hugely popular at the time of Jesus, whose gods had virgin births? But what if as you study the origin of the word virgin, you discover that the word virgin in the gospel of Matthew actually comes from the book of Isaiah, and then you find out that in the Hebrew language at that time, the word virgin could mean several things. And what if you discover that in the first century being "born of a virgin" also referred to a child whose mother became pregnant the first time she had intercourse? What if that spring was seriously questioned? Could a person keep jumping? Could a person still love God? Could you still be a Christian?
Although immediately afterwards, Bell claims a commitment to the historic teachings of the Christian faith, his not-so-subtle questioning of Jesus' virgin birth (which uses some of the top skeptical arguments against the event) leaves a person wondering about that commitment. He asks if a 'brick' like the virgin birth were removed from the foundation of Christianity, would the faith still be left standing?

I'd like to give you two reasons why I believe the answer to that question is no and why the virgin birth of Jesus is critical to the Christian faith.

The Bible Teaches the Virgin Birth

While Bell and others question the legitimacy of the Bible's teaching on the virgin birth, I believe the matter to be quite clear in both the Old and New Testaments. The doctrine actually has its start in the first book of the Bible.

The very first verse in Scripture that contains a messianic prophecy, Genesis 3:15, speaks about the virgin birth: "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel." Notice that the seed mentioned is of a woman and not of a man — a fact that should not be overlooked as the Jews were a very patriarchal culture, with men being typically identified as the one begetting children.

Paul carries this exact same idea forward in Galatians 4:4-5 when he says, "But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons" (emphasis mine).

Of course, the most famous prediction of the virgin birth (and the one most targeted by skeptics) is found in Isaiah 7:14: "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel."

Critics of the Isaiah passage point out that the Hebrew word used for virgin — "alma" — does not literally mean virgin, but "young maiden." However, skeptics overlook the fact that each time the Bible uses that word for a woman (Genesis 24:43, Exodus 2:8, Psalm 68:25, Song of Solomon 1:3, 6:8), it never refers to one that has sexually known a man.

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Image Credit: Correggio; "Madonna della Scala"; 1523; Public Domain

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Published 12-17-14