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Was Mary Really a Virgin?

December 19 2018
December 19 2018

“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” Luke 1:26–28 (ESV)

For many of us who have grown up in the church, the phrase “the virgin birth of Christ” is familiar to our ears. You’ve probably heard scores of sermons on the birth of Christ. And you’ve seen pictures and displays of the nativity scene: Mary, cradling her newborn child; Joseph, protectively standing over her in delight; shepherds gathered around, beholding the spectacle… and random farm animals like sheep and cattle present, to display the humbling situation.

As Christians, we affirm that Jesus is the eternal Son of God—he is without beginning and without end. And we also embrace the two-thousand-year-old teaching, or doctrine, of the Virgin Birth of Christ. I’d like us to pause for a moment in this Christmas season to consider what this means. And let’s be honest with ourselves: do we actually believe that Mary was really a virgin?

For the sake of writing a blog post rather than a book on the topic, let’s cut to the chase!

In the twenty-first century, western world, we are broadly immersed in a post-enlightenment, humanistic, postmodern worldview. In short, this means that we lean upon certain presuppositions in our way of thinking. Namely, we rely upon presuppositions that elevate man-centered reasoning, reject acts of divine providence and intervention, and are increasingly resorting to a priori reasoning (theoretical), over a posteriori reasoning (experiential/observational).

In other words, we doubt. A lot. And with good reason!

Common sense tells us that virgins don’t bear children. Normal human experience demonstrates that virgins don’t bear children. And because of our doubts of God at times, we may be inclined to doubt the words in his divine revelation to us: the Bible.

Mary, too, had doubts about the actuality of a virgin conception. After God had sent the angel Gabriel to Mary, to proclaim this good news of the coming Son of God, Mary immediately responded with troubled thoughts and a searching for discernment in the moment (Luke 1:29). She responded rationally. Then, while trying to understand how this event could ever happen, she replied to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” She responded with concern.

Let’s look at the angel’s response to her honest, real question. He didn’t answer her with a biological or natural explanation, but rather with the Creator’s special, holy, and salvific involvement in his creation in this way. “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 called holy—the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).

The conception within Mary’s womb would be nothing less than a miracle—a literal “extraordinary” act of God!

So what was Mary’s response? “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

Notice how Mary had responded at first with rationalism, then proper feelings of concern, but ultimately with belief in both God and in God’s ways.

The historical and reliable account of Luke’s Gospel attests to the virgin birth of Christ. And so does Matthew’s Gospel within that same first-century generation of Christ’s disciples, giving detailed evidence by two separate witnesses—one Greek and the other a Jew. And the prophet Isaiah foretold the virgin birth seven hundred years earlier in Isaiah 8:14!

Time would fail us to go into all the various known historical evidences for Christ’s virgin birth, but the penultimate question for us is this: do we believe that God is able to perform wondrous things, beyond our limited, human reasoning?

God showed Mary favor by having her bear the Christ child. And God has shown us, his people, favor by giving this same Christ to us as Immanuel, God with us. His name is Jesus, and he is our Savior.


Note: For more information on the historicity of the virgin birth of Christ, J. Gresham Machen’s book entitled The Virgin Birth of Christ (Harper, 1930) is an excellent resource to get you started.


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