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Theology > Jesus > Incarnation > The Virgin Birth: The Means of the Incarnation     


The means by which the eternal Son of God assumed flesh was the virginal conception and birth which took place in and through Mary by the work of the Spirit of God. Through this process God determined to enter into history and to be identified with man.

A virgin was chosen and informed that she would bear a Son without the seed of a man. Needless to say the man to whom she was betrothed did not know this but was informed by an angel. Two of the Gospels, Luke and Matthew, record these events:


In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by 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!”

But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

And the angel answered her, “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. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”

And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her (1:26-38).


Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with Child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel, which means, “God with us”.

When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a Son. And he called His name Jesus (1:18-2:12).

Perhaps this is the greatest recorded miracle in human history: the Creator becoming what He was not, God assuming the likeness of man, the Eternal partaking of the finite, One appearing on earth called “Immanuel,” which means “God with us.” The accounts have blended together words that speak of the historical and words that speak of the supernatural. How can such be understood? How can it be explained? How can it be believed? The idea is both mysterious and glorious (see: The Incomprehensible).

The Virgin Birth affirms that Mary was a virgin and that the conception and birth that she experienced was brought about by the work of the Spirit within her. The Old Roman Creed simply states that Christ “was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary.”

Through the most inconceivable intimate personal union of the Logos with our humanity, the particular Jewish male, Jesus of Nazareth, was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the virgin’s womb (M. Horton, The Christian Faith, 468).

In at least two passages—Gen. 3:14-15 and Isa. 7:14—the Virgin Birth was anticipated in the Old Testament:

The Lord God said to the serpent . . . “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel” (Gen. 3:14-15).

The statement speaks of “her Seed,” the seed of the woman, an unusual wording in the Old Testament Scriptures where a patriarchal culture is presented. Descendants were traced through the father, with little emphasis given to the mother. Obviously this a reference to a future Person who would stand in unusual relationship to the woman. He will be uniquely of the woman, meaning He will stand in a definite bond to the woman. He is “her Seed,” obviously an early and veiled reference to the Virgin Birth.

Paul surely makes reference to this first Gospel proclamation by affirming that “God sent forth His Son, made of a woman” (Gal. 4:4).

For a fuller discussion of the Protoevangelium, see: Protoevangelium and Gen. 3:15

Therefore Yahweh Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel (Isa. 7:14).

The correct translation of alma is “virgin,” because in no verse in the Old Testament does the Hebrew word mean anything except a young unmarried girl; it should be noted that the Text does not have bethulah, which can refer to a married person.

In the Septuagint alma is translated by parthenos, an unambiguous word which can only mean a virgin.

Matthew plainly affirms that the birth of Jesus is the fulfillment of Isa. 7:14 (Matt. 1:22-23).

The Virgin Birth communicates in several ways the uniqueness of the Child that was born:

First, it speaks of God’s initiative: man did not initiate, for man cannot initiate—the work of salvation belongs to God alone; God sent His Son.

Second, it proclaims the eternal nature of the Child; He is the Lord of glory; He did not begin to exist but has always been; the faith is articulated in the refrain to a Christmas hymn sung in the Orthodox Church: “A new-born child, God before the ages” (Romanos the Melodist, The Festal Menaion, 277).

Third, it implies two natures, the supernatural and natural: one nature—the supernatural—through the virgin conception, and one nature—the natural—through Mary the mother.

Fourth, it speaks of the origin of the Child: He is not of earth but of heaven; He came from eternity and entered into time and space.

The virgin conception and birth of Christ are clearly affirmed in the Scriptures (the term, “Virgin Birth,” includes the conception). So, if any normative nature is attached to the Canon, and its authority binds the believer, then the account of the Virgin Birth must be accepted; the believer has no other option—he must accept what God has revealed. In spite of the lack of understanding and the impossibility of comprehension the Christian position is one of affirmation. If the God of the Bible is the One and only God, then the Virgin Birth is possible—its possibility must be accepted.

To confess the Christ of the Bible, and there is no other Christ, and not to confess the record of His origin into the world is theological inconsistency and is surely an indication of a spurious confession. It is totally irrational, or inconsistent, to reject the literal event of the Virgin Birth and yet in some other manner to affirm a belief in the same. It is either literal or it is not.

It is perfectly clear that the New Testament teaches the virgin birth of Christ; about that there can be no manner of doubt. There is no serious question as to the interpretation of the Bible at this point. Everyone admits the Bible represents Jesus as having been conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary. The only question is whether in making that representation the Bible is true or false (Machen, Virgin Birth, 382).

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