Was Jesus Born of a Virgin?
December 10th, 1986 @ 7:30 PM
WAS JESUS BORN OF A VIRGIN?
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-10-86 7:30 p.m.
Our service tonight is a study in one of the theological areas of the Christian faith, and it is centered around the virgin birth of our Lord. Was Jesus Born Of A Virgin? Was He? Or are these mythological tales that we read in the Bible that were fabricated by the early church trying to explain the unique personality of Jesus our Lord?
We are going to read together and out loud from the first chapter of Luke. Luke chapter 1, reading verses 26 through 35; Luke chapter 1, beginning at verse 26 and reading through verse 35, and all of us reading it out loud together, Luke 1:26-35. Now together:
And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,
To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.
And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee: Blessed art thou among women.
And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.
And the angel said unto her, Fear not Mary: for thou hast found favor with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a Son, and shalt call His name Jesus.
He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David:
And He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end.
Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?
And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
Is that true? Was Jesus born of a virgin? The birth of our Lord Jesus has been a battleground from the beginning. In the New Testament, in John 8:19, the Jews asked, “Where is Thy Father?” And in the forty-first verse of that same chapter they ask, they say, they avow, “We be not born of fornication, maybe such as You are” [John 8:41].
In the lifetime of John, the sainted apostle, he lived the last of his many years in Ephesus; and in that city, and contemporary with John, was a Cerinthian Gnostic. He founded the Gnostic philosophy called “Cerinthian Gnosticism.” His name was Cerinthus. And he said and taught that Jesus was born of Joseph and Mary, that the messianic power came upon Him at His baptism and left Him at His cross.
In the Talmud—there are Talmudic stories concerning Mary—they avow that Mary became pregnant by a Roman soldier named Pantheras. In the centuries since, such as Celsus, in the two hundreds AD to this modern day, the most bitterly and constantly assailed of all of the miracles of the Bible is the virgin birth [Matthew 1:20-25].
There are two special objects that the critics lambaste, that they attack. Number one is the inspiration of the Scriptures [2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21]; that it is a volume of men, such as Shakespeare, Milton, Dante, Homer, the Bible; it is no more infallible or inerrant than any other human piece of literature. The Bible is the first and main attack of those who do not believe in the Christian faith as you and I do. And the second special object of the critic’s wrath is the virgin birth [Matthew 1:20-25]. Matthew Arnold, the great English writer and critic, said, quote, “I do not believe in the virgin birth, for that would imply miracle, and I do not believe in miracles. Miracles do not happen,” end quote. And Loof, speaking for all rationalistic critics, said, and I quote, “I think it’s a duty of truthfulness to state openly that the virgin birth arose out of fabulous, fictitious tradition.
But whatever the critic says, we have a great fact to explain—the most stupendous in the history of mankind—namely, how do you account for the unique character of Jesus? He is the great unlike. After the scrutiny of centuries, He is still the most towering personality among men. Even the rationalist Schmidt is forced to write, I quote, “Jesus is inexplicable psychologically, casually, or by evolutionary development; something derived creatively from God is necessary to explain the life and consciousness of Jesus,” end quote.
Now there are several attempted explanations of the incomparable character and life of the Lord Jesus. One, there are those who worship at the shrine of pseudoscience, and they feel compelled to make all the miracles of the Bible conform to the latest form of sophisticated philosophical negatism.
For example, when we read in the Bible the miracle of the parting of the Red Sea [Exodus 14:21-31]—they say actually it was the parting of the “Reed Sea,” and they just waded across. One of the funny things that accompany that is then Pharaoh and his army drowned in water that was an ankle deep. Another, Elijah’s fire that fell down on Mt. Carmel and consumed the sacrifice on the altar [1 Kings 18:24, 36-38]; they say that actually that was just a chance bolt of lightning.
When they speak of Jesus’ resurrection [Matthew 28:1-7], they say actually, that is nothing but mental hallucinations on the part of those who were spreading the story that He was really raised from the dead. Thus, they explain the virgin birth [Matthew 1:20-25], by so-called parallels in material natural science; for example, “parthenogenesis”; many algae and fungi and plant-lice profligate from unfertilized spores.
Another example they adduced is that of a shocked rabbit. At a gathering of a theological society, a professor read a paper discussing the virgin birth. The university teacher offered a possible explanation of the phenomenon. He said that female rabbits have been known to be shocked into conception without the male, and that Mary may well have been shocked into conception by the startling appearance and announcement of the angel Gabriel. All of those things classify Mary with algae, and fungi, and plant-lice, and female rabbits!
Then there are those who have used so-called comparable stories of miraculous birth in Greek and Roman mythology. Legends grew up around the heroes of the ancient world, and their greatness was partly explained by the stories of their supernatural birth. For example, Alexander the Great; he was not born as the natural son of King Philip of Macedon, but he was begotten by a serpent cohabiting with his mother. Again, Hercules; Alcmene, daughter of the king of Mycenae and Jupiter, who assumed the likeness of her husband while he was away, gave birth to the wondrous child. Juno, who is the wife of Jupiter, sent two serpents to destroy the baby. And the baby strangled them both; that’s Hercules. Achilles—the son of Peleus, the king of Thessaly and Thetis, a sea nymph—the mother dipped him in the River Styx and he was invulnerable except in the heel held by her hand. And you remember the story: Paris of Troy shot him with a poison arrow in his heel where he was vulnerable and he died. Augustus Caesar: his mother fell asleep in the temple of Apollo and she was visited by the god in the form of a serpent, and Octavius was born. And Gautama, the Buddha: for the first three centuries, nothing was ever said of his birth. Then this developed: his mother had a vision of a great elephant with huge tusks. Forcibly, that elephant entered her side, and Gautama the Buddha was born.
There are two observations I have to make about these so-called explanations of the virgin birth of our Lord, finding examples in the great heroes of the ancient world. Number one: there is no virgin birth found anywhere among them, not one. And number two, the stories are plainly and manifestly fabricated and fictitious, and they have no theological meaning whatsoever. You can read about them and study about them world without end, and there is nothing in all of that literature of the ancient world describing those miraculous births of those ancient heroes that have any meaning or any pertinency to life at all.
I mention one other thing. The attack of the modern higher critic; they seek to remove the stories from the gospel record altogether. But I point out to you—every manuscript of the Bible, every version—I don’t care what the version or what the ancient manuscript, everyone of them has the story of the virgin birth of our Lord from the beginning to the end of it. There’s no exception to that. The marvel and the wonder of the miraculous birth of Jesus is something before which we cannot but bow in humble adoration and worship.
First: the birth of our Lord is a work of the Holy Spirit. Like the ministry of our Lord [Matthew 12:28], and like the resurrection of our glorious Savior [Matthew 28:1-7], all of it is a piece, one piece, a work of the Holy Spirit of God. At His birth, in the passage we just read in Luke 1:35:
The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that Holy Child which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God—
that is His birth.
This is His resurrection: in Romans 1:4, the apostle Paul writes that Jesus was declared horizō, pointed out. The word “horizon” comes from it. “Pointed out,” there it is. He was declared. “He was pointed out to be the Son of God by the Spirit of holiness in the resurrection from the dead.”
The story of His virgin birth is like the story of His ministry, which is like the story of His resurrection. It is the same glorious, marvelous, benedictory intervention of God from heaven. And when we read it and we pass from one to the other, we feel no incongruity whatsoever. Read about His miraculous birth [Matthew 1:20-25]. Read about His amazing ministry. And read about His resurrection from the dead [Matthew 28:1-7], and His ascension into heaven [Acts 1:9-10]. When we go from one to the other, there is no feeling of a break. It is just the same; the work of the Holy Spirit.
The virgin birth of our Lord is a intervention of God in human history. In Luke 1:32-33:
He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David:
and He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end.
That’s God’s hand in human history. From time to time, God intervenes in history. He did it in creation, when Satan tempted our first parents and sin came into the world [Genesis 3:1-6]. And wherever sin enters, there is darkness and chaos. In the creation, when the world fell into chaos [Genesis 1:1-2], God intervened, and He created a beautiful garden and a beautiful earth, and He set our first parents in the midst [Genesis 2:8-25]; God intervened.
In the days of Noah, God intervened. The whole earth was covered with wickedness, and God intervened and saved Noah [Genesis 6:5-8, 7:23]. In the days of Abraham, he was called out of a world that was solidly idolatrous [Genesis 12:1-2; Joshua 24:2-3]. In the days of Moses, He led His people out of the oppressive darkness in Egypt [Exodus 3:7-10, 12:41]. And in the days of Elijah, God called him; and through him, the people out of universal apostasy [1 Kings 18:17-40]. In the days of John the Baptist, he was called to introduce a new age and a new era and a new dispensation [Matthew 3:1-17]. And there is one more to come and that is at the second coming of Christ; when there will be a new age, and a new dispensation, and a new era [Joel 3:16-18].
God intervenes from time to time in human history. And He intervened in the birth of that wonderful Child, the Lord Jesus. God did that according to the Holy Word; God did that to create a body of sacrifice for our sins. In one of the tremendous passages in the Book of Hebrews, in chapter 10:
It is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.
Wherefore He saith, Sacrifice and offering Thou wouldst not, but a body hast Thou prepared for Me.
In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin Thou hast no pleasure.
Then said I, Lo, I come (In the volume of the book it is written of Me) to do Thy will, O God.
Lo, I come to do Thy will.
By which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ for our sins.
[Hebrews 10:4-7, 9-10]
God intervened, and God created the holy, heavenly, sinless body of our Lord that He might offer a sacrifice, able to wash away all of our sins [Hebrews 10:5, 10]. This is one of the two great biological miracles of God. The first was in Adam. Out of the dust, God created Adam [Genesis 2:7], and placed in him the marvelous phenomenon of what we call mitosis.
Forty-six chromosomes, every cell in you has a certain definite number of chromosomes; forty-six of them, every cell in your body. Trillions of cells in your body, every one of them has forty-six chromosomes. And God created that first miracle, the first biological miracle in Adam. He took twenty-three chromosomes from the ovum of the female and twenty-three chromosomes from the spermatozoon of the male and put them together, and there were forty-six again. And a new life was created; the first biological miracle, and every succeeding generation thereafter has been marvelously, miraculously blessed in that mitotic phenomenon.
The second biological miracle is the birth of our Lord [Matthew 1:23], the second Adam [1 Corinthians 15:45]. God broke through the chain of genetics, and God created that holy and heavenly body of our Lord Jesus [Hebrews 10:5]. So we come to understand these marvelous, incomparable Scriptures; without the virgin birth [Matthew 1:23], they become enigmatic and inexplicable, but with the virgin birth, we come to see their full and wonderful meaning.
Number one, Genesis 3:15: “The Seed of the woman shall crush Satan’s head.” A woman doesn’t have seed. It is the man that has seed. But God said, in the garden of Eden, in the beginning of the race: “The Seed of the woman shall crush Satan’s head.” When finally we came to understand what it meant, it referred to the birth of a Child on the part of a virgin mother who did not know a man [Luke 1:34, 2:1-7].
Isaiah 7:14: Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel, with us is God.” “For unto us a Child is born” [Isaiah 9:6]. That’s His human birth. “And unto us a Son is given” [Isaiah 9:6]. That’s His deity. “And unto—and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” [Isaiah 9:6]. What an amazing thing that in those prophecies, they fit together just perfectly as God shall do. “Unto us a Child is born,” that’s His human birth. “Unto us a Son is given,” that’s the deity of our Lord from heaven.
In Micah 5:2: “But thou, Bethlehem . . . out of thee shall come forth He that is to be Ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” Not that He began in Bethlehem, but His coming is from everlasting. “His goings forth from old—from of old—from before the beginning of the creation—from forever”; what an amazing prophecy! And in that virgin birth, every one of those glorious prophecies are fulfilled.
But when the fullness of time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman,
To redeem them that were under the law and under the curse,
that we might receive the adoption of sons.
And one other: in the closing of the Book, in Revelation 22:16 John writes, the glorious Lord that appeared to him says, “I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and the Morning Star.” The same double meaning in the prophecy, “I am the Root of David.” Before David, the forefather of David, from everlasting before David, “I am the Root and I am the Offspring of David,” His humanity and His deity [Revelation 22:16].
And when we let the Bible speak to us and believe its miraculous Word, it fits together all in one glorious, incomparable gospel of grace, and hope, and love, and adoration, and worship. And there’s no more marvelous time in the world, or in the year, than Christmas time when we praise God for the gift of His glorious Son, our eternal and everlasting Savior [John 3:16, 10:27-30]. I tell you, you can’t help but rejoice in studying the Word of God. Oh, what a fullness, and what a blessing, and what a richness in reading; poring over its great truths and seeing them incarnate in the lives of our people and in our hope for a more precious and blessed tomorrow; God having prepared some better thing for us! [Hebrews 11:40].
Now, Brother Denny, we’re going to sing us a song. And while we sing the song, I’ll be standing right here. Somebody you, “Pastor, tonight, this night, I’d like to confess openly my faith in the Lord Jesus, believing He is all that He said that He was; came into this world to be made a sacrifice for our sins [Hebrews 10:5-14]; raised for our justification to declare us righteous and to save us forever [Romans 4:25] and, someday, coming in glory and triumph [Matthew 24:30]. To receive the Lord as my Savior, I stand.” Or to put your life in the fellowship of our dear church, or to answer a call of the Spirit of God from heaven, as the Spirit of the Lord, the Holy Spirit of the blessed Savior, would make the appeal to your heart, answer with your presence. “Here I stand, Lord. Here I come.” Gladly, triumphantly. May the Lord speed you in the way and angels attend you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.