Answering Six Objections to the Virgin Birth
Holy Scripture teaches that Jesus was born of the virgin Mary. This is the doctrine of the virgin birth—or, to be more precise, the virginal conception. This teaching has encountered objections over the years, and there are good responses to each of them.
Objection #1: People back then would believe anything.
This objection assumes the gullibility of ancient people when it comes to childbearing. Someone might say, “People in that era didn’t know any better, and they were willing to believe in things like a man born of a virgin.” The idea in the skeptic’s mind is that the ancient world was simply unscientific, and we enlightened people know better than to believe silly myths and tales of things like a virgin giving birth.
While there were certainly false beliefs in the ancient world due to scientific ignorance, how babies were made was not one of them. Even the Gospels are forthcoming about Joseph’s reaction to Mary’s pregnancy. He doesn’t initially assume a virginal conception. He assumes her sexual unfaithfulness. The only reason Mary would claim a virginal conception is her commitment to the truth, and only a compelling reason would convince Joseph of the virginal conception. According to Matthew 1 and Luke 1, an angelic explanation was sufficient for Mary and for Joseph.
Objection #2: We know that a baby can’t be virginally conceived.
Exactly. We all know this, which is why it was so astounding when it happened. Christians insist that the virginal conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary is supernatural. Natural mechanisms did not accomplish the conception in Mary’s womb. God performed a miracle, and Mary was with child.
People who object to the miraculous notion of the virginal conception need to consider whether they have objections to the miraculous elsewhere in Scripture. The Bible is full of the wonders of God. Luke 1 reports a miracle. But if you believe Genesis 1, nothing in Luke 1 is too difficult to believe.
Objection #3: The Bible doesn’t talk much about the virgin birth.
This objection assumes that if the Bible doesn’t talk much about something, then it must not be as important to believe. The only places in the New Testament which explicitly teach the virginal conception of Jesus are the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. But interpreters should not diminish what the Bible teaches by looking at the number of times the Bible teaches it. The importance of doctrine is established by weight, not exclusively by frequency. The weight of the virginal conception is “heavy”—or important—because it pertains to the person and natures of Christ.
In Christian Theology, Millard Erickson wrote that “if the Bible tells us that it happened, it is important to believe that it did because not to do so is a tacit repudiation of the authority of the Bible. If we do not hold to the virgin birth despite the fact that the Bible asserts it, then we have compromised the authority of the Bible and there is in principle no reason why we should hold to its other teachings. Thus, rejecting the virgin birth has implications reaching far beyond the doctrine itself.”1
Objection #4: The story of the virgin birth borrowed from ancient myths.
This claim is common. The idea is that ancient myths form the background from which the Gospel writers told the story of the virgin birth. And, so the logic goes, if the Gospel writers drew upon ancient myths, then the virginal conception of Jesus is simply one more myth and shouldn’t be believed. Is there substance to this objection?
While there are stories of Zeus fathering Hercules and of Apollo fathering Asclepius, these stories are not like what we find in the Gospels. The Greek myths involve sexual acts between gods and women. That is not what the Gospels of Matthew and Luke teach. As John Frame explains, “There is no clear parallel to the notion of a virgin birth in pagan literature, only of births resulting from intercourse between a God and a woman (of which there is no suggestion in Matthew and Luke), resulting in a being half-divine, half-human, which is far different from the biblical Christology. Further, none of the pagan stories locates the event in datable history as the biblical account does.”2
Objection #5: God acted upon Mary without her consent.
Some Bible readers have wondered how Mary’s will fits into the whole situation of the virginal conception. An angel appears and announces that she has found favor with God and that she will conceive and bear a son (Luke 1:30–31). In the rest of the encounter, we hear Mary’s question (1:34, “How will this be…?”) but also her trust in the Lord’s plan: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). According to Luke 1:38, Mary welcomed the will of the Lord. She would be the designated servant, the one who would bear the Christ child.
In addition to noting Mary’s willingness and submission to the Lord, we should also observe the character of the Lord in Scripture. The Lord is not like one of his fallen creatures. When God reveals his will and plan, he does so as a God of perfect character. Whenever God acts, including when he acts toward Mary, he does so in keeping with his righteous and pure character.
Objection #6: You can be a Christian without believing in the virgin birth.
A skeptic of the virgin birth might say, “I believe Jesus died on the cross. I believe he rose from the dead. And I can be a Christian without believing in the virgin birth.” But we must think about the implications of denying the virginal conception of Jesus. If the Bible teaches the virginal conception, should professing Christians maintain a posture that denies what the Bible teaches?
When someone becomes a disciple of Jesus, they will not initially know everything they will come to know and learn. That’s how discipleship works. Can someone become a Christian without understanding the doctrine of the virgin birth? Certainly. But what a Christian will want to do is submit to and humbly receive what God reveals in the Scripture, especially revelation about the person and work of Christ. So we would want to say to the skeptic: can someone claim to be following Christ while steadfastly denying what the Bible teaches about this Christ?
Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic), 771.
John Frame, “Virgin Birth of Jesus,” Walter Elwell, ed., Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984), 1143-45.
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