The idea that Jesus’ mother was a virgin when He was born, is difficult to believe and understand. The problem is simple: medically speaking you need a man and a woman to have a baby. How difficult can it be to grasp this? Even Mary new this and asked the angel “how can this be?” This makes the doctrine of the virgin birth a difficult one to grasp.
This position of the church are constantly questioned. More and more liberal theologians are raising there voices as to the validity of the Bible on this issue. We can respond to this by attempting to not hear their critique on it, or we can do the sensible, and I believe biblical thing, and that would be to build a biblical case for the virgin birth. I have tackled this question already in two previous articles. In the first I argued the Virgin Birth was needed because God pronounced a curse on Jechonias and his descendants. In the second, not so much a Virgin Birth issue, but a lineage issue, it was God’s way of securing the royal bloodline of Christ.
The data we find regarding the pregnancy is at issue here. Let’s sketch it a bit to paint the picture. Mary and Joseph were pledged to be married, in other words, they were engaged and not married. This already poses a problem we need to address, and that would be the sin of sexual immorality. Both of them were Jews, so this placed them under the Jewish laws as God commanded Moses. So the laws governing sexual relations was clearly on the table here. We thus have a young virgin, engaged to a Jewish man. They should not have had any sexual intercourse up to this point, as they were not married yet.
Jewish laws regarding sexual immorality
The laws on sexual immorality in the Old Testament is clear. (Notice that theses laws more often define sexual relations as to what it should not be than what it should be). Three laws are relevant. The first we find in Deuteronomy 22:13-14 and 20-21:
“If any man take a wife, and go in unto her, and hate her, And give occasions of speech against her, and bring up an evil name upon her, and say, I took this woman, and when I came to her, I found her not a maid: …
But if this thing be true, and the tokens of virginity be not found for the damsel: Then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die: because she hath wrought folly in Israel, to play the whore in her father’s house: so shalt thou put evil away from among you.”
This law describes sexual immorality not known to the husband until the wedding. In this case it would clearly be the woman who “played the whore” and brought the disgrace on herself. After investigation, and if found guilty, she had to be executed. The man was innocent in this regard.
A second law was also applicable and we find this in Deuteronomy 22:23-24:
“If a damsel that is a virgin be betrothed unto an husband, and a man find her in the city, and lie with her; Then ye shall bring them both out unto the gate of that city, and ye shall stone them with stones that they die; the damsel, because she cried not, being in the city; and the man, because he hath humbled his neighbour’s wife: so thou shalt put away evil from among you.”
This scenario sketches a “rape” of a virgin who was pledged to another man. Because she did not cry for help, changes the rape to consent and both were punished.
There was also a third law that was applicable. Deuteronomy 22:28-29:
“If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found; Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days.”
Sexual immorality was punishable by death. It meant they disregarded boundaries and jumped over the fence. This at least holds true for the first two scenarios. The third scenario did not involve the death penalty (at least not physical). Instead, the two were to marry and stay married. The reason was that the virgin was not engaged to another man. The involvement of a third party resulted in the death penalty. Engagement was a binding relationship between those pledged to each other. Violating this was serious enough to warrant the death penalty.
With these three laws, and the principles of sexual purity behind them, we have a serious case on hands with Mary’s pregnancy. All three of these scenarios could fit, which would mean that her character was one to be considered promiscuous. She could have had sexual intercourse with another man without Joseph knowing (relating to the first two scenarios).
The third scenario is difficult, implying sex before being engaged, although they were not caught in the act. This would mean that they were covering themselves by marrying. Joseph’s reaction when finding out that Mary was pregnant, sort of rules out this third scenario—unless of course if Matthew was lying about Joseph’s character and integrity as being “just” (Matthew 1:20). Matthew’s record shows Joseph knew what the outcome would be. Therefore, he wanted to settle the matter in private, so that the full force of the law did not come on Mary.
Mary and the Old Testament Laws
This leaves us with a problem and two possible solutions. If Mary was sexually immoral, the pregnancy with the “so-called” messiah was a hoax concocted by her to cover her promiscuity and bad character. It would buy her time to give birth and save both herself and the child. This would result in rendering both Mary and the child untrustworthy, both liars and con artists that were out to save themselves from the wrath of the law. This would render Jesus a mere man, born out of sexual immorality, using religion as his means of staying alive. The solution to this would then to reinterpret scriptures, deny the literal virgin birth and superimpose a spiritual, gnostic-type of meaning to it, just to cover Christianity from one of the biggest flaws in its history.
Or we could approach it from a different angle. Mary and Joseph both knew the law, they both knew the God of the law and they both respected marriage as the place for sexual intercourse. This would render both of them innocent of sexual immorality.
The angel intervened in Joseph’s life to stop him from making the biggest mistake of his life. What he would have done, would definitely expose Mary to the Jewish community even though that was not his intent. This would render Jesus fatherless and would cut Him off from Joseph’s lineage. Accepting that both of them were innocent, does more justice to the Gospel. This argument handles the problem of “medical impossibility”. It does not cover the virgin birth up as if it was something sinful. On the contrary, it presents the solution as the work of God with whom “nothing is impossible”. This is a trustworthy approach to a difficult issue.
The virgin birth a work of God
At the base of this is the belief that God can override the laws of nature. We already see this in the act of creation. And when He creates Eve from Adam, He displays is omnipotence to the fullest extent. Now, the logic just flows from this: if God was able to create a universe and a woman from a rib, how is it impossible for Him to cause a pregnancy in a virgin? Denying the virgin birth, would be to deny God as the all-powerful Creator of heaven and earth!
The literal virgin birth therefore is the only valid solution to this very fascinating problem. It is a confession of God’s omnipotence and a testimony to the trustworthiness of the Gospel.