The Validity of the Virgin Birth
While getting ready to write this chapter this week, I sat in on a zoom meeting where the conversation topic was why the virgin birth was not true. Apparently, that's a topic that is quite controversial and has been debated for centuries. I didn't even know it was a disputed issue until this week.
I honestly had never questioned the validity of the virgin birth. But this week, after learning that it’s a source of debate, I realized that we should be able to answer why we believe the things we do. And spoiler alert: the virgin birth is something I still believe in, even after hearing both sides, and studying it out for myself! In fact, my belief in it grew stronger after studying.
The debate of the validity of the virgin birth for scholars seems to come down to this one point — Isaiah didn’t use the word virgin in his prophecy in Isaiah 7:14. Oh, I know our English translations say virgin, but the Hebrew text uses the word almah.
This debate has been going on for centuries by both Jewish scholars as well as Christian scholars…. and there isn’t even an agreed consensus in EITHER group.
The word almah appears nine times in the Old Testament and always means a young maiden or an unmarried girl. And in those days, it would’ve been understood that an unmarried girl was a virgin. But, why didn’t Isaiah just use the word virgin? That would have made things much easier. There wouldn’t have been anything to debate. He could’ve used the word betulah which actually means virgin! He was familiar with this word and had used it in other places such as chapter 47, verse 1. BUT Isaiah chose the word almah.
I love the Hebrew language! It is rich with meaning. There are layers, upon layers in each word, each letter, each name, etcetera.
The root of the word almah means to be concealed, hidden, or covered. So if we read Isaiah 7:14 with that understanding, it looks like this… Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold, the concealed one, or the covered one, shall conceive and bear a son, and she shall call his name Immanuel.
The word almah is the covered one. That causes me to think of Luke 1:35, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” It also means the concealed one! I like that! Was there a concealed or hidden message in Isaiah’s prophecy? Let’s keep looking.
The word behold is hinneh, which means behold, or look. It is calling attention to something that is happening. It calls attention in this verse to the following noun, which in this case, is ha'almah or the maiden. The concealed one! The root of hinneh is hen, and means lo, behold, and also expresses surprise. It’s an exciting word. Hinneh, at its ancient root, means HERE, while hen (the root of hinneh) at its ancient root means THERE! Wow! In other words, behold here AND there! Is Isaiah looking in two places at once? Here and there?
I believe Isaiah is saying look “here” at an event that was happening in his day. Perhaps a pregnant young woman was standing nearby, and she would give birth to a son and name him Immanuel. This could be why this verse was not regarded by the Jews as being messianic in nature. But I also believe that Isaiah was also drawing our attention to THERE! To an event so breathtaking, of such magnitude, and so glorious, it would change mankind forever! It would change how they viewed God and how they viewed themselves. An event that would usher in a new, FINISHED creation!
I believe Isaiah saw not only what was in his "now" view — behold HERE (prophesying to Ahaz to encourage him that God is with him). But also saw THERE (Genesis 3:15: the Seed of a woman). Which held within it the mystery of Immanuel — God with us in a virgin birth, for those who had ears to hear or eyes to see it. I'm not even sure Isaiah understood it. Daniel 12:8 says, “I heard, but I didn't understand.” And Peter said in 1 Peter 1 that the prophets didn't understand what they heard concerning this salvation. The word hen (which means THERE) consists of two letters, hey and nun. The letter hey is to behold. It is also the grace, goodness, and supernatural transforming power of the Spirit. And nun is a seed, as well as symbolic of the Messiah!
Behold the supernatural power, the grace, the goodness, and the breath of the Spirit (all meanings of hey), behold THE Seed (nun) of the woman, behold the concealed one, or the covered one (almah), shall conceive and bear a son. She shall call his name Immanuel — God with us!
There is another hint at the virgin birth given a few chapters later in Isaiah 9:7 which is, without a doubt, a Messianic prophecy. Verse 6 tells us that a child will be born, a son will be given, and the government will be upon His shoulders. Isaiah said that this child will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. In the Bible version called The Voice, the translation for Prince of Peace is Master of Wholeness! I love that!!
Then verse 7 says, “To the increase of His order (government) and peace is no boundary; upon the throne of David, and upon His kingdom, to solidify it, and to support it with justice, and with righteousness from now until obscurity. The zeal of Yahweh of armies shall perform this.” The word increase is the Hebrew word l’marbeh and should always be written like this – לְמַרְבֵּ֨ה. The second letter, מַ, is called mem in Hebrew. In Isaiah 9:7, however, it is written like this -- לםרבה. What is the difference? The second letter here is ם, which is a final form of mem. A Hebrew letter's final form is ONLY used at the end of a word. But here in Isaiah 9:7, it is used in the beginning of the word.
The letter mem in Jewish thought is associated with the womb. The final mem is associated with a closed womb. The Talmud over 1500 years ago puzzled over why Isaiah used a closed mem. Yehuda Liebes, a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, notes that this irregular use of the letter mem has caused some scholars to see a connection between the closed mem and the womb of a virgin in Isaiah 7: 14.
note: though some Hebrew Bibles use a corrected spelling of לְמַרְבֵּ֨ה, the most authoritative Masoretic text, the Aleppo Codex, has the unique final mem: לםרבה).
The Greek Old Testament is the Septuagint (abbreviated LXX meaning the 70). And it translated almah as parthenos (the Greek word for virgin). This shows that some Jews, already two hundred years before Christ, favored a future, messianic interpretation of Isaiah’s prophecy.
I like how N.T. Wright (Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity in the School of Divinity, at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland) sums up understanding the virgin birth. In an article he wrote, (The Virgin Birth and the Constraints of History), he says, “This, “no proof" is possible either way. No one can prove, historically, that Mary was a virgin when Jesus was conceived. No one can prove, historically, that she wasn't.”
He went on to say, “If the first two chapters of Matthew and the first two of Luke had never existed, I do not suppose that my own Christian faith, or that of the church to which I belong, would have been very different. But since they do, and for other reasons also I have come to believe that the God of Israel, the world's creator, was personally and fully revealed in and as Jesus of Nazareth, I hold open my historical judgment and say: If that's what God deemed appropriate, who am I to object?”
By the time God came in the flesh (Immanuel), men had a wrong understanding of themselves and God. An incorrect understanding of life as God had designed it for them.
After Adam’s fall, mankind declined in their thinking. They no longer saw themselves as sons made in the image and likeness of God.
And they forgot the Rock from which they were hewn. They became natural-minded, ruled by sin and death, seeing themselves as separated from God. No longer believing that God was with them unconditionally. 1 Peter 1 tells us that they walked in a futile way of life (a life void of God’s purpose). And that it was passed down by the fathers. One translation says, “They walked in the vain conversations passed down by their ancestors.” The word futile is matais in Greek, meaning ineffectual, unreal, godless, idols. They were walking without a sense of God’s purpose in their lives as sons… designed to reflect Him on the earth. One translation of matais is worthless… they were living life, not realizing their value, their true worth as sons. Another translation is transitory (temporary)…not walking in the reality of ETERNAL — of the eternal truths that defined who they were and who God is.
And YET God was always pursuing them in love. Always assuring them that He is WITH THEM (Immanuel)! And yet they didn't truly believe it. In their estimation (and sadly ours today), God was far from them, separated from them because of sin.
BUT then the time had come!! The FULLNESS of time had come to not only declare He is God WITH THEM but to actually physically walk WITH THEM here on earth. Showing them who He truly is and who they are and setting them free from ALL that was hindering them from living life as sons in the image and likeness of Him.
John 3:16 defines God’s absolute LOVE for ALL mankind — He GAVE His only begotten Son. The Son is His gift of love in the person of the God-Man – Jesus Christ!
In other words, God gave God to mankind to dwell with them in their world.
God BECAME flesh! Jesus is the humanity of God! Mankind had fallen in their minds, and they had their own idea of who God was. They had their own false image of God. This was the world that Immanuel was born into! And so, the real God, the ONE true and living God, came to show us who He is, in God the Son. God came and sat WITH us (Immanuel) in our darkness, corruption, blindness, and wild imaginations. ALL of which were hostile to God. He came and sat as one WITH US (Immanuel)… God, inside ALL of that darkness, blindness, and corruption! He came and looked through our eyes, heard what we hear, and felt what we feel. He saw the way we saw and understood God in ALL it’s twistedness and distortion -- in EVERY way He joined Himself to us, WITH us (Immanuel)!
He didn’t look at us from the outside as a God up there somewhere.
NO!! He came and joined us where we were – He COMPLETELY joined us and from WITHIN us (from within flesh) does that which we could not do!
He got inside human flesh and experience the bombardment of our thoughts, get inside all our darkness and hostility, and REFUSED to follow Adam's path! Right there in our brokenness and in our alienation, He was the ONE who BELIEVED the Father, TRUSTED the Father, RECEIVED the love of the Father, and REFUSED the God that mankind invented in their distorted thinking. ALL of this He did AS us, WITH us (Immanuel)!
He is the Last Adam! He assumed ALL that the first Adam had introduced into the world. He summed it up within Himself and carried us back to where we had originally come from (our ETERNAL identity) through His death and resurrection.
Jesus, the Last Adam, walked us back to the relationship with the Father that Adam never reached. His perfect obedience released us from the grip of sin and death.
His resurrection was not merely rising from the dead. His resurrection was the COMPLETE undoing of ALL of Adam… no part of Adam came out of the grave with Him.
He COMPLETELY took away sin from the world and destroyed death! And He came out of the tomb as a new human race… a COMPLETED, FINISHED creation alive IN God. And in His ascension, He carried us to the Father where we sit IN Him, IN the Father, and IN the Holy Spirit. Participating in Their love and fellowship, sharing with Him in His rule, authority, and headship. And finally, effortlessly, joining in their divine nature that was always ours from before time began… as sons who are image and likeness of their Daddy.
His Divinity is our divinity. This is an understanding we need to get back to!
This wasn’t treated as heresy, but only as ABSOLUTE DOGMA in the early church. The incarnation not only restored us to what Adam and Eve had lost or had been. But restored us to what Christ the Last Adam is: a glorified, incorruptible, immortal human participating in the divine nature.
An inheritance that Adam and Eve had not yet received but were destined for. It was their ETERNAL inheritance, but to partake of that, they needed to eat from the Tree of Life.
The truth is that these truths are eternal, not bound by time. Mankind could have walked in them at any time in history before the cross because even the cross is eternal. He was the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world! But because Adam ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he released sin and death into the world. And that death passed upon all men. It didn't change their nature, and it didn't separate them from God. We need to absolutely toss out that false doctrine! It changed their thinking. It changed their perception they LOST sight of who God said they were.
And Jesus, by becoming the Word made flesh (Immanuel), COMPLETELY restored what had been LOST.
As God, by assuming our fallen humanity (our fallen mindset), He assumed or took ALL to heal ALL, and He experienced ALL to overcome ALL.
Jesus wasn't just a man born who lived a righteous life for us and never forgot His eternal identity as a son. NO! He IS God! Not a created being who is the image and likeness of God. He IS GOD! He IS the Creator of ALL! As John declared, He was the Word who was in the beginning, the Word who was WITH God, the Word who IS God, He is the ONE through whom ALL things were made, He is the Life that is the light of ALL men. He wasn’t just a reflection or expression of God WITH US. NO! He was and IS the Ancient of Days, the I AM before Abraham, the Resurrection and the Life, Yahweh, the Lord of Heaven, and so much more!
He came to earth as Immanuel as God WITH us. As Creator WITH us, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit WITH us, the Resurrection and the Life WITH us. He came as the Ancient of Days WITH us, the I AM WITH us, the Lord our Healer WITH us. He came as Yahweh (the Name they thought was too holy to say) WITH us. You could go on and on! The Master of Wholeness took on human flesh and joined WITH us. That is absolutely mind-blowing!! And His birth was the first glimpse of God in the flesh, in human skin. It was the first glimpse of the God-Man — 100% God and 100% man WITH us (Immanuel). That day two thousand years ago, when the angels declared His birth to the shepherds in the field, mankind saw God!
The very fact that God took on human flesh is an amazing supernatural truth! So why would we be surprised that His birth was anything but supernatural?
I like what Luke said in describing the virgin birth, is anything too difficult for God! The word for difficult or impossible is rooted in dunamis. ALL is possible for God. It is His dunamis, His power, His strength, His empowering ability! It is the tangible, raw, explosive, miracle-working power of God! Luke said that the Holy Spirit would come upon, and the Most High's power would overshadow Mary. This word overshadow was used by both Luke and Matthew to describe God's appearance in a cloud on the Mount of Transfiguration. The Voice in the cloud spoke, saying, “This is THE Son, My Son, the Chosen.”
The Mirror Bible says it this way, “Then, a voice within the cloud spoke, this is My Son, the Incarnate Logos (Greek eklego) - hear Him.”
Chosen is ek lego meaning the Word spoken out from, or the Word spoken to the conclusion of something. The Voice of the Father confirmed that His Son is the conclusion of the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah). FINISHED! It’s also the word used by Luke to describe the healing power that came from Peter in the book of Acts, saying that Peter’s shadow overshadowed or fell on people, healing them. It also echoes Genesis 1 – the Holy Spirit hovered over the earth — everything created resulted from that hovering. So, why would we think the virgin birth would be so impossible, so unnecessary for God?
In the earlier mentioned article, N.T. Wright said, "The birth without visible parentage is difficult unless of course, you believe in miracles. Which most people who disbelieve in the virginal conception do not."
Was the virgin birth impossible? NO! Was it necessary? I don't know. Maybe it was necessary for man. Similar to Jesus' sacrifice, which men needed. God didn't need the cross, men did. Their Mosaic Law said that there was no remission, no forgiveness of sins, without the shedding of blood. The writer of Hebrews was clear that this is what THEY BELIEVED, not what God desired. Isaiah said that WE esteemed Him stricken of God. It wasn’t God who struck Him and crucified Him… man did that. Jesus became the FINAL sacrifice because man needed a sacrifice to understand that their sins were forgiven. And He became the FINAL sacrifice to end ALL sacrifices.
Maybe the same was necessary for the virgin birth. Perhaps man needed it because of an erroneous belief in a sin nature. Had He been born from a natural conception between a man and a woman, maybe we would have had difficulty seeing that He was the God-Man — 100% God and 100% man.
Or perhaps it is because God can only be conceived and take on flesh through a virgin birth. Maybe a “supernatural power of the Most High overshadowing kind of conception” was required.
I don’t know — I just believe it. For me, Immanuel isn’t a theory, or an issue to be debated. But rather, He is an abiding reality IN us.
Why Mary? Maybe because God knew she would wholeheartedly say YES without understanding, without weighing the consequences, without thinking in the natural and reasoning.
Was it because she was a perpetual virgin as some believe? NO! That's an erroneous Catholic doctrine. Mary did not stay a virgin. She had other children with Joseph.
And I don’t think Mary herself was born from an immaculate conception like some believe… that’s preposterous. Why would she need to? Jesus was the Seed of a woman (Genesis 3:15 – an ordinary woman), not the Seed of a woman born from an immaculate conception. That too is a Catholic doctrine to explain away the false doctrine of original sin.
Mary didn’t have a sin nature, just like ALL of mankind didn’t have a sin nature – they had a fallen mindset in bondage to sin and death.
What about Joseph? He became the father of Jesus by the Law. In fact, both Matthew and Luke mention him in Jesus’ genealogy but not the same way that they mention other fathers on the list. Matthew says — And Jacob begot Joseph, the husband of Mary of (Greek word ek – denoting source) whom was born Jesus, who is called the Christ. And Luke begins Jesus’ lineage, saying Jesus Himself began His ministry at about 30 years old, being the son as was supposed of Joseph.
As was supposed? That sounds like he wasn’t the natural, blood father.
No one would say of my children, that my husband Steve was their supposed father. Why?
Because there is no doubt that he is their blood father!
The word in Greek for supposed is nomizo. Nomizo comes from nomos, which means law. This word suppose means to assume a prevailing custom. Joseph became Jesus’ father by the custom of the Law.
If we are offended by the supernatural means of His birth. Chances are we will be equally offended by the supernatural means of our NEW birth!
If we naturalize His own miraculous, by grace alone, virgin birth. We will also be inclined to naturalize our miraculous, by grace alone, new birth!
Outside of Holy Spirit’s enlightenment, we won’t understand the vastness of the Incarnation (His birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and seated-ness). Jesus told His disciples that there was so MUCH MORE He wanted to say to them, but they were could not bear it. Meaning that they weren’t able to carry it, endure it, receive it, or even declare it — at that time!
But when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon ALL flesh, they were ALL filled with the Spirit. The word filled means permeated, saturated. He FILLED every part of man! There is NOT one part of us that is not FILLED with Holy Spirit. Or, as Colossians 1 says, “We are complete IN Him.” FILLED with the FULLNESS of the Godhead – Father, Son, and Spirit. He is our Teacher and Guide, leading us into ALL truth. A guide is one who directs you through unknown territory. Jeremiah 33:3 says, “He will show us great and mighty things.” Great and incomprehensible things which we do not know. Things that we are not intimately familiar with. Holy Spirit walks with us in this unfamiliar territory of FINISHED.
Colossians 1:10 in the Mirror Bible says, “Go on a walkabout tour to explore the extent of the land that is yours under His Lordship.”
Holy Spirit is our Guide on our walkabout tour in our Promise Land called FINISHED!
He’s there IN us, around us, WITH us, ahead of us, behind us, and He’s forever actively leading and guiding! Oh the joy, when we realize that. When we wake up to it and converse with Him as He guides us.
Malcolm Smith says it so well, “We’re standing on the edge of words we hardly know the meaning of, they stutter on the edge of our tongue like the grace of God, Holy Trinity, Incarnation, the loving-kindness of God, the faithfulness of God, the unchangeableness of God, etcetera. And we look at this vast universe that we’ve never gone into - the fact of a Living God and a Present God and a NOW God - and at the same time to look at myself and know that I was crucified with Christ, done deal, fact, history!”
OH the beauty of CO! Co-crucified, co-resurrected, co-ascended, and co-seated IN HIM! It is the beauty of Immanuel – He was God in the flesh WITH us so that we could be WITH Him IN His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension and then sit down WITH Him. We came out of the grave when Jesus came out of the grave — we came out WITH HIM, we co-raised WITH HIM. It’s our history, our rebirth, our resurrection into the New Covenant that is HIM. We were there through ALL of it IN HIM and WITH HIM.
And as He stepped into the glory of His ascension, into the other half of the universe. And sat down at the very center of the cosmos of all that is, we sat WITH Him! And we saw the beaming smile of the Father, and we heard OUR Father IN Christ who IS love come to His Son AND to us as ONE LOVE.
And we heard Him say, “My beloved son in whom I AM well pleased!” And we knew He was talking about us!!
That’s the unfamiliar territory of FINISHED.
And we can only see that through Holy Spirit guiding us. He joined us, and we go WITH Him where we’ve never gone before (in our understanding!). He takes us on our own personal Lech Lecha, a journey where we discover who we have always been and what our place is in this world. He brings us into this love dance of the Holy Trinity. Into the world where we are never alone. Into the experiential existence of living in union with the always together Three – Father, Son, and Spirit. He brings us into the understanding that we are WHOLE, FINISHED, and COMPLETE IN Them.
In Ephesians 1:18, Paul prayed that the eyes of our understanding would be enlightened. The eyes of our understanding is our heart. The mind operates piece by piece and with reason. But the heart just simply KNOWS! And it takes time for our minds to catch up with our hearts. The Amplified version tells us that the eyes of our heart would be FLOODED with light! So that we would know the hope of our calling. Knowing that we have been called by the family of God – we are ONE with Them in the Spirit. And that we would know the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints. WE are HIS inheritance! WE were His delight BEFORE time began!
It goes on and says, “And that we would know the surpassing greatness of His power toward us.”
Ugh! Our language is insufficient sometimes to articulate into words what God is saying.
Paul uses the words surpassing and great. Both wonderful adjectives, BUT Paul is using them to convey LIMITLESSNESS. And I’m sure he felt like there was just no way to describe the VASTNESS of this LIMITLESS power IN us! So, he used ALL of the Greek words for power available at the time. Four different words in Greek to let us know that it is God’s FULL Power, His unlimited Power!! Father, Son, and Spirit POWER!!
In verse 20, Paul tells us that this concentration of power is beyond all human concepts of power. It is a power that is beyond all we could use in terms of measuring that power. This power is what God worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead, seating Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms.
This is the power that DESTROYED death! That DESTROYED sickness and disease, poverty and lack, etcetera. In the death of Jesus, death DIED!! And in His resurrection, a new life, a FINISHED life that had never been seen before, came out of the tomb. A life that couldn't die because His life triumphed over death. A life that can't die because WE also triumphed over death. His death was our death, His victory was and IS our victory. And verse 21 says He came out of the tomb FAR ABOVE! Far above ALL rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is named. Not only in the present age but also in the one to come. FAR ABOVE!!
Even spiritual warfare falls under the category of FINISHED…. Completely, 100% FINISHED!
FINISHED doesn't mean it's all over — NO, now begins the wild adventure of being an expression of FINISHED in a world that does not know what has happened. That still only knows darkness. In a world that doesn't understand FINISHED's unfamiliar territory, we get to live our lives reflecting Him, knowing Holy Spirit is IN us - in ALL of us. In every single part — FILLED FULL and overflowing!!! Knowing our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit!!! Knowing that ALL of our life is bound up in the Holy Trinity.
I love that my friend's study of the virgin birth's validity started with the question, "Why the need for a virgin birth?"
God is not offended with our questions…. rather, He welcomes them! And He places questions like these in our hearts so that He can bring us up higher in our awareness of who we are IN Christ. So that He can awaken IN us the revelation of our new, FINISHED, lives — our resurrection life. The Zoe life! God's life, IN us, AS us, and flowing THROUGH us! We FULLY resurrected with Him, WHOLE, COMPLETE, FINISHED. We resurrected JUST LIKE Him — incorruptible, immortal, ageless, deathless, divine.