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Virgin birth of Jesus

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The Virgin birth of Jesus is a belief held by Christians and Muslims. It says that Mary remained a virgin when Jesus was conceived. This belief was widespread in the Christian church by the 2nd century,[1] and the doctrine was included in the two most widely used Christian creeds, which state that Jesus "was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary" (the Nicene Creed) and was "born of the Virgin Mary" (Apostles' Creed). The belief was not challenged, except by some sects which did not have much importance, before the Enlightenment theology of the eighteenth century.[1]

The gospels of Matthew and Luke say that Mary was a virgin and that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit.[2][3] These gospels set going the current belief that Jesus' conception was a miracle and he had natural father; no sexual intercourse and no male seed was involved in conceiving him. The Gospel of Matthew also says that the virgin birth of Jesus fulfils a prophecy from the Book of Isaiah.

Most people believe the virginity of Mary is a reference to his conception, not his birth. But in Roman Catholic and Orthodox usage, the term "Virgin Birth" means not only that Mary was a virgin when she conceived, but also that she gave birth as a virgin (remaining a virgo intacta). This has been believed since the second century.[4] See Mary.

Mary's virginity at the conception of Jesus is also part of Islam.[5] The Qur'an often refers to Jesus as Jesus son of Mary (Isa bin Maryam).[6]

Trying to explain

Hidden Meaning

According to Uta Ranke-Heinemann, the virgin birth of Jesus was not meant to be taken literally. It should be understood as an allegory of a special initiative of God. It could be compared to the creation of Adam in the sense that both creations were by God.[7]


Brown argues Jesus may have been an illegitimate child. This claim can be traced back to about 177-180 AD, when Celsus, using Jewish sources, wrote: It was Jesus himself who fabricated the story that he had been born of a virgin. In fact, however, his mother was a poor country woman who earned her money by spinning. She had been driven out by her carpenter husband when she was convicted of adultery with a soldier named Panthera. She then wandered about and secretly gave birth to Jesus. Later, because he was poor, Jesus hired himself out in Egypt where he became adept in magical powers. Puffed up by these, he claimed for himself the title of God.[8]

Epistles of Paul

The letters of Paul of Tarsus are considered to be the earliest texts in the New Testament. They do not state that Jesus' mother was a virgin.

In Galatians 4:4 Paul wrote:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born[9] of a woman, born under the law ...

This phrase speaks of Jesus as born of a woman, not of a virgin. This is sometimes seen as evidence that Paul did not know about the virgin birth of Jesus. However, the phrase born of a woman, born under the law could imply that Jesus had no human father. This is because it was common for Hebrews to list only the father, or otherwise both parents. The fact that the father is totally missing suggests that there was no father.[10]

Some people think that this has to do with the curse upon Jeconiah (Jeremiah 22:30) as evidence of God's miraculous working,[11] saying that only by a virgin birth could Jesus have Joseph as a legal father, but avoid the curse through Jechoniah that none of his descendants would prosper and sit on the throne of David.[12]

The Epistle to the Romans opens with the words:

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord ...(Romans 1:1-4)

Whether "descended from David according to the flesh" implies physical descent through Joseph is disputed.

Romans 8:3-4 has:

For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

"In the likeness of sinful flesh" means merely that Jesus was externally like any other man.

Brown argues that the order of writing of the books shows that the oldest Christian preaching about Jesus concerned his death and resurrection.[13] They turned their attention also to the deeds and words that came to them from the traditions of Jesus' ministry, which were formed into collections arranged in logical rather than chronological order, and which formed a basis for the four canonical Gospels, of which Mark is believed to be the earliest. Acts 10:37-41 gives an outline similar to Mark's, beginning with the baptism and ending with the resurrection, with no mention of the birth. Only later was attention given to the birth in Matthew and Luke.

However Paul in Epistle to the Colossians 1:15 calls Christ the 'first-born Son, superior to all created things' which clearly implies he recognised Jesus's unique status. Dr Peter O'Brien notes that the word 'firstborn' in English does not draw attention to the Old Testament 'notion of supremacy or priority of rank' [14]


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Virgin Birth" Retrieved October 22, 2007.
  2. Matthew 1:18
  3. Luke 1:26-35
  4. Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford University Press 2005 ISBN 0192-80290-9), article Virgin Birth of Christ
  5. Qur'an 3:47, 3:59, 66:12.
  6. Qur'an 2:87, 2:253, 3:45, 4:157, 4:171, 5:46, 5:72, 5:75, 5:112, 5:114, 5:116, 9:31, 43:57, 61:6, 61:14.
  7. Ranke-Heinemann, Uta. Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven. Garden City: Doubleday, 1990. ISBN 0-385-26527-1.
  8. Raymond E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah 1977 ISBN 0-385-05405-X, p. 535
  9. Older English translations used "made" as a translation of "γενόμενον" (having become, having come to be). This is probably due to the influence of Latin, which, having no word for "to become" uses "to be made" (fieri, passive of facere) in its place, as in John 1:14, where "ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο" (the Word became flesh) appears in Latin as "verbum caro factum est" (the Word was made flesh).
  10. Bible Studies at the Moorings; Forerunner Commentary
  11. Genealogy of Jesus Christ
  12. Foreunner Commentary
  13. Acts 2:23, 2:32, 3:14-15, 4:10, 10:39-40, 1 Corinthians 15:3-4
  14. IVP New Bible Commentary p1266