The Virgin Birth: Myth or Mystery
Do you have secular friends? Or perhaps you have a child or grandchild in college who is inundated with secular theories that attempt to reduce Christianity to just one more among the many religions of the world. I write this article for them and for us, so that we might remember Jesus is not just one man among others, He is unique; His is indeed “God in the flesh.”
Many people believe that all religions are essentially the same and only superficially different. But no, the opposite is true: Christianity is essentially different and only superficially the same. Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in the virgin birth. Secularists tell us that early Christians borrowed the idea from paganism which also had its miraculous birth stories. Danae, it is said, conceived a child by the god Zeus, a shower of gold descended upon her in seclusion, and as a result Perseus was born. Alexander the Great’s mother got pregnant when, with a clap of thunder, lightning struck her womb. Another legend said she got pregnant when she swallowed a pomegranate. The list of so-called “miraculous births” in paganism is endless.
The writers of the New Testament would never have borrowed the idea of the virgin birth from these polytheistic myths that they knew were enemies of the Judeo-Christian teachings. The thought that God found Mary sexually desirable is reprehensible and contrary to the whole spirit of the Gospel writers. Robert Gromacki points out that the New Testament accounts of the virgin birth are “bathed in holiness.” The birth narratives are understated and have dignity, plausibility, and a high moral character.
So what is the bottom line?
First, we should point out that, in all other instances of so-called “miraculous births,” the stories arose after the person became famous; no one predicted their “special birth” years in advance. In the case of Jesus, Isaiah predicted that God would give a sign, a Redeemer would be born from a young woman; Matthew calls her a virgin (1:23), and Micah predicts that the Redeemer would be born in Bethlehem (5:2).
Second, and more importantly, Jesus was virgin-born to protect His sinlessness. To Mary the angel said, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God” (Luke 1:35 ESV).
As sinners, we need a sinless Savior! We could not be saved by someone who was in our predicament. This is one reason among many others why Christianity is the only religion that has a Savior. Other religions have gurus and prophets, but they have no Savior to take away our sins and present us to God as holy.
To be a Savior, Jesus had to meet three requirements. First, He had to be a male and He had to become a member of the human race He came to redeem, as Eve was promised in Genesis 3:15. No angel could have borne our sin; He had to represent us in all respects.
Second, He had to be sinless to possess the perfection we need. And third, He had to be God so that He could reconcile us to the Almighty. The virgin birth is the foundation on which Christianity rests.
The Mystery that Makes Christ and Christianity Unique
Some insist all religions are alike, but Pastor Lutzer explains why Christianity stands apart. Unlike other faiths, Christianity has a sinless Savior who entered the world via a virgin birth. It’s a mystery that makes Jesus Christ utterly unique and enables Him, as God, to do what no other guru or guide can do: rescue us from our sins.
Q: You have frequently spoken of your experience at the Parliament of World Religions held in Chicago many years ago. What did you learn there that confirmed your faith in Christ?
A: Yes, 5,000 delegates met from all over the world and spent about a week discussing how they might unite the religions of the world. I attended in order to spend time dialoguing with representatives of the different religions. One morning, I went to where all the literature from the different religions were on display. I was on a quest for a sinless Savior. So I asked, “What about Hinduism, does it have a sinless Savior?” The swami answered, “No, no one in Hinduism claims sinlessness.”
I learned that Buddha claimed enlightenment, but not sinlessness; Muhammad did not claim sinlessness but admitted that he, too, sought forgiveness. I checked with several other major religions and I discovered that only Christianity has a sinless Savior, able to take away our sins.
Q: So, what did the other religions have to offer their converts? Why would anyone convert to a religion that did not have a Savior?
A: In brief, they would say something like this, “Our religion teaches you how to live better, find some inner peace, and connect with God, however you wish to define him/her.”
Each taught a form of self-salvation. Your efforts, your commitment to these rules or procedures gives you direction. Obviously none had a promise of forgiveness, much less any assurance that one was forever right with God. Like a street sign, their teachers pointed the way but offered no help in taking us where we needed to go.
This illustration comes to mind: You are drowning in your own guilt, sin, and regret and you’re invited to join hands with religious teachers who are in the same predicament. The results: you descend into the bottom of the lake together. One sinner helping other sinners manage their sin.
But Jesus doesn’t just throw us a life vest, He scoops us out of the water, forgives our sins, and gives us His righteousness so we can be presented to God the Father as if we had never sinned.
Q: Recently a prominent evangelical pastor caused a stir when he said that it was not necessary to believe in the virgin birth to be saved. Your response?
A: Yes, I am aware of that controversy. Of course, on one level, if someone has never heard of the virgin birth they can trust Christ and be saved. I doubt that the thief on the cross knew about the virgin birth and yet he was assured of paradise with Christ.
But, and this is most important, anyone who trusts Christ as Savior would immediately believe in the virgin birth once they hear about it. If they believe that Christ is God in the flesh, which is the essence of the Gospel, why would they reject this miracle? Anyone who knowingly rejects the virgin birth is almost certainly not a Christian. Period.
Q: Speak to us about the mystery of the virgin birth.
A: Every miracle is a mystery. God just tells us what He has done, He does not tell us how He did it. In the case of the virgin birth we have unanswered questions. Did Jesus look like Mary? Evidently no, if the entire zygote was a direct creation of God. Was deity already joined with humanity in Mary’s womb? Yes, for the baby she bore was already divine. Paul said, “Great is the mystery of godliness, God was manifest in the flesh.”
Thankfully, we don’t need to understand that mystery to bow before the babe in the manger and say, “Truly this is the Son of God.”