The virgin birth of Lord Jesus Christ is one of the foundational doctrines of Christian faith. We believe in a God who is the Creator of the whole universe, we believe that He planned His birth in this world in advance, He spoke of his coming through prophets, then at the appointed time He came into this world as Jesus of Nazareth. He was born through a virgin named Mary. He grew up as a perfect human being. He died on the cross for our sins, He rose from the grave on the third day He went back to heaven with a promise to return. We are saved through faith in His name and His work on the cross. Now we follow His Word, His teachings in the Bible.
Without virgin birth, the whole edifice falls apart. Without virgin birth, Jesus Christ would be like any other human being. Without virgin birth, He would be tainted by sin just like you and me.
Without virgin birth, there would be no holy blood in his veins to shed for our sins. Without virgin birth, he is not divine, He is not God. So, not surprisingly, atheists and skeptics focus their attacks on the virgin birth of our Savior.
Every atheist attacks the virgin birth of Christ, but let us take Christopher Hitchens in his book God is not great. He attacks the virgin birth and the prophecies of Isaiah that predict the virgin birth of Christ. Of all the Old Testament prophets, Isaiah wrote the most about the Messiah, he wrote more prophecies about the first coming of Messiah than any other book of the Old Testament. Isaiah describes a God who intervenes in history. Atheism maintains that God does not exist at all. But Isaiah proclaims there is a God and He actually came into this world as a human being. Buddhism does not scare many atheists because it does not talk about a God who entered into human race. Pantheism does not scare many atheists because it does not talk about God as a specific person who was born as a human being. Atheists hate Christianity more than any other religion because it brings God closer to mankind than any other religion in the world.
Let us say you are afraid of cats, then the last thing you would want near you would be a cat. If I say I own some cats and I invited you to dinner in my home, you would find an excuse to skip my invitation. If we meet in the street, and I got a cat in my hands, you will be more irritated if I bring my cat near you. In the same way, the nearer the God comes to an atheist, the more irritated they become.
As an atheist, If you accept virgin birth you would have to give up everything. A person is born without a human father, that would be a miracle. If you accept that miracle, there is nothing left to atheism. The implications are profound. Larry King,,,,he was the face of news media for many decades.
Larry King once said that if he could choose one person to interview from the course of human history, he would choose to interview Jesus Christ. What would he like to ask Jesus? King said that he would like to ask Jesus “if He was indeed virgin-born.” Why? King said, “The answer to that question would define history for me.”
You see, virgin birth is a big deal. If Jesus was born through a virgin, then he is divine. If He is God in human flesh, you must listen to him. If He is God in human flesh, there would be consequences, eternal consequences, if you ignore him. Isaiah 9:6 sums up the Christian worldview in a few brief, but beautiful sentences
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” Isaiah 9:6
This prophecy predicts that Messiah will be God-Man. He will born as a child, yet He is the mighty God. The government shall be upon his shoulder, You can’t ignore the government, if you violate their laws, it could send prosecutors to your door. Christian God comes to us with grace but also a government. Christian God demands our obedience to his government. Jesus Christ, the Jewish teacher claimed to be God. C.S.Lewis called it ‘the most shocking thing that the has ever been uttered by human lips’.
A Divine Messiah who entered into human history and divided it into AD and BC. Every time we write a date, we are proclaiming the intervention of God in human history. We say this person was born this year and died this year, we define our existence with reference to the life of Christ. Atheists cannot bear this fact, they changed AD and BC into CE and BCE. It’s no more Anno Domini, the year of our Lord, but Common Era. But Isaiah proclaims Christ as the mighty God. The government shall be upon his shoulder. Christ will come back to be the political ruler of this world. Before that he must suffer as the Suffering Servant of God.
In Isaiah 53, Isaiah wrote about Jesus’ death about 775 years before it occurred. Succinctly,Isaiah gives a beautiful overview of the life of Messiah. Messiah would be born through a virgin, he is God-Man, very incarnation of God himself and He would suffer for His people.
Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
Who is this Immanuel?
There is no better commentary on the Bible than the Bible itself.
According to Matthew chapter 1, verse 23, this prophecy is about the birth of Lord Jesus Christ through virgin Mary. Almost every atheist attacks this interpretation. In his book, ‘God is not Great’, Christopher Hitchens wrote these words,
“Saint Matthew tries for the same effect, basing everything on a verse or two from the prophet Isaiah which told King Ahaz, almost eight centuries before the still unfixed date of the birth of Jesus, that “the Lord shall give you a sign; a virgin will conceive and bear a son”. This encouraged Ahaz to believe that he would be given victory over his enemies (which in the result, even if you take his story as historical narrative, he was not). The picture is even further altered when we know that the word translated as “virgin”, namely almah, means only “a young woman”. In any case, parthenogenesis is not possible for human mammals, and even if this law were to be relaxed in just one case, it would not prove that the resulting infant had any divine power”.
Christopher Hitchens argues that almah means only a ‘young woman’. If you see different passages in the Bible, almah is translated as virgin. For example, Bible verses where Almah is translated as ‘Virgin’ Genesis 24:43, Proverbs 30:19; Song of Solomon 1:3; 6:8. KJV
Let us see Genesis 24:43, almah is used with reference to Rebecca.
Behold, I stand by the well of water; and it shall come to pass, that when the virgin cometh forth to draw water, and I say to her, Give me, I pray thee, a little water of thy pitcher to drink Genesis 24:43
Rebecca, the virgin is coming to draw water. Here Rebecca is called almah, King James version translated the word as virgin. In the ancient days, unmarried women are called virgins. We are living after sexual revolution, so it is hard for us to grasp that fact. Let us see two more words used with reference to Rebecca. Let us turn to Genesis 24:16
Wehannaara tobat mareh meod betulah weis lo yedaah.
Genesis 24: 16,43
almah……virgin or young woman. (24:43)
So, Rebecca is described with all three words, naaraa, betulah and almah. She is a young woman and also a virgin. Similarly, almah is used in Isaiah 7:14 to describe a woman who is young and is a virgin. The prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 has two fold fulfillment. First, there is a near fulfillment with the birth of Isaiah’s son, and a future fulfillment with the birth of Christ, the Messiah of Israel.
First, let us see the near fulfillment: In Isaiah chapter 7 we see Isaiah meeting King Ahaz. Assyrians were the world power of that time. The Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of Syria wanted to fight against the Assyrians. They wanted to form an alliance with Ahaz, the king of Judah. But Ahaz is not interested to fight against Assyrians. He refused to join hands with Israel and Syria. This enraged Pekah, the king of Israel and Rezin, the king of Syria. They moved to crush Jerusalem and Ahaz. At that point, God gave a prophecy to Isaiah. Israel and Syria will not prevail against Judah. God also made a generous offer: Ask me for a sign. But Ahaz already made a secret pact with Tiglath Pileser, the king of Assyria. He is not interested in any signs from God because he put his trust in earthly powers.
“the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.The Lord himself shall give you a sign”
Ahaz’s unbelief notwithstanding, God gave him a sign anyway, because God wanted to protect Jerusalem, not because of Ahaz, but because of his servant David and for his own name’s sake. The sign will be fulfilled in two ways: Physical deliverance from Assyrians, and spiritual deliverance from Satan.
In Isaiah chapter 8, verse 3, we see Isaiah going to the his wife, she conceived a son and they called him Mahershalalhashbaz. The almah refers to Isaiah’s wife, she is a virgin until she is conceived by Isaiah. That is the near fulfillment of this prophecy.
In the future fulfillment, this prophecy refers to Mary, the mother of Jesus. She was a virgin when she conceived and gave birth to Jesus. So, there is a near fulfillment and future fulfillment of this prophecy in Isaiah 7:14.
In the near fulfillment, the physical conception and birth of the son of Isaiah was a sign to Israel that God would deliver them from the destruction and bondage of Assyrians. True to his word, God saved Judah from Assyrians.
In the future fulfillment, the supernatural conception and birth of Jesus Christ was a sign to all human beings that Jesus would save them for their sins and bondage to Satan and hell.
Also note how this announcement was made: It is a sign from the Lord. If almah means only young woman, not virgin, there is no point in declaring it as a sign from the Lord. Any young woman could conceive and give birth to a child, that is just natural.
But Isaiah 7:14 has a sign from God himself.
Let me quote John Chrysostom, John Chrysostom: “What precedes this passage also gives us its meaning. He does not simply say, “Behold, the virgin will conceive” First he said, “Behold, the Lord will give you a sign,” and then he adds to it, “Behold, the virgin will conceive”. If the one who was to give birth was not a virgin but the conception occurred in the natural manner, then what sort of sign would this be? A sign must be extraordinary and strange, or how else could it be a sign?” (Homilies on the Gospel of Matthew 5.3)
Let us say, you are raising donations for a good cause. Then you got a phone call from Bill Gates. He wants to donate to you. It’s natural to expect a large gift from Bill Gates. In the same way, a sign from God himself should be extraordinary. It’s a sign from God himself that a virgin shall conceive and give birth to a son. Septuagint used the word virgin here. In ancient days, a man would say, ‘I want to find a virgin and get married’.
For all practical purposes, an unmarried woman was regarded a virgin. In Greek culture, that was not the case. That is why, The Septuagint used the word parthenos (virgin) to make it clear to the Greek audience that this young woman who is conceived in Isaiah 7:14, is not any other kind of young woman, but a virgin. Septuagint is a translation of the Hebrew Bible into Koine Greek. This translation was done three centuries before Christ in the city of Alexandria, Egypt. These seventy of so Jewish scholars knew the Messianic prophecy that Messiah would be born through a virgin. That’s why they used the word parthenos, for virgin. They wanted to render the true meaning of this verse into Greek language.
We should also note the context, Context: Isaiah chapters 7 – 11 is a section on Messianic prophecy. Isaiah 9:6 says,
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given that is about the birth of Messiah, who would be God-Man. So, Isaiah 7 is a section from Messianic prophecy, so it is more appropriate to say that this prophecy refers to Messiah.
Let me quote Christopher Hitchens again,
“….the Greek demigod Perseus was born when the god Jupiter visited the virgin Danae as a shower of gold and got her with child. The god Buddha was born through an opening in his mother’s flank. Catlicus the serpent-skirted caught a little ball of feathers from the sky and hid it in her bosom, and the Aztec god Huitzilopochtli was thus conceived. The virgin Nana took a pomegranate from the tree watered by the blood of the slain Agdestris, and laid it in her bosom, and gave birth to the god Attis. The virgin daughter of a Mongol king awoke one night and found herself bathed in a great light, which caused her to give birth to Genghis Khan. Krishna was born of the virgin Devaka. Horus was born of the virgin Isis. Mercury was born of the virgin Maia. Romulus was born of the virgin Rhea Sylvia.”
So, basically, this argument goes like this, there many virgin and her child stories in world mythologies, so this story in the New Testament is wrong. So, this is guilty by similarity. And it is an illogical argument. Let me give you a couple of examples. If I swam across English Channel this afternoon, that is a fact no matter how many stories you can bring up about individuals swimming across English Channel.
You cannot say, ‘Paul, you swam across English Channel, I don’t believe that because I know many stories in which individuals swim across oceans’ If I really swam across English Channel, you cannot refute it based on the fairy tales in which people swim across oceans. That is Apollo, who visited Selena, the goddess of moon. That is also Apollo, in that mission human beings really visited the moon.That is Pegasus, winged divine stallion That is also Pegasus, satellite Pegasus in mythology and Pegasus in reality. You don’t just go by names, you should look into the context and circumstances.
If Neil Armstrong set his foot on moon, then that is a fact, you cannot say, ‘I don’t believe that because I read many fairy tales in Greek mythology in which gods and goddesses, human beings visit the moon’ If Neil Armstrong really set his foot on the moon, that is going to be a fact. If Jesus was really conceived by a virgin, that is going to be a fact no matter how many virgin child stories you find in mythologies. Besides, there are many differences between greek gods and God of the Bible.
The Greeks were polytheists, their gods and goddess sleep with anyone, any time, any place. They are not holy. But the God of the Bible is a Holy God. Virgin birth of Christ is this one God taking a human form. Also note the nature of literature
If you walk into a bookstore, you would see some books under Non-Fiction and some books under Fiction. Both authors and readers know where you find Fiction and where you find Non Fiction. Greek mythology was placed under fiction. The authors wrote those stories as fiction, the readers took them as fiction. Greek mythology was placed under fiction. But New Testament was written as non-fiction.
The authors wrote it as nonfiction and its readers took it as nonfiction. Christmas story is surrounded by real people, real places and real events. You don’t see that in Greek mythology.
Another problem is chronology. The Greek stories describing gods being born through virgins were developed after the time of Christ. It is possible that Greek stories were influenced by New Testament, not vice versa.
Miracles around the life of Buddha were developed many centuries after his life. We do not have to ignore the Greek mythology. Many times we dismiss Greek mythology as irrelevant nonsense. But those myths describe human aspirations. those myths try to answer human condition. those myths explore the meaning and purpose of human life. We often see in those stories the perennial human desire for a Savior. C.S.Lewis said, ‘Christianity is myth come true’ In Greek mythology, you read virgin birth as fiction, but in Christ it is real. In Greek mythology, you read miracles as fiction, but in Christ they are real
In Greek mythology you read resurrection from dead as fiction, but in Christ resurrection is real
In Greek mythology you read fellowship with God as fiction, but in Christ it is real
In Greek mythology you read heaven as fiction, but in Christ it is a real place.
In Christ, myths become reality.
A God who controls History and Human Destiny
Virgin birth is not an end in itself, it speaks of a God who controls history. ‘And the government shall be upon his shoulder’ This God is not an impotent grandfather looking from the sky. He is a God with Power,
A God with Government.
A God who influences all the turning points in human history.
A God who controls the rise and fall of great world empires.
Prophet Isaiah talks about Assyrians and their demise, he talks about Babylonians and how they deport Jews into captivity, he talks about Persians under Cyrus, how Cyrus would help the Jewish return to their homeland and build their temple in Jerusalem.
All those things happened as Isaiah predicted. Isaiah also talks about how God brings the Messianic kingdom at the end of human history.
Atheists do not believe in a God directing human affairs. They believe only in natural causes affecting human progress. Atheists believe in Climate Change, not God. Climate change determines human history, not God.
We all love Utopias. That is our human nature. We cherish optimism and envision a better future in a better world. Isaiah talks about a Utopia with God.
Through virgin birth, God is proclaiming his own Utopia for this world
Isaiah depicted an utopia with God during the Millennium under the lordship of Messiah. The natural man does not like a utopia with God. He made up utopias without God, even dystopias without God. Thomas More wrote about Utopia with a God. Arnold Toynbee wrote about Utopia with a God, but for Karl Marx, Communist Manifesto, Utopia must come without a God,
in fact, Utopia will come only after removing God from society. Karl Marx described religion as opiate of the masses, an economic scheme to rob people.
Samuel Butler in his Utopia, Erewhon, criticized Christianity along the same lines, an economic scheme to plunder the gullible.
I like science fiction, but the problem with modern science fiction is it removes all reference to God, the creator of the universe.
Ursula K.Le Guin (born 1929) is an American novelist. She said, “If science fiction has a major gift to offer literature, I think it is just this: the capacity to face an open universe.Physically open, psychologically open. No doors shut”.
Off course, the only door shut was on God. the only door shut was on Christ. He is not allowed to influence human future. Natural man even entertains dystopias without God.
Take three great dystopias of our time, We by Three Great Dystopias: We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, and Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell. In these dystopias, human beings redefine their existence, meaning and future using computer technology, genetic engineering even giving their own meanings to gender, sex and marriage.
The natural man put more confidence in artificial intelligence than the God of the Bible. Like virtual reality, he envisions a reality without God, like Tower of Babel without any reference to God. Prophet Isaiah envisions a world full of human life. Human beings dominate the planet in Messiah’s kingdom. Christ and Man ruling the Universe. The natural man does not like such an utopia. He strives for a world dominated machines and artificial intelligence that advance through natural selection. Samuel Butler (1835 – 1902) wrote the Book of Machines and Darwin Among the Machines. He imagines a world full of machines developing intelligence using Darwinian natural selection. Isaiah talks about a future under Messiah, it is not dominated by machines, it is dominated by human beings.
There will be restoration of nature, regeneration of human beings, children die when they are over 100 years old, adults live for a thousand years, lambs and lions live together, children play with tigers and lions. That is the utopia with God. But natural man rejects that Utopia because he can not stand God. He made up his own utopias and dystopias with no place for God in those futuristic worlds.
A God who judges human sin
Another reason atheists attack virgin birth is it condemns their sins. Buddha and Confucius do not threaten atheists, but God of the Book of Isaiah terrifies them because He is a God who judges sin and sinners. The natural man oppose this Holy God. He would either make his own god or completely reject the concept of God from his vocabulary. Natural man has no problem with a God who does not condemn his sin. Remember John in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, He says, “I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness.I want sin”
John in Brave New World “I want God, I want sin”. John made a god in his own image. John lives in a Brave New World based on pleasure. That society is committed to genetic engineering, operations management, opinion polls and drug induced happiness, a society that values only sexuality, choice and aesthetics. The birth of God in Christ is the first event that disrupts what man planned for his own future. This God judges sin, but does take pleasure in judging the sinners. This holy God is the same God who went to the cross to die for your sins and my sins.
Atheists dislike the virgin birth because the birth of the Messiah fills the hearts of Christians with joy and propel them to action. Last time I was in London, I walked past the headquarters of Salvation Army. William Booth (1865 – 1912) founded the Salvation Army and it got its mission from the life of Christ. They went all over the world in the name of Christ, and became one of the largest distributors of humanitarian aid.
They are feeding people in Africa in the name of Jesus, you dont find many atheists feeding people in Africa. Messiah by George Handel. This magnificent musical composition starts with the prophecies of Isaiah about the Messiah who would be born in Bethlehem Part 1 is about the coming of the Messiah, Lord Jesus Christ and part 2 is about the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ from Isaiah chapters 52 and 53. Many other great musicians like Mendelssohn (1809 – 47) and Brahms (1833 – 1897) were inspired by Isaiah.
You will take delight in the Lord. Atheists love sad and depressed Christians. Virgin birth connects us with a God who is sovereign over past, present and the future. An atheist lives for the moment, only for this life at the most.
Virgin birth of Christ is about a God entering human history, it reminds people that they are under God, not just under human government. When Soviet Republic was alive, the Communists took over churches all over Russia. They put thousands of Christian clergy to death.They declared atheism as the official state policy. They banned the Bible. They banned Christmas, the idea of God entering human history was an anathema to atheism driven communists.
During those days, Christians under communism drew their inspiration from the Book of Isaiah they observed Christmas secretly in the basements of their homes. The idea of God entering our human race has profound implications. No wonder, North Korea dictator Kim Jong Un banned Christmas and made atheism the official policy of his country.
If God had created the universe it would not be impossible for that God to be born through a virgin. If God had created Adam from dust, it would not be impossible for that God to be born without a human father.
So, why do atheists attack the virgin birth of Christ?
If they accept it the whole edifice of atheism falls apart.
In Jesus God entered into human race.
In Jesus, God declared his existence, his authority, his sovereignty, his love his compassion toward human beings.
There is no escape. Jesus proved his claims by fulfilling prophecies that were foretold about him, by raising from the dead.
In Jesus, God showed us the meaning of life
In Jesus, God bore our sins
In Jesus, God gave us hope beyond the grave through His resurrection from the dead.
May you put your faith in Jesus and get saved
Thank you very much.
Paul Kattupalli MD