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, Jesus' mother, was a virgin even after she became pregnant with Jesus. By the 2nd century, most people in the Christian church believed this.[1] The idea of the virgin birth was included in the two most common Christian creeds, the Nicene Creed and the Apostles' Creed. The Nicene Creed says that Jesus "was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary" (meaning that Jesus was God in human form, and was born to the Virgin Mary). The Apostles' Creed also says that Jesus was "born of the Virgin Mary." The belief was not challenged, except by some sects which were not very important, 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 created by the Holy Spirit.[2][3] These Gospels started the belief that Jesus' creation was a miracle. This belief, which is now common in Christianity, says that Jesus had no natural father; no sexual intercourse and no male seed was involved in creating him. The Gospel of Matthew also says that the virgin birth of Jesus fulfills a prophecy from the Book of Isaiah.

Since the second century, the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church have taught that Mary gave birth as a virgin (meaning she stayed a virgo intacta - an "intact virgin" - even after giving birth).[4]

The virgin birth of Jesus is also part of Islam.[5] The Qur'an often describes Jesus as "Jesus, son of Mary" (Isa bin Maryam).[6]

Beliefs about the virgin birth[change | change source]

Hidden meaning[change | change source]

According to Uta Ranke-Heinemann, the idea that Jesus was born to a virgin was not meant to be taken literally (as if it really happened). Instead, it is an allegory about something special that God did. It is like the story about how God made Adam. Both Adam and Jesus were God's creations.[7]

Illegitimacy[change | change source]

Raymond Brown argues that Jesus may have been an illegitimate child. This idea first appeared around 177-180 AD. Around this time, Celsus wrote that Jesus himself had made up the story about being born to a virgin. In fact, Celsus wrote, Jesus' mother was a poor country woman who earned her money by spinning (making thread). She had been married to a carpenter, but he kicked her out. He did this because she was convicted of adultery with a soldier named Panthera. After this, she wandered around and secretly gave birth to Jesus. Later, because he was poor, Jesus found work in Egypt. There, he learned magical powers. These made him confident, and he started calling himself God.[8]

Epistles of Paul[change | change source]

The letters of Paul of Tarsus are thought to be the earliest texts in the New Testament. They do not say 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 ...

In this sentence, Paul says that Jesus was born of a woman, not of a virgin. This could be evidence that Paul did not know about the virgin birth of Jesus. However, when Paul was alive, when Hebrew people talked about a new baby, they usually listed only the child's father, or both parents. The fact that Paul listed no father may suggest that there was no human father.[10][11]

Some people think God created Jesus without a human father so Jesus could avoid a curse.[12] In the Old Testament (Jeremiah 22:30), God put a curse on Jeconiah, who had been King of Judah. God told Jeconiah that none of his family would ever 'sit on the throne of David.' David was one of Jeconiah's ancestors, and had been King of Jerusalem. Matthew 1:11 says that Jeconiah was an ancestor of Joseph, Mary's husband. If Jesus was Joseph's child, Jesus would be related to Jeconiah. God's curse would keep him from being King of Jerusalem. However, because God created Jesus without a human father, Jesus was not related to Jeconiah, and could be King.[11]

In his Epistle (letter) to the Romans, Paul says:

[God's] Son ... 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)

People argue about what Paul meant when he said Jesus was "descended from David according to the flesh." David, Jeconiah, and Joseph were all in the same family line. For Jesus to be part of David's family line, he would have to be related to Joseph. This would mean Joseph had to be Jesus' human father. However, some people think Paul did not mean Jesus was physically descended from Joseph, only that Joseph acted like Jesus' father.[12]

The order of the Bible[change | change source]

Raymond Brown argues that it is important to look at when each book in the Bible was written. He says that looking at this shows:

  • The oldest Christian writings about Jesus talked about his death and resurrection.[13]
  • The people who wrote the New Testament talked about the things they did and said after learning from Jesus' teachings. These writings were put together in an order that made sense, not based on which ones were written earliest. The four Gospels grew from these. The Gospel of Mark is thought to have been written earliest.
  • Acts 10:37-41 and the Gospel of Mark both start with Jesus' baptism and end with his resurrection. Neither talks about Jesus' birth.
  • The Gospels of Matthew and Luke were written later. They were the first parts of the Bible to talk about Jesus' birth.

However, Paul, in Epistle to the Colossians 1:15, calls Jesus the "first-born Son, superior to all created things." This makes it clear that Paul saw Jesus as very special, unlike any other human being.

Related pages[change | change source]

References[change | change source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 "Virgin Birth". Britannica.com. Encyclopaedia Britannica. http://www.britannica.com/topic/Virgin-Birth#181858. Retrieved October 22 2007.
  2. Matthew 1:18
  3. Luke 1:26-35
  4. "Virgin Birth of Christ." In Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church.. Oxford University Press. 2005. ISBN 0192-80290-9.
  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 (1990). Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven. Garden City: Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-26527-1.
  8. Brown, Raymond E. (1977). The Birth of the Messiah. p. 535. ISBN 0-385-05405-X.
  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. Richard, Ed (August 5, 2011). "The Virgin Birth of Christ, Lesson 3: Evidence of its Historicity – The Birth Narratives". Bible Studies at The Moorings. http://www.themoorings.org/Jesus/virgin_birth/evidence.html.
  11. 11.0 11.1 "Forerunner Commentary: Galatians 4:1-5". BibleTools.org. Church of the Great God. http://www.bibletools.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/Bible.show/sVerseID/29136/eVerseID/29136.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Genealogy of Jesus Christ (dead link)
  13. Acts 2:23, 2:32, 3:14-15, 4:10, 10:39-40, 1 Corinthians 15:3-4