The impossible baby
People ask, ‘How can you believe in the virgin birth of Jesus in the 21st century?’ It’s a fair question, so how do we reply? Here are some answers about the impossible baby.
Believe it or not, people were just as aware in the 1st century as in the 21st that pregnancy resulted from the physical union of a man and woman! While they didn’t know about X and Y chromosomes 2,000 years ago, they certainly knew the facts of life. They knew very well that anyone claiming that her baby was virginally conceived was covering something up.
Some today seem to think that people were gullible enough in those far off primitive times to accept a virgin birth, whereas we know better in our sophisticated modern age. That’s utter rubbish. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke show us the naivety of such chronological snobbery.
Virgins don’t have babies
When Mary told Joseph she was pregnant he needed a special messenger from God to assure him that this child had been conceived not by man but by the Holy Spirit. Until the angel reassured Joseph that this was the work of God, he had determined to divorce Mary – but privately because he shrank from exposing her to public shame or worse. She didn’t seem that kind of girl. Such was the world of the first century.
C. S. Lewis relates an incident that happened to him one Christmas. His study window was open at Oxford University, and a sceptical faculty member was visiting him at the time. In the college quad some carollers were singing nativity hymns, and the friend smiled condescendingly to C. S. Lewis saying, ‘Aren’t you glad that we know better than that?’ Lewis said, ‘Pardon me? What’s your point?’ His friend said, ‘Well, aren’t you glad that we know that virgins don’t have babies?’ Lewis paused for a moment and replied, ‘Don’t you think that they knew that too? Isn’t that the point?’
Yes, that is the point. First century people were no more running around claiming virgin births than we are. This particular birth is drawn to our attention by Luke just because it was unique and singular.
Strange births in nature
Strange births can occur in nature. Earlier this year in an aquarium in Nebraska one of a number of female Hammerhead sharks that had had no contact with male sharks for years gave birth to a baby shark. It was, of course, a female shark that was born.
Such a birth is called parthenogenesis. It happens frequently among more primitive creatures like ants and bees.
Conception can also happen in old age. In fact, the angel Gabriel reminds Mary of one that had recently occurred. Her cousin Elizabeth, much older than herself, was also expecting a baby at that very time.
But while parthenogenesis in the animal world, or having a child in old age, are fascinating events, they bear no resemblance to the virgin birth of a baby boy. That’s precisely the point. There is no possible human explanation for this event.
An even greater miracle
The miraculous conception of the Lord Jesus was as breathtaking for Mary and Joseph as it is for us. God did something unique in the begetting of Jesus Christ. At the very heart of the Christian religion stands the miracle of the virgin birth. But this physical miracle was indicative of – and necessitated by – the greatest miracle of all.
Without laying aside any of his divine attributes, God clothed himself with human nature by means of the virgin conception. If Jesus is indeed the Son of the Most High, his entry into the world had to happen in this supernatural way. Christians are neither shocked nor embarrassed by it.
It was a great and mighty miracle for God (who made us in his own image and likeness) to add our nature to his divine nature in one new person – the God-man. Isn’t it just like the God of grace to do something like that?
The foundation of Christianity is an utterly supernatural event, a vertical sovereign intervention by the Creator and Sustainer of the world. He came in our flesh and dwelt among us to save us. There’s no way to describe it other than to cry, ‘This takes your breath away’.
It makes perfect sense that if God himself was going to intersect our space-time history – to take on our humanity, live among us, die among us as the Lamb of God, and be raised again from the dead – then he would enter this world by a supernatural route. There’s nothing surprising to a Christian about that, however implausible it might seem to the sceptic. But then everything about Jesus Christ is implausible to the sceptic.
A supernatural necessity
B. B. Warfield said that, ‘Men have always and everywhere judged that a supernatural man, doing a supernatural work, must have sprung from a supernatural source’. If there had been nothing extraordinary about the coming of God the Son into the world, the whole of the rest of the life of Christ would have seemed out of sync.
Think of a Boeing 747 with a starting handle at the front which the captain has to crank to get the engines to fire! No, a sophisticated machine has an appropriately advanced starting system. We expect no less.
Was Jesus of Nazareth simply another preacher like John the Baptist but greater? No, no! He walked the earth as its Lord. The winds and waves obeyed him. The grave could not hold him and he burst the bonds of death. He ascended and is seated at the right hand of God – giving repentance and the forgiveness of sins through his Spirit to his people (Acts 5:31-32).
It was impossible that he should enter this world indistinguishable from any other. He had a supernatural birth and a supernatural life. He did a supernatural work and founded a supernatural religion. His birth to a virgin is an intrinsic part of that.