Scripture: Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:18-19
It’s almost Christmas, which means we can expect another front-page cover story any day from Time or Newsweek quoting skeptics who publicly question the truthfulness of the Christmas stories included Matthew and Luke—especially the virgin birth. Inevitably, these skeptics will say that the evangelists included the virgin birth in their gospels because they wanted their readers to know how special Jesus was. “After all, look at the way he was born!” The virgin birth, according to them, is a “pious legend.”
This is nonsense!
Let’s be clear: Matthew and Luke don’t include the virgin birth because it somehow helps their case for Christianity. No one then or now would read the gospels and think, “I didn’t believe that Jesus was the Son of God before, but now that you tell me he was conceived miraculously by the power of the Holy Spirit, I’m sold!”
They’re also not including the virgin birth because they had to in order to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Prior to Matthew, no one regarded this verse as a messianic prophecy that the Messiah would need to fulfill. Matthew knows as well as anyone that Isaiah, in his context, was prophesying, not about a future Messiah who would have to be born of a virgin, but about King Ahaz’s wife, or perhaps his own wife. Her son would be a sign that Judah’s enemies—the northern kingdom of Israel and Syria—would soon be destroyed, and Judah would be spared. At least for a while.
Matthew is using Isaiah to say that Israel’s ultimate salvation and hope is found in the birth of this new son, who is the Messiah. As with all Old Testament citations in the New Testament, the writer wants us to recall the context of the verse he’s quoting; he’s not proof-texting to find a verse or word that makes his case.
Matthew and Luke knew as well as we do that getting pregnant—apart from an unprecedented miracle—requires both a man and a woman. This was, after all, why Joseph originally decided to divorce Mary. He believed that she had been unfaithful—as would any reasonable person.
The most plausible reason, then, that Matthew and Luke risk telling us about the virgin birth is that they believed it was true.
N.T. Wright said:
But Matthew and Luke don’t ask us to take the story all by itself. They ask us to see it in the light both of the entire history of Israel—in which God was always present and at work, often in very surprising ways—and, more particularly, of the subsequent story of Jesus himself. Does the rest of the story, and the impact of Jesus on the world and countless individuals with it ever since, make it more or less likely that he was indeed conceived by a special act of the holy spirit? ¶ That is a question everyone must answer for themselves.
If you struggle to believe that the virgin Mary conceived by an act of the Holy Spirit, you’re in good company! Even Joseph didn’t believe it—at least at first! But don’t give up. 📲 Follow the link to this article, which explains why it’s perfectly reasonable to believe in the virgin birth.
1. N.T. Wright, Matthew for Everyone Part One (Louisville: WJK, 2004), 7.