“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary …“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.” See Luke 1:26-38
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord; Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary … –The Apostles’ Creed
Jesus’ ministry began and ended with dramatic and unprecedented supernatural events. A supernatural event consists of something that cannot be explained except for the action of God upon the world from outside the natural order of things. The ministry of Jesus began with His conception within a virgin young woman and ended with His permanent resurrection from the dead. It is a hallmark of theological liberalism to be embarrassed over these two essential teachings of Scripture. They are embarrassed for the very reason that they cannot be explained by science and they cannot be accounted for by anything other than a divine work of God. They are both included in the ancient Apostles’ Creed because they are both essential to rightly understand who Jesus is. The virgin birth of Jesus Christ is essential Christian doctrine.
The Gospels record that Jesus was conceived by a sovereign act of God and born of a virgin. This is very significant for at least three reasons. First, Jesus was born according to the will and timing of God the Father, not according to the will or action of a man. However, Jesus was born of a woman and did not simply appear or descend from heaven. In this Holy Spirit initiated human birth, we have the beginning of Jesus as truly God and truly man. Jesus was not a man indwelled by the Holy Spirit, or a spirit that appeared to be physical. Jesus was a mysterious fusion of God and man, and this begins at the virgin birth.
Second, this miraculous conception points to how Jesus is conceived without sin. According to Scripture, all who descend from Adam inherit from him the guilt of humanity. We are born with a corrupt nature, dead in our trespasses and sins (2 Corinthians 5:21, Romans 5:18-19). By having no earthly father, the normal pattern of conception and birth is broken. A new line begins with Jesus. He is spoken of as the “second Adam,” come to do perfectly where the first Adam failed (1 Corinthians 15:20-49).
Third, the virgin birth speaks directly to the miraculous nature of God’s redemption. Carl F. H. Henry writes, “The fact that Jesus is born of the Virgin Mary shows the work of incarnation and reconciliation involves a definite intervening act on the part of God Himself.” Similar to how Jesus was not a man that became enlightened and morally better over a period of time and learning, our salvation is not a gradual plan of learning and self-betterment over time. The redemption of each and every Christian is a work of God to intervene and save. We begin in spiritual death and are made alive by God (Ephesians 2:1-10). From death we are born again to spiritual life (John 3:3-17). Our hearts of stone are made into hearts of living flesh (Ezekiel 11:19-21). We were blind but now we can see (John 1:1-13). We are taken from a kingdom of darkness into a kingdom of light (Colossians 1:13-14). All these beautiful analogies point to the work of God that we respond to by faith. However, this intervening saving work of God is ALL of grace, undeserved and brought about by the favor of God (John 1:12-13).
As mentioned earlier, the modern secular world is often embarrassed by, or rejects, anything that cannot be quantified in a laboratory. Such people lack faith, and for them the virgin birth teaching of Scripture is relegated to myth. The rejection of the supernatural aspects of Jesus’ life and ministry ultimately caused influential liberal theologians like Adolph von Harnack, Rudolph Bultmann, and Wolfhart Pannenberg to only accept Jesus as a moral reformer, or the New Testament as a collection of myths to “save” Christianity from modern embarrassment. In these conclusions they depart from biblical Christianity and depart from the ancient orthodox confessions of faith passed to us from the early church. These questions and definitions matter. It’s not enough to say that “You just believe in Jesus!” with no definition to what that means. You must ask yourself, and you must ask those you interact with, what basic essentials you believe about Jesus.
May we gladly accept that Jesus was born of a virgin, come to save His people from their sins,
< This is part four in a series of articles on the Apostles’ Creed. If you have missed previous articles, they can be found on the church blog. To learn more about the Apostles’ Creed read: “The Apostles’ Creed: Discovering Authentic Christianity in an Age of Counterfeits” by Albert Mohler. >