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Does it really matter if Mary was a virgin when Jesus was conceived? Chuck McKnight, AiG–U.S., explains why this issue is crucial.
Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)
Today’s big question: was Mary really a virgin, and how important is it?
The Bible tells us that Jesus was born of a virgin (Matthew 1:23). But did Mary really conceive without a man, or was she simply a “young woman”? And does it really matter?
The Hebrew word translated as “virgin” is ‛almah. While it is sometimes translated as “young woman,” we must look at the context to determine what it means in this particular instance. The birth prophesied in Isaiah 7:14 was to be a special sign from the Lord—a clear demonstration of His power. As young women regularly conceive and give birth, that would hardly make for a unique indicator. If ‛almah only meant “young woman” here, then any one of the billions of births since then could be claimed as a fulfillment of prophecy.
Furthermore, when Matthew quoted this passage, he used the Greek word parthenos, which specifically means “virgin” or “chaste.” Even Bible versions which translate ‛almah as “young woman” in Isaiah, such as the NET, render parthenos as “virgin” in Matthew. Also, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, known as the Septuagint, uses the word parthenos in our passage.
Luke 1:27 identifies Mary as a parthenos, and in Luke 1:34, she identified herself as such when she stated, “I do not know a man.” This is confirmed in Matthew 1:25 where we are told that Joseph “did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son.”
The question of the virgin birth then becomes primarily a matter of biblical authority. To reject it, one must also reject the complete accuracy of the Bible. But is there more to it than that? Were there any theological reasons which necessitated the virgin birth of the Messiah?
Jesus is both fully human (Hebrews 2:14) and fully God (John 1:1, Colossians 2:9). As a human He “was in all points tempted as we are” (Hebrews 4:15), yet as God He does not have a sin nature (2 Corinthians 5:21). However, since all men are born into sin as a result of Adam’s disobedience (Romans 5:12) many theologians have postulated that the lack of a human father would prevent the sin nature from being passed on to Jesus. While this is plausible, we must be careful because the Bible never explicitly states that sin nature is genetic and passed through the father.
We can still reach certain absolute conclusions. First, the virgin birth of Jesus Christ was a fulfillment of prophecy. Second, Mary definitely conceived as a virgin. Third, the virgin birth was a wonderful and miraculous demonstration of God’ power. And finally, we must accept the virgin birth on the principle of biblical authority.
Today’s big idea: the Bible clearly states that Jesus was born of a virgin.
What to pray: praise God for His fulfilled prophecies.