Virgin Birth: H.C. Lord's Day 14

Q 35. What does it mean that he “was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary”?
A 35. That the eternal Son of God, who is and remains true and eternal God, took to himself, through the working of the Holy Spirit, from the flesh and blood of the virgin Mary, a truly human nature so that he might also become David’s true descendant, like his brothers and sisters in every way except for sin.

Q 36. How does the holy conception and birth of Christ benefit you?
A 36. He is our mediator and, in God’s sight, he covers with his innocence and perfect holiness my sinfulness in which I was conceived.

For practically all of the 2,000 years of Christianity’s existence, following the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, the theological concept of the Virgin Birth has been an essential element of its faith and belief structure.  Recently, however, this Biblically founded and theologically assumed element of Jesus’ life has been called into question from both forces on the outside and some on the inside as well.

The question of this vital theological element has taken two main paths.  First, those who are deemed as scholars (and I am not calling into question their credentials) have looked at the Hebrew word used in Isaiah 7, the passage seen as the prophetic telling of the Messiah’s virgin birth (or rather, virgin conception) and pointed to the fact that the word has a much wider meaning than just “virgin.”  Even though every other Biblical use of that word clearly points to the aspect of virginity in a young woman, the range of the word’s meaning could be considered questionable.  The Greek translation of the Old Testament makes clear the intention of Isaiah’s word choice, however the original Hebrew gives cause for question, according to some.

Second, and perhaps a much more insidious line of thinking, is the question posed by Rob Bell, once pastor of Mars Hill Church and author of the book Velvet Elvis.  He asks,

What if tomorrow someone digs up definitive proof that Jesus has a real, earthly, biological father named Larry, and archaeologists find Larry’s tomb and do DNA samples and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the virgin birth was really just a bit of mythologizing the Gospel writers threw in to appeal to the followers of Mithra and Dionysian religious cults that were hugely popular at the time of Jesus, whose gods had virgin births?

He then goes on to say,

I affirm the historic Christian faith, which includes the virgin birth and the Trinity and the inspiration of the Bible and much more. . . 

But if the whole faith falls apart when we reexamine and rethink one spring, then it wasn’t that strong in the first place, was it? (Velvet Elvis, 26-27)

Now, first of all, it is important to note that, while there are a few religions and traditions that include the myth of a virgin birth in their stories, none of them actually include real virgins (or people for that matter) and all of them came into being after the founding and subsequent expansion of the Christian faith.  It is also important to point out that, no matter what element of doctrine or theology is examined or questioned, the existence of the Christian faith, Christ’s Church, or the love and grace of God does not find its strength or life in mere humans but instead comes solely from its source: God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

So, does that mean that the Virgin Conception of Jesus is not important?  By no means!  It is absolutely important and vital to our understanding of who Jesus is.  Apart from the fact that this doctrine has been a part of the Christian Church for the whole of its existence, the entire principle of the dual nature of Christ, that He is both fully Divine and fully human, finds its reality here.  Jesus Christ, the Son of God our Lord, cannot be the product of human conception.  If he were, He would not be the Son of God, but rather the son of someone else.

While Scripture doesn’t go into detail about the physical reality of Jesus conception, we know that the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary, and that the human life that was and is Jesus of Nazareth came into being through that event.  The implication of this is that, while Jesus is indeed fully human, being born of a human woman (rather than just appearing at some point out of thin air) and living a human life, He did not inherit the natural sinful nature that comes with being human.  This is not to suggest that it is the Man’s fault that everyone in the world sins, but rather a general understanding that God’s action here made the incarnation, the literal putting on of flesh of the Second Person of the Trinity, possible.

At its core, the issue at stake here is Salvation.  Is salvation possible without the virgin birth?  The answer, I think, is no… at least not as we understand it.  As we have talked about several times in our study of the Heidelberg Catechism, and as we will see again in the coming weeks, Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord, must be both fully human and fully Divine.  Jesus Christ must be human because a human sacrifice was necessary for the forgiveness of human sins.  Jesus’ human mother and human birth grants Him that.  Jesus must also be Divine because no human could shoulder the burden that is the wrath of God’s punishment of sin.  The virgin conception through the work of the Holy Spirit grants Jesus His full Divinity.  Without Jesus being fully human, salvation itself falls apart.  Without Jesus being fully Divine, His ability to save us from the punishment our sins deserve ceases to exist.

So, is the Virgin Conception of Jesus important?  Yes.  It is vital.

Conceived: H.C. Question 36

How does the holy conception and birth of Christ benefit you?

1 Timothy 2:5-6 – For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time.

Hebrews 9:13-15 – The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.

Romans 8:3-4 – For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

2 Corinthians 5:21 – God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Galatians 4:4-5 – But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.

1 Peter 1:18-19 – For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.