Summary: In this lesson, I would like to review some objections to the virgin conception of Jesus.
Several years ago Larry King, the well-known CNN television talk-show host, was asked, “If you could interview anyone in all of history, who would that person be?”
Do you know what he said? “Jesus Christ!”
“And what would you like to ask him?” the questioner asked.
“I would like to ask him,” King replied, “if he was indeed virgin-born. The answer to that question would define history for me.”
Whatever Larry King meant, to speak of Jesus as “virgin-born” can be misleading, because there was nothing unusual about his birth. Jesus left his mother’s womb in the same way we all did. What set Jesus apart is not how he left his mother’s womb, but how he entered it—and the Bible’s testimony about this is startling!
The Bible states that Jesus was conceived in Mary’s womb without sexual intercourse—that is, she became pregnant while still a virgin. This is just one of the ways that Jesus is unique.
Now, some argue that in our day in vitro fertilization, embryonic transfer, and artificial insemination make it perfectly possible for a woman to become pregnant without sexual intercourse. So, they say, Jesus is not so unique, after all.
However, they completely miss the point, because in every case male sperm is needed. In our day male sperm is provided by a male donor. However, in the case of Jesus there was none!
So, it is more accurate to speak of the virgin conception of Jesus rather than the virgin birth of Jesus, because there was nothing unusual about his birth but there was everything miraculous about his conception!
Throughout history, the idea of Jesus being born without Mary receiving any male sperm has been ridiculed for many different reasons.
In this lesson, I would like to review some objections to the virgin conception of Jesus.
I. The Virgin Conception Was a Myth to Cover Up the Fact That Jesus Had a Human Father
The first objection is that the virgin conception was a myth to cover up the fact that Jesus had a human father.
When Joseph first heard the news that Mary was pregnant, he was shattered. Since he was not the father, he could only think that Mary had cheated on him, and so as far as he was concerned the marriage was off. He decided to divorce Mary, which was what was required for a betrothal in those days. However, before he could divorce her, God told him to go ahead with the marriage, as Mary’s pregnancy was not the result of adultery but the miraculous intervention of God the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:19-21). So, all the testimony points to the fact that Joseph was not the human father of Jesus.
Other early skeptics said that the virgin conception was a myth created to cover up the fact that Jesus was fathered by a Roman soldier named Panthera, or Pandira, but this desperate attempt to undermine the beginnings of Christianity never had a shred of evidence to back it up.
II. The Virgin Conception Was Invented by Jesus’ Followers to Outdo Stories about Pagan Gods
A second objection is that the virgin conception was invented by Jesus’ followers to outdo stories about pagan gods.
For example, Buddha’s mother claimed that a white elephant with six tusks “entered my belly.”
The mother of the Greek god Perseus was supposed to have been impregnated by a shower of golden rain containing the supreme god Zeus, who had quite a reputation for fathering children in bizarre ways. He was even said to have turned himself into a serpent to fertilize Olympius, the wife of the Madeconian king Philip of Madedon, an escapade that led to the birth of Alexander the Great.
These grotesque stories bear no resemblance whatsoever to the Bible’s record of the virgin conception. In fact, there is no pagan parallel to the virgin conception of Jesus.
Can we really expect that a respectable Jew like Matthew, committed to the highest moral standards, invented something that would outdo the most outrageous and bizarre births in pagan culture, and then declared this work to be God’s?
The whole idea never gets off the ground.
III. The Virgin Conception Is a Miracle
A third objection is that the virgin conception is a miracle.
The specific form of this objection is that a woman conceiving a child without receiving male sperm would be a miracle, and since miracles never happen, the whole idea is preposterous.
Not quite! One dictionary describes a miracle as an event “that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws.” We can accept this as a working definition, but to begin investigating something that appears to be a miracle by saying that such a thing never happens is not only irrational but dishonest, as it pronounces the verdict before examining the evidence. As the British apologist, C. S. Lewis, put it, “Those who assume that miracles cannot happen are merely wasting their time by looking into the texts: we know in advance what they will find, for they have begun by begging the question.”