By Nick Bertsch
Christianity stands out amongst a vast array of other worldviews because of its numerous supernatural claims. The Bible is literally filled with claims of the miraculous, and the truth value of the Christian worldview depends upon their accuracy. As Christmas approaches, there is one such miracle claim that becomes the center of attention: the virgin birth of Jesus. As Christmas carols flood the radio waves, and Christmas movies flood the cable networks, we as Christians should take a sobering look at the true nature of this occasion—the miraculous entrance of the God of the universe into time and space to save us from ourselves. He came not as a huge, hulking terrifying deity, but rather as an innocent and vulnerable baby from the womb of a young virgin. A baby who would one day have the ability to suffer inexpressibly for our sins.
The virgin birth has been a favorite target for skeptics the world over. The late Christopher Hitchens, one of the “four horsemen of the new atheists,” would make reference to the virgin birth time and again while debating, in an attempt to demonstrate the sheer irrationality of the Christian story. Setting his opponent up with one of his favorite questions, he would ask: “Do you believe that Jesus was born of a virgin?” When the Christian would respond in the affirmative, his famous response was, “I rest my case.” It seemed to him, and many others that share his worldview, that merely believing in something so extraordinary, almost immediately disqualified a person from being even remotely rational. Was Hitchens right? Are Christians fools for believing such a thing?
In assessing the challenge, I think it is necessary to come to grips with whether miracles in general are even possible. A miracle by definition, is simply a supernatural event—something that there is no natural explanation for. A naturalist, therefore, is someone who will deny any supernatural claims, in the belief that a natural explanation will eventually be found. Most atheists fall into this category as well. It seems, however, that even naturalists are willing to accept one supernatural event, and a big one at that. This event is commonly known as the “Big Bang.”
Based on all scientific data, it seems irrefutable that the universe had a beginning. All time, space, matter, and energy can be traced back to a single point—before which there was none of those things. No nature, in other words. Therefore, whatever caused the universe to come into existence out of nothing, would had to have been outside of nature—or supernatural. This means that the beginning of the universe out of nothing, which even naturalists seem to agree happened, is a miracle. And if Genesis 1:1 is true, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” then the conception of a child inside a virgin mother’s womb seems a bit underwhelming when you think about it.
So it would seem that the virgin birth is certainly possible, especially given the evidence for much greater miracles we already have, like the evidence for the Big Bang. It is important that when discussing such a topic with someone claiming to be a naturalist/atheist that we encourage them to be unbiased about supernatural claims, that they usually write off without consideration. For an atheist to begin an investigation into a miracle claim by assuming miracles never happen would be a dishonest way of investigating. If they believe in the Big Bang, it would be a bit inconsistent as well.
Many skeptics make charges dismissing the entire narrative of the virgin birth as simply a shoplifting of prior mythologies involving other so-called incarnate deities. Characters such as Mithras, Horus, and Osiris are often used as examples where the virgin birth claim has been made—long before Jesus ever came onto the scene. And despite the fact that these claims can be easily demonstrated to be false, they have still shaken the faith of many young people. Movies like Zeitgeist still circulate on the Internet, perpetuating these “copycat” accusations against the claims of the Bible and the life of Jesus.
All that is needed to discard these bogus claims is a simple look into the actual historical sources that we have for these characters from whom Christians supposedly stole this story. Any Egyptologist would laugh at this claim of plagiarism. The fact is, there is no such claim about a virgin birth made about any of these so-called gods. Any meaningful similarities that do exist between other deities and Jesus are from religions that emerged after Christianity, and so it would seem the borrowing went in the other direction.
The Gospel authors didn’t steal this detail. They were first-century monotheistic Jews, who were smart enough to know that stealing qualities from pagan gods would never convince other Jews. They were simply reporting the eyewitness testimony from Jesus’ earthly parents, and realized what it meant. They had no reason to lie about such things. After all, it was because of their testimony of Jesus’ miraculous life and deity that they were killed.
In the midst of all the controversy and remarkable claims about the life of Jesus of Nazareth, we may be tempted to consider something like the virgin birth to be unimportant. After all, Jesus walked on water, controlled the weather, turned water to wine, healed the blind, cast out demons, and raised the dead—including Himself! However, Jesus’ origins are part of what qualified Him as Messiah, and we must not forget that is who He was. The Messiah was to fulfil many prophecies, including Isaiah 7:14: “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.” Matthew, in writing his gospel, immediately recognized the significance of this aspect of Jesus’ life, and proclaimed it in Matthew 1:23 as the fulfillment of what was written over 700 years earlier by the prophet Isaiah.
But the virgin birth was important for another reason as well. The purpose of Jesus’ entrance into the world was to eventually bear the punishment for the sins of humanity. In order to accomplish this, it was crucial for Him to be completely sinless, a spotless lamb without blemish. Humanity’s problem was that ever since the fall in the Garden of Eden, sinful human nature has been passed from generation to generation. Everything reproduces after its own kind, and humans are no exception to that rule. Ever since our first parents rebelled against God, we have likewise followed in their footsteps, and one needs only to turn on the news—or, better yet, examine their own hearts—to verify this truth of what we are. By using the means of a virgin conception, God protected Jesus from inheriting this sinful nature we are all poisoned by. He did not take on flesh through a sexual act between two fallen humans, but rather by the hand of the Father—and thus His sinless nature was retained. And so the virgin birth is not only possible, but also a truth that is essential in showing Jesus for who He claimed to be.
So miracles are at least possible—the universe is here, after all. And Jesus’ virgin birth was a necessary part of being the Messiah. The writers of the gospels didn’t steal the story from anywhere else, but rather other religions may have stolen it from them. There seems to be no logical reason to add such an unbelievable detail to the story unless it is actually what happened. It most likely just got them laughed at, or worse. Based on these points, along with the historical reliability of the New Testament documents, there is no reason to label the story of Jesus’ miraculous origins impossible or legendary. They are another amazing part of what makes our Lord and Saviour who He is. This Christmas, let us marvel at the glory of Jesus’ emergence into the world. The birth of Christ, one of the greatest truths of the Christian worldview, is summed up with perfection in John 1:14: “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Nick Bertsch is a 30-year-old husband and father of two from Calgary, Alberta. He is an electrician by trade, but has been an avid student of Christian apologetics for many years. He is in the process of obtaining a Certificate of Apologetics from Biola University, and runs a blog site called Defending Truth Apologetics which can be found at howtodefendyourfaith.wordpress.com.
 All Scripture references are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB).