Discover more from THE SHIELD
VIRGINAL CONCEPTION: What It Is and Is Not
The Gospel of Mathew and the Gospel of Luke both record that Mary was found to be with child before the consummation of her marriage to Joseph and that the child was from the Holy Spirit (Matt. 1:18).
Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ DEFINED
§ “Jesus the Christ was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary”.
Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (1988), 2124.
The virginal conception of Jesus Christ is found primarily in both Matthew 1:18–25 and Luke 1:26–38. Both of these gospel accounts explicitly describe Mary as a virgin. L.M. Sweet, a scholar of yesteryear, wrote accurately when he said that “if we are to allow any weight at all to textual evidence there is no question as to the infancy narratives, either in whole or in part. Their position is flawless and unassailable” (ISBE, 990).
Matthew 1:18 tells us that she became pregnant “from the Holy Spirit”. This happened while betrothed (legally pledged to be married) to Joseph.
Jesus’ birth as born from a virgin is often called the virgin birth but it is more precise to say the virginal conception. Indeed, the texts place greater empjhasis upon conception by the Holy Spirit than on Mary’s virginity. These birth accounts of Jesus Christ clearly record that the Messiah was born through the direct action of the Holy Spirit. This means that Jesus had no biological human father. Therefore, Joseph is strictly the legal father of Jesus.
But how is Jesus the legitimate heir of David if he is not his biological descendant?
The geneology of Jesus in Matthew 1:2-16 establishes Jesus’ legal and legit right to the messianic throne of David through his legal father, Joseph. Jesus is the rightful heir of David through the line of the Davidic Joseph. Matthew 1:18-25 “explains how this is so even though Jesus is not biologically descended from Joseph”.*
The answer is that Jesus, though conceived by the power of the Spirit in a virgin not descended from David, is Son of David by adoption, given that the Davidic Joseph fulfilled what the law required for this by taking Jesus’ mother as his wife and by naming her child**
After discovering that Mary was pregnant, Joseph decided to dissolve their betrothal. However, the angel Gabriel instructs Jospeh not to divorce Mary. Joseph, like his wife, obeys God.
When some people hear the phrase virgin conception, they may get confused and think the so-called “immaculate conception” is under discussion. These two are not the same at all. The virgin conception deals with the birth of Jesus. It is embraced by Protestants, Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and, to a certain extent, Muslims. The immaculate conception deals with Mary and is wholly rejected by Protestant Christians.
Virginal Conception (or Virgin Birth) is NOT THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION
§ Roman Catholic doctrine that Mary was conceived without original sin
§ Mary was free from sin at her conception and remained so throughout her life
§ The immaculate conception was championed by Duns Scotus (1265–1308 AD)
§ Was dominant throughout much of “Christendom” by the end of the Middle Ages
§ Discarded by Reformers (yet, some held on to the Perpetual Virginity of Mary)
THE SHIELD is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Virginal Conception (or Virgin Birth) is NOT PERPETUAL VIRGINITY…
§ PV: birth itself was a miraculous event which left Mary as a virgo intacta
§ PV: opposed by Tertullian & some of the fourth-century opponents of asceticism
§ PV: found in Leo’s Tome and accepted by Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD
§ PV: questioned by some Roman Catholic scholars, such as Karl Rahner
§ The Reformer John Calvin reserved judgment on the question of the PV of Mary
The Old Testament predicted that One was coming. One who was fully human and fully God. One whose death would pay for sin (Isa. 53:5-6). The events of the First Advent fulfill Old Testament prophecy. For example, the fulfillment of Isaiah 9:6 is found in Luke 1:31: “And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus.”
A Brief Word on Matthew’s Account
Matthew goes out of his to make clear in Jesus’ genealogy that Jesus was descended from Mary, not Joseph. For example, Matthew breaks his own pattern he set up regarding the inclusion of other women in the genealogy. When one reads of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and the wife of Uriah in Matthew 1:3, 5–6, then comes to Mary, the careful studnet would look for a continuation of the pattern. At Mary’s inclusion, one would expect to read these words: “Joseph the father of Jesus by Mary.” But it doesn’t say that. Instead, we find this in Matthew 1:16: “and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.”
Matthew intentionally breaks his own genealogical pattern by recording that Jesus was born of Mary, not fathered or begotten by Joseph.
Not only that, but Matthew’s language in the genealogical account underscores this as well. Matthew 1:16 shifts from the active “begot” (Gr. egénnēsen) to the passive “was born” (Gr. egennḗthē) to account for Jesus’ birth. Matthew, when using his own words, never presents Joseph as Jesus’ biological parent. Again, when using his own words, he presents Mary as such, and Joseph as her husband.
**Brown 1993, 138–39.
Both references cited in S. Young, “Birth of Jesus,” ed. Joel B. Green, Jeannine K. Brown, and Nicholas Perrin, Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, Second Edition (Downers Grove, IL; Nottingham, England: IVP Academic; IVP, 2013), 81.