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What is the significance of the virgin birth of Jesus?

Updated: Sep 27, 2023

Although in both the Quran and the Bible, the birth of Jesus (Isa in the Quran) is unique, the narrative differs regarding the birth in its nature and in its significance in relation to the person of Jesus and his purpose in his mission.


In Islam


Muslims believe that Jesus (called 'Isa in Isalm) was the son of Mary, and was conceived without the intervention of a human father. The Qur'an describes that an angel appeared to Mary, to announce to her the "gift of a holy son" (Sura19:19). She was astonished at the news, and asked: "How shall I have a son, seeing that no man has touched me, and I am not unchaste?" (Sura19:20). When the angel explained to her that she had been chosen for the service of God and that God had ordained the matter, she devoutly submitted herself to His will.


In the Qur'an and other Islamic sources, there is no mention of Joseph the Carpenter, nor any recollection of the inn and manger legend. On the contrary, the Qur'an describes that Mary retreated from her people (outside the city), and gave birth to Jesus underneath a remote date palm tree. The tree miraculously provided nourishment for her during labour and birth. (See Chapter 19 of the ​Qur'an for the entire story. The chapter has aptly been named "The Chapter of Mary.")


However, the Qur'an repeatedly reminds us that Adam, the first human being, was born with neither a human mother nor a human father. Therefore, Jesus' miraculous birth affords him no higher standing or presumed partnership with God. When God ordains a matter, He merely says, "Be" and it is so. "The similitude of Jesus before God is as that of Adam. He created him from dust, then said to him: "Be!" And he was" (Sura 3:59). In Islam, Jesus is regarded as a human prophet and messenger of God, not God Himself.


The Quran describes who Jesus is but there is no information on why Jesus was born in the way as described. There are several important questions that need answers, such as :


1. Why is the birth of Jesus so unique when compared with other prophets?

2. Why was it crucial that Mary be a virgin whom Jesus was conceived and born?

3. Why is it vital that Jesus did not have a biological father? Jesus is exceptionally referred to as “ibni Mariyam”.

4. Why was Jesus borne from the Spirit of Allah (Surah 4:171)?


Therefore, to have answers to these questions, Muslims must refer to the Bible :


Surah 10:94: 'So if you are in doubt, [O Muhammad], about that which We have revealed to you, then ask those who have been reading the Scripture before you. The truth has certainly come to you from your Lord, so never be among the doubters.



In Christianity

In contrast, here is the biblical account of the birth of Jesus:


The doctrine of the virgin birth teaches that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin. That is, when Mary conceived Jesus, she had never had sexual intercourse. Jesus’ birth, therefore, was truly miraculous. The virgin birth of Jesus is a crucially important doctrine and one that the Bible plainly teaches in Matthew 1:23 and Luke 1:27, 34.

Let’s look at how Scripture describes the virgin birth. The angel Gabriel visits the Virgin Mary to bring her the news that she will be the mother of the Messiah. Mary asks, “How will this be since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34, ESV). Gabriel’s reply indicates the miraculous nature of the conception: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). The angel points not to any human act but to the Holy Spirit and the power of God as the agency of Jesus’ birth. Jesus would properly be called the Son of God. Gabriel later repeats the news to Joseph, betrothed to be married to Mary: “What is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:20). Joseph needed this information because, “before they came together, [Mary] was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:18). Accepting God’s word on the matter, Joseph proceeded to take Mary as his wife, but she remained a virgin until after Jesus was born: “He did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son” (Matthew 1:25). The gospel writers are judicious in their wording to maintain the doctrine of the virgin birth. In his genealogy of Jesus, Luke mentions that Jesus was “the son (as was supposed) of Joseph” (Luke 3:23, ESV). In his genealogy, Matthew carefully avoids calling Joseph the father of Jesus; rather, he speaks of “Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah” (Matthew 1:16). The virgin birth of Jesus Christ was predicted in the Old Testament: “The Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14, quoted in Matthew 1:22). There is also a possible allusion to the virgin birth in Genesis 3:15, which says that the “seed” of “the woman” would destroy the serpent. The Bible teaches the pre-existence of the eternal Son of God. In Isaiah 9:6, the child who is “born” is also the son who is “given.” In like manner, Galatians 4:4 also teaches the pre-existence and virgin birth of Christ: “God sent His Son, born of a woman.” The virgin birth is important because that was the means by which “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14). The incarnation is when the eternal Son of God took on human flesh; without losing any of His divine nature, He added a human nature. That miraculous, history-changing event took place in the Virgin Mary’s womb. In the virgin birth, the immaterial (the Spirit) and the material (Mary’s womb) were both involved. Just as, at creation, “the earth was formless and empty” and dark (Genesis 1:2), Mary’s womb was an empty, barren place. And just as, at creation, “the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters” (Genesis 1:2), the Spirit of God came upon Mary (Luke 1:35). Only God can make something out of nothing; only God could perform the miracles of creation, the incarnation, and the virgin birth. The virgin birth is important in that it preserves the truth that Jesus is fully God and fully man at the same time. His physical body He received from Mary. But His eternal, holy nature was His from all eternity past (see John 6:69). Joseph the carpenter did not pass on his sinful nature to Jesus for the simple reason that Joseph was not the father. Jesus had no sinful nature (Hebrews 7:26). The virgin birth of Jesus is an example of God’s gracious work on our behalf. God took the initiative—Mary was not looking to become pregnant—it was all God’s idea. Joseph had no role in the conception—his body was not involved—so the power had to come from God. In a similar way, our salvation is based solely on God’s initiative and God’s power—we did not seek God, but He sought us, and we did nothing to earn our salvation, but we rely on God’s power.

Significance of the Virgin Birth

First, the virgin birth shows us that our redeemer is fully, truly a man—yet without sin. Jesus was born supernaturally, but not in a way that makes his humanity different from ours (Heb. 2:10-11). As one who was conceived uniquely of a woman by the agency of the Holy Spirit, Jesus is guarded from original sin and stands uniquely parallel to Adam. Were Jesus to have been born with a sinful nature, he would not be the sinless Saviour. The virgin birth is the means by which the holy Son of God was incarnate, born without sin.


Second, the virgin birth also assumes the pre-existent, divine sonship of Jesus. The virgin birth is fitting for one who is already Son of God before the incarnation. Jesus is not only a man, but he is the divine Son of God. He is uniquely the God-man—the only one who can accomplish salvation. He is Immanuel—God with us (Matt.1:23). This is covenantal language, reflecting the high covenant promise of God walking among us as our God (cf. Lev. 26:12).


Third, the virgin birth shows us God’s initiative in salvation. Salvation is a gift. Before the incarnation of the Son of God, many had tried to bring lasting salvation. But God’s plan is worked out in his timing, and in his way. The power of God is contrasted with the weakness and powerlessness of human beings to accomplish lasting salvation.



Conclusion


Jesus is the only human being whom both the Bible and the Qur’an actually describe as sinless, and the Qur’an’s admission of this unique characteristic shows once again that although it claims he was no more than a prophet like all the others, he was in fact a unique and absolutely holy personality from the heart of heaven itself, who came into the world to be its saviour, redeemer, and deliverer.


The virgin birth is implied in the Old Testament as early as Genesis 3:15, which promised that "the seed of woman" would be the victor over Satan and sin. It is expressly predicted in Isaiah 7:14: "Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel" (NASB). According to Matthew 1:22-23, this prophecy was fulfilled in Mary. She is called a "virgin" in Luke 1:27. Mary did not conceive through ordinary means, but through the Holy Spirit.


This was God's miraculous intervention, producing offspring without a human father. No man or angel was involved. Christ, who was God from all eternity, took hold of this human nature and thus conceived and joined it to Himself.


What called for the virgin birth? The fundamental need was found in the nature of the human race. Every normal, human birth produces another sinner, just as Adam, as a sinner, produced a race of sinners. Jesus had to be genuinely human and truly sinless in order to be the perfect substitute and pay our penalty of guilt before an infinite God by His death.


This doctrine stands at the heart of Jesus as a person and saving work. Without the virgin birth, there would be no salvation for sinners. Jesus Christ would be a sinful human being. If the virgin birth did not occur, the Bible is untrue and cannot be trusted. In short, it is an essential part of salvation and of Scripture.


Further references :

Was Jesus the biological son of Mary? If so, how did He not inherit a sin nature?



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