A popular theologian once said little Biblical truth would be lost if archaeologists discovered that Jesus’ father was Larry. In other words, he assumed that integrity of the gospel would not be harmed if Jesus’ came into the world through normal biological processes.
The idea of Jesus having an estranged father named Larry is so absurd the notion has become thought provoking. The concept of Larry forces evangelicals to answer the bigger question of: “Is the virgin birth significant?” Is it a topic akin to the discussions of choir robes and overhead projectors? Or is it a fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith? Can we have a credible faith without the virgin birth? Could Jesus’ dad really have been Larry or Joseph or any other human being?
The short answer is, “No.” If Jesus is Jesus, then Jesus could not have had an earthly dad. If archaeologist find Larry’s tomb, the gospel disintegrates into meaningless religious powder. The gospel stands and falls upon the credibility of the Virgin birth. God declared in Isaiah 7:14 that God would give his people a sign. The Messiah would come by a virgin birth. “Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” God stakes his credibility upon this claim. If Jesus’ dad is Larry, then either God is untrustworthy, and we have no reason to hope that Scripture’s promise of salvation is true and no reason to assume that Jesus is the Messiah. J. Gresham Machen hit the nail on the head when he wrote,
If the Bible is regarded as being wrong in what it says about the birth of Christ, then obviously the authority of the Bible, in any high sense, is gone.
A handful of scholars have pivoted to Hebrew and Greek dictionaries to prove that the virgin birth was nothing more than the byproduct of bad teaching and untrained religious zeal. These liberal scholars reminded us that both the Hebrew word and the Greek word for ‘virgin’ could also mean young woman or maiden. They claimed God was not predicting a virgin birth but rather the birth of a child named Immanuel who would be either Isaiah’s or King Ahaz’s kid.
Though these scholars correctly point out that the words translated ‘virgin’ have other meanings, they do not have compelling reasons to think that Isaiah is talking about just a young maiden. The prophecy is an attempt by God to show the doubting King Ahaz that God is powerful. Unless Ahaz was dumber than Professor Hinkle who lost his hat to Frosty-The-Snowman, Ahaz would not have been wowed by news that a young woman would have a baby and name the child Immanuel. And the failure of Isaiah to mention either his wife or Ahaz’s wife in this prophetic passage and the chapters surrounding the prophecy also cast a significant shadow of doubt upon the claim that Isaiah is talking only about a young maiden in his day. Modern assumptions that deny the possibility of supernatural occurrences have to be read back into Isaiah to arrive at the conclusion that Isaiah is talking about a normal biological event.
Moreover, Matthew clearly believed Isaiah was pointing to a future virgin birth. He presents the Holy spirit as the progenitor of Christ. Matthew reports, “that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” Matthew clearly claimed that Jesus was conceived supernaturally.
Liberal theologians have attempted to reinterpret Matthew’s clear meaning to defend their denial of the supernatural. These scholars argued that Matthew mentions the Holy Spirit as a nod to the presence of God in the normal procreative process. They claim Matthew is simply affirming that children arrive through sexual relations because the Holy Spirit blessed such and such moments. Thus, Matthew is said to be only recounting the normal sexual activity that spawned baby Jesus. Moreover, the Greek word used for virgin could also mean young woman, indicating that Matthew did not view Jesus’ birth to be miraculous.
But if this liberal interpretation is correct, then Joseph would also have had to been dumber than professor Hinkle. Why would Joseph decide to fulfill his marriage to Mary if the angel simply confirmed what Joseph already knew, that God makes babies by procreation? Why would Joseph marry Mary if he was even more sure of her sin and broken vows? Why would he be so protective of her chastity?
Matthew mentions Isaiah’s prophecy, the role of the Holy Spirit, and the whole birth narrative because Matthew clearly believed that the Messiah would be virgin born and that Jesus, the son of Mary and the adopted son of Joseph, was that Messiah. Matthew’s gospel makes the most sense if it is read as a historical account of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Like Luke, Matthew compiled his narrative through interviews and historical exploration, desiring to provide a credible work. Matthew recorded the virgin birth because it was a historically attested fact that proved Jesus’ divinity. He did not create Jesus; he described him.
Moreover, the early church fathers affirmed the historicity of the virgin birth. The Old Roman Creed, the first creed of the church which appeared around 341 A.D, says, “I believe in God the father almighty; and in Christ Jesus His only Son, our Lord, Who was born from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary.” The virgin birth was not seen to be a myth forced upon Christianity by overly zealous, religious neanderthals. It was a historical fact readily affirmed by the church.
Today, men and women deny the virgin birth because they deny the supernatural worldview that proclaims God to be the just and Holy ruler of the universe.
When a man or woman says that Jesus was the son of Larry or some other man, they are denying the trustworthiness of the gospel as revealed in the Scriptures. If Jesus was not born of a virgin, we have no reason to trust what the Bible says about sin, the cross, or the resurrection. The Bible is a complete package. If we remove one pillar, the entire building collapses. If there is no virgin birth, we have no need to be concerned about sin or salvation. If Jesus’ dad was Larry, we have no gospel. Machen noted correctly,
It is not this or that element of the Christian religion that is here at stake, but all elements of it, or rather the Christian religion as an organic whole
Thankfully Jesus’ dad is not Larry. Both our heavenly father (as seen in the gospel of Matthew) and the early church affirmed the virgin birth. And though, we often have to strain to find time to contemplate the virgin birth as we swim through the busy swirl of the Christmas season, such theological meditations always prove beneficial.
When we realize that the God of the universe is trustworthy and that none of his words fall to the ground, we will find our hearts filled with hope this Christmas season. We will see that we have every reason to believe that God will deliver us from our trials. We will understand that we have every reason to believe that Jesus will save us from our sins. We will come to realize that Jesus is both fully man and fully God, the perfect sacrifice who pays the penalty for all our sins. We will find the truest of hopes!
The virgin birth is a wonderfully essential doctrine of the Christians faith. Don’t you agree?