In the latter part of the first century Paul wrote to the church in Galatia that “God sent his own Son, born of a woman …” (Gal. 4:4), and thus touched on a truth recorded in much greater detail in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Both stories state that Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, was born the son of Mary, a virgin betrothed to Joseph. Two astonishing details about this conception and birth are reported: (1) Mary conceived her son by the Holy Spirit, and (2) Jesus was conceived and born before his mother had had any sexual contact with Joseph. Of the two reports, Luke’s is more detailed, a fact noteworthy in the light of his competence and authority as a historian.

Out of these two narratives emerges the Christian doctrine of the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ, and although it did not receive further elucidation within the New Testament, it soon became an integral element in the early creedal affirmations of both the eastern and western branches of the Church and in most of the Reformation creeds. Today it persists in the best known of the early formulations, the Apostles’ Creed, which contains these words: “… who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary.”

The seeming incredibility of the story and of consequent doctrine has led to numerous attempts to remove it on textual and historical considerations. For example, some have held that Luke 1:34 and 35 is an interpolation put in the text to support the doctrine; but this effort, along with all attempts to excise the entire narrative from both Gospels, has been without success. The earliest and strongest textual traditions of the New Testament require this story to be retained as an authentic element of the Gospel story.

Similarly, scholars have adduced ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.