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Was Jesus born of a virgin, the product of a supernatural conception?

As a yoga devotee I was introduced to the theory that Jesus was most likely an illegitimate child, conceived outside of marriage by an illicit sexual union between Mary and some unidentified man, probably Joseph.

My teachers insisted that because God was an impersonal ‘Life Force,’ he (or ‘It’) could never manifest himself (or ‘Itself’) in such a personal way: overshadowing a virgin and placing a seed of life within her womb. The Bible plainly teaches otherwise—that the Holy Spirit actually descended upon the Virgin Mary causing her to conceive. The resulting child was therefore titled “the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35) This supernatural origin sets Jesus apart from every human being born into this world, before or since. It presents Jesus as being uniquely God, not just divine in the general sense promoted by a pantheistic, monistic worldview.

Altogether, five of the eleven main living religions—Buddhism, Christianity, Jainism, Taoism and Zoroastrianism—claim supernatural events surrounding the birth of the founder. Buddha was supposedly a preexistent heavenly being who was born in connection with his mother receiving a prophetic dream. Jainism teaches that its founder, Mahavira, was supernaturally placed in the womb of his royal mother and that he lived a sinless life. The most remarkable story concerns Lao-Tzu of Taoism, who, according to legend, was born a fully mature, wise, old philosopher after being carried seventy-two years in his mother’s womb. Zoroaster, and all subsequent saviors in Zoroastrianism, are described being born of a virgin. So, this kind of doctrine is certainly not confined to Christianity.

Islam seems to oppose Christianity’s claim, strongly disputing the thought that God could ever ‘beget’ a son, but the argument is really semantical. A passage from the Qur’an firmly declares, “Say, he is God, the One! God, the eternally Besought of all! He neither begets nor was begotten and there is none comparable unto him.” (Qur’an 112, emphasis by the author, See Qur’an 3:42–47, 19:22–36.) This definitely is true in a natural, physical sense: God would never ‘beget’ a son through an actual conjugal relationship with a woman. However, in terms quite similar to Christianity’s claim, the Qur’an reveals Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary by the ‘inbreathing of the Holy Spirit.’ It also declares that he lived a sinless life. Jesus is even called “the Spirit of God” seven different times.1 Yet he is strangely placed in a position inferior to the prophet Mohammed, who was born of the normal reproductive process.

According to the Bible, virgin birth was a necessary characteristic of the true Messiah. Isaiah 7:14 prophesied that “a virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (meaning “God with us”). Jesus was that holy child called Immanuel. He was God with us, born of a virgin. John 1:14 and John 3:18 even title him “the only begotten of the Father” and “the only begotten Son of God.” This makes it clear that all other claims to this holy status are false claims.

Why was such an exclusive, spiritual status essential? In order to provide forgiveness for a sinful human race, there had to be a sinless, substitutionary sacrifice. Jesus could not have filled this role had he been conceived naturally, for the Bible teaches all human beings are conceived in sin. (See Psalm 51:5.) In other words, because of the sinfulness of all parents, a sinful status is imparted by conception. This results in a sinful nature being resident in children even before they are old enough to make conscious choices between resisting or yielding to evil impulses. The correct line of logic is this: that we human beings are not sinners because we sin, we sin because we are sinners. The sin nature of the first man, Adam, has been passed to all his offspring. (See Romans 5:12.)

Being conceived by the sinless Holy Spirit, Jesus was born with a sinless nature. He could, therefore, succeed in living a sinless life, something no other human being has ever accomplished. This understanding is basic to Christianity, a doctrinal hinge on which it turns. (See Hebrews 4:15; 7:26–27, 1 Peter 1:19; 2:22, 1 John 3:5.)

1 Dr. Anis A. Shorrosh, Islam Revealed (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1988) p. 101.

Copyright © 2003 Mike Shreve

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Written by Mike Shreve