In 2006, Rob Bell, the controversial pastor of Mars Hill Church, wrote and published his famous book, “Velvet Elvis.” The book was embraced by many Christians as a fresh perspective on faith. Even though many of the claims in this book directly contradict the Bible, it remains popular in Christian circles still today. Consider for example, this excerpt concerning Jesus’ virgin birth: “What if tomorrow someone digs up definitive proof that Jesus has a real, earthly, biological father named Larry, and archaeologists find Larry’s tomb and do DNA samples and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the virgin birth was really just a bit of mythologizing the Gospel writers threw in to appeal to the followers of Mithra and Dionysian religious cults that were hugely popular at the time of Jesus, whose gods had virgin births?” How would you respond to this from a pastor?
We are in the Christmas season, in which we celebrate the incarnation (God taking on flesh) of Jesus Christ in a lowly Bethlehem manger approximately 2,000 years ago. But, we are not only celebrating the coming of Jesus. We are also celebrating how He came. Borrowing from questions implied by Bell's book, how important is it that Jesus was born of a virgin? Does the Bible truly teach that Jesus was virgin born? Was this only taught by the Gospel writers? What if Jesus is not virgin born? Does it make a difference?
In short, the virgin birth of Jesus is as central to the Gospel of Jesus as peanut butter is to a PB&J sandwich. Allow me to explain. If Jesus is not virgin born, then He is not eternal ... then He is not God ... then He is not Immanuel (God with us) ... then His Gospel is worthless. The fact that Jesus is God is absolutely central to the Christian faith and the Bible on which it boldly and accurately stands. I will illustrate this even further a little later. But first, allow me to critically question Bell’s strange assertion regarding “Larry”:
- If Jesus has a biological father that can be proven from the bones of “Larry,” then that would also mean that we have the bones of Jesus with which to compare DNA. That would imply that Jesus was not resurrected. Denying the resurrection of Jesus is the equivalent of denying His Gospel. How can Bell claim His Gospel as truth while centrally denying it?
- Contrary to Bell's assertion, the virgin birth was not first introduced in the Gospels, but in Old Testament prophecy. How can Bell dismiss the prophecies written hundreds of years before Bethlehem that Immanuel would be virgin born?
- How can Bell begin to use the word “myth” to even remotely describe Jesus’ Gospel as he did?
- How can Bell claim Jesus was, is and always will be God if he asserts that His biological father could have been a man?
- As a pastor, does Bell care to take this assertion back?
John 3:16 and many other passages make it perfectly clear that Jesus is the one and only Son of God. In order for this to be true, His DNA is not directly derived from an earthly man. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit. This is recorded in the first Gospel account in Matthew 1:18-25, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.” That is pretty clear. This is even further elaborated upon in Luke 1:26-38.
On a side note, the “prophet” that Matthew was directly quoting was Isaiah and his prophecy recorded in Isaiah 7:14, "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel." Isaiah was written over 700 years before the Advent in Bethlehem and the Gospel accounts. And, from then all the way through Matthew, the Messiah was required to be virgin born. This was necessary in order for God to take on flesh. Before Jesus took on his name (Yeshua) in Bethlehem, He had a name even before the creation of the world. That name was “The Word” (John 1). And, it was through The Word that all things were created. It was through Jesus that all things were created. And, we celebrate at Christmas the incarnation of our Creator into the creation that man might be reconciled to God. Jesus is eternal. He never had a beginning and He will never have an end. He is God. And, when He took on flesh He was conceived not by man, but by the Holy Spirit (God). To gut the Gospel of this truth is to gut the doctrine of the Christian faith. Our faith boldly stands upon the testimony of the prophets and Jesus Himself that Jesus is God.
To that end, let’s briefly examine the testimony of Jesus. When confronted by the Pharisees in John 8, Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” Jesus claims the name ("I AM") reserved for God alone. Jesus is also declaring that He existed before Abraham and refers to that past existence in the present tense. Jesus is declaring Himself to be the one and only eternal Son of God. And, later when Peter also declared this, Jesus affirmed that this truth is the rock upon which He will build His Kingdom (Matthew 16:18).
Lastly, we have the testimony of the virgin, herself. Mary was the mother of Jesus and probably loved Him more than any other human being. Mary was also keenly aware of the precise reason Jesus was executed. It was the High Priest Caiaphas himself who led the crowds in the charge recorded in John 19:7, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.” Jesus was executed because He made Himself to be the Son of God, which is only effective by claiming to be virgin born. Mary knew this charge. And, yet she silently followed Jesus through His trial, through His march to Golgotha, and even silently stood just feet away from the cross to watch her son be brutally executed for this charge. She knew the truth. She could have easily stopped the whole thing by admitting Joseph was His father ... if that were true. She could have even stopped it by claiming a pre-marital affair with Larry ... if that were true. If He was not virgin born, surely she, just as any mother, would step forward to rescue her son. But, she knew the truth. She knew He was virgin born. She was that virgin. And, for this, she had to watch Him be tried and executed without interruption. Is not a mother’s heart yet another piece of evidence backing up this claim of Jesus, the prophets and the Gospel?
The virgin birth is central to the doctrine of Jesus’ Gospel. But, what is also central is that He wishes to be incarnate in you and me as well. This Christmas season, make Jesus your Immanuel.