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Isaiah 7:14

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”

Although there are some similarities to the incarnation in non-Christian religions, the incarnation of Jesus Christ is altogether unique. In the first place, unlike ancient mythologies, the Bible presents the incarnation as a real historical event (John 1:1–18; Phil. 2:5–11). Furthermore, the New Testament understands the incarnation as a permanent reality. The Son of God did not take on a human nature in His incarnation and then discard it at His ascension; rather, He remains both God and man forever. The union of the human nature and the divine nature in the one divine person of the Son of God will last forever. Even now, the one mediator between God and men is “the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5).

The Son of God’s incarnation took place via the Holy Spirit’s work in the womb of the Virgin Mary (Luke 1:26–38). This historical event was foretold in history before it happened, most notably in Isaiah 7:14, a text that has been the subject of much debate over the past two hundred years or so. Although the virgin birth of Christ has always been a defining belief of the Christian faith, this doctrine has been under concentrated attack since the nineteenth century. The antisupernaturalism of the Enlightenment is the chief reason for this. Many in the church bought into the idea that in an era of scientific discovery, people could no longer rationally believe in miracles. Thus, they rejected the virgin birth as an essential teaching of Christianity.

This dispute reached its zenith in the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy of the early twentieth century. In that debate, J. Gresham Machen stood as one committed to the supernatural faith of the Bible and a defender of the necessity of affirming the doctrine of the virgin birth when so many others were capitulating to theological liberalism. Machen staunchly argued for what should be clear to any honest reader of the New Testament, namely, that Jesus was conceived by the Spirit, not by ordinary human generation (Matt. 1:18–25; Luke 1:34). The Greek word used to describe Mary is parthenos, the chief meaning of which is “virgin.” Clearly, this is how the New Testament uses the term, for the angel makes it plain to Joseph that the child in Mary’s womb was not the product of infidelity. Mary’s unexpected pregnancy was not due to her being with another man; rather, it was the work of God Himself (Matt. 1:20). Denying the virgin birth of Jesus, therefore, means denying an essential truth about His person. It means denying His incarnation.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

J. Gresham Machen argued that the denial of the virgin birth of Jesus is usually a precursor to denying the other supernatural elements of the faith. Though some try to deny the virgin birth and still affirm such supernatural events as the resurrection of Christ, in the vast majority of cases, those who deny the virgin birth deny much more. This is not surprising. Christian truth is a unified whole. We cannot deny one aspect of it and affirm another.

For Further Study
  • Isaiah 40:5
  • Zechariah 12:1–9
  • Galatians 4:1–7
  • Revelation 12

The First Announcement of the Gospel

The Coming Mighty God

Keep Reading Inerrancy and the Doctrine of Scripture

From the March 2015 Issue
Mar 2015 Issue