day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus by the Supreme Being as his
father, in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the
generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter." - Thomas Jefferson
Paul was Unaware of the Virgin Birth St. Paul does not mention the virgin
birth anywhere in his writings. It would seem reasonable to assume that if
Paul had known of the special conditions of Jesus' birth that he would have
mentioned them in one of his epistles. In fact, the opposite appears to be
true: he seems to have thought that the birth was natural and conventional:
49 and 55 CE, he recorded the first known reference to Jesus' birth. In
Galatians 4:4, he writes:
when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born
had been aware of the virgin birth, he would have undoubtedly replaced
"woman" with "virgin", or made some other change to
show that the birth was miraculous. This passage was written some 45
years before the gospels of Matthew and Luke were written, and 55 to 62
years after Jesus' birth.
about 57 CE, he wrote his only other reference to Jesus' birth. In
Romans 1:1-3 he writes:
Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle and separated
onto the gospel of God...concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which
was made of the seed of David according to the flesh."
phrase "of the seed of David" strongly indicates that Paul
believed Jesus to be the son of Joseph, because Matthew traces Jesus'
genealogy from David to Joseph. The phrase "according to the
flesh" implies a natural, normal conception and birth.
virgin birth may have been copied from a Roman fable: Livy, a famous Roman
historian, had written a very popular book on the history of Rome that was
widely circulated in the first decades of the 1st century CE. In it, he
explained that Mars, the Roman God of war, fathered twins Romulus and Remus,
the original founders of the city of Rome. Their mother was Silvia, a Vestal
Virgin. Some Christian groups may have slightly modified this fable and
adopted it as their own, in an attempt to show that Jesus was a person of
very great importance -- an individual at least as important as the founders
virgin birth may have been copied from another religion History records
was born of the virgin Maya after the Holy Ghost descended upon her.
Egyptian God Horus was born of the virgin Isis; as an infant, he was
visited by three kings.
Phrygia, Attis was born of the virgin Nama.
Roman savior Quirrnus was born of a virgin.
Tibet, Indra was born of a virgin. He ascended into heaven after death.
Greek deity Adonis was born of the virgin Myrrha, many centuries before
the birth of Jesus. He was born "at Bethlehem, in the same sacred
cave that Christians later claimed as the birthplace of Jesus."
Persia, the god Mithra was born of a virgin on DEC-25. An alternate myth
is that he emerged from a rock.
in Persia, Zoroaster was also born of a virgin.
India, there are two main stories of the birth of Krishna, one of the
incarnations of Vishnu, and the second person within the Hindu Trinity.
In one story, Krishna was said to have been born to his mother Devaki
while she was still a virgin. In the other, he had a normal conception
births were claimed for many Egyptian pharaohs, Greek emperors and for
Alexander the Great of Greece.
source is quoted as saying that there were many mythological figures:
Hercules, Osiris, Bacchus, Mithra, Hermes, Prometheus, Perseus and Horus
who share a number of factors. All were believed to have:
in pre-Christian times.
a god for a father.
virgin for a mother.
their birth announced by a heavenly display.
their birth announced by celestial music.
born about DEC-25.
an attempt on their life by a tyrant while they were still an infant
with a violent death.
again from the dead.
all were believed to have:
visited by "wise men" during infancy.
for 40 days as an adult.
Some historians and liberal theologians believe that many of the elements of Jesus' life were derived from the beliefs that earlier Pagan religions had about their gods.
there are two types of virgin births found in the world's religions. One
type, as in the conception and birth of Jesus and Buddha, involves the Holy
Spirit inducing the pregnancy in a virgin without engaging in intercourse.
The other type involves an actual physical God interacting with a virgin in
The virgin birth story was inspired by the Hebrew Scriptures:
Throughout the Old Testament, we hear of the very unusual births of Ishmael, Isaac, Samson and Samuel. Usually prior to the birth, an angel appears to an individual; the latter is afraid; the message of an upcoming birth is given; objections are raised; and a sign is given. Matthew and Luke could have replicated the essence of these stories, and added a virgin birth as proof that Jesus' birth was not only unusual, but was a miracle. This would establish Jesus at a much higher status than the four famous figures from the Hebrew Scriptures. Without a miraculous birth, Jesus might have been considered to be lower in stature to those heroes from the Hebrew Scriptures.
virgin birth story was an honest mistake: Most liberal theologians believe that
the author of the Gospel of Matthew (or someone who supplied the writer with
source material) scanned an unknown ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew
Scriptures. He found what he believed to be a reference to Jesus' birth. It was
in Isaiah 7:14 (listed above). This has since become a famous passage; it is
often recited at Christmas time. He simply copied it into Matthew (1:23) as a
method of showing that prophecies in the Hebrew Testament were fulfilled in
As it happens,
the Greek translators had made a mistake. When they were translating the Hebrew
writings into the Greek Septuagint and similar translations, they converted the
Hebrew word "almah" as the Greek equivalent of our English word for
virgin. "Almah" appears 9 other times in the Hebrew Scriptures; in
each case it means "young woman". When the scriptures referred to a
virgin (and they do over 50 times) they always used the Hebrew word "betulah".
7 So, Isaiah appears to have referred to a young woman becoming pregnant (a
rather ordinary event).
translators are accurate to the original Hebrew:
English Bible: "...a young woman is with child..."
Standard Version: "...a young woman shall conceive..."
Moffatt Translation: "...a young woman with child..."
Revised Standard Version: "...the young woman is with child..."
translations completely mistranslated the Hebrew and referred to the woman as
both pregnant and a virgin; that is, a miracle had occurred. This avoids the
conflict that would otherwise occur between Isaiah and Matthew 1:22-23. (The
author of Matthew quoted Isaiah as describing a virgin who was pregnant before
becoming sexually active):
International Version: "...the virgin will be with child..."
Living Bible: "...a child shall be born to a virgin..."
English Version: "...a virgin is pregnant...". In a footnote, they
say that the "Hebrew word did not imply a virgin birth". They give
"young woman" as an alternate.
translations went part way. They mistranslated the Hebrew and said that the
woman had been a virgin. However, they imply that the woman might have been a
virgin, who engaged in sexual intercourse and then became pregnant:
Standard Version: "...a virgin shall conceive..."
Bible: "...the young woman who is unmarried and a virgin shall
James Version: "...a virgin shall conceive..."
Living Translation: "...the virgin shall conceive a child..."
Century Version: "...the virgin will be pregnant...". They also
admit in a footnote that the original Hebrew word really means "a young
versions are vague and can be interpreted in many ways:
World Translation: "...the maiden herself will actually become
Jerusalem Bible: "...the maiden is with child..."
Literal Translation: "...the virgin is conceiving"
The birth being discussed in Isaiah 7:14 appears to be unrelated to Jesus. It describes the Syro-Ephraimite invasion of Judah and the siege of Jerusalem about 735 BCE. The child that was born to the young woman at the time was a sign from God that the siege would be lifted and that Jerusalem would continue as before. The prophecy was presumably completely fulfilled more than 700 years before the birth of Jesus. For King Ahaz circa 735 BCE, "the birth of the Messiah some seven hundred years later would have been of little consolation!" 8 For another analysis of this passage, see Reference 9.
The Writer(s) of the Gospel of John imply a normal Birth: Some liberals believe that the Gospel of John was written by a group of authors. The writer(s) did not mention the virgin birth. They must have aware of the belief, since the Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke would have been widely circulated for 5 to 15 years by the time that the Gospel of John was written. They seem to have rejected it as being a false teaching. In John 1:45 they refer to Jesus specifically as "the son of Joseph." John 6:42 has the townspeople: "Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?" If the author(s) believed in the miracle of the virgin birth, he/they would undoubtedly have mentioned it somewhere in the gospel.
The Writer(s) of the Gospel of Thomas is Silent: Many theologians believe that this Gospel was originally written about the same time as Mark, about 70 CE. It was in wide use among various Christian communities at the time, but never made it into the official canon. It is also silent about any miracles associated with Jesus' birth. However, its silence is not proof that the virgin birth was unknown to the author(s). Thomas is a "sayings gospel" which deals primarily with the parables and conversations of Jesus.
conclusion the most likely scenario, as interpreted by many liberal Christians
writer(s) of the Gospel of Q, circa 50 CE, seem to have been unaware of the
(who was executed about 64 CE) was similarly unaware.
writer of the Gospel of Mark, circa 70 CE hadn't heard of it either.
any of the above writers knew of a virgin birth, they would almost certainly
have realized that it was a miraculous event and would have incorporated it
into their writings.
between 70 and 90 CE, a myth of the virgin birth was invented, probably to
strengthen the authority of Jesus' teachings by claiming that his birth was
miraculous. This was a time of great change, as the Roman Army had
demolished Jerusalem and its temples and scattered many of the Jews
throughout the Roman empire. There, they would come into contact with many
stories of virgin births of various politicians and deities from Pagan
religions. In fact, it would have been unusual if the developing story of
Jesus' birth did not include many of the features found in mythical figures
of other religions.
the 90's, the belief was widespread. The authors of Luke and Matthew
incorporated it into their Gospels.
writer(s) of the Gospel of John likely knew of the story, but rejected it as
being a false teaching that was not believed by his faith group within