How many objections can be raised about this story? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.
We’re looking at the Christmas story in Matthew and right now I’m going to be jumping ahead a little bit to look at the idea of Mary being a virgin before dealing with the response of Joseph. To begin with, the word for virgin in Matthew is “parthenos.” In the NT, this does refer to a virgin, but those who know the language better than I do tell me that this isn’t necessarily the case outside of the NT. Not being an expert on the area, I will not comment beyond that, though I do recommend that those interested check various commentaries. Some say that in Hebrew, “Betulah” unequivocally refers to a virgin, but this is not so as even a widow can be called a Betulah, such as Job 1:8. However, it could be the case that this refers to a woman pledged to be married and before the marriage can be consummated, something happens to the man in a plague. Almah, another word meanwhile in Hebrew, often refers to a maiden, and that is the word used in Isaiah 7:14.
In Isaiah, Ahaz is told to ask for a sign, and he does not. Interestingly, Isaiah does not give a prophecy then to Ahaz, but rather to the whole house of David. This indicates a far greater reach. There is something astounding about what is going to happen. Further, there is no present fulfillment that really matches. Yes. There was a child that was born shortly afterwards, but how is this child shown to be a fulfillment? The text never says so. The child’s name is a name of disaster rather than encouragement. The child’s mother is known whereas in the case of Isaiah the child’s mother is not known. The child is never called Immanuel. We can go on and on.
It could be that the child born in Isaiah, Maher, for short, does show a partial fulfillment, but there is another fulfillment. There will come a child who will be born and in his time, kings will be made desolate. This does happen in Jesus who by His coming and being made the King of the Jews and sitting on the throne of David renders any other claim of kingship by anyone else to be ineffective.
Did Matthew misquote this then? No. He saw Jesus as a fulfillment of what had been promised to the house of David and is entirely in line with the text.
Something else that can speak about this is that a virgin birth would not be made up. Now some say that there were virgin births in pagan mythology, but in many cases the women involved were not virgins but those that a god like Zeus seduced. Furthermore, what happens was a physical interaction between the god and the woman that would hardly be like what is described in the biblical text, which is Luke in this case.
It also would not benefit the church. Jesus would have been seen as illegitimate in the culture he lived in. It would not be seen as a good counter to that to say “He was virgin born!” Picture if you’re a skeptic of the NT. If you are and you are told that Jesus is virgin born, what’s your response?
Why think it was really different back then?
“Because everyone was gullible and didn’t know better.”
A thought like this always amazes me. We can say that we live in an age of science and know better. Little fact here. Even back then, everyone knew that it takes sex to make a baby and that is sex between a man and a woman. If someone thinks that this is not the case, then could they tell when it was in the history of science that it was established that it takes a man and a woman to make a baby? If it was not known before science, I’d really like to know about the scientist that established this mystery of pregnancy that no one else understood beforehand. Now I don’t doubt we know more about pregnancy than they did, but they certainly knew the basics!
So why did they say it?
Because they had to.
They had to?
Yes. They had to. They had to say what really happened even if it would bring disrepute.
It would mean that Jesus not being the son of Joseph and Mary biologically would be stated upfront. It would mean that some would still see a relation to pagan stories and discount Jesus for the same reasons. It would mean that some would think that Mary was likely cozy with a Roman soldier beforehand and was making up a story and that if this is the kind of woman who is the mother of Jesus, then who needs Him? Either way, it would not win friends and influence people.
The main objection is still the objection of miracles. Of course, if one does not believe in miracles, one will not accept the virgin birth or more importantly, the resurrection. For the one skeptical of that, I recommend this.
I conclude that I have no reason to not accept the virgin birth due to believing in miracles and because of the criterion of embarrassment.