In two of the four New Testament gospels we read that Jesus is born of a virgin (Mary) who was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Matthew does not give us many details how this happened and just mentions the basic facts: “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:18).
In Luke’s gospel many more details about the background of Mary, her encounter with an angel and her relationship with Joseph are revealed. Luke explicitly mentions that Mary was a virgin (Luke 1:34: “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”), that she was engaged to be married (Luke 1:27: “a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David.”) and that the child was not conceived by a man but by God through the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35: “The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”).
That Jesus was to be born from a virgin through the Holy Spirit is with our 20/20 perfect hindsight completely understandable and considered a great miracle. Jesus can only be (the Son of) God if He was not just human. By having a divine Father and a human mother we can intuitively understand that He is both God and man at the same time.
And we now know that through the virgin birth the Old Testament prophecy of Isaiah 7:14: “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” was to the letter fulfilled. Not only because Mary was His virgin mother. Jesus’ divinity also explains the name “Immanuel,” which means “God with us.” Since Jesus is God, that part of Isaiah’s prophecy was literally fulfilled.
But how do we know that the virgin birth account was not just added to the gospels to embellish Jesus’ birth as fulfilled prophecy and a supernatural event? It is obviously not possible for us 2000 years after this event to study any medical or other scientific evidence to support this claim. However through logical analysis combined with our knowledge of life and the culture of those days the case for the virgin birth seems surprisingly strong.
Have you ever wondered why the miracle of the virgin birth of Jesus only received limited attention in the New Testament? Yes, both Matthew and Luke briefly mention it at the beginning of their gospels, but it is not brought up again by them or any of the other New Testament books as an evidence for the Divinity of Jesus anywhere. Actually the Bible is remarkably quiet about this. Why was this great and important miracle not mentioned again and again?
For us to understand this, we need to go back to the culture at the time of Jesus. In those days a girl’s greatest asset was considered to be her sexual purity. Only a young woman who retained her virginity could expect to secure a good man for a husband. Mothers kept their daughters out of the public eye as much as possible to not expose them to temptation. A pregnant unmarried woman was considered a grave insult to the honor of her family. As still seen today in many Arab countries (whose citizens still live under the Islamic laws and culture as it was in the ancient Middle East) such pregnancies would often lead to honor killings. The father and/or her brothers, lamenting her inability to marry, could kill her to avoid the disgrace.
Against this background Jesus’ virgin birth was not heralded as a miracle. Especially for Matthew, writing about Jesus’ birth must have presented a real dilemma. As a devout Jew, Matthew’s decision to record that Joseph, representing the royal bloodline of Jesus, was not Jesus’ natural father, could open up a potential flood of compromising criticisms that Jesus was born out of wedlock. This account in Matthew’s gospel shows his unconditional commitment to writing the truth without altering any of it.
Therefore the most logical conclusion is that the mere mentioning of the conception and birth of Jesus from a young woman who was not married and still a virgin IS the compelling evidence that it really happened. If the gospels were not factual, mere legends and embellished stories, the account of the virgin birth would not have been included.