34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34)
One of the enduring principles of biblical interpretation which was kindled by the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century was this: Scripture Interprets Scripture. In other words, the Word of God is its best interpreter.
Dr. R. C. Sproul writes, “It has often been charged that the Bible can’t be trusted because people can make it say anything they want it to say. This charge would be true if the Bible were not the objective Word of God, if it were simply a wax nose, able to be shaped, twisted, and distorted to teach one’s own precepts. The charge would be true if it were not an offense to God the Holy Spirit to read into sacred Scripture what is not there. However, the idea that the Bible can teach anything we want it to is not true if we approach the Scriptures humbly, trying to hear what the Bible says for itself.”
Dr. Sproul continues by explaining that, “At the time of the Reformation, to stop unbridled, speculative, and fanciful interpretations of Scripture, the Reformers set forth the fundamental axiom that should govern all biblical interpretation. It is called the analogy of faith, which basically means that Holy Scripture is its own interpreter. In other words, we are to interpret Scripture according to Scripture. That is, the supreme arbiter in interpreting the meaning of a particular verse in Scripture is the overall teaching of the Bible.”
This principle of Scripture interpreting Scripture is important with any doctrine of Scripture, but especially so when addressing the doctrine of the virgin birth of Christ. Does the Bible teach that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin?
The confusion about the veracity of this doctrine concerns the prophecy contained in Isaiah 7:14 which says, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” We examined this prophecy already with respect to the identity of the Jewish Messiah and whether Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies.
The debate arises in that the Hebrew word for virgin “almah” not only can mean a female who has never had sexual relations (i.e. virgin), but also can mean a marriageable girl or a young woman. What then does the New Testament teach?
Matthew’s account of the birth of Christ, taken from the perspective of Joseph, says that, “18 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. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 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. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.” (Matthew 1:18-25)
When Matthew quotes from Isaiah 7:14 in vs. 23 he uses the Greek word παρθένος (Parthenos) which means a female who has never had sexual relations.
When Mary asked the angel “How will this be, since I am a virgin” she expressed an understanding of how could she conceive since she had never sexually been with a man, including Joseph. Mary not only correctly interpreted Gabriel’s message but also understood and believed it.
In light of this, we can correctly interpret Isaiah 7:14 in light of Matthew 1:23 and Luke 1:34. The virginity of Mary biblically refers to her having not yet consummated a physical relationship with Joseph, or any man for that matter.
Dr. John MacArthur explains that, “Mary understood that the angel was speaking of an immediate conception, and she and Joseph were still in the midst of the long betrothal, or engagement period (see note on Matt. 1:18), before the actual marriage and consummation. Her question was borne out of wonder, not doubt, nor disbelief, so the angel did not rebuke her as he had Zechariah (Luke 1:20).”
Dr. John Walvoord writes, “Mary did not seem surprised that the Messiah was to come. Rather, she was surprised that she would be His mother since she was a virgin (lit., “since I do not know a man”). But the angel did not rebuke Mary, as he had rebuked Zechariah (v. 20). This indicates that Mary did not doubt the angel’s words but merely wanted to know how such an event would be accomplished. The answer was that the Holy Spirit would creatively bring about the physical conception of Jesus (v. 35). This miraculous conception and Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ was necessary because of His deity and preexistence (cf. Isa. 7:14; 9:6; Gal. 4:4).”
We can trust what the Bible teaches regarding the virgin birth of the Messiah in Isaiah 7:14 as fulfilled in the Bible’s account of the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. They are not in contradiction.
May the Lord’s truth and grace be found here.
Soli deo Gloria!