One of the most common facts about the Christmas story and the birth of the baby Jesus is the miraculous nature in which He was born—to a virgin.
In both Testaments of the Bible the virgin birth is mentioned; it is prophesied in Isaiah 7:14, then fulfilled in Matthew 1:23. The word virgin is peppered throughout Matthew and Luke’s account of the birth, as well as in Isaiah’s prophecy.
Some like to point out that the word virgin doesn’t just refer to a person who has never had intercourse, but that it can also simply mean a young girl or bride. Does this present a problem to the biblical account? If Mary was not a virgin then the birth of Jesus doesn’t involve the supernatural elements of divinity.
But the truth is that it really doesn’t matter what the word virgin means. Consider a few things.
First, since it was against the law for any unmarried people to engage in intercourse, all young girls were virgins. The terms were interchangeable, and Mary would have been both an abstinent virgin and a young girl.
Second, the prophecy in Isaiah was actually about a young girl, not a virgin. The prophecy wasn’t about Mary at all. Isaiah gave this prophecy to King Ahaz as proof of his message that God would destroy the king’s enemies. The sign of the promise would be that a virgin (or young girl or bride) would have a son and name him Immanuel—“God is with us.” Matthew saw the birth of Jesus as the second fulfillment of this prophecy. If Isaiah’s prophecy were only about Mary, she would have named her baby Immanuel instead of Jesus. Jesus is rightly thought of as Immanuel because God came to mankind, thus making Matthew’s reference all the more meaningful. Isaiah’s prophecy was not a miraculous virgin birth, but a natural birth to a young bride.
Third, Mary referred to herself as a virgin when she asked the angel, “How can this be, seeing I have not known a man (Luke 1:34)?” Forget what the word virgin means for a second—Mary had never slept with a man. We can debate the original word all day, but Mary had never been with Joseph or anyone else.
Finally, if the Bible only teaches that Mary was a young bride and not a virgin, then why did the Holy Spirit place the baby inside her (Luke 1:35); why did Joseph seek to divorce Mary (Matthew 1:19); and why did Joseph refuse to sleep with her until after the baby was born (Matthew 1:25)? Each of those events points back to a virgin birth. Joseph knew he had not impregnated Mary, and he chose to not sleep with her until after Jesus was born so that it could still be a virgin birth.
Skeptics can play word games to undermine God and His Word, but there is no merit to the claim that the Bible teaches anything other than the virgin birth.