Conceived of the Holy Spirit, Born of the Virgin Mary

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.
February 4, 2020

Below is an excerpt from my new book, The Apostles’ Creed: Discovering Authentic Christianity in an Age of Counterfeits.

For the whole of church history, Christians have preserved essential doctrines in and through their hymnody. For example, the doctrine of the virgin birth has populated several Christmas hymns: “Silent Night,” “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” These hymns, which represent many others, are pregnant with meaning and represent a necessary element of the Christian faith, without which the gospel does not save sinners. To some, however, the virgin birth and Christ’s miraculous conception exemplify the supernatural scandal of Christianity. Modern skeptics like retired Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong have argued that these doctrines are just evidence of the early church’s invention of Christ’s deity. The virgin birth is, Spong explains, the “entrance myth” to go with the resurrection, the “exit myth.” Like Spong, many consider themselves far too sophisticated to believe in things like blood redemption or a virgin birth. These doctrines remain a foreign concept to many, a cultural symbol to some, and a point of division for others.

My election as president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary came during a divisive and vitriolic time for the Southern Baptist Convention. Theological orthodoxy and doctrinal fidelity hung in the balance as warring factions sought to control the future of the convention. In the midst of that controversy, the issue of the virgin birth arose. One prominent leader of the liberal faction said that a professor of theology “who might also be led by the Scripture not to believe in the virgin birth should not be fired.” In other words, any teacher who denied the virgin birth remained in orthodoxy so long as they believed that position to arise from the Scriptures. Led by the Scripture not to believe in the virgin birth? What kind of evasion is that? The sentence does not even make sense. The Scriptures teach nothing less than the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. Indeed, without such a birth there is no gospel! A Christian who doesn’t believe in the virgin birth is in eternal peril, for the one in whom he believes is not the One who is testified in the Scriptures.

The Apostles’ Creed, therefore, has included the virgin birth for good reason—it is true, it is essential, and it is glorious. As the creed suggests, Jesus Christ, the seed of the woman whose heel would strike the serpent and reverse the curse, was conceived by a sovereign act of God and born of a virgin. The church, I hope to show you, must affirm the virgin birth because it rests at the foundation of other critical doctrines. Without the virgin birth, Christ is not God. If Christ was not conceived by the Holy Spirit, then he must have a human father, and thus he is not divine. Also, without the virgin birth, the gospel does not provide salvation. If the virgin birth is a lie, then Jesus could never reverse the curse and save sinners. Moreover, if Christians deny the virgin birth, and treat the conception of the Holy Spirit as a myth, then they threaten a whole range of other Christian doctrines: the truthfulness of Scripture, the humanity of Christ, the sinlessness of Christ, and the nature of grace. Christians today must affirm the virgin birth of Christ—indeed, the Christian faith and the Bible on which that faith stands demand it…

The truthfulness of the virgin birth, therefore, creates a moral obligation. In other words, because Scripture affirms the virgin birth, then it is true; and if it is true, then it must be believed. To deny the virgin birth, despite the fact that the Gospels assert it, would compromise the authority of Scripture. Liberal theologians can either embrace or deny the truthfulness of the virgin birth, but both choices have significance for the entirety of Scripture. Christians, however, do not have a choice to accept or reject the truth of Scripture. Scripture exercises authority over the Christian, and he or she must accept its truth.

To believers the virgin birth has even more substance. The one who was conceived of the Holy Spirit in the virgin’s womb was also conceived by the Holy Spirit in the hearts of Christians. Through the miracle of the gospel—which starts at the virgin birth—God brings forth new life from a thoroughly sinful people. Do not be embarrassed by the virgin birth; rather, teach it, preach it, and share it as a part of the gospel story so that when a person responds in faith, they will know in whom they believe. Pray to see the miracle of Christ conceived in their hearts the way he was conceived in Mary’s womb. The child in Bethlehem’s manger was the child whose heel would smite the serpent and in whose name Christians gather.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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