Catholic Q&A

I heard Christians believe in the Virgin Birth. Is that medically possible?

This is a question I often get. Let me first tell you what the Virgin Birth means for the Christian faith. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke describe the circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus in very different ways, and yet both note that Mary was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit before she joined her fiancé Joseph (Matthew 1.18~25; Luke 1.26~38). However, what Matthew and Luke emphasize there is not so much the issue of miracles that cannot be explained medically or biologically, but rather, about the theological significance of the event. That is, the event expresses the fact that God himself intervened in the world for the salvation of mankind, and that this work of salvation is an initiative on the part of God, and never by the will of man.

On one occasion in a study of the history of religions, some people sought to explain the origin of the belief in the virginal conception of Mary, by confirming the existence of similar phenomena in the religions of that time. However, they did not succeed. Rather, in the Jewish milieu of the time it was considered a blessing of God to marry normally and have numerous children. Being a virgin did not always have a positive connotation. Indeed, the virginal conception of Mary is something unique to the Christian faith.

The Gospel of John states that those who are qualified to become children of God are, “born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (1:13). The birth of Jesus is the culmination of God’s work of grace. The Virgin Birth is one of the “signs” given to us in God’s salvation history. Of course, logically there is no inexorable link between Jesus being the Son of God and the fact of his being born of a virgin. The fact that he was born of a virgin did not serve as proof that he was the Son of God, and yet, even if he had been born via the normal process of reproduction, there would have been no problem over the fact that he had his origins from God. However, he was a sign that became a reality in history. Even if it is difficult to explain this to the people of today, the fact is he was given to us as a symbol of God’s work of salvation.

When I use the word symbol, I don’t mean to say that I am merely stating a form of theological assertion. Viewed from the angle of biblical research, there is no doubt at all that Matthew and Luke as well as the primitive Church they belonged to, had a genuine understanding of the symbol of the Virgin Birth. I myself believe this and have no doubts about it. When we consider the work of creation of the Almighty God wherein he intervened in our world, I have no difficulty about believing this. Even if it is not something that can be discussed on a medical level, I believe it to be a magnificent sign given to us by God.

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