Paul E. Kretzmann

The Virgin Birth

The universal confession concerning the virgin birth

For about eighteen centuries after the ascension of Christ and the founding of the Christian Church the fact of the virgin birth was not called into question and the comforting doctrines drawn therefrom were universally accepted. Throughout the Christian Church the words of the Apostolic Creed: “Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary,” were confessed and believed.


But the era of rationalism, of believing only what reason admitted to be true, ushered in a new conception of Bible criticism, and this played havoc with our doctrine. One critic attacked the idea of a supernatural origin of Jesus and tried to find a natural explanation of the event. Another declared that Joseph was the father of Jesus. A third calmly treated the stories of Christ’s nativity as myths. In this manner, the entire Bible account was soon discredited, both the fact of the virgin birth and the doctrine of the necessity of the sinless birth of the Savior being denied. It is stated that the modern world cannot believe in, and therefore has no place for, miracles. This standpoint evidently overthrows the entire Bible and the history of the Church, both of which are replete with miracles. Some have maintained that the virgin birth has no doctrinal significance anyway, not the physical basis of Christ’s existence, but the moral and spiritual character of His personality being involved in redemption. But such statements reveal the fact that they are very well aware of the vital connection between the doctrine of the virgin birth and faith in the divinity of Christ. A third class of critics favors the mythological explanation, declaring that legends and myths have ever sprung up in connection with the development of all religions. Unfortunately the critics themselves disagree, some of them assuming a Hebrew, others a Greek, others an Indian origin of the story. Besides, their examples are poorly chosen, a divine paternity by carnal intercourse being assumed in the majority of cases. And a recent writer has shown all these theories to be untenable and not analogous, besides referring to the fact that the heathen myths in connection with such stories are of an incredibly vile and immoral character, while nothing can equal the simple, chaste, convincing language of the Bible narrative. The final argument of the critics that historical and textual criticism has proved consecutive editing of New Testament stories and the presence of material foreign to essential Gospel sources, reveals the intention they are anxious to put into execution, namely, to destroy the faith of Christians in the truthfulness of the Bible story.

The Word of God

Let us, in combating these attacks, rely upon the weapon which Christ Himself indicated to us, namely: “It is written.” It is plainly written, Isaiah 7:14, that the Messiah should be born of a virgin, for the Hebrew word there used, both according to its etymology and according to usage, designates not merely a “woman of marriageable age,” but a virgin, a maiden that has not known man. Dr. Stoeckhardt has proved this meaning even in the passage Proverbs 30:18-20 [Der Prophet Jesaias. Die ersten zwoelf Kapitel, 84 Clarke, Commentary, 5, 40]. The virgin birth is most decidedly taught in the passage above, Matthew 1:20-25, as well as in Luke 1:34-35. It agrees, moreover, with the prophecy, Genesis 3:15, where the Seed of the Woman alone is named as the crusher of the Serpent’s head. It finds its final confirmation in the fact that St. Paul refers to it in the most self-evident way, when he speaks of the Son of God as having been made of a woman, Galatians 4:4.

Higher Criticism refuted

In the light of these plain passages we have every reason to say: “Therefore these learned men and critics are the falsifiers, visionaries, and writers of legends, not the apostles and evangelists. Their historico-critical research is plain fraud. From the view-point of their unbelief, indeed, they cannot do otherwise. Theirs is the experience of the Jews: With seeing eyes they see nothing, and with hearing ears they hear nothing, and they have their reward. The devil thanks them for it.” [Synodalbericht, Mo. Syn., Mich. Dist., 1904, 29]

Pure doctrine

We shall retain the doctrine of the virgin birth as a necessary part of our faith. We believe that it is essential for a full appreciation of the supernatural, the divine character of the Savior. “In order to constitute a divine-human personality, the divine Being had to enter into the procreative depths of humanity and select and assume a human nature of His formation and purifying, and unite Himself personally with it. It must be bone of our bone, flesh of our flesh, soul of our soul, in order to be organically connected with the human race; but it must be our nature lifted out of itself, separated, purified, transmuted — a human nature that, strangely and mysteriously enough, could be ‘tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin.'” [Keyser, The Rational Test, 97, 98]. Christ “indeed is become a real, true, natural man, but not conceived and born in sins, as other children of Adam. For that reason His mother had to be a virgin whom no man had touched, in order that He might not be conceived and born under the curse, but without sin, and the devil might have no right or power over Him. … Such mercy we celebrate to-day in order to thank God that He purified our unclean, unholy conception and birth through His holy conception and birth, took the curse from us, and brought the blessing upon us. We by nature have a filthy, sinful conception and birth, but Christ has a pure, holy conception and birth, and through His holy conception and birth our unclean nature, flesh, and blood are blessed and sanctified.” [Luther, 13, 2676, 2679. Cp. Pieper, Christliche Dogmatik, 2, 76. 77]. The fact of the sinless humanity of Christ, guaranteed to us by the virgin birth, made His being placed under the Law, His perfect fulfilment of the Law, and thus His entire work of redemption possible.

The Obligation of a Rightful Betrothal

The modern idea of marriage

In view of the fact that the modern conception of the marriage-tie is rapidly sinking to the level of the heathen idea in its most immoral manifestations, and that playing with the sanctity of the marriage-bond has become the order of the day, it is necessary to emphasize the Scriptural view of the obligation of a valid betrothal, as indicated in the text above, Matthew 1:18-20. To maintain that passages of this kind have historical value only, that they therefore concern the Jews alone, and that their commands are not binding upon the Christians of to-day, is inconsistent with the demand which properly makes the Bible the rule of life as well as the norm of doctrine.

Betrothal is tantamount to marriage according to the Scriptures

A rightful betrothal is entered upon when one man and one woman, being of marriageable age and not hindered by Scriptural or legal impediments, with the express or implied consent of their parents or guardians, and by their own free mutual consent, promise to be and remain to each other husband and wife in a lifelong union. That is the Scriptural view of a valid betrothal. And such a betrothal, without considering the Jewish police and church regulations, is, according to the Bible, tantamount to a marriage, so far as the insolubility of the marriage tie is concerned. When Lot was urged to make haste out of the doomed city of Sodom, he was sent by the angels to speak to his “sons-in-law that would marry his daughters,” who were betrothed to them and intended to consummate the marriage later. Genesis 19:14. When Jacob, with the will and consent of the parents on either side, Genesis 28:2; Genesis 29:18-19, was betrothed to Rachel, the daughter of Laban, he spoke of her as his “wife” before the nuptials had been celebrated, Genesis 29:21. Both of these events took place before the Jewish church law was in existence. A similar case is that recorded in our passage. When Mary was “espoused to Joseph, before they came together,” Joseph is called her “husband,” and she is called his “wife.” And in Luke 2:5 Mary is called Joseph’s “espoused wife.” Cp. Luke 1:27; Deuteronomy 22:22-29; Deuteronomy 28:30; Hosea 4:13.

Christ and His Church

In addition to these clear and unmistakable passages we have another reason for considering a rightful betrothal tantamount to marriage, and that is by analogy from the parts of Holy Scriptures, both of the Old and New Testaments, in which the union of Christ and His Church is spoken of. We find throughout these passages that the terms “espoused” or “bride” (the equivalent, in the original text, of the German “Braut,” a betrothed woman) and “wife” are used as synonyms and altogether indiscriminately. The great “mystery” concerning Christ and His Church, Ephesians 5:32, would lose its meaning if betrothal and marriage, as spoken of in the Word of God, were not identical. “For thy Maker is thy husband; the Lord of Hosts is His name,” Isaiah 54:5. “Thou shalt no more be termed forsaken; neither shall thy land any more be termed desolate; but thou shalt be called Hephzibah and thy land Beulah; for the Lord delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married. For as a young man marrieth a virgin, so shall thy sons marry thee; and as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee,” Isaiah 62:4-5. “I will betroth thee unto Me forever; yea, I will betroth thee unto Me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in loving-kindness, and in mercies,” Hosea 2:19. “Come with Me from Lebanon, My spouse,” Song of Solomon 4:8-12. “He that hath the bride is the bridegroom,” John 3:29. “And I, John, saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. … Come hither, I will show thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife,” Revelation 21:2-9. Compare with these passages also the following: “The marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife hath made herself ready,” Revelation 19:7. “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church,” Ephesians 5:25, and the many statements in which lack of loyalty and faithfulness in the people of Israel is compared to adultery. A passage which is especially clear is 2 Corinthians 11:2.


In view of these facts there is but one conclusion: “A valid betrothal, the lawful and unconditional mutual consent of a marriageable man and a marriageable woman to be husband and wife, makes the parties to such compact essentially husband and wife before God. … The rescission of lawful espousals or valid betrothal is unlawful desertion from the marriage-bond as truly as after the consummation of marriage.” [Theol. Quart., 2, 350; 3, 408]. “Apart from the doctrine of Scriptures regarding the obligation of the betrothal, if we only look at the engagement as we have it to-day and judge according to reason, that is, according to the natural moral understanding, we must consider the engagement as we have it to-day, with respect to its obligation, as tantamount to the consummated marriage.” [Lehre und Wehre, 1915, 242. Cp. Jahn, Von der Verlobung, 43; Luther 10, 655; Kretzmann, Keuschheit und Zucht, 76. 77; Theol. Quart., 20, 136-143].

The Baptism of John