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Christmas and the virgin birth
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My columns this month have centered around Christmas. Primarily I have been writing about the meaning and origins of this holiday. Today I want to remind the readers of the central message of this holiday. Perhaps no passage of scripture summarizes this message better than Matthew 1:18-23: "

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. His mother Mary was engaged to marry Joseph, but before they married, she learned she was pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit. Because Mary's husband, Joseph, was a good man, he did not want to disgrace her in public, so he planned to divorce her secretly.

While Joseph thought about these things, an angel of the Lord came to him in a dream. The angel said, "Joseph, descendant of David, don't be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the baby in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." All this happened to bring about what the Lord had said through the prophet: 'The virgin will be pregnant. She will have a son, and they will name him Immanuel," which means 'God is with us'" (New Century Version).

I want to draw your attention to that very clear phrase, "The virgin will be pregnant." That phrase catches beautifully the Hebrew of the prophet Isaiah. The contradiction is startling - a pregnant virgin. Let those words sink in. Apologist Josh McDowell comments, "Isn't it interesting how many people celebrate Christmas every year without being fully aware of the uniqueness of the event they celebrate: a baby born to a woman who was a virgin. Not even the tabloids could have thought of that one." (McDowell, Josh, "The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict," Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tenn., 1999 p.302).

Critics try desperately to deny a virgin birth. Why? Because if you admit to a virgin birth, then you must admit that this Jesus is indeed "God with us" and the implications of that are exactly what skeptics and critics try to deny.

The word used in the Isaiah 7:14 passage that is quoted here in Matthew 1:23 is the Hebrew word "almah" Of this word New Testament scholar J. Gresham Machen states, "There is no place among the seven occurrences of 'almah' in the Old Testament where the word is not clearly used of a woman who was not a virgin."

 Willis J. Beecher agrees stating, "in biblical usage the word denotes a virgin in every case where its meaning can be determined." The word itself indicates a present state of virginity - a pregnant virgin. Dr. Ed Hinson comments, "It is quite obvious that the verbal time of (conceive) should be taken as present tense . . . The concept of the time element involved is very important to the interpretation of this passage. If the word 'almah' means 'virgin' and if this 'almah' is already pregnant and about to bear a son, then the girl is still a virgin, even though she is a mother. Consider the contradiction in this passage if this is not referring to the only virgin birth in history-that of Jesus Christ."

From the eyewitness accounts there can be no doubt that what is recorded in Matthew is a miracle birth. The central message of Christmas is that God became a man for the purpose of saving us from our sins (our rebellion against him). What a wonderful message! What a wonderful gift. He whom we constantly offend came to take those offenses upon himself and make it possible for us to be at peace and in right relation with himself. Perhaps no passage of Scripture sums up the purpose of the incarnation better than John 3:16-17 "This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn't go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again." (The Message).

May you and yours enjoy a very Merry Christmas and have a blessed New Year!

Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church. Write him in care of the church at 11677 Brown Bridge Road Covington, GA, 30016. Send e-mail to