A Jewish girl back in Bible times could be pledged to marry at any time after she was 12 or 13 years of age. This leads us to believe that the Virgin Mary was what we today would call a teenager when she received that momentous visit from the Angel, Gabriel.
Gabriel, announced that she was going to have a baby though she was a virgin and not yet married. It was a startling message and she forthrightly asked — but only for information — “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34). She was told the conception and birth would be miraculously effected, by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35).
The uniqueness of the promise and the subsequent birth of Jesus leads some skeptics to question whether there ever was a real Virgin Mary. Wasn’t this, they ask, just a story that was circulating at the time when Doctor Luke was writing, and didn’t he merely pick it up and fit it into his narrative? Isn’t this too incredible to have really happened?
We might hear from some doubters that you don’t have to believe in the Virgin Birth to be a Christian. After all, they might say, a virgin birth is not even mentioned in the Gospel account given by Mark or John, two of the four canonical recorders of the Gospel. And it is not referred to in any sermon summaries in the Acts of the Apostles, the first history book of the developing church.
So why tax our credulity with such an incredible story? Here is just one reason why this account is embraced by faith as glorious fact.
The introductory paragraph to the Gospel according to Luke is written in excellent Greek, and is obviously the work of an educated person, a first century doctor. It is the longest sentence in the New Testament (even though in English it is broken up into several sentences). Therefore it has detail to consider.
Also, it is written to enrich the faith of one he addresses as “most excellent Theophilus,” who is apparently a regal person, already a believer, but who needs to be more deeply confirmed in his faith (Luke 1:3). That deepening required affirming the declared truth about the Virgin Birth.
In this introductory paragraph, Luke states to his friend that what he is about to write is the work of careful investigation. No mere figment of his imagination, it is intended to be an “orderly account” (Luke 1:3).
When we read that paragraph slowly and carefully, noting its every nuanced phrase, we can see, as the author declares, that he is writing what he believes to be factual truth.
If what Luke writes a few paragraphs later were then to be the story of a mythical virgin birth, imaginative but not real, what would we say about Luke’s declaration that he writes his account only after “careful investigation” (Luke 1:3)? We would have to say he is incompetent or badly informed or even being intentionally deceptive. None of these charges fit the situation.
It seems to me much less taxing to our faith to credit Luke with having made good on his declared purpose in writing. To do otherwise would cast a shadow of doubt or even suspicion over the whole of his Gospel account. Nobody who has read that account carefully is likely to set it aside casually as a strange mixture of fact and fiction.
In any event, every time we repeat the Apostles’ Creed in worship we stand together with believers on all continents and spanning at least 13 centuries when we recite: Our Lord was “conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.” That’s good company to be in.