I threw this question during the opening of our Foundation for Victory Friday class two weeks ago and since then, I have been hearing divergent opinions about this question. Why is this question important? Because the entire Christian religion rests on the veracity of only two things: the virgin birth and the death and resurrection of Christ. No other events in the Bible could come close to the importance of this two.
If Mary wasn’t a virgin, that would mean that Jesus most likely had an earthly father. If Jesus had an earthly father, He couldn’t be God and therefore He couldn’t be a Savior. He would just be a mere human being, and just like the rest of us, He would need saving. In effect, all the things we ever believed about Him will crumble to the ground.
The difficulty about this question comes from the fact that when I asked this, people started thinking of things like, “What if Mary had a previous sexual experience from an unknown boyfriend?” If you’ve thought of that question, it is most likely because you are reading the Bible with a 21st century lens. The marriage culture of ancient Israel is so far removed from the sexual revolution of our time. Virginity was a big issue back then; adulterers were shunned (e.g. Samaritan woman in John 4) and immorality was not tolerated. This is the reason why in Matthew 1:19-20, Joseph almost divorced Mary if not for the intervention of an angel.
One should not forget that when it comes to sin, the Bible does not do cover ups. The scandal of Judah and Tamar, the relationship between David and Bathsheba and the squabbles between Leah and Rachel as to who who gets to sleep with Jacob all point to the fact that the Bible is unabashed about exposing embarrassing sins that we would otherwise keep in secret. If Mary wasn’t a virgin, the Bible would have said so.
D. James Kennedy, in his book Why I Believe, mentioned that one of the most telling proofs of Mary’s immaculate conception was the crucifixion scene in Golgotha. Jesus was crucified because He claimed to be God. The Jews wanted Him to recant but He did not. If Mary had been unchaste, if she had been having a affair with a secret boyfriend before the Holy Spirit made her pregnant, then she would have been the most ruthless of all the mothers in the world. Why? Because if that were the case, she could have stopped the crucifixion. She could have stepped forward and said, “I’m sorry but my son is not who he claims to be.” She could have destroyed Jesus’ pretensions by confessing who his real father was, or at least name the names of men she slept with. She could have saved him from the most horrendous death on the cross by just saying a few words. No mother, to save her own reputation and keep up a lie, would let her son be tortured to death. The only explanation why Mary kept silent was that she knew that Jesus’ Father was indeed God.
But why must God use a virgin as a mother for Jesus? I believe the reason why God chose a virgin was because He wanted to show us, beyond a shadow of doubt, that Jesus was not a product of sexual union between a man and a woman. He needed a virgin so that no one will be able to cast doubt on the uniqueness of Jesus’ birth.
Let me just point this out in case anyone misses it: Our salvation doesn’t rest on Mary’s virginity but on Jesus’ sinlessness. The only reason Mary’s sexual status got dragged into this is because her virginity was the proof that Jesus was indeed born miraculously and that He had no human father. The fact we are seeking to establish here is that Jesus is God and He is qualified to save us because He is sinless; Mary’s virginity is simply one of the supporting documents that proves it.