Science says it is impossible for a woman to conceive a child without the sperm of a man.

I have seen Christians just gloss over this, romanticize about it, make it fairy tale or flat out deny it.

Is it a sin to believe Jesus was not born of a virgin?

How would His body be different from a person born from a mom and dad if he was born of a virgin?

(Side thought: if the opposition theory was true of a Roman soldier being his father and keeping it secret for Mary's life - then it would make sense how his facial and bodily features are usually portrayed)

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    miracle: an effect or extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses all known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause. Apr 6, 2012 at 16:47
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    (note: I've removed the [catholicism] tag from the question as the virgin birth is not specific to catholicism, only the perpetual virginity of Mary, which isn't addressed here) Apr 6, 2012 at 17:23
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    (feel free to edit it back in if you wanted answers from a Catholic perspective, but edit the question body too to clarify) Apr 6, 2012 at 17:25
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    I don't know where you get your scientific information from, but you're wrong in that "science says it's impossible for a woman to conceive a child without the sperm of a man". en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parthenogenesis#Humans If scientists from International Stem Cell Corporation figured out how to do it, I'm sure God, who is Omniscient can figure it out, too. Not to mention that Christs conception has always been understood to be supernatural and extraordinary. Apr 7, 2012 at 3:56

4 Answers 4


Science also says people can't walk on water, turn water into wine, spontaneously cure illness, or walk around after being killed. Whether you accept these things as having happened (as divine miracle) is pretty much the definition of most forms of Christianity. It isn't so much "glossing over", as "this is the doctrine and dogma of the Church".

That said, the virgin birth is a particularly tricky one as it isn't universal, and some maintain that the correct translation is "maiden".

Your question about the body from "mum and dad" vs "virgin" is rather moot when any miracle would presumably handle minor details like that. A "natural" (parthenogenesis) virgin birth here would presumably be female, given the lack of a Y chromosome to hand, although genetics is sometimes not quite as binary as would be convenient, and many scientists in the field will say that X / Y are a bit more fluid than might be obvious.

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    To reject the Virgin birth and assert natural process is Ebionism, a heresy denying the divinity of Christ. Apr 6, 2012 at 17:14
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    @Andrew the funny thing for me (speaking as a Humanist) is more the reasons for rejecting it. A Christian rejecting it as "impossible" seems to be rather missing the point of miracle. A Christian rejecting it as "not recorded in certain key texts, and perhaps having a later origin for unknown reasons" (I.e. more about the pedigree of the claim) is pretty reasonable, and has been argued by many Christians over the years. Apr 6, 2012 at 17:17
  • I've always wondered, when I hear people making this claim, if they know what "maiden" actually means...
    – Mason Wheeler
    Apr 6, 2012 at 20:25
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    @Mason it has various meanings, most commonly "unmarried", but the important question is not what "maiden" means, but rather: what the word in the most original available source means in the context of its writing. "maiden" is merely translation. Apr 6, 2012 at 21:00
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    Good answer. If God did make the Universe, and atoms, and gravity and cells and the human brain, then making a woman have a baby without sperm does not require much faith. It could even have some natural cause, weird stuff happens in biology. But that is beside the point really.
    – Hammer
    Apr 6, 2012 at 22:45

The Bible makes it very, very clear that the virgin birth is true. The emphasis below is mine:

Matthew 1:20-23 ESV

"Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."22All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23"Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel"

Luke 1:30-31, 34-35 ESV

And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God 31And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus..." 34And Mary said to the angel, "How will this be, since I am a virgin?" 35And the angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you,; therefore the child to be born will be called holy - the Son of God."

"therefore the child will be called holy" - this statement explains the importance of the virgin birth. If Jesus had been born of man, he would be a sinner, for "in Adam all die" (1 Corinthians 15:22). However, since Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, he is "holy."

Also, the angel's reassurance to Joseph that the child is from the Holy Spirit rules out any possible third party - unless you question the angel's knowledge.

tl;dr: you either have to twist the Scriptures like crazy or just outright disbelieve them to refuse the Virgin Birth.


Regarding the miraculous nature of the virgin birth, C.S Lewis says the following in Miracles (a short essay that can be found in God in the Dock, and not the same as(though very similar to) his book Miracles):

[R]ecently I saw the taunt that we Christians believe in a God who committed adultery with the wife of a Jewish carpenter. The answer to that is that if you describe the action of God in fertilizing Mary as 'adultery' then, in that sense, God would have committed adultery with every woman who ever had a baby. For what he did once without a human father, He does always even when He uses a human father as His instrument. For the human father in ordinary generation is only a carrier, sometimes an unwilling carrier, always the last in a long line of carriers, of life that comes from the supreme life. Thus the filth that our poor, muddled, sincere, resentful enemies fling at the Holy One, either does not stick, or, sticking, turns into glory.

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    Minor point; in Roman Catholic view: Mary was born "of man", but dogma holds that this was a miraculous (but natural) conception without the sin of Adam. This undermines the point about being necessary to avoid Jesus from the sin of Adam, as frankly you could just as easily shift this miracle a generation and have both "miracles" affect Jesus, rather than one Mary one Jesus. Apr 6, 2012 at 17:23
  • @MarcGravell only Catholic dogma. Protestant doctrine teaches that Mary was just as sinful as the rest of us, because she was born of man. Good point though. Apr 6, 2012 at 17:24
  • noted; I will clarify Catholic. My bad - I was RC before I found my way out. Apr 6, 2012 at 17:25
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    for the record I'm pleased that Protestant view avoids this unnecessary complication. Apr 6, 2012 at 17:27

If God was capable of creating human beings to begin with, without benefit of pre-existing males or females, then it's no great leap to suppose he could create a human being with the "assistance" of a human female.

Presumably when he created Adam he created an entire body. To effect a virgin birth he would only have to create one cell, i.e. a sperm cell. Or less: he could have caused an egg in Mary to split in a process akin to parthenogenesis. He would have had to create a Y chromosome, and he may have decided to create other genetic material.

Of course, whether you believe in a God capable of such creation is a pretty fundamental question.

BTW, anti-Christians often say that people in Bible times believed in miracles because they didn't understand science and so didn't know that these events were impossible. This is ridiculous. The authors of the Bible were well aware that the virgin birth (and other such miracles) was impossible by every known law of science. That's why they described it as a great miracle, rather than a curious side note. If people back then didn't know that it was impossible for water to turn into wine, they wouldn't have said that Jesus performed a miracle, they would have said, "How convenient! The water turned into wine just when we needed it."


Reply to Mr Gravell: Do I really need to give examples of people saying that the folks in Bible times only believed in miracles because they were ignorant of science? Okay, in a quick Internet search I don't find those exact words, but here are some examples of essentially that idea:

In those parts of the world where learning and science have prevailed, miracles have ceased; but in those parts of it as are barbarous and ignorant, miracles are still in vogue. -- Ethan Allen (quoted on Wikipedia "Miracle" page)

The people who tell these stories about miracles would make good storywriters. They would not make good science fiction writers. They possess little knowledge of science. -- http://www.jovialatheist.com/miracles.html (In context, he's talking about the writers of the Bible as well as people of later times who believe them.)

We may, in fact, say that a miracle is an event of which the causes cannot be explained by the natural reason through a reference to ascertained workings of nature; but since miracles were wrought according to the understanding of the masses, who are wholly ignorant of the workings of nature, it is certain that the ancients took for a miracle whatever they could not explain by the method adopted by the unlearned in such cases. -- Spinoza. http://www.sacred-texts.com/phi/spinoza/treat/tpt10.htm

Skepticism wasn't what it is today. Someone who tells you today that a demon jumped out of a tree, or a giant sea monster devoured a ship is likely to be ridiculed or sent to the Daily Sun. However, such tales were quite common and widely accepted with little question in Christ's day. -- http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/kyle_gerkin/objections_sustained/obj2.html

But a miracle means a violation of a natural law, and there can be no proof imagined that could be sufficient to show the violation of a natural law; even though proof seemed to show violation, it would only show that we were not acquainted with all natural laws. ... Primitive and even civilized people have grown so accustomed to believing in miracles that they often attribute the simplest manifestations of nature to agencies of which they know nothing. -- Clarence Darrow. http://www.infidels.org/library/historical/clarence_darrow/why_i_am_an_agnostic.html

In ancient times it was natural to ascribe the violent acts of nature to a pantheon of mischievous or malevolent deities. Calamities were often taken as a sign that we had somehow offended the gods… Ignorance of nature’s ways led people in ancient times to invent gods to lord it over every aspect of human life.” – Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design, Bantam Books, p25

Etc etc.

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    Re your "anti-Christians often say" - I've never heard that claimed, and I've looked plenty. Perhaps "didn't realise the full implications of the miracle", sure (for example, all the side-effects and demands needed to make the flood work, or the creation impact). Also, "anti-Christian" is a bit of a persecution complex. People saying why they don't believe is not "anti-Christian", nor is secularism "anti-Christian" (most atheists are perfectly happy for other people to believe what they want, as long as they don't demand special privileges because of their faith). Apr 7, 2012 at 9:48
  • By "anti-Christian" here I mean people who oppose Christianity, in the same sense that I would call someone who opposes gun control "anti-gun control", or someone who opposes wearing blue shirts "anti-blue shirt". Surely you would agree that there are people who actively oppose Christianity, like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. I didn't say anything about persecution. Quite the contrary, I was clearly talking about intellectual arguments. Seems like you're being awfully defensive here.
    – Jay
    Apr 11, 2012 at 3:28
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    @Gravell See my update RE ignorance of science. Couldn't fit the quotes in a comment.
    – Jay
    Apr 11, 2012 at 4:50
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    And yet most of that is observational, not anti-Christian. Unless you think observation is anti-Christian? Hawking, and about half the other quotes) is (/are) not talking specifically about Christianity; presumably you agree with him about every other religion, but have taken offence of Christianity by implication? likewise Allen: the more recording is available, and the more educated/critical-thinking the people, the less claims of miracle; this is direct observation of reality, not an anti-Christian sentiment. Apr 11, 2012 at 5:48
  • @Marc What point exactly are you trying to make? You appear to be insisting that there is no such thing as people who are anti-Christian. Can you honestly say that Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Madelyn Murray O'Hare, etc etc, are/were not opposed to Christianity, i.e. "anti-Christian"?
    – Jay
    Apr 12, 2012 at 6:16

Here's what I understand the Catholic answer to this question to be:

  1. Jesus' Divine Nature comes to Him through the Father.
  2. Jesus' Human Nature comes to Him through His Blessed Mother.

Jesus is one Divine Person with two natures.

However, Jesus' Human Body comes to Him through His Blessed Mother and no one else.

The Substance which materialized at the moment of the Incarnation was taken from Mary in the same way as the substance which made Eve was taken from Adam.

Regardless of who you are, it's up to God to animate your body with an immortal soul. It's not up to your parents. I'm more or less making this up, but it may even be part of God's covenant with Adam to subdue the Earth and fill it. The married couple supplies the baby and God will give him or her the immortal soul.

Calling the Incarnation "a miracle" is actually kind of lame. It is "THE MIRACLE", the one that, if you're paying attention, you should bend your knee and thank God for whenever it is mentioned!

Yes, it is a sin for a Catholic to deny that Jesus was born of a Virgin or to assert any other blasphemy against Our Lady's purity.

  • That's essentially the Orthodox Christian understanding as well. Thankfully, it's also shared by many Protestants.
    – sockmonk
    Apr 12, 2016 at 17:19

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