“And she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a
manger because there was no guest room available.” (Luke 2:7, NIV)
The Christmas narrative we find in Luke’s gospel is one that those who are followers of Christ
have come to know and love. Many have committed it to memory and can quote the Christmas story at a moment’s notice. The Christmas story as recorded in Luke is one that many have known as far back as they can remember. That’s what we know as Christians. The
issue is that there are increasing numbers of people who don’t believe the same way that we
do. The question, then, is how do we defend the truth about Christmas, the virgin birth, and
the existence of Jesus of Nazareth to a world that does not believe?
Let me remind you that we are not looking to defend what the world believes about Christmas. This doesn’t have anything to do with Santa Claus. We aren’t talking about reindeer or stockings hung by the chimney with care. We aren’t defending the North Pole, elves, or presents. What we are tasked with defending is the fact that God’s Son came to earth as a baby. He did not regard equality with God as a thing to be grasped at but instead came to earth as a servant. He became flesh through the miracle of the virgin birth. We believe that Jesus was born and was a real person who lived on the earth. So, how do we defend the virgin birth and the existence of Jesus Christ?
We can first look at the writings of 1st and 2nd Century non-believers as they speak of the
existence of Jesus. One such writer was Cornelius Tacitus (55-120 AD). Tacitus wrote, “Nero
fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their
abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin,
suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our
procurators, Pontius Pilate.” Another ancient writer, Gaius Suetonius Tranquillis (69-140 AD) a
Roman historian, wrote, “He banished from Rome all the Jews, who were continually making
disturbances at the instigation of Christus.” Still another, Flavius Josephus (37-97 AD) a Jewish
historian, wrote, “There arose at this time a source of further trouble in one Jesus, a wise man
who performed surprising works, a teacher of men who gladly welcome strange things. He led
away many Jews, and also many Gentiles.” Many extra-biblical sources speak to the existence of Jesus. These include early writers such as Thallus (52 AD), Mara-Serapion (70
AD), Phlegon (80-140 AD), Pliny the Younger (61-113 AD), and Lucian of Samosata (115-200
AD). They also include texts such as the Jewish Talmud (400-700 AD), and the Toledat Yeshu
(1000 AD). While there is a plethora of evidence provided within the bounds of
Christian writing from early eyewitness accounts and other sources that speak to the existence of Jesus, many non-Christian references to His existence are present as well. It is not reasonable to believe that detractors of the message that Jesus proclaimed would validate His existence without good reason. Therefore, to say that He did not exist as a historic person is not reasonable.
When looking at the reality of a virgin birth, the prophet Isaiah, in Isaiah 7:14 (NIV) shares,
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel.” Some bring the virgin birth into question, simply based on
the Hebrew word that is used in this passage. They argue that the Hebrew word used for virgin, almah, could potentially mean maiden or young girl and not necessarily someone who had not been sexually active. This Hebrew word is feminine in nature and is often used to describe a young girl who has reached puberty but is still under the protective care of her family. The ancient Jewish connotation of the word points to the idea that the girl would have been a virgin. In addition, the 70 Jewish scholars who translated the Hebrew Bible into Greek more than 200 years before Jesus was born chose the Greek word, Parthenos, to translate the Hebrew word, almah. Parthenos almost always means “virgin.” Matthew quoted Isaiah in his gospel account and used the word, Parthenos, to speak to a virgin with a child (Matthew 1:22-23). Luke also used the same word twice when referring to Mary (Luke 1:26-27).
One prevailing argument against the virgin birth comes from those who propose that the doctrine was manufactured by early followers of Christ. This brings the credibility of the early apostles and gospel writers into question. Luke indicates in his gospel that the conception of Jesus occurred some three months before Joseph took Mary as his wife (Luke 1:38-39, 56). This points to the fact that it was not manufactured by early followers because there is no recorded opposition to the message of the virgin birth by Jesus’ family or those in the early church. Some propose that a new doctrine could have been added to the Christian faith
in the early 1st Century. This would not have been likely to occur without significant opposition
from early followers. Yet, there is no recorded schism or dispute regarding the addition of such a doctrine. This leads us to believe that it was not added at a later time but was original to Christian thought.
The virgin birth of Jesus is a miracle in the truest sense of the term. For a virgin to be with child is impossible within the typically observed patterns of nature. Dr. Gary Habermas, a leader in the field of apologetics and a renowned scholar on the topic of miracles shares that a miracle is, “A dynamic specialized event that nature is incapable of producing that temporarily supersedes or appears to supersede the normally observed pattern of nature. Such an event is brought about by the power of God or other supernatural agent for the purpose of verifying or drawing attention to a person or message.” When we look at the virgin birth with this definition in mind, we see that the virgin birth had a specific purpose. Its purpose was multi-faceted. It served to fulfill the prophecy of a Messiah and put the full power of God on display while drawing attention to the birth of a Savior.
Given the overwhelming evidence, to say that Jesus was not born and did not exist is not
reasonable. The evidence for the existence of Jesus is not something that is easily overcome. Even scholars who are among the most skeptical of the truth claims of Christianity believe that the historical Jesus existed. The reality of Jesus’ existence bolsters the claims of Christianity. If Jesus was born, lived, and died then the message of the Christmas story is still just as relevant today as it was in the 1st Century. We can defend the claims of Christmas by defending the virgin birth and the existence of Jesus of Nazareth.