The Historical Setting

It is time now to come to the Scripture itself, and to look at the fact of the Virgin birth in its historical setting, and its relation with other truths of the Gospel. As preceding the examination of the historical evidence, a little may be said, first, on the Old Testament preparation. Was there any such preparation? Some would say there was not, but this is not God’s way, and we may look with confidence for at least some indications which point in the direction of the New Testament event.

The First Promise

One’s mind turns first to that oldest of all evangelical promises, that the seed of the woman would bruise the head of the serpent. “I will put enmity,” says Jehovah to the serpent-tempter, “between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; he shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15. R. V.). It is a forceless weakening of this first word of Gospel in the Bible to explain it of a lasting feud between the race of men and the brood of serpents. The serpent, as even Dr. Driver attests, is “the representative of the power of evil” — in later Scripture, “he that is called the Devil and Satan” (Rev. 12:9)— and the defeat he sustains from the woman’s seed is a moral and spiritual victory. The “seed” who should destroy him is described emphatically as the woman’s seed. It was the woman through whom sin had entered the race; by the seed of the woman would salvation come. The early church writers often pressed this analogy between Eve and the Virgin Mary. We may reject any element of over-exaltation of Mary they connected with it, but it remains significant that this peculiar phrase should be chosen to designate the future deliverer. I cannot believe the choice to be of accident. The promise to Abraham was that in his seed the families of the earth would be blessed; there the male is emphasized, but here it is the woman — the woman distinctively. There is, perhaps, as good scholars have thought, an allusion to this promise in 1 Timothy 2:15, where, with allusion to Adam and Eve, it is said, “But she shall be saved through her (or the) child-bearing” (R. V.).

Testimony of the Gospel

The germs now indicated in prophetic scriptures had apparently borne no fruit in Jewish expectations of the Messiah, when the event took place which to Christian minds made them luminous with predictive import. In Bethlehem of Judea, as Micah had foretold, was born of a virgin mother He whose “goings forth” were “from of old, from everlasting” (Micah 5:2; Matt. 2:6). Matthew, who quotes the first part of the verse, can hardly have been ignorant of the hint of pre-existence it contained. This brings us to the testimony to the miraculous birth of Christ in our first and third Gospels — the only Gospels which record the circumstances of Christ’s birth at all. By general consent the narratives in Matthew (chapters 1, 2) and in Luke (chapters 1, 2) are independent — that is, they are not derived one from the other — yet they both affirm, in detailed story, that Jesus, conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, was born of a pure virgin, Mary of Nazareth, espoused to Joseph, whose wife she afterwards became. The birth took place at Bethlehem, whither Joseph and Mary had gone for enrollment in a census that was being taken. The announcement was made to Mary beforehand by an angel, and the birth was preceded, attended, and followed by remarkable events that are narrated (birth of the Baptist, with annunciations, angelic vision to the shepherds, visit of wise men from the east, etc.). The narratives should be carefully read at length to understand the comments that follow.

The Deity of Christ


A recent writer has remarked that our assured conviction of the deity of Christ rests, not upon “proof-texts or passages, nor upon old arguments drawn from these, but upon the general fact of the whole manifestation of Jesus Christ, and of the whole impression left by Him upon the world.” The antithesis is too absolute, and possibly betrays an unwarranted distrust of the evidence of Scripture. To make it just, we should read the statement rather thus: Our conviction of the deity of Christ rests not alone on the scriptural passages which assert it, but also on His entire impression on the world; or perhaps thus: Our conviction rests not more on the scriptural assertions than upon His entire manifestation. Both lines of evidence are valid; and when twisted together form an unbreakable cord. The proof-texts and passages do prove that Jesus was esteemed divine by those who companied with Him; that He esteemed Himself divine; that He was recognized as divine by those who were taught by the Spirit; that, in fine, He was divine. But over and above this Biblical evidence the impression Jesus has left upon the world bears independent testimony to His deity, and it may well be that to many minds this will seem the most conclusive of all its evidences. It certainly is very cogent and impressive.

Experience as Proof

The justification which the author we have just quoted gives of his neglecting the scriptural evidence in favor of that borne by Jesus’ impression on the world is also open to criticism. “Jesus Christ,” he tells us, “is one of those essential truths which are too great to be proved, like God, or freedom, or immortality.” Such things rest, it seems, not on proofs but on experience. We need not stop to point out that this experience is itself a proof. We wish rather to point out that some confusion seems to have been fallen into here between our ability to marshal the proof by which we are convinced and our accessibility to its force. It is quite true that “the most essential conclusions of the human mind are much wider and stronger than the arguments by which they are supported;” that the proofs “are always changing but the beliefs persist.” But this is not because the conclusions in question rest on no sound proofs; but because we have not had the skill to adduce, in our argumentative presentations of them, the really fundamental proofs on which they rest.

Testimony in Solution

The very abundance and persuasiveness of the evidence of the deity of Christ greatly increases the difficulty of adequately stating it. This is true even of the scriptural evidence, as precise and definite as much of it is. For it is a true remark of Dr. Dale’s that the particular texts in which it is definitely asserted are far from the whole, or even the most impressive, proofs which the Scriptures supply of our Lord’s deity. He compares these texts to the salt-crystals which appear on the sand of the sea-beach after the tide has receded. “These are not,” he remarks, “the strongest, though they may be the most apparent, proofs that the sea is salt; the salt is present in solution in every bucket of sea-water.” The deity of Christ is in solution in every page of the New Testament. Every word that is spoken of Him, every word which He is reported to have spoken of Himself, is spoken on the assumption that He is God. And that is the reason why the “criticism” which addresses itself to eliminating the testimony of the New Testament to the deity of our Lord has set itself a hopeless task. The New Testament itself would have to be eliminated. Nor can we get behind this testimony. Because the deity of Christ is the presupposition of every word of the New Testament, it is impossible to select words out of the New Testament from which to construct earlier documents in which the deity of Christ shall not be assumed. The assured conviction of the deity of Christ is coeval with Christianity itself. There never was a Christianity, neither in the times of the Apostles nor since, of which this was not a prime tenet.

The Great Proof

The Scriptures give us evidence enough, then, that Christ is God. But the Scriptures are far from giving us all the evidence we have. There is, for example, the revolution which Christ has wrought in the world. If, indeed, it were asked what the most convincing proof of the deity of Christ is, perhaps the best answer would be, just Christianity. The new life He has brought into the world; the new creation which He has produced by His life and work in the world; here are at least His most palpable credentials.

Take it objectively. Read such a book as Harnack’s “The Expansion of Christianity,” or such an one as Von Dobschiitz’s “Christian Life in the Primitive Church” — neither of which allows the deity of Christ — and then ask, Could these things have been wrought by power less than divine? And then remember that these things were not only wrought in that heathen world two thousand years ago, but have been wrought over again every generation since; for Christianity has reconquered the world to itself each generation. Think of how the Christian proclamation spread, eating its way over the world like fire in the grass of a prairie. Think how, as it spread, it transformed lives. The thing, whether in its objective or in its subjective aspect, were incredible, had it not actually occurred. “Should a voyager,” says Charles Darwin “chance to be on the point of shipwreck on some unknown coast, he will most devoutly pray that the lesson of the missionary may have reached thus far. The lesson of the missionary is the enchanter’s wand.” Could this transforming influence, undiminished after two millenniums, have proceeded from a mere man? It is historically impossible that the great movement which we call Christianity, which remains unspent after all these years, could have originated in a merely human impulse; or could represent today the working of a merely human force.