Not Born to a Virgin – Why I Don’t Believe in the Virgin Birth

This Collar is Too TightThis is the third post in a series called: “This Collar Is Too Tight: Heresies From a Southern Minister.” You can read the first post here. The short explanation of this series is this: the institutionalized Church spends a lot of time defining who’s in and who’s out. Biblically, I find that a lot of the “measures” used don’t hold up. I’m making the argument for a larger acceptance of theological diversity in the Christian Church.


Let me tell you the tale of a great Savior.

As tradition tells the tale, this Savior will come and usher in the end of days. He will replace the evil forces that rule the world. In their place will be the rule of God.

This Savior will be born of a virgin.

Sounds a bit like the Immaculate Conception, right?

Well, no.

It’s actually from the Zoroastrian tradition which was established centuries and centuries before Christianity. Honestly? That is just basic “Introduction to World Religions” stuff.

And, no.

The Immaculate Conception isn’t about Jesus; it is about Mary, his mother.

Catholic tradition holds that it was Mary’s conception that was immaculate in that she was conceived free of original sin – thus, an immaculate conception.

So, let’s get the language correct: immaculate conception is not the same thing as virgin birth.

Ultimately, I don’t believe in either of them.

In titling this series, I almost decided to put the “heresies” part in quotation marks, because I don’t see most of the points I’m making as actual heresies because lots of modern scholars and plenty of other minsters actually believe the same things.

I just realized these articles would be treated as heresies; thus, the name.

The virgin birth is actually only mentioned in one New Testament book, Matthew (Luke describes Mary, pre-conception, as a virgin but does not address it in relationship to the birth).

In Matthew, the scripture is referencing an Old Testament text – which proves to be an unfortunate reality in a couple of ways for those who insist you must believe in the virgin birth if you wish to be Christian.

The first problem is that the text it is referencing, Isaiah 7:14, is actually part of a larger narrative. And that larger narrative is about a war that was about to happen. God, through the prophet, was trying to comfort the King of Judah about the war by telling him that a child would be born and, before that child could know the difference between good and evil, the two kings planning to attack him will no longer be kings.

That child? His name will be called Immanuel and he will be born unto a virgin.

We’re talking some 700ish years before Jesus.

This wasn’t about Jesus.

There’s actually another problem.

It has to do with the Hebrew used in Isaiah 7:14 that is interpreted as “virgin.”

It probably doesn’t mean “virgin.”

There was another word that very specifically meant “virgin.”

That is not the word used here.

The word used in this text probably means something closer to “maiden.”

Which is why some modern translations now say “maiden” rather than “virgin” in Isaiah 7:14.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t believe in a virgin birth. I’m just saying that I don’t – and there’s a whole bunch of scholars who helped me come to this conclusion.

It’s reasonable.

And it doesn’t threaten my belief in God or my ability to try to follow Jesus’ teachings, particularly the one about loving God and everyone.

I’m just saying that the Church should make more room for people who don’t follow the mainline and traditional dogma.

It’s the loving thing to do.

And, it’s reasonable.



Part 4 in this series: ““He Descended Into Hell?” Hell No, Because Hell? No.”

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About Mark Sandlin

Mark is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) from the South. He is a co-founder of The Christian Left. His blog, The God Article, was recently named as one of the “Top Ten Christian Blogs.” Mark received The Associated Church Press' Award of Excellence in 2012. His work has been published on "The Huffington Post," "Sojourners," "Time," "World Church Services," and even the "Richard Dawkins Foundation." He's been featured on PBS's "Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly" and NPR's "The Story with Dick Gordon." He’s married to an amazing Baptist minister and has two fabulous teenagers. More than anything (other than peace and justice), Mark wants to have a beverage in one hand and a book in the other as he and his wife look across the shores of Ocracoke, NC.