Christianity Facts From Fiction

Does the Bible Clearly State That There Was a Virgin Birth?

This article has been taken from a larger investigative article titled, ‘Jesus, the ‘Son of God’ – An Investigation into the Virgin Birth and its Meaning‘ It is part of a wider series exploring the sonship and divinity of Jesus (as). To read more on this topic, visit our Facts from Fiction page.

Azhar Goraya, Mexico

‘The gospel narratives do not unanimously declare that Jesus was born of a virgin

Executive Summary

The virgin birth is an important tenet of Christian doctrine. Nevertheless, it is not well attested in the Gospel narrations. It is only explicitly mentioned in two of the four Gospels – Matthew [1] and Luke [2]. Mark and John do not mention it at all. This casts doubts on its historicity according to the biblical narrative. Nevertheless, the Qur’an clearly states that Jesus (as) was born of a virgin [3], thus bolstering the incomplete claim in the gospel narratives.


The virgin birth of Jesus (as) [4] is a tenet of Christian doctrine. Even today, it is a belief that is widely held. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of American adults say they believe Jesus was born of a virgin. Even among Americans who have no specific religious affiliation, the story of Christ’s birth resonates with many. One-third (32%) of this group say they believe in the virgin birth. [5]

Despite the widely held belief, it is surprising that the Gospels are not unanimous in affirming the virgin birth of Jesus (as).

The virgin birth is only explicitly mentioned in only two of the four Gospels – Matthew [1] and Luke [2].

Matthew states:

‘This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.  Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.  But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.  All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:  “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).’ [1]

Luke records the virgin birth in the following manner:

 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee,  to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.  The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.’  Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.  But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.  You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 3He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David,  and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.’  ‘How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’ 3The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. [2]

Do the Gospels of Mark and John Support Belief in the Virgin Birth?

Mark and John do not explicitly mention the virgin birth.

Looking beyond the explicit, there are a few statements in both Gospels which some have interpreted as meaning that the authors were familiar with the virgin birth.

One of these instances is in Mark, where the author writes that the Jews referred to Jesus (as) as the son of Mary:

‘Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us? And they took offense at him.’ [6]

Presumably, they did not refer to him as the ‘son of Joseph’ because they knew he was born to a virgin. Nevertheless, the New International Greek Testament Commentary contradicts this view, and states about this passage:

There is no suggestion that local gossip had any inkling of anything unusual about his origin—and indeed if Mark knew of the tradition of Jesus’ virgin conception he has kept it very quiet… the unusual use of the mother’s name has been read as Mark’s cryptic way of indicating that he (and/or the villagers?) knew that Jesus was not actually the carpenter’s son. But Mark never mentions Joseph, and the absence of a father in 3:31–35 suggests that a simpler explanation is the traditional view that by the time of Jesus’ ministry Joseph had died, and therefore featured nowhere in the story outside the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke; in that case he was simply not a part of the tradition known to Mark. The absence of Joseph’s name even in this verse, where members of the family are listed explicitly, supports this view. In that case Jesus, as the eldest son, would naturally have taken over the family business as ὁ τέκτων (the carpenter).’ [7]

If they didn’t believe he was Joseph’s son, did this mean that they believed that Jesus (as) was born of a virgin? The author of the above commentary states quite the contrary – it was because the Jews considered his birth as illegitimate and the result of fornication that they attributed his birth to Mary, in effect stating that they did not know who his father was. According to the Lexham Biblical Dictionary:

‘Jewish texts and traditions reported in Christian sources from the second century to the Middle Ages reflect the notion that the Jews represented Jesus as an illegitimate child…A collection of popular Jewish stories regarding Jesus, Toledoth Jeshu, appeared during the Middle Ages. This text describes Mary as coming from a very distinguished family, for which reason she is betrothed to a member of David’s noble family. A wicked man sneaks into her home and convinces her that he is her husband, Joseph, and rapes her…Origen’s text Contra Celsum (written ca. ad 231–233) preserves citations from Celsus’ Alethes Logos, which presents a Jew accusing Jesus of having fabricated the story of his miraculous birth from a virgin. According to this account, the Jew claims that Mary’s carpenter husband divorced her because he suspected her of having an adulterous relationship with a soldier named Pantera, from which Jesus was conceived…The tendency in Jewish tradition to portray Jesus’ birth as illegitimate is likely connected to the rejection of Jesus’ messiahship.’ [8]

This idea is reinforced by John [9], where the Jews sharply responded to Jesus (as) in an accusatory tone ‘we are not illegitimate children.’ Some have also suggested the title son of Mary was just an informal way of referring to him. According to The Gospel of Mark: a commentary on the Greek text:

‘…E. Stauffer, in E. E. Ellis and M. Wilcox (ed.), Neotestamenta et Semitica, 119–28, argues for a polemical background to this title in the Jewish accusation, which later gained wide currency, that Jesus’ birth was illegitimate, a point sharply made by referring to him as ‘son of Mary’ rather than ‘son of Joseph.’ It is, he believes, as a result of this slander that the title was carefully avoided in all other NT references, and progressively eliminated in this verse by textual emendation. H. K. McArthur, NovT 15 (1973) 38–58, offers an exhaustive study of possible reasons for a Jew to be identified by his mother’s name, and concludes that this is not a formal identification but an informal description—‘Oh yes! that’s Mary’s boy from down the street’. He therefore rejects any ulterior motive such as Stauffer suggests.’ [10]

As opposed to a virgin birth, John is understood as emphasizing the supposed pre-existence of Jesus (as) in many passages. In any case, he doesn’t make reference to it at all.

The lack of unity of the gospels throws doubt on the validity of the virgin birth itself. After all, if it really happened, why would half of the gospel writers fail to mention such a miracle related to Jesus (as), one that was significant to establishing his special status? In trying to explain this silence, the Evangelical dictionary of biblical theology states:

‘The relative silence of the Gospel tradition to the virgin birth probably reveals the true historical situation: Mary and Joseph kept the matter secret in an attempt to ward off possible misunderstanding and ridicule.’ [11]

Of course, this would mean that the gospels are only limited portraits of the life of Jesus (as), and there is likely much information that is not contained within them about important aspects of the life and teachings of Jesus (as) that perhaps did not become common knowledge amongst the general public.

Does the Bible Clearly State That There Was a Virgin Birth?

Jesus (as) Never Confirms the Virgin Birth

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the virgin birth is that Jesus (as) never explicitly confirms it anywhere in the Gospel narratives. The virgin birth is thus a gospel narrative attributed at most to the authors of the Gospel but cannot be traced back to any saying attributed to Jesus (as).

In any case, the lack of parallel narrations in the four Gospels about the virgin birth and the absence of confirmation of the miracle from Jesus (as) raises serious questions about the historicity of the virgin birth from the biblical perspective.

Islam – Jesus (as) was Born of a Virgin

Muslims believe that God revealed the religion of Islam to the Prophet Muhammad (sa) in part to clarify the history of the previous prophets. The Qur’an, the holy book of Islam, speaks at length about the life of Jesus and his miracles, such as the healing of the spiritually and physically sick. [12]

The Holy Qur’an has bolstered the incomplete declaration of the gospels by stating categorically that Mary was a virgin when she conceived. She received glad tidings of the birth of a son who was created by God within her:

قَالَتْ رَبِّ أَنّٰى يَكُونُ لِي وَلَدٌ وَلَمْ يَمْسَسْنِي بَشَرٌ ۖ قَالَ كَذٰلِكِ اللهُ يَخْلُقُ مَا يَشَاءُ ۚ إِذَا قَضٰى أَمْرًا فَإِنَّمَا يَقُولُ لَهُ كُن فَيَكُونُ

She said, ‘My Lord, how shall I have a son, when no man has touched me?’ He said, “Such is the way of Allah, He creates what He pleases. When He decrees a thing, He says to it, ‘Be!’ and it is.’ [3]

Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) was the promised reformer of this age. He claimed to be the second advent of Jesus, and many of his printed works are dedicated to clarifying the true teachings of Jesus and highlighting his life as a prophet of God. He was once asked: ‘Is it necessary to believe that the Messiah was born without a father?’ He responded:

'This is proven from the Holy Qur’an, and we believe in the Holy Qur’an. Moreover, we do not find any argument against it in the Laws of Nature....where this has been mentioned in the Holy Qur’an, there Allah Almighty has mentioned two extraordinary instances of His Power. First there is the story of Prophet Zachariah and how Allah granted him a son in his old age while his wife was barren. And alongside this is a second narration which is a demonstration of the wonderful power of God Almighty. There is no such problem in accepting this. The Qur’an acknowledges that the Messiah is without a father, and this cannot be objected to. As the Holy Qur’an has mentioned that, '[the creation of Jesus] was like the creation of Adam,' this too demonstrates that it is a special miracle, for which the example of Adam had to be given.' [13]


The gospel narratives thus establish to some degree that Jesus was born of a virgin, but neither unanimously nor categorically. Nevertheless, despite incomplete evidence, it is a widely held belief amongst Christians.

Muslims and Christians both agree that Jesus was born of a virgin. Nevertheless, they both ascribe widely different meanings to the miracle. These differences will be explored in the next two articles in this series.

Read the next article: ‘Why Christianity Fails to Understand the Virgin Birth

About the Author: Azhar Goraya is a graduate from the Ahmadiyya Institute of Languages and Theology in Canada. He is currently serving as an Imam of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Mexico. He is also the Central American Coordinator for The Review of Religions en Español.


[1] Matthew (1:18-23)

[2] Luke (1:26-35)

[3] Holy Qur’an (3:48)

[4] The abbreviation (as) stands for the Arabic prayer alaihis salam, meaning peace be upon him. It is a prayer that is recited after mentioning the names of the prophets of God.

[5] “Celebrating Christmas and the Holidays, Then and Now”. Pew Research Center. Accessed July 21 2021.

[6] Mark (6:3)

[7] France, R. T. (2002). The Gospel of Mark: a commentary on the Greek text (pp. 242–243). Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press.

[8] Acosta, D. R. (2016). Mary, Mother of Jesus. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[9] John (8:41)

[10] France, R. T. (2002). The Gospel of Mark: a commentary on the Greek text. Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press.

[11] Buckwalter, H. D. (1996). Virgin Birth. In Evangelical dictionary of biblical theology (electronic ed., p. 800). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.


إِذْ قَالَ اللَّهُ يَا عِيسَى ابْنَ مَرْيَمَ اذْكُرْ نِعْمَتِي عَلَيْكَ وَعَلَىٰ وَالِدَتِكَ إِذْ أَيَّدتُّكَ بِرُوحِ الْقُدُسِ تُكَلِّمُ النَّاسَ فِي الْمَهْدِ وَكَهْلًا ۖ وَإِذْ عَلَّمْتُكَ الْكِتَابَ وَالْحِكْمَةَ وَالتَّوْرَاةَ وَالْإِنجِيلَ ۖ وَإِذْ تَخْلُقُ مِنَ الطِّينِ كَهَيْئَةِ الطَّيْرِ بِإِذْنِي فَتَنفُخُ فِيهَا فَتَكُونُ طَيْرًا بِإِذْنِي ۖ وَتُبْرِئُ الْأَكْمَهَ وَالْأَبْرَصَ بِإِذْنِي ۖ وَإِذْ تُخْرِجُ الْمَوْتَىٰ بِإِذْنِي ۖ وَإِذْ كَفَفْتُ بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ عَنكَ إِذْ جِئْتَهُم بِالْبَيِّنَاتِ فَقَالَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا مِنْهُمْ إِنْ هَٰذَا إِلَّا سِحْرٌ مُّبِينٌ

When Allah will say, “O Jesus, son of Mary, remember My favour upon thee and upon thy mother; when I strengthened thee with the Spirit of holiness so that thou didst speak to the people in the cradle and in middle age; and when I taught thee the Book and Wisdom and the Torah and the Gospel; and when thou didst fashion a creation out of clay, in the likeness of a bird, by My command; then thou didst breathe into it a new spirit and it became a soaring being by My command; and thou didst heal the night-blind and the leprous by My command; and when thou didst raise the dead by My command; and when I restrained the children of Israel from putting thee to death when thou didst come to them with clear Signs; and those who disbelieved from among them said, ‘This is nothing but clear deception.’” (5:111)

[13] Malfuzat, vol. 5, pg. 218-219

قرآن شریف سے ایسا ہی ثابت ہوتا ہے اور قرآنِ شریف پر ہم ایمان لاتے ہیں۔ پھر قانونِ قدرت میں ہم اس کے بر خلاف کوئی دلیل نہیں پاتے۔ ۔۔ قرآن شریف میں جہاں اس کا ذکر ہے وہاں خدا تعالی نے اپنی قدرت کے دو عجائب نمونوں کا ذکر کیا ہے۔ اوّل حضرت زکریا کا ذکر ہے کہ ایسی پیرانہ سالی میں جہاں کہ بیوی بھی بانجھ تھی خدا تعالی نے بیٹا پیدا کیا۔ اور اس کے ساتھ ہی یہ دوسرا واقعہ ہے جو خدا تعالی کی قدرتِ عجیبہ کا نمونہ ہے۔ اس کے ماننے میں کونسا ہرج پیدا ہوتا ہے۔ قرآنِ مجید کے پڑھنے سے ایسا ہی ثابت ہوتا  ہے کہ مسیح بن باپ ہے اور اس پر کوئی اعتراض نہیں ہو سکتا۔ خدا تعالی نے كَمَثَلِ آدَمَ جو فرمایا اس سے بھی ظاہر ہے کہ اس میں ایک عجوبہ قدرت ہے جس کے واسطے آدم کی مثال کا ذکر کرنا پڑا۔  (ملفوظات جلد ۵،  صفحہ ۲۱۸ تا ۲۱۹، ایڈیشن ۲۰۰۳ء مطبوعہ ربوہ)