Phil from Oakville, Ontario writes in to ask this: “Pastor John, regarding the theological significance of Christ’s virgin birth — if God saw it fit and right for his Son to be born of a virgin woman, without the intervention of a man, what does this say about human sexuality?”
This was a totally surprising question to me, and I am excited about it because the end of my answer has a surprising twist. So hang around for another four or five minutes. Let me read the text, because the text really matters here:
Gabriel was sent from God . . . to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph . . . And the angel said to her . . . “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be since I am a virgin?” — No sex, right? Here is the answer in verse 35 — 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.” (Luke 1:26, 31–35)
No Ordinary Child
Now the explicit connection made by the angel is that God chose to bring Jesus into the world through a virgin because he wanted to make a statement about the uniqueness of his sonship: I come to you, a virgin. The Holy Spirit will come to you. The power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore — that is the key word, explaining why I am doing it this way — the child will be called the Son of God (verse 35). And the point was not that sexual relations with Joseph were defective or evil. The point is that this child was not going to be an ordinary child.
He would have a human nature from Mary, but he would also have a divine nature from God. And the point was not that the birth was clean because there was no sexual intercourse — the point was that the birth was supernatural because there was no human father.
God’s Plan for Sexuality
So beware — I will say this now to the person who asked the question — of inferring lessons from texts that are not written to give those lessons. There is no intent on Luke’s part or the angel’s part to teach about the value of human sexual relations. To realize that value, you have to go to places where that is the point of the text. So you go to a place like 1 Corinthians 7:2:
Each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights [that means sexual relations] and likewise the wife to her husband [give him sexual relations]. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another [from sexual relations] except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer, but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
Now here is a clear teaching about sexual intercourse: It belongs in marriage, it should be relatively frequent, and its purpose is not just for having babies. Those three things are clearly implied in that text.
One of the highest things that could be said about sexual relations is that it is the becoming of one flesh in marriage on the analogy of Christ becoming one with his church, from Ephesians 5. It goes like this: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her . . . Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Ephesians 5:25, 31).
That one-flesh union happens in sexual intercourse in a profound and beautiful, glorious thing that belongs in marriage — a one-flesh union expressed in sexual union.
Advent to Consummation
Now here is the surprising upshot: The virgin birth was designed by God to bring the Son of God into the world so that he could die for his bride — the church — and thus, ransom his bride so that husbands would know how to make sexual relations with their wives the climax of their portrayal of Christ and the church. In other words, the virgin birth really does have something to do with sexual relations.
It wasn’t written with that in view, but when you take all of redemptive history into account and say, Okay, what does the virgin birth say? It says, “We now have in the world a God-man.” Why do we have him? That there might be an atonement for sin. Whose sin? The sin of the church. To what end? That the church might belong to her beloved husband, Jesus Christ. And what does that have to do with human marriage? It gives the portrayal of what human marriage means. What does human marriage mean? It means a man and a woman cleaving to one another and coming to union of flesh in sexual intercourse as a way of displaying the intensity of the love and covenant relationship between Christ and his church which was made possible by the virgin birth.
Therefore, all the positive places in the Bible that speak of the beauty and the rightness of sexual pleasures in marriage are possible because there was a virgin birth.