by Adam McIntosh
In just a few days Christians all over the world will gather with their families, friends and churches to celebrate the incarnation of Jesus Christ our Lord. The eternal Word becoming flesh is a fundamental fact of the Christian faith; we would not be able to receive salvation apart from it (Gal. 4:4-5). One important aspect of Christ’s incarnation is his birth from Mary, a virgin. We re-tell this historic event each year, though I’m sure many of us neglect its significance. Why did Jesus have to be born of a virgin? There are numerous, legitimate answers to that question. As we’ll see, one answer is particularly relevant to the abortion debate.
Jesus had to be born of a virgin because he is not a human person. Kallistos Ware summarizes the traditional doctrine:
…Christ’s birth from a virgin underlines that the Incarnation did not involve the coming into being of a new person. When a child is born from two human parents in the usual fashion, a new person begins to exist. But the person of the incarnate Christ is none other than the second person of the Holy Trinity. At Christ’s birth, therefore, no new person came into existence, but the pre-existent person of the Son of God now began to live according to a human as well as a divine mode of being. So the Virgin Birth reflects Christ’s eternal pre-existence.” – The Orthodox Way, pg. 76-77
Christ’s personhood is divine and eternal. When he assumed human flesh he did not become a human person. Jesus Christ is a divine person who exists in a divine nature and a human nature simultaneously. The natures are never mixed and his divine personhood is never altered. In this context it would be improper to call Jesus a human person, for that would deny his deity. It would also be improper to call Jesus a divine-human person, for that implies a mixture of two persons. There is only one person of Christ, the second person of the Trinity, and it was that divine person who existed in the womb of Mary.
All of this proves that personhood begins at conception. If a fertilized egg merely created human nature void of personality, then there would have been no need for the virgin birth. Mary and Joseph could have had sexual relations and Christ could have assumed the flesh conceived from that union. But this is not how God ordained history. He has precise, logical reasons for his actions. Since Jesus is a divine person from all eternity, a human person could not be created – which is exactly what happens at conception.
Ironically, many Christians who celebrate the virgin birth deny the personhood of the unborn. The Bible doesn’t give us a scientific timeline of human development; there is no verse that says, “A zygote is a human person made in the image of God.” Thus, pro-choice Christians maintain that the unborn is not a person until a specific point in its development and that a woman, therefore, can choose to have an abortion. But if the virgin birth is true, the unborn is a person from conception. To abort it is to kill an innocent human being, which is a sin and a crime according to the Bible.
It’s contradictory to deny the personhood of the unborn and to affirm the virgin birth at the same time. The two beliefs are incompatible at every angle. Christians must choose one or the other. As we celebrate Christmas this year and years to come, how faithful will you be to the story?