VIRGIN BIRTH?

By

Loyal to the Word

 

            A perverse teaching that anti-Mormons charge LDS people with believing is that God the Father, as the literal parent of the mortal tabernacle of Christ, had sexual relations with the Virgin Mary in order to accomplish the deed. Such an outrageous and scandalous charge would not be half as bad if some misguided members of the Church did not actually believe that very thing. But it is indeed a sad truth that there are those in the Church that believe this false and perverse notion of God having sex with Mary. Support for it is often drawn from obscure passages in publications such as the Journal of Discourses. This paper will examine these things and this perverse idea will be shown to be false.

 

The Reasoning behind the Lie

            The reasoning that is used by those who accept this idea, like so many falsehoods, is based on true principles. These true principles are:

 

1)      God is an exalted man and is therefore of the same race as mankind. Joseph Smith taught correctly that “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens!
(Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 345.)

 

2)      God the Father is the literal parent of Jesus Christ in the flesh. This is also true. Christ was constantly referring to God as his “Father.” From early on in his youth, he recognized this and said to his mother and earthly father/guardian, “wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?” (Luke 2:49). Joseph Fielding Smith clearly taught this truth:

 

I believe firmly that Jesus Christ is the Only Begotten Son of God in the flesh. He taught this doctrine to his disciples. He did not teach them that he was the Son of the Holy Ghost, but the Son of the Father. Truly, all things are done by the power of the Holy Ghost. It was through this power that Jesus was brought into this world, but not as the Son of the Holy Ghost, but the Son of God. Jesus is greater than the Holy Spirit, which is subject unto him, but his Father is greater than he! He has said it. Christ was begotten of God. He was not born without the aid of Man, and that Man was God!

(Doctrines of Salvation, 1:18.)

 

            This quote and others like it will be reconciled later on in this paper.

 

3)      It has been taught repeatedly that Christ’s conception and birth were quite natural and normal as these experiences go. This concept will be developed further later in this paper.

 

The Witness of the Scriptures

            The scriptures make it abundantly clear that the conception of Jesus Christ was carried out through the medium of the Holy Ghost. They are actually quite explicit on this point, so much so that if there were any sexual intercourse involved, we might expect it to be indicated somehow. We are given in good detail the manner of the conception of Jesus, but nowhere in scripture is it indicated that sex was involved.

            To see that the scriptures indicate that the conception was made by means of the Holy Ghost, our first consideration will be the narrative of the event as it is found in the Gospel of Matthew:

 

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.

(Matthew 1:18-23, emphasis added.)

 

In the Gospel of Luke, we are given this very telling conversation which gives one of the best descriptions of the conception event ever recorded:

 

And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.

(Luke 1:30-35, emphasis added).

 

            The prophet Nephi on the American continent was given to know these same truths, and was told the mystery of the manner of the conception of Jesus. His testimony is thus:

 

And he [the angel] said unto me: Knowest thou the condescension of God? And I said unto him: I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things. And he said unto me: Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh. And it came to pass that I beheld that she was carried away in the Spirit; and after she had been carried away in the Spirit for the space of a time the angel spake unto me, saying: Look! And I looked and beheld the virgin again, bearing a child in her arms.

(1 Nephi 11:16-20.)

 

            Other ancient American Nephite prophets from the Book of Mormon corroborate these testimonies. Abinidi assures us that Christ would be “conceived by the power of God” (Mosiah 15:3). Also, the prophet Alma taught plainly concerning the conception of Jesus:

 

And behold, he shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers, she being a virgin, a precious and chosen vessel, who shall be overshadowed and conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost, and bring forth a son, yea, even the Son of God.

(Alma 7:10, emphasis added.)

 

It should be remembered that it is not the scriptures that must conform to the teachings of the Brethren in the Journal of Discourses, but it is the teachings in the Journal of Discourses that must conform to the truth as it is found in the scriptures before we are obligated to accept them. Joseph Fielding Smith taught,

 

The Lord has given us the four Standards which lie at the foundation of our faith. Each member of the Church should be so well versed that he, or she, would be able to discern whether or not any doctrine taught conforms to the revealed word of the Lord. Moreover, the members of the Church are entitled, if they are fully keeping the commandments and covenants the Lord has given us, to have the spirit of discernment. The fact remains, however, that too many of the members have not taken advantage of their blessings and obligations, and therefore they are unable to distinguish between truth and error.

(Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 2: 112.)

 

            In another place, President Smith said the following on the same subject, which acts as wise counsel in deciding what we should believe in the face of seeming contradictions:

 

It makes no difference what is written or what anyone has said, if what has been said is in conflict with what the Lord has revealed, we can set it aside. My words, and the teaching of any other member of the Church, high or low, if they do not square with the revelations, we need not accept them. Let us have this matter clear. We have accepted the four standard works as the measuring yardsticks, or balances, by which we measure every man's doctrine.

(Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 3: 203.)

 

Problems with the Sexual Intercourse Idea

            There are several glaring problems with the notion of sexual intercourse in the conception of Christ which effectively falsify this outrageous idea. Let us consider the Lord’s opinion on sex. Sex outside of marriage is strictly forbidden by God as evil. “Thou shalt not commit adultery [sex outside of marriage]” he said (Ex. 20:14). As Paul taught, “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankindshall inherit the kingdom of God”(1 Cor. 6:9-10). As Alma taught his wayward son, “Know ye not, my son, that these things [sexual sins] are an abomination in the sight of the Lord; yea, most abominable above all sins save it be the shedding of innocent blood or denying the Holy Ghost?” (Alma 39:5). Therefore, we may conclude that God, being perfectly righteous, would never have part in illicit sexual deeds. To say that God had a one-time sexual encounter with a woman to whom he was not actually married, and to whom was betrothed in marriage to another, is tantamount to accusing God himself of fornication and adultery, a thing which is completely absurd.

            There is no scriptural record of any marriage relationship existing between God and Mary, which seemingly would have been necessary if sexual intercourse was to take place. If some sort of marriage relationship did exist between God and Mary without having been recorded in Holy Writ, did God rescind this relationship so that Joseph could rightfully have Mary? To put it bluntly, did God divorce Mary after the fact? God divorcing? God is against divorce, so why would he do it for himself? In fact, if God were holding himself to his own standard, which is “Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery” (Matthew 19:9), then God would himself be sinning and also causing Mary and Joseph to sin. On the other hand, if there was a marriage relationship and God did not divorce from Mary, then that would have created a strange polyandrous relationship, with Mary being legitimately married to two men, an unnatural thing not found in the scriptures.

            It is not only the fact that there is no record in the scriptures of any marriage relationship between God and Mary; what is even more disturbing is the relationship we do know existed, and that is the Father-daughter relationship. Nowhere, at any time in the history of life, have the scriptures indicated that it was ever an approved practice for a man to have sexual relations with his own daughter. It is completely against nature. Some would point out that Adam and Eve’s children, as brothers and sisters, married each other in what to us are incestuous relationships. But it must be kept in mind that 1) there was no alternative, 2) they would definitely have been married first prior to pairing off together, and 3) the practice of marrying close kin ceased at least as soon as the days of Moses when it was no longer practical or expedient (Lev.18:6-17). Even with all this, still there is no justification whatsoever for a father-daughter sexual relationship, from which the marriages of Adam and Eve’s children is a far cry. The only scripturally recorded instance of this foul deed is with Lot and his daughters. The act was so perverse that Lot’s daughters, apparently under the impression that they had to repopulate the earth after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, necessarily had to make their father very drunk before participation began (Gen. 19:30-36).

            The most obvious and the most powerful evidence against the notion of sexual intercourse at Christ’s conception is, of course, the fact that it is referred to over and over again as a virgin birth! Isaiah said, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14, emphasis added). Likewise Alma taught that it was a “virgin, a precious and chosen vessel” who would conceive the Christ (Alma 7:10, emphasis added). Matthew agrees that “a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son” (Matt. 1:23, emphasis added). Everywhere where the birth of Christ is referred to in scripture, it is always carefully designated as a virgin birth! The very definition of a virgin is one who has not had sexual intercourse, so it makes no sense to say that God had sex with Mary and then to still call it a virgin birth. And if it really was a birth initiated by a sexual act like every other birth, there would be no reason at all for ancient prophets to specially designate it as a virgin birth, or to dwell on the miraculous idea of a virgin birth.

            To say that God had sexual intercourse with the Virgin Mary is to make him out to be someone that is totally apart from what his character really is. A Latter-day Saint is very foolish to think this way, and an anti-Mormon is very dishonest and perverted to suggest that this is a sanctioned teaching.

 

The Teachings of Early Brethren

            Many quotes are available, most notably from Brigham Young, which have been taken by dishonest or spiritually inexperienced people to mean that the conception of Jesus was effected through sexual intercourse. The notable ones are listed as follows:

 

When the Virgin Mary conceived the child Jesus, the Father had begotten him in his own likeness. He was not begotten by the Holy Ghost. And who is the Father? He is the first of the human family; and when he took a tabernacle, it was begotten by his Father in heaven, after the same manner as the tabernacles of Cain, Abel, and the rest of the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve; from the fruits of the earth, the first earthly tabernacles were originated by the Father, and so on in succession. I could tell you much more about this; but were I to tell you the whole truth, blasphemy would be nothing to it, in the estimation of the superstitious and over-righteous of mankind. However, I have told you the truth as far as I have gone. I have heard men preach upon the divinity of Christ, and exhaust all the wisdom they possessed. All Scripturalists, and approved theologians who were considered exemplary for piety and education, have undertaken to expound on this subject, in every age of the Christian era; and after they have done all, they are obliged to conclude by exclaiming ‘great is the mystery of godliness,’ and tell nothing.

***

Again, they will try to tell how the divinity of Jesus is joined to his humanity, and exhaust all their mental faculties, and wind up with this profound language, as describing the soul of man, “it is an immaterial substance!” What a learned idea! Jesus, our elder brother, was begotten in the flesh by the same character that was in the garden of Eden, and who is our Father in Heaven. Now, let all who may hear these doctrines, pause before they make light of them, or treat them with indifference, for they will prove their salvation or damnation.

I have given you a few leading items upon this subject, but a great deal more remains to be told. Now remember from this time forth, and for ever, that Jesus Christ was not begotten by the Holy Ghost. I will repeat a little anecdote. I was in conversation with a certain learned professor upon this subject, when I replied, to this idea—“if the Son was begotten by the Holy Ghost, it would be very dangerous to baptize and confirm females, and give the Holy Ghost to them, lest he should beget children, to be palmed upon the Elders by the people, bringing the Elders into great difficulties.”

(Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 1: 51. emphasis added.)

 

…I believe the Father came down from heaven, as the Apostles said he did, and begat the Saviour of the world; for he is the ONLY-begotten of the Father, which could not be if the Father did not actually beget him in person.

I cannot believe that, for he is a God without body, parts, or passions; He has no person, therefore, I must disagree with you, brother Mormon.” I believe the Father came down in His tabernacle and begat Jesus Christ.

(Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 1: 238.)

 

When the time came that His first-born, the Saviour, should come into the world and take a tabernacle, the Father came Himself and favoured that spirit with a tabernacle instead of letting any other man do it. The Saviour was begotten by the Father of His spirit, by the same Being who is the Father of our spirits, and that is all the organic difference between Jesus Christ and you and me.

(Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 4: 218.)

 

The birth of the Saviour was as natural as are the births of our children; it was the result of natural action. He partook of flesh and blood—was begotten of his Father, as we were of our fathers.

(Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 8: 115 - 116.)

 

In relation to the way in which I look upon the works of God and his creatures, I will say that I was naturally begotten; so was my father, and also my Saviour Jesus Christ. According to the Scriptures, he is the first begotten of his father in the flesh, and there was nothing unnatural about it.

(Heber C. Kimball, Journal of Discourses, 8: 211 - 212.)

           

            Based on the information from the quotes above, we cannot know with 100% certainty that those early brethren did not think it was by sexual relations that Christ was conceived. But we can see their teachings for what they were and interpret them in a way wholly different from actual sexual connotations. And of course, as President Joseph Fielding Smith said, no teaching that conflicts with the scriptures need to considered binding for us to accept as Church members (Doctrines of Salvation, 3: 203). But it is also significant that modern witnesses have made similar statements that could be misconstrued, but when taken in light of their other teachings on the matter it becomes clear that they did not preach that sexual intercourse was involved.

 

Teachings Commonly Misconstrued

            Often the words of more modern prophets and apostles are taken and put the same spin on as what it is put upon the early Brethren’s teachings. Examples of this are the following teachings by Elder Bruce R. McConkie:

 

Christ is the Only Begotten (Moses 1:6, 17, 21, 33; 2:1, 26-27; 3:18; 4:1), the Only Begotten Son (Jac. 4:5, 11; Alma 12:33-34; 13:5; D. & C. 20:21; 29:42; 49:5; 76:13, 25; John 1:18; 3:16), the Only Begotten of the Father. (Moses 5:9.) These name-titles all signify that our Lord is the only Son of the Father in the flesh. Each of the words is to be understood literally. Only means only; Begotten means begotten; and Son means son. Christ was begotten by an Immortal Father in the same way that mortal men are begotten by mortal fathers.

(Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2d ed., p. 546.)

 

God the Father is a perfected, glorified, holy Man, an immortal Personage. And Christ was born into the world as the literal Son of this Holy Being; he was born in the same personal, real, and literal sense that any mortal son is born to a mortal father. There is nothing figurative about his paternity; he was begotten, conceived and born in the normal and natural course of events, for he is the Son of God, and that designation means what it says. (1 Ne. 11.)

(Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2d ed., p. 742.)

 

            Dishonest people would take that to mean that Elder McConkie was indicating that sexual intercourse was the means of Mary’s pregnancy. However, this is clearly not what Elder McConkie taught, as he has written elsewhere,

 

As such a virgin she gave birth to a Son whose Father was the Almighty God. (Matt. 1:18-25; Luke 1:26-38.) While the Holy Ghost rested upon her, she gave forth one of the greatest songs of praise in the scriptures. (Luke 1:46-55.) “She was carried away in the Spirit; and after she had been carried away in the Spirit,” she became, “the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh.” (1 Ne. 11:18-20.)

(Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2d ed, p. 471.)

 

Mary was “the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh .... She was carried away in the Spirit” (1 Ne. 11:18-19), was “overshadowed” and conceived “by the power of the Holy Ghost” (Alma 7:9-10) — but the Holy Ghost is not the Father of Christ — and when the Child was born, he was “the Son of the Eternal Father.” (1 Ne. 11:21.)”

(Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2d ed., p. 743.)

 

Mary, his mother, “was carried away in the Spirit” (1 Ne. 11:13-21), was “overshadowed” by the Holy Ghost, and the conception which took place “by the power of the Holy Ghost” resulted in the bringing forth of the literal and personal Son of God the Father. (Alma 7:10; 2 Ne. 17:14; Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:18-25; Luke 1:26-38.) Christ is not the Son of the Holy Ghost, but of the Father. (Doctrines of Salvation, vol. 1, pp. 18-20.) Modernistic teachings denying the virgin birth are utterly and completely apostate and false.

(Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2d ed., p. 822.)

 

All ambiguity and uncertainty of meaning, if there is any, is removed by Alma, whose Messianic utterance announced: “The Son of God cometh upon the face of the earth. And behold, he shall be born of Mary, . . . she being a virgin, a precious and chosen vessel, who shall be overshadowed and conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost, and bring forth a son, yea, even the Son of God.” (Alma 7:9-10.) Jesus, thus, is the Son of God, not of the Holy Ghost, and properly speaking Mary was with child “by the power of the Holy Ghost,” rather than “of the Holy Ghost,” and she was, of course, “overshadowed” by the Holy Spirit, in a way incomprehensible to us, when the miraculous conception took place.

(Bruce R. McConkie, The Promised Messiah: The First Coming of Christ, p. 464.)

 

            It is absolutely clear from the foregoing passages that Elder McConkie believed God to be the literal Father of Christ, yet not at all through sexual intercourse. If Elder McConkie’s teachings can be misconstrued so badly, what can we say of that of the early Brethren? We should not be so quick to jump to conclusions about what Brigham Young or others were teaching regarding Christ’s conception. They, like Elder McConkie, were teaching the literal Fatherhood of God to Christ – an important doctrine that should not be philosophized away. Yet to jump to conclusions and say that the early Brethren definitely considered Christ’s conception to be result of sex would be the same mistake as others have made in falsely interpreting Elder McConkie. And so even though Christ was literally begotten by the Father, it was not by sexual intercourse because Mary remained a virgin. It was, after all, a virgin birth. We can therefore conclude that all such quotes by Church Authorities indicating that God was Christ’s literal parent may be likewise misunderstood if thought to include sex.

 

The Mechanism for the Conception

            Once the statements from the various prophets are compared to that of scripture, and not using one to discount the other, a clear picture forms of what must have happened to accomplish the Virgin Birth. How are these circumstances reconciled?

            It is clear that the Holy Ghost was the medium of the conception. It is also clear that Jesus Christ was the Son of the Father and not the Holy Ghost. It is also clear that the manner of Christ’s conception was not mystical but a natural process. How was it a natural process? It takes 46 chromosomes to make up a new person at conception; 23 of these chromosomes are from the father and 23 are from the mother. It follows then that the 23 chromosomes from God the Father indeed fertilized the egg inside Mary’s body containing her 23 mortal chromosomes. That is how the conception was a completely natural process. On the chromosome level, it was no different than any other pregnancy where an egg is fertilized and two people’s DNA merge to become a third person inside the womb of a woman. However, it was accomplished in an entirely non-sexual way, by the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost was the medium that carried the chromosomes from the Father to the body of Mary in a holy and sanctified manner.

            The Holy Ghost is capable of doing a great many things that people would not credit him for. For example, it was the Holy Ghost who physically baptized Adam when there was no mortal around to do it (Moses 6:64). Likewise, the Holy Ghost was the carrier of God’s 23 chromosomes when there was no other legitimate means to accomplish the virgin birth.

            This thing is “not without a shadow” (Alma 37:43) since it is the office of the Holy Ghost to give new birth (Mosiah 27:24). Just as the Holy Ghost is necessary for a second birth, the Holy Ghost was the means of accomplishing the first birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

 

Conclusion

            It cannot be maintained that the conception of Jesus Christ in Mary’s womb was by any other means than that which the scriptures indicate repeatedly, which is through the medium of the Holy Ghost. This is also the only view which is in harmony with the character of God himself. Whatever may have been said, or thought to have been said, previously on the issue does not destroy these facts. Anti-Mormons and those few Misguided Latter-day Saints should stop misrepresenting the truth and accept the witness of the scriptures.

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