Question: How can we know if Jesus’ prophesied virgin birth and the whole nativity story really took place, or if it is only a myth like the stories of Hercules, Osiris and other ancient legends as claimed by Atheists?
The term “myth,” by definition, does not automatically mean “fiction” or “non-historical.” According to the Mirriam-Webster Dictionary[i], “myth” typically refers to stories that claim to be historical accounts describing the interaction of natural and supernatural beings, events, etc. That means that some stories labeled “myth” may be grounded in history, while others are total fabrications.
Those who claim that the virgin birth and other miraculous accounts in the Bible are myth are misusing the term to mean non-historical stories born of human imagination. The real question should be, “Is the account of the virgin birth historical or fictional?”
Fortunately, Christians have no reason to be ashamed of the biblical record of Jesus’ nativity and divine nature. Unlike the fables of Hercules and others of the Greek-Roman myths, Jesus’ birth is authenticated by an impressive volume of historical evidence. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke were written specifically to provide historical verification and eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ birth, ministry, death and resurrection. The birth accounts especially are enveloped in historical details: the genealogies, the reign of Caesar Augustus and king Herod, the tax registration[ii], the personal accounts of Mary and Jesus’ brothers and sisters passed on to Jesus’ disciples, the eye-witness accounts of the shepherds and the magi…the list goes on and on.
Luke 1:1-4 Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wrote to an audience of people who were contemporaries of Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection. If the historical details of their accounts were fiction, their contemporaries would know. The Gospel writers were not interested in starting a new legend; they were as amazed as everyone else by the events that had taken place in their own lifetime. They wanted to ensure for future generations an historically verifiable account, knowing full well that people would want to distort the truth and question Jesus’ historicity :
2Pet. 1:16 We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.
The biblical account of Jesus’ birth is a fact of history, as is Jesus’ life and ministry, His death, resurrection and ascension. Historical accuracy was important to the Gospel writers, three of whom, including John, were eyewitnesses:
John 20:30-31 Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.