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The Virgin Birth Narratives: The Significant and Surprising Differences

This month Christians all over the world celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Our Muslim friends also believe that Jesus (Isa al-Masih in Arabic) was born of a virgin. However, delving deeper, the Islamic story of the birth of Jesus and the biblical narrative differ in many significant and surprising ways. To identify these differences, let’s explore the accounts of the virgin birth of Jesus through Mary, the mother of Jesus in the Bible, and Maryam (Arabic for Mary), the mother of Isa al-Masih (Arabic for Jesus the Messiah) in the Quran.


The biblical virgin birth narrative occurs in the first two chapters of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The Angel Gabriel was sent by God to Nazareth in Galilee to a virgin, named Mary who was engaged to a man named Joseph of the descendents of David (Luke 1:26).


The angel said to Mary:

Greetings favored one! The Lord is with you. … Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and give birth to a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob. (Luke 1:28-33)


Mary said to the angel, “How will this be since I am a virgin”?


The angel told her how this would happen: 


The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; for that reason also the holy Child will be called the Son of God. And behold, even your relative Elizabeth herself has conceived a son in her old age, and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. For nothing will be impossible with God. (Luke 1:35-36)


Mary accepted his word and said, “Behold, the Lord’s bond-servant; may it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).


In this incredible biblical prophetic word given to Mary by the angel Gabriel, God confirms His presence and favor on her, and He instructs her not to be afraid. He also reveals the name, character, identity, purpose, and authority of her promised Son:


  • Jesus will be a holy child, the Son of God, therefore, sinless.

  • He will be great.

  • He will be the Son of the Most High.

  • He will be the rightful heir of David’s throne.

  • He will be the King of Kings over a Kingdom that will never end!


Now let’s look at the message from the Angel Jibril to Maryam in the Quran about Isa al-Masih (Q 3:42-49; 19:16-36, further explanation in 66:12; 21:91; 23:50).


The angel appeared to Maryam:

Behold the angels said:

O Mary! Allah has chosen you and purified you—chosen you above the women of all nations. O Mary! worship your Lord devoutly: Prostrate yourself and bow down (in prayer) with those who bow down. O Mary, Allah gives you glad tidings of a Word from Him: His name will be Christ Jesus, the son of Mary held in high honor in this world and the hereafter, and of those nearest to Allah. He shall speak to people in childhood and in maturity. He shall be of the righteous.” (Q:42-46)


Maryam’s response was like Mary’s:

“O my Lord! How shall I have a son when no man hath touched me?” He said, even so: Allah creates what He wills: When He has decreed a plan, He but says to it, ‘Be,’ and it is! Allah will: Teach him the Book, Wisdom, the Law, and the Gospel, appoint him as a messenger to the Children of Israel. (Q 3:47-49)


Jibril tells Maryam that Allah chose her above women of all nations and purified her. In contrast to Gabriel’s message, He instructs her to worship her Lord and prostrate herself and bow down in prayer. The name, character, identity, purpose, and authority of her Son does not align with what the Bible teaches:


  • Isa is a Word from Allah, but not a holy Son.

  • His name will be Christ Jesus, but it does not mention the meaning of his name.

  • Isa is the son of Mary rather than the Son of God.

  • He is held in high honor in this world and the hereafter, and those nearest to Allah.

  • He will speak to people in childhood and maturity.

  • He shall be of the righteous but not the righteous One.


Isa al-Masih’s birth

The pains of childbirth drove Maryam to the trunk of a palm tree, wishing she had died. A voice cried to her from beneath the tree saying there was a river under her and fresh dates on the palm tree. It is not clear if the voice is Isa or Jibril.


Isa al-Masih spoke from the cradle (to defend his mother’s chastity) and told his own purpose and identity (Q 19:31-33). He also created birds and breathed life into them.


I am indeed a servant of Allah:

He hath given me revelation and made me a prophet;”

“And He hath made me blessed wheresoever I be, and hath enjoined on me Prayer and Charity as long as I live;”

“(He) hath made me kind to my mother, and not overbearing or miserable;”

“So peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised up to life (again)!” (Q 19:31-33)


After describing the birth of Isa, the Quran says, “It is not befitting to (the majesty of) Allah that He should beget a son. Glory be to Him! when He determines a matter, He only says to it, “Be”, and it is.”


The stories and the messages from Gabriel and Jibril are fundamentally different. Jibril denies the very message Gabriel brings.


Islam’s virgin birth narrative attests to the uniqueness of Isa’s birth. However, it describes Isa/Jesus as a servant of God, a gift, a word, a mercy from God, a prophet, the son of Mary, but denies Gabriel’s very words that He will be called the Son of God. 


The Quran does not mention the Holy Spirit and leaves out key places, prophesies, and people such as Joseph, Elizabeth, the shepherds, wise men, Simeon, and Anna. Islam has no Savior, no assurance of God with us, no redeeming Christmas story, and no eternal Kingdom where Jesus is the King.


Many theologically important elements are evident in the biblical birth narrative of Jesus Christ—but denied by the Quranic birth narrative.

  • The nature of God—The Trinity, the Holy Spirit, the Most High God, and the Son of God

  • Jesus’ virgin birth as the fulfillment of prophesies such as Isaiah 7:14 and 9:6, linking the Old and New Testaments

  • The Incarnation—God became man and dwells among us.

  • Salvation—Jesus’ name means He will save His people from their sins

  • Christology—The dual nature of Christ’s divinity as the Son of God and humanity as the Son of Man

  • Eschatology—Jesus is the rightful heir to the throne and Jesus is the King of Kings over an everlasting kingdom.


This Christmas, share the biblical narrative of the virgin birth of Jesus Christ with your Muslim friends and introduce them to Immanuel, God with us.


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