Immaculate Conception vs. virgin birth

In the Catholic Church, Immaculate Conception (usually capitalized) refers to the conception of Jesus’ mother, not of Jesus. The belief holds that Mary, Jesus’ mother, was conceived without the stain of original sin, but nowhere does it say that Mary’s mother was a virgin or that Mary was conceived nonbiologically. Immaculate here means free from stain or pure.

Virgin birth is the term for Jesus’ birth. The story goes that God caused Jesus to appear miraculously with no natural father, and that Mary remained a virgin.

The problem with these terms is that virgin birth doesn’t cover the moment when Jesus was miraculously conceived. For this, miraculous conception might work, though perhaps there are established alternatives we don’t know about.


The use of Immaculate Conception in place of virgin birth is common. Here, for instance, the writers are clearly not referring to the conception of Mary:

[I]t has prompted many researchers to imagine a future when male attributes would have to find another way to hitch a ride into future generations: perhaps even leading to a new dawn of immaculate conception. [GreenAnswers]

The swami’s birth in Andhra Pradesh, which his mother claims was the result of an immaculate conception, is shrouded in mystery. [Telegraph]

She wants the child to be Italian and it’ll be an immaculate conception, since she wants to be artificially inseminated! [PopCrush]

And though virgin birth doesn’t always work in place of Immaculate Conception in cases like the above, it is occasionally useful—for example:

No one in that world knew, for example, that the virgin birth was a ninth-decade addition to the Christian story. [Brisbane Times]

[T]he doctrine of the Virgin Birth, that the Mother of God conceived “without carnal knowledge”, demeans all womanhood. [Irish Independent]

ObamaCare would emerge from the House by way of a virgin birth. [The Hill]

5 thoughts on “Immaculate Conception vs. virgin birth”

  1. There is a good reason that “no one in that (sic) world knew, for example, that the virgin birth to as a ninth-decade addition to the Christian story,” as claimed by that font of theological knowledge and wisdom, the Brisbane Times.

    No one in the world knew because no one in the world knows– for the first five or six decades after the Resurrection, Christians had to rely on oral tradition. They had only the words of eye witnesses and of those who had heard eye witness testimony until the writers of the Gospels set pen to paper.

    The early Christian communities expected the imminent return of Christ, and the end of the world. Only after a generation or two had passed did it seem necessary to write down what they knew or future generations.

    The fact that something was first written in the 7th-9th decades does not mean that it wasn’t known before that date– only that it wasn’t written before that date.

      • Um…yes. Devout, in fact. [We can’t all be Chaldean Catholics– both Syriac and Liturgical Aramaic are way too difficult for us poor Westerners!]

        • Chaldeans are papists too, I was just kidding around. This is a common fallacy in Protestant circles in the South especially. They attempt to pin the origination of a belief to its date of official declaration.

          I would go a step further and say simply because we don’t have copies of earlier texts declaring a thing doesn’t mean they were not in existence. In fact, this is a very big issue with biblical and ancient Greek texts which reference things in other works which simply don’t exist anymore or are lost for the time being.

          • I know you’re Papists– it used to be that the big difference was that we used Latin vice Old Syriac/Even Older Aramaic, but now we’ve lost the Latin… Makes me appreciate Chaldeans that much more!

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