Does the NIV “Pervert” the Virgin Birth?

Bad Arguments Don’t Die Soon Enough

This is an argument I have heard for years. I’ve found it in print, used in casual conversation, and more frequently online where everybody gets a soap-box from which to echo the ideas and opinions of those whom they adore. I must be honest, of all the anti-NIV arguments I’ve heard, this one seems to be the weakest at the surface, and it really shocks me that King James Only proponents would even bring this argument up.

…at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established?

As is typical with King James Only advocates, we’ll be given a list of offending passages from the NIV to prove their point. I’ve gathered up three popular example texts to make their case for them.

Luke 2:33 King James Bible:
And Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of him.

Notice here how Mary is identified as Jesus’ “mother,” whereas Joseph is merely identified by name. Now consider the same verse in the NIV:

Luke 2:33 New International Version:
The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him.

This is where the Ruckmanites and Riplingonians get up in arms. “How dare the NIV call Joseph Jesus’ “father”,” they shout. They are persuaded that this is a direct attack on the Virgin Birth. Of course it only adds fuel to their fire when it happens a again a few verses later:

Luke 2:43 King James Bible:
And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it.

Again, the King James Bible says “Joseph and his mother,” while we read the following in the New International Version:

Luke 2:43 New International Version:
After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it.

Here, again, the NIV says “his parents,” identifying Joseph as Jesus’ father. And then to really seal the deal, the King James Only advocate will provide one last passage:

Luke 2:48 King James Bible:
And when they saw him, they were amazed…

Note how the King James says “they,” rather than “his parents,” or “his father and mother.” And from the NIV we read the following:

Luke 2:48 New International Version:
When his parents saw him, they were astonished.

Notice the use of “parents,” which is again calling Joseph Jesus’ father. After three examples of this, coupled with a stern and authoritative voice from the KJVOnlyist, many Christians may concede defeat, and abandon a perfectly good version of the Bible.

Equivocal Terminology, and King James Only Confusion

There are words in the Scriptures that have various meanings. “Father,” “Mother,” “Brother,” and “Sister” happen to be great examples. Consider the Words of Christ as he hung on the Cross, speaking to the disciple and Mary:

Luke 19:26-27 King James Bible:
When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.

Note how Jesus used “mother,” and “son,” to suggest a non-biological relationship. He basically told Mary to care for the disciple, and the disciple to care for Mary. Mary would be the disiple’s “mother” because she would care for him. The disciple would be her “son” because he too would care for her.

To add to this, consider The Apostle Paul’s words to Timothy in 1 Timothy 1:2,18 and 2 Timothy 1:2. Paul constantly referred to others as “son,” including Onesimus in Philemon 1:10. The examples go on and on.

So these words don’t necessarily mean anything specific when they’re stripped from their context. This is the important thing to remember when dealing with King James Only advocates – they detest context. This is why they take you to a verse, or a portion of a verse, rather than asking you to study the general text with them.

From the scriptures we can list numerous uses of the word “father,”

  1. God, the Father (John 14:8)
  2. Ancestral Father (Romans 4:1)
  3. Biological Father (Mark 1:20)
  4. Husband of your Mother (Jesus’ case)
  5. Spiritual Elder (1 Timothy 5:1)

Because of the various meanings, the important thing is not the word you’re saying, but what you mean when you say it. So when the NIV calls Joseph Jesus’ “father,” what does it mean? Well, the King James Only advocate would have us believe that it’s claiming a biological relationship. If that is the case, we should expect this use to be consistent with the rest of the NIV’s coverage over the virgin birth. Remember, if we are going to ignore the rest of the text then we can argue that the KJV teaches Paul was the father of Timothy and Onesimus because he called them both “my son.”

The NIV and the Virgin Birth

If the KJVO argument is correct, that the NIV “perverts” the Virgin Birth of Christ, then we ought to see this in a less ambiguous manner than merely calling Joseph Jesus’ “father,” as we’ve demonstrated that this was justified since Joseph was married to Mary, and raised Jesus from birth. But what else does the NIV say regarding the Virgin Birth?

Matthew 1:18 New International Version:
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.

There’s really not much to question here. The NIV states very clearly that the conception was “through the Holy Spirit,” and that this had taken place “before they [Mary and Joseph] came together.” We recall that Joseph was going to leave Mary after learning of her condition, but decided not to after an angel visited him:

Matthew 1:20 New International Version:
But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.

Note, again the NIV clearly records “what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” Joseph did as the angel commanded.

Matthew 1:24-25 New International Version:
When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

Notice that “he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son,” whom Joseph gave the name “Jesus” after the angel’s command. So anybody who studies the text, rather than reading a verse in exclusion, will come to the conclusion that the NIV emphatically and unequivocally teaches the doctrine of the Virgin Birth.

“…” – The King James Onlyist’s Friend

One thing I’ve learned to do when dealing with King James Only arguments is to simply continue reading even after the verse in question has come to an end. In fact, I’ll even start about 5-10 verses before the offending verse, and read till about 5-10 verses after. You’d be amazed at how much confusion can be cleared up when you bring the context back into the equation. Let’s look at the earlier references from the beginning of this post with their context:

Luke 2:43 (with context, 2:40-2:45) King James Bible:
40 And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him. 41 Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast. 43 And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it. 44 But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day’s journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. 45 And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him.

Now if you’ll recall, the King James Onlyists will quote Luke 2:43, demonstrating the King James Bible calls Joseph and Mary “they,” rather than “his parents” like the NIV. But notice just two verses earlier, in Luke 2:41 what we read:

Luke 2:41 King James Bible:
Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover.

The King James Bible even says “his parents.” Why do you think this isn’t considered when the NIV is accused of attacking the doctrine of the Virgin Birth for calling Joseph and Mary “his parents” when the King James Bible does the same exact thing? This is a sign of weakness from the King James Only crowd. This demonstrates pretty well how illogical, and one-sided their criteria is.

Consider also our last reference from the beginning of this post:

Luke 2:48 King James Bible:
And when they saw him, they were amazed…

The NIV says “when his parents saw him.” But why would those who quote this instance not include the rest of the verse? Primarily because these types of references are shared from an extra-biblical medium, such as a book or a list of verses on a piece of paper – many people, after seeing the references, wouldn’t go to their NIV to see how it ends. We will though.

Luke 2:48 King James Bible:
And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.

Here we have Mary, of all people, calling Joseph Jesus’ “father.” Mary knew better than anybody else that Joseph wasn’t the father. Mary knew that Jesus was born of a miraculous conception. Recall her astonishment in Luke:

Luke 1:34 New International Version:
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

Joseph too knew that he wasn’t the biological father, as he too received instruction from God’s Angel in Matthew 1:20. It would seem absolutely foolish to interpret the use of “father” in this text as having any biological implications as it is Mary who is using it, and Joseph who is standing by as she does.


It’s clear to anybody who studies the New International Version that Christ was born of a virgin (Matthew 1:18), named by Joseph (Matthew 1:21,25), and raised by both. Joseph was indeed Jesus’ father, and no biological relationship is necessarily implied by the use of that term as “father, mother, brother, sister, son, etc” are all used in non-biologically-constraining manners all throughout Scripture.

Anybody suggesting the NIV “perverts” the virgin birth is at best ignorant of what the Scriptures teach, and at worst attempting to deceive others by willingly skewing the text of the NIV.