Birth of Jesus Christ

by Andrew C. Skinner

Latter-day Saint scripture affirms unequivocally that the birth of Jesus Christ was the mortal advent on earth of an actual God, a second and distinct member of the Godhead. Adam was assured redemption through the Only Begotten of the Father, and every true prophet had a hope of Christ's glory (Moses 5:6-10; Jacob 4:4).

Biblical prophecies and accounts of Jesus' birth are confirmed and enlarged in latter-day scripture. While Matthew's birth narrative emphasizes Christ's kingship (drawing attention to the magi, King Herod, and Bethlehem, the city of King David) and Luke's account accents Jesus' humility and holiness (mentioning the lowly manger, the shepherds, and the heavenly choirs), the Book of Mormon focuses on his coming as a fulfillment of a loving God's plan that was established from before the foundation of the world.

The time of Jesus' birth, along with the purposes of his mortal ministry, were established in the premortal life (see Council in Heaven; Moses 4:1-4; 1 Ne. 10:2-4; Mosiah 3:5-10). A detailed vision of the anticipated Savior's birth was recorded by Nephi1, a Book of Mormon prophet, shortly after 600 B.C. (1 Ne. 11:7-24). He foresaw a virgin in the city of Nazareth who was carried away in the spirit, and then saw the virgin again with a child in her arms, whom an angel identified as the Son of God. Nephi described Christ's coming as the condescension of God, which may be understood in two respects: first, in that God the Father, a perfected and glorified personage of flesh and bones, condescended to become the father of a mortal offspring, born of Mary; and second, in that Jesus (Jehovah), the God who created worlds without number (Moses 1:32-33; John 1:1-4, 14; Heb. 1:1-2), willingly submitted himself to all the trials and pains of mortality (Mosiah 3:5-8; MD, p. 155).

For Latter-day Saints, the paternity of Jesus is not obscure. He was the literal, biological son of an immortal, tangible Father and Mary, a mortal woman (see Virgin Birth). Jesus is the only person born who deserves the title "the Only Begotten Son of God" (John 3:16; Benson, p. 3; see Jesus Christ: Only Begotten in the Flesh). He was not the son of the Holy Ghost; it was only through the Holy Ghost that the power of the Highest overshadowed Mary (Luke 1:35; 1 Ne. 11:19).

The place where the nativity should occur was a point of public controversy in Jesus' day (John 7:40-43). The Book of Mormon prophet Alma 2, about 83 B.C., foretold that Christ's birthplace would be "at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers" (Alma 7:10), referring to the region surrounding the city itself: "Christ was born in a village some six miles from the city of Jerusalem…in what we now know the ancients themselves designated as "the land of Jerusalem"' (CWHN 6:102). (See Birthplace of Jesus)

The Bible and the Book of Mormon report the appearance of great signs in the Western Hemisphere at the time of the birth of the Messiah for the benefit of the faithful. For example, about 6 B.C. Samuel the Lamanite prophesied that lights would appear in heaven and that there would be no darkness during the night when Christ was born (Hel. 14:3-7). On the day when Samuel's five-year prophecy was about to expire and the unbelievers were accordingly about to execute those who had believed his words, Samuel's prophecies of the Savior's birth were fulfilled (3 Ne. 1:4-23). In the New World, as in the Old, "angels did appear unto men, wise men, and did declare unto them glad tidings of great joy" (Hel. 16:14).

(See Basic Beliefs home page; Teachings About Jesus Christ home page; April 6)

Bibliography

Benson, Ezra Taft. Come Unto Christ. Salt Lake City, 1983.

Brown, Raymond E. The Birth of the Messiah. Garden City, N.Y., 1977.

McConkie, Bruce R. The Mortal Messiah, Vol. 1, pp. 313-66. Salt Lake City, 1981.