A virgin shall conceive…

virginchild1“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14, NKJV).  [About 8 centuries before Christ]

“‘Round yon virgin, so tender and mild…”

Some theological Grinches are out to steal not only Christmas, but even the virgin birth.  They argue that Isaiah’s prophecy of a virgin birth was mistranslated.  The Hebrew term almah, they say, means young woman or maiden, not virgin.  In fact, numerous Bibles translate it that way.

Perhaps you’ve had some cold water thrown on your Christmas joy by this assertion, so I’d like to address it today.

Setting aside Isaiah’s prophecy for a moment, let me first point out that it’s not the only Scripture that teaches the virgin birth:

  • Isa 7:14* “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.
  • Mt 1:18* Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit.
  • Mt 1:25* and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name JESUS.
  • Lu 1:34* Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”
  • Lu 1:35* And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.
  • Lu 1:27* to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.
  • Ge 3:15* And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel.”
  • Ga 4:4* But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law,
  • Heb 7:26* For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens…

My point is simply this:  the case for the virgin birth of Christ rests on many passages of Scripture.  It was not an isolated teaching from one obscure, Old Testament passage. You’ll have to explain away a lot more verses than Isaiah 7:14 to uproot the virgin birth from God’s Word.

jesus071207_468x3091“Behold, the virgin [parthenos] shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” (Matthew 1:23, NKJV).

That doesn’t stop some Grinches from accusing Matthew of getting the erroneous ball rolling by MISTRANSLATING Isaiah 7:14 as virgin.  Whereas, it is argued, almah in Hebrew means young woman, parthenos in Greek means virgin… and Matthew took liberties when he translated almah (Hebrew) into parthenos (Greek), thus reinventing Mary as a virgin.  

IN other words, the claim is that Matthew and others covered up an illegitimate birth with a miracle story, thus a) saving Mary’s hide, b) notching up Jesus’ stock value, and c) … uh… that’s all I’ve got.

To which, I reply:

  1. Matthew’s not that stupid.  a) because only the Jews would have cared about an illegitimate birth, so he has no motive to cover up one with regards to gentiles… and, b) if he’s aiming at the Jews, (which most scholars agree Matthew’s gospel is doing), then his trick will surely backfire, because what good is it to MISQUOTE their own Bible at them to make his case for the virgin birth?  They know the true meaning of Isa 7:14, they memorized it in Hebrew, for Christ’s sake.  (I’m not cursing). There’s no way he could pull a successful switcheroo on them, and he knows it.

    The cover-up argument renders Matthew either incredibly stupid or incredibly stupid.  

  2.  Matthew didn’t misquote Isaiah.  Because, centuries before Jesus was born, Jewish scholars translated the Old Testament from Hebrew into Greek.  That translation was called the Septuagint.  Its abbreviation is LXX.  New Testament authors routinely quote the Greek translation, the LXX, instead of doing fresh translations from Hebrew.  

    And, guess what… In Isaiah 7:14, where it says, “behold an ALMAH shall conceive…” the LXX translators (centuries before Christ) translated ALMAH (Hebrew) with the Greek word PARTHENOS (uncontestedly “virgin”).  

    If anybody made up a virgin birth, the making up happened centuries before Christ.  ‘Splain that,  you Grinches.  But it gets worse for them…

  3. There is no place in the whole Old Testament where the Hebrew word almah conclusively means anything other than a virgin. And the Jewish scholars who translated it PARTHENOS knew it, and Isaiah knew it too. In other words, Isaiah’s original prophecy indeed promised a virgin would conceive.  Mary was that virgin.  And Matthew and the other authors of Scripture had it factually and historically right.

    I won’t go into the details on this point, except to suggest: here and an excellent 1959 article here.   

  4. Plus, if the premise is that the disciples conspired to cover up a scandal in the life of Jesus, then I have to laugh.  Since when did the disciples worry about scandal in the life of one who befriended tax collectors and prostitutes, who ate with unwashed hands, who picked grain on Sabbath, and who claimed to have pre-existed Father Abraham (2000 b.c.)?  His whole life was scandalous, why worry about his birth only?

The real motive behind erasing the virgin birth is the simple anti-supernatural premise of its opponents. No miracles. No God who intervenes in human affairs. No Savior. No miracles. No virgin birth.

No accountablility

No salvation.  Ouch!

The wonder of Christmas remains: A virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and you shall call his name Immanuel… God with us.  

seward_-_mary__baby_jesus

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15 thoughts on “A virgin shall conceive…

  1. Let me add with a brief statement:

    By definition, the Hebrew almah assumes that the young woman or maiden is a virgin. The word itself does not disprove the virgin birth.

    Merry Christmas!

  2. I’m Loving the Secret Jesus series and this sure fits in. I have had talks with a member of our family about their struggle with Christianity which has its roots from a bible class taken in a very reputable college. This “bible class” taught there really wasn’t a virgin birth as well as other “misconceptions” from the bible. I just pray I get the opportunity to share some of the info from this blog. Thanks!

  3. Bill…

    There are some other big points we should not miss…

    First, the SAME passage mentions this birth will occur in Bethlehem (a la the prophecy fulfillment of Micah 5:2).

    Second, Matthew grabs other Isaiah passages (see Matt 4:14 & 8:17) as the prophecy fulfillment of Jesus healing our infirmities (i.e., “fulfillment” Isaiah 9:1-2 and 53:4, respectively).

    Finally, the riding into Jerusalem on a donkey was another vivid prophecy from Zechariah (Matt 21:4 & Zech 9:9).

    It helps to show that Matthew also “connected the dots” with Isiah and other prophets in the “normal, plain reading” of the OT scriptures.

    This whole issue hearkens us back to the hermeneutics discussion we had some weeks back. In other words, instead of trying to split Hebrew infinitives in Matthew, we can see (through the “normal, plain reading” of Matthew) that he — Matthew — had used the “normal, plain reading” of Old Testament to understand the advent of the Christ child. We should do the same.

    Grace & Merry Christmas!
    Joseph

  4. Years ago I heard a comment that stuck with me about the Isaiah passage. I forget who said it (maybe Josh McDowell) – but to state the obvious, if Isaiah is saying “The Lord himself will give you a sign…” it must be something remarkable and unique in all of human history, right? “A young woman shall conceive and bear a son.” Uh – that’s it? But if the word is “virgin,” you’ve got something!

  5. Bill…

    Another polemical tought occurred to me, and erodes the arguments of those who would otherwise detract from Matthew’s Christmas story…

    Church tradition states that Matthew was the author of the Book of Matthew (i.e., there is no reference as to who the author was in the text proper or in the New Testament as a whole). Church tradition has affixed “Matthew” to the first book of the New Tesatment — and rightly so!

    By the way, Hebrews is an example of one New Testament book for which church tradition provides us no obvious or apparent author. But Matthew was an exeption. Church tradition is unified (in all Christian denominations, sects, and traditions) that Matthew was the author.

    Here is the rub.

    The liberal theologians are questioning the “virgin passage” in Matthew (as you had already indicated in your discussion). In other words, they are placing LESS emphasis on the authorship of Matthew — which relies only on church tradition — and MORE emphasis on the “virgin passage” WHILST quoting Matthew as the author. In other words, they are attacking the “virgin passage” before addressing (what should be their argument) as to the authorship of Matthew, which has no documentary references or support (because it is just based on church tradition). The “virgin passage” — on the other hand — has more documentary references and support (Isaiah, Micah, Zechariah, etc.) based on the normative, plain reading of the references.

    What’s my point?

    Anyone who is going after the “virgin passages” in Matthew is simply someone who is trying to lash out at the Christmas story under the academic pretense of scholarship. This lashing out has more to do with the anger of the individual attacking the Christmas story than of the Christmas story itself.

    By the way, I really do hoestly believe that Matthew wrote Matthew (for anyone who may have lost where I was going in the logic of my argument).

    Grace & Merry Christmas (even to the Scrooges of Christmas!)

    Joseph

  6. Joseph,

    Two thoughts:

    1) I would contend that there is no such thing as a “normal, plain reading” of scripture or any text. Ever. At all. Language doesn’t mean in that sort of way. Words aren’t just signifiers of a fixed meaning. The communicative power of language is derived from principles of association, or more commonly, from “context.” You hint at this by referring to the whole story of scripture to make sense of a particular passage. We switch back and forth from a projected notion of a whole (“The Scriptures”) to some particular unit of meaning (a sentence, phrase or word) in order to arrive at a meaning which evokes congruence between the possible meanings of the part and the overall meaning of the whole. Communities and traditions provide this sort of context for the scriptures. It provides the field of meaning from which the richness of Scripture can disclose itself to us as True. Incidentally, that is why a thoughtless, modernist abandonment of all tradition as corrupting-per-se is so dangerous. It leads us into arbitrary readings of scripture, because language is so plastic.

    But you’ve (perhaps intuitively) had this insight, because you accept the traditions assertion as to the authorship of Matthew.

    2) As regards those who “attack” the virgin birth, it seems more likely to me that they are reacting to a strange and difficult claim of the Gospel, rather than merely exercising their personal frustrations with Christianity (though that may be at play in some/many instances). The dubious authorship of a historical text is fairly commonplace. Even Shakespeare is subject to that particular scrutiny. However, if it was commonly claimed that Shakespeare was born of a virgin, I have a feeling there would be many more doctoral dissertations about that belief than who really wrote King Lear.

    I don’t mean to defend those “cultural despisers'” conclusions, but I’m hesitant to dismiss thoughtful questions about Scripture and Christianity as just mean spirited attack.

    Godspeed.

    • “I would contend that there is no such thing as a “normal, plain reading” of scripture or any text. Ever. At all. Language doesn’t mean in that sort of way. Words aren’t just signifiers of a fixed meaning. The communicative power of language is derived from principles of association, or more commonly, from “context.””

      So, does that mean that what you’re writing here is unintellible? or that reasonable people would draw opposite conclusions as to your meaning? I’s Matthew’s gospel unclear as to the virgin birth? Does he leave room for other meanings? No. No. No. And no.

  7. Jonathan,

    I heard of another great church in Boston. It’s called Citylife church of Boston. I heard great things about it and thought you may want to check it out.

    everyone’s comments have been very thought provoking. thanks.

    Merry Christmas

  8. Isaiah made his prophecy when he was alive, not 500 years later when the book of Isaiah was translated into Greek (LXX).

    If the LXX translation is not what Isaiah actually said, then it is not Isaiah’s prophecy.

    Isaiah’s prophecy and fulfilment in the first place was to do with contemporary events, that is some 700 years before Jesus’ birth.

    Matthew saw in Jesus a second fulfilment of part of Isaiah’s prophecy.

    If Isaiah’s prophecy refers to a virgin, and there were two fulfilments of the prophecy, then there must have been two virgin births about 700 years apart!

    The fact is that the live Isaiah never said anything about a virginal conception, and the evidence is that neither did Matthew.

    These articles examine what the Bible actually says about the birth of Jesus, including Isaiah’s prophecy –

    http://www.wallsofjericho.info/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=14&Itemid=26

    and, similarly the debate on TheologyWeb:

    Forum — General Theistics 101
    Thread — Does the Bible teach that Mary was a virgin when Jesus was conceived?

    http://www.theologyweb.com/campus/forumdisplay.php?f=160

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