The Fiction of the Virgin Birth
One often hears people ask "Why do the Jews reject Jesus as the Messiah?". It seems so natural for Christians to believe in the Christian Messiah. It is quite true that the New Testament is full of this teaching, and Christians are quite thoroughly indoctrinated. But they never hear the other side of the story. They never have the opportunity to see the issue from the Jewish point of view. So I am undertaking the task of trying to explain this issue from something close to a Jewish view. This is part one of a series of articles that I will write to explain the objections that Jews have with the Christian concept of Jesus Christ.
Part and parcel with this question is the issue of the validity of the New Testament text. The Jews, of course, reject the New Testament. If you accept the New Testament as scripture you would be hard pressed to reject Jesus as the messiah and the son of God, as well. In this article I will only address a small part of the issue, namely the concept of the virgin birth.
I will start off with the assertion that Christian theology does not deal in a logical or honest manner with the theological position of the Hebrew Bible. It is often said that New Testament theology is based on the Old Testament exegesis. But in fact Christians often take their interpretations of those scriptures out of the New Testament as well, without ever studying those prophecies in their proper Hebrew Bible context. Consequently, there are some very revealing doctrinal delemmas presented that they totally miss. Christians will often naively accept that, where the New Testament transcribes passages of Old Testament scripture, it should accurately reflect the meaning and intent or the scripture. So they often do not verify the accuracy of the quote. This is understandable because Christians are taught to trust the New Testament as a valid part of scripture in its own right. But when one does have the audacity to verify, the results can sometimes be disturbing.
A prime example of this is the notion of the virgin birth. Every Christian theologian will turn to Isaiah 7 (usually in the KJV) and read the verse that says a virgin will give birth and then say that it applies to Jesus. But they seldom put it in the context of the entire prophecy which starts in chapter 7 and runs clear through chapter 12. If they did a glaring problem would be apparent.
What Isaiah 7 Really Says
The historical setting is clearly given by Isaiah in the first few verses of chapter 7. In the time of king Ahaz, Judah was being threatened by an alliance of Rezin, king of Syria, and Pekah, king of Israel. Though Judah's king was anything but righteous, God was not ready for Judah to fall and it would not happen by the hands of Syria and Israel. God's message to Ahaz was "It shall not stand, neither shall it come to pass" (v.7). Ahaz was promised a sign from God, but he refused to name one. So God chose the sign.
Behold, a virgin (Heb. almah) will conceive and bear a son and she shall call his name Immanuel. (v. 14).
Now, Christians will quickly point out at this point that this refers to Jesus' birth. But how can that possibly fit the context?
Could The Fulfillment Possibly Be Seven Centuries Later?
JESUS WOULD NOT BE BORN FOR SEVEN HUNDRED YEARS TO COME. So how could his birth possibly be a sign to Ahaz and the people of Judah to assure them that they would be delivered from Syria and Samaria, when that generation would not live to see the sign?
Put that in Perspective. Consider King Richard I (the Lion Hearted), in the time of the Crusades. Suppose the Pope gave him a prophecy that the Holy Land would be delivered from Islam, but the King was fearful that it wouldn't come to pass. So the Pope offered him a sign. The sign was that a man would walk on the moon. Would King Richard be persuaded by a sign that would not take place until the twentieth century? I think not. That prophecy would not cinvince him at all. This scenario makes about as much sense as the premise that Isaiah's sign to Ahaz was that Jesus would be born of a virgin.
But that is not all. Isaiah continues to say that before that child would be old enough to know the difference between good and evil, those enemy nations would both lose their kings. He was clearly talking about a child to be born IN HIS OWN TIME. It is impossible for this prophecy to refer to Jesus. How would the threat be diminished if Ahaz had to wait until Jesus reached the age when he knew good from evil?
Two Important Words
Further, the Hebrew word often rendered virgin here is almah which simply means a young woman. It does not necessarily mean virgin in the sense of having not known any man (See BDB lexicon p 761). It is used definitively in Proverbs 30:19, where almah is rendered as maid. The entire thought is expressed in verses 19 and 20.
There are four things which are too wonderful for me. Yes four which I do not understand. The way of the eagle in the air, the way of thw serpent on a rock, the way of the ship in the midst of the sea, and the way of a man with a maid (almah). This is the way of an adulterous woman. She eats and wipes her mouth and says I have done no wickedness.
The point of this proverb is clearly the lack of evidence that adulterous sex has taken place. The adulterous woman conceals her sin and there is no sign of it. The same is true of any man who has intercourse with a maid, any ship in the sea, any serpent who passes over a rock, or any eagle who flies through the air. Thus those things leave no trace are are too serrupticious to understand that anything has happened. Clearly though, the almah in this verse cannot be a literal virgin.
Continuing, the Hebrew word harah, rendered in this verse in the KJV is not a verb but is rather an adjective meaning pregnant, not shall conceive. Christian translators have also messed with the meaning of this word to suit their purposes. They want to place the fulfillment far into the future of king Ahaz, so it would not do to translate it properly:
The Lord himself will give you a sign. It is this: The maiden is with child and will soon give birth to a son whom she will call Immanuel.
This rendering comes from a surprising source - the Jerusalem Bible, a Catholic Bible (not to be confused with a Hebrew Bible by the same name). One would think that if anybody had an interest in proving that Jesus was born of a virgin it would be Catholic theologians. But in fact the Catholic church appeals to the authority of the church rather than the authority of the scriptures for their beliefs. So in some cases they can be more honest in their translations than are protestants.
A similar rendering appears in the Moffat translation:
There is a young woman with child who shall bear a son and call his name Immanuel (God is with us).
And even Dr. Bullingers classic Companion Bible has some remarkable footnotes on verses 14 & 15, though he seems to vacillate between Christian and Jewish interpretations:
Heb. the virgin: i.e. some definite well-known damsel, whose identity was then unmistakable, though not known to us... The Heb. for virgin (in our technical sense) is bethulah, and occurs fifty times. It's first occurrence is Gen. 24.16, where, campared with v. 43, it shows that while every bethulah is indeed an almah, yet not every almah is a bethulah... shall conceive and bear=is pregnant and beareth... shows birth was imminent... perhaps the almah was "Abi" (2 Kings 18.2 2 Chron 29.1) but the son was not necessarily Hezekiah.... the prophecy shall come to pass while still a babe.
If you can still doubt that the word harah means pregnant, rather than shall conceive read Jeremiah 31:8:
...the woman with child (harah) and her that travaileth with child together.
And also Isaiah 26:18:
We have been with child (harah) and we have been in pain...
Also refer to the Brown-Driver_Briggs_Gesenius Hebrew-English Lexicon p. 248 for Strongs word #2030.
There can be no doubt on this issue. Isaiah was prophecying about an unnamed young woman known to all present, who was ALREADY pregnant. It was very likely the king's own wife, who may have been in their presence at that moment. He was predicting that the child would be a male and that he would grow be a righteous man. The government would be on his shoulders (in fact he would be king). He would be called God-with-us (kings were sometimes called elohim in the Bible). Later on he would be referred to as Wonderful, Counsellor, Everlasting Father, and Prince-of Peace. While Christians are so used to hearing those words refer to Jesus, each of these grand titles would not be ununusual as an honorific commonly used for kings.
Where Did The Idea Come From
The notion of the virgin birth is mentioned only 2 places in the New Testament - Mat. 1:23 and Luke 1:27. It is curious that neither of these passages appear in any of the 60 earliest manuscripts of the New Testament dating from the 3rd century or before. (Refer to The complete text of the Earliest New Testament manuscripts, by Comfort and Barrett). This suggests that the first century followers of Jesus had never heard of this notion. It was added to the scriptures later by who knows who.
I personally have little doubt that it was inserted by those interested in paganizing the image of Jesus Christ to make it more compatible with the pagan masses whom they were trying to bring into Christianity. Divine impregnation or virgin birth is a common theme in the pagan myths such as Perseus who was miraculously born the the virgin goddess Danae and Attis the Syrian and Roman god who was born of a virgin and the Hindu god Krishna who was incarnated to be born of a virgin. It was undoubtedly introduced in the early centuries of the Christian Church to draw pagans into the church, because they were used to the idea.
We actually have an approximate time period in which the virgin birth teaching began thanks to a comment by church father Justin Martyr (about 150 C. E.). He said:
"It is quite true that some of our people acknowledge him to be Christ, but at the same time declare him to have been a man of men. I, however, cannot agree with them, and will not do so, even if the majority insist on this opinion" (Justin - Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, Chapter 48)
This last sentence of Justin is translated differently by some translators so it is not entirely clear that the majority of Christians rejected the virgin birth, but all translations indicate that it was a matter of considerable dispute, and many who held the belief were not willing to publicly declare it. Justin clearly said that in his time a significant portion of Christians believed Jesus to be simply a man, born in the manner of all men. Whether or not these Christians were in the majority, it is clear that Justin and others were quite defensive about voicing that view.
And consider this: If Jesus were born of a virgin, conceived by the Holy Spirit, then he could not possibly be a descendant of David and heir to the throne through the male line. Thus the geneology of Matthew through Josephs line is worthless. But the idea of the virgin birth was undoubtedly unknown to Matthew. It was inserted much later into his gospel. And then there is the remarkable mention of two conflicting geneologies (in Matthew and in Luke). It seems that the Gospel writers didn't even agree on who Jesus was - geneologically speaking. If one accepts the notion of the trinity, as do most Christians, there is further conflict when you consider that Mary was said to be with child "by the Holy Spirit". Jesus often referred to "my Father in Heaven" and he prayed to "Our Father in Heaven". Yet his father was supposed to be the Holy Spirit.
There is no scriptural authority to support the idea of the virgin birth in the New Testament. I can perhaps explain how it happened though. The earliest translation of the Tenach, the Septuagint, renders alma as "virgin" because there is no distinction in Greek between a young woman and a true virgin. So the New Testament, being in the Greek language would naturally render it as virgin. It's originators however probably knew that it didn't necessarily mean that Mary was a true virgin and did not imply that it was so. It is interesting to note that the two verses in the NT that refer to the virgin birth (Mat.1:23 and Luke 1:27) are not present in any of the earliest sixty manuscripts of the NT that were in existence prior to 300 AD. This tends to support the notion that those verses were added later by those wishing to apply the pagan idea of a virgin birth to Jesus' birth.
So there is no support whatever in the Hebrew Bible for the Messiah to be born of a virgin. It is entirely based on what The New Testament supposedly quotes from the Hebrew Bible, which we have shown to be innaccurate. So it is clear that the authors of Mark and Matthew (or whoever it was that may have added this virgin birth passage) did not deal accurately and honestly with the Hebrew text. It would be reasonable to demand that true scripture cannot contain such a blatent and dishonest error. Therefore the New Testament must not be valid scripture. It is a matter of simple logic.
This has to be a shocking disclosure to someone who has firmly believed in Jesus' virgin birth all his life. But it emphisizes the absolute necessity for each individual to prove all things and not trust others to tell you what to believe. Indeed, there are other similar situations where the New Testament does not honestly treat scriptures from the Hebrew Bible. I will cover more in later articles.
(c)copyright 2001 by Wayne Simpson Distributed by Biblical Research Foundation 629 Lexington Road Sapulpa, OK 74066 Reproduction and distribution are permitted provided this copyright notice remains on all copies.
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