Is the virgin birth really that important?
So what's the deal with the virgin birth? I recently read a blog by an "expert" on this subject. His answer...?
"There's no proof of it. It's just a myth of Christianity."
Now I have to say that the above statement is not a direct quotation. But you'll have to trust me that this was the author's intent. He spent the entire blog entry on how misleading conservative scholars have been regarding the word "virgin" in the Bible.
His final conclusion held a striking resemblance to the paraphrase above.
So...is he correct? Is the virgin birth only a fabrication? Or is it a real, true-to-life doctrine to be held by the Church throughout all ages?
To discover this answer, we need to turn to, what else...?
...for our answer to the virgin birth of Christ.
The Virgin Birth in the Old Testament
We find the classic Old Testament passage referencing the virgin birth in Isaiah 7:14 which tells us...
Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
Of course we have to ask ourselves the question, what does this have to do with this subject? If we read the passage, it seems like God is talking about something else. He's giving a sign to a king who lived hundreds of years before Christ was born!
And the word "virgin" used here has been heavily disputed throughout the ages of the English Bible as well. Let's look at the the word "virgin" first and then look at the whole passage together.
Some claim this word always means "virgin." Others say it can mean "virgin" but can also mean "young woman." The truth is, this word has been defined in a vacuum. Yes, I know. That statement normally brings a combined, "Huh?" Let me explain...
People take this word and try to define it out side its cultural context. Hmmm. Not very helpful either. Ok...let's try this one more time...
Sometimes people take a word and ignore how the people of that time used it in that day and age. That's what has happened with the word "virgin."
Yes, the word may be defined as "young woman of marriageable age" in certain cultures. But the Jewish culture was quite strict with its "womenfolk."
A woman who was considered "marriageable" was always a virgin. Why?
Because a woman who wasn't a virgin was stoned according to the Mosaic law (Leviticus 20:10.) And she certainly wasn't "marriageable" after that event.
Still, the word used here in Isaiah 7:14 has come under fire as of late for having a "flexible" meaning. True there is another Hebrew word that holds the stronger meaning of "virgin." But if we push our way past the "gentle nuances" (known better to the rest of us as "nit-picking") of the word "virgin" in Isaiah 7:14 we find it's practically identical in meaning to the stronger Hebrew word.
The fact remains "a woman of marriageable age" in Hebrew culture was one who was a virgin. That can't be denied. And that just happens to be one of the nuances of the word.
Some have also raised questions regarding whether the passage speaks of something more than Christ's birth. Some scholars have suggested that this passage has a two-fold fulfillment, one shortly after the prophecy and then Christ's birth.
Such an idea has opened the floodgates for all kinds of interpretations. And that's where a lot of confusion has entered in. Was this prophecy fulfilled at the time it was given?
There are a few things to consider here...
First, it does seem that a two-fold fulfillment could be possible. Some have surmised that God would never have given King Ahaz (the man the prophecy was originally given to) something that wouldn't happen in his lifetime. So it must have either been fulfilled immediately or have a twofold fulfillment. (We'll look at the later fulfillment in our "New Testament" section in a moment.)
With this in mind, the English word "virgin" would be a translation in error because God could only be speaking of Isaiah's wife, who was married. One of the nuances of this word is a young married woman. This would explain why Isaiah used this more flexible word rather than the strictest word for "virgin."
But we also need to consider...
Second, the passage in Isaiah later indicates that the newborn will be named "Immanuel." Nowhere in Isaiah is this part of the prophecy fulfilled. For a biblical prophecy to be true, it has to be fulfilled down to the dirtiest detail (Duet 18:21,22.)
So as far as we know, this prophecy wasn't fulfilled exactly as it was given during that time.
And to answer the first consideration...God didn't give Ahaz a sign that was fulfilled immediately. God told Ahaz to ask for a sign to prove God's power to him. Ahaz refused. Therefore, Ahaz didn't deserve a sign. So God gave him a sign that was worthless to him...one that wouldn't be fulfilled until the Messiah came.
Third, Isaiah calls this woman "the virgin" meaning a specific person. Whether the prophet meant someone specifically of that time or a time of the future can't be determined either way from the passage itself.
But all the hubbub over this passage is nothing more than academic...it doesn't really matter. Because as we'll see, the New Testament has even more to say about the validity of the virgin birth and what Isaiah actually meant.
The Virgin Birth in the New Testament
Matthew quotes the Isaiah passage above in Matthew 1:23 which says...
Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.
Same passage...same problems...
So, what was Matthew's intent when he penned these words? Let's look at the passage as a whole...
Matthew recounts Joseph's very interesting encounter with an angel of God. The story begins with Joseph finding out that Mary is pregnant (v. 18.) As he wonders what to do, he considers divorcing her(breaking the betrothal) quietly to spare her public humiliation (v. 19) and capital punishment (Leviticus 20:10.)
Suddenly, an angel of God appears and encourages Joseph to take Mary as his wife explaining that the child she has conceived is from God the Holy Spirit (vv. 20,21.)
In the middle of all this, Matthew, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, says something very interesting in Matthew 1:22-23...
Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.
Now that's an interesting little tidbit to throw into the discussion. Think about it. Why did the angel come to comfort Joseph?
Answer...because Joseph was sure Mary had been unfaithful to him. Faithful women don't become pregnant (under normal circumstances of course.) So Joseph assumed the worst. She was no longer "marriageable." So by law he could break the betrothal agreement.
The angel came to reassure Joseph that his blushing bride indeed had been faithful. She was a (gasp!) virgin. And yet she was pregnant...pregnant with God's very Son.
And to cinch the whole discussion, Matthew used the word parthenos, a word that has an even stronger meaning as "virgin." Within the Hebrew cultural context, it couldn't mean anything else. Joseph's reaction to the news of Mary's pregnancy proves that. She was only "marriageable" when she was sexually pure.
And parthenos also contains the definite article making the translation read "the virgin." It seems God always had Mary in mind as "the virgin" of Isaiah.
So God clearly interprets his own prophecy as meaning a "virgin" will give birth.
Then, to end the debate about the virgin birth, lets look at Luke 1:26-31...
And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.
This angelic visit to Mary happens before Joseph's. But this one came as an even greater shock. As if an angel from God isn't enough, Gabriel drops the proverbial "bombshell" on Mary. He tells her she's pregnant!
Now it seems logical that, under normal circumstances, Mary would be one of the first to know if she isn't a virgin. And her reaction in Luke 1:34 seals it. She says...
Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?
There it is folks! Mary pronounces her own innocence. "Know not a man" in Scripture is a euphemism (another name) for "sexually pure."
At least Mary thought she was a virgin. Maybe she hadn't spoken to any Bible scholars who disagreed with the virgin birth. Hopefully they told her the "truth" later (wink.)
Wrapping it up!
Ok, ok...but seriously, the Bible quite clearly puts forth the doctrine of the virgin birth. If you believe the Bible, you believe in the virgin birth of Jesus Christ.
There is no other option for the Bible believing Christian. The virgin birth should be a settled belief in any biblical doctrinal statement.
For those bloggers who don't believe what the Bible says...
You can blog anything you want about the virgin birth! Have fun explaining it to God!
God bless you in your study of His Word.