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The Virgin Birth – part 1

Were the Jews really expecting a virgin birth? 

The virgin birth of Jesus. On the one hand we have the orthodox Jews, secularists and liberal Christians telling us to “get a life” and stop believing in this impossible craziness. On the other, some traditional Catholics have stretched out the doctrine to the curious extreme of asserting that Mary stayed a virgin for the rest of her life, even after she gave birth to Jesus! Even more ridiculous is the news story that broke in 2006 of three Scottish sisters who had been insured since 2000 against the possibility of having a virgin birth. The payout would have been to cover the cost of caring and bringing up the Christ! There’s nowt as mad as folk!

It’s clearly a key doctrine. So where does the truth lie? Well, it lies in the content, context and interpretation of a single verse in Isaiah.

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel”. (Isaiah 7:14)

There are three objections given by Jewish scholars to this verse being fulfilled by the virgin birth of Jesus. Firstly the context indicates that this verse was referring to events at the time of Isaiah, secondly that it refers to a chap called Immanuel, not Jesus and finally that the original Hebrew does not refer to a virgin, but that the Christians have mistranslated it.

The context of the verse is Isaiah meeting up with the King of Judah, who was troubled by the threat from the Northern kingdoms. Isaiah reassured him that the Lord would not let this happen and, to prove it, would supply a sign. A child would be born and before he came of age the threats would be no more, in fact the Northern kingdoms would be laid waste themselves.

You can hear the objections. So this child was surely born normally. And how could Christians dare to take this verse out of context and read into it an event far off in the future?

To answer this, first read Chapter 7 of Isaiah for yourself, paying particular attention to the Hebrew grammar. Of course, we are reading an English translation from the original Hebrew, so you are going to have to take my word for it. The fact is that this passage contains two separate prophecies, for two different groups of people. The reason we know this is through investigating the Hebrew grammar, in particular the use of singular and plural words. Without going into complex detail on this, when Isaiah is talking to the King, the words are in the singular, but, in verses 13 and 14, he is speaking, in plural, to the House of David. So we can envisage the scene. Isaiah is attempting to prophesy to the King, who is being obstructive, so he moves the focus away from the King, uttering an awesome prophesy to the House of David, Jewish people in general, speaking of a future man, born of a virgin. Having made this proclamation, he returns to the present, finishing his word to the King. So, two prophecies were given, an immediate one to the King and his current concerns and a future one to the House of David.

We will cover the other two objections next week …

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Jesus in Isaiah

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