The virgin birth of Christ is the perennial target of naturalistic
Bible critics, who tend to regard it as the result of pagan influence
on Christian writers of the second century. These Christians developed
the myth in an emulation of stories from Greek mythology. One reason
for the vehemence of these pronouncements is that, if true, the virgin
birth establishes beyond question the life of Jesus as a supernatural
intervention of God. If antisupernaturalists concede at this point,
they have no case left.
Evidence for the Virgin Birth: Credibility of
At the root of the rejection of the virgin birth of
Christ is the rejection of miracles. A virgin birth is a miracle. If a
theistic God exists, and there is evidence that he does, then miracles
are automatically possible. For if there is a God who can act, then
there can be acts of God. Indeed, there is every reason to believe
that miracles have occurred from the instant of the founding of the
universe. Hence, the record of Jesus’ virgin birth cannot be ruled as
mythological in advance of looking at the evidence.
Anticipation of the Virgin Birth. Genesis 3:15.
Long before the New Testament recorded the virgin
birth, the Old Testament anticipated it. In fact, the earliest
messianic prediction in the Bible implies the virgin birth. Speaking
to the Tempter (Serpent), "God said ‘And I will put enmity between you
and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your
head, and you will strike his heel."’ (Gen. 3:15).
That the coming Redeemer was to be the "off-spring"
or "seed" of the woman is important in a patriarchal culture. Why of a
woman? Normally, descendants were traced through their father (cf.
Gen. 5, 11). Even the official genealogy of the Messiah in Matthew 1
is traced through Jesus’ legal father Joseph. In the unique term,
seed of the woman, there is implied that the messiah would come by
a woman but not a natural father.
Jeremiah 22 (cf. 2 Samuel 7).
Another possible intimation of the virgin birth in
the Old Testament is found in the curse placed on Jeconiah which said:
"Record this man as if childless, a man who will not prosper in his
lifetime, for none of his offspring will prosper, none will sit on the
throne of David or rule any more in Judah" (Jer. 22:30). The problem
with this prediction is that Jesus was the descendant of the throne of
David through Jeconiah (cf. Matt. 1:12).
However, since Joseph was only Jesus’ legal
father (by virtue of being engaged to Mary when she became pregnant),
Jesus did not inherit the curse on Jeconiah’s actual
descendants. And since Jesus was the actual son of David through Mary
according to Luke’s matriarchal genealogy (Luke 3), he fulfilled the
conditions of coming "from the loins of David" (2 Sam. 7:12-16)
without losing legal rights to the throne of David by falling under
the curse on Jeconiah. Thus, the virgin birth is implied in the
consistent understanding of these Old Testament passages.
Both the New Testament (Matt. 1:23) and many
Christian apologists use Isaiah 7:14 as a predictive prophecy to prove
the Bible makes specific supernatural predictions
centuries in advance. However, critics, following the interpretation
of many Bible scholars, say verse 16 refers to
the birth of Isaiah’s own child shortly before the fall of Samaria in
722 B.C. If so, this is not a prophecy about the virgin birth
of Jesus and, it has no apologetic value.
Of the three interpretations of Isaiah 7:14, only
one is incompatible with a supernatural predictive understanding in
reference to Christ’s birth. That is that this prophecy referred only
to Isaiah’s day and was fulfilled in the natural birth of Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz
(Isa. 8:3). Of the other two possibilities, the prophecy could have
had a double fulfillment—a preliminary one in Isaiah’s child and the
final one in Christ’s birth. Or this prophecy refers only to the
supernatural birth of Christ (Matt. 1:23).
Single Reference to a Natural Birth.
Liberal scholars and some conservatives view Isaiah
7:14 as having reference only to the natural conception and birth of
the son of the prophetess. They argue that the Hebrew alma,
sometimes translated "virgin" (KJV, ASV, NIV), refers to a young
woman, whether married or unmarried, and should be translated "young
maiden" (RSV). If the prophet had intended someone who was a virgin,
he would have used bethulah (cf. Gen. 24:16; Lev. 21:3; Judg.
21:12). Further, the context reveals that the prophecy had a near-view
fulfillment. Verse 16 declares that "before the boy knows enough to
reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you
dread will be laid waste" (Isa. 7:16). This was literally fulfilled in
the invasion of the Assyrian Tiglath Pileser.
Even in the broader context, only the birth of
Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz fit the prophecy. Isaiah 8:3 reads: "Then I went
to the prophetess, and she conceived and gave birth to a son. And the
Lord said to me, ‘Name him Maher-Shalal-Hash -Baz"’ (Isa. 8:3). The
"sign" was promised to Ahaz (7:10) and would have made no sense if its
fulfillment was after his time (7:14).
Therefore, the argument concludes that no prediction
of Christ’s virgin birth should be found here. The use by Matthew was
either faulty or purely typological, with no predictive or apologetic
value. Matthew uses the phrase "that it might be fulfilled"
typologically in other cases (for example, 2:15, 23). Matthew
applied to Christ texts that were not messianic in their contexts.
There is a difficulty with the claim that alma
refers to someone who is married. Not once does the Old Testament use
alma to refer to a married person. Bethulah, on the
other hand, is used for a married women (see Joel 1:8). Among texts
using alma to refer to a virgin are Genesis. 24:43, Exodus 2:8,
Psalm 68:25, Proverbs 30:19, and Song of Solomon 1:3; 6:8.
Some critics use 1 Chronicles 15:20 and Psalm 46 as
examples of alma (or alamoth) referring to a married
person. In Psalm 46 it is simply part of the title of the Psalm, "A
Song for Alamoth." Nothing in the title or psalm text
helps us understand what Alamoth means, let alone whether it
refers to a married person. It may be a musical notation, as one for
the young women’s choir to sing, or it could refer to some kind of
musical accompaniment. The reference in 1 Chronicles 15:20 is similar.
Music is being sung "with strings according to Alamoth.
Whatever this may mean, it does not prove that alma means a
It can be argued that some features of the passage
could not possibly refer only to the immediate circumstances: the
supernatural nature of the "sign"; the reference to the one born as
Immanuel, "God with us," and the reference to the whole house of
David" (vs. 13). The birth of Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz in the next
chapter cannot fulfil 7:14, since the one born was to be named
While the "sign" was for Ahaz, it also was for the
whole "house of David" (vs. 13). A distant sign can be for someone who
lives long before the event, provided the benefits of the sign extend
to the one for whom it is given. Since the "sign" was the birth of
Messiah, the hope of salvation for Ahaz and everyone else, the sign
was certainly for him.
But what of 7:16? The only meaningful way to
understand this verse is that it refers to a child born in Isaiah’s
day. It should be kept in mind that 7:16’s reference to the Assyrian
invasion is itself a supernatural predictive prophecy. The issue is
not, then, whether 7:14 is predictive and was fulfilled. The question
is whether it was fulfilled in three years or 700. There is a
possibility that Isaiah 7:16 can be understood in terms of the
virgin-birth-only view. Commentator William Hendriksen suggests this
possible interpretation: "Behold, the virgin conceives and gives birth
to a son. . . .Before this child, who before my prophetic
eye has already arrived, shall know to refuse the evil and choose
the good—i.e., within a very short time—the land whose
two kings you abhor shall be deserted" (Hendriksen, 139). Or, if one
wants to be more literal, the Assyrians did invade before the
child Jesus grew up—long before.
It is generally acknowledged that not all usages of
the phrase "that it might be fulfilled" entail a truly predictive
prophecy, Isaiah 7:14 need not be one of them. Matthew cites Micah
5:2, a clear prediction that the Christ would be born in Bethlehem
(Matt. 2:5; see also Matt 3:3; 21:5; 22:43).
(To be continued next week.)