Agnosticism, Atheism, Christianity, Culture, Faith, God, Religion, Truth

Prophecy Part 5: Virgin Birth

I’ve been working on a series of posts that examine the prophecies given in the Bible. My first post in the series can be found here.

One of the best known prophecies of Christ concerns the virgin birth. In Matthew 1:18-25, we learn about Mary’s pregnancy and the birth of Jesus. In verses 22-23, we’re told:

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).

The passage in Isaiah 7 that Matthew is referencing is definitely a prophecy. It says that something specific is going to happen, and it seems to include peculiar events that would be impossible under normal circumstances. However, there are still a couple of problems.

First of all, this prophecy is given to King Ahaz of Judah to put him at ease about the looming threat of Syria and Israel, who had joined forces to attack him. Ahaz refuses to ask for a sign, but he’s given one anyway:

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted.”
– Isaiah 7:14-15

Now in the Bible story, there’s only one person we know of that is born of a virgin, and that’s Jesus. But this prophecy was given to a king who lived 700 years before Christ and had an immediate need that he was concerned about. So if this were a prophecy about Christ, what possible consolation would it have been for King Ahaz? The other interesting question is why would it say “before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good,” if we’re talking about Jesus? Granted, we don’t know exactly how he was as a child, but this still sounds unusual.

Of course, the reason we know this prophecy is talking about Jesus is because of the word virgin. But in actuality, the Hebrew word here is almah, which means “maiden.” While that can imply virginity, it does not necessitate it. And in any other circumstance, a maiden who is pregnant is obviously not a virgin. Had Isaiah really meant virgin, he could have used the word bethulah, which means just that. That word is used in Deuteronomy 22:13-24 where the subject of virginity is actually discussed. The word almah was used in passages like Genesis 24:43 where the point of the passage had nothing to do with whether or not someone was actually a virgin. Of course, even if Isaiah had meant to say “virgin,” that doesn’t necessarily mean he was implying the conception would be through miraculous means. A virgin can conceive by having sex. So she may have been a virgin at the time the prophecy was given, but that doesn’t mean he was stating she would still be one by the time she conceived.

Furthermore, Isaiah 8 actually seems to show the fulfillment of this prophecy. Verses 1-4 show where Isaiah goes in to a prophetess who conceives, and he names the child Maher-shalal-hash-baz. Then he repeats the same prophecy he gave before, “before the boy knows how to cry ‘my father’ or ‘my mother,’ the wealth of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be carried away before the king of Assyria” (vs 4).

Every indication is that this prophecy has nothing to do with Christ. It was about a current event in Isaiah’s time, and its fulfillment happened right there in Isaiah chapter 8. This really calls Matthew’s integrity into question.

The fact that Isaiah’s prophecy deals with a local event in his own time is not new information. Apologists and preachers are aware of it, but they try to answer the problem by saying that many prophecies have double fulfillments. In other words, they admit that Isaiah was talking about a local issue in this prophecy, and that it was fulfilled by the birth recounted in Isaiah 8. But they say that the prophecy also had a double meaning that pointed to Christ.

I think this is a very poor explanation. A prophecy really has no point unless it’s predictive in nature, because anyone can claim credit once the event has happened. To borrow an analogy I’ve used before, I could claim credit for predicting the World Trade Center collapse of 9/11 by saying I knocked down a tower of blocks when I was four. While my immediate actions only concerned the tower of blocks, I was also predicting the collapse of the World Trade Center.

Obviously, that’s a ridiculous claim. But this is basically how people have tried to explain Matthew’s use of Isaiah 7. See, here’s the problem: Before Christ came, people who read Isaiah would find no significance in the prophecy of chapter 7, because they’d see that it had already been fulfilled in chapter 8. Since no one saw it as a prophecy of the Messiah, there was no point in having it. No one would have dreamed of making the connection until Matthew told us to.

So while I suppose we could say that this was just the magnificent insight of a person who was inspired by the Holy Spirit, it seems more like the manipulation of someone creating a myth.

We’ll continue our study of prophecies in the next post.

69 thoughts on “Prophecy Part 5: Virgin Birth”

  1. I had a (brief) discussion with Unklee about Moses and how most scholars these days agree that this character was fictious or an amalgamation of several people as per Martin Noth.
    The point I tried to illustrate was exactly what you are doing here, namely, the New Testament is considered fullfilment of prophecy, it is its ‘raison d’etre’, yet there are NO prophecies fullfilled!
    Furthermore, as Moses is reckoned to be ficticious who, then, was Jesus talking about when he mentions Moses by name?
    Surely the Son of God/ God incarnate would know the ‘history’ of the OT?
    Unklee suggested the issue was not black and white and whether Moses was real or not made little if any difference to the validity of Jesus. (‘scuse me!!!)
    It’s comments like that which do my head in, honestly, and why, as gentile as people lik Unklee come across as, they all have an agenda.
    William lane Craig is another expert at the Evangelical Twostep.

    One might as well try to plait fog!

    Oh, excellent post, as usual.

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  2. Of course, I agree with you about Moses. But honestly, guys like unkleE don’t bother me too much. I respect the fact that’s thought deeply about these things, even if we disagree. But more importantly, I appreciate that he is moderate in his attitudes toward others. While I wouldn’t mind seeing all religion decline, it’s really fundamentalism that I find dangerous. If all religious people were like unkleE, we’d be in pretty good shape! 🙂

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  3. so, isaiah wasnt talking about a literal virgin after all, nor was he referring to someone who’d be born hundreds of years later; He was talking about a sign, for the present king of Judah, which would be a child born in chapter 8.

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  4. “so, isaiah wasnt talking about a literal virgin after all,”

    Sure he was. Nates article is full of errors and he’s overlooked a key point. So whats the terms of the debate. Thats necessary or it will just end up like the other thread where nate failed to prove his point, he’ll get angry when this one gets taken down and start levelling accusations without substance. You’ll say the same of me so thats even more the reason some rules of engagement need to be spelled out

    If you want to find truth that is.

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  5. Mike, you either have something to say or you don’t. Whether I agree with you or not should be irrelevant to you if your goal is to help people find what’s true about Christianity. I may not accept your points, but I won’t censor them or ban them. You’re free to say what you like. The only other promise I’ll make is that I’ll be honest in my thoughts concerning what you say. If you aren’t agreeable to those terms, then you certainly don’t have to participate.

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  6. “…failed to prove his point, he’ll get angry when this one gets taken down and start levelling accusations without substance.”

    perhaps we can all avoid that here.

    This is nate’s blog, so i’ll let him set the rules as he likes, but i suggest not looking at this like a debate, where people automatically take sides and the view the other as a competitor, but instead, view this as a discussion and sharing of ideas, information and knowledge, letting the facts speak for themselves. If in the end, we do not agree, perhaps we can all accept that in a friendly way, without assigning assumed motivations and intentions to the other – keep it polite and dignified.

    While we wait on nate’s rules, do you mind sharing the key point you say he missed?

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  7. Nothing wrong with debate Will. What you said sounds nice but we already know from the other thread sides have already been taken. its why I was asked by you and others to participate here and not in a nice way that gave any indication that it would be an open no sides discussion. In fact lets be honest . it was downright confrontational.

    SO I was as they say just keeping it real and trying to see if this was worth my time. I fully understand that this is Nate’s blog but its also my time and a few of you asked me here so for my participation it will be mutually agreed on or I will pass.

    “While we wait on nate’s rules, do you mind sharing the key point you say he missed?”

    I already did in the other thread and I am not getting into what would be a discussion on it without those rules. As an example of an error nate made and to show I am not blowing smoke on that either his Genesis 24:43 claim is false . it had EVERYTHING to do with being a virgin. Again you have to read the whole context, historical, cultural and linguistic and when you do there is no way on God’s green earth if you understand the culture that the servant was looking for a non virgin to bring back to Isaac to wed. That would have been a HUGE affront to Abraham and an big failure by the servant.

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  8. “What you said sounds nice but we already know from the other thread sides have already been taken. its why I was asked by you and others to participate here and not in a nice way that gave any indication that it would be an open no sides discussion. In fact lets be honest . it was downright confrontational.”

    indeed, which is why i suggest starting off fresh here. wipe the slate clean, if we’re all willing. I think it would provide a much more profitable and tolerable discussion for all. If it sounds nice, then good – let’s play nice.

    as far as the hebrew word for virgin being used in isaiah, as i understand it from the research i did, meant young maiden, which could, but did not necessarily imply “virgin” based on the context. There was another hebrew word which meant only “virgin” which was not used in isaiah’s prophecy.

    With isaac’s future wife, i can agree, they were looking for a virgin. But back in isaiah 7, where he made his prophecy, the context surround the kind of judah, who is anxious about encroaching nations from the north. Isaiah gives him a sign, that a young maiden would give birth, and before that child could do this or that, the king of judah’s problems would be resolved. In chapter 8 a child is born, and before he could this or that, the problem was taken care of.

    I looked this up many times, using different sources. If I’m incorrect, please advise.

    I used to be the tyre of christian who thought that this was a dual prophecy, one for the child in chapter 8 and the other for christ. But now, it seems to me, that isaiah never said anything about more than one fulfillment. and if there could have been more than one, why stop at 2? maybe it will continue to be fulfilled as time goes on and on…

    Plus, if isaiah meant jesus, who would be born hundreds and hundreds of years later, how would that serve as any sign to the king of judah?

    and I guess I missed you key point for this topic in the tyre thread, so i’ll go back and reread it.

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  9. “Mike, you either have something to say or you don’t. ”

    You are either seeking the truth or you are not. I did nothing wrong in asking for some debate rules particularly since the last ended with you making all kinds of accusations falsely and the same claims being made of me. Whats wrong with that Nate? It helps to avoid unpleasantries FOR BOTH SIDES. You can get all hot under the collar all you want and be rude if you choose. A sthe saying goes – thou dost protest too much. What does that have to do with “finding truth”? You have banned once and can ban again my world still revolved at the same speed. no hiccups. This isnt even a high traffic blog. It wont make any of the errors or oversights in this article into the truth (but I suppose it may help you to think its as iron clad as you think – so there is that).

    SO what kinds of evidence will be legit and what will be “word games” because honestly t this point I have no idea what you call that. If you can’t even muster something so fair and hnest a request this ill be and already is of to the same direction – only this case for this article is VASTLY weaker

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  10. Mike, I’m simply not going to debate you on debate rules. If you have something to say about this prophecy, feel free to say it. If you’re looking for specific rules on how to discuss the issue, maybe you can find another blog interested in that.

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  11. let’s just try to be honest, try to use valid sources and definitions, try to remain in the text’s context and try to remain polite – not assigning motivations and/or intentions to the other. If we think someone’s point is stupid, let’s remember that that the person isn’t stupid,as we’ve all made mistakes before and will continue to do so.

    let this serve as the rules. common courtesy. Proverbs 15:1. Galatians 6:1.

    can we agree on that?

    mike?

    nate?

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  12. that being said, and assuming we can all agree to those terms, mike, i looked back at the tyre blog and didnt see where you listed the key issue with nate’s virgin birth problem. Do you mind posting it again here for us to see and consider?

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  13. And just to add some clarification, in case it was needed, the hebrew word used in isaiah’s prophecy means “young lady.” the hebrews had a different word that meant “virgin” exclusively – this word was not used by Isaiah.

    and since the hebrews had the two words, we cant say that the “young lady” word always meant “virgin.”

    Granted, and especially in that time period, a young lady was typically also a virgin, especially when unwed. Since that was the case, i believe examples could be found where the word for “young lady” also implied “virgin” – the context would indicate.

    for instance, if a young lady had sex, does that mean that since she’s no longer a virgin, that she’s also no longer “young” or “female?” of course not.

    would a woman remain young forever if she remained abstinent? no, she’s just an old maid.

    regardless of what Genesis says, regardless of whether anyone believes jesus was born of a virgin or not, isaiah was speaking to people who didnt believe any virgins could give birth to children. the jews didnt believe that any girl got pregnant without having sex, so for clarity sake, isaiah would have added something like, “without having known a man” in order to ensure his audience knew what to expect, especially if he was not going to use the specific hebrew word for “virgin,” if that’s really what he meant.

    In chapter 8, when the baby was born to the young lady, are we to assume that he was also born of a virgin, if that’s what isaiah intended? and again, if this prophecy could be fulfilled twice, then why not more? Were there at least 2 virgin births that have occurred?

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  14. “Mike, I’m simply not going to debate you on debate rules.”

    and who asked you to? I asked to hear what they are. you are supposed to be an honest and fair guy you say so what in the world is so wrong difficult or hard saying what they are. I have no definition on what”word games”are. That would be key to know

    Will it be a “word game” when I point out that you missed the son in the room?
    Will it be a “word game” when I follow the text and say the son was commanded to be there? and ask why?
    Will it be a “twist” when I tell you he may have been as young as a baby and by all accounts a young boy not a man?
    Will it be a word game when I tell you it makes a huge difference or will you put on your binders and say facts you were unaware of when you came to your conclusions doesn’t matter to the discissusion?
    Will it be a twist or word game when I show you the passage in Isaiah that says all Isiah’s sons were for signs?
    Will it be twisting and word games when I follow the text that says the virgin birth prophecy was specifically made to the house of David not merely the king as you allege
    Will it be “word games” when I show you that the sign first offered to the king was miraculous and had to be?
    Will it be “twisting” when I follow the text and say the king flat out turned down the offer causing the prophecy not to be directed at the king but all the house of David?
    and will it be twisting and irrelevant that prophetic texts along with much of the OT (and almost all texts biblical or not at that time) have few directions cues as to who was being looked at or pointed to?

    Its so sad that you try and characterize asking for some ground rules as something bad. Its also greatly revealing as if you are scared if you do put down some rules there won;t be anywhere to turn for you.Its not my fault you couldn’t prove that mainland tyre of the one entity Tyre you admitted to wasn’t the focus of the prophecy that came true and its certainly not my fault that the claims you make for this article fall flat again when the facts are looked at.

    Not my fault Nate – thats yours.

    So since you can’t be civilized and respectful enough to not be rude about a perfectly legit question of ground rules for a debate (what an affront and sin – Mike asked to hear the rules) have at it and your wordpres.com blog. However isolating yourself from answers so that you can find “truth” is about everything but finding what the truth is – not for you or for your family. You might THINK you are just angry with me but My bet is you are angry as well that some of the things you thought were so cut and dry and made key decisions really are not- you just didn’t search hard enough to find the real answers that were there all along.

    Not too late nate. sounds like the church you were in was kind of cultic anyway.

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  15. Reread what you just wrote and instead insert your name in where you have Nates.

    What sort of impression do you get? Does it seem rude to you? If such a post was addressed at you?

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  16. “And just to add some clarification, in case it was needed, the hebrew word used in isaiah’s prophecy means “young lady.” the hebrews had a different word that meant “virgin” exclusively – this word was not used by Isaiah.”

    Wrong William. Almah was overwhelming the word used for a virgin. Heres where not understanding the culture really causes a person to come to bad conclusions. We are not talking about modern times and mores where everyone sleeps around. A young unmarried woman that was not a virgin was a total disgrace so the term almah almost always referred to being sexually pure . Nates example as you admit fails utterly. You are free to present other ones but as you try to you will find almost none where it indicates a woman that had been with a man previously. A couple are border line

    Furthermore the text is unambiguous – the sign that was to be given was of the miraculous order

    Isaiah 7:11 (KJV)
    11 Ask thee a sign of the LORD thy God; ask it either in the depth, or in the height above.

    Its pretty locked and loaded and no way around it.

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  17. “What sort of impression do you get? Does it seem rude to you? If such a post was addressed at you?”

    I get the impression I just laid out my case why Nate’s proof passage fails yet again and blog owner or not called out and specified his rudeness to me when just asking for some ground rules

    What are you doing?

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  18. “Would you feel compelled to consider a post like this? ”

    Why do you feel anyone can compel anyone to consider anything? You assume an intent for me that I deem impossible and irrational. I am not compelled to consider nates rude response to me when just asking what the rules are either. So whats the point really?

    Blog owner makes right? Not to me. This blog is not important enough to me to accept such uneven terms. I was asked to be here in another thread that trumpeted in no uncertain terms that no one was going to be “compelled” to change their already foregone conclusion this article was solid and true. So don’t for a second dream I think I will be converting anyone here. That hopefully will be someone else when in a less belligerent mindset they realize that all the points I make are nowhere near as flimsy as they are sure they are

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