Thursday, December 22

The Reasons for the Virgin Birth

According to Isaiah 7:14, "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" (TNIV). Matthew, a tax collector (Matthew 10:3) recorded an angel speaking a man named Joseph. The angel told Joseph that the girl he was pledged to marry would "give birth to a son... Jesus, [who] will save his people from their sins. Matthew goes on to establish that all of this took place to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah. In the previous article, objections to the virgin birth were reviewed. The purpose of this article is to establish the theological reasons why Jesus was born of a virgin, and the examine the relevant passages in Scripture. Our primary sources concerning the conception and birth of Jesus Christ are from the gospel of Matthew and the gospel of Luke. The account of His birth may be briefly referred to elsewhere in the New Testament (secondary sources), but most of the information we have concerning His birth comes from Matthew and Dr. Luke. (Photo credit: Originally from Guido Reni, "The Annunciation," 1621, retrieved from MWW; Originally from Fra Angelico, "La Anunciacion," 1430-32, retrieved from WikiCommons).

Belief in the virgin birth of Jesus is found in the Bible. As aforementioned, the prophet Isaiah wrote about it in his work (c.740-680 BC), as did Matthew in his (AD 40s-60s) and Dr. Luke (AD 37-41 or AD 60-61). It may also be mentioned by St. Paul in Galatians 4:4 (AD 49 or 55 AD), as well as elsewhere in St. Paul's epistles, and Mark's gospel may imply it as may John's, suggesting that the account was known to their audience. But why did Jesus have to be born of a virgin in the first place? Some believe it is because a virgin is a sign of purity in many cultures, others believe it was to show Jesus' divinity and uniqueness as Messiah. Both reasons are good reasons, but could there be other theological reasons that go deeper into God's Word? A good place to begin is in Isaiah's work. Many believe that Isaiah was written later, due to supposed changes in writing style and due to the fact that many of Isaiah's prophecies were fulfilled when the Israelites were captured by the Babylonians and later released by Cyrus, who is mentioned by name in Isaiah's prophecies. As there is a specific prophecy down to the detail of the name, non-Christians - and even some Christians - believe that Isaiah had to have been written after those events were fulfilled.

From Guido Reni (1621)
However, writing style is due to change over time. If an individual took the quality and style of my writing and compared it to articles written at the beginning of my writing career, there would be a noticeable difference in the quality of writing and the overall wording, in all likelihood. As for the detailed prophecies in Isaiah as well as other Hebrew Bible books, if God exists, and if God spoke through men to record His prophecies, we would expect details to arise! For a Christian to deny that God could do such a thing is rather interesting - if the Creator could create ex nihilo, and by simply speaking (Genesis 1:3; Psalm 33:6, 9), then of course there is no problem for the one who has declared "the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come" (Isaiah 45:10) to speak through his prophets to record details about an event that would not occur for another few hundred years. Even if an individual does not accept an earlier dating for the book of Isaiah, the oldest surviving manuscripts of Isaiah have been found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in the mid-1900's. Twenty one copies of the Isaiah scroll were found in Qumran, which date back about a century before Christ.

Given that the prophecies which refer to Jesus are found within the Isaiah scroll, and we have surviving manuscripts dating from before His birth, they ought to be considered and taken seriously. Having discussed the book itself, it follows that the relevant passage should again be reviewed. Isaiah 7:14 says, "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel." Immanuel ('Immanuw'el, proper masculine noun) means "God with us," and appears in Isaiah 7:14 and 8:8. It is generally interpreted by Christians as the symbolic and prophetic name for Jesus Christ, considered a prophecy of the virgin birth of Jesus. But some have raised objections to the word used for "virgin." How does Matthew quote the passage? Matthew 1:22-23 says, "All this took place to fulfill what was said through the prophet: 'The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel' (which means 'God with us')." Evidently, Matthew quoted it using the virgin form of the word, and intended for the usage to be virgin.

Yet some have claimed that the word used for virgin actually means young woman. In all actuality, yes, the word can mean young woman. This was claimed by the Ebionites and other Gnostic sects, but no body of early Christians are known to have not accepted part of their faith as the virgin birth. Now, the Hebrew word used is 'almah, a feminine noun. The claim is that, since 'almah can also mean young woman, it is therefore not a valid prophecy concerning Jesus' birth. However, while its inherent meaning is young woman, it can also mean virgin, and young unmarried women in the ancient Hebrew society were generally assumed to be virgins. "Again, though, the word does not necessarily imply virginity. 'Almah' occurs seven times in the Hebrew Scriptures (Genesis 24:43; Exodus 2:8; Psalm 68:25; Proverbs 30:19; Song of Solomon 1:3; 6:8; Isaiah 7:14). None of these instances demands the meaning 'virgin,' but neither do they deny the possible meaning of 'virgin.' There is no conclusive argument for 'almah' in Isaiah 7:14 being either 'young woman' or 'virgin.' However, it is interesting to note, that in the 3rd century B.C., when a panel of Hebrew scholars and Jewish rabbis began the process of translating the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, they used the specific Greek word for virgin, 'parthenos,' not the more generic Greek word for 'young woman.' The Septuagint translators, 200+ years before the birth of Christ, and with no inherent belief in a 'virgin birth,' translated 'almah' in Isaiah 7:14 as 'virgin,' not 'young woman.' This gives evidence that 'virgin' is a possible, even likely, meaning of the term."[1]

Also, as pointed out by R. Laird Harris, "There is no instance where it can be proved that 'alma designates a young woman who is not a virgin. The fact of virginity is obvious in Gen 24:43 where 'alma is used of one who was being sought as a bride for Isaac."[2] Taken in context, however, it is true that Isaiah 7:14 is a prophecy directed at King Ahaz, who was fearful that the Aramites and Israelites would not conquer Jerusalem. Isaiah approached Ahaz with this prophecy, part of a longer prophecy, which meant that within a few years’ time, the two lands would be destroyed (7:15). In that context, it could mean young woman. However, in the context that it is quoted by the apostle Matthew, under the inspiration of God the Spirit, he clearly was referring to the virgin birth of Jesus. In this way, Isaiah 7:14 is understood to be what we call a "double prophecy" - a prophecy referring to two separate situations, one with King Ahaz and the crisis at hand, and the other with the miraculous birth of Jesus to Mary. This is also evident in Dr. Luke's account, which says:

"In the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, 'Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.' Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be" (Luke 1:26-29). From Mary's perspective, she was troubled because angels, God's messengers, had not appeared to man for over four centuries. Since the time of Zechariah, God had not spoken, nor had angels appeared, as is recognized in the non-canonical Apocryphal works written during that time known as the inter-testamental period. For Mary, having an angel appear to her, a young female in 1st-century Nazareth in Galilee, clearly she had good reason to be troubled and wonder why the angel had come to her. Dr. Luke's record continues, "But the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end" (Luke 1:30-33).

By this point, Mary was likely trembling, having just been told that she, a virgin, would conceive and give birth to a Son, who would be the promised savior of mankind. She had probably heard of this promised Messiah more than once. In those days, while reading would occur in the synagogue, more often than not the accounts recorded in the Hebrew Bible were repeated orally among the Israelites, so they would have been familiar with the Messiah. However, recognizing that for a child to be born, just as we do today, there had to be a male and female engaged in sexual relations, Mary asked the angel, "How will this be, since I am a virgin?" (1:34). "The angel answered, 'The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.' 'I am the Lord's servant,' Mary answered. 'May it be to me according to your word.' Then the angel left her" (Luke 1:35-38).

From Dr. Luke's record of the conversation between Mary and Gabriel, we can glean that Jesus had to come into the world for several reasons, the main reason being that He had to save us from our sins, the infinite being paying for the sins of mankind. As our sins require an infinite payment, and we are finite, imperfect beings, only a perfect, infinite being would be able to pay for all of the past, present and future sins of humanity. This is why Christ came into the world - to save us. As of yet, however, this still does not explain why Jesus had to be born of a virgin. Certainly, the virgin birth came about through a virginal conception. Contrary to the teachings of particular religions, such as Mormonism, Jesus was born of a virgin, and not because Mary had sex with God. In Mormonism, Jesus is just another spirit brother of Satan, and also our spirit brother. Jesus, Satan, and all of mankind are the offspring of God the Father and a Mother goddess, who are themselves offspring of other gods on other planets.[3-13] This is an unbiblical teaching, clearly taught against in Scripture. While certain Mormon doctrine teaches that Jesus' conception and birth, other doctrine clearly teaches that Jesus was born as a result of physical contact between God and Mary. This is not what God's Word says. One way to think of the conception of Jesus is akin to Star Trek's transporter technology. It is as if God the Son simply "beamed down" into Mary's womb.

Jesus was not born in sin. He had no sin nature (Hebrews 7:26). The sin nature is seemingly passed down from generation to generation through the father (Romans 5:12, 17, 19), or so it seems (there is disagreement among Christians) which is one of the purposes that Jesus' conception and birth was through a virgin. Being born of a woman, with no biological male parent, the virgin birth effectively allowed that there was no transmission of sin nature, enabling the infinite being, the eternal God, to become the perfect man to die for our sins. Genes can exist without sin nature, as Adam was sinless before he chose to disobey God, but sin nature is not confined to merely the material, as Satan and his angels also sinned. Regardless, the Bible is clear that Jesus was without sin, which allowed Him, the infinite and perfect being, to become the payment for our sins. Another reason for the virgin conception and birth is due to Jeconiah's actions in the Hebrew Bible.

According to Bodie Hodge, "One of the main reasons Matthew is recording Joseph's lineage is due to Jeconiah (variant spellings: Jechonias, Jehoiakim). He is listed in Matthew 1:11. Because of Jeconiah's actions, a prophecy came down from God that none of his descendants would ever sit on the throne of David. Jesus, who forever sits on this throne, could not have been a physical descendant of Jeconiah (Jeremiah 22:30). A virgin birth would obviously prevent this. This indicates that Matthew's genealogy is Joseph's, and this confirms the significance of the feminine verbiage. When Matthew mentioned Joseph's wife, Mary, at the end of the genealogical list, he used the feminine form of the parent of Jesus. This reveals that Jesus was indeed Mary's son and not Joseph's."[14] Matthew recorded Joseph's lineage, whereas Dr. Luke recorded Mary's lineage, but credited Joseph as being the son of Mary's parents due to the customs of the day. By being born not of Joseph but of Mary, this still enabled Jesus to be born as a descendant of King David as prophesied (2nd Samuel 7:14-16), and at the same time it prevented Him of being born as a descendant of Jeconiah. This is another purpose, or reason, why Jesus had to be born of a virgin.

Another important reason that Jesus was born of a virgin was to fulfill the promise made to Eve a few thousand years before the birth of Jesus. Amidst all of the sadness that Adam and Eve were likely enduring after they disobeyed a direct command of the Creator, God gave Eve a promise. It is found in Genesis 3:15, which mentions the seed of a woman, which Isaiah further speaks about during his life as "the virgin," implying a specific woman. This promised seed was also mentioned in a promise to Abraham. The passage, Genesis 3:15, states, "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" (NIV). The word used for offspring is also translated as seed. The Jewish Targums, which are Aramaic paraphrases of the Hebrew Bible from the last few centuries before Christ and put in written form approximately AD 500, also interpreted this passage to mean that the seed in this verse is referring to the Messiah.[15] This is where the Talmudic expression of "heels of the Messiah" comes from.[16] It is interesting that this verse refers to the Messiah, who would be Jesus, as the seed of a woman, as opposed to the typical practice of naming the father, instead of the mother of the child (cf. Genesis 5, 11; 1st Chronicles 1-9).

Extracted from La Anunciacion (1430-32)
This passage, called the protevangelion - the first gospel - is the first to convey hope of a Savior in the midst of turmoil. To note, "The pronoun hû’ (he will crush your head (NIV), it shall bruise thy head (KJV)) can be translated 'he', 'it' or 'they'. A feminine pronoun ('she') would have the consonants hî’. The Septuagint (LXX) translated the pronoun hû’ as αὐτὸς (autos), although the antecedent σπέρματος (spermatos) is grammatically neuter. This suggests that the LXX translators had a messianic understanding of the passage. The Latin Vulgate mistranslates hû’ as ipsa ('she'), which is followed by the Roman Catholic Douay-Rheims English translation of the Bible. Some Roman Catholics use this to teach that Mary would crush the serpent’s head. Their main justification is that some Hebrew manuscripts pointed the consonants of hû’ (הוא) to pronounce the word in the feminine way. However, basing dogma on rare vowel-pointing (which is uninspired anyway) is unwise."[17] Grammatically speaking, it appears to be speaking of a Savior. Hence, another reason why Jesus was born of woman (the virgin birth) was the fulfill a promise to Eve, our ancestor. 

Subsequently, in the original Hebrew, Genesis 4:1 contains an interesting statement by following Cain's birth, "I have gotten a man: YHWH", or, as put by Martin Luther, "I have received a man, namely Jehovah."[18] "The Hebrew Christian scholar, Dr Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, supports this interpretation by pointing out that the word YHWH is preceded by the untranslated accusative particle ’et, which marks the object of the verb, in this case 'gotten'. The Jerusalem Targum reads: 'I have gotten a man: the angel of Jehovah', while the Targum Pseudo-Jonathan says: I have gotten for a man the angel of Jehovah'. He believes that Eve’s actual statement shows that she understood that the seed would be both God and man, but she was grossly mistaken in believing that Cain was the seed in question. The Midrash Rabbah also cites Rabbi Akiba admitting that the Hebrew construction would seem to imply that Eve thought she was begetting YHWH, which created interpretive difficulties for them, so the translation 'with the help of the LORD' is required—as the NASB also renders it. Hamilton defends the translation 'I have acquired a man from Yahweh', which is essentially the same as the KJV, and does not appear to support the above alternative translation 'with the help of the LORD.'"[19]

If this is the case, it means that Eve understood that God's original promise meant that the Messiah would be born through her, and Eve actually took it to mean that she would give birth to the child, YHWH. This is also significant, because it implies that Adam and Eve had a vague understanding that they needed God to make a payment for their sins. While the notion that Eve understood God's promise to mean that the Messiah would be born through her in some way (her descendants) is not a reason for the virgin birth, it is nevertheless useful in providing further insight into what Adam and Eve thought of what God said. Clearly, there are numerous reasons for the virginal conception and birth of Jesus, some practical (virginity generally symbolizes purity), some of them prophetic (fulfillment of God's promise to Eve and Isaiah's prophecy), some of them due to the actions of individuals (such as Jeconiah), and some of them theological (sin nature, though debated among Christians). Nevertheless, while there are various reasons for the birth of Jesus, we must not lose focus of why Jesus came in the first place, "taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a human being, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death - even death on a cross!" (Philippians 2:7-8). Jesus, who is God, left His heavenly throne, and to save us, "God made him who had no sin to be a sin offering for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2nd Corinthians 5:21).

The Truth Ministries would like to thank you for taking the time to read this article of "The Truth." Feel free to email us at vexx801@yahoo.com or thetruth.ministryweb@gmail.com, visit our facebook page, or visit our ministry website.  It is the mission of this ministry to "demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2nd Corinthians 10:5). We understand that many will disagree with our position, our claims and our ministry, and we recognize the individual's right to believe what he or she wills, and that some will disagree on our position regarding this particular topic. However, understand that we stand firm upon the Bible as God's Word, which we believe to be historically accurate and reliable, and hold to our conviction that this conclusion was arrived at based on what His Word tells us, and through a Biblical worldview, and hope that if you have not already, will come to faith in Jesus. Take care, and God bless you reader. Troy Hillman

Sources:
[1] "Is 'virgin' or 'young woman' the correct translation of Isaiah 7:14?." Got Questions.org. Got Questions Network, n.d. Web. 22 Dec 2011.
[2] R. Laird Harris, et al.. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. Moody Publishers, 2003. 672. Print.
[3] Mormon Doctrine, 192. Print.
[4] Ibid, 163.
[5] Ibid, 321.
[6] Smith, Joseph. Times and Seasons, vol. 5, 613-614. Print.
[7] Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses, vol. 2, 345. Print.
[8] Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, vol. 7, 333. Print.
[9] Smith, Joseph. History of the Church, vol. 6, 476. Print.
[10] Kimball, Heber C.. Journal of Discourses, vol. 5, 19. Print.
[11]  Hunter, Milton. First Council of the Seventy, Gospel through the Ages, 104-105. Print.
[12] Talmage, James. Articles of Faith. 443. Print.
[13] Ibid, [3]. 516.
[14] Ham, Ken, and Bodie Hodge. Demolishing Supposed Bible Contradictions. 2nd ed. 1. Green Forest, Arkansas: Master Books, 2011. 107. Print.
[15] Bruce, F.F.. The Books and the Parchments. Fleming H. Revell Co., 1963. 133. Print.
[16] Fruchtenbaum, A.G. Apologia 2(3):54–58, 1993. Print.
[17] Sarfati, Jonathan. "The Virginal Conception of Christ." Creation Ministries International. Creation Ministries International, 11 April 1994. Web. 22 Dec 2011.
[18] Hamilton, Victor P.. The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1–17. R.K. Harrison, Gen. Ed., New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990. 221. Print.
[19] Ibid, [17].