The Virgin Birth

By

Shelby G. Floyd

The above title is a specific and accurate des­cription of how God brought Christ into the world to be our savior. Jesus Christ is both divine and human (cf. Romans 1:3-4).

Jesus Christ Was Human and Divine

From the divine standpoint, he has always existed and always will. Late in the first century, the apostle John spoke of the preexistence of Christ in these words: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the begin­ning with God” (John 1:1-2). Then, later in the chap­ter, John described the human nature of Christ when he said, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only be­gotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (John 1: 14). This is definitely a reference to the virgin birth of Christ.

The Virgin Birth in Prophecy

All of the Old Testament prophecies centered and terminated in Jesus Christ. The virgin birth of Christ was first predicted approximately 4,000 years before Christ when God addressed the serpent, saying, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3: 15 ESV). This seed of the woman is further identified when God made promise to Abraham: “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12: 3; 22: 18 ESV).

The Seed of the Woman and the Seed of Abraham Refers to Christ

About 4,000 years later, Paul made an argument on the meaning of the word seed, saying, “The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ” (Galatians 3: 16 NIV). Thus, the apostle Paul identifies the seed of the woman and the seed of Abraham in the person of Jesus Christ. The Jewish people invariably traced their ancestry through the seed of man, or the male line.Therefore, Matthew uses the word begat 39 times in tracing the ancestry of Christ back to Abraham; but when he came to the birth of Christ, he did not use that word. Matthew says, “And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ” (Matthew 1: 16). The reason Matthew did not say Joseph begat Christ is because his birth was not according to the natural laws of procreation. Luke traces the seed of the woman through Mary, his mother, all the way back to Adam (cf. Luke 3: 23-28). Thus, literally, he was the seed of the woman and the Son of God. About 700 years before Christ, the messianic pro­phet Isaiah spoke of the virgin birth of Christ. The kingdom of Judah was being endangered by a coalition of Syria and Israel. God gave Ahaz, king of Judah, a sign that Syria and Israel would not be a threat to their land, saying,

“Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7: l4).

Some who have tried to do away with the word virgin in Isaiah 7: l4 have gone so far as to say that the son who was to be born in that passage was Maher­shalal-hash-baz, who was the son of Isaiah and his wife, the prophetess (Isaiah 8: 1-3). But Isaiah’s son can­not be the promised son of the virgin, for his name was to be Immanuel, which means “God with us.” This pro­phecy can refer only to Christ. Until recently, there has never been any question in the church as to the meaning of the term virgin in Isaiah 7: l4. But, lately, since some of the modernist translations have come on the market, some are saying that the word virgin in Isaiah 7: l4 would be better translated “a young woman.” The time-tested King James and American Standard Bibles were translated by 148 Hebrew and Greek scholars. And in both cases, Isaiah 7: l4 was translated by the English word virgin. Thus, they understood the context to demand that word. Either the Hebrew word almah can be translated virgin or they were wrong. Their scholar­ship was never questioned until modernists began to try to translate the supernatural and. miraculous out of the Bible. The Hebrew word almah occurs seven times in the Old Testament. It is translated virgin four times (Genesis 24: 43; Song of Solomon 1: 3; 6: 8; Isaiah 7: 14); twice maid (Ex. 2: 8; Proverbs 30: 19), and once damsel (Psalms 68: 25.) Even the words maid and damsel include the idea of a virgin. (See Webster’s New Collegiate Dic­tionary, pp. 209 and 506.) The truth of the matter is the word almah comes from a root word which means to conceal and “properly signifies a virgin, a maiden a young woman unmarried, but of marriageable age.” (McClintock Strong, Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, p. 799, Vol. 10.) Let us take a closer look at the context and see if “a young woman” would be an accurate translation. The birth of this particular child was to be a sign to Ahaz. There would be nothing extraordinary about a young woman’s bearing a son, but a virgin’s bearing a son in the sense in which Christ was born would constitute a sign of the highest order. Christ was not born of just a young woman, but of a particular kind of young woman who remained a virgin until after his birth. (cf. Matthew 1: 24-25; Luke 1: 34-35.) Therefore, the words “a young woman” are inadmissible in this context. Also, this particular son was to be named Emmanuel, which means “God with us.” This is what Isaiah meant when he said,

“Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9: 6.)

One can easily see how this applies to Christ, but the statement that a young woman would bear a son does not infer in any way that God would be with us. Therefore, the translators were absolutely correct in putting the word virgin in Isaiah 7: l4.

The Genealogy of Christ

In the first chapter of the gospel according to Matthew, the writer presented arguments that would convince the Jewish mind that Jesus Christ was legally the son of David and the son of Abraham. In Matthew’s account of the genealogy of Christ, he used the term begat 39 times; but in reference to the birth of Christ, he did not use this term because Joseph the husband of Mary was not the literal father of Jesus Christ: (cf. Matthew 1: 16.) Jesus was be­gotten, but not by Joseph. He was begotten by the Holy Spirit. How the birth of Christ took place is next ex­plained by Matthew in these words:

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away pri­vily  (Matthew 1: 18-19).       

Joseph and Mary Betrothed or Engaged

Mary was found to be with child during the time she was espoused to Joseph. Even though the child was of the Holy Spirit, Joseph, as of yet, had not been con­vinced of this. Though Joseph and Mary are called husband and wife, they were not husband and wife in the absolute sense since at this time they were only engaged and had not consummated the marriage. The word espoused is from the Greek word mnasteuo, and is defined: “to woo her and ask her in marriage; passively to be promised in marriage, betrothed” (Thayer, pg. 416). The engagement of a Jewish young couple was simi­lar to an engagement of young people today. The en­gagement sometimes would last for several months, per­haps even a year before the marriage would be consummated (cf. Deuteronomy 20: 7; Judges 14: 7-8.) However, an engagement was taken far more seriously by the Jews than by our present society. Unfaithfulness, on the part of those engaged, was considered adultery by the Jews and was to be punished as such (cf. Deuteronomy 22: 23-29). The requirements of faithfulness and purity were incumbent upon those engaged as well as those who were married. Therefore, the engagement was looked upon as a marriage for all practical purposes. When Joseph learned that Mary was with child, she had just returned from a visit with her cousin Eliza­beth, where she had remained for three months (cf. Luke 1: 26-56). Therefore, Joseph drew the only conclusion which he could possibly have drawn under the circum­stances, that is, Mary had been unfaithful during her visit with Elizabeth. Being a just man, he wanted to do what was right. According to the Law of Moses, adultery was to be punished by stoning (cf. Leviticus 20: 10; Ezekiel 16: 38). Being a tender and compassionate man, Joseph was not willing to make Mary a public example, he was not willing for her to undergo the shame, scandal and disgrace which would result from a public exposure and trial (cf. John 8: 1-8). Therefore, he decided to put her away privately since the law allowed a man to do this (cf. Deuteronomy 24: 1-4). However, this was not necessary since Mary was innocent and God defends the innocent.

The Angel Announces the Virgin Birth

An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and explained to him that he should not be afraid to take Mary unto him as his wife, “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” (Matthew 1: 22-23).

Meaning Of Almah and Parthenos

The word virgin, in Matthew 1: 23, is from the Greek word parthenos which is found l4 times in the New Testa­ment. It is always rendered by the word virgin and does not mean anything else. A writer has said that, “When the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek in Egypt some 200 years before Christ, the Greek translators rendered the word almah in Isaiah 7: l4 much more explicitly than the He­brew by the Greek parthenos… The Septuagint translator must have considered the context of Isaiah to demand the meaning “virgin.” Later, in the same ar­ticle, the writer said, “Matthew found the word parthenos in the Septuagint and made use of it by inspiration. His use of it amounts to an ‘inspired commentary’ on Hebrew.” Let us look at the logic of those statements. Matthew was definitely inspired by the Holy Spirit when he quoted Isaiah 7: 14, and used the word parthenos. His inspiration, therefore, approved his own use of it as well as the Septuagint use of that word. Since Mat­thew approved the Septuagint translation of almah into the word parthenos, which means virgin, then he also approved by inspiration the King James and American Standard translation of almah in Isaiah 7: 14, into the English word virgin, which means the same as the Greek word parthenos. On the other hand, the inspired Mat­thew condemns the modern translations which use the words “a young woman.” If almah had meant “a young woman” in Isaiah 7: l4, Matthew would have used a word regardless of what the Septuagint said, which meant a young woman; but he did not do that. Matthew’s use of Isaiah 7: 14 is not only an inspired commentary, but it is also an inspired word for word translation of the Hebrew into the Greek, for he claimed to be quoting that passage, not merely com­menting upon it. If men are going to discredit the King James, the American Standard and the Septuagint versions of Isaiah 7: l4 today, then by the same logic they must discredit Matthew 1: 23. “A good rule works both ways.” Today most standard translations have translated almah in Isaiah 7:14 by the word virgin. Notice the following examples:

1. NIV–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.

2. NAS–Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.

3. ESV—Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

4. NKJV–Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.

Therefore, we may have confidence that our faith is well founded in the promise and the fulfillment in the virgin birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Copyright © 2006, 2013 Shelby G. Floyd, All Rights Reserved

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