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Topic: Is The Bible Full of Contradictions?

The Virgin Birth Prophecy

by Darrel Cline

As we continue with our study of the objector's reasons for rejecting the biblical witness, we come to his opposition to the prophecies. The following in normal type are his words. My response is in bold type.


Matthew says that the birth of Jesus and the events following it fulfilled several Old Testament prophecies. These prophecies include:

1. The virgin birth (Isaiah 7:14)

This verse is part of a prophecy that Isaiah relates to King Ahaz regarding the fate of the two kings threatening Judah at that time and the fate of Judah itself. In the original Hebrew, the verse says that a "young woman" will give birth, not a "virgin" which is an entirely different Hebrew word.

The young woman became a virgin only when the Hebrew word was mistranslated into Greek. This passage obviously has nothing to do with Jesus (who, if this prophecy did apply to him, should have been named Immanuel instead of Jesus).

What shall we say to this? The first thing we should say is that anyone who reads Isaiah 7:14 in its context will note that before Isaiah uttered this prophecy, he challenged Ahaz to name his own terms (7:11). He did this because the word of the Lord through Isaiah to Ahaz was "...if ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established (KJV)." Thus, to gender faith, the prophet proposed to the king that he name his own terms. He did this so that the king could ask anything he desired so that he could have full confidence that the response was from God Himself. This would lay the foundation for believing.

[Let me interject here that it would be interesting what our objector would do if God gave him the same challenge: instead of constantly being so aggressive in your attack on My Word, what would it take for you to lay down your aggression and become one of My committed disciples? Name your terms.]

However, the king's problem was not evidence; it was wilful rebellion. He did not want to be put into a box where God would meet his terms and then everyone would see that it was wicked rebellion and not lack of proof that motivated his opposition to God. Thus, he scorned the offer with an ultra pious "I will not tempt the Lord". This teed God off, so He spoke through Isaiah and said that He Himself would give the king a sign: a woman of marriageable age would conceive and bear a son and before that son was old enough to know the difference between right and wrong, the kings of which Ahaz was afraid would both be eliminated from being a problem to Judah.

Then, in 8:3, Isaiah recorded the fulfillment of the prophecy. He impregnated the prophetess and she conceived a son and before he was able to say "My Father" or "My Mother", the kings of which Ahaz was afraid were both carried away into captivity by the king of Assyria.

However, as we all know, Matthew appealed to this ancient prophecy to argue that Jesus was the fulfillment. How could he do that?

To answer, let us first consider these salient facts. First, Matthew was writing to biblically literate Jews, quoting from their own Scriptures, and clearly expecting them to acknowledge that his handling of their Scriptures was acceptable. Our objector shows his total ignorance of the method of biblical prophecy by his objection. He apparently has never investigated what has long been known to students of these ancient writings as "types of meaning". A "type of meaning" is a concept that is notable for certain characteristics that mark it off from other concepts. For example, "tree" is a type of meaning that has characteristics that mark it off from other types of meaning (such as "cow", or "car"). When a person sees a "tree", he subconsciously recognizes its characteristics so that if someone tries to tell him it is a "kangaroo", he knows they are pulling his leg.

Language is totally dependent upon types of meaning. Without learning types of meaning, people cannot communicate or understand.

When it comes to prophecy, there are certain characteristics of each prophecy that make it unique from other prophecies, and other facts of history. It is the student's job to identify the characteristics that make up the type of meaning involved. In Isaiah 7, the characteristics surrounding the prophecy are as follows: a) it was addressed to the king over Judah; b) it was addressed to the king as a rebellious opponent of God; c) it was addressed to the king as God's own "sign" that would make faith possible; d) it was addressed to the king in a situation of potential foreign domination; and e) it was addressed to the king as a substitute for the offer to the king that he could name his own terms, be they as deep as Hell or high as Heaven. Now, with this meaning type identified in terms of some of its major characteristics, we probably ought to give it a name. We'll call it the prophecy of a coming son whose presence will prove that deliverance from God has come.

With these things in mind, we ought to say that at any time after Isaiah's day a son is born in such a way as to prove the Word of God's deliverance is valid, we have a fulfillment of this type of meaning. In theory at least, this could happen several times over the passage of many years (though it did not). However, the first time that a son was born in such a way as to validate the word of God's deliverance was when Isaiah approached the prophetess and she conceived and bore a son and before the son was old enough to know the difference between good and evil the threat to Judah was eliminated just as God had said. After that, however, this type of meaning was substantially put on the shelf because there were no other circumstances that developed that made the birth of a son an obvious proof of the truth of the Word of God's deliverance.

That is, it was put on the shelf until Jesus came. When Jesus was born of a virgin, that miraculous event summoned all who came to hear about it to give ear to the Word of God, because an event of such miraculous magnitude that it could only come from God meant that His Word of deliverance was trustworthy. The name "Jesus" actively pointed to the promise of God because the name means "Yahweh saves", though it has a rather more technical set of characteristics that we are not going into at this point.

In Jesus' situation, we have the characteristics of the type of meaning introduced in the beginning by Isaiah. His birth confronts a rebellious and wicked king who, like Ahaz, uses a pious lie (that I may worship Him also) in order to keep the truth from being revealed. His birth is in view of the dominion of a foreign power (on one level, sin; on another level, Gentile dominion). His birth is deliberately designed to make faith possible.

Now, let's see if our objector's accusation, that Matthew abused the meaning type by applying it to Jesus, holds any water. Our objector says that the word "virgin" was a mistranslation of the Hebrew word used in Isaiah's original prophecy. Is this true? Absolutely not. The word Isaiah originally used was a word with a fairly broad field of meaning that referred to a woman of marriageable age. It didn't comment on whether she was married (and, thus, not likely to be a virgin), or whether she was simply of the age when marriage could come into the picture (in which case, she should be a virgin). Thus, the word that Isaiah used was a word which carried a meaning type that was characterized by being of age for marriage. As a subset of that characteristic, the concept of a virgin was well within the boundaries of the meaning type. Thus, when Matthew referred to a "virgin" being with child, he was clearly within the boundaries of the field of meaning carried by the word Isaiah used. He did use a more narrow term, but it was not a violation of Isaiah's term. By way of illustration, consider the generic word "tree". It has its characteristics that give it the meaning type "tree". However, within that meaning type, there are oaks, pecans, willows, fruit, hackberry, etc., etc. All of the more specific words are well within the boundaries of "tree". The generic term Isaiah used was a woman of marriageable age. Under that broad umbrella of meaning, "virgin" clearly fits. So, Matthew was not misled by a faulty translation of the Hebrew word. He simply identified more specifically the kind of woman it would take for a "birth" to have weight as "proof" of God's promise of deliverance after the initial events of Isaiah's day.

Matthew simply knew something about which our objector knows nothing: he knew that for the meaning type of the Isaiah prophecy to have any weight, it had to be a prophecy of a birth of a son that would carry such profound proof that God was fulfilling His word that no one of integrity could deny it. A natural birth, such as fit the bill in Isaiah's case, would no longer do this. Sons are born of women every day. But, virgins don't bear sons. So, if a virgin did bear a son, anyone with any integrity at all would know that God was about to fulfill His word of deliverance. But, remember, the prophecy was preceded by the warning: If you will not believe, you will not be established. So, rather than Matthew being deceived and misled, our objector is the one who is deceived and misled, and for the same reason Ahaz refused the offer: he doesn't have enough integrity to simply say, "I am at war with God and nothing He can say or do will move me to change my attitude". Instead, he mounts what he thinks is an impregnable attack on the integrity of God's word. This only shows how little he really knows.

One more thing: our objector also shows how little he knows when he writes that if the prophecy really addressed Jesus, He would have been called Immanuel rather than Jesus. Interestingly, in the original fulfillment of the meaning type, the son born of the prophetess was named Mahershalalhashbaz (Isaiah 8:3), not Immanuel. The "name" Immanuel was not, apparently, designed by God to be a proper name, but a characterization: the son would show that God was with us (the us being Judah at a time of national crisis), which is what Immanuel means. So, though the boy was named Mahershalalhashbaz, he was referred to as Immanuel -- proof that "God is with us". Likewise, when Jesus was named Jesus, He was identified as proof that "God is again with us". A virgin birth could certainly provide this kind of proof! But, again, if you will not believe, you will not be established.

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This is article #246.
If you wish, you may contact Darrel as darrelcline at this site.