The virgin birth (conception) of Jesus
What about the "a virgin shall
conceive" passage in Isaiah?
The story of the virgin birth (conception) of Jesus as
recorded in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke is accepted as literal truth by
essentially all conservative Christians They believe in the
inerrancy of the Bible, and that the Bible is
God's word. The Qur'an, mentions the virgin
birth as well; most Muslims also believe in the virgin birth.
But, belief in the virgin birth may have been an honest mistake by the
authors of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.
theologians and historians who are not conservative Christians believe that the author of the Gospel of Matthew (or someone who supplied the
writer with source material) scanned an unknown ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew
Scriptures. He found what he believed to be a reference to Jesus' birth. It was in Isaiah 7:14. This has since become a famous passage; it is often recited at
Christmas time. He copied it into Matthew (1:23) to showg that
prophecies in the Hebrew Testament were fulfilled in Jesus' life.
As it happens, the
Greek translators had made a mistake. When they were translating the Hebrew writings into
the Greek Septuagint and similar translations, they converted the Hebrew word
into the Greek equivalent of our English word for virgin. "Almah" appears
times in the Hebrew Scriptures; in each case it means "young woman".
When the Hebrew Scriptures referred to a virgin (and they do over 50 times) they always used the
Hebrew word "betulah". 1 So, it
appears certain that Isaiah referred to a young woman becoming pregnant -- a relatively ordinary event.
Some English translators are accurate to the original Hebrew:
||Revised English Bible: "...a young woman is with child..."
||Revised Standard Version: "...a young woman shall conceive..."
||James Moffatt Translation: "...a young woman with child..."
||New Revised Standard Version: "...the young woman is with child..."
Other translations mistranslated the Hebrew and referred to the woman as both pregnant
and a virgin; that is, a miracle had occurred. This avoids the conflict that would
otherwise occur between Isaiah and Matthew 1:22-23. (The author of Matthew quoted Isaiah
as describing a virgin who was pregnant before becoming sexually active):
||New International Version: "...the virgin will be with child..."
||The Living Bible: "...a child shall be born to a virgin..."
||Contemporary English Version: "...a virgin is pregnant...". In a
footnote, they say that the "Hebrew word did not imply a virgin birth".
They give "young woman" as an alternative.
Other translations went part-way. They mistranslated the Hebrew and said that the woman had been a
virgin. However, they imply that the woman might have been a virgin, who engaged in sexual
intercourse and then became pregnant:
||American Standard Version: "...a virgin shall conceive..."
||Amplified Bible: "...the young woman who is unmarried and a virgin shall
||King James Version: "...a virgin shall conceive..."
||New Living Translation: "...the virgin shall conceive a child..."
||New Century Version: "...the virgin will be pregnant...". They
also state in a footnote that the original Hebrew word really means "a young
Some versions are vague and can be interpreted in many ways:
||New World Translation: "...the maiden herself will actually become
||The Jerusalem Bible: "...the maiden is with child..."
||Young's Literal Translation: "...the virgin is conceiving"
The birth being discussed in Isaiah 7:14 appears to be unrelated to
Jesus. It describes
the Syro-Ephraimite invasion of Judah and the siege of Jerusalem by the
combined armies of the Northern Kingdom and Syria circa 735 BCE.
2 The child that was born to the young
woman at that time was a sign from God that the siege would be lifted and that Jerusalem
would continue to florish as it had in before the attack. The prophecy was presumably completely fulfilled
about 730 years before
the birth of Jesus.
For King Ahaz circa 735 BCE, "the birth of the
Messiah some seven hundred years later would have been of little
For another analysis of this passage, see Reference
J.S. Spong, "Born of a Woman:
A Bishop Rethinks the Birth of Jesus", Harper San Francisco, CA, (1992),
P. 74-79. Read
reviews or order this book
J.S. Spong, "A religious Santa Claus tale: The birth narrative of Jesus
shouldn't be taken literally," Beliefnet, at:
- J.D. Douglas, et al., Eds, "New
commentary on the Whole Bible," Tyndale House, (1990), Page 895.
Kenneth E. Nahigian, "A Virgin-Birth Prophecy?" at: http://www.mantis.co.uk/
Copyright © 1996 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on
Essay last updated: 2007-DEC-16
Written by. B.A. Robinson