Every Christian has heard that Jesus was virgin born. There are twenty-seven books in the New Testament. Although almost every Christian will tell you that Christianity stands or falls on the belief of the virgin birth, the virgin birth is mentioned only in two of the New Testament books. Although the Bible never tells us why The Messiah must be born of a virgin, Christians have formulated a complete, systematic theology to justify it.
Most Christians don’t notice the Apostle Paul doesn’t mention the virgin birth even in passing. Actually, Paul hardly says anything about the actual life of Jesus although he does say that he was “made of a woman under the law” in Galatians 4:4. The phrase, “under the law” seems to imply that his conception was within the norms of the Torah or, in other words, an ordinary conception that was legal. If the idea of Jesus’ virgin birth were the hinge pin of the Christian faith, then it is strange that it isn’t mentioned in Paul’s writings. Never once is the connection made between his miraculous conception and his supposed sinless nature. Only in the Epistle of Hebrews is the idea of Jesus’ absence of sin discussed and only briefly. Most scholars believe that Hebrews was not written by Paul. If that is true, then Paul never mentions either the virgin birth or Jesus’ lack of sin or sin nature.
Let’s now examine the actual passages that are found in the New Testament pertaining to the virginbirth of Jesus.
First, we will look at Matthew’s account.
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 public example, was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. 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. Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS. (Matthew 1:18-25)
Now, let’s look at Luke’s account.
And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. (Luke 1:26-35)
Matthew’s Gospel is intended to persuade Hebrew readers to accept Jesus as the Messiah. To do this, Matthew uses the Hebrew Scriptures to show what he believes to be the direct relationship between the life of Jesus and the Messiah. He uses the Hebrew Bible to lay out what he sees as prophecy relating to Jesus. The author believes that Mary is approached by an angel and is told that she will be impregnated by the Holy Spirit and maintain her virginity. Matthew presents us with a supposed prophetic fulfillment. This prophecy is being brought to us courtesy of Isaiah. Every Christian has heard this prophecy, “Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel”. It is recited at Christmas plays and during Sunday sermons, but the average Christian has not studied the context of the Isaiah prophecy.
Let’s look at the passage in context in the Christian King James Bible.
And it came to pass in the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, king of Judah, that Rezin the king of Syria, and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, went up toward Jerusalem to war against it, but could not prevail against it. And it was told the house of David, saying, Syria is confederate with Ephraim. And his heart was moved, and the heart of his people, as the trees of the wood are moved with the wind. Then said the LORD unto Isaiah, Go forth now to meet Ahaz, thou, and Shearjashub thy son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the fuller’s field; And say unto him, Take heed, and be quiet; fear not, neither be fainthearted for the two tails of these smoking firebrands, for the fierce anger of Rezin with Syria, and of the son of Remaliah. Because Syria, Ephraim, and the son of Remaliah, have taken evil counsel against thee, saying, Let us go up against Judah, and vex it, and let us make a breach therein for us, and set a king in the midst of it, even the son of Tabeal: Thus saith the Lord GOD, It shall not stand, neither shall it come to pass. For the head of Syria is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rezin; and within threescore and five years shall Ephraim be broken, that it be not a people. And the head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is Remaliah’s son. If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established. Moreover the LORD spake again unto Ahaz, saying, Ask thee a sign of the LORD thy God; ask it either in the depth, or in the height above. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, neither will I tempt the LORD. And he said, Hear ye now, O house of David; Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good. For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings. (Isaiah 7:1-25)
Now briefly, let’s look at some of the translation errors in this passage. The word that Christians immediately home in on is “virgin.” The Hebrew word used is ha-al-mah. Christians will argue that the Hebrew word always translates into virgin. Let’s get beyond the meaning of the Hebrew ha-al-mah for just a moment and look at the broader picture.
If al-mah truly meant virgin, the word ha-al-mah would not actually literally translate to a virgin. It would actually translate as the virgin. When speaking Hebrew, to show that a definite article is attached to a noun you add a single Hebrew letter Hay (equivalent to the English letter H ) to the beginning of the noun. This Hay or Hayhiyadim in Hebrew indicates that the identity of the subject of interest is known to the persons involved. What Isaiah is saying here is that Ahaz and he both know who this young girl is. Now realize that the problem here in this translated passage is that the woman being spoken of is not the virgin but the young girl. This is seen by the fact that every Hebrew word related to the word “al-mah” refers only to youth and never to virginity (1 Samuel 17:56; 20:22; Isaiah 54:4; Job 20:11). Also in the Torah of Moses, whenever virginity is important to the subject matter of the text, it uses another Hebrew word “betulah” or forms of it (e.g., Leviticus 21:10-14; Deuteronomy 22:13-21) and never just al-mah.
But if you don’t believe this, then try to answer the following simple question.
“Who was the virgin that Isaiah and Ahaz both knew that conceived miraculously and bore a son during their lifetimes?”
Some would answer that this child was born seven hundred years later, as Jesus. The words of the prophecy say that before this child becomes old enough to know right from wrong Rezin and Pekah would be eliminated. In 2 Kings 15:30, Pekah was slain. In 2 Kings 16:9, Rezin was also killed, fulfilling the prophecy seven hundred years before Jesus was born.
And Hoshea the son of Elah made a conspiracy against Pekah the son of Remaliah, and smote him, and slew him, and reigned in his stead, in the twentieth year of Jotham the son of Uzziah. (2Kings 15:30)
And the king of Assyria hearkened unto him: for the king of Assyria went up against Damascus, and took it, and carried the people of it captive to Kir, and slew Rezin. (2Kings 16:9)
Sin vs. Sin Nature
Why does Christianity require their savior to be virgin born? Why is this so crucial? Christians believe that Jesus’ birth is unique and because he had no human father he was not tainted by a sin nature because they believe that sin is passed down from a male, not a female parent. This in Christian theology makes Jesus the solitary individual fit to be sacrificed for mankind’s forgiveness. This idea stems from the requirements of an animal sacrifice. When an animal was chosen by someone it had to be without blemish. Christians superimpose this physical requirement onto their messiah and equate it to the sinless nature of Jesus. The idea of a virgin-born demi-god existed long before Christianity in other pagan religions.
Christians treat sin as a genetic disorder instead of the act of disobedience or defiance toward God. Also in the New Testament, Jesus elevated thoughts of committing sin to be the same level as the actual committing of the sin. This occurred when Jesus equated lust in a person’s heart to be equal to the act of actually committing adultery.
Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. (Matthew 5:27,28)
Please don’t misunderstand me. One of the Ten Commandments is, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife,” but the sin of adultery carries the death penalty while coveting has no attached penalty. For Jesus to have equalized the two is clearly “adding to the words of this Torah (law).” Adding to or taking away from the words of the Torah is a sin.
The problem is that Jesus eliminated objectivity and replaced it with subjectivity. What actually constitutes an act of lust? Is it thinking about having a non-marital or extra-marital relationship for one second? How about contemplating it for one minute? Would one have to plan on how to carry out the act for an hour? Anyone would know when they have sinned by committing the physical act of adultery, but one man’s passing thought about another man’s wife could become another man’s full fledged adultery if we remove the objectivity of the physicality of the actual act. Of course, this is in keeping with Paul’s subjective attitude that one man’s sin may not be another man’s sin.
If we support this kind of reasoning, we would never know when we are sinning or when we are being righteous. By doing this, we would have actually lost the meaning of sin. Although Paul had postulated that it may be permitted for one person to eat meat offered to idols (even after the Jerusalem Council had determined it was not) he would probably agree with what John wrote.
Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law. (1 John 3:4)
The sin nature is tremendously valuable to Christianity. Without it, there would be no need for The Messiah to come and die for mankind’s sin in the first place. But if sin is actually a nature that is inherited by children and through no fault of their own they become sinful at birth, then why would it be right for a just God to punish us for something we have no control over? Wouldn’t a just God owe us forgiveness if we had no choice but to sin?
Final Thoughts on The Isaiah 7 Passage
Here is another question that you must ask yourself.
“Having found out what a ‘messiah’ actually is, is there anything in the entirety of the Isaiah 7 passage would bring you to think of a person anointed with oil?”
The following are basic questions (along with answers), to help you understand what is going on in this passage that isn’t an actual messianic prophecy.
To answer this I will use Isaiah’s own words.
What is the sign to prove to Ahaz?
Then said the LORD unto Isaiah, Go forth now to meet Ahaz, thou, and Shearjashub thy son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the fuller’s field; (1)And say unto him, Take heed, and be quiet; fear not, (2)neither be fainthearted for the two tails of these smoking firebrands, for the fierce anger of Rezin with Syria, and of the son of Remaliah. Because Syria, Ephraim, and the son of Remaliah, have taken evil counsel against thee, saying, Let us go up against Judah, and vex it, and let us make a breach therein for us, and set a king in the midst of it, even the son of Tabeal: Thus saith the Lord GOD, It shall not stand, neither shall it come to pass.
What is the sign that Isaiah says is to be given to Ahaz?
Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good. (TIMEFRAME)For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, (ACTUAL SIGN) the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings.
This sign will confirm Ahaz has (1) no need to be afraid or (2) be fainthearted regarding these two kings, Rezin and Pekah. Although they have besieged Jerusalem God is with them (Immanuel) or on their side, despite Ahaz’s wickedness. God is being faithful to Jerusalem for the house of David’s sake in order to protect them. The two kings are going to be eliminated in a way in order to prove to Ahaz that God has not abandoned His children. But you must understand the child’s birth is only related to the prophecy and not the actual sign itself. Besides, what use is a sign if you can’t see it? The Christian makes a mistake in their reasoning that the virgin conceiving is the sign. Do Christians believe that Ahaz observed this female during the mysterious conception? I doubt that.
If Christians believe that this passage is about a sign to show that Jesus is The Messiah, then they have derived their reason for believing from a source other than the Hebrew Bible. Isaiah clearly defined in this passage the sign was to be the two kings were going to be eliminated. This was to prove there is no reason to fear that God had abandoned them, even though their situation appeared exceedingly grim.
To add the final nail to the coffin, the eighth chapter of Isaiah may tell us who this child was. Christianity, it seems has no interest in reading what follows the Isaiah 7 passage. Isaiah has this to say about his children.
Behold, I and the children whom the LORD hath given me are for signs and for wonders in Israel from the LORD of hosts, which dwelleth in mount Zion. (Isaiah 8:18)
Let’s look at this scripture in context.
Moreover the LORD said unto me, Take thee a great roll, and write in it with a man’s pen concerning Mahershalalhashbaz. And I took unto me faithful witnesses to record, Uriah the priest, and Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah. And I went unto the prophetess; and she conceived, and bare a son. Then said the LORD to me, Call his name Mahershalalhashbaz. For before the child shall have knowledge to cry, My father, and my mother, the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria shall be taken away before the king of Assyria. The LORD spake also unto me again, saying, Forasmuch as this people refuseth the waters of Shiloah that go softly, and rejoice in Rezin and Remaliah’s son; Now therefore, behold, the Lord bringeth up upon them the waters of the river, strong and many, even the king of Assyria, and all his glory: and he shall come up over all his channels, and go over all his banks: And he shall pass through Judah; he shall overflow and go over, he shall reach even to the neck; and the stretching out of his wings shall fill the breadth of thy land, O Immanuel. Associate yourselves, O ye people, and ye shall be broken in pieces; and give ear, all ye of far countries: gird yourselves, and ye shall be broken in pieces; gird yourselves, and ye shall be broken in pieces. Take counsel together, and it shall come to nought; speak the word, and it shall not stand: for God is with us. For the LORD spake thus to me with a strong hand, and instructed me that I should not walk in the way of this people, saying, Say ye not, A confederacy, to all them to whom this people shall say, A confederacy; neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid. Sanctify the LORD of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. And he shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many among them shall stumble, and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken. Bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples. And I will wait upon the LORD, that hideth his face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for him. Behold, I and the children whom the LORD hath given me are for signs and for wonders in Israel from the LORD of hosts, which dwelleth in mount Zion. (Isaiah 8:1-18)
In this Isaiah 8 passage, we encounter the almost exact same language found in Isaiah 7. Both the time frame and events match the description in the previous chapter. Isaiah’s wife may be the young woman that is being spoken about. She isn’t a virgin, because one of her children accompanied Isaiah when he spoke to King Ahaz. Also in verse 8, the name Immanuel is referenced again.
For those who raise the point that the name used in this passage pertaining to Isaiah’s child not being Immanuel; this is my response:
Hebrew culture was unlike most cultures that exist today. The concept of names is understood in a different light. What follows are two Scriptures that show the unusual way names are used.
In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS. (Jeremiah 23:6)
In those days shall Judah be saved, and Jerusalem shall dwell safely: and this is the name wherewith she shall be called, The LORD our righteousness. (Jeremiah 33:16)
In these passages the same type of language that Isaiah used in Isaiah 7:14 is echoed. Someone in Jeremiah 23:6 and in the instance of Jeremiah 33:16, a thing is being called what many would consider a name of God. Judah and Jerusalem are both being called “The LORD our righteousness.”
It would be ridiculous to think that suddenly Judah (or Israel) and Jerusalem have both become the Almighty himself, there must be something unusual going on in these passages. In the case of Isaiah 7:14 you are seeing a tribute to God being given by someone being named with the attributes of God. It is the same type of tribute being shown in these passages.
Many times in the Hebrew Scriptures people had God’s name embedded in their personal names. Biblical names that end with “iah” such as Hezekiah (God is strong) contain the name of God but Christians don’t believe that all of these people are God. Why would anyone believe that someone named Immanuel (God with us) would be God?
The thought in the Christian mind that when Jesus was conceived suddenly God was now manifest among humankind. The fact is that this is not the idea being conveyed by Isaiah in the seventh chapter. The question at the time was, “Had God suddenly abandoned the sons of Jacob?” Isaiah is trying to convince King Ahaz, as well as all of Judah, that God had not abandoned them. To show them, God will fulfill this prophecy.
As a tribute to Himself, God tells us that this child’s mother will call his name Immanuel. If Christians were to follow the logic that they use with Isaiah 7:14, they would have to deduce that Jerusalem will become God when she becomes known as, “The LORD our righteousness” but I have never heard any Christian reason in that manner.
The beauty of the Hebrew Bible is God often supplies another view of the same prophecy, or its fulfillment. The tragedy occurs when Christians don’t study carefully enough to discover it. Often, they do find it but choose to ignore it because it doesn’t fit into their view of Jesus. So, it is dropped, or should I say shoved, off their radar screen.
The reference to Isaiah’s child Mahershalalhashbaz in chapter 8 is of no consequence to Christians. They never consider this could be the second name(or second tribute to God) of the same child, in 7:14. This name Mahershalalhashbaz could have been used to illustrate another aspect of Israel’s profit from the fulfillment of the same prophecy.
I can’t say that Mahershalalhashbaz is definitely Immanuel. Perhaps the events that would happen in Mahershalalhashbaz’s life reflect the life of Immanuel so much that the fulfillment of the prophecy must have happened in Mahershalalhashbaz’s lifetime. Either way, if he is Immanuel or not, Christians are in trouble with the prophecy in chapter 8, so it is ignored.
This is an excerpt from my book, “Leaving Jesus.” It is available as an ebook ($2.99), an audiobook ($4.00) or a paperback ($7.49) at the link below.