In my last post I explained where the title ‘Christ’ came from, and I opened up an age-old can of worms: was Jesus of Nazareth the ‘Christ’ predicted in the Hebrew Old Testament? That’s a great question to mull over in the Christmas season. I used Psalm 132 to show the origin of the prediction that the Christ was to come from the line of David. You can see that it was not a Christian idea or invention since it has its source in the Hebrew/Jewish Psalms written 1000 years before Jesus was born and the controversy surrounding him exploded onto his world.
Was Jesus really from the line of David?
But the New Testament claim of ‘fulfilling’ this prophecy seems certainly suspect. The reason that Matthew and Luke include the genealogy of Jesus in their gospel accounts is that they want us to see a fulfillment of this Jewish prophecy in Jesus. But who is to say that they didn’t just make up their genealogies to get a ‘fulfillment’? That would be a more natural explanation than ‘Divine’ fulfillment. Many of us confronted with this question just leave it at that and either believe or not based on pre-existing biases. But hold your verdict! The case is not fully heard and the jury should still be out.
It helps when trying to find out what ‘really’ happened to seek the testimony of hostile witnesses. A hostile witness was on-hand at the scene in question but does not agree with your overall belief or conclusion and thus has motive for contradicting or refuting the steps you take to reach your conclusion. Suppose there has been a car accident between persons A and B. Both blame each other for the accident. But suppose person A says that he saw person B texting just before the accident. Person B has no motive for agreeing with Person A on this point, and if he does admit that yes he was texting just before the accident then the judge and jury have good reason to at least bet that person B was texting since the hostile and eye-witness parties agree on this point, and person B has nothing to gain and only to lose by agreeing to this point.
In the same way, sifting through hostile historical sources can help move us much further along as to what really happened in the controversies and events of Jesus. In that light I found it interesting when I studied the noted and distinguished scholar F.F. Bruce’s work Jesus and Christian Origins outside the New Testament. (1974 215pp.). In that study, he identified and analyzed Jewish Rabbinical references to Jesus in the Talmud and Mishnah. He noted the following rabbinical comments about Jesus:
Ulla said: Would you believe that any defence would have been so zealously sought for him (i.e. Jesus)? He was a deceiver and the All-merciful says: ‘You shall not spare him neither shall you conceal him’[Deut 13:9] It was different with Jesus for he was near to the kingship” p. 56
FF Bruce makes this remark about that rabbinical statement
The portrayal is that they were trying to find a defence for him (an apologetic note against Christians is detected here). Why would they try to defend one with such crimes? Because he was ‘near to the kingship’ i.e. of David. p. 57
In other words, the Jewish rabbis did not dispute the Gospel writers’ contention that Jesus really was in the line of David. Though they did not accept Jesus’ overall claim to Messiah and were hostile to the Gospel claims about him, they still affirmed that Jesus was in the royal line of David. So we know that the Gospel writers did not simply make that up to get a ‘fulfillment’. The hostile witnesses agree on this point.
What about being born of a virgin?
Now we may not react too strongly against the claim that Jesus was from David. After all, there is always a distinct statistical possibility of this being true ‘by chance’. But born of a virgin?! There is no possibility of this happening ‘by chance’. It is one of: a misunderstanding, a made-up fraud, or a Divine Happening – no other option exists.
Luke and Matthew quite clearly state that Mary conceived Jesus while she was a virgin. And Matthew ups the ante by quoting and claiming that this was a clear fulfillment of a prophecy from Isaiah (ca 750 BC) which said:
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 (i.e. ‘God with us’) Isaiah 7:14 (and quoted in Matthew 1:23 as a fulfillment)
Virgin or Young Maiden
It is at this point where plausibly natural explanations come to mind. If you dig just a little bit (as some do) you learn that the Hebrew (הָעַלְמָ֗ה transliterated haalmah) which is translated to ‘virgin’ above in English could also mean ‘young maiden’, i.e. a young unmarried woman. Perhaps that is all that Isaiah ever meant to say, way back in 750 BC, and given some pious ‘need’ on the part of Matthew and Luke to venerate Jesus they misunderstood Isaiah to mean ‘virgin’ when he really meant ‘young woman’. And given the untimely (yet convenient for the ‘fulfilled prophecy’ plotline) pregnancy of Mary before her marriage it neatly developed into a ‘divine fulfillment’ centerpiece in the birth story of Jesus.
Many have recounted some such explanation to me over the years, and on the one hand I can’t refute this explanation – after all proofs about being a virgin or not are difficult if not impossible to frame. But, for a fact, the story is not this simple. Because we saw in the last post that the Septuagint was a Jewish translation of the Hebrew into Greek that was done in 250 BC – two hundred fifty years before Jesus was born. How did these Jewish
rabbis translate Isaiah 7:14 from the Hebrew into the Greek? Did they translate it as ‘young woman’ or ‘virgin’? What amazes me is that though scores of people who I have talked to about this seem to know enough to dig into the fact that the original Hebrew can mean either ‘young woman’ or ‘virgin’, not one among these scores has ever brought up the witness of the Septuagint. When you look there you see that it is rendered unequivocally and categorically as παρθένος (transliterated parthenos), which means ‘virgin’. In other words, the leading Jewish rabbis of 250 BC understood the Hebrew Isaiah prophecy to mean ‘virgin’, not ‘young woman’ – over two hundred years before Jesus came on the scene.
I find this so interesting because why would a group (seventy of them according to tradition) of leading scholars make such a seemingly ridiculous and far-fetched prediction that a virgin would have a son. If you think it is because they were superstitious and unscientific in that day then think again. People in that era were farmers. They knew all about how breeding worked. Hundreds of years before the Septuagint Abraham and Sarah knew that after a certain age menopause kicked in and childbearing was impossible. No, scholars in 250 BC did not know about the periodic table of elements or the complete electro-magnetic spectrum, but they understood how animals and people reproduced. They would have known it was out-on-a-limb, naturalistically-defying, to predict a virgin birth. But they did not retreat, they did not hedge their bets and make it ‘young woman’ in the Septuagint. No they inked it in black and white that a virgin would have a son.
And now consider the fulfillment part of this story. Though it cannot be proven that Mary was a virgin, she was remarkably in the only and very brief stage of life where it could at least remain an open question. This was an age of large families. Families with ten children were not uncommon. Given that, what was the chance that Jesus would be the oldest child? If he had had an older brother or sister then we would know Mary was not a virgin. In our day when families have about 2 children it is a 50-50 chance, but back then it was closer to a 1 in 10 chance. In other words, the chance was 9 out of 10 that the ‘fulfillment’ should just be dismissed by the simple fact that Jesus had an older sibling – but (against the odds) he didn’t.
And now layer the remarkable timing of the betrothal onto this. If she had been married just a few days the virgin ‘fulfillment’ could again simply be dismissed. On the other hand, if she had not yet been engaged and was found to be pregnant she would not have had a fiance to care for her. In that culture, as a pregnant but unbetrothed woman she would have had to fend for herself – if she had been allowed to live.
It is these remarkable and unlikely set of ‘coincidences’ that make the virgin explanation impossible to disprove that strikes me. As I showed above these coincidences are not expected, but rather they exhibit that same sense of balance and timing, especially given the virgin prediction in the Septuagint, that show plan and intent – that of a Mind.
If Mary had been married for some time before Jesus was born, or if he had older siblings, then the hostile witness of his opponents would surely have brought that out. Instead it seems that, once again, they defer to the gospel writers on this point. FF Bruce notes this as he explains how Jesus is referred to in the rabbinical writings:
Jesus is referred to in rabbinical literature as Jesus ben Pantera or Ben Pandira. This might mean ‘the son of the panther’. The most probable explanation is that it is a corruption of parthenos, the Greek word for ‘virgin’ and arose from Christian references to him as a son of a virgin (p57-58)
Today, as back in Jesus’ time, there is plenty of hostility to Jesus and the claims of the gospel. Then, as now, there was significant animosity to him. But the difference in hostility is that back then they were also witnesses, and as hostile witnesses they did not refute the very points that they should have been able to, had these points been made up or in error.
But the story does not even end there. Even those hostile to the supernatural claims about Jesus admire him for the life he lived on a purely human level. People may debate his divinity, but rarely do they argue about his morality. And it is at this point, that once again the grudging acceptance of those hostile should cause us to pause and ask: Where did he get this different morality from? The acclaimed moral life lived is also a signature of that disputed Virgin Birth.
Thank you Ragnar. I immensely enjoy your comments. Way back when, during my early and formative years, one of my dear friends of days gone by and a much older but gentle mentor, Dr. Arthur Custance (he is with the Lord) told me to keep asking questions and to keep on delving into the riches of Scripture. May I encourage you to keep on doing what you are doing? As people of Faith, God rewards each and every student of His inspired Word. The reality is the more we dig into His Word, the more treasurers we unearth and cherish. And one of many rewards is the more amaged we are at the “Mind” of God as well as the “Heart” of God. Merry Christmas!
παρθένος can also mean maiden.
Thanks for your comment. I do not know Greek so all I can do is rely on Greek dictionaries. The one I use (online at http://biblesuite.com/englishmans_greek.htm) has the following definition
Short Definition: a virgin
Definition: a maiden, virgin; extended to men who have not known women.
3933 parthénos – properly, a virgin; a woman who has never had sexual relations; a female (virgin), beyond puberty but not yet married;
The septuagint only translated the Torah i.e the first five books not the complete tanakh . Isaiah being one of the books NOT translated to greek.
The LXX was first started with translation of the Torah but then continued to all books of tanakh. Here is how wiki sums it up
So the initial part was Torah… then
The translation of the total Tanakh was completed 132 BC. Here is the online link to the English translation of the septuagint – note the whole Tanakh is there. http://www.ecmarsh.com/lxx/
About the birth of Jesus to a Virgin called Mary can be interpreted many ways all leading to the fact that the Jewish community had no problems to accept Mary in the society as Mother of christ or to accept her as virgin Mother when Jesus christ was born. Even though many jewish Leaders were against the teaching of Jesus and ultimately they put him to death for what they called as Blasphemy for calling himself son of God and God as his father, they had no issues in accepting Mary as virgin when Jesus was conceived to her!
whether Joseph had physical relation with Mary after the birth of Jesus and had other siblings is immaterial as to the conception of Jesus to a virgin girl. and we know Jewish people were very strict law keepers and do not hesitate to stone a girl or woman to death for any immoral act or caught in adultery not accepted by jewish community! there might have been many such young women like Mary who had conceived a child before getting married either by mutual consent or by living a adultery life socially accepted. That means the the close jewish community members of Mary and Joseph knew that Mary was a pure virgin girl who was betrothed to Joseph to marry and she had no physical relation with Joseph or any other man till she conceived the child and so the Jewish community had no problem in accepting the pregnancy of Mary as Joseph’s right and she was to be married to him only to be socially accepted.
Here we bring an altogether different thought of truth to meditate upon. That is Joseph is only the foster father of Jesus. That means even David was too a foster ancestor of Jesus.It is only customary to accept and to fulfill the prophesy of Jesus as David’s descendant we have brought in Jesus geology Joseph and his forefathers . But it has to be continuing from Mary’s father or mother ! Otherwise God himself is the ancestor and father of Jesus because Mary was conceived by the power of Holy Spirit and the power of the holy spirit formed the creation of Jesus as a natural process which can be unexplained by human reason! Or it could also be possible Mary too was conceived without physical realtion of her father and mother and this process of continued up to Eve conceiving a daughter without the physical relation by Adam her Husband. And Eve’s daughter too conceived a daughter without physical relation with her husband and this process continued till the conception of Mary in her mother’s womb! this is certainly possible for I believe nothing is impossible to God and he does not require it to let know his perishable creation to us. for in the Bible it is written that God had kept hidden the things from the wise and revealed to the lowly and ignorant!
If anybody has comments to make please come forward
Nothing is impossible to God Almighty as Archangel Gabriel told Virgin Mary. Indeed, the virginity linage could be possible from Eve to Virgin Mary after the first sin committed. God so living the world, He may have prepared the virgine lineage to avoid any corruption until Jesus-Christ was born. Our faith must have this pillar. God bless all.
Mary gave birth to Jesus Rodzinam
Mary Rodzinam baby Jesus
Obviously the rest of Tanakh was not completed by the 70 Rabbis and who knows who by. The Septuagint today is not related to the original, which was destroyed by fire in Alexandria and even the Torah part we have now is not the original since it does not match parts recorded in the Talmud. So to say that the Rabbis translated virgin in Isaiah 7:14 is a complete and absolute mistake and any proper investigation will confirm this
I read this looking for a Jewish perspective but am left wondering if today’s Jews believe Mary to have been a virgin before Jesus’ birth. Does anyone know? It’s hard to imagine thinking he was ‘just another prophet’ if his birth was so historically miraculous. So what is the current Jewish outlook on the virgin birth?
It is generally not accepted
The prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled in the next chapter when Isaiah “went unto” the virgin prophetess, the daughter of the Prophet Zechariah who was present for the Hieros Gamos with the High Priest. Isaiah then brings his son and has Ahaz adopt him and marry the prophetess. Check the age of Hezekiah when he began to reign. Ahaz could not have been his father for he was only nine years old when Hezekiah was born. Isaiah was allegedly also from the seed of David, so the line was preserved since Ahaz had sacrificed his last in line son to stave off an invasion by Israel and Syria. His intercourse with the virgin saved the seed of David. The same holds true for Mary, who was from Aaron; Joseph of Arimathea went unto her, from the line of Nathan from David and Bathsheba, and had his brother Joseph, from the line of Solomon, cursed by Jeremiah, adopt Mary’s son and thus overcame the curse.
The original Septuagint, as I am sure you know, was only a translation of the Torah. The other Hebrew books were largely translated into Greek by unknown scholars possibly Christian. To claim that Parthenos means unequivocally virgin is disingenuous if not a lie. But that is beside the fact, in the Hebrew the word “almah” used is young maiden.. As a matter of fact, Christian translations render the identical word as young maiden in every case but Isaiah 7:14. As an aside, Geza Vermes documented three conditions of a woman which could be referred to as “virgin” with in the Jewish community. Two conditions could possibly have applied to Mary the mother of Jesus.. Of these two, once could have arguably resulted in the tradition of Mary’s perpetual virginity.
It would be impossible for part of Old Testament after Torah (Prophets, Psalms & Writings) to be translated by Christians since there are extensive quotes from all these books across the New Testament. Did Justin Martyr translate Isaiah in 138AD when it is already quoted in Pauls, Peters and Gospels written in 50-70AD? Philo of Alexandria quotes LXX outside of Torah as well and he died 50CE.
Ragnar, you first statement makes no sense: ‘It would be impossible for part of Old Testament after Torah (Prophets, Psalms & Writings) to be translated by Christians since there are extensive quotes from all these books across the New Testament’ Are you claiming that the authors of the NT did not know a single word of Hebrew? Just because there might be a translation of the Prophets and Writing at some stage does not mean it was done by Rabbis or any reliable people at all and it could easily have been tampered with. This is clearly seen with the 70 or 75 souls who came down to Egypt with Jacob. The ‘tamperer’ forgot to fix the mention in Deut 10:22, and left it as 70. The other 2 he changed from 70 to 75 to fit in with Acts 7:14-16. What an embarrassment!
No. I am not arguing here that there was no tampering per se (That is another issue). But, for sake of argument, assume there was tampering. What I am saying is that the tampering could not have been done by Christians since the Christians come at earliest 30CE and Philo is using (the tampered for sake of argument) LXX decades before that. So it is that the Christians are not the tamperers, rather than no tampering whatsoever, that my comment was denying, simply by the dates.
Then, the later the tampering the more complicated as there would be variant versions (the tampered ones and the untampered ones). Since I do not read about variant versions of Isaiah 7:14 this to me argues for a very early ‘tampering’. The cleanest and simplest is that ‘partenos’ was in the original translation. If one is set on a ‘tampering’ theory, then the tampering would have occurred at translation and that the translation was wrong. But that is another issue.
Hopefully this clarifies what I meant
Ragnar, thanks for your comments. I am not familiar with the writings of Philo. Please tell me what he wrote and when. By the way, the word parthenos also does not mean virgin as it is used to describe Dinah after she was raped. Please correct me if I am wrong, with references. Another point is, that proof that the word alma does not mean virgin is from Proverbs 30:19-20 which described events that leave no trace behind them. One is ‘the way of a man with an alma’. If alma is virgin, then there is a trace in that the hymen gets broken.
Besulah is always used for virgin, in particular in Lev 21:14, when commanding the High Priest to marry only a virgin. Also Ex 22:15, Deut 22:13 and 22:28
Okay please explain why Mary was not stoned to death if she was found with child without a husband? I think the key to questions about Christ divinity lies in his being of virgin birth and his redemptive death in his being crucified and rising after the 3rd day. If he was not of virgin birth, then he sure does not qualify for divinity and why was his mother allowed against the provision of Jewish laws to live