Was the Bible truly talking about a virgin birth? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.
“The virgin shall be with child.” So reads the passage in Isaiah 7:14 and immediately many Christians see this as talking about Jesus. Is this the case? Well, no.
So Matthew got it wrong?
Then how can both of those be accurate?
In Isaiah, Isaiah was telling King Ahaz that the king should not join a group of other nations in uniting against the enemy of Assyria. He was so insistent that the king should not do this that he even told the king to ask God for a sign, something that would not normally be encouraged. Ahaz seeks an excuse then and says “I will not put God to the test.” Isaiah then tells Ahaz that he’s going to get a sign anyway. What is that sign? The virgin will be with child!
What does he mean by virgin?
The Hebrew word is Almah and yes, it does mean a young woman. It does not necessitate that the woman is a virgin, but in many cases the woman actually is a virgin. Isaiah at this time is referring to a woman who was known and is saying that that woman will give birth to a child. It is quite likely someone who Isaiah himself would be marrying. The sign would be that by the time this child was old enough to choose right from wrong, in other words, an age of moral accountability, the team of nations together would have already fallen.
Indeed, this is what happened. Therefore, we have a fulfillment of prophecy.
So no, this is not talking about Jesus.
Yet when the Scriptures are translated into Greek, when the translators got to this verse, they chose to translate Almah as Parthenos, which is the word for a virgin. Therefore, when Matthew uses the word, it does indeed a woman who has not had sexual intercourse and when he writes out his Gospel, he sees the virgin birth of Jesus as a fulfillment of this prophecy.
But how can this be?
Remember, for other objections to the virgin birth, one is encouraged to go here. What Matthew is doing is taking an event in the past and saying that he sees a reenactment as it were of what happened in the past. This is actually a way of giving honor to the account. It was important to find past precedent for current events.
An example in Matthew’s Gospel is when Jesus tells the Pharisees that Isaiah was right when he prophesied about them saying “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”
What was going on? Jesus was looking at an event in the prophet’s time and seeing a reenactment of that same event in his time. For the Jews, Scripture was always speaking and it was honorable to find parallels to past events being going on in the lives of the people of the time.
So was Isaiah prophesying about Jesus? No.
Was Matthew wrong in using this passage? No.
What was right is how a fulfillment was going on.
Those interested in seeing more are recommended to check Richard Longenecker’s “Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period” and Sandy and Walton’s “The Lost World of Scripture.”
In conclusion, Matthew saw the event in his time and thought of the passage in the past. Even if it was not what Isaiah had in mind, it would have been perfectly acceptable to exegetes of his day to interpret Scripture in this way.