Posts Tagged ‘parthenos’

On Celebrating The Virgin Birth Of Jesus With Both Heart And Mind

December 25, 2009

I take my “Santa cap” off to the American Spectator – which is such a strong force for political conservatism – for providing articles such as this one.

There is more than health care, or cap-and-trade, or deficits, or any part of the ideological battle between Democrats and Republicans.  Because long before we were fighting any of those issues, we were celebrating Christ.  And we shall be celebrating Christ long after all of these other, lesser issues are gone.

The Case Against the Case Against the Virgin Birth

By Jeremy Lott on 12.22.09 @ 6:07AM

Every year at about this time, readers can count on a few Christmas-themed articles appearing in newspapers and magazines that question the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ. It really is something to see the wide variety of people who get worked up over this ancient Christian belief.

Scientific reductionists — the Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins set — will tell us that it’s impossible. By definition, a virgin cannot be with child. Certain biblical scholars will be trotted out to poke holes in the dogma, by making points about the Bible passages in question that sound convincing to non-scholars. And moderate, embarrassed believers such as Newsweek editor Jon Meacham will try to smooth things over. The Virgin Birth, they will say, is symbolically but not historically or scientifically important. It’s about new life or specialness or some other non-offensive, wooly-headed thing.

The scholars will say that the verse in Isaiah (7:14) that prophesies a “virgin shall conceive and bear a son” is a mistranslation. “Virgin” could be “young woman,” you see. They will point out that only two of the four Gospels of the New Testament mention the Virgin Birth and that the Virgin Birth Gospels (Matthew and Luke) do not agree about many details. They will say that the earliest Gospel (Mark) leaves it out entirely.

Therefore: Who can say what really happened? The point of this exercise is to paint defenders of the virgin birth as narrow fundamentalists who cling to two tenuous, unscientific, conflicting scraps of the biblical text that rely on a questionable translation of Old Testament prophecy. There are perhaps a dozen problems with this approach. We’ll focus on three:

One, it manages to misrepresent all four Gospels at the same time. Matthew and Luke have miraculous conception and birth narratives. Mark and John are rooted in the first chapter of Genesis. That itself says something about Christ’s origin. According to the first chapter of John, “In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God and the Word was God.” In Jesus, “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.”

In fact, all four Gospels are rooted in Genesis. Modern audiences tend to focus on the creation narratives of the first few chapters and skip over the genealogies. To a first century Middle Eastern audience, those lists were far more important. Echoing this, both Matthew and Luke attempt to construct genealogies of Jesus, and in the process both books finger God as the father and Mary as the mother.

Two, in pointing out contradictions between Matthew and Luke, scholars and more progressive believers think that they are scoring points against literalism and fundamentalism. The supposed contradictions do present a problem for some believers, but they help make their case as well. Historians are trained to suspect collusion of sources: if two accounts line up too neatly, then one is likely based on the other and thus less valuable. It’s better to have two divergent accounts — even wildly divergent accounts — of the same event to serve as confirmation of the details where they agree.

The stories about Jesus’ conception and birth in Matthew and Luke are far enough apart — the “wise men,” the flight to Egypt, and the murder of innocents are in Matthew but not Luke; the census, the shepherds, the meeting between the mothers of the still unborn Jesus and John the Baptist are unique to Luke — that they must come from different sources. They both agree about the Virgin Birth.

Three, the case for a mistranslation of Isaiah is simply beside the point. Yes, the word in Hebrew could be rendered “young lady” but that’s irrelevant. When an angel tells Mary that she will have a child and she wonders, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34) she’s not saying “since I am a young lady.” The Gospel writers, the popular early Greek translation of the Old Testament called the Septuagint, and the early church all understood it to mean “virgin,” and their understanding is what matters here.

None of this is indisputable proof for the Virgin Birth, nor is it meant to be. We can give evidence for miracles but cannot replicate the results in a laboratory, and the chasm between history and mystery is where faith comes in. However, the hostility of scientific reductionists to the idea does not make nearly as much sense as it used to. Now, with advances in reproductive technology, a woman who was biologically a virgin could in fact conceive a child. Experiments in animal DNA are showing that you can manipulate eggs in such a way that sperm is not necessary to create a whole new creature. If scientists in the 21st century can manage it, is it really such a stretch to say that God 2,000 years ago would have been up to the task?

You should go to the American Spectator site itself to read this, as there are some excellent and informative comments that follow the article.  But I have a few things to say, myself.

The Septuagint was the translation into Greek by Jewish scholars (it is often abbreviated as “LXX” because tradition holds that 70 scholars were involved in the translation), and was undertaken and completed between 300 and 200 BC.  It was not written by Christians.

It is, however, particularly noteworthy to Christians that the Jewish scholars translated the Hebrew word “almah” in Isaiah (which basically meant a young woman of marigiable age still under the protection of her family) as “parthenos,” which is the Greek word that clearly means “virgin.”

Some scholars rigidly maintain that the Hebrew word “almah” does not necessarily mean “virgin.”  But the fact of the matter is that in Hebrew culture/tradition, a young unmarried girl under her family’s protection was basically either a virgin, or else she was stoned to death as an adulteress.  When you add the fact that the LXX scholars – who clearly were more in touch with the understanding of the ancient Hebrew Bible than we are today – deliberately chose the word “parthenos,” you have a rather ironclad case that the Jews understood Isaiah 7:14 as prophesying a virgin birth (i.e. an immaculate conception).

Only Jesus – in all of recorded human history – has been proclaimed as having been uniquely born of a virgin.  And the two largest religions in the world – Christianity and Islam – recognize and affirm that Jesus of Nazareth was born of a young Jewish virgin girl named Mary.

The passages presented in the New Testament then eradicate even the tiniest shred of remaining doubt.

The so-called “scientific reductionists” claim that the miracle of the virgin birth was impossible.  What is interesting is that a “virgin birth” is quite possible today, given our medical technology.  I bring this out just to say that these are philosophical atheists, who don’t believe in the virgin birth simply because they do not believe in God.  Otherwise, their view toward the virgin birth becomes asinine: they would literally be arguing that God the Creator of all matter, energy, space, and time would be unable to replicate a feat that humans today routinely perform.

As one who accepts the possibility of God, I have no problem whatsoever accepting the possibility of miracles.  Some atheistic thinkers have defined a “miracle” as “a violation of the laws of nature.”  But they are trying to load the issue and tilt it toward philosophical naturalism by doing so.

Let me explain it this way.  Suppose someone accidentally knocks my cup of coffee off the table and I catch it.  Is this a “miracle”?  After all, according to the law of gravity, that cup should have continued to fall and strike the ground – and that didn’t happen.  What did happen was a personal agent possessing sufficient power chose to intervene and change the outcome of natural laws by themselves.

A miracle is God – the all-powerful Creator and Sustainer of the universe – intentionally choosing to reach down and intervene in the affairs of men, usually by a means we our limited understanding cannot fully understand.

Please allow me to explain why Christmas is so important to me, by means of a series of declarations of faith:

I believe in the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ.

I believe that God supernaturally implanted into Mary’s womb (and specifically into one of her unfertilized eggs) a human baby possessing a perfect human nature, uncorrupted by the effects of the Fall.

I believe that this baby, Jesus, possessed every single property essential to human nature (flesh and bones, a human brain, etc.) such that He was 100% man.  Sin is not essential to human nature; God created both Adam and Eve without sin.

I believe that this baby, Jesus, simultaneously possessed every single property essential to Deity, particularly the Deity of The Word, the Second Person of the Triunity of the Godhead.  Such that He was 100% God.  As He grew in wisdom and stature (Luke 2:52), He came to recognize His unique Christ-consciousness.  And specifically, He began to become aware that He was the fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 9:6-7, and Micah 5:2 (among some 300 other unique and amazing prophecies).

I believe that when God created human beings in His image (the Imago Dei) in Genesis 1:27, He was in fact creating beings whose image and nature He Himself would one day assume.  He created Adam in His image so that He could ultimately assume Adam’s image and so save mankind from the Fall (Genesis 3).

I believe Jesus voluntarily restricted the use of His divine prerogatives prior to His assumption of human nature, such that He lived His life on earth as an ordinary human being who had to rely completely on the Holy Spirit for His power (just like every Christian since has had to do).  Please read Philippians 2:1-11.  And then read it again and again.

I believe He came to live a perfect life on earth as a human being so that He could fully and truly represent the human race.

I believe that He died in my place – and in the place of everyone who believes in Him – so that I could be fully restored with God the Father (Luke 19:10, Mark 10:45).  I believe that I am a sinner (Romans 3:23; 6:23), saved only by grace and by faith in the name of Jesus (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 5:1; 10:9).

I believe in the words of a simple poem,

He came to die on a cross of wood,
Yet made the hill on which it stood (see John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:15-17).

I believe that Jesus had to become a man to die in my place – or even (as God) to be able to experience death on my behalf – and that He had to be God to have the power to save me from my sins.  Only Jesus, as true God, and true Man, could save me (Hebrews 9:24-28).

And I believe that, because of His finished work of sacrifice in my place, that I will live forever with Him in heaven, celebrating an eternal life more magnificent and more exciting than anything I have ever begun to imagine.

And all of the wonder of God coming to His creation, all of the wonder of the most loving act in the history of the universe, all of the existential cries that are answered by God taking my place and saving me, are all answered in the birth of Jesus.

And so I read Job 19:25-27 and say with him, “For I know that my Redeemer lives…”

And so I read with tears of joy the words of Mary in the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55).

And so I recognize in that First Christmas not only joy to the world, but hope for the world.  And the source of that Christmas joy and hope is Christ.

Merry Christmas.

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