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Did The Doctrine of The Virgin Birth of Jesus Arise From a Mistranslation?
The History of The Virginal Conception
Many of the claims used to support the contention that the Bible is divinely inspired are concerned with the Hebrew Bible prophecies being fulfilled in the New Testament.
This passage from Isaiah (7:14-16) is one such example:
"Therefore, the Lord, of His own, shall give you a sign; behold, the young woman is with child, and she shall bear a son, and she shall call his name Immanuel. Cream and honey he shall eat when he knows to reject bad and choose good. For, when the lad does not yet know to reject bad and choose good, the land whose two kings you dread, shall be abandoned."
The quote is in the context of a prophecy made to king Ahaz of Judah, who found himself on the brink of war with Pekah, king of Israel, and Rezin, king of Aram. The prophet assures him that an "almah," will conceive and that her son will grow (cream and honey he shall eat) without the impending threat to Judah and Jerusalem coming to fruition.
Christian Doctrine holds that Jesus was conceived by Mary through the intervention of the Holy Spirit as attested to in the new testament by the gospels of Matthew (1:18-25) and Luke (1:26-38). This doctrinal cannon became widely accepted throughout Christendom (small as it was at the time) by the second century and remained an undisputed central miracle attesting to Jesus's Divinity until the 18th century when Biblical scholars such as Joseph Priestley and Samuel Taylor Coleridge pointed out a possible error in translation of the Hebrew word, "almah."
Lost in Translation
The passage from the old testament, written in Hebrew, becomes muddled when we examine the translation of the word, "almah." The authors of Matthew and Luke wrote their gospels originally in Greek and while the Hebrew word simply connotes a young woman of child bearing age without reference to virginity, the Greek word they choose to use, "parthenos," in their translation refers specifically to a young virgin women.
We see this manifested in Matthew thusly;
"All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus."
Likewise in Luke, the author for theological or linguistic reasons seems to make the same mistake.
"In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.
While the argument has been made that this supposed mistake being made twice lends some veracity to the virginal conception of Jesus (The Criterion of Multiple attestation), neither Mark nor John make any reference to Mary's virginity. So it would seem the gospel accounts in the New Testament are divided on this point. Biblical Historian Stephen L. Harris of UC Sacramento has hypothesized that the, "mistranslation," may have been a purposeful one used to answer questions in the 2nd century concerning Jesus's illegitimate birth.
Drawing a Conclusion
The difficult task for a believing Christian here is to reconcile Theology with History. Biblical Historians have reached a rather solid consensus that the Doctrine of Jesus's Virginal conception rests on little evidence and is attributable to a Linguistic distortion occurring during the translation of the Old testament from Hebrew to Greek. Given this a pious Christian can reach one of two conclusion;
1. Mary was a Virgin and the birth of Jesus was indeed a miracle as asserted by both the authors of Matthew and Luke.
2. The Authors of Matthew and Luke were both aware of a prophecy in the Hebrew bible and either mistakenly or purposefully tampered with the translation of a single word leaving us with a prophecy seemingly fulfilled.
To draw the former conclusion, one must truly discard evidence and invoke an unremitting faith, but that would seem to be an act at the very heart of religious piety.