An issue that wasn't addressed in your article is the question of why, if
Isaiah 7:14 is so obviously a prophecy of a virgin birth (and even if almah
really means virgin, it is plausible to interpret it otherwise[*]), why did
Ahab, his court, Isaiah himself, and every non-messianic Jew since fail
to understand it as such? To the best of my knowledge, the first
document to interpret it as such is Matthew (although I wouldn't be
surprised to see some such interpretations arising as early as a century
or two prior to Matthew).
There are NO records of ANY interpretation of the passage until Qumran
and Matthew...so why would you say that 'Ahab, his court, Isaiah
himself,...' failed to understand it as such? There are NO records of
ANYONE's interpretation of that text--WITHIN or OUTSIDE the biblical
text...so why would you assert this?
There are no signs within Isaiah itself that
7:14 was interpreted by others as a virgin birth prophecy, nor did anyone
else (apparently) interpret it that way for centuries after.
Two things here:
1. The word 'apparently' is an issue here. As I mention above, we don't
have any records of interpretations, so it is improper to assume ANYTHING
from that silence.
2. The 'signs within Isaiah' that it WAS meant so are the VERY
exegetical clues in the text that I discuss. The way we 'validate' a
probable interpretation of a text (sacred OR secular) is via the process
I went thru in the "Fabulous Prophecies" piece(s)...you look at semantic fields and ranges
of words, usage by the same author, by other authors, technical vocab,
historical setting, linguistic context, dramatic (rhetorical setting),
etc. and build an understanding of the text that does the best justice
(best fit) to all the data before you...this is the way one validates a
hypothesis about intended meaning...it is EXCEPTIONALLY RARE in antiquity
that we get preserved commentary on other ancient works.
seem to cast considerable doubt on the hypothesis that the verse really
was intended as a virgin birth prophecy.
Well, I would certainly agree with you, that if we had records of how the
original audience (and subsequent qualified interpreters) had interpreted
the passage differently (which we don't), then ANY exegetical arguments I
might make would certainly become more suspect (although, strictly
speaking, not proven false--there is always the possibility that later
interpreters where incorrect or distortive in their handling of the
truth--such as in Ezek 20.49). But since we don't have any
counter-interpretations until the middle ages, the objection loses most
of its force (if not all)...
After all, which hypothesis is
more plausible? That the verse should be misunderstood by its speaker,
its audience, and all those close in time and culture to the verse, but
perfectly understood by somebody living centuries later whose culture
(despite being in the same tradition) was quite different from that of
the original speaker? Or that the speaker, and his audience, and those who
were temporally and culturally close to the verse understood it perfectly,
and that Matthew simply misunderstood it later? At the least, I think you would need to either show evidence that the VB interpretation of 7:14
existed long before Jesus' birth, or that there is a plausible
explanation as to why it was misunderstood by those close to it, but not
by somebody who was temporally and culturally quite distant from it.
I think I have already answered this above. The WAY we show a VB
interpretation is EXACTLY as I did--through careful and comprehensive
exegesis. (It would be GREAT if we have a triangulation point OTHER THAN
Matthew and Qumran, but we just don't have any other data--one way or the
The linguistic information on "almah" and "bethulah" is quite
interesting; to date, you are the only Christian I've personally dealt
with who attempts to directly confront the claim that "almah" does not
imply "virgin". Ain't sure what to make of your data, yet; as I'm not a
biblical scholar by vocation, it's difficult for me to evaluate these
sorts of arguments. In any event, this is *exactly* the kind of argument
I enjoy hearing from Christians. Even if your data turns out to be wrong
(and I'm not at all sure it will), you've earned my respect. (Well, you
had it before, but now you have more of it.) Good work!
thanks for your kind words--I TRY as hard as I can be honest and careful
with how I deal with information (my God REALLY loves honesty and
lack-of-guile!)...and I will continue to try to use what data I have with
The entire gist of fabprof2.html seems geared towards proving that 7:14
is a virgin birth prophecy.
But even if that is proved, only half the
battle has been won. The other half is proving that Jesus really *was*
born of a virgin. This doesn't seem to be dealt with at all in your
article, but it is imperative that you do so. The context of Lippard's
document (and my chapter in Jury) is not simply messianic prophecies, but
the use of messianic prophecies as a proof of Christianity. Thus, not
only are you stuck with the task of proving the VB, but you must also do
it using criteria acceptable to non-Christians.
Technically, I disagree...the FABPROF pieces (unfortunately) are simply
line-by-line, argument-by-argument replies to Lippard's article. And,
strangely enough, he doesn't even mention this issue of fulfilment in his
discussion...and, although I can appreciate your appeal to the 'context',
there is simply TOO MUCH material in the 'text' of Jim's work, for me to
deal with the MANY other items and issues that could be raised (e.g.
fulfilment, genetics, etc.)
Therefore, I simply stuck to the point--a response to Jim's argument...
This is a difficult task--
indeed, one Christian on the web (forgot the URL, sorry) went so far as to
say "[O]ne cannot expect to find the same sort of evidence for or against
the Virgin Birth.[...] Those who reject the Virgin Birth have much less
far-fetched alternatives. For this reason, I think it unreasonable to ask
anyone to believe in the Virgin Birth of Jesus who has not already been
convinced on other grounds of his Resurrection and his Deity." If he is
right, then arguing over Isaiah is pointless, since there is no [non-
circular] way to prove the VB without first proving Christianity in general.
Actually, all you would need to prove was that the gospel narratives were
written by truthful and careful writers, and perhaps come up with some
reasonable method of their having access to such data (such as
association with Mary and/or Joseph)...one
could believe it all and STILL not accept Jesus Christ as the Ultimate
Love-gift from God and as one's mediator with the Father.
How might one go about proving the VB to a non-Christian at this late date?
Difficult to say, which is one reason I'm glad I'm not the one arguing for
it. Unfortunately, a simple "it isn't impossible" or "you can't
presuppose it away" won't do. One need not presuppose the VB is
impossible in order to logically deny it; one need only presuppose that VBs
are extremely uncommon. And this is not a presupposition, but an
observation. (I can't think of a single undisputed virgin birth in all
of history, so either VBs are really uncommon, or they're a very well
kept secret. :-)
There are a few issues here for ME:
1. the existence of a God (known from other grounds) would allow the physical
possibility of such;
2. a prophecy of such would set my expectations on 'scan';
3. the recording of such an event by two writers (close to the detail and
close to the probable source of such info--Mary), that I have come to
trust on OTHER grounds makes it entirely reasonable to me...
Proof of historical events can only come thru historical
means...'science' and 'faith' can ONLY demonstrate possibilities or
Clearly, some form of positive evidence will be
What sort of evidence? Again, difficult to say. But here's a rule of thumb
that most skeptics would find acceptable, and which should be acceptable to
Christians as well. Suppose your own daughter (whom we'll assume to
be reasonably trustworthy) were to come to you and tell you that,
although she was a virgin, she had become pregnant. I am assuming you
would not take her at her word. (And if you would, then I have some real
estate I'd like to sell you. :-) What evidence would you require she
furnish to you before you would believe her? The evidence for the VB
of Jesus will need to be *at least* this strong. Probably stronger,
since there is far more distance between us and Jesus' birth than between
you and your daughter's birth.
My answer is still the same as above...it is a matter of trusting a
historical record, in a HUGE prophetic context that shows itself to be
trustworthy...the pattern just seems to make too much 'best fit' sense to
Personally, I think Christians would be better off dropping Isaiah 7:14 as
an example of fulfilled prophecy when dealing with skeptics. This would
*not* necessitate giving up belief in the prophecy itself, or in its
fulfillment. It would simply mean recognizing that the VB cannot be
proved outside of the Christian paradigm. I don't think this would
conflict in any way with Christian theology.
Actually, I know you said you 'browsed' the piece, but if you have had a chance to read it more closely since then, you will notice I take EXACTLY the same position you do--I NEVER would use this as 'evidence' of the messiahship of Jesus (at least since about 100-200ad)...I explicitly say this in the piece....