Guy N. Woods
The virgin birth, for the devout Bible believer, is one of the most cherished and, at the same time, one of the most essential features of our faith. Believed, every important characteristic of the movement for which our Saviour died falls easily and properly into place; rejected, it is, and must ever be, but another of the world’s false religions. Here, faith is put on trial; at this point is determined whether one accepts the miraculous on which so much is to follow in the sacred narrative, or repudiates it, and all the rest as fanciful and mythical stories.
It is, therefore, not surprising that the radical school of historical criticism, to which everything smacking of the supernatural is distasteful, should attack, with special vehemence, the narratives of the virgin birth of our Lord. These devotees of disbelief have long been with us, and their attacks on the historic faith have often been effectively refuted; more recently and from among us have risen those so enamored with “modern speech” versions of the Scriptures (whose translators were often of the school of destructive higher criticism), that they reject the doctrine that the Lord is the only begotten Son of God and deny that His birth of a virgin is a part of Messianic predictions.
Specifically, they allege that in the great Emmanuel prophecy of Isaiah 7:14, “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel,” as older versions render it, the passage should more properly read, “a young woman shall conceive and bear a son.” Since a “young woman” is not necessarily a “virgin,” they would thus strike from that preeminently vital prophecy the doctrine of the virgin birth of Christ. That which prompts the effort of the higher critics is obvious: if they can succeed in ridding the prophecy of Isaiah of any suggestion of virginity in the birth of Jesus, the way opens to them to deny all supernaturalism in the birth of the child mentioned in the prophecy. This is precisely the procedure of those among us who question the traditional rendering, who insist that the fulfillment was local and current with the utterance of the prophecy, and who urge that “young woman” more properly translates the Hebrew original than does the word virgin.
Their effort fails for a number of reasons: (1) Hebrew literature furnishes no instance of the word almah (rendered “virgin” in Isaiah 7:14), to indicate a married woman or a nonvirgin. An induction drain from all of its biblical occurrences necessitates the conclusion that it can mean only “an unmarried woman and a true virgin” (Psa. 68:15 “damsels”; Exo. 2:8 “maid”; Pro. 30:19 “maid”; Gen. 24:43 “virgin”; Song of Sol. 1:3, 6:8 “virgins”; Isa. 7:14 “virgin”). Martin Luther, in his characteristic style, once said, “If a Jew or Christian can prove to me that in any passage of scripture almah means ‘a married woman,’ I will give him one hundred Florins.” Orr, in his classic work on the subject, quotes Luther’s statement and adds significantly that the one hundred florins have never been claimed! (2) Even more significant, however, is the fact that about three hundred years before the Lord came to the earth the Septuagint translators rendered the word almah by the Greek word parthenos which can only signify “a virgin.” The irresistible force of this is apparent when it is considered that the Septuagint version is a translation from Hebrew into Greek and was done by some of the most eminent scholars of the Hebrew people. Let it be remembered also that this translation was done before there was any argument over the meaning of the word, or any reason for a Jew to evade its obvious and proper import.
(3) Most significant of all, and conclusive of argument in rising above all reasonable doubt that the prophecy of Isaiah regarding the birth of a virgin, is Matthew’s inspired commentary thereon. After having related the details of the Lord’s birth, he added: “Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us” (Mat. 1:18- 23). Not to be overlooked is the American Standard Version’s rendering of Matthew’s statement: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child.” The specific virgin of Isaiah’s prophecy—and not another! Being Emmanuel (“God with us”), He can be no other than our Lord who came down from heaven and who entered upon this existence by being born of the virgin Mary.
Matthew’s unquestioned affirmation thus (a) demonstrates that the birth of Jesus to Mary established the messianic character of Isaiah 7:14; (b) identifies the virgin of the passage with Mary; and, (c) proves that any translation of Isaiah 7:14, by any word or words signifying anything less than the virginal character of the Lord’s earthly mother (as do most of the so called modern speech versions of the Bible), is both false and fatal to one’s faith.
It is painful, and the situation ought to occasion the most serious thought and action on the part of those who love the Lord and respect the truth of His Word, that there are those among us, in ever increasing numbers, who are being influenced greatly by liberal and modernistic theologians to deny the Messianic character of Isaiah 7:14. Our Christian schools were, by much sacrifice on the part of faithful brethren, established to defend the faith, and they have been in times past bastions of truth in the fight for a pure faith and a faultless practice. Their potential in this respect is exceedingly great; their ability to influence and to lead away from the primitively pure gospel is equally awesome; and it should never be forgotten that these institutions have been in the forefront of every major apostate movement that has plagued the churches of Christ. Men have no right, either morally, legally, or spiritually to teach error who have been employed to teach the truth; and those who yearn for forbidden paths and who prate of academic freedom should also remember that there is such a thing as academic honesty, and if they cannot conscientiously teach that for which they accepted employment, they ought to have the candor and the decency to quit—not corrupt unsuspecting children of Christian parents who often do not learn until too late that their offspring have been offered up on the altars of liberalism, modernism, and permissiveness.