Friday, 11 December 2009

a virgin with a history

This blog will not be 'devotional' but will just take the opportunity to address a real 'old chestnut'. One of the latest to join the fray has been Richard Dawkins, the arch evangelist of atheistic neo-darwinianism. Unfortunately Dawkins knows even less about the Bible than I do about biology. It concerns the Hebrew word 'almah' which is translated in the King James Version of Isaiah 7:14 as 'virgin'. Dawkins reckons that this is Christian re-editing and claims it ought simply to say 'an unmarried woman' with no implied comment as to the chastity of the said woman. The Christians, he claims, have 'interpreted' it to suit the myth of the incarnation. So what are the facts?

The question has been answered many times, sometimes in a very comprehensive manner. I am just going to take a more gentle route. First it is true that 'almah' does mean an unmarried woman. However in the context of the Sinai covenant and Old Testament law all unmarried women were required to be virgin. Sexual activity prior to marriage was punishable by death or forced marriage. So by implication the natural expectation would be that an unmarried woman would be virgin.

However the story doesn't end there. Some 200 hundred years before Christ the Hebrew scriptures were translated into Greek in a famous work called the Septuagint, usually designated by the Roman number for 70 ie LXX. This was due to a legend that it was translated from the Hebrew in 70 days by 70 scholars. When those scholars wanted a Greek word for 'almah' they chose 'parthenos'. Now 'parthenos' can only mean 'virgin'. So if there has been any manipulation of the original Hebrew text it was done by Hebrew scholars who were translating into Greek. But why would those ancient scholars have wanted to introduce the idea of a virgin birth? The answer is simply that they understood the sense and context of the original and knew that the only logical Greek word was 'parthenos', a virgin.

The Septugaint, LXX, was the Greek version of the Bible that was used in the early Christian era. Apparently it was the version that Christ read from in Luke 4:18. The early Christians recognised that Isaiah 7:14 was a Messianic prophecy which had been fulfilled in the incarnation through the body of a virgin. When Matthew writes "Behold a virgin shall be with child and shall bring forth a son and they shall call his name Emmanuel" Matt 1:23 he is not re-interpreting the Old Testament to support the Christian myth, he is simply quoting the Septuagint version of the Old Testament which had been used for over 200 years. Some 750 years before the event Isaiah, speaking in the power of the Spirit, made this extraordinary prediction, "a virgin shall conceive". The prophecy was fulfilled in Nazareth in Galilee and brought to its glorious conclusion in Bethlehem where "she brought forth her first-born son and laid him in a manger". Matt 1:24,25

1 comment:

KingJimmy said...

Good thoughts Ron. Many Christians have been troubled by this issue over the years. As one scholar said, "Show us a maiden in the Hebrew world that wasn't a virgin."