From Good News, vol. 6, no. 3, March 1993, p. 29.

More "Virgin" Viewpoints

Dear Editor,

I would like to thank the two letter writers (February) who took the time to respond to some of my arguments against the virgin birth (January), and the editor for allowing this exchange to take place. Jason Caywood writes that I am mistaken to say that Isaiah 7:14 is the only place in the Bible where the Hebrew word almah is translated as "virgin," and offers Genesis 24:16 as a counterexample. I am afraid that it is Mr. Caywood who is mistaken, as this verse uses the word bethulah, not almah. Mr. Caywood also states that while he agrees with me that Isaiah 7:14 describes a child who is not Jesus, he thinks that Jesus is also described by this verse. I am curious about how one makes a principled distinction between "double fulfillment" and prooftexting, and what evidence there is that the prophets expected any such interpretation. (And why not triple or quadruple fulfillment? Why shouldn't we be expecting more virgin births, and more Messiahs?)

Mr. Caywood correctly notes that "Silence doesn't necessarily equal lack of knowledge or belief." I should have properly described my fourth argument by stating that "Paul and the authors of Mark and John make no mention of the virgin birth." Mr. Caywood suggests that John 8:19 is evidence of the virgin birth; he might also have appealed to Mark 6:3. Both of these verses point out that there were objections raised about Jesus' paternity--objections to which the Adoptionist heresy (see Mark 1:4, 9-11) and the virgin birth were two different responses. (Post hoc responses, in my opinion. I again recommend Robert Sheaffer's The Making of the Messiah (1991, Prometheus), pp. 91-126 of which address specifically this issue.)

While Ron Benjamin apparently can't help himself from stooping to namecalling and putting words into my mouth, he does offer a persuasive argument that the Jewish translators of the Septuagint interpreted almah in Isaiah 7:14 to mean "virgin." I accept his refutation of the first of my four arguments, but note that the result is that Christians who buy Mr. Caywood's "double fulfillment" argument must accept two virgin births--Jesus and Maher-shalal-hash-baz.

I disagree with Mr. Benjamin's claim that Genesis 3:15 refers to the virgin birth when it speaks of "the seed of the woman." Early Jews (and Egyptians, for that matter) believed that women contributed a "seed" in ordinary conception (see tazria (causative form) in Leviticus 12:2; katabole spermatos in Hebrews 11:11; and especially the commentary on the first of these verses in the Babylonian Talmud, Niddah 31a, which claims that if a man's seed is emitted first, the offspring will be female, and if the woman's seed is emitted first, the offspring will be male). I should also point out that the woman referred to in Genesis 3:15 is Eve, not Mary, and "her seed" means Eve's descendants.

Jim Lippard