Did Isaiah predict the birth of Jesus?

Most of us have heard the text from Matthew that was supposed to be from Isaiah saying “Behold a virgin will conceive …”  Was that what it really said? And what was the intention of Isaiah when he wrote it in the 700 BCE timeframe?

  • First, the virgin birth story was not part of the Christian tradition until the 90s CE. Paul (writing in the 50s) said nothing about it. Mark, the first gospel, was written in the 70s, and said nothing about it. Mark even portrays Jesus’ mother as thinking that her adult son might not have been so special at the time. Look at this from Mark 3:20-21. 

20 Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. 21 When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” (New International Version)

  • The original Hebrew in Isaiah 7 does not say, “Behold a virgin will conceive”. It says, “Behold a woman is with child”. These two statements have different connotations. The Christian Church has known of this mistake since the middle years of the 2 nd Century, when Trypho the Jew pointed it out to Justin Martyr (there’s that guy again) in a written dialogue whose contents are still available.
  • The second thing that is wrong with Matthew’s text is that the child who is anticipated by Isaiah was to be a sign to the current King Ahaz of Jerusalem, who was under siege by armies from the north and from Syria. The sign was for King Ahaz to not give up — Jerusalem would not fall. It had nothing to do with something to occur 700 years later.

These ruminations largely come from Bishop Shelby Spong’s essay on Isaiah.

Letter to the Editor re last week’s entry on Thomas the Twin. The following comprehensive observation came from one of our readers in eastern Ohio. Worth a read:  

The twinning with different sires is most prevalent in my experience of the story of Leda and the Swan. Leda, raped (or seduced) gives birth to two sets of twins: Helen and Pollux as well as Castor and Clytemnestra. Helen and  Pollux were by Zeus, yet Castor and Clytemnestra were  of her husband.  Somewhere in preparing for Mythology, I read some learned explanation that the Greeks believed children could be of combined male traits from multiple fathers.  I recently ran across a better explanation… sheep, it seems, can ovulate multiple ova. It would have been observable to the ancients that the traits of different rams might be seen in twin or triplet lambs.  A smart guy from a bronze age culture extrapolating sheep sex to higher primates would see observable, factual biology in twins by different parents.  Our modern science may confuse us when it comes to the writings of the ancients…

Matthew and Luke on the Nativity

Let’s do a short compare and contrast of Matthew and Luke on the story of the birth of Jesus. These are the only two Gospels that talk about the birth.

  • Similarities. Jesus is born in Bethlehem; his mother Mary is a virgin; after his birth he is visited by a group of men (shepherds in Luke; wise men in Matthew) who have been alerted to his birth by a heavenly sign (an angel in Luke; a miraculous star on Matthew); eventually he is taken to Nazareth where he is raised.
  • Differences (minor). Luke has shepherds. Matthew has wise men.
  • Differences (Hmmm). 
    • Matthew has Jesus’ hometown as Bethlehem, not Nazareth. So there is no traveling to Bethlehem. 
    • Matthew has no census. Luke does.
    • But Matthew has a flight to Egypt for two years. And after they return the magi come to worship. Not in Luke.

When doing these comparisons, it remains important to recognize that the authors of Matthew and Luke were not trying to write a historically-accurate account of the birth of Jesus. Their intent (70 years+ after the birth of Jesus) was to give a creative interpretation of the significance of Jesus to the world.

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