Today’s post was written by my friend Edward Fudge. The post was published in gracEmail, the email that Edward publishes regularly. Edward Fudge can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Edward Fudge is the author of the book The Fire That Consumes. His book is a presentation of the Conditionalist view of hell. In my review of the book, I wrote the following about Conditionalism:
Conditionalism teaches that immortality is a special gift of God bestowed upon those who believe in Jesus Christ. Since the Bible teaches that only God has immortality, then human beings are by nature mortal. Thus eternal life or immortality will be given to believers in the final days, while the wicked will be raised, judged, and then will be cast into hell where they will die the second death and eventually be destroyed.
The following article on the Virgin Birth by Edward Fudge is published with the permission of the author:
The Virgin Birth — And More
This is the time of year more than any other when the subject of the virgin birth of Christ seems to show up in conversations both public and private. The point of the discussion varies from time to time, but it seems primarily to serve apologetic interests along the following lines. Seven hundred years before Jesus was born, this evidential argument says, God foretold through Isaiah that a virgin would conceive and bear a son (Isaiah 7:14). Seven centuries later, Mary, a virgin from Nazareth in Galilee, receives a surprise visit from an angel. He assures her of God’s favor and informs her that she will conceive by divine power and bear a son. It all happens as predicted, leaving us with two miracles: Jesus is born to the virgin Mary–exactly as Isaiah prophesied 700 years in advance.
The argument ranks high within the canon of fundamentalist and evangelical evidences. During the years 1910-1915, the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (today’s Biola) published twelve volumes under the name The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth. The set containing ninety chapters by conservative scholars responding to modernism’s slippage from the supernatural and denials of historical orthodox doctrine. Leading the charge with chapter one of volume one was James Orr, making the case for “The Virgin Birth of Christ.” But as needful as these essays might have been at the time, it is possible that the early church did not assign this doctrine the relative ranking among other Christian truths that it later came to have.
The statistics alone are startling. The New Testament contains twenty-seven documents or “books,” written by nine men. Some Christian doctrines are so significant that they appear in most or all twenty-seven books, so widely known as to be mentioned by all nine authors. The explanation that Mary’s first pregnancy resulted from a miracle and not from a man–or, to use the familiar shorthand, “the Virgin Birth”–is not a doctrine of that kind. For starters, only Matthew and Luke (two writers out of nine) mention this astonishing detail, and it appears only in their respective Gospels (two books out of twenty-seven). Totally mum on this subject are Jesus’ half-brothers James and Jude; apostles Peter, John, and Paul; John Mark (Barnabas’ cousin); and the author of Hebrews (my guess: Barnabas).
When Matthew writes his Gospel intended for a Jewish audience, he begins with a royal genealogy that establishes Jesus’ legal standing as an heir to David’s throne. Normally women were not named in genealogies, but Matthew includes five females: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, “Uriah’s wife” (Bathsheba), and Mary. And what do these women share, beyond participation in a royal lineage? Each in her day was the butt of coarse jokes, the subject of gossip, the object of ridicule and scorn.
These five ancestors of the Messiah knew what it meant to live with a cloud of suspicion above one’s pretty head. Gradually they had grown deaf to the clucking and murmuring of judgmental old biddies; become blind to the slicing, self-righteous glances of women their own age; numb to the painful remarks regarding the wickedness of sexual misconduct by daughters of the covenant. Yes, these are special women. And Mary has made the list. The neighbors are talking, all right; a brief explanation of the facts is clearly in order.
Life was not easy for Mary after that visit from Gabriel, the angel who told her that she would conceive a child. Her, a virgin–conceive? Humanly impossible. “How can these things be?” she had asked, quite literally. Since that day, it seemed to Mary, everyone else in Galilee had asked the same question of her–but in another tone of voice. After a while, she had learned to accept the clucking and glances and side remarks. But what of Isaiah 7:14.and its mention of a virgin who becomes pregnant and delivers a son? Didn’t anyone think of`that? Apparently not–at least not before the fact. Not in the Mishnah, the Targums or the Talmud. Not in the Dead Sea Scrolls of Qumran. Not in the Apocrypha or the Pseudepigrapha. Not in any of the Jewish writings between Daniel and the birth of Jesus.
So far as the evidence shows, when the Jews happened to read Isaiah 7:14, they did not think of either miracles or messiahs. This text was God’s rebuke to unbelieving King Ahaz of Judah, who was scared to death of two neighboring kings. Because Ahaz refused to ask God for a sign that he would protect his southern kingdom, God would make his own sign for the king–it is the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14. A young woman (Hebrew: almah) then living will, in the normal course of events, become pregnant and birth a boy she names Immanuel–“God with us.” But before that boy is old enough to know right from wrong, the two bully kings frightening King Ahaz will be no more.
Where did the virgin come from? For once, a simple answer. When the Jews translated their Bible from Hebrew into Greek a century or two before Christ, they made the “young woman” (Hebrew: almah) a “virgin” (Greek: parthenos). Now, back to Matthew, busily writing his Gospel and looking for every opportunity to show Jesus “fulfilling” the Jewish Bible. As it happens, Matthew is telling the story of Mary’s miraculous conception. Suddenly it is as if he remembers language from Isaiah 7:14 in his Greek Bible that sounds exactly like what he wants to say. The Spirit apparently approves the decision and Matthew uses the Greek word to tell, quite literally and for the very first time, what has actually taken place.
But why the limited press–why so little mention in the New Testament? Perhaps because the biology is not the point. New Testament authors shine the spotlight on something else. Commanding our attention is the cosmic phenomenon playing out before our watching eyes. John tells us that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Paul says that in Jesus there dwelt the fullness of deity. Hebrews says that the divine Son became man and forever took on a human body. The main event is not a miraculous conception, The earth-shaking, heaven-shimmering, for-us-and-for-our-salvation event is the Incarnation. Compared to that, the virgin birth is only the mechanics.
I posted Edward’s article on the Virgin Birth because I agree with his views. Since Edward discusses Isaiah 7:14 and the sign of Immanuel, tomorrow I will follow Edward’s article with a post on Isaiah 7:14 and a study on the sign of Immanuel.
Studies on Isaiah 7:14 and the Sign of Immanuel
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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