Monday, March 03, 2008

Virgin Shall Conceive

I stumbled across this very odd video of a young man who thinks he has found an error in Christian doctrine. His point is this:

Sam Harris, in "The End of Faith" claims that the idea of the Virgin Birth comes from a mistranslation. Now, unfortunately the young man does not get it. He does not get the truth of the Virgin Birth and he does not yet Sam Harris' claims.

1. The basic idea here is that the word in Hebrew that is translated "virgin" means "young woman."

2. What the young man fails to recognize is that the argument for mistranslation is about the translation of the Old Testament prophecy, not about the translation of the New Testament account.

3. The doctrine of the Virgin Birth is not the doctrine of the "immaculate conception," though certainly Jesus himself was conceived and born sinless.

4. The gospel accounts (whether originally written in Greek - or in any other language) were clear about Mary's virginity prior to Christ's birth. The issue is clarified various ways, but the primary way is by the repeated discussion of the fact that Mary did not "know" (i.e. make love to) any man before Christ's birth; indeed, she did not even "know" Joseph, until Jesus was born. There is no possibility in the gospels, therefore, of a mistranslation from Hebrew to Greek, even if someone subscribed to the novel theory of Aramaic priority of the gospels, or the like.

5. The prophecy in Isaiah is this:

Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign, Behold a virgin (עלמה - almah) shall conceive and bear a son and shall his name Immanuel.

Now, the LXX translators who lived before the virgin birth of Christ correctly translated almah as παρθένος (parthenos), which means "virgin." It is true that almah has a broader semantic range. Nevertheless, there is a valid contextual reason for selecting the specific sense of "virgin." That reason is that a young woman giving birth is not particularly significant, but a virgin conceiving is something extraordinary. Yet, as you can see from the first part of the verse, the point of the communication is to relate a sign, something startling. Hence, the LXX translators correctly translated almah as parthenos, even though almah can have a more generic sense of "young woman."

Well, here is the link to the young man's video (link). It's sort of a watch it and weep scenario, but it is important to recognize the errors that are circulating out there.


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