Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Isaiah's Immanuel

Edward Hindson (1978), Isaiah's Immanuel (Phillipsburgh, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co )

Edward Hinson was professor of religion at Liberty University, Lynchburg, Virginia. He is an Old testament scholar.
This is a 'meaty' scholarly thesis on Isaiah 7:14. There are three possible intepretation of the 'virgin' in the verse (v.14-16):

(1) The boy of whom Isaiah wrote was conceived shortly after Isaiah spoke this message. A young woman, a virgin, married and then had a baby. Before he would be old enough to tell the difference between good and evil the northern Aram-Israel alliance would be destroyed. According to this view the woman was a virgin when Isaiah spoke his prophecy but was not when the boy was born because he was conceived by sexual relations with her husband. Some say this child was born to Isaiah (8:3-4). They point out that 8:1-4 corresponds in a number of ways to 7:14-17.

(2) A second view sees the predicted birth as exclusively messianic and the virgin as Mary, Jesus’ mother. It is argued that in Isaiah 7:14 the virgin is said to be with child (lit., ”the virgin is or will be pregnant“). It is also argued that Matthew, stressing the fact that Joseph and Mary’s marriage was not consummated till after Jesus’ birth (Matt. 1:18, 25), affirmed that Jesus’ birth fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy (Matt. 1:21-23).

(3) A third view, a combination of the first two, sees the prophecy as directed primarily to Ahaz regarding the breaking of the alliance. The ‘almâh was a virgin when Isaiah spoke his message, but then she would marry and have a baby. When the Aram-Israel alliance was broken the boy would still be young.

Hindson's thesis is that “(A)n evaluation of the evidence reveals that Isaiah did in fact predict directly and in advance the birth of Jesus Christ by Mary, the virgin of Nazareth.” (p.87) i.e. option number 2. Aside from the exegesis of the word 'virgin', Hindson seeks support from the Septuagint’s interpretation of Isa. 7:14 as that of a virgin birth. This messianic pre-Christian interpretation is shared by the rabbinic, Palestinian and Alexandrian Jews.

Option one is to be rejected because (a) Isaiah’s wife already had a child (Shear-Jashub, v. 3) and so was not a virgin,(b) the second child born to Isaiah’s wife was not named Immanuel but Maher-shalal-hash-baz which is a judgment on Judah while Immanuel is one of hope (8:3),(c) the virgin is Isaiah’s second wife which has no scriptural backing, and (d) there is no virgin birth. If option one is not acceptable, option 3 of double fulfilment is also not acceptable.



Blogger anthony said...

clearly clouded by christian presuppositions. hinson should read the text as if a jew would read it first, not as if the early christians like matthew in his gospel.

`almah does not necessarily mean virgin but any woman of young marrigeable age. because the septuagint translates using partenos which means virgin, christians have read into the hebrew word the idea of a virgin birth.

hence in the 2nd century AD debates between the jews and christians, the christians resorted to using the septuagint while the jews used the hebrew text. since, the septuagint clearly favoured the christians, eventually the jews abandoned the septuagint to the christians and went back solely to their hebrew text.

the christians using the septuagint went on to the latin version called vulgate translated by jerome, and into our german and english translations. hence, in our english bibles, matthew's gospel reads a virgin shall conceived.

hinson already started his premise with this presupposition, note his three choices.

2:59 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

hi anthony,

Thanks for your comments. This theological thesis is giving me a headache.

I do see your point. If I may paraphrase, you are opting for option one and not option two and three.

3:15 PM  
Blogger anthony said...

no, i am not even opting for option 1. as i previously said, the three options are based on a 'christian' reading of the isaianic verse.

why should option 1 even demand a virgin birth as a necessary pre-requisite to understanding the verse? hinson's interpretation is already coloured by his christian pre-conceptions.

can't the prophet isaiah be simply prophecizing of an `almah giving birth to a child in king ahaz's kingdom and that by the time the child is weaned, the threat from syria and israel will be over? why must the verse be read as refering to a 'virgin' conceiving?

11:12 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

Hi Anthony,

Thank you again for your comment. Can you point me to a OT verse or prophecy about the virgin birth?

8:40 AM  
Blogger anthony said...

frankly, there is none!

9:25 AM  
Blogger Paul said...

There is no other verse except that from Isaiah. And if that is already "coloured" by a Christian presupposition, are you (ie Rabbi) saying that Matthew has read into the text what is not there?

4:01 AM  
Blogger anthony said...

in a sense Yes! matthew, like the other early christians, used the greek septuagint (which i already pointed out uses the greek word partenos which strictly means virgin). if he had referred to the isaianic text in hebrew, the text is less nuanced. `almah simply means 'any young woman of marrigeable age'.

the NT use of the OT is a fascinating subject because we can see the method the NT writers employed as they used the OT texts. some call this a christocentric approach. they see jesus as the necessary fulfilment of the OT texts. myhomilia and the reb may joint offer a course together in 2010 in stm on this area.

the bottom line - was matthew 'wrong'? the reb would say yes (in a certain sense). someone once commented that it was getting a correct doctrine out of a bad exegesis!

to throw open the discussion, why should we need a virgin birth? christians need this to protect the sinlessness of jesus (because of the concept of original sin). hence, mary has to be a virgin when she conceived jesus so that jesus would be sinless and not be imputed with sin from his parents. but the jews do not have a doctrine of original sin! they believed all persons are born ok but sin comes along the way i.e. people choose to become sinners. so, they do not need a virgin birth for their messiah. any jewish woman can be the mother of the messiah. hence, isaiah 7:14n even if the jews take it as messianic, does not require a reading of a virgin birth!!

9:10 AM  
Blogger Paul said...

On a side but related issue, I struggle with the idea of "original sin" as understood as an inherited sinful human nature.

I am more comfortable with the doctrinal concept of "imputed sin" (legal guilt?)

The reason is that of that for Jesus to be truly human he to have a a human mother. And his mother was Mary. Mary however was NOT sinless. So the "tainted" human nature should logically be passed on to Jesus as well.

A course on the use of OT in the NT would be something I would love to attend!

BTW, I do believe in the Virgin birth - simply based on Matthew's Gospel.

5:20 PM  
Blogger anthony said...

which is why the roman catholics have to create another doctrine of the immaculate conception! mary the mother of jesus was also sinless (at least at the point when she conceived jesus). this is to prevent sin from being passed down to jesus her son.

paul, you are right to note the inconsistency here with the protestant doctrine of virgin birth. even if mary was a virgin and the holy spirit was the one who helped her conceived jesus and not joseph, this does not prevent sin from being imputed through mary to jesus. the roman catholics noted this and dealt with it accordingly. protestants knows it but do not want to go that logical step to say mary is sinless. so, we are stuck in between.

like yourself, i believe in the virgin birth in the gospel account. all i am saying is that matthew did not have to go to the OT to look for a messianic prophecy to support the virgin birth. but this was because the early christians also operated with the prophecy-fulfillment paradigm of the OT prophets. what was predicted/prophecized needs to be fulfilled. so, in the gospel story, you have the fulfillment part. so naturally they looked for the first part - the prophecy in the OT. isaiah 7:14 seems to fit what they were looking for.

10:39 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

hi Anthony and Paul,

Paul, welcome back. I am fascinated with your 'original sin' and 'imputed sin.' That's a very fine line. 'Imputed sin' will imply that Jesus is not sinless.

Anthony, maybe instead of making Mary sinless, we can suggest that the consequences of the 'original sin' is only transmitted via the male. Hence Jesus is sinless because of the virgin birth.

11:04 PM  
Blogger Dr. Claude Mariottini said...


Readers who read your post and the book on Isaiah’s prophecy on Immanuel should study the many problems associated with the text. I have written two posts dealing with this text:
Isaiah 7:14 and the TNIV and Isaiah 7:14 and the TNIV Reconsidered.

I hope this will help your readers.

Claude Mariottini

12:03 AM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

Dear Claude,

Welcome and thank you for your comments. I have taken the liberty of reconfiguring your links so that my readers may read your two excellent postings:Isaiah 7:14 and the TNIV and Isaiah 7:14 and the TNIV Reconsidered

12:29 AM  
Blogger Dr. Claude Mariottini said...


Thank you. I hope your readers will enjoy reading my posts.

Claude Mariottini

12:34 AM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...


Isaiah 7:4 and the TNIV Reconsidered

12:42 AM  

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