Isaiah 7:14 A “Rectilinear” Prophecy of Christ’s Virgin Birth
From the November / December 1996 issue of The Concordia Lutheran
A “Rectilinear” Prophecy of Christ’s Virgin Birth
“Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign:
Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and shall call his name Immanuel.” —Isaiah 7:14
It’s back in the news again, not the virgin birth of Christ, but that old skeleton still rattling around in the closet of “modern” exegetes that Isaiah 7:14 is not a prophecy of the virgin birth of the Savior, nor of any “virgin birth” at all. The so-called “higher critics” of the Bible have long held that the Hebrew word almáh can legitimately be translated “young woman” or “maid”, and that therefore Isaiah 7:14 should not be “forced” in English translation to “prove” the “virgin” birth of anybody, much less of Jesus Himself. And so we find most “modern” English translations of the Old Testament following that subversive “line” of the modernists who flat out deny the virgin birth of Christ and represent it to be a figment of Christian “mythology.”
Why is it so popular among “modern” interpreters of the Bible to discount the virgin birth of Christ and to pull Scripture “props” out from under this blessed doctrine?? Why would they even want to cast suspicion upon Isaiah 7:14 and its completely proper translation in our beloved King James Version?? Why would anyone even try to discredit the time-honored view of this passage as a direct (or “rectilinear”) prophecy of the miraculous conception and birth of Christ “of the Virgin Mary,” as believing Christians have confessed it in their creeds for eighteen centuries?? Is it because of genuine evidence recently uncovered in legitimate scholarship? —No! Is it because of genuine concern for Christ’s sheep that they not be led astray into the byways of error? —Certainly not! Is it perhaps because it doesn’t really matter what exegesis of this prophecy we accept, as long as we still have “respect” for the Sacred Scriptures?? —Not unless that “respect” is nothing but a sham and a pretense!!
To such willful and wanton perverters of divine truth should be directed the Savior’s words in John 8:43 and 44, “Why do ye not understand My speech? Even because ye cannot hear My Word. Ye are of your father, the devil!” Satan is the artful master at turning Scripture on its head, of perverting it, and of casting doubt upon its sure and certain words. He’s the one who invented the lie when in Genesis 3 he cunningly planted the seed of uncertainty in the ear of Eve with his contrived question, “Yea, hath God said??” And now we have modern-day sons of Belial, “wise in their own conceits,” who dare to attack the “sign” that “the Lord Himself” gave to indicate which “son” born of a woman would be “God with us;” and thus they undermine saving confidence in the son of Mary, the virgin of Nazareth, as “the Christ, the Son of the living God!”
Sadly, but not surprisingly, this same devilish “baloney” has infested the Missouri Synod’s own Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR), which refuses to come up with a simple statement confirming the time-honored and thoroughly Scriptural position that Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament refer directly to Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ of God, and to no one else. Why would this commission of ranking theologians thus pander to the views of modernists and leave this issue “out on a limb” for Missouri Synod Lutherans for over eight years? Why could it not in several minutes formulate a simple statement —perhaps with the help of children who, like Timothy, “have known the Holy Scriptures” (II Timothy 3:15) and have accepted them as the verbally-inspired Word of God? The reason is simple: As we have testified with unflinching consistency since 1951, the Missouri Synod is a heterodox church body which officially tolerates error in its midst, refuses to discipline those who publicly teach and practice contrary to the Word of God, has no real unity in its caricature of fellowship, and is quite satisfied with the status quo of all-talk-and-no-action on the part of its “confessional” wing. Even its president, touted by supporters as a “confessional” and a “conservative”, is either unwilling or unable to demonstrate the fortitude required of every Christian in Romans 16:17 and other passages to “mark” or identify those who cause divisions and offenses by their departure from sound doctrine and to “avoid them”. He is, ex officio at least, a member of the CTCR, which, according to published reports, recently issued its unanimous opinion: “We do not believe that a specific exegesis of given prophetic passages [as Isaiah 7:14 and others laid before the Commission] can be legislated.” Yet, according to news reports, the 1995 convention of the LCMS was able to “pass” a resolution confirming its traditional position on “rectilinear prophecy”, though apparently not with the unanimity required by God’s Word in I Corinthians 1:10. That’s the way the Synod now for many years has determined matters of doctrine and practice: It hopes for at least a “majority” in favor of the truth. And so it continues to go in the once orthodox Missouri Synod: The more things change, the more they stay the same, and a heterodox church body by any other name is still heterodox!
We, however, do not hesitate to state in simple terms and without equivocation the FACT that Isaiah 7:14 is a direct, rectilinear prophecy of the virgin birth of Christ, referring only and alone to that blessed event, and was fulfilled only by the conception and birth of Jesus of Nazareth of the Virgin Mary. We do not argue with the linguist who says that almáh in Hebrew CAN be translated out of context by the English “young woman” or “maiden” or “maid” (marriageable but not married) as well as “virgin.” The fact remains that in Isaiah 7:14 the word almáh MUST be translated “virgin.” Why? Because the only legitimate exegesis of this passage is determined NOT by etymology or lexicography or linguistics or history or the study of manuscripts but by the Holy Ghost Himself. The principle rejected by modernistic theologians, namely, that Scripture is its own interpreter (scriptura scripturam interpretatur), is what makes the correct understanding (and translation) of Isaiah 7:14 so utterly simple.
The Evangelist St. Luke, in the first chapter of his Gospel account, records in detail the message of Gabriel “to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.” (v. 27). The Greek of the New Testament is as specific as it could possibly be about the gynecological status of Mary in her pre-gestational condition. The Greek word parthénos, unlike the Hebrew word almáh, allows of only one meaning, namely, “virgin,” as Mary knew herself to be, “seeing I know not a man.” (v. 34). The operation of the Holy Ghost in the inception of Mary’s pregnancy (rather than the wicked calumny that Mary had had a quick last-minute affair with a former suitor OR that she and Joseph had been sleeping together on the sly) is the stated reason WHY both Mary, and Joseph (according to Matthew 1:20), and we too can be certain that the “holy thing which shall be born of [her] shall be called the Son of God” (v. 35), not a “love child” produced by carnal intercourse. The Greek word dio [“wherefore” or “for this reason”] makes the virgin conception and birth of Christ essential to His identification as the true Messiah. To be sure, to the “carnal mind [which] is enmity against God,” a virgin birth is “unscientific,” “impossible,” and therefore must be a kind of “sanctified myth” created by the early Christians to distinguish their beloved Master from other religious prophets of His stature. We would indeed expect an unbeliever to reason in this fashion and to blaspheme the God of all grace, who caused the Redeemer of sinful men to be born in this miraculous manner. But for any professing Christian to reason and speak the same way and to challenge the virgin birth of our Savior as an impossible event is completely unthinkable, “for with God nothing shall be impossible.” (v. 37).
Moreover, Matthew records the circumstances of Christ’s conception and birth in the first chapter of his Gospel account, verses 18 through 25. There he quotes the Lord’s angel announcing also to Joseph concerning Mary’s pregnancy: “That which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.” And right here is where the exegesis of Isaiah 7:14 is easily settled; for Matthew points to this event as fulfilling “that which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, ‘Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel,’ which being interpreted is, ‘God with us.’” If indeed we truly believe in the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures and their inerrancy as the Word of God Himself; if we believe, as we confess in our Catechism, that “God the Holy Ghost moved the holy men to write, and put into their minds the very thoughts which they expressed and the very words which they wrote;” then we also believe that in Matthew 1:23 the Holy Ghost quoted the Holy Ghost with divine, infallible precision, and that God Himself translated the Hebrew word almáh for us with the Greek word parthénos and thus made any speculation on this point completely moot AND completely out of place. God Himself settled any translation “problem” for our comfort and assurance —a happy fact which all the church fathers recognized down through the ages by the grace of God.
But is Isaiah 7:14 a “rectilinear” prophecy, pointing ONLY to the virgin birth of Christ and fulfilled ONLY by the virgin birth of Christ? Consider the following questions:
—Does not Matthew state unequivocally: “Now all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet…”?
—Does anyone (particularly one who already scoffs at the virgin birth of Christ) seriously think that there was another virgin birth at some time in the past to fulfill this prophecy??
—Does the Lord Himself “give [us] a sign” to point to His own Messiah, by an identifying mark so flawed that it can refer to any number of messiahs born at any number of times and places??
—Is it indeed a “sign” at all for “a young woman,” “a maiden,” a marriageable but never before married female (though not truly a virgin), to conceive and bear a son out of wedlock, when it happens hundreds of times every day??
—Did all those non-virginal young women or maidens who supposedly also fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy by giving birth to sons have offspring that could legitimately be called “God with us,” “the Son of God,” “the Son of the Highest,” “the Dayspring from on high,” and the “Horn of Salvation”??
What profound absurdity presents itself when the truths of Holy Scripture, “given by inspiration of God,” are set aside in favor of bizarre theories and wild speculation! Indeed, those who reject rectilinear Messianic prophecy (directly pointing to Jesus and to Jesus alone) in favor of “typological” prophecy which may or may not point to Jesus AT ALL but only to someone or some event that by pure happenstance resembles Jesus and His life here on earth, such “theologians” are not worthy of the name; for they do not speak “as the oracles of God” (I Peter 4:11) but “by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple” (Romans 16:18). From this preserve us, dear heavenly Father! Let us rather hold fast in confidence to the clearly rectilinear prophecies “spoken of the Lord by the prophets” concerning our precious Savior; for “to Him give all the prophets witness, that through His Name whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins.” (Acts 10:43).
Hail the day so rich in cheer for each earthborn creature!
God’s own Son from heaven draws near, takes our human nature.
Of a virgin born is He; Mary, by the Lord’s decree,
Is become a mother!
See the miracle of love:
God Himself from heaven above came to be our Brother!
— D. T. M