Is the Virgin Birth Mentioned in Scripture Prophecy?
Several biblical authors believed and wrote of the virgin birth of Christ. If we choose to deny this doctrine, we would raise the issue of the honesty or credibility of some of the most prominent Bible writers. This is true in both the Old and New Testament. Some of these authors spoke prophetically of the virgin birth while others wrote after the fact. Below are two of the most definitive examples.
Moses Spoke of the Coming of the Christ
When Moses quoted the words of God in Genesis 3:15, he became the first biblical writer to mention the coming of Christ. Referring to him as “her offspring” might have been an allusion to a virgin birth. After Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, God immediately judged their sin. Even in judgment, however, God demonstrated himself as a merciful God. He told the serpent:
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel. – Genesis 3:15
The introduction of a theological subject in Scripture is often an embryonic statement, sometimes called the Law of First Reference. The doctrine is there in “offspring” form. When God introduced the prospect of salvation to Adam and Eve and the whole race, the implication of the virgin birth was alluded to in the reference to “her offspring.” If the coming Messiah was to have a normal physical birth, the “offspring” would have come from a man. This reference in the beginning of Scripture to a woman’s “offspring” implied that the coming Redeemer would not have a human father. God would be the father of his only begotten Son and a virgin would give birth to “her offspring.”
Isaiah Spoke of the Virgin Birth
Probably the best known Old Testament verse referring to the virgin birth is found in Isaiah. God had instructed Isaiah to allow King Ahaz to ask God to perform a miracle. Ahaz, apparently apathetic to God and the divine message, refused to ask God for a sign. The Lord chose to give a sign to the king who had rejected it. “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” (Isa. 7:14). Some have commented this was an unfair sign because it was impossible for Ahaz to witness the virgin birth that occurred many years after his death. It must be remembered, however, that Ahaz had already rejected the sign before it was identified.
Some also argue that Isaiah did not mean a “virgin” but rather a “young maid” when he wrote this verse. Actually, the Hebrew word almah was translated either way. But the context suggests Isaiah was talking about a virgin. A non-virgin having a child would not be an extraordinary event but would be expected. The introduction of a miraculous sign implies the use of “virgin” rather than “young woman.” A virgin and a young woman ready for marriage today are not always the same thing as it usually was in Old Testament times.
Under Mosaic law, a young woman could be stoned if she was found pregnant out of wedlock. Birth control methods and therapeutic abortions were not available to cover up one’s promiscuity in Bible times. Even if Isaiah was referring to a young woman ready for marriage, it is reasonable to assume she had not known a man. When the Septuagint, the Greek language version of the Old Testament, was translated, a Greek word was used that could mean only “virgin.” Until recent times, it was generally assumed by translators that Isaiah here referred to a woman who had not known a man.
Not only is there a cultural and traditional reason for accepting the translation of the word “virgin,” there is a biblical mandate. When Matthew wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he cited this verse to demonstrate that Christ’s birth was fulfilling Bible prophecy. In doing so, he followed the Septuagint translation and used the Greek word parthenos, which could only be translated “virgin.” If he had so desired, he could have used another Greek word to identify a young woman, but this is not the word chosen by the Holy Spirit. Matthew noted:
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel,” (which means, God with us). – Matthew 1:22-23