Why Christianity Fails to Understand the Virgin Birth

Azhar GorayaCHRISTIANITY • FACTS FROM FICTION

9th December 2021

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This article has been taken from a larger investigative article titled, ‘Jesus, the ‘Son of God’ – An Investigation into the Virgin Birth and its Meaning‘ It is part of a wider series exploring the sonship and divinity of Jesus (as). To read more on this topic, visit our Facts from Fiction page.

Read the previous artcle: ‘Does the Bible Clearly State That There Was a Virgin Birth?

Azhar Goraya, Mexico

The virgin birth did not demonstrate the divinity of Jesus Christ

Executive Summary

Christian doctrine understands the virgin birth in three ways: demonstrating that Jesus (as) was born without Original Sin, demonstrating that his father, was God and demonstrating the fulfilment of the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14. Nevertheless, none of these are without serious controversy, as they all acknowledge or attempt to validate the divinity of Jesus (as), something that the primary biblical texts vehemently oppose.

According to the doctrine of Original Sin, Jesus (as) was the only one who was free of Original Sin owing to his virgin birth. Nevertheless, the bible states that all who are born of women are sinful (Jeremiah 17:9). This would mean that Jesus (as) inherited Original Sin despite not having a human father. His physical suffering during his life and physical death practically demonstrated that he inherited Original Sin from his mother. The doctrine is riddled with further contradictions – the Bible describes Melchizedek (Hebrews 7:3) as having been born without a mother or father, who then by the same logic should also have been free of Original Sin. Luke 1:15 states that John (as) was born in a miraculous fashion and that he was filled with the Holy Spirit from the womb – how could he be both corrupted by Original Sin and filled with the Holy Spirit from before birth? The Catholic Church believes that Mary was born without Original Sin, another contradiction. Some claim that Mary was only the surrogate mother of Jesus (as) and he thus avoided inheriting Original Sin from her. Nevertheless, the Bible states that Mary herself conceived Jesus (as) (Luke 1:31). Paul also claims that Jesus (as) was descended from David (as) in the flesh (Romans 1:3). If Jesus (as) was not her son in the flesh, then he would have no claim to the Davidic throne, thus negating his claim of being the Messiah. He would also cease to be both ‘fully human and divine’ as he did not inherit any human DNA, which contradicts the doctrine of the Trinity. Moreover, such a birth would make the fact that Mary was a virgin redundant and unnecessary.

Moreover, the virgin birth did not demonstrate that Jesus (as) was the literal son of God. The term son of God, according to its usage in the Old Testament and by Jesus (as), only indicated someone that was beloved by God and granted a mandate by Him, such as prophethood. God cannot have a physical son as it would be contrary to His perfection. God created other people in miraculous fashions yet they are not considered divine nor literal sons of God. Both Adam (as) (Genesis 2:7) and Melchizedek (Hebrews 7:3) were created without mother or father. Others, such as Isaac (as) (Genesis 17-18), Samuel (as) (1 Samuel 1:1-20), Samson (Judges 13) and John the Baptist (as) (Luke 1:5-17), were born miraculously when God healed their barren mothers. Natural sciences have recorded instances of virgin births in the past, and modern theories have also demonstrated that virgin birth is not impossible.

The prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 also cannot be categorically demonstrated as a prophecy indicating that the Messiah would be born to a virgin. Matthew references the prophecy in support of the virgin birth (Matthew 1:22-23), yet the original wording of the prophecy in the Old Testament Hebrew does not mention that a virgin will give birth to a child, rather the term used is almah, which only means a maiden or young woman. The prophecy was also specific to the time it was made and indicated that the enemies of King Ahaz would be destroyed before a young maiden could give birth to a child that would begin to understand between right and wrong – a stylized way of saying ‘within a few years.’ Jewish texts have never interpreted Isaiah 7:14 as referring to the Messiah. Nevertheless, it is possible that some might have understood it and perhaps other such prophecies as ‘double prophecies,’ which had both an immediate and later fulfilment.

The Significance of the Virgin Birth According to Christian Doctrine

In the previous article, it was demonstrated that the gospels do not unanimously state that Jesus was born of a virgin. Nevertheless, the Holy Qur’an, sent after the Bible in part to clarify past teachings, confirms that he was in fact born of a virgin. Although most Christians and all Muslims believe in the virgin birth, they diverge when it comes to seeking meaning behind the virgin birth.

There are three major controversial ideas that Christian doctrine generally attributes to the virgin birth:

  1. To demonstrate the purity of Jesus (as) from the effects of Original Sin.
  2. To demonstrate that Jesus (as) did not have a human father and therefore God was his father.
  3. In fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 which states that the Messiah would be born of a virgin.

It will shortly be demonstrated that each of these positions is unsupported and even contradictory to the biblical narrative.

Did the Virgin Birth Demonstrate the Purity of Jesus (as) from Original Sin?

One significance that Christian doctrine attributes to the virgin birth is its relation to the doctrine of atonement. That is, that there was a fall from grace when Adam (as) first disobeyed God. This sin corrupted his very nature, and thereafter he and all his progeny became irresistibly attracted to sin, the result of which is spiritual death. God, who is Just, could not forgive the sin and wipe out the stain of corruption without first exacting an equal payment. This equal payment, according to orthodox doctrine, was through the willing death and sacrifice of someone who had not been corrupted by this Original Sin.

The doctrine goes on to state that Jesus (as) was the only such person born free from sin. Being born of a virgin, he had not inherited Original Sin. If he was born sinless, he was not a son of Adam (as), and therefore he must have been divine.

The fallacies and weaknesses of the doctrine of Atonement will be dealt with another time. Islam accepts neither the validity nor the need for it. What will be analyzed here is that, even according to this doctrine, the virgin of birth of Jesus (as) would still not qualify him as a sinless individual.

All Who are Born of Women Also Inherit Original Sin

According to the doctrine of Original Sin, both males and females inherit its effect. No one is pure in terms of being free from Original Sin. Portions of the Old Testament are cited in support of this belief, such as Jeremiah 17:9, which states:

‘The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse — who can understand it?’ (Jeremiah 17:9)

Or Psalms 51:5, which reads as:

‘Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.’ (Psalms 51:5)

Even if we accept this interpretation of these verses, then by the same logic we must accept that Mary was not free from Original Sin either. Of course, this means that neither was Jesus (as), despite his virgin birth. This is because the Bible emphasizes that those born of women cannot be pure. Job 15:14 states:

‘What are mortals, that they could be pure, or those born of woman, that they could be righteous?’ (Job 15:14)

The same book reiterates this belief in 25:4:

‘How then can a mortal be righteous before God? How can one born of woman be pure?’ (Job 25:4)

This means that Mary undoubtedly inherited Original Sin and would have thus passed it on to Jesus (as). Nowhere is it stated that the sinful ‘gene’ or propensity is passed on only through the male.

In fact, the bible states in Genesis 3:6-7 that it was Eve that first fell prey to the deceit of Satan in the Garden of Eden, and it was she who caused Adam (as) to disobey God. If anything, then, the propensity to sin is even stronger within the female, according to Christianity. Therefore, it makes more sense that the ‘sin gene’ would be passed on through the female rather than the male.

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Jesus (as) Inherited the Effects of Original Sin

The above statement is not just conjecture. The effects of Original Sin include not only spiritual death, but physical death, pain and hardship as well. Genesis 3:16-19 states:

‘To the woman he said, ‘I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”

‘And to the man he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life;’

‘Thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.’

‘By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’ (Genesis 3:16-19)

Jesus (as) suffered from physical hardships, demonstrating that he did indeed inherit Original Sin from his mother.

Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) was the promised reformer of this age. He claimed to be the second advent of Jesus (as), and many of his printed works are dedicated to clarifying the true teachings of Jesus and highlighting his life as a mortal prophet of God. He touches on the aforementioned contradiction in his book Kitabul Bariyya:

'Another objection that I have made is that it is claimed about Jesus that he was free from both inherited and personal sin, although this is patently false. Christians themselves accept that Jesus received his fleshly body from his mother, who was not free from sin. Moreover, Christians also claim that all physical pain and suffering is a result of sin. There is no doubt that Jesus suffered from the pangs of hunger and thirst, and that during childhood, according to the law of nature, he probably suffered from chickenpox and smallpox, and must have suffered when his teeth began to come out, and from the heat of the day. According to the Christian doctrine, this was all the effect of sin. How then can Jesus be accepted as a pure sacrifice?' [1]

In short, Jesus (as) being born without a father in no way saves him from the effects of Original Sin, as the same texts that are used to prove the doctrine specifically state that the effects are inherited by all those who are born of women, regardless of whether there was the agency of a male or not. Moreover, Jesus (as) demonstrated that he was not free from the effects of Original Sin, proving that he did indeed inherit it from his mother.

Was Jesus (as) the Only One Born Pure?

Moreover, if we accept that because of his virgin birth Jesus (as) was free from the stain of Original Sin, then we must also logically accept the same for others who also had such extraordinary births. This of course contradicts another doctrine, which claims that Jesus (as) was the only one who was born pure.

Melchizedek, a priest who was alive during the time of Abraham, is stated in Hebrews 7:3 to have lacked both a mother and father:

‘Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.’ (Hebrews 7:3)

John (as), a relative of Jesus (as), was filled with the Holy Spirit from birth according to Luke 1:15:

‘For he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ (Luke 1:15)

How could original sin cohabit a body that was filled with the Holy Spirit even before its birth?

Though not grounded in the Bible, the Catholic Church believes in the Immaculate Conception. That is, that Mary, the mother of Jesus (as), was born without sin, the same as Jesus (as).

In the Constitution Ineffabilis Deus of December 8, 1854, Pope Pius IX pronounced:

'We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of Original Sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.'

It seems that the above declaration was made in part to extricate Jesus (as) from the situation of being born to a mother who had inherited original sin and would most certainly have passed it on to him. Nevertheless, the belief in the Immaculate Conception raises more doubts than it resolves.

How could Mary have been cleansed of Original Sin without the death of Jesus (as) on the cross? If God cleansed her, then this goes against His standard of justice. Moreover, if people other than Jesus (as) could be free of the stain of Original Sin, then Jesus (as) was not the only one who could have theoretically died for the sins of mankind. The deaths of any of these other especially pure individuals could also have sufficed.

Moreover, if people could be born without being affected by Original Sin, why was the death of Jesus (as) necessary on the cross? Why didn’t God just forgive Original Sin for all people?

If God was Just and couldn’t forgive Original Sin without a blood sacrifice, how did He exclude Mary, born of a human mother and father, from inheriting Original Sin? In that case, how did He exclude even Jesus (as), born of a human mother?

Mary – Only A Surrogate Mother of Jesus (as)?

Upon seeing that Original Sin is most certainly inherited through the mother, certain Christians propose that Mary was only the surrogate mother of Jesus (as). That is, she did not contribute any genetic material to Jesus (as). Jesus (as) was miraculously formed whole within her, and her body only nourished his until his birth. In this way, they hope to avoid the implication that Jesus (as) inherited Original Sin through Mary.

This belief is also unfounded and comes with its own problems. The Bible states in Luke 1:31 that an angel told Mary,

You will conceive and give birth to a son.’ (Luke 1:31)

In other words, Mary would conceive Jesus (as), not that he would be created from outside and merely placed in her. Paul also rejects the idea of Mary only being a surrogate by stating in Romans 1:3:

‘The gospel about His son, descended from David according to the flesh.’ (Romans 1:3)

If Jesus (as) was created as a special creation of God without truly being of Mary, then he had no real relationship with mankind. He then not only avoided inheriting Original Sin, but he also avoided inheriting any aspect of human nature at all! He, therefore, could not be considered fully human, which goes against a central tenet of orthodox Christian Trinitarian theology, which states that Jesus (as) was both fully human and fully divine.

He would also no longer in any sense be truly of the lineage of David (as) as he no longer shared any genetic material with Mary. This would nullify his claim of being the Messiah, as being of the line of David (as) was a requirement for the post.

Moreover, the lineages of Jesus (as) that are given in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke traced from his parents would also be false – Jesus (as) was then not truly the son of either Mary or Joseph.

If Jesus (as) was fully created by God and then merely placed in the womb of Mary, then he was not truly “born of a virgin” either – she acted merely as a surrogate womb. The fact that she happened to be a virgin had no real significance in his birth. In such a case, he could have been born from any animal, or even sprung forth from a rock or a tree, and according to such Christians this would not affect the belief that he was perfectly human and divine in the least.

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Did the Virgin Birth Demonstrate that God was the literal Father of Jesus (as)?

The idea that God was the Father of Jesus (as) has been previously shown to only be applicable in a metaphorical, non-divine fashion, as it was to others before Jesus (as) in the Old Testament, such as David (as) (Psalms 2:7), Solomon (Samuel 7:12-16) and even the tribe of Ephraim (Jeremiah 31:20). It was a term of endearment used by God for Jesus (as). Moreover, the involvement of the ‘Holy Ghost’ in his birth was synonymous to the Old Testament term of the ‘Spirit of God’ being involved in the creation of all things. Far from demonstrating his supposed divinity, the involvement of the Holy Ghost only meant that his birth was due to the wondrous creative powers of God, and that his birth was pure and legitimate as opposed to impure and being the result of fornication. Jesus (as) came to be viewed as the divine son of God when his message began to spread amongst the gentile Roman Christian converts, who interpreted the term literally and in consonance with their own previous polytheistic beliefs.

In any case, it is impossible for God to have a physical son, because if he did it would mean that God had sexual relations with Mary, His own creation, and that Jesus (as) was a half man-half god chimera. Moreover, being his biological father would mean that God has a physical body, experiences sexual desire, and is subject to death. Such ideas are blatantly blasphemous and at odds with the purity, supremacy, and holiness of God.

What remains of the virgin birth argument for those who insist that it demonstrates his divinity is that since Jesus (as) did not have a human father, his creation was special and was therefore divine. This too is illogical – it doesn’t reasonably follow that someone that is not born in the usual manner must be divine. It would certainly be a miracle, but it would be a miraculous creation of God. The creation of God remains separate from Him and does not become divine or God Himself.

This point can be understood from the very first verse of the Bible. The book of Genesis states:

‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.’ (Genesis 1:1)

The creation of the heavens and earth from nothing but the power of God was certainly miraculous. In no place though is there an affirmation that the creation is equal to the Creator or becomes the Creator merely because it came into being through the special creative power of God.

There are other objects that are created by God in a miraculous fashion yet are not seen as being divine. The angels of God are created, spiritual beings. The soul of man is something that comes into being through the special decree of God. Yet, we do not state that angels or souls are divine like God.

Other Humans Born in Extraordinary Ways

The Bible mentions other human beings that were created in extraordinary fashions, even more so than Jesus (as), yet Christians do not deify them.

Adam (as) is mentioned in Genesis 2:7 as having been created without the agency of either male or female:

‘Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.’ (Genesis 2:7)

The Gospel of Luke in 3:38 moreover indicates that Adam (as)’s father was God himself:

‘…son of Enos, son of Seth, son of Adam, son of God.’ (Luke 3:38)

If Jesus (as) was divine merely because he lacked a human father, then Adam (as) should be doubly so, as he lacked both mother and father and is identified as God’s son. The Holy Qur’an presents this important argument in 3:60, where it states:

إِنَّ مَثَلَ عِيسَىٰ عِندَ اللهِ كَمَثَلِ آدَمَ ۖ خَلَقَهُ مِن تُرَابٍ ثُمَّ قَالَ لَهُ كُن فَيَكُونُ

‘Surely, the case of Jesus with Allah is like the case of Adam. He created him out of dust, then He said to him, ‘Be!,’ and he was.’ (3:60)

The Promised Messiah (as) explains this argument in his book Tuhfa Golarwiya:

'And remember that in being born without a father, God has compared Adam to the Messiah. The reason why He did not compare him to anyone else is only so that a famous and commonly accepted example be presented. The Christians had claimed that Jesus was distinct in being born without a father and that this is an argument in favor of his divinity. To refute this argument, God presented that example which was undisputed and universally accepted by the Christians. If God had presented any other example, it would not have been as widely and universally accepted as this one, and the matter would have remained conjectural.' [2]

Melchizedek would also qualify as a divine individual according to this standard. The Book of Hebrews in 7:3 mentions the priest Melchizedek as:

‘Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life.’ (Hebrews 7:3)

His creation seems to be even more miraculous than that of Jesus (as) and Adam (as), as he seems to have existed since eternity, whereas Adam (as) and Jesus (as) both came into being at a specific point in time. Nevertheless, despite his remarkable creation, he is not deified.

Other Extraordinary Birth Narratives

The Bible mentions certain individuals whose births were extraordinary in the sense that God cured the infertility of their mothers and at times the father as well and allowed them to conceive in the normal manner. These narrations are striking in their similarity to the narrative of the birth of Jesus (as). Many times, an angel of God appears before the women to communicate to them that they will be cured of their barrenness and that the child they will conceive will be special and will serve God in a distinct manner.

In Genesis, we find mention of how God cured the infertility of Sarah and allowed her to conceive at the age of 90 whilst Abraham was 100 (Genesis 17:17). In this case, God or perhaps an angel or angels of God conveyed this glad-tiding to them both (Genesis 18:9-10). She gave birth to the prophet Isaac.

Hannah, the wife of Elkanah was cured of her barrenness after praying to God and thereafter gave birth to Samuel (as) (1 Samuel 1:1-20). An angel of God, once again, conveyed this glad-tiding to her husband and later to her as well.

The wife of Manoah was likewise barren. God sent an angel to her which told her that she would bear a child who should be dedicated to God. She later conceived a child, who was named Samson (Judges 13).

A woman of the town of Shunem was barren but was told by the prophet Elisha that she would give birth to a son, which she later did (2 Kings 4:14-17). This child apparently later died and was miraculously brought back to life by Elisha (2 Kings 4:18-37).

In the New Testament, we find that the mother of John the Baptist (as), Elizabeth was barren and she alongside her husband Zechariah (as) were both of advanced age. An angel appeared to Zechariah (as) and stated that his wife would conceive, and that the child would serve as a prophet in God’s path (Luke 1:5-17).

The Qur’an in 21:90-91 specifically presents the birth of John the Baptist, known as Yahya (as), as comparable to that of Jesus (as) in its miraculous nature. Like Jesus (as), his birth was also foretold and communicated to his parents by God (19:8). The striking similarities between his and Jesus’s narratives serve as a response to those who deify Jesus (as) because of the circumstances surrounding his birth. If John (as) wasn’t divine because of his special birth, Jesus (as) shouldn’t have been either:

وَزَكَرِيَّا إِذْ نَادَىٰ رَبَّهُ رَبِّ لَا تَذَرْنِي فَرْدًا وَأَنتَ خَيْرُ الْوَارِثِينَ [] فَاسْتَجَبْنَا لَهُ وَوَهَبْنَا لَهُ يَحْيٰى وَأَصْلَحْنَا لَهُ زَوْجَهُ ۚ إِنَّهُمْ كَانُوا يُسَارِعُونَ فِي الْخَيْرَاتِ وَيَدْعُونَنَا رَغَبًا وَرَهَبًا ۖ وَكَانُوا لَنَا خَاشِعِينَ

‘And remember Zachariah when he cried to his Lord, saying, ‘My Lord, leave me not childless, and Thou art the Best of inheritors.’ So We heard his prayer and bestowed upon him John and cured his wife for him. They used to vie with one another in good works and they called on Us in hope and in fear, and they humbled themselves before Us.’ (21:90-91)

These individuals were thus all conceived through the special creative or restorative powers of God, yet they are not deified.

Virgin Birth in Natural Science

Coming to the natural sciences, we find numerous theories about the processes that could lead to a virgin birth. [3] The Promised Messiah (as) has also commentated about this phenomenon in his book Tuhfa Golarwiyya:

'The birth of Jesus without a father is also a matter of rare occurrence and is not against the natural laws of nature. Greek, Egyptian and Indian doctors have written about many such occurrences, that at times a child can be born without a father. Through divine providence, there are certain women who have both faculties of dispensing and receiving. They therefore have the faculties of both males and females in their seed. The Greeks have mentioned the occurrence of such births, as the Hindus have as well. Recently, medical books that have been printed in Egypt have mentioned such occurrences with great research. The terms “children of the moon” and “children of the sun” mentioned in Hindu books refer to these phenomena. So, this type of birth only has a rareness associated with it, like there is a rareness associated with twin births, and nothing more. It cannot be said that being born without a father is an extraordinary event that is limited to Jesus.' [4]

The most plausible theory seems to be virgin birth through a process called parthenogenesis, where a mammal, in essence, fertilizes itself. Undoubtedly, owing to its rarity, claims of virgin births in society would be off-handedly dismissed. It is also possible that in many such cases, the women themselves would be unaware of the conception of their child without male agency, as many would have been sexually active.

Not only is there documented evidence of virgin birth in the past, but there is also precedent for such a birth occurring in modern times as well:

'There is one documented case of a natural half-parthenogenetic birth. In 1995, Nature Genetics reported a child that had some cells (about 50%) that consisted of genetic material only from his mother and some that were normal and consisted of DNA from both parents. Doctors who studied the child theorized that one of the mother's eggs that had been fertilized by the father fused with an unfertilized egg that was dividing parthenogenetically.' [5]

A plausible scientific explanation for the virgin birth would in no way reduce the miraculous nature of the birth of Jesus (as) but would only disqualify it as demonstrating any sort of divinity. After all, no matter how fantastic or rare natural phenomena are, they are still bound within the laws of matter and physicality and are certainly not the stuff of divinity.

In short, merely being born of a mother without the agency of a human father does not prove that Jesus (as) was divine. He was conceived by Mary and was a creation of God, not His biological or metaphorical-yet-divine son. There are others who were created in an even greater miraculous fashion, such as Adam (as) and Melchizedek, and yet others who were born when God cured their mothers who were barren, such as Isaac (as), Samuel (as), Samson and John the Baptist (as), yet they are not deified. Even angels and the human soul are special, spiritual creations of God that are brought into being in a miraculous fashion. The natural sciences speak of virgin birth being a rare but natural and thus non-divine phenomenon.

In Fulfillment of the Prophecy in Isaiah 7:14?

Certain Christians advance the theory that Jesus (as) was born to a virgin in completion of a prophecy in Isaiah 7:14. The prophecy is sometimes translated as stating:

‘Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel.’ (Isaiah 7:14)

The author of the Gospel of Matthew specifically referenced this statement in 1:22-23 and claimed that it was fulfilled through the virgin birth of Jesus (as). He writes:

‘All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).’ (Matthew 1:22-23)

Nevertheless, this is controversial – the context of the text hardly supports this interpretation. Jesus (as) himself never claimed that his birth was in fulfilment of this sign.

The Context of the Prophecy – The Victory of King Ahaz

The seventh chapter of the Book of Isaiah (7:1-2) begins by describing the Syro-Ephraimite War, a military crisis that threatened Ahaz, King of the Southern Kingdom of Judah.

Around the year 735 B.C.E. the House of David (as) in the Kingdom of Judah was facing destruction at the hands of two kingdoms: the northern Kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of Syria. The northern Kingdom of Israel was led by its prince, Pekah, and the Kingdom of Syria by their king, Rezin. They had both decided to dethrone the king of Judah and install a vassal king in his place. Their two armies thus laid siege to Jerusalem (2 Kings 16:5).

Isaiah 7:3-9 states that the Prophet Isaiah was instructed to tell Ahaz that God would protect his Kingdom and reduce his enemies to ‘smoldering stumps of firebrands.’ God then told Ahaz to ask Him for a sign. Ahaz refused, saying that ‘He would not put the Lord to the test.’ In response, Isaiah rebuked him and stated that God Himself would thus show him a sign. The sign would be:

‘The young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. 15 He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16 For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted (Isaiah 7:14-16).’ [6]

Meaning, that a young woman who was pregnant would give birth to a child and who would have not yet become a toddler when God would destroy both the kingdoms that had united against King Ahaz.

This prophecy was fulfilled in a marvellous manner. Despite winning the most battles, Rezin and Pekah were unsuccessful in their attempt to take Jerusalem and replace Ahaz (2 Chronicles 28:5–15; Isaiah 7:1–9). Rezin and Pekah were both killed in 732 B.C.E. and their kingdoms were reduced to nothing. This occurred approximately 3 years after the attack on Jerusalem and the prophecy of their destruction. The prophecy was thus fulfilled to the letter. According to A critical and exegetical commentary on the book of Isaiah, I–XXXIX:

'We shall be safest in understanding the statement of vv. 14–16, as follows: within a few months at most, and perhaps immediately, a child (or children) now in the womb will be receiving the name Immanuel, God is with us: for the present popular tension will be relieved; and mothers will express the general feeling of relief at the favourable turn in public events (ct. 1 S 4:21) when they name their children. Such children with their names will be a reminder that the terror of the king and the people (v. 2) was groundless, and the confidence of the prophet justified. Moreover, the withdrawal of Syria and Ephraim will not be merely temporary; the child(ren) to be born will neither starve as they grow up in a beleaguered city, nor in a devastated country side: they will feed on curds and honey (v. 15)—the highly prized products of the land of promise. For within two or three years, Ephraim and Syria will have perished, their land will be a land of ruins (v. 16). The sign lies not, as the traditional Christian and some recent theories assume, in the circumstances of the birth, but in the chain of events now predicted, and their association with the birth and naming of a child, and in the time and order of their occurrence being determined by reference to the child’s growth, as in 8:3f.' [7]

Does the Prophecy Mention a ‘Virgin’?

Coming to the wording of the prophecy in Isaiah, it does not necessarily translate as a virgin giving birth. A better translation would be a ‘young woman’ giving birth.

Certain Christians go to great lengths to translate the passage as referring to a virgin, because that is how the author of Matthew translated it. The word that appears in the text of Matthew that is generally translated as virgin is parthenos παρθένος. The Greek word means virgin, or perhaps simply young maiden:

'Parethenos παρθένος, ου, ἡ a young woman of marriageable age, with or without focus on virginity.' [8]

Parthenos παρθένος in Greek is an attempted translation of the Hebrew word in Isaiah which is almah עַלְמָה. The primary use of the word almah is to convey the idea of a woman who is physically mature and of marriageable age, but not whether she is a virgin:

'עַלְמָה (ʿǎl∙mā(h)) young woman, i.e., sexually mature female of marriageable age, which may or may not be sexually active (Ge 24:43; Ex 2:8; Ps 68:26[EB 25]; Pr 30:19; SS 1:3; 6:8; Isa 7:14+), note: context will demand or suggest if the young woman is sexually active.' [9]

Such is the case for the male rendering of the term as well:

'The word alma only conveys age/gender. Had Isaiah wished to speak about a virgin, he would have used the word betulah (בְּתוּלָה) not almah. The word betulah appears frequently in the Jewish Scriptures and is the only word – in both biblical and modern Hebrew – that conveys sexual purity…the masculine form of the noun עַלְמָה (alma) is עֶלֶם (elem), which means a 'young man,' not a male virgin. This word appears twice in the Jewish Scriptures (I Samuel 17:56, 20:22). As expected, without exception, all Christian Bibles correctly translate עֶלֶם as a 'young man,' 'lad,' or stripling,' never 'virgin.' [10]

As mentioned, the context will demonstrate whether the meaning is of a virgin or not. The word itself does not.

It is important to emphasize that if the prophecy wished to emphasize the miracle of a virgin giving birth, then there were other words that would have been more opportune, such as betulah, commonly used in Hebrew to convey the idea of a virgin:

‘The notion of unspotted virginity is not that which this word (Almah) conveys, for which the proper word is בְּתוּלָה (Betulah); neither does it convey the idea of the unmarried state…but of the nubile state and puberty.’ [11]

There is no indication in the context of the prophecy itself that the birth of the child was in any way extraordinary. The extraordinary occurrence in the prophecy was the destruction of the enemies of the Kingdom of Judah within a few years, not the birth of a child to a virgin. Nor does it imply that it refers to the birth of a specific child at all – the import of the prophecy seems to be general. It seems to be the stylized way of stating that the enemies of Judah would be destroyed within a few short years.

Nor does the prophecy specify the woman who is being spoken of. Several possibilities have been presented by biblical commentators, namely the wife of the prophet Isaiah, an unspecified woman, a woman who was present at the time of the prophecy or perhaps a specific woman who had been mentioned previously by the prophet. In any case, the context does not allow that the word refers to Mary, the mother of Jesus (as).

Moreover, if the prophecy did refer to the birth of a child to a virgin, this would mean that a virgin had given birth to a child during the time of King Ahaz. There would thus be another candidate for divinity for Christians to consider. If Jesus (as) was a divine ‘son of God’ because he was born to a virgin, must not this other child be considered divine as well?

A Double Prophecy?

Before the weight of the historical context and completion of the prophecy in Isaiah 7, certain Christians claim that the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 is a ‘double prophecy,’ meaning that it had a certain significance during the time of King Ahaz and was fulfilled, but it was also destined to be fulfilled through the virgin birth of the Messiah.

This is problematic for several reasons. Firstly, the context of the prophecy in no way alludes to the birth of the Messiah. The prophecy was made about the destruction of the enemies of Judah and was fulfilled soon after being made. Secondly, as was previously mentioned, there is no explicit mention in the prophecy about the miraculous birth of a child to a virgin. Even if it was a so-called double prophecy, there is no indication in the text to come to that conclusion.

A sceptic could point out that it is more likely that the author of Matthew attempted to draw the parallel between the birth of Jesus (as) and the passage of Isaiah to make the virgin birth more plausible for the Jews, despite the problems discussed above, as it appears that many doubted the virgin birth of Jesus (as), which is perhaps why Mark and John did not include it in their Gospels.

Nevertheless, the Islamic viewpoint is that prophecies can have multiple fulfillments, and many times are susceptible to different interpretations.

For example, the prophecy recorded in 61:7 of the Holy Qur’an states that Jesus (as) foretold that a prophet by the name of Ahmad would appear after him. This primarily refers to the Prophet Muhammad (sa), but also refers to the advent of the Messiah, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) who, owing to his similarity to the Prophet Muhammad (sa), was granted the same name by God. In this case, there is ample reasoning for the application of the double prophecy. The Promised Messiah (as) elaborates in his book Tuhfa Gularwiyya:

'And like the verse “and I give glad tidings of a prophet after me whose name is Ahmad” indicates, there will be a person so similar to the prophet Muhammad (sa) who will appear in the latter days that he will be as one of his hands. He will be called Ahmad in the heavens, and he will spread the faith with benevolence.  In the same fashion, the verse “And take the station of Abraham as a place of prayer” indicates that when the community of Muhammad will be divided into many factions, then in the latter days an Abraham will be born, and out of all of the groups, that one which follows that Abraham will be granted salvation.' [12]

It is thus not impossible that the prophecy in Isaiah and perhaps other such prophecies implied or were understood in some circles as double prophecies that indicated that the Messiah would be born of a virgin.

Conclusion

The belief that the virgin birth of Jesus in some way demonstrated his purity from original sin, or divinity or even that it was in fulfilment of previous prophecies, is a belief that is not sustained by the biblical texts. Nevertheless, as was mentioned earlier, Islam like Christianity affirms that Jesus was in fact born to a virgin. The difference is that Islam ascribes wholly monotheistic interpretations to the virgin birth, interpretations that will be discussed in the final instalment of this article.

About the AuthorAzhar Goraya is a graduate from the Ahmadiyya Institute of Languages and Theology in Canada. He is currently serving as an Imam of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Mexico. He is also the Central American Coordinator for The Review of Religions en Español.


ENDNOTES

  1. Kitabul Bariyya, Ruhani Khazain vol. 13, pg. 77

ایک اور اعتراض ہے جو ہم نے کیا تھا اور وہ یہ ہے کہ یسوع کی نسبت بیان کیا جاتا ہے کہ وہ موروثی اور کسبی گناہ سے پاک ہے۔ حالانکہ یہ صریح غلط ہے۔ عیسائی خود مانتے ہیں کہ یسوع نے اپنا تمام گوشت و پوست اپنی والدہ سے پایا تھا اور وہ گناہ سے پاک نہ تھی۔ اور نیز عیسائیوں کا یہ بھی اقرار ہے کہ ہر ایک درد اور دکھ گناہ کا پھل ہے اور کچھ شک نہیں ؔ کہ یسوع بھوکا بھی ہوتا تھا اور پیاسا بھی اور بچپن میں قانون قدرت کے موافق خسرہ بھی اس کو نکلا ہوگا اور چیچک بھی اور دانتوں کے نکلنے کے دکھ بھی اٹھائے ہوں گے اور موسموں کے تپوں میں بھی گرفتار ہوتا ہوگا اور بموجب اصول عیسائیوں کے یہ سب گناہ کے پھل ہیں۔ پھر کیونکر اس کو پاک فدیہ سمجھا گیا۔  (کتاب البریّہ ، روحانی خزائن جلد ۱۳ صفحہ ۷۷)

2. Tuhfa Golarwiya (A Present for Golarwiyya), Ruhani Khazain (Heavenly Treasures) vol. 17, pg. 208, footnote

اور یاد رہے کہ خدا نے بے باپ پیدا ہونے میں حضرت آدم سے حضرت مسیح کو مشابہت دی ہے اور یہ بات کہ کسی دوسرے انسان سے کیوں مشابہت نہیں دی یہ محض اس غرض سے ہے کہ تا ایک مشہور متعارف نظیر پیش کی جائے کیونکہ عیسائیوں کو یہ دعویٰ تھا کہ بے باپ پیدا ہونا حضرت مسیح کا خاصہ ہے اور یہ خدائی کی دلیل ہے۔ پس خدا نے اس حجت کے توڑنے کے لئے وہ نظیر پیش کی جو عیسائیوں کے نزدیک مسلّم اور مقبول ہے۔ اگر خدا تعالیٰ اپنی مخلوقات میں سے کوئی اور نظیر پیش کرتا تو وہ اس نظیر کی طرح بدیہی اور مسلّم الثبوت نہ ہوتی اور ایک نظری امر ہوتا۔  (تحفحہ گولڑویہ، روحانی خزائن جلد ۱۷،   صفحہ ۲۰۸، حاشیہ )

3. “The Virgin Birth: Scientific Plausibility”. Dr. Jalil Ahmad Bhatti. https://www.alhakam.org/the-virgin-birth-scientific-plausibility/.

4. Tuhfa Gularwiyya, Ruhani Khazain vol. 17, pg. 202-203, footnote

…حضرت مسیح کا بغیر باپ پیدا ہونا بھی امور نادرہ میں سے ہے۔ خلاف قانون قدرت نہیں ہے کیونکہ یونانی ،مصری، ہندی، طبیبوں نے اس امر کی بہت سی نظیریں لکھی ہیں کہ کبھی بغیر باپ کے بھی بچہ پیدا ہو جاتا ہے۔ بعض عورتیں ایسی ہوتی ہیں کہ بحکم قادرِ مطلق اُن میں دونوں قوتیں عاقدہ اور منعقدہ پائی جاتی ہیں اسلئے دونوں خاصیتیں ذَکر اور اُنثیٰ کی اُن کے تخم میں موجود ہوتی ہیں۔ یونانیوں نے بھی ایسی پیدائشوں کی نظیریں دی ہیں اور ہندؤوں نے بھی نظیریں دی ہیں اور ابھی حال میں مصر میں جو طبی کتابیں تالیف ہوئی ہیں ان میں بھی بڑی تحقیق کے ساتھ نظیروں کو پیش کیا ہے۔ ہندؤوں کی کتابوں کے لفظ چندر بنسی اور سورج بنسی درحقیقت انہی امور کی طرف اشارات ہیں۔ پس اس قسم کی پیدائش صرف اپنے اندر ایک ندرت رکھتی ہے۔ جیسے توام میں ایک ندرت ہے اس سے زیادہ نہیں۔ یہ نہیں کہہ سکتے کہ بغیر باپ پیدا ہونا ایک ایسا امر فوق العادت ہے جو حضرت عیسیٰ علیہ السلام سے خصوصیت رکھتا ہے۔ (تحفحہ گولڑویہ، روحانی خزائن جلد ۱۷، صفحہ ۲۰۲ تا ۲۰۳، حاشیہ)

5. “Are There Really Virgin Births?”. Matt Soniak. https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/20413/are-there-really-virgin-births. Accessed July 29, 2020.

6. The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Is 7:14–16). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

7. Gray, G. B. (1912). A critical and exegetical commentary on the book of Isaiah, I–XXXIX (p. 124). New York: C. Scribner’s Sons.

8. Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed.) (777). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

9. Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

10. “Does the Hebrew Word Alma Really Mean Virgin?”. Rabbi Tovia Singer. https://outreachjudaism.org/alma-virgin/#fn1-2580. Accessed July 25 2020.

11. Gesenius, W., & Tregelles, S. P. (2003). Gesenius’ Hebrew and Chaldee lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures (634). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

12. Zamimah Tuhfa Gularwiya, Ruhani Khazain, vol. 17 pg. 68-69

اور جیسا کہ آیت وَمُبَشِّرًا بِرَسُولٍ يَأْتِي مِن بَعْدِي اسْمُهُ أَحْمَدُ  میں یہ اشارہ ہے کہ آنحضرت صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم کا آخر زمانہ میں ایک مظہر ظاہر ہوگا گویا وہ اس کا ایک ہاتھ ہوگا  جس کا  نام آسمان پر احمد ہوگا اور وہ حضرت مسیح کے رنگ میں جمالی طور پر دین کو پھیلائے گا ایسا ہی یہ آیت وَاتَّخِذُوا مِن مَّقَامِ إِبْرَاهِيمَ مُصَلًّى  اس طرف اشارہ کرتی ہے کہ جب اُمت محمدیہ میں بہت فرقے ہو جائیں گے تب آخر زمانہ میں ایک ابراہیم پیدا ہوگا اور ان سب فرقوں میں وہ فرقہ نجات پائے گا کہ اس ابراہیم کا پیرو ہوگا۔ (ضمیمہ تحفہ گولڑویہ، روحانی خزائن جلد ۱۷، صفحہ ۶۸ تا ۶۹))

Related Posts:

  1. Jesus, the ‘Son of God’ – An Investigation into the Virgin Birth and its Meaning
  2. Jesus, the ‘Son of God’ – Because He Was Born of the Holy Spirit?
  3. The Historical Context of Jesus Being Called the ‘Son of God’
  4. Jesus, the ‘Son of God’ – The Historical Context

source https://www.reviewofreligions.org/33651/why-christianity-fails-to-understand-the-virgin-birth/

1 reply

  1. The teachings of the original sin and supposed to be salvation is the reason for me accepting Islam. Is it not more logical that there is no original sin and Allah the creator of us all simply can forgive our (new) sins without having to sacrifice any sons….

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