Friday, December 3, 2010

Born of a Maiden/Born of a Virgin?

It seems that I have chosen to place many of the names associated with Jesus that give me the greatest difficulty at the top of my Advent study list.  First, the appellation, "mighty god," followed by "virgin-born," my topic for yesterday.  As I investigated, I again encountered the difficulties of translation, and I cannot speak to the accuracy of any translation from ancient Hebrew or 1st-century Greek.  I'm barely competent in contemporary English!  Most of the writers on the virgin birth spoke of the inaccuracy of translating the Hebrew word most properly translated "maiden" into the Greek Old Testament.  In the Greek translation, Isaiah's use of this term was mistranslated as "virgin."  It would seem that Matthew, relying on the Greek, made much of the virginity of Mary as fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy, when the prophecy spoke instead of "maiden-born," rather than "virgin-born," and referred to a much earlier event in Jewish history.

For many of us, the virgin birth doctrine is problematic, but I must respect the millions of Christians who consider it a cornerstone of the faith from which their entire understanding of Jesus and Christianity flows.  Again, we are confronted with looking back at ancient prophecy with modern, Christian eyes, and we may not understand Isaiah's intentions at all.  Would it be consistent with Jewish understanding to have God become incarnate through a virgin birth, or would that seem to the Jews of either Isaiah's or Jesus' time to have been a characteristic of a pagan religion, something blasphemous that is not consistent with the God of Abraham's interaction with humankind?

Again, I am forced to say that on this question, like so many others that puzzle me about orthodox Christian dogma, I must wait for God to speak to my heart when I'm ready for understanding.  Until then, I will have to say, "I honestly don't know."  I have to rely on the revelation of God in my heart in God's own good time.

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