Q&A: Is the Virgin Birth a Mistranslation?
From the About page comes this question:
I saw a teaser on the History Channel about a Bible show coming up. They said that the Virgin Birth is a translation mistake. Is this really true?
The Bible show is “Bible Secrets Revealed.” (Incidentally, I’ll be in it. More on that later.) And I presume this is the teaser Brian saw: Bible Secrets Revealed: Sneak Peek. About 20 seconds in (not counting the annoying ad), Dr. Francesca Stavrakopoulou repeats a claim she’s made to the BBC in the past: “The idea the Jesus must have been born of a virgin is essentially a mistranslation.” But it’s not.
The text displayed as Dr. Stavrakopoulou speaks is Isaiah 7:14, which originally referred to a young woman even though it is often wrongly translated as “a virgin shall conceive.” The mistranslation as “virgin” dates back to the Greek version of the Bible known as the Septuagint, which renders the Hebrew alma (“young woman”) there as parthenos (“virgin”). It’s not the only place the Septuagint makes this and similar mistakes. But because Matthew (1:23) highlights the Greek here, this mistranslation is well known.
Still, this is a mistranslation of Isaiah 7:14, while the description of Jesus’ virgin birth comes from the Gospels. (I have to assume Dr. Stavrakopoulou knows this, by the way. I wouldn’t want to base too much on the editing that created the teaser.) Matthew 1:18 explains that Mary conceived Jesus before having sex. And Luke 1:34-35 has Mary bearing a child before having sex. These are the passages that describe the virgin birth, and they are both clear and correctly translated.
So no, the virgin birth is not a mistranslation. And even though Matthew references Isaiah 7:14 in mistranslation, the text in Matthew does not depend upon Isaiah, and Luke doesn’t even mention Isaiah.
I have a whole chapter on this in my And God Said: How Translations Conceal the Bible’s Original Meaning, and some summaries on-line: “Who are you calling a virgin?” for example. And I explore why Matthew misquoted Isaiah here: “What Happens to Prophecies in the New Testament?“