In a recent piece on the BBC, interviewer Nicky Campbell spoke with Dr. Francesca Stavrakopoulou, Professor of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Religion at the University of Exeter. Responding to a question about the virgin birth, Dr. Stavrakopoulou said that, “basically, the virgin birth idea is a mistranslation.”
I think she’s wrong.
Different communities have different styles of conveying information. I think this is particularly important for understanding and translating the Bible.
I recently posted some thoughts about prophecies (and why they don’t “come true” in the NT). Along the way, the idea of a proof text came up.
In particular, I claimed that one style of NT prose consists of quoting part of the OT not for the truth value of the quotation, but rather just for the sake of using the words of the OT — even if those words are taken out of context. (Examples appear in the original post.)
By comparison, we also have unique styles now. Here are three of them:
What happens to prophecies in the New Testament?
The obvious answer is that they come true, but I think a more careful look shows otherwise.
Matthew 1:18-22 / Isaiah 7:14
As an example of a prophecy apparently coming true, we might consider the first chapter of Matthew. The text starting around Matthew 1:18 deals with the virgin birth of Jesus, fulfilling the prophecy of virgin birth in Isaiah 7:14. The text even reads (Matthew 1:22; NRSV), “All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet.”
John 19:24 / Psalm 22:18
Similarly, according to John 19:24, the soldiers cast lots for Jesus’ tunic to fulfill the prophecy of Psalm 22:18, “…and for my clothing they cast lots.” (Matthew 27:35 has the same account, but not all manuscripts have the direct reference to Psalms there.)
Fulfillment of Prophecy
Both of these seem to be cases of prophecies coming true.
But the Greek word in each case is plirow. And while “fulfill” is one common translation of that verb, I don’t think it’s accurate.