2007 December

Archbishop of Canterbury acknowledges Isaiah did not say “virgin”

During an interview in December 2007 the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, was asked about the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14. This is the prophecy that has been used as the foundation stone of the virgin birth doctrine, and until the finding of the Dead Sea Scrolls was shown in our Bibles as saying a “virgin” shall conceive.

 Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.  (KJV)

The Archbishop acknowledged that “the original Hebrew doesn’t have the word virgin, it’s just a young woman”. He went on to make the claim that the Gospel of Matthew quoted the prophecy from a Greek translation which used the word “virgin”. Here is part of the interview:

SM: Christopher Hitchens and many others make the point that isn’t the translation for young woman rather than virgin? Does it have to be seen as virgin; might it be a mistranslation?

ABC: It is… well, what’s happening there one of the gospels quotes a prophecy that a virgin will conceive a child. Now the original Hebrew doesn’t have the word virgin, it’s just a young woman, but that’s the prophecy that’s quoted from the Old Testament in support of the story which is, in any case, about a birth without a human father, so it’s not that it rests on mistranslation; St Matthew’s gone to his Greek version of the bible and said “Oh, ‘virgin’; sounds like the story I know,” and put it in.

What the Archbishop was acknowledging is that the Book of Isaiah in the Old Testament does not contain a virgin birth prophecy. He maintained that Matthew did not quote the original Isaiah but used a Greek translation which contains a virgin birth prophecy.

The translation to which the Archbishop referred is known as the Septuagint, and came into being about 500 years after Isaiah had died. It mistranslated the Hebrew word for “young woman” as “virgin”.

In the final analysis, the Archbishop’s position is that the “virgin birth prophecy” is not derived from the Old Testament, but from a mistranslation of the Old Testament made centuries later.

For a detailed analysis of Matthew’s quotation of Isaiah’s Prophecy go to Isaiah’s prophecy.