Life was not easy for Mary after that visit from Gabriel, the angel who told her that she would conceive a child. Her, a virgin–conceive? Humanly impossible. “How can these things be?” she had asked, quite literally. Since that day, it seemed to Mary, everyone else in Galilee had asked the same question of her–but in another tone of voice. After a while, she had learned to accept the clucking and glances and side remarks. But what of Isaiah 7:14.and its mention of a virgin who becomes pregnant and delivers a son? Didn’t anyone think of`that? Apparently not–at least not before the fact. Not in the Mishnah, the Targums or the Talmud. Not in the Dead Sea Scrolls of Qumran. Not in the Apocrypha or the Pseudepigrapha. Not in any of the Jewish writings between Daniel and the birth of Jesus.
So far as the evidence shows, when the Jews happened to read Isaiah 7:14, they did not think of either miracles or messiahs. This text was God’s rebuke to unbelieving King Ahaz of Judah, who was scared to death of two neighboring kings. Because Ahaz refused to ask God for a sign that he would protect his southern kingdom, God would make his own sign for the king–it is the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14. A young woman (Hebrew: almah) then living will, in the normal course of events, become pregnant and birth a boy she names Immanuel–“God with us.” But before that boy is old enough to know right from wrong, the two bully kings frightening King Ahaz will be no more.
Where did the virgin come from? For once, a simple answer. When the Jews translated their Bible from Hebrew into Greek a century or two before Christ, they made the “young woman” (Hebrew: almah) a “virgin” (Greek: parthenos). Now, back to Matthew, busily writing his Gospel and looking for every opportunity to show Jesus “fulfilling” the Jewish Bible. As it happens, Matthew is telling the story of Mary’s miraculous conception. Suddenly it is as if he remembers language from Isaiah 7:14 in his Greek Bible that sounds exactly like what he wants to say. The Spirit apparently approves the decision and Matthew uses the Greek word to tell, quite literally and for the very first time, what has actually taken place.
But why the limited press–why so little mention in the New Testament? Perhaps because the biology is not the point. New Testament authors shine the spotlight on something else. Commanding our attention is the cosmic phenomenon playing out before our watching eyes. John tells us that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Paul says that in Jesus there dwelt the fullness of deity. Hebrews says that the divine Son became man and forever took on a human body. The main event is not a miraculous conception, The earth-shaking, heaven-shimmering, for-us-and-for-our-salvation event is the Incarnation. Compared to that, the virgin birth is only the mechanics.