Friday, December 14, 2012

Did Isaiah really predict the Virgin birth?

A recent article from Religion News Service entitled "Did Isaiah really predict the Virgin birth?" looks at Isaiah 7:14 in relation to the NABRE translation.

Here is a little snippet from the conclusion:

Still, there was some “pastoral concern,” when the Catholic bishops authorized the New American Bible, Revised Edition, said retired Auxiliary Bishop Richard Sklba of Milwaukee, who was part of the review and editing team.

“There was discussion about keeping the traditional translation so that people have the benefit of continuity,” Sklba said.  But in the big picture, changing Isaiah 7:14 doesn’t sever the connection between the prophecy and Matthew’s Gospel, he said. Isaiah stressed that Immanuel’s mother would be young, and Matthew emphasized her virginity.  “The one does not deny the other,” Sklba said. 

There are also some comments from our friend Mary Sperry. I wonder if Isaiah 7:14 will be changed back in the upcoming NAB revision?


Biblical Catholic said...

It is true that Jews later came to reject the Septuagint but that didn't happen until after they saw how the Septuagint's renderings favored Christian doctrine...the Septuagint was rejected by Jews because they got tired of Christians using it as a 'proof text' not because of translation problems....indeed, most scholars today agree that the Septuagint and later the Vulgate are more accurate than the Masoretic text in a great number of places....

Francesco said...

If the revised NABRE (NAB2RE? RNABRE?) were going to change to be the same as the lectionary then they'll need a very good reason to leave Is 7:14 alone, since the lectionary has "virgin" for that reading.

Colleague said...

I still find it amazing that this remains an issue for so many people despite all the advances which we as Christians have made in the field of translation, historical criticism and hermeneutics. For every translation of Isaiah 7:14, there will be a footnote no matter if it's "virgin" or "young woman" or "maiden." That footnote is the best we will ever get.

CJA Mayo said...

That's one of the poorest attempted harmonizations I've ever read. Isaiah 7, plainly, is not a prophecy (unless it's a prophecy of the name of a son, which isn't very much of a "sign") unless the almah is a parthenos.

It may not break the connection (it seems, on the face, to), but it breaks any connection between Matthew and an inspired use of the Old Testament: this leads down the road to "Christian midrash theories", as we've already seen (in the work of Brown).

Theophrastus said...

There are lots of Septuagints, which were treated differently by different Jewish groups (there are plenty of great resources to rely on here -- but one of the best is the introductions and variants listed in the "New English Translation of the Septuagint".)

The Masoretic Hebrew version is fairly well attested by the Great Isaiah Scroll, one of the Dead Sea Scrolls which is fairly reliably dated to 150BCE.

I don't think one can fairly refer to "The Jews" as believing one thing or another about a translation -- one can at best say that some Jews felt one way and other Jews felt another way.

I also don't think it is a bad thing that there is so much controversy over this particular word in this particular verse. It has probably led to detailed exegesis by many people and greater biblical understanding. The more people who refer back to original languages and ancient versions of Scripture, the better!

Having said all that, I think that we'd be a lot better off if everyone read the whole of Chapter 7 (in either one of the Septuagint translations or the Masoretic Hebrew) instead of just that verse! If you are interested in doing this, I want to mention a project that some of my Web friends are doing: reading Greek Isaiah in a year. This just started on December 1st, so you can certainly catch up.

There are a lot of great (free) resources (as well an introduction to the Greek Isaiah in a year) here.

Happy reading!

Biblical Catholic said...

"The Masoretic Hebrew version is fairly well attested by the Great Isaiah Scroll, one of the Dead Sea Scrolls which is fairly reliably dated to 150BCE"

Actually, the Dead Sea Scrolls demonstrate the unreliability of the Masoretic text because in disputed reading the DSS almost always side with the Septuagint over the Masoretic text. Moreover, the DSS demonstrate that there were multiple Hebrew texts circulating, and it confirms suspicions that that Masoretic text was fairly late in development and reflects an attempt by Jewish scribes to bowlderize the text so as to limit Christians ability to use it as a proof text.

Leonardo said...

When I was starting to study the Bible, I tend to automatically see many things of the prophet of the Old Testament as a prediction of Jesus. But later, it is more interesting to understand about who or what was the prophet talking about, and to see Jesus through that light.

Jason Engel said...

Am I the only person who wants to sing out "Won't you be my NABRE?" from Mr. Roger's Neighborhood?

Timothy said...


We are way ahead of you! See comments on this post:

Russ said...

There doesn't appear to be much in the way of english translations of the LXX. Is the NETS the "best" of the english translations?

Merry Christmas

CJA Mayo said...

NETS is by far the best critical English translation of the LXX ("and other Greek translations traditionally known by that name"): in fact, it is the only one. It only has the English. It's considered useful because it translates varying manuscript traditions (for example, I believe it has 3 books of 3 Kings and 2 books of Daniel), and is based on the NRSV, which is widely used in academia (ostensibly so one can study the differences between the LXX and MT without knowing either Hebrew or Greek).

There's a diglot using what is, to my eye, essentially the Codex Vaticanus Graecus 1209 (with no apparatus therefore non-critical) w/ a KJV warmed over to conform to the LXX renderings, by Sir Lancelot CL Brenton; it's been in constant print for almost 200 years.

There's the poor attempted translation of the Septuagint in the Orthodox Study Bible, which is usable as a Bible, but not as a Septuagint. This has English only as well.

Then there's Rahlf's and the interminably, ineluctably incomplete Gottingen, which are Greek only, and include large apparatus. And there's Swete, which is 120 years old, and, I believe is the first attempt to make a "critical" LXX, and has a small apparatus.

I believe these are the only "Septuagints" in existence, and, at the very least, are the only ones we can have ready access to (if one subtracts the Gottingen).

I'd recommend, if you only could have one volume, Brenton above NETS, because Brenton has the Greek, and the Greek, even in a non-critical edition, is better for studying the Greek OT than any translation. If you can have two, get the two-volume Rahlf's and the NETS. If you can't read Greek, get the NETS and an NRSV and see if the translators' stated purpose can be accomplished.

Russ said...

Thanks, CJA Mayo...I don't know the Greek. Maybe some day.