Is the Virgin Birth Jewish?

Is a virgin birth possible?

The virgin birth is impossible as far as science goes. The human body doesn’t work that way; the egg needs to be fertilized.

But then, wooden staffs can’t turn into living snakes, looking at a serpent lifted up on a pole can’t heal you from deadly snake venom, the sun can’t be delayed from setting, and a sea can’t split in half on command to reveal dry ground. Yet the Tanakh records each of these impossibilities and many other miracles. Saying God can’t make a virgin give birth is the same as saying God can’t act outside any of the laws of nature. If God can’t make a virgin give birth, then he is governed by the same laws of nature that he created.

Think about the movie The Matrix. Everyone in the Matrix is governed by the Matrix coding. But when people who exist outside the Matrix enter the Matrix, they are not bound by its laws. If God is powerful enough to create the universe and everything in it, wouldn’t he be able to control and manipulate that universe easily? God designed the human body and brought it into existence from nothing, then wouldn’t it be no challenge at all for him to enter what he created and supernaturally intervene. Yes, this would break the laws of science. Science is the study of the natural world; God is outside of the natural world, and he controls it. So, could a God who created the natural world, and is not bound by its laws like we are, enter into that world and temporarily pause those rules? Of course, he could.

‘There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.’

Albert Einstein

The Jewish Pattern of Miracle Births

A lot of Jewish people are okay with a virgin birth being possible, but they just don’t think it’s Jewish. They were probably told that Judaism doesn’t say anything about virgin birth. But this is a myth. The Talmud might not teach a virgin birth but the Hebrew Bible has a lot to say about it.

Isaac’s Miracle Birth

If the God of the Torah exists, then not only is a miraculous birth possible, it’s actually likely. After all, Mary miraculously giving birth to Yeshua is not the first miraculous birth in the biblical story. Several people in the Messiah’s lineage were born miraculously. God promised that the Messiah would come through Abraham and Sarah, but the couple lived long lives without any children because Sarah was infertile. Then when Abraham was ninety-nine, God appeared to him and told him they would have a child the following year. Sarah realized this was impossible, so she laughed. God responded, “Is anything too difficult for YHWH? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son” (Gen. 18:14). The birth of Isaac, a direct ancestor of the Messiah, was miraculous.

Jacob’s Miracle Birth

Isaac, who was born miraculously, married Rebekah. Rebekah couldn’t have children either, so Isaac prayed to God to give them a child. Again God intervened and caused Rebekah to miraculously have a child (Gen. 25:21). Rebekah had twins, Jacob, and Esau. God revealed to Rebekah the promised blessing, the Messiah, would come through Jacob.

Several Miracle Births

Jacob had two wives, the sisters Rachel and Leah. Jacob loved Rachel, but like Rebekah and Sarah before her, she was infertile (Gen. 29:31). (The Torah even draws our attention to the fact that the only reason Leah wasn’t infertile was that God allowed her to have children. Meaning God was in control of her conception as well, even if it might not seem as miraculous.) But again God stepped in miraculously and provided Rachel with miracle births (Gen. 30:22–23). Then as Leah got older she couldn’t have children anymore either, and yet again, God stepped in and miraculously gave her children too.

So, if you think that a virgin birth is impossible, but you believe in the God of the Tanakh, he would ask you, as he asked Abraham long ago, “Is anything too difficult for YHWH?” In following the story of the Jewish people, we see a pattern of miracle births, so we should expect the Messiah to be born miraculously. 

Why all the miracle births?

Why does God work through these miracle births? Again, it’s about trusting him. God made a promise to Abraham and Sarah that He would provide them with a son. Abraham believed God, and God counted his belief to him as righteousness (Gen. 15:6). But after some time, Abraham and Sarah’s trust wavered, and they decided to help God keep his promise instead of relying on God to do it his way. Sarah convinced Abraham to sleep with her Egyptian slave and get the son that way (Gen. 16: 1-6). Abraham did have a son with the slave and named him Ishmael. God blessed Ishmael, but he told Abraham that Ishmael would not be the son the blessing would come through. The Messiah wouldn’t come through Ishmael, he’d come through a second son. 

This time it was Abraham who laughed out of unbelief, just as Sarah had done. To paraphrase he said, “God, I already have a son. Just use him. Sarah can’t have children.” But God reemphasized his promise and told him, no he would do it through Sarah (Gen. 17:15–19). It’s important to God that Abraham knew he delivers on his promises. When we know God is powerful enough to deliver, we can be confident he will provide. 

From this narrative pattern alone we should expect a miraculous birth for the Messiah. But the virgin birth of the Messiah was also specifically prophesied in the Tanakh. In Genesis 3:15, when God first announced his messianic plan, we get the first little clue: 

“I will make enemies Of you and the woman, And of your offspring and her Descendant; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise Him on the heel.” 

From the very beginning, God promised to defeat the serpent, Satan, who introduced evil to humanity by using the offspring of the woman. It’s interesting that God specifically said he would use the descendant of the woman instead of the descendent of Adam. Since it was Adam who was ultimately responsible for their sin. At the very least, this detail is interesting, and we should pay attention to it. 

The virgin birth in prophecy

Later, the prophet Isaiah shed more light on this: “Therefore YHWH Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and she will name Him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). This prophecy was given to a king from the line of David, about another future king from David’s line. One of the most well-known messianic qualifications is being a son of David. Then this prophecy tells us that a king from the house of David will be conceived by a virgin. In light of the pattern we’ve already seen in the Messiah’s line and this prophecy, it is too much of a stretch to suggest that this prophecy is not about the Messiah.

Typically, rabbis object to this translation saying that “virgin” is an inaccurate translation of the Hebrew word “almah.” They say this word just refers to a young maiden. This is a long discussion, but two important points to notice are the context and the other times the word appears in the Tanakh. First, the context is that God just told the King to ask for a sign. Since this announcement comes in the context of God telling the king to ask for a sign the miraculous promise of a virgin birth makes more sense than him promising a regular birth (cf. 2 Kings 20: 8-11). In addition, the Tanakh only uses the Hebrew word “almah” to describe a person six other times, and every time, it is clearly used for a young girl who has not yet had sex (Gen. 24:43; Ex. 2:8; Prov. 30:19; Ps. 68:25; Song 1:3; 6:8). If Isaiah did not mean a virgin, he wouldn’t have used the word “almah”. 

The first Jewish translation

The leading Jewish scholarship of the first and second centuries BCE understood that Isaiah 7:14 was speaking of an actual virgin. The men who translated the Tanakh into Greek for the Septuagint, hundreds of years before Mary gave birth to Yeshua, translated “almah” to the Greek “parthenos”. And there is no dispute over the word “parthenos;” it means “virgin.” This tells us that before Yeshua’s virgin birth, Jewish scholars knew the Messiah would be born from a virgin, because they read Scripture. The first-ever Jewish translation of Hebrew Scripture translated “almah” as “virgin.” Not until after Yeshua did the translation come into question, as a reaction against Yeshua’s claim to Messiahship. 

The Messiah’s ancestry is filled with miracle births, so we should expect the Messiah’s birth to be even more miraculous. Isaiah, one of the Major Jewish Prophets tells us that in the house of David (messianic line) “the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son…” According to the Hebrew Bible the most natural expectation for the Jewish Messiah is that he’s supposed to be born from a virgin. 

This article is an adapted excerpt from “Judaism, the Messiah and Jewish Identity” click this link to learn more