Evangelical Apologist Josh McDowell Admits that the Virgin Birth Prophecy was Not Originally about Jesus

Image result for image of the birth of jesus

Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel.  

–Isaiah 7:14


Josh McDowell:  The original context of this verse refers to the invasion of Judah by its northern neighbors.  …God informs King Ahaz that he will destroy [the enemies] of Judah.  …the Lord will give Ahaz a sign, and this sign will be the birth of a child who will be called Immanuel.  Isaiah adds that before the child has grown old enough to know the difference between right and wrong, [the enemies] will be destroyed.  It is clear, then, that the Imamanuel child was to be born within Ahaz’s own lifetime.  The prophecy is fulfilled in the very next chapter (Isaiah 8) , when Isaiah’s wife conceived a son, who was then identified as the fulfillment of the previous chapter’s prophecy.  …This is the original historical context.

Evidence that Demands a Verdict, p. 210

Gary:  Wow!  I am shocked.  This is the first time I have ever heard an evangelical apologist admit that the original context of this passage was not messianic; that this passage was not originally specifically a prophecy about Jesus’ birth many hundreds of years after King Ahaz.

Josh McDowell:  We will now consider how Matthew revealed [this passage’s] multilayered meaning.  …Why do the New Testament authors seem to quote certain Old Testament texts out of context in this manner?  –p. 211

Gary:  Wow!  An evangelical apologist admitting that the New Testament authors quoted Old Testament passages out of context!  Am I hallucinating???

Josh McDowell:  Let us remember two important things:  Jewish scholars understood and interpreted their sacred Scriptures as capable of multilevel meaning.  Indeed, the ancient rabbis who were writing the Midrash commentaries on Old Testament Scripture found all kinds of hidden insights in the biblical text.  Early Christian scholars such as Diodore of Tarsus were familiar with this practice but carefully sought to guard against overzealous and overreaching applications.  Although today we tend to interpret prophecy in terms of a single correspondence between prediction and fulfillment, interpreters in the historical tradition from the time of the church fathers believed that a prophecy could be fulfilled both initially in its original historical context and also hold a meaning that could become a type or pattern for later application; the prophets foresaw and foretold an event clearly, simultaneously foretelling a later, additional fulfillment.  The time between the two fulfillments was not clearly seen.  The apostle Paul writes about this prophetic anticipation when he discusses how the prophets sought to understand “what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating” (I Peter 1: 10-12).  –p. 211

[The prophecy in Isaiah 7:14] was interpreted by Matthew to have a dual application, one in the immediate historical context of the prophecy and an additional historical fulfillment in the person of Christ.

Image result for image of the evangelist matthew

Gary:  Wait a minute!  Isn’t that exactly what Muslims and Mormons have done?  Haven’t both of these “Abrahamic faiths” reinterpreted passages in the Christian New Testament, reading into them hidden prophecies about Mohammad and Joseph Smith?

Why are Muslims, for example, wrong in seeing midrashic references to Mohammad in the Christian holy book (which Christians have always believed to be solely about Jesus), if Christians are allowed to see a hidden prophecy in the Jewish holy book (specifically, Isaiah 7:14) which Jews believed for many centuries was solely about the wife and son of Isaiah?

Josh McDowell:  One may object that such typological (multiple) fulfillments offers little evidential value.  For, if texts such as Isaiah 7:13, 14 and Hosea 11:1 (among others) were never interpreted as Messianic until the writing of the New Testament, then is it circular to then appeal to them as evidence of Jesus Messianic credentials?  –p. 211-212

Gary:  Yes!  Why on earth wouldn’t it be?

Josh McDowell:  Yet it was the actual behavior, statements, and Person of Jesus that prompted the writers [of the Gospels] to recognize in him the resonance with familiar Old Testament Scriptures.  –p. 212

Gary:  Seriously, Josh?  So you are telling us that we can trust that the author of Matthew correctly perceived a hidden, second layer prophecy about Jesus in Isaiah 7:14 based on the fact that the stories told about Jesus’ character and actions in the rest of his book (the Gospel of Matthew) are historically accurate, indicating that this author had an in-depth knowledge about Jesus???

Once again, a major Christian assumption:  The glue that holds together the entire Jesus is the Creator of the Universe Story.

Image result for image of prophet isaiah

How many times must I say it:  The overwhelming majority of Bible scholars (practically all scholars other than fundamentalist Protestants and evangelicals) do NOT believe that the authors of the Gospels were eyewitnesses or even the associates of eyewitnesses to the life and death of Jesus.  We have no idea how much of the stories told by the anonymous author of Matthew (almost all of which he plagiarized from the anonymous author of the first gospel, Mark) is historical fact.  Therefore, we cannot assume that the author of Matthew correctly “read into” the Isaiah 14:7 prophecy based on his knowledge of the life and deeds of Jesus.  We cannot assume this because we cannot be certain which, if any, events in Jesus life were known to this author, and in particular, the claim that Jesus’ mother conceived a child while yet a virgin, having been impregnated (in some magical fashion) by an invisible (holy) ghost!  How did he know this “fact”?  Neither the Apostle Paul nor the authors of the Gospels of Mark and John say a single word about Jesus being the virgin-born Son of God!

And here is another BIG problem for Mr. McDowell:  If McDowell (along with most non-fundamentalist Protestant Bible scholars) is correct that the original prophecy in Isaiah was about a child born of Isaiah’s wife, how does he reconcile that with the author of Matthew’s claim that the prophecy foretold that a virgin would conceive?  Does McDowell believe that Isaiah’s wife was also a virgin when she conceived?  If so, that would make Isaiah’s child the first virgin-born child, not Jesus!  But if McDowell states that of course Isaiah’s wife was not a virgin when she conceived, then how does McDowell justify the author of Matthew’s distortion of the prophecy into a prophecy about a virgin birth?

Image result for image of angel gabriel announcing to mary

Either both women were virgins when they conceived, or both women were simply “young women” when they conceived.  If the latter is the case, there are no virgin birth prophecies in the Old Testament!  The author of Matthew invented this “prophecy” (and, maybe he, the anonymous author of Luke, or an anonymous source or general rumor used by both of these authors, invented the Virgin Birth of Jesus Story out of thin air)!

Dear Readers:  Isn’t it obvious?  The Virgin Birth Story is a tall tale!

Image result for image just say no to superstition





End of post.

23 thoughts on “Evangelical Apologist Josh McDowell Admits that the Virgin Birth Prophecy was Not Originally about Jesus

  1. funny thing… I don’t at all agree with McDowell…

    the simple fact of the matter is that among the Jews – and I encourage you to do your own research on this – there has *never* been a broadly-agreed-to consensus about who “emmanuel” was, nor has there ever been consensus as to when and how this prophecy was fulfilled. They still go back and forth on it to this day.

    In fact, I wrote quite a lengthy paper on just that topic.

    but, in any case, the prophecy was *not* about the mother, it was about the child.

    In the Hebrew, it says a “young woman”, and in Greek – for whatever reason – it says “virgin”.

    But, if Matthew or Luke *knew* that Mary was indeed a virgin at the time of Jesus’ conception, then it was just as well to use the Greek mistranslation.

    Don’t get me wrong, though: I’m not saying that’s what happened. That’s another topic. I’m just saying that McDowell is off-base in his premise: that the prophecy was, in fact, fulfilled as he suggests. There are far too many Rabbis and Sages that would disagree.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My understanding is that the Greek authors of the gospels were working with the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew texts, and that their version had the word mistranslated as “virgin” rather than “young woman”. So they were cherry-picking the bits of their translation that looked like they could be manufactured into prophecy, without taking into account whether it lined up with the original. Much like a modern Fundamentalist insisting that the only bible that counts is the KJV, and basing their literalistic interpretations only on the exact wording of the KJV.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The pastors in my former fundamentalist denomination are so KJV that they believe that the King James Bible is more accurate than the originals!

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Of course it is! *tongue in cheek*

        Perhaps you should send a note to your former pastor with a listing of all the translations (I include many of them in my book) and mention the fact that the earliest versions were actually written in Hebrew (OT) and Greek (NT) and (as you know) the KJV is in Latin!

        Also, here’s a quote I came across when writing my book … “all translation is interpretation, and none is strictly literal.”

        Of course, as with all things Christian, very few accept anything outside of what they’ve been taught.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m not quite sure what you’re asking. A “belief” needs no evidence. I mean, there are those that “believe” that there is a natural explanation for everything.


    1. “A “belief” needs no evidence.”

      In that case, anybody would be justified in believing anything, with as much confidence as you have in your beliefs. So why should we accept your beliefs as more likely to be true than a crazy belief someone just made up?


      1. This is what ultimately happens in a discussion with most Christian apologists: In the beginning of the discussion, they assert that the Christian belief system has evidence, evidence, and more evidence…but when the weakness of their evidence is exposed, and they are backed into a corner…they appeal to faith.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. Matthew the Targumist

    Even the Evangelical, Gundry, nicknamed Matthew “the Targumist.” The Aramaic Targums that have survived show that there was a tradition of biblical translation (or interpretation) in which there was no sharp separation between text and interpretation. Extensive paraphrase and even interpolation were acceptable in order to bring out the perceived application of the quotation.’

    Menken made an extensive study of “Matthew’s Bible” and came to the following conclusions on the texts forms of the prophetic formula quotations:

    • Matthew 1:23: The quotation (from Is. 7:14) comes from a revised LXX. The revision ensures that the translation renders the Hebrew more correctly. [The brief line from Isa. is lifted out of its original context which was a prophecy meant for King Ahaz, and referred to a child who had already been conceived in Ahaz’s day.]

    • Matthew 2:15: The quotation (from Hs. 11:1) is closer to the Masoretic text than the LXX. This could be due to a revision of the LXX or a fresh translation of the original Hebrew, though this revision can hardly be distinguished from a fresh translation. This translation could be Matthew’s own, or preMatthean.

    • Matthew 2:18: The quotation (from Jer. 31(38):15) offers a better translation of the Hebrew as that of the LXX, as well as an adaptation to the context of the verse in Jeremiah and the analogous verse Genesis 37:35.

    • Matthew 2:23: This quotation apparently cannot be found in the Old Testament. Menken regards Jdg. 13:5, 7 as the primary source of the quotation. Apparently Matthew saw some parallels between Jesus and Samson [a “Nazorite” who however, did not live in “Nazareth”]. The evangelist probably “composed” the fulfilment quotation with the help of an analogous verse.

    • Matthew 4:14-16: The quotation (from Isa. 8:23-9:1) agrees in some points with the LXX, on other points with the Hebrew text, and in details it deviates from both. Matthew probably abbreviated the Old Testament text in view of the context into which he inserted the quotation. At the same time the quotation led him to make explicit some elements of the context that were only implicit in Mark.

    • Matthew 8:17: The quotation (from Isa. 53:4) looks like a fairly exact translation of the Hebrew text and much more precise than the spiritualizing rendering of the LXX. Matthew makes the Hebrew word that indicates a he-donkey into a she-donkey which is essential to his application of this quotation.

    • Matthew 12:18-21: The quotation (from Isa. 42:1-4) deviates significantly from both the LXX and Hebrew text. It is also problematic that there is very limited connection between the events and the quotation. Matthew omitted from the Old Testament passage the one line that was not compatible with Jesus’ passion and death.

    • Matthew 13:35: Matthew ascribes the quotation from Psalm 78:2 to Isaiah. Matthew 13:35b however correlates with Isaiah 29:14 which the evangelist probably had in mind.

    • Matthew 21:4-5: The quotation (from Zch. 9:9) has been changed substantially. In fact, the first line of the quotation does not come from Zechariah but from Isaiah 62:11 and has been abbreviated. The Old Testament quotation and the Matthean context have mutually influenced each other. These adaptations of the quotations are due to editorial work of the evangelist.

    • Matthew 27:9-19: The quotation (from Zch. 11:12-13) presents a change in wording and sequence of lines, to attune it to the preceding narrative. In its Matthean text, the quotation is a typical ad hoc creation. Some details of the quotations have been derived not from Zechariah 11:12-13, but from other analogous Old Testament passages (Dt. 23:18-19 and Jr. 32(39):6-15) making it the most heavily edited fulfilment quotation. It was obviously so heavily edited to make it fit the narrative context.

    Some possibilities can be proposed to explain this inconstancy in wording of the quotations. It seems that when Matthew used Mark, the LXX was used in his fulfilment quotations. The LXX versions of the quotations in Matthew were therefore not Matthew using the LXX but rather Mark. With Matthew’s own quotations which differ considerably from the LXX, various explanations have been proposed by scholars. It could be that Matthew adapted the LXX presenting an independent and free rendering of the LXX version of the passages concerned.

    Some assume that the quotations were derived from another (unknown) Greek translation used in Christian circles. It could also be that Matthew used an existing revised form of the LXX. Others think that Matthew derived them from an extant collection of sources, or testimonies (although the existence of such a collection is uncertain as being discussed in the next section) in which it already had its striking form. Some scholars propose that Matthew had drawn his quotations from existing oral traditions.

    However, it seems most probable that Matthew himself was responsible for changing the text [of OT passages that Matthew made use of to try to portray Jesus as having “fulfilled prophecies”]. Matthew’s own quotations from the Old Testament most probably came from other translations of the original Hebrew than the LXX which he apparently adapted to make it more clear how they have found their fulfilment in Jesus. Matthew takes the original meaning of the text as starting point of his interpretation, but then he locates its fulfilment in a new situation. Gundry therefore named Matthew the “Targumist”. The Aramaic Targums that have survived show that there was a living tradition of biblical translation (or interpretation) in which there was no sharp separation between text and interpretation. Extensive paraphrase and even interpolation were acceptable in order to bring out the perceived application of the quotation.

    SOURCE: Fulfilment in Matthew, F P Viljoen (North west University – Potchefstroom campus)

    NOTE: Viljoen, the source of the above, is relatively conservative and attempts to defend Matthew’s citations of the OT by stating, “Though Matthew’s use of the Jewish Scripture sometimes seems to be forced to the modern reader, he utilizes the acceptable Targumist hermeneutical method of his time.”

    But Viljoen’s defense begs the question of how acceptable such methods are to critically minded readers raised with a “show me the evidence” mentality.

    And speaking of what one can find in the Bible via Targumist imaginings note the “prophetic warnings” this author found: “Did Isaiah warn against Christianity?” and, “Verses fundies ignore”

    At least Viljoen admits that Moule remarked that Matthew ignored the original meaning of words and took them out of context, and considered Matthew’s appeals to the Old Testament “manifestly forced and artificial and unconvincing.” Viljoen also admits that “Menken [whose work Viljoen relies on] made a general remark on the way of interpretation in Jewish and Christian circles in the time of the New Testament: ‘all sorts of textual manipulations were also used in early Jewish and Christian circles to reduce the distance between the scriptural word and its alleged fulfilment.’ Menken also writes that perfect correspondence between the old text and the new reality is very rare. Those who accept new beliefs would therefore find ‘means to reduce the cognitive dissonance caused by the imperfect correspondence between the old text and the new reality.’”

    See also my two pieces,

    Isaiah 53 not a prophecy of Jesus,

    Prophecy about Jesus? “Mighty God, Everlasting Father” Isaiah 9:6

    Edward T. Babinski of the blog, Scrivenings

    Liked by 2 people

  5. It really makes no difference how the text was translated, what is the correct meaning of Almah or Betulah as the Isaiah passage is simply not a prophecy and McDowell has admitted as much.
    Ray Brown is in record saying similar and he had authority to do so.
    I strongly suspect most genuine biblical scholars, n fact most theologians of whatever leaning they profess, are fully aware of all the shenanigans surrounding the passage in Matthew, but why spoil a good story by telling the truth?

    Admitting it is all a crock is simply too much for these Liars for Jesus. It was okay for Eusebius so so why rock the boat?

    I find apologists such as McDowell utterly loathsome in their revolting disingenuous approach, but there will come a time when the tipping point is reached.

    Just keep posting stuff like this Gary.


    1. The best defense for conservative Christians would be to adopt the tried and true defense of their fundamentalist brethren: Cling to absolute biblical inerrancy. When a skeptic points out a contradiction, they should proclaim: “God can never be wrong. God does not contradict Himself. What skeptics see as a contradiction is simply God’s act of confusing the Wise and the Proud!”

      In other words, there can be no contradictions so there are no contradictions.

      McDowell’s surprising admission, although admirable, is a deadly tactical mistake in his attempt to defend the supernatural claims of Christianity. For if he admits that OT prophecies were not originally about the resurrected Jesus, all skeptics need to do is attack the probability of the resurrection of Jesus, and that can be done very easily: We can demonstrate that almost all scholars other than fundamentalist Protestants do not believe that the Gospels are eyewitness accounts.

      If the Gospels are hearsay, and the Old Testament contains no specific prophecies about Jesus, the historical probability of the claim that a first century corpse was reanimated by the Creator, exited its sealed tomb, and later flew off into outer space is extremely low and outright laughable.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Is Josh McDowell now the Pope or something? Who cares what he says?

    The Jews themselves have never agreed on what this prophecy is about, nor have they agreed on it’s fulfillment…

    The fact of the matter is that this prophecy and it’s meaning and fulfillment are the Great Mystery among the Jews. There is no baby born in the OT called “Emmanuel”…


    1. Isaiah 8 (NRSV)

      Isaiah’s Son a Sign of the Assyrian Invasion

      8 Then the Lord said to me, Take a large tablet and write on it in common characters, “Belonging to Maher-shalal-hash-baz,”[a] 2 and have it attested[b] for me by reliable witnesses, the priest Uriah and Zechariah son of Jeberechiah. 3 And I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and bore a son. Then the Lord said to me, Name him Maher-shalal-hash-baz; 4 for before the child knows how to call “My father” or “My mother,” the wealth of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be carried away by the king of Assyria.

      5 The Lord spoke to me again: 6 Because this people has refused the waters of Shiloah that flow gently, and melt in fear before[c] Rezin and the son of Remaliah; 7 therefore, the Lord is bringing up against it the mighty flood waters of the River, the king of Assyria and all his glory; it will rise above all its channels and overflow all its banks; 8 it will sweep on into Judah as a flood, and, pouring over, it will reach up to the neck; and its outspread wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel.


      1. Note the following in this passage:

        “The Lord” is speaking in the last part of the passage. He refers to someone as “O Immanuel”. Who is he talking about? Isaiah? No. Immediately prior to saying “O Immanuel” the Lord refers to “your land”. Whose land? Look again. The answer is: the land of Judah.

        What does “Immanuel” mean? Answer: God is with us.

        God calls the collective people of Judah, “Immanuel”, meaning that He is with them. Isaiah’s use of “Immanuel” in chapter 7, therefore, could refer to the child of the prophetess as a representative of the people of Judah as a singular entity.

        Who knows for sure.

        Your claim that no “child” in the OT was called Immanuel may be literally true, but the author of Isaiah may not have been speaking literally about the name of a child in this passage. It is ancient fortune telling with all kinds of possible double meaning and innuendo. But the fact that the very rare name of Immanuel is mentioned in both chapter 7 and immediately afterward in chapter 8 strongly suggests that the prophecy about an “Immanuel” of chapter 7 was fulfilled in chapter 8.


        1. whatever… I’d say go talk with a dozen different Rabbis. You’re likely to come out with a dozen different interpretations….


          1. True, but I never claimed otherwise. You are the one who made a big deal out of “no child in the OT being named Immanuel”. I showed you good evidence from the very next chapter in Isaiah that the naming of the “child” may have been figurative.


            1. I swear, buddy.. sometimes, you are totally full of crap.

              All you last post attests to is exactly what I’ve been saying all along: EVEN JEWS DO NOT AGREE UPON ANY SPECIFIC FULFILLMENT OF THE PROPHESY.

              You quote somebody saying that Immanuel is Judah.

              Here’s a quote from some Jewish writer:

              “Some have suggested it was Ahaz’s son, Hezekiah, the most prominent person of the period. However, he is disqualified from being the child since “when Ahaz ascended the throne, Hezekiah had already attained his ninth year.

              Some say the child was Isaiah’s or another of Ahaz’s children. However, since the mother in the prophecy is referred to as “almah,” (a young woman of marriageable age) both these suggestions are untenable. The mother is not the wife of Isaiah or Ahaz.”

              This Jewish writer is quoting TWO OTHER OPINIONS, and saying neither of them are right…

              Sometimes, I swear, I don’t know why I bother talking to you…


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