What do you think? Did the Jews believe when the Messiah would come that he would be Virgin-Born? If not, is the virgin birth a correct interpretation of the Scriptures? Many think that if the Jews couldn’t imagine something to be true, how could they have understood the thing to be true once it occurred? In other words, if they weren’t expecting a Messiah like Jesus, how could they be judged for not receiving him?
First of all, let me say from the beginning that Christian preachers rightly teach that the virgin birth was predicted by Isaiah in the Old Testament. However, are we Monday morning quarterbacking here? In other words hind sight is 20/20, and the real question is: could the Jews have understood Isaiah’s message and looked for a virgin-born Messiah? Did the people of Nazareth think of Isaiah’s prophecy when pregnant Mary returned from her 3-month visit with Elizabeth? Was this the first thing Joseph had in mind when he saw the condition of his promised bride? Of course we must answer “No!” to these questions, but was it impossible for Jews to actually expect a virgin-birth?
Certainly, Zechariah’s example with the angel in the Temple shows that, just because the Scriptures tell us about the miracle birth of Isaac, the similar situation in his own life didn’t help him believe the angel. Certainly, Mary did not understand how she could bear a child without the benefit of a relationship with a man. Therefore, we know she wasn’t expecting a virgin-birth as a vehicle to bring the Messiah into the world, and, therefore, a rabbinical teaching at the time would probably have been a very strange teaching. The fact is, the implication surrounding John 8:41 is that the Jewish authorities knew of the scandal surrounding Mary’s pregnancy and were throwing this in Jesus’ face. The pronoun “we” is emphatic in the Greek, implying they but not Jesus had a righteous birth. So, if the doctrine of a virgin-birth existed, it certainly was not believed by many Jews; nor was it generally taught concerning the Messiah. So, what’s the deal, could the Jews have understood the prophecy?
The facts are that the Jews toyed with several concepts about the Messiah that, given enough time, may have become the general understanding of Judaism of the day. For example, the Jewish Targum seems to indicate that at least some Jews believed the Messiah would be the Angel of the Lord and that his name is YHWH. Moreover, one or two of the books found in the Dead Sea Scrolls have the Messiah created and living before anything else was created. If the Messiah was so ancient, how did the Jews understand how he would be born into their nation? It is only logical that, if he was alive before Abraham, but was to be born of David, some kind of miracle birth would have to occur.
The Jews also understood the spiritual concept of typology. For example, at times when the Scriptures speak of the Messiah, he is called David, showing they understood that David was a type of the Messiah who was to come. Another example would be Moses. Moses claimed God would send them a Prophet who would be like him (Moses), and Israel would have to obey him. Therefore, if they believed this was an accurate manner to read the Scriptures, there was often a near end fulfillment of prophecy which was a type of the later and greater fulfillment, then the virgin-birth, promised in Isaiah 7:14 (though having a type of fulfillment in Isaiah 8:3-4), should be seen as having a later and greater fulfillment in the Messiah (cp. Isaiah 9:6-7). There is enough data in this prophecy (Isaiah 7:14) that was not fulfilled on the near end (Isaiah 8:3-4) that should have alerted pious Jews to expect something great in the Messiah’s birth even though the details might have been too fantastic to put together properly.
In any case, when Jesus was crucified, even his closest friends lost heart. No one believed until Jesus was resurrected. God didn’t judge anyone’s unbelief concerning Jesus before the resurrection. He allows all of us to do a little bit of Monday morning quarterbacking when it comes to understanding and believing the Gospel. Everyone, including the Jews, have the opportunity to look back over what was done, read the pertinent Scriptures and decide for ourselves, if the witness it true. Therefore, it makes no difference what one expects to be true; the real question is: what are we going to do once the truth is shown to us—all of us?