The recent discussion of whether or not Matthew used a faulty Greek translation of the Hebrew text in order to make his claim that Jesus was born of a virgin has been going on at a number of blogs – e.g. here, here, and here. The claim is not new, of course. A while back, Gerd Luedemann wrote:
The evangelist Matthew would have us believe that Isaiah 7:14 foretold the virgin birth of Jesus; but since the announcement of this forthcoming birth refers to an event during the reign of king Ahaz (741-725 BCE), Jesus cannot have [been] the child referred to.
But are we really to suppose that this literary master was really a context-ignoring bonehead? Are we really to suppose that Matthew did not realise that the “parthenos” of Isaiah was originally a reference to a particular (non-virginal) woman? Or that the “son” of Hosea was originally a reference to Israel? But that was before the crisis of the Christ event. And the Christ event directed that Scripture be revisited, and heard and appropriated in startlingly radical ways.
As I suggested in a previous post, the New Testament disciples are like those who have been surprized by the ending of an Agatha Christie novel, and are now able to re-interpret the prior material that they had once known from a different perspective. They find meaning where they had found little before; they notice details that had passed by them previously; they amplify significant silences; they draw new connections. Or one could change the imagery to the movie The Sixth Sense. Once you get to the twist at the end, you suddenly realise that, even though your original reading of the prior material had been innocent and genuine, you now have good reason to find new greater significance there than you had originally held to be the case, even in the silences.
Matthew and his sources believed that a critical juncture in history had occurred. They looked back at the Scriptures they once knew, and realised that the virgin tradition they now believed could be faithfully read into Isaiah. This cannot be called irresponsible, unless it is also irresponsible to read significance into the silences of The Sixth Sense. But… and this is the crux… it is only responsible to do this once you know the ending.
Merry Christmas 🙂