Dogma over Accuracy


The issue of whether to translate Isaiah 7:14 as referring to a virgin or to a young woman has caused controversy among Christians. Until recently, most English translations of the verse used the word "virgin," thus conforming it to Matthew's use. Then, just over fifty years ago, the Revised Standard Version of the Bible (RSV) correctly translated the Hebrew word in Isaiah 7:14 as "young woman." Some Christians reacted strongly, alleging that the translators of the RSV were denying the virgin birth of Jesus by denying that it was predicted in prophecy. In a few places, Christians even burned copies of the RSV.
-- "The First Christmas", by Marcus Borg and Dominic Crossan, p. 205.

The above quote struck me as capturing in a nutshell one of the fundamental problems with certain strains of conservative Christianity. When dogma is more important than truth or scholarly accuracy, you know that something is seriously wrong with that kind of faith. When people fear scholarly accuracy so much that they burn books that threaten their rigidly defined doctrines, then what does that say about some people's needs for religious certainty?


Rob said...

Hi fellow truth seeker, I really like your "about me," which states

"I am a heretic and a seeker on a religious journey."

I can sure identify with that.

I also find my mind resonates with your words,

"When dogma is more important than truth or scholarly accuracy, you know that something is seriously wrong with that kind of faith."

Mystical Seeker said...

Hi Rob,

Thanks for visiting my blog. It is nice to hear from a fellow heretic. :)

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

I've just started reading the book -- so any comments on the book itself will have to wait.

As for the Isaiah translation -- the Septuagint, from which the Matthew rendition is taken, does use the Greek word for virgin, which is interesting -- that by the 2nd century BCE, at least some Jews had begun to reinterpret the passage in this way. But as for the modern usage -- I think it's more fear that the house of cards will fall than pure dogmatism.

Jim Jordan said...

The word Isaiah used was "almah" - young woman of marriageable age. Betulah is the specific word for virgin. See Jewish interpretation here.

Big deal? Not really. "Young girl of marriageable age" was also expected to be a virgin. While the "born of a virgin" proclamation is not the slam dunk, many Christians would like to it to be, it is not incorrect. After all, Mary was in her betrothal year to be married. She was a young woman of marriageable age...who was most likely a virgin. And judging from Joseph's reaction to her being pregnant ("send her away quietly"), I think he expected her to be a virgin.


Jan said...

I like your observation--in a nutshell you described how difficult it is to reach across the abyss to connect our thoughts in Christianity. It's taken me a long time to realize that "dogma" is not always (often?) literally true.

OneSmallStep said...

I never found the translation between young woman and virgin to really affect the virgin birth prophecy. What would do it for me is the Isaiah verse itself, and the context. Nothing in that verse speaks about the type of virgin birth Jesus had -- rather, it dealt with an event in that time, with a child they'd see in that time.

Plus, a "young woman" shall give birth just makes more sense to me, because if she is pregnant, then she no longer qualifies as a virgin.